Things have settled down a bit. DeWinter and I have talked about living in Amber. I never really thought myself as a wanderer, but perhaps I am. Or, I'm just feeling a bit
restricted. Part of it is due to the fact that I know that there is a risk every time we take Kai-Revere into Shadow. But the idea of staying in Amber for a number of years is daunting. Mostly, it is because there is nothing for me to do here. In France, I had something to do; reconstruction after the war, making sure people had employment and overall prosperity, and even some political wrangling. But here, Garnath runs itself and has done so for decades, the investigation is floundering, and I don't feel I have anything productive to do. Once I spoke to DeWinter, he admitted he's never really stayed anywhere for more than a few years, so I believe he's feeling a bit of the same thing.
This is all further complicated by the fact that we want more children. So, do we have them all now? Since we are planning to be here for at somewhere between five and ten years, why not have them now. It would promote more sibling affection. I want to avoid having some of the rivalry between our children that might come about if their ages are too disparate. After all, I know Eidolon is my brother, but until he's older I won't have much to relate with him. I don't want that for our children. It might still happen, especially when we have more in the future, but it is important for me that there is some solidarity amongst us. I could be wrong, after all Owen and March seem to get along and are a bit close, despite their ages. In the end, we decided to have them now, and we will just do our best. But in the meantime, what can we do to avoid going 'stir crazy'.
A simple Task?
I had an idea. I went to Martin and simply asked him for something to do. I was surprised and gratified that he came up with something immediately, and that he felt it was something he could entrust us with. I agreed to some travelling, though not to any place overtly hostile, since we would be taking Kai-Revere.
He'd received a missive from one of the Golden Circle kingdoms, Caladon. I remember a little bit from my legal research on treaties. They'd once waged war on Amber but now they are our allies, in trade though, not war.
Martin filled me in on the general governmental arrangement. There are three branches, with a head for each, somewhat like a triumvirate. First is the House of Deacons, which are responsible for the multitude of islands that make up Caladon. Second is the College of Posts and, Third is the Arbiter.
Each position is elected at different times. But, every ten years, the elections all coincide with each other. Amber has no standing Ambassador there. Because we are on good terms with Caladon, they see no reason for such an office. March has been there recently, and seems to be the acting liaison with the Caladons, but with Gerard gone to look for Evander, March is needed here. The Caladons are a supremely practical people, almost obsessively so. They prefer a more democratic government, and are against a system of nobles, but they also are fascinated by the idea.
The Arbiter, a man called Murta, has written to Amber requesting help, not as a treaty issue, but to determine how "certain political consequences are being engineered." He seems to believe there might be a foreign influence working its way into the government. There was also some vague mention of possible Chaosian influences.
I would be allowed to take a small contingent and my role would be a different set of eyes and ears to see what is occurring. We do have a connection there; a man called Kef Chir. He's more like a legal advisor than an Ambassador. Indeed, his title is Litigation Master. He makes a comfortable living earning monies from Amber to do rather little work. Martin made sure to tell me that if Kef is not helpful, I was to tell him he would be removed from his position. Martin seemed to think Kef would be an obstacle, rather than an assistant in this matter. He even went so far as to say that I could relay that Random is currently touring the Golden Circle and will eventually arrive in Caladon. If there are any grievances, they would be addressed then.
Martin allowed me to discuss this with DeWinter. I would have my decision soon.
DeWinter and I spoke of the assignment. Once we went over what little we know, he agreed it should be safe enough. As for our group, I think eight is a comfortable number. It will take six weeks to get there, so the number must be manageable for a rather longish voyage by ship. Given the nature of the assignment, I thought carefully about whom we might need. Claw, of course, is our usual companion. Cutwind and Bison will do well as "guards." Byslamia said she'd think about it. After all, she'd be missing most of Amber's summer, the high point of the Season. But I think her insight, as usual, would be very helpful. Two other weir would go as backup. Last, but not least, I'll be bringing Toby and Jim. It is a hunch that they can learn about those avenues of society it would take too long for me to discover. They grew up in the "shady" sides of things. This might prove useful. Also, it will allow them to see a bit more than Amber, having spent the last year or two mostly on the estate.
I went to the Castle to see Martin. I found him fencing. Perhaps I have grown in my ability to notice these things or Martin has improved, but he is much more focused, more polished. I couldn't resist sparring with him and was pleased to see that I was able to hold my own against him. I think he was a bit surprised as well.
