Owwww... more bloody headache. This is getting to be Not Fun, though big doses of ibuprofen and heatpacks on my neck seemed to do the trick last night, but only after a really uncomfortable few hours. I'm off to see if I can shorten or forestall it better tonight :(
Uther and his knights, on fresh mounts, are riding south from the palace of Amber. It takes them most of a day to descend Kolvir. They find fields, forest, a city, and the sea. Uther is perplexed to find that Avalon seems to lie in every direction. He plans to enter the forest, find a stream, follow it to a lake, and then do some magic to get him and his companions home again. It's too resistant to move by sorcery around here.
They find bodies in the forest, from their appearance from a combat some months ago. Uther examines a corpse. It's decayed, but it's obviously not quite human. There are lots of odd footprints - horse, human, not-quite-human, big dogs or wolves, and huge lizardy tracks.
After journeying for three and a half days, they hear noises ahead. It sounds like a basilisk, and indeed a basilisk-like beast appears. It's wearing war barding and has a rider in military clothing. The rider sees Uther and whistles. Uther greets it, and it whistles again. Uther advances; it backs the beast away, whistling. Uther addresses it, and it raises its spear and growls. Definitely a communications problem, which, coupled with its many sharp teeth, could lead to difficulties ahead, particularly since it's blocking their path.
Uther tries to advance and make eye contact with the rider, but he seems too smart to permit that, no matter how unthreatening Uther tries to seem. He tells his men to ride cautiously past it at a distance. That definitely unsettles the rider. Uther then goes round the other side of it, and it seems to give up and slips away into the forest.
Four hours later, there's a lot of snarling and growling ahead. Uther, brave and valiant, heads thataway. There are three wolf-like animals, only about 50% too big, wearing collars. Uther asks loudly whose beasts they are.
Julian, who owns the hounds, rides up on Morgenstern. He greets Uther and his men, and says that Uther is only a few hours from the edge of 'this' Arden. Uther mentions the lizardy beast, and Julian tells him about the previous war, and then they philosophise a bit about war and its meaninglessness like Beckett characters, then Julian wishes them a speedy and safe journey and rides off.
Four hours after that, things shift noticeably - it's a new Shadow, and there's a crack through Shadow only an hour or so away...
Meanwhile, back in Amber, Tremayne and the others watch the inexorable approach of Dara's Fire Angels, and then Tremayne goes to explain matters to Bleys. Joseph, alive to the possibility of diplomacy, begs Trumps of the courtyard and of the harbour gates from Gideon to pay a visit to Tarquin. The harbour seems busier than usual, which Joseph ascribes to the rebuilding work and increased diplomatic activity with the Golden Circle. Tarquin seems vaguely interested by what's happening, but points out quite firmly that the treaty prevents him from doing anything to intervene, and that (as well as his lack of Trumps) includes contacting Chaos about what could be a nasty little diplomatic mess. Joseph grits his teeth as successive stratagems fail, but remains polite, then Trumps back resignedly.
Tremayne and Khan have been visiting Bleys who is occupied in his Chambers. He doesn't seem too surprised at Tremayne's news, pointing out that Fire Angels are terribly effective trackers. Tremayne asks for advice. Bleys thinks briefly, then says that perhaps he should diplome with Chaos, and pulls out a Trump. He talks briefly with someone, then pulls the someone through. It's Despil, King of Chaos, and Dara's son. Bleys explains the situation, and Despil asks how it came about that Dara is involved. Tremayne reluctantly has to explain about Xerxes, but like a good soldier points out that he was only following orders. Despil asks if he regrets killing Xerxes, and Tremayne replies emphatically that he does not. Despil, who seems to be rather good at this kind of thing, asks Tremayne carefully whether any confidentiality aspects to the contract would prevent him from naming his employer. Tremayne says that he doesn't regard himself as oathbound in that respect. Despil thinks briefly, then tells them that he will explain the situation to Dara - and that she may well want to ask Tremayne who it was that employed him, and then he Trumps out.
Bleys acknowledges with a smile that it was an interesting strategy, though he doesn't clarify on whose part, and Tremayne explains that he felt that honesty is the best policy. Not that that's made him spill the beans about the Kruge problem, oh dear me no.
