Enter the Elders

"A return to the old ways!" a voice from near the door cut across the conversation, causing all of those present in the room to turn. Connor also raised his eyes to see the source of the comment, but his expression remained motionless. Leaning against the wall near the counter where the food was laid out, with one elbow resting on the wall and the other in his pocket stood Random. No-one had apparently seen or heard him enter, and it was unclear to any how long he had stood there.

Random, King of Amber looked casual leaning against the wall. He was small in stature compared to a number of those present, and he was sleight in build weighing in at 135 pounds. He wore a shirt of orange and red, with brown breeches tucked into black riding boots. His strawberry coloured hair showed the first signs of grey and there were more lines to his features now, and a shadow underneath his eyes, but he was still wily-looking, sharp-nosed and still retained his quick wit.

"A return to the old ways…" he repeated, "…back stabbing, double feints, plans within plans." he shrugged and pushed himself away from the wall and walked further into the room.

"Dadness…" he muttered as he passed his son, giving him a nudge with an elbow. Deftly and lightning fast he whipped Jack's cigarette away, took a long drag and replaced it in Jack's hand. "Don't smoke in here." he said, his words punctuated by exhaled smoke as he spoke.

Kaylee watched the maneuver with a sparkle of amusement in her eyes. "You want the rest of mine, Dad?" she asked, holding her own cigarette up lazily. "Not really in a smokin' mood this morning."

Random smiled, the warmest of smiles the one he reserved for his children (when they were in his good-books at least) and took the cigarette. "Don't let Aunt Flora see you smoke in here. She is starting to get like Fi used to." he said taking a long drag. The cigarette had vanished before Flora and Gerard arrived however.

"The old ways?" Jack perked up at the familiar voice, "Casinos and Brothels?" He listened for a moment, trading fork for the cigarette he balanced on a spoon. Then he frowned slightly, "Oh, those old ways. I like mine better." He chuckled when he was nudged, "What? I threw a 'Royal' in front of it, to make it sound official-like." Jack blinked, and when he had his smoke back, it was smaller by a fair stretch. "These ain't cheap, Pop." He laughed lightly, "You should take up the fire codes with the King. Oh wait…"

"So what's the angle, Dad? Did someone load the dice and we're comin' up Boxcars?" Jack took a drag off his cigarette, "And how's Momma Vee, we gonna see her at Breakfast?"

"Not sure yet." Random replied, nodding at his son. "Vialle will probably not be joining us…the benefits of being the kings wife."

Lotus immediately starts to rise as she sees the King, but catches herself and sits down again. "Your m…" she begins and then stops. "Random" she says formally with a bow of her head.

Random acknowledged Lotus greeting with a smile. He threw in a mischievous wink, which he knew would fluster her even more so he followed it with a "Good morning." to put her back at ease.

Carmen saluted him with a colored pencil between her teeth and a mumbled 'hiya' around it.

"Good morning, your majesty," said Hadrian politely, obviously surprised at the sudden appearance of the King.

"Morning Hadrian." responded the king, a warm open smile on his face. He moved over to Hadrian and nodded. "Don't bother with the formal this morning." he said smiling and placing his hand on Hadrian's shoulder. Random moved through the room, heading for the window where Connor was stood.

Selene kept silent and completely still, her vivid eyes watching the king as he teased his children. Sensing Lotus' tension and the silent form of Connor across the room, she waited- allowing the others to adjust to the king's words.

As Random moved towards Connor he stopped level with Selene. Giving her too a warm smile and a 'good morning'. His eyes had become sad as he looked at Connor staring out of the window, detached and aloof. He stepped towards Connor, coming up behind him and bent to speak to him in a low voice. Any exchange of conversation was masked however by the opening of the door once more, which admitted Gerard and Flora.

"Good morning." Gerard offered, standing at Flora's shoulder.

"Good morning all." Flora responded quickly, and moved with Gerard to the counter to gather some food. Gerard wore riding boots, breeches and a pale green cotton shirt - it was clear he had been out riding. Flora looked her usual stunning self in a deep turquoise blouse tucked into loose black breeches and calf-length brown leather boots.