I told Martin our decision. He was a bit surprised, I think, at how quickly we agreed to this. As for my investigation, there is little to go one right now, unless something breaks. He did have a faster means of getting there, though. He suggested that he arrange for a naval courier to take us. I remember those. Byslamia and I arrived in Amber for the first time on one. The contingent would have to be cut to half, but it would only take two weeks. I readily agreed; I can always Trump the rest through as we arrive. The best part would be that the courier would be at our disposal, staying there until we were ready to depart. I liked having a few reinforcements, even if it would be a half dozen or so. Martin would make the arrangements and I would contact Rourke when we were ready to depart. He would have a packet with a few more details for us to peruse on the journey.
DeWinter liked the idea of swifter passage, though I suddenly realized just how big a man he is. I just barely fit in one of the little bunks and I just come to his shoulder. Oh my, he's going to be mightily uncomfortable. He took it in stride, being rather unconcerned with this detail. I suspect he's been in far more uncomfortable situations, for far longer.
We left today. Our ship is the Rosewater, as small as Byslamia and I remembered them to be. She'd packed only enough to fit in her cabin. DeWinter ducked his head in and realized that when I said our cabin would be tiny, I wasn't jesting. The ship was fairly new, though, with a pearlescent hull that shone as we moved. The captain is Captain Wilkes, a spare and dashing women whom I took a liking to right away. Claw is the only other member of our party, aside from Kai-Revere.
We are moving against the trade wind, which is how we are cutting time for the journey.
The first few days have been spent getting used to the ship and the rhythm of its movement and crew. DeWinter spent the better part of the time in his usual manner; watching the crew and evaluating them. Byslamia got her sea legs rather quickly. Claw had no interest in either. She never got ill as far as I could tell, but I don't think she'll develop any fondness for the sea. Kai, on the other hand, likes it enormously.
We are almost near Caladon. The packet of information was rather sparse, but I suppose that serves us well enough. It's better than knowing too much and having preconceived notions before we've even arrived. As I said, Murta is the Arbiter. Tulis is the senior Deacon, or spokesman for the House. Gasparlenin represents the College of Posts, which in turn is made up of 100 representatives of the general population. On the whole, the kingdom is fairly egalitarian. Their history of warfare is long enough that they still hold the heroic athlete as ideal.
Large weapons are illegal for casual use, including any blades over nine inches. I'm resolved to wearing only the blade Shapir gave me. Fighting is not tolerated, though duels are acceptable still. There is only one city in the kingdom, Jin Vang being the capital. The rest of the lands are scattered amongst many islands, consisting of dozens, or hundreds of manors, villas, forts and the like. Magic does work there, but poorly. Fortunately, Trump works well there. The time ratio is a day in Amber equaling about 1.25 in Caladon.
As I am going as a sort of Goodwill Emissary, I will have some diplomatic immunity. This will not be extended to anyone else, including DeWinter, who is not a publicly acknowledge Prince of Amber.
The voyage was a bit bumpy, since we are moving against tide and wind. I've spent a good portion of each day at the bow with Kai. He likes it, trying to catch the spray as it hits him. In fact, he's come to hate going below deck. It generally means either he's going to be changed or going to sleep and he much prefers being under the sun and out in the wind. He's managed to develop quite an opinion about it all, voicing it loudly when we go below deck. There have been days when it is a battle of wills between us. But, I'm still more stubborn than he is. I did warn the captain, though. She didn't believe me until his yelling reverberated throughout the ship. She looked at me in astonishment, gaping just a bit. I could only shrug and smile.
Overall, he's gotten rather good at crawling, despite the bouncing of the ship. If I leave him for a moment, he's crawling off somewhere. He's amazingly fast despite the fact that he isn't walking fully. He doesn't even have something to hold on to. I've taken to keeping a leash tied to his belt. There is no guardrail along the edges, and I will not be responsible for his drowning.
I've tried to come up with some way that DeWinter can sleep comfortably. For the most part, he has to curl up in the bunk. It's a wonder he isn't stiff every morning. We've tried to come up with some idea, but it all involved more work on the cabin than is justified. I don't think he really cares, since it's only for two weeks, but it's keeping me busy.