Joseph arrives back in the castle and goes to look for Bleys, but meets Gerard, who asks whether fighting's likely. Joseph admits sadly that it looks as though it may have to come to that, and Gerard delightedly goes to fetch his sword. Khan, Tremayne and Bleys then meet Joseph, and they adjourn to the courtyard to see what will happen. Joseph even accepts a cigarette from Bleys, though he rarely smokes - but heck, if you're a Prince of Amber, and quite possibly about to die in minutes, why not?
As they watch the Fire Angels descend, Tremayne asks Bleys how much trouble it would be likely to cause if he had to tell Dara that Corwin had taken out the contract on Xerxes. Bleys says he honestly couldn't say, given the history between Corwin and Dara.
The Fire Angels land - twelve foot tall insectile creatures, winged, clawed, spiked and furry, with collars. One advances on Tremayne, while the other slowly circles around toward Gerard. The one nearer Tremayne does lots of nasty, intimidatory things - then pauses as though listening, seemingly communicates with the other, and then they both rise back into the air and are gone. Bleys suggests that they all adjourn for drinks. Tremayne announces that he's thinking of trying to walk the Pattern. Bleys points out that the Blood of Oberon is required, at which Tremayne says that might cause a problem, since he has no idea of his ancestry. Bleys considers him intently for a while, and then says that it's almost certain that Tremayne is one of the Family, though he couldn't say who Tremayne's parents may be. He asks again about where Tremayne's from, and Tremayne explains in some detail, but that doesn't seem to shed any immediate light on the matter. Tremayne brings up the man who's frozen beneath the ice, back where he comes from, who may know the answer...
And back again to Uther and his men, who've found a tarn. There is some player discussion about tarns and cwms and hanging valleys, and it definitely is a tarn. A tarn where the weather's getting bloody cold, to the point where it starts to snow, and then there's snow crunching under foot, and then frozen tarn. My, it's a very quick cold snap. Icy mist obscures the view across the tarn, but in the distance there's the outline of a familiar castle. The temperature drops rapidly - it must be 20 degrees below zero by now - as they walk across the frozen tarn surface. And then there's the land of Avalon - oh, permafrost of Avalon, if you want to be technical about it - under their feet.
And no doubt there would have been much rejoicing, except that there's evident signs of a battle and ruined buildings. One knight discovers the body of Isaac the farmer, who was bearing a sword. The knights draw their swords, but Uther commands them to sheath them again. He examines the body. It seems to have been fairly randomly hit by small curved triangular blades. Uther senses signs of life around him: there are many under the castle keep, and others that don't belong in Avalon: two dozen or so of one kind, and three of another, one of which seems to be approaching rapidly. Uther and his men head towards a rooftop from which scratching noises can be heard.
A feline humanoid confronts them. It's tall, muscular, naked and has clawed hands, with hair in a peak that looks almost like flames. He introduces himself as Carnaby, and says that Uther's Merlin summoned him and his brother demons here as a last line of defence. When asked about the damage to the farmer, Carnaby mentions that Snow Wraiths have been troublesome, and, worryingly, that the wraiths weren't brought here, but rather that Avalon was brought to where they originate, and frozen solid so that it can't be moved. The wraiths emanate from the body of a giant named Ymir, who, with his attendant ogres, have wrought most of the damage that can be seen here. Carnaby summarises the regrettable recent history of Avalon.
They reach the keep, and the demon makes his farewells and leaves to resume patrolling. Uther and his men go through the well-guarded entrance to the underground space beneath the keep, where, they are told, Uther's daughter is coordinating matters.
And in Amber, Joseph and Kenton are preparing to discuss matters and future plans with Florimel. By preparing, I mean getting somewhat drunk, because this isn't going to be an easy discussion. Lucien shares a drink or two with them, and then bimbles off to the Library.
Tremayne is wandering around the castle, and passes through the Great Hall. Someone's sitting there and pouring himself a drink. It's Roderigo, though Tremayne doesn't know that yet. Roderigo smiles and introduces himself as 'the disreputable bastard of Amber', at which Tremayne says that he thought Darius held the post, which amuses Roderigo. Apparently Roderigo is on one of his infrequent jaunts to be provoking to the rest of his family, about whom he elaborates scathingly to Tremayne. He gently probes Tremayne about who he is, and who else is around. He seems particularly interested in where the Golem is, and voices his suspicion that he'll have to do Bleys more than one favour to be allowed a look at it. He also mentions Susanna, Deirdre's daughter, though he doesn't point out the relationship explicitly. Tremayne, who's never met Deirdre, doesn't pick up on the reference and lets it pass.