Lotus seemed relieved at the arrival of Flora and Gerard. She again started to rise, before realising that this probably wasn't appropriate. She stood enough to give a bow and said "Good morning" before sitting again.

"Good morning aunt, uncle," said Hadrian with a nod and brief smile to them both. He seemed rather less surprised at their arrival than he was at that of Random, perhaps because of their more overt entrance…

Selene nodded to both as she rose, using their entrance to move across the room to where Connor had been approached by the king. Without any intent on encroaching on a private matter, she moved to the younger man's far side and joined him in looking out the window at the swirling morning mists. Her white hand stood out markedly against the dark fabric covering his shoulder when she rests it there. "Long night?" she asked in a low voice laced with sympathetic irony.

In the Zone with whatever it was she was working on, Carmen didn't bother to even look up. She simply waved her free hand and then used it to take another long drink of orange juice.

Jack piped up, "Mornin', Big G, looks like you've been out for a spin." His eyes cut to Flora, "G'Mornin', Flora. Trust you to look cover girl perfect at such an unseemly hour."

Kaylee picked up her own orange juice, took a sip, and then lifted it at the new arrivals in place of a wave. "Mornin'."

Garrick has remained seated during the entrance of the elder Amberites. This was his first good look at Random, since he had been chosen King of Amber. Garrick looked him up and down and noticed the quick little slight of hand with cigarette. He relaxed a little at Random's somewhat nonchalant way of handling formalities and he felt somewhat at ease.

Stepping from behind the armchair which had concealed Random from both Gerard's and Flora's vision (whether by design or chance it was unclear!) Random greeted Flora and Gerard.

"Morning Gerard, Morning Flo!" he called airily stepping into view placing himself directly between Flora, Gerard and Connor. The move was subtle but the effect was not lost on anyone who was present.

Flora and Gerard turned simultaneously and stared at their King. Random smiled a broad smile and cocked his head to one side. Gerard managed a smile, but Flora looked almost startled for a moment at the King's presence. In true Amberite fashion she composed herself almost immediately and offered a smile; there was however a brief moment of awkward silence between the two Elders.

"Random…" Flora responded, "…I was told you were otherwise engaged this morning and were to remain undisturbed till noon." her voice was brittle, her tone a little frosty.

"Oh no…" replied Random waving his hand nonchalantly, "…I just fancied a lie in with Vialle, the perks of the position you know." he continued. Random winked obviously at his son and daughter, giving them the briefest of wolfish grins.

"I thought you could use the help anyway…" Random moved to a vacant seat, but still in between Gerard, Flora and Connor. "…keeping this lot in hand, is more than a two man job." Random's jovial tone seemed to relax the tension between Random and Flora. Random turned to Hadrian nearby and commented in a low voice. "Always trouble when you call an early morning meeting." he joked. Small conversations were clearly allowed as Random broke off and started speaking to Hadrian. The mood had changed within the room, and Random was obviously playing his 'cards' very well; he had a commanding position!

"Indeed," nodded Hadrian with a slight smile. "Morning people do seem to be in something of a minority among the Family…"

Jack, who was previously regarding Carmen's sketch work with interest, looks to Kaylee when Random began to speak. He had enjoyed his Father's small attention and smile, secure in the knowledge that, at least for the moment, he wasn't on Dad's list. He finished smoking, and sighed at his Father's warning at doing so, though his pack and his matches were on the table at his place. When Random made his play, and started to bandy words with Flora, he could not help but smirk slightly. "Like a magician on the Strip." He said quietly to Kaylee, "Dad's playin' a Boesky, but you never know with him."

"Same old same-old," Kaylee answered softly, with a quiet chuckle. "Gotta admit I can't wait to see the hand…"

As if on cue the door opened once more, admitting Prince Julian who stepped round the door. His icy cold stare scanned the room, his blue expressionless eyes and long straight black hair looked stark as they were framed by his white shirt, large black belt and grey trousers. He nodded at the assembled company and stepped over to Hadrian to clasp his sons hand.