DeWinter and I have spent the time learning his new code for Trumping. In essence, we used the weir male hierarchy to determine the beginning of the code, mixed in with the time in Amber. If it matches, the call is accepted. I hated to do it, but I had to ask how we were supposed to know what time it is in Amber when we are not there. He stared at me and said by counting the days. That is when it hit me that he, Dalt and Doblique probably didn't travel so extensively that they've realized that time doesn't flow the same way in all places. He took my word for it and spent a few days revising his code. Now, we have to work it on an individual basis. For example, if I Trump Byslamia, using Vis as the beginning of the template, the next time I contact her, I have to remember to use the next male weir in line. This can get complicated quickly, though it does look like it could work. The rest of the voyage, I spent learning something called 'Mr. Morse's Code.'
We arrived in Caladon. The capital, Jin Vang is a volcanic island with a natural harbor. From far away, we could see the teeming city as it filled the cliffs. This was how I expected Amber to look like when I first arrived. At either side of the entrance are two huge towers, about 240 feet high. Even though their last war was over 300 years ago, they are still manned. Captain Wilkes informed me that the harbor is protected by an "Iron Curtain." Literally, they have a complex of iron netting that runs along the harbor floor. In times of war, the netting is raised, keeping enemies out, or trapping them within. It was odd, since I had had an idea to use such a plan in our next war games. The river Oisen was too much of a weak point in our strategy, though it wasn't used against us effectively this time. Looking at the towers, the immensity of the workings to perform such a feat amazed me. They have steam technology, recently introduced. Still, it would have to be done by a long series of massive winches, probably cutting into the bedrock and along the mountain range for some distance. The upkeep, especially in the salt water would be a formidable task.
I Trumped Tiryns to let those at home prepare themselves and get their gear. We moved toward the harbor. There were a number of ships, some of which I recognized; Begma was the most prominent.
I could see the towers more closely. At first I thought they were like lighthouses, but I could see now that they were made up of many levels, with windows opening along the sides. Perhaps for magically offensive spells?
Inside the harbor, there were a series of floating docks for smaller ships. Larger ships and barges moved to the shore, to make unloading easier. We got our own dock; it sported Amber's flag. This dock alone could fit four of the couriers easily.
As we tied up, I went below to Trump the others through. We just managed to get our baggage to the deck as a steam barge approached and tied off so we could embark. The Caladon men wore a rather unisex fashion. Each had thick decorative collars over straight tunics. The fabrics were of a batik design, some informal dyes. Very colorful.
We slowly moved to the docks. It was all quite bustling, so it took a little while. We were met by a gaggle of officials. I was more than a little perturbed since I hadn't sent word ahead and Martin hadn't mentioned doing so. Townsenior (Mayor) Bourke formally welcomed us and, to my dismay, a brass band began playing something loud and military. It seems he is the official between the bureaucracy and the guilds. There were many, many names and a long receiving line. I did meet Kef Tir, our liaison. A sight to behold, to be sure. He weighed at least 300 pounds, was bald, and wore a shimmering robe that went from gold to red in different lighting. He has presence, I give him that. I wonder how easily he would blend in when he didn't wear such outlandish attire. I expect quite well, since everyone would be looking for flash.
Eventually, it was all done and we were shown to carriages. Bourke, Kef, DeWinter and I were in the first carriage. The others followed. Of course, our carriage was green and white. There was no horse. Instead, there was this little steam engine chugging away. The effect was quite ugly.
I was dismay again when I realized we would be having a parade. People lined the streets, cheering and waving hands and handkerchiefs. Flash-powder cameras sparked all along the avenue. I was especially unhappy when Bourke not only told the masses who we were, but that we would be staying at the Hotel Glamour, taking the entire top floor for our own. First, I had no intention of using that much room and I didn't want everyone in the place able to watch us at will. It will make our jobs much trickier. Or was that the purpose?
We began to move; the band was leading the way at a crawl. I realized that there would be a platformed carriage between us and the rest of our party. To my horror, I saw what was upon this float. It was a large white unicorn with steam coming from its mouth and nostrils. It was green and white with enough touches of gold that the whole thing was a monstrosity. We moved along the streets, the band blaring, the crowds yelling, and the Unicorn steaming. From time to time I glanced back to make sure everyone was following, not cut off or diverted. I got glimpses of the weir waving, enjoying the affair. I even saw Toby throwing kisses to the crowds, though they stopped a fraction of a second after they saw me looking. Shaking my head, I returned my attention to our carriage. Glances at DeWinter showed he was trying not to laugh. It really was absurd, though there was little I could do about it without making a scene.