Roderigo gives Tremayne a few pieces of advice: most importantly, that if you have family, it's a good idea to keep them away from the Family. Young ones are too vulnerable as pawns for use against you. He also mentions what can be done with the Blood of Amber. It's also, in his opinion, not smart to refer to Benedict as 'mad'. There's a brief discussion of Caine, with whom Roderigo disclaims any relationship whatsoever, and gets away with it. Tremayne mentions that Osric is still alive, and gives his usual completely unbiased account of him, including the demon plot, which Roderigo seems to find intriguing. Roderigo asks after Corwin, given that Tremayne has brought him into the discussion, and the Corwin Plot is laid out for Roderigo's amusement. There is some discussion of Xavier's impending marriage, and then Roderigo excuses himself and Tremayne joins Lucien in the Library.
And in Avalon, Uther and his men get to a large underground room, with a number of people sitting in armour around a table. Anwen and Arthur, Uther's children, rise and greet him with gladness. To his surprise, Uther recognises someone at the table, a young man who seems remarkably like Joseph's friend Kenton, and who was a squire when Uther left. This one goes by Kent, and is now head of the guard. Uther asks Arthur about the Snow Wraiths. He finds out that they're translucent and not quite tangible, though their touch freezes and cuts, which seems to describe Isaac's injuries rather well. Ymir spawns them from a mist that rises from his body. They seem to be attracted to Avalon by the time differential. Ymir is huge, bearded, and scarred, and carries and axe and a hammer. He can change his size, but not, it seems, his shape. At his usual size, he's about 250 feet tall. He knows magic, and seems vulnerable to fire damage. All in all, it doesn't look good for Avalon. Most of the damage has been caused by Ymir's ogres in their periodic forays across the lake, though they don't come frequently, but the Snow Wraiths are an ever-present problem.
Uther asks about Guinevere. Anwen says that she's well, and is keeping the people fed and in as good heart as possible. Merlin, it seems, is dead, and this worries Carnaby and the remaining demons, who fear that it may prove impossible for them to be sent home if Uther is harmed, because nobody else now has sufficient magic.
This all pisses Uther off mightily, and he resolves to defeat Ymir, starting with defrosting the lake tomorrow morning. But backup will be good, and Joseph did seem quite keen to offer his assistance... Since contact can't be made in or out of Avalon, Uther and a picked group of volunteers venture a little way onto the ice, putting themselves in Ymir's domain, and Uther attempts to make mental contact with Joseph...
Joseph and Kenton are still waiting for Florimel, when Joseph gets a mental buzz, not quite like Trump contact, but similar. Feeling somewhat apprehensive, he opens up his mind a little so that contact can be established, but keeps plenty in reserve for defence or attack, whichever may be needed. It's Uther, but it's an odd kind of contact, because it's much less the exchange of words one can have with Trump, but more like a flow of ideas, so it's quite hard to decipher. From Uther's point of view, Joseph seems scarily loud and potentially sorcerously powerful, but he tells Joseph that there are problems, and Joseph suggests that he, and anyone else who might wish, could come to help, or at the very least find out what the problem is so that better help could be arranged. However, finding Uther could be a problem, but Uther says that he's got a Kent in his court, which seems to amuse, rather than surprise, Joseph, and he suggests that Uther, if he can, widen the contact so that Joseph can get a sense of Kent in order to use him as a navigation beacon. Uther does so, which seems rather to stun Kent, though he recovers. Joseph promises to be there as soon as he can, and breaks the contact. He explains the situation to Kenton, and says that if anyone comes to find him, he's gone to seek Bleys to ask for permission to aid Uther - anyone apart from Fergus. Kenton asks what he should do if Fergus asks, which makes Joseph think a little, and then he grins and says that Fergus may as well be told anyway.
Joseph scoots off to find Bleys, picking up Lucien and Tremayne from the Library, explaining on the way. Bleys seems quite agreeable and surprised that Joseph has thought to ask his permission to go; he suggests that Khan may well be useful as well. Joseph ponders taking Kenton with him, but thinks that it may be worth leaving him behind to act as a link in the other direction, if Trump won't work. He suggests that everyone equip themselves with a range of weaponry, since he can't tell what will and what won't work, and to get good warm clothing, since wherever Uther is, it's bloody cold...