"Good morning father," said Hadrian with a smile, standing up to return his father's hand-clasp. "This day finds you well, I hope?" he continued. "Would you like some coffee? I could do with a refill, myself…"

When Julian walked in, Jack waved, "Mornin', Jules. It's good to see you out of the tin can."

Lotus watches the interplay between Random and Flora, concentrating on her tea. That games are being played is obvious, but most of the subtleties are lost on her. As things break up into smaller conversations, she stands and moves to be closer to Gerard. She gives a bow as Julian but says nothing.

Carmen finally looked up from her sketch when Jack greeted Julian. She was utterly still and focused as she watched the Warder move across the room. The moment he arrived at his destination, she was flipping through to the front section of her sketchbook and started working on something there.

"Mornin'," Kaylee offered. Then she leaned across her brother, orange juice in hand, to whisper to Carmen, "Thanks for the 'special blend.'"

Carmen looked over and smirked. "Well, we all three hate mornings and meetings," she replied lowly. "It's cruel to make us suffer through both without proper sustenance. If you see that Page before I do, tell him to bring a pitcher." She nudged Jack under the table with her foot. "Jack and his utter lack of self control already needs a refill."

Jack grunted in agreement, drank more coffee, and looked at Carmen curiously. "Self Con-what now?"

Carmen sighed and patted his head. "Confused and clueless is a good look on you, sweetness." She cut a quick glance towards Flora and leaned in again to whisper to the twins. "Clamps didn't seem to happy to see your Dad here. Any idea what's up with that?"

Jack smiled, and batted his eyes. "You say the nicest things." He drank more coffee, and at Carmen's question, made a small sound, swallowed and coughed into his hands. He turned bright eyes to Carmen, and chuckled softly, before he whispered his reply. "Kay and I don't know, we figure he's playin' a Boesky, umm, its a kind of con. Either he knows more than they do, and he's playin' it up, or he doesn't know a blessed thing, but he's actin' like he does in the hopes someone spills." Jack shrugged slightly, "Amber's the Strip without the casinos, bars, showgirls, and the neon. Y'know, anything fun."

Kaylee shifted to lean against her twin's side. "Y'know," she whispered, "it could always just be that she's got her panties in a knot 'cause she planned to run the party herself." She smothered a yawn and sipped at her orange juice. "Not that it's a party, and not that Dad doesn't have something up his sleeve, just sayin'."

"Then she should have worn her other outfit," said Carmen with a wink to Jack. "And brought props."

Lotus moves over to the sideboard and pours herself another cup of tea with an amount of ritual to the process most people would find unnecessary. She heads over to one of the other windows and sits down where she can watch most of the room.

Selene watches Julian with Hadrian rather like looking at bugs inside of a jar. When no one else enters over the next few minutes, she remarks, "Is this it, then?" to no one in particular.

Julian smiled the smallest of smiles at his son Hadrian. It was just what the room needed, the smallest gesture by the sourest face in the room seemed to relax the atmosphere somewhat. Julian managed a lopsided glance at Random's children, but spoke to neither Jack nor Kaylee. It had been evident to many in the past that Julian neither liked nor cared for Random's offspring, the only cordiality that Julian showed was loyalty to the crown, but there was clearly no love lost between Julian and Random.

"I would." Julian's short reply in the positive to some coffee allowed Hadrian to oblige his father.

Flora scooped up her breakfast choices and glided elegantly towards Garrick. While Gerard inclined his head to talk to Lotus. Random stayed central within the room casting a glance at those present, his sharp eyes, mischievous smile and his perfect poker-face revealed nothing. Random was equally placed between his son, daughter, Selene and Connor over by the window. He smiled seemingly happy with the "feng shui" of the room, and turned to Selene.

Still leaning across Jack to whisper with Kaylee, Carmen glanced over Jack's shoulder a heartbeat before Llewella appeared and crooked her finger at the Page she had flagged down earlier.