It took about a half an hour to get to our hotel. I got a bit more acquainted with Bourke. The hotel reminded me of Versailles with its extensive grounds, reflecting pools and multitude of gardens. And we had the entire top floor. Once again we were met with a receiving line, where we met the manager, Stephan, assistant manager, the chief of staff, and a number of other chiefs, too many names to remember. We were led to our suite where we met with Colonel Nang who is responsible for our security. DeWinter finally stepped forward. This was his realm. The two stepped aside as our baggage arrive and the servants took care of our arrival. Later he told me that there are ten stairs leading to this floor, which is solely occupied by us, and each stair is attending by a company of soldiers. With about 60 men per company, and that's just for the stairs. There are about 2000 people total. My, but they are taking our security very seriously. I'm gratified, though it will make unobserved exits and arrivals by the rest of our group more difficult. Already I am resolved that little I do will escape notice. Fortunately, I am secure in trusting everyone.
I did have a private word with Kef, asking him to arrange for alternate, incognito housing should it become necessary. Despite his garish appearance, he does seem competent, though I am not dismissing Martin's inferences just yet.
We spent the rest of the afternoon settling in. Brief looks outside, across the grounds showed the occasional flash from cameras. Stephen admitted they had invented telescoping lenses. I did sit everyone down to outline just what they could and could not do. This was primarily directed at Toby and Jim. They did not share any diplomatic immunity. If they got into trouble, I may not be able to help them.
Dinner was a formal event though it was just our party. What made it formal were the many, many servants attending us. In Tiryns, we all shared in the household duties, especially at dinner, setting places, passing dishes, cleaning up that sort of thing. So, it was odd for most of the others to get used to being completely served, especially the weir.
Afterwards, I spoke with the hotel manager, Stephen, this morning. I explained that the extensive servants were not necessary, in fact it was making the others uncomfortable. I also said, if he wished, I had no objection whatsoever if he wanted to let out the other suites. It seemed silly to let the rooms go idle. We came to an amicable understanding, so much so that he wondered if I would meet his sons. I was happy to oblige.
This morning, no servants woke us. Kai did that. Only two woman served us, and we fell into our usual patterns. What was nice was that they knew all our names and were friendly and talkative. We got to know each other and it was far more relaxing.
Kai has now become interested in foods, so I've started him with some semi-solids. Actually, he's more interested in how they feel, so it's a messy, protracted event, but I think it's normal. It's almost as if he's memorizing how the foods he likes feel and look.
Kef arrived bearing a large packet of invitations. Three inches of petitions to meet with me. DeWinter was pleased to be exempt from the long and drawn out social duties, patting me on the shoulder as he went out the door. I looked through some of them. I asked for guides to the city for Toby and Jim, ostensibly to keep them entertained while they are here. Kef promised to have someone stop by within a day or so. I will be meeting Arbiter Murta later in the morning. I only flipped through some of the guilds and organizations that wanted to meet me. One stood out; the Swordswomen Association wanted me to attend a luncheon of theirs, in my honor. Kef seemed to think they "weren't my sort of people" but I said I would attend. It was his belief, apparently shared by the majority of the population, that these women hated men. Curious.
I met Stephen's sons, Torus and Guardan. Torus is about 18 years. He tried to be nonchalant about the whole thing, but he was quite nervous. Still, it only took a few minutes to find out he wanted to be a poet, though he understands there is little financial security in such an art. Not unless he became very famous. Being good would also help. He was almost resigned to following in his father's footsteps. I made the mistake of relating some of the musicians and artists I had met, inadvertently encouraging him. I'll have to figure out how to undo my blunder before I leave. Stephen said nothing, though. Guardan, on the other hand was 15 years old and so awed he could barely speak. Every question I posed was met with either a head nod or a "yes." All he could do was stare and stammer. I concluded the meeting before it got too uncomfortable.
Murta arrived just before lunch. He is an older man, bald with a rich goatee. He was surprised at how young I was. Compared to the rest of the family, he had no idea. I hoped I would not disappoint him. I introduced him to DeWinter and we sat down to talk.
In regards to his invitation, he said that weeks ago there were a number of unexplained events that bothered him. Some long-standing political paradigms were being threatened. But, since he sent off the message to Amber, these events have been explained to his satisfaction. He was sorry for the inconvenience and hoped that we would enjoy our stay here, nevertheless.
We were a bit taken aback by the reversal. We pressed for a few details. It was a variety of things that in and of themselves meant nothing, but together there was an unpleasant picture. A daughter of a politician married a son of a political rival. Some politicians have become rich unexpectedly. There is no money in holding such offices. Every politician earns the same pay scale only increased with seniority. It is their way of maintaining honesty. If you don't do your job, you don't get re-elected, and there are no additional funds. Lastly, there were some successful politicians who have left their positions for retirement. I believe he said five of them. He had hired an investigative firm, of some repute, to track down the reasons.
Kef outlined some of the rational reasons. One of the retiring officers moved to his island estate because his wife had an arthritic condition. The warmer climate would be more beneficial. Many of the other reasons were all perfectly acceptable. What I did not accept was that they would all occur in time for these elections. As for the idea that Chaosians were in the city, he said is was just his paranoia and imagination running rampant. He'd picked up the idea from an associate of his and it had stuck.
I let the matter drop, preferring to conduct some of my own observations before making any accusations. Instead, he helped me go through the stack of papers Kef left behind. We spent the better part of an hour sorting them into groups: the radical groups (10), the political groups that are related to the events (100), and all other political groups (well over 390)
Since the elections have passed, we are now in the transitional period. For the next two months any officer not re-elected will be tying up loose ends and preparing to leave, so their successors can enter. That is how long we have before the offices are set and nothing can be done. Before he left, he gave us a brief idea of where his offices are and left a young liaison with us, Oherna. He's 24 years old. I introduced him to Bison. They were an unusual pair. Oherna stood, thin, bookish, wearing spectacles next to Bison, large and hulking. It took about one minute to get each other's measure. I see a very productive association there.
The rest of the day was spent walking through the town. I got some native clothing for everyone, the better to blend in. There was a lovely green tunic I thought Byslamia would like. Still, with all the cameras flashing and the crowds, all the fun was taken out of the excursion. DeWinter and I cut the outing short and spent the rest of the afternoon in the hotel. Tomorrow, the socializing begins.
Beginning the social whirlwind
The luncheon with the Swordswomen was interesting. There were about 150 women in a variety of dress. Some even went with one breast bared, to depict warrior status, though cloaks, drapes and shawls were on hand for walking through the streets. Their rebellion only went so far, it seemed. They were a little perturbed by the fact that DeWinter came with me and we brought Kai-Revere. It seems it didn't bode well of my independent status. They weren't expecting a wife and mother. All in all, they seem to want a greater voice in the government. Women here have always had an equal status in all things, but this has begun to change for the worse. It is their mission to halt and reverse this trend.
On the surface I have no difficulties accepting this. It's easy, coming from a matriarchy. But their outlandish behavior, from Caladon's point of view, was just getting "bad press." I did figure out that they do not hate men, just their declining position in society.
I did get an opportunity to speak. I applauded their goals, using my own Mycenean culture as an example, though I suggested that their execution might be better planned. I couched it as diplomatically as I could, but I suppose I did too well. Most of the women seemed to miss the message. There was a brief combat demonstration with quarterstaves, since swords were not permitted. I was impressed. They had no formal training, but they had obviously studied and practiced. Given the lack, they were fairly accomplished. I did meet one woman, Haylin, who had gotten my subtle message about planning. We were of an agreement. Before any reversal in society can be affected, there will have to be a splintering of the group. The new group will take more moderate, effective changes. Of course, the original group could change their strategies, but some will be resistant to this.
Back at the hotel, we gathered for a meeting. Toby and Jim had found a secret way out, posing as hotel staff. We divided the tasks in front of us. DeWinter will find investigate the investigative firm. Toby and Jim will find out all they can about Kef. Byslamia thought she would improve contacts with some of the groups, starting with the Swordswomen. I will maintain our social appearances, making connections with various leaders. I think the others will be having more fun. Claw, Bison, and Cutwind will be acting as bodyguards.
I have met more people in this last week than I have in my life, or so it seems. Some people are like Guardan, shy and reserved. It's interesting for about a few minutes before it grows wearying. I have gotten a feel for the place, though. They are sold on their own successes. They are confident to the point of snobbery. They believe their independence, their technology, and their social structure makes them superior in all things above all others. This is a first Shadow of Amber and the parallels are there: the mountain range, the harbor, and the navy. And they believe they are better, more sophisticated, more educated.