There was a shimmering of rainbows in the corner near Connor, who had shifted his position slightly to the side of the window. His dark hooded eyes seemed to soften for a moment as he mouthed something almost inaudibly. Shimmering jade tresses coalesced into existence, coupled with equally jade eyes, a shimmering dress of grey and green with a dark collar, and held at the waist with a lavender belt. Llewella stood clasping Connor's hand. She gave him a warm smile, though her eyes were sad, and she patted his hand affectionately. Llewella turned her head and nodded at the assembled company, ignoring the breakfast table but interlinking her arm through Connor's. Gently she turned him ever so slightly, whispering something in his ear; a moment later they were stood near to Selene, between Carmen and Random.

Carmen nodded and smiled warmly to Llewella but didn't say anything, as the elder woman was apparently in conversation with Conner. She gave Jack a look instead and inquired lowly while flipping to a clean page in her book; "Are you going to be poking Big Bad with the stick anymore?"

"Ironsides? Nah. I'm thinking someone put the horn in the middle of his saddle." Jack grinned brightly at Julian's glance. "That'd make anyone surly." He rolled his eyes, "Or happy, but totally unwilling to admit it."

Kaylee snickered into her orange juice while the artist coughed quietly. "That is so bad."

He smiled at Llewella and gave a little wave. Jack had spent time in Rebma, considering the mode of dress there, it was very nearly a requirement for him. There was something about Rebman women he appreciated, and not just because they were not body conscious. He noticed where Llew guided Connor to stand, and nudged Kaylee slightly. Jack glanced to Random, trying to read his Father's expression, and then turned back to Carmen. He leaned towards her, to see her sketch, she could almost hear him making a soft sound. Jack smiled, and quietly said to her, "Someone's being naughty."

"Pfft," Carmen scoffed lightly. "You're one to talk, Mister. Can't -be-arsed-to-put-on-a-shirt." She glanced around carefully. "Besides, someone has to be in this little uptight band, and you're still not completely awake."

Kaylee nudged her brother back. "If you're gonna start poking people with sticks, bro, then switch me or C places so we can talk." She gave Llewella a brief nod by way of greeting and pulled up her feet to sit cross-legged on the chair, still leaning against her brother's shoulder. "It's still too early to be naughty at people," she added quietly, looking over at Carmen. "Give the coffee a little more time to work. And please don't encourage him; he walks around without a shirt enough as it is… if you convince him it's naughty, he's never going to wear one again."

"Who says I need any convincing." Jack replied with a smirk, "It was mostly that I could not find a shirt as I stumbled around. I sorta knew that pants were at least absolutely necessary." He glanced around the table, "Though forgetting might have been more interesting than all this setting up of the Stratego board." He leaned back, but drew Kaylee and Carmen a little closer to him, and said quietly, "I wish they'd get to it, whatever it is they're getting to."

"Woulda made you go put some on if you'd forgotten them," Kaylee informed him. "Speaking of forgetting… is that bimbo still in your room? I wish you wouldn't do that; you don't know where they've been. Besides, the last one wandered into my room." And then, more quietly, "And yeah. I know."

Jack straightened a bit, and lifted his eyes to Selene, smirking, "How's your garden these days?"

Selene turned her head slightly to bring him into her eye line. In a mild voice she said to Jack, "Thriving now that the fertilizer has been so liberally spread about."

"Oooh…," Carmen responded with a wince. "Direct hit." She tilted her head towards Selene with a look that one could almost construe as proud.

Random smiled approvingly at the banter within the group.

Jack grinned brightly at Selene, reaching for his glass with his left hand, the tattoo winding along his arm, over his shoulder, and across one side of his chest. "Boy, that must make quite a stink behind those high walls."

Selene's lips curl into something between a snarl and a smile, "Not at all, I happen to bathe regularly."

Jack only smirked, his eyebrows rising slightly, his blue eyes still mischievous. Kaylee rolled her eyes at her brother silently.

"Careful you two." he warned, wagging a finger at Kaylee and Jack mischievously, "… I would hate to have to ask the guards to keep a closer eye on who comes and goes near the King's offpsring's quarters."