The problem is they are not testing themselves. In the same light, Amber will always be better, because they do not rely upon their past to measure themselves. We hold war games to perfect our defenses. We have enemies, powerful ones, to prevent us from becoming complacent. The Caladons have not had a military engagement in over 300 years and they've become complacent, stagnating. And in their belief in their own superiority, it has been easy to subvert the elections. They did not realize they should be looking for anything untoward.
A First Report
We've had another meeting. Toby and Jim report that Kef has had a hand in many things that may not represent Amber. He owns a lot of stocks and is making large sums of money. They refer to him as the 'Bank of Kef.' Everything he owns is in a minority ownership, never enough to actually own anything, or to be noticed. Instead, he has partial ownership (10-20%) in many different enterprises; apartments, casinos, brothels, all manner of money-generating businesses. His position is rather precarious. He's seen as not quite legitimate, but not wholly illegitimate. He is ill-regarded by most of society, yet not a threat to the underworld figures. He walks a very fine line and it places him in a suspicious light. The 'guides' Toby and Jim have been working with are former prostitutes. They've determined from meeting some and what the women have told them, that Kef has hundreds of employees. A small army throughout the capital. More than any number of politicians combined.
DeWinter found there are about twenty investigative firms. To have such a position, they must be licensed to protect individual rights. What such firms learn could easily be turned to blackmail schemes. There is a 21st firm that isn't licensed, and this is used by the criminal organizations in the city. It has no name. The operatives are referred to as 'chimney sweeps' because historically, they would hang upside down in chimneys to spy on their targets. DeWinter did come across mention of Kef. Kef had hired a firm to investigate the firm that Murta had used. Curious that Kef never mentioned this.
Murta's firm is licensed, employing somewhere between 5 and 50 people. It's a well-established, prestigious firm. DeWinter hired one of the smaller firms to learn how much Murta's group found out, and by what methods. Murta's firm did travel to each of the cases. In fact, there were so many people working on this, it was very noticeable. So much so, it would be easy to anticipate where they would go and make enough changes to make the stories plausible.
Byslamia had a meeting with Haylin. The Swordswomen were pleased by my support and have started a fresh round of recruitment. Byslamia is making rapid progress in making contacts.
Oherna, whom we included in the meeting, mentioned that there were 12 not eight names on the list that Murta was concerned about. There were four more announced retirements months before the elections. Apparently Murta had not thought they were related. I'm not so sure. He's far too astute, and was far too panicked. People like those tend to read more into a situation than less. I've done it myself. Something is wrong here. Oherna opined that perhaps Murta hadn't mentioned them because they were not part of any political faction. Could be. But the positions would still be opened for more focused political aspirations.
Claw wondered if any of the criminal factions could be behind all this. DeWinter didn't think so. Everything a person is, in Caladon, is based on their social standing. Once you lose that, you are part of the underworld. As a result, they are not proud of their business. They don't want to run anything; they won't get recognition for their efforts. Unlike many other Shadows he's been to, the crime lords really are forced by circumstances to be as they are. They have no choice any longer.
I wrote all this up. We've found out a great deal, but we still have a long way to go. For one thing, we need some sort of positive proof. I may believe someone is orchestrating a coup, but we need something tangible. Martin did not answer his Trump, so I Trumped Owen so she could relay it to him. I also gave her a copy to give to March. He's been here a few times before. He would have some insight I might be missing, and he might have some advice. I did have a chance to ask if Doblique had gotten any word to her. No such luck. And neither has Gerard. For us, it's been over three weeks. Worrisome. I did try and Trump Doblique, but she was blocking. Sigh.
Here we go again.
DeWinter and I resumed our exercise schedule. I still end up falling on my rump more often than not. I asked how I was doing and he said I was much better than when I started. For one thing, I can fall really well. For that, I managed a leg sweep, catching him off guard. Lest he forget what it feels like.
I received a Trump from Martin. He talked as if nothing was wrong, chatting about this and that. He was supremely unconcerned, taking Murta's opinion that all was well to heart. To say I was confused would be an understatement until Martin held up a number of cards with printed messages on them. He didn't want anyone in Caladon to overhear the Trump connection and know what we are thinking. I think he was giving them a bit too much credit, but it is best to be safe. He did answer two of the questions I had included. Yes, he had sent word ahead of our arrival, which explained the welcoming committee. My second question was whether is was possible, given Murta's suspicions of Chaosian influence, that Caladon was being used as a staging point for all the attacks on Amber. Martin's note said it was fanciful thinking.
Hmm, I could be right, just once.
The next step for DeWinter, Toby, and Jim will be to follow the money. It is the easiest to check into. Where did all those unexpected inheritances come from, which allowed for some of the people to resign from office?
I've arranged for a dinner party for us, with Murta and Haylin. Mostly, just to see what would become of it.
Later that night I met with Stephen. I stressed his discretion, hoping I was right in trusting him with information. I gave him the barest hint of why we are here. He asked why I was telling him. Because I wanted his opinion of Kef. He had little good to say of Kef, referring to him as 'shady' and 'crass.' I asked Stephen that should Kef come to the hotel, that a discreet eye be kept on him. Stephen agreed to this.
Stephen came to our suite, ostensibly to talk about the dinner arrangements. He was concerned that the service between us and the kitchens would not be suitable for a formal dinner, however small. Perhaps one of the suites closer to the lifts. He was obvious, for him, in gesturing for us to play along. I followed him out under the pretense that I wanted to inspect the suite for myself. I was a bit uneasy. Had I read Stephen wrong? This could easily be an ambush. And I had no sword. As I walked, I tugged my sleeve at the wrist to settle the fabric and to make sure my fighting knife was accessible. I'm certain Stephen did not see me check. Once out of range, he whispered that the suite below us was being occupied by a mage. It's possible that someone was listening on our conversations. Inwardly I cursed my lack of magical knowledge, to the point of overlooking this aspect. Could he bring someone in to check this out? He did indeed know someone who could help. I thanked him and went back to our rooms quickly before we gave more information up.
I chatted to DeWinter, who looked at me as if I was daft. I rarely chat, and never about place settings and table arrangements. I wrote a note as I prattled on: "Mage below. Could be a spy."
He got a pained look on his face and picked up the conversation. I showed everyone the message. Byslamia looked cross; it hadn't occurred to her, either.
Four hours later, Stephan returned with a woman in tow. She was older, with an elegant air about her. She was a Lady, grandmother, and headmistress all wrapped up in one package. I've a feeling she could be formidable. We talked about all sorts of things as she circled the room. I've seen Julian do this once or twice. When she was done, she said no one was listening to us. There were spells being used, protective wards being projected from below. Now who could be doing that, without our knowledge or permission? The wards are protecting us against long-range spying. Stephan was affronted. This hotel had Class I wards throughout. The woman, who declined to give her name, said the mage was using Class V spells. Quite substantial. They are ritualistic in nature. For them to be kept up, there would have to be at least three working around the clock. I had no idea what their rating scale meant and a quick question confirmed that this was a powerful mage, by Caladon's standard. There would be few that could do this. She seemed confidant she would know the individual once she met them. I've dubbed her Annette, which she accepted easily.
A brief discussion led us to the fact that speculation was useless. Rather that work around them, we decided to confront them and try and find out the truth. Before we went down, DeWinter, inexplicably picked up a salon chair and carried it with him.
He surprises me still.
We went downstairs and knocked on the door. Eventually, it was opened after I announced we could hear them chanting. A mutton-chopped man in his forties met us. He reluctantly let us in. On the floor was a circle with glowing runes surrounding it. Candles were all about the room, though it seemed there was a pattern to it. He did not want to tell us who hired him. I explained that I would have him removed from the hotel if he did not. Then he would probably receive none of his commission. Stephen nodded agreement and the man caved in. Kef Thir had hired him. And there would be double the fee if we never found out about them. He hadn't expected Amberites to be so sensitive to magic. I did not dissuade him from the misconception.
This was unexpected. Since forthrightness worked so well, I sent for Kef. We'll see what he has to say about it.
He arrived quickly, in scarlet tunic this time.
I explained why we are here and just how odd his position seemed to us. His response was that discretion is his motivation. If he were too "noble" or too disreputable, no one would ever talk to him. His way-- he has contacts throughout the city, in all walks of life. As for the investigation, he wanted to make sure the Arbiter was getting good information. And he knew I was here for something, but since I hadn't confided in him, he took the liberty to make sure I was safe. I couldn't tell if it was logical, or if his answers were too glib and pat. My empathy detected no lie. I was second-guessing myself at every turn. I have got to get out of Amber more often.