"Is that a challenge, Dad?" Kaylee asked, grinning.

Carmen gave Kay a sly look. "You know… the house across and two doors down from mine is for sale…"

"Is it now?" Jack tapped his glass thoughtfully. "Could there be some kind 'emergency' tunnel?" He smirked.

Kaylee grinned. "Hmm…."

"Possibly, possibly," Carmen mused, tapping her pencil top against her chin.

"Ignore these two Selene." he added, "…they can think of nothing better to do than wind each other up, and drag anyone along with them who is close by. Take it from me, you don't want to be nearby if Jack pokes Julian too much…the result would be another lesson in 'etiquette'." Random chuckled and smiled.

"You are quite correct Your Majesty, I wouldn't want to be anywhere in the vicinity of Jack poking anyone." Selene nods her head to Random, her face neutral in the best sense of the word. Carmen coughed to hide her laughter. More or less successfully.

"I'm sure that's at least half true." Jack smiled brightly at Selene, and turned to his Father, "But you're right, Julian could use another lesson in etiquette. I think there's one about being courteous enough to say 'Hello' or 'Good Day' or 'This armor chafes'."

Kaylee was considerably less successful than Carmen at hiding her amusement; she snorted in laughter, surreptitiously nudging her brother, and just avoided further snickering by resorting to her orange juice.

Hadrian, standing with his father not terribly far from Jack, looked briefly over at Jack in a surprised and somewhat annoyed manner at these words, then back to his father. He also stepped slightly to one side so as to be out of the direct line between the two.

Selene stopped short of rolling her eyes at Jack's rejoinder, expelling her breath in an almost silent huff. When Hadrian shifted she noted the movement but said nothing about Julian's baiting. Instead, she leaned in toward Connor and whispered something only for him. Snapping her lips shut in frustration, she subsided and listened to the others conversations.

"May I see?" Random asked Carmen pointedly and extended his hand to see her sketch pad.

Carmen looked down at the rough outlines she had been working on (Little Jack in short pants poking a large and unamused wolf with a stick). She shrugged and handed the book over her shoulder to Random. Carmen could be irreverent and gleefully scandalous, but she wasn't stupid; she hadn't brought that sketchbook with her. Though if he flipped through, he would see several people he recognized taking roles from Fairy Tales done in the vivid colors of pastels and pencils; Julian as the Big Bad Wolf stalking Red Riding Hood (different from the one Jack had seen and the reason Carmen had been staring at Julian as he stalked across the room); Kaylee as Alice with her father playing the part of the hookah smoking Caterpillar and Jack as the Cheshire Cat; Fiona as the Red Queen clearly screaming 'off with her head!' and waving a scepter; Flora as Glenda the Good - though one had to wonder just which sister's feet were poking out from under the house; Llewella as a mermaid in the Court of King Triton; Jack clinging to a mighty beanstalk with an arm around a curvaceous woman holding a golden harp; Gerard as Captain Hook having a chat with Tinkerbell perched on the top of his hook; Selene as Sleeping Beauty, resplendent in her slumber awaiting the arrival of her mysterious Prince. Breaking completely from the Fairy Tales was Vialle as the Japanese sea goddess Benzaiten - goddess of eloquence, art, wealth and longevity; Lotus in the beautifully elaborate trappings of the Geisha; Remington and Carmen in the roles of Pygmalion and Galatea….

There were others; snatches of life from the Quarter, flora that had captured Carmen's eye sharing pages with studies of hands, eyes, horses, and details from gowns or other items.

Carmen's Page returned with a pitcher of juice just as she drained her glass. She thanked him with a bright smile and refilled hers and Jack's glasses while Random looked through her Everything Book.

Kaylee smirked slightly when the pitcher arrived and drained the rest of her glass. She held it out to Carmen with a quiet, "Mine too?"

"Certainly," the artist did reply cheerfully and filled Kaylee's glass. "I found your earring, by the way. It was behind the purple couch. How it got there, I have no idea." She paused as she set the pitcher by Jack's plate but well out of reach of his elbow. "Oh… yes I do…"

Jack chuckled and drank more orange juice, "That must be some kind of cosmic axiom. Spare change and loose jewelery are all absorbed by the couch, or the space around it."