Working along the idea that he was being honest, and was indeed working in good faith for Amber, I filled him in on a little more, watching him closely. He paced a bit, thinking. He began to piece the information together, using his own knowledge, not ours. He was quickly coming to our conclusion. Something was wrong. I asked him to explain, then, how Murta's investigation had found all rational reasons to discount his suspicions. Kef was surprised. There had been no reasons. That is what the investigation uncovered. The inheritances were "found." The marriage was arranged because the young woman got married to avoid a pregnancy scandal. The retirements were caused because a wife had been caught in an affair involving a rival political faction. In fact, these were highly upstanding people and their reputations were so solid, this was all seen as out of keeping with them. Other people might have done these things, but these particular individuals were not the sort. The odd thing was, all the events were confirmed. There was an affair; there was a pregnancy.
Then why was Murta backing away? Kef's answer came readily: blackmail. Kef wasn't pleased. Murta has a pristine reputation. It would have to be something serious to threaten Murta enough to cave in. He would look into it.
At this point, things seem to be falling into place a little bit more. I will trust Kef for a bit, to see how this shapes up. Kef left, with much work to do and not much time to do it in.
I filled everyone else in on the recent developments.
I had a dinner party with Murta and Haylin. First, I wanted them to meet. Perhaps if Murta met one of the Swordswomen, he might be less inclined to think they were "disturbed." It seemed a common, annoying theme: strong fighting women being seen as 'crazy.' Murta had no idea who she was, so they got along splendidly. He was a bit taken aback when he learned, but seemed willing to consider rethinking his opinion of them.
I never did find out why DeWinter brought the chair to our meeting with the mages.
Chaosians strike again?
Kef has found out that Murta has only two close family members in the city and a distant relation, a younger sister, in the country. Those in the city are well; he has sent someone into the country to learn about the third. A niece and his daughter reside in Jin Vang. Kef said he would make sure they would stay well.
Kef believes that Murta is at the end of his career. Politicians can only be re-elected so many times before they must stand down. He doesn't think that Murta will allow himself to stay silent for long. The question is, will whoever is involved know this? They might kill him if they suspect this. Right now, all we can suppose is that Murta is being blackmailed like the rest. With threats of a ruined reputation. It would fit the pattern as the Caladons hold their reputations above all else.
As for who could be behind all this, they have to be on a very short list. This is a very well thought out plan, years in the making. Kef knows of none of the underworld figures that could accomplish this. Could someone have found out enough, or gained enough leverage, to unite the criminal organizations? Kef was skeptical about this. It just didn't sit well with him.
Then Byslamia put forth an unpleasant scenario. All these people are doing things very contrary to their personalities. Yet, they did do these things. Why would they act so out of character? Some one forced them to act against their will. A powerful mentalist.
Byslamia, DeWinter and myself came to the same rapid thought: Suhuy. He was not only capable; he has shown the proclivity before. It was a nasty, chilling thought. And Murta had mentioned a possible Chaosian threat. We started to put the time frames together. All of the announced retirements began about 18 months ago, coinciding with the first attack in Amber. Then the Amber attacks stopped, just as the political events began to pick up speed here. It was too much of a coincidence. Even if it isn't Suhuy, there is no reason not to suspect Chaosians.
Of course, it is always easy to suspect Chaosian. We had to have more to go on.
DeWinter came up with a wonderful idea. Check to see if anyone has rented out large houses, and a large numbers of servants. The Chaosians in Amber rarely left their premises and never did their own work. They had servants for everything. I had to kiss him, and so I did. My thought was that the mountains probably had an extensive cave system. They might be there. The towers were the first clue. If they used the winch-system I was thinking, it would extend far into the mountains. There had to be more, probably unexplored or left abandoned. Also, Caladon mirrors so much of Amber's geography, it would be in keeping. Kef was reeling at the enormity of how much work he suddenly had to do. I assured him that the King would be pleased that he has set himself up to be so useful to Amber in these trying times. He gave me a ill-concealed baleful look and left.
I immediately sent Toby and Jim to take a look around the Towers. They have the easiest path out of the hotel. But, I made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that they should do absolutely nothing, not one little thing that put them at risk. If they do, if they got hurt, I would never let them leave the estate for as long as they lived. I was serious, and they saw that. It's annoying to have to stay behind, but if I went off, everyone in the city would know, including our enemies. I'll just have to trust in their instinct for self-preservation.
As for Oherna, I asked him to try and find out who had given Murta the notion about Chaosians. If possible, I want to meet him or her.
I rapidly made another report to Martin outlining our suspicions. If anything happened to us, someone had to know what we were about.
And once I had Trumped the dispatch to Owen, I waited.
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