"Thanks, C. It must've been kicked there," Kay said cheerfully. "I could swear I lost it in front of that couch, not behind it." She frowned slightly. "Or… wait. I think I'm missing two or three earrings. Which one did you find?"

"The long silver ones with the stars," replied Carmen. She gave Jack a bland look. "I blame the cat. He may actually have eaten the blue diamond stud. I saw it under the end table, and when I went in next, it was gone and he was curled up on the chair looking smug."

"He's a cat, Carmen. 'Smug' is what cats do." Kay grinned. "It's probably near the baseboards by now; you know how he gets when he gets wound up. I'll have to stop by and help you look." She sipped at her drink. "I think there are a few other things that got left behind."

"Oh, I'm certain there's all sorts of bits and pieces," Carmen agreed readily. "Goddess knows, Jack is forever leaving all sorts of — stuff." She paused to steal bacon from Jack. "As for my cat, if he doesn't stop digging holes in the back garden, I may have him neutered."

It was unclear whether Julian had heard the comment or not, as there had been not even a flicker of acknowledgement from Julian. He had cast a cursory glance in everyone's direction at some point since he had arrived, but it seemed merely to ascertain who was present and who was with whom.

Connor turned to look at Selene and for the briefest of moments seemed to smile, a small spark in his eyes; a moment later it was gone and his grim expression seemed to have returned. Connor nodded a little, the action seemed to be a huge effort and one that left him drained.

"These are good." Random's voice cut through the dour exchange between Selene and Connor. "You have a talent Carmen, a real talent." Random's voice was bright and vibrant, a hint of mischievousness still held sway in the King of Amber. "I like the characterisation of your Aunts and Uncles."

"Its a shame…" he added loudly, his comment aimed at his offspring, "…that we can not all be as productive as this in our spare time!" he threw a sideways lop-sided look at Kaylee and Jack.

She smiled. "Thank you," Carmen replied modestly; for her art was from the heart of her, it was one of the serious passions of her life, and the one thing she considered a true gift and not an accident of birth. That didn't mean she couldn't have fun with it - which she did. "I do try."

She turned from Random and smirked at Jack.

Selene looked over the King's shoulder as he paged through the drawings. When he came to the image of Selene as the Sleeping Beauty she blinked once and then tilted her head to look at it from another angle. To Carmen, "You have a gift, cousin. I shall avoid spindles in the near future…."

Looking over her shoulder at them again, Carmen smiled. "I like to put people in settings that are not the norm. Sometimes something about them just immediately catches me and I let the sketches grow - almost on their own. I saw you in a gown similar to the one in that picture, and, well-," she gives a one shouldered shrug; "-it grew from there. I have discovered psychology and kinesics are also wonderful tools for an artist. Before Jack even opened his mouth the first time we met, I had already decided from watching him he was a bit of a Cheshire Cat."

Selene nodded at Carmen's assessment of Jack. "An apt description…" Like Hadrian, she began to grow weary of Flora's delay. It didn't appear that the group was waiting on any more attendees yet nothing seemed to be happening. She made no further attempts at polite conversation, perhaps hoping that the lull overtaking the room would become filled.

Jack looked to Carmen and smiled brightly, " 'We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.' " He winked at her, and then chuckled. "You say and draw the nicest things, Angel."

Kaylee chuckled and nudged her brother. "'Productive'? J, do we know that word?" Grinning, she turned her attention back to Random. "Trust me, Dad - there's a reason you haven't seen me draw. Let's just say that Mom never hung my stuff up on the fridge."

He snorted at Kay's query and drank some of his juice, "You can't put music in a sketchpad, Pop. Some of the best stuff is never written down. I figured you'd know that, what with that ancient drum kit of yours and all." He grinned, "Mom hung up Kay's stuff, I just covered it up with mine so we'd not lose our appetites every time we went for a snack."


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