Heights of Kolvir

The sun was just starting to set when Demon gave a last powerful lunge, bringing them to the very heights of Kolvir. Rebecca swung out of the saddle and gave the stallion an affectionate pat. "Knew ya could do it," she murmured.

Demon blew out a harsh breath and gave her a bland look.

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"Yeah, yeah," she chuckled. "Gimme a sec." She stepped around and removed bit and bridle, barely getting her hand out of the way before he shook his head vigorously. Laughing, she reached to unhook the wineskin of water from the saddlehorn. In a fit of contrariness, the golden maned black started walking away at that very moment. Rebecca tsked at him and snagged it with her fingertips. Acting like he hadn't done a thing, he stepped over to the pool of water left behind by the recent rain, leaving her to squat down, elbows on her knees, and admire the whole of Amber spread out at her feet. She had dressed for it; broken in boots, worn jeans with holes in the knees, t-shirt under an open denim shirt worn to the softness of silk and her favorite broken in hat. Flora nearly had a minor episode when she passed Rebecca in the hall.

She tipped back the skin and let the cool water flow down her dry throat. Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, Rebecca mused on the shift in her life. Amber was a strange place; her father's family was an odd lot. But there was something about this place that tugged at her. Maybe it was the richness of color, the impossible number of stars in the night sky that rivaled even the wide open spaces of Cimarron. Maybe it was the forest older then God.

She snorted. Old habits.

Rebecca had purposely chosen the side that didn't face the Black Road. If she moved over a little and craned her neck, she knew she could see it anyway. But she didn't want to. It was like an infected wound across the otherwise perfect landscape. It was also like a personal affront; having it here meant her Dad kept closer tabs on her because of the added danger. She chafed against it like a wild mustang to the bit.

She stood and went to fetch her saddlebag from Demon. He craned his neck to nudge her, reminding her. She tossed him an impossibly red and juicy apple and gave him a smug look when it landed exactly where she intended it to. His response was a snuff that bled his disdain like spilled ink on parchment. Rebecca let him have that one. She moved away and spread out a blanket on the grass and settled down to admire the sunset. As soon as she got her cigar lit…

Finn had returned from the Black Road after an extended hunt with Julian. He had participated in manticore hunts, one rabid griffin, a couple of wyverns, and one small, but honest to goodness, land dragon. He almost asked to be left off the hunt for the last, the dragon reminded him too much of the symbols that Benedict's house was thick with, and to his mind represented wisdom, strength, earth and air. The reality, however, was not as elegant a creature, nor as intellectually gifted, and it had been possessed of a tendency to hunt Rangers and and prowl battlefields, making the retrieval of the wounded a dangerous prospect. So Finn had gone along; he had not expected to be swallowed by the thing. Julian sent him to the Castle after Finn had cut his way out, and Julian his way in.

It had been a — disconcerting experience. It had taken him an entire day to feel clean, and patches of his skin were still sensitive, where the things digestive juices had gotten through layers of metal rings, padding, and leather. He had kept to himself, and his rooms, and decided that the Black Road wouldn't miss him for a couple of days.

Sunset was approaching, and Finn was finally reaching the crest of Kolvir, where steps ascended into space. He had dismounted a bit back, and now walked beside Blake. Blake was a gift from his mentor, and while at first glance he might seem to be from the same breed of horse as Glemdenning, a closer look dispelled that notion immediately. Blake was a large horse, suitable for a heavy cavalry charge if necessary, but he was possessed of an almost wooly coat, sharp teeth, and feline whiskers. He ate meat, along with the usual equine fare, and his coat was that of a tigers, beautifully red, black, and white. Finn slipped the tiger-horse a piece of jerky as they walked.

"It was terrible, Blake. I expected to be bitten, which surely would have been worse, not swallowed whole."

Blake tossed his head, and snorted.

"I don't think it was because I was on an inferior horse. Besides, you were recovering from that shot you took from the wyvern's tail."

The exotic steed snorted again, and stamped a hoof.

"Yes, yes. A thousand thank yous. I got you your steak like I promised, didn't I?"

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Finn fell silent as he approached, as if he knew they were no longer alone. He looked ahead to the crest, and noticed what looked like someone having a picnic. He stopped, and let Blake wander a bit. He appreciated his privacy, and did not want to intrude on someone else looking to get away. It was a feeling he understood all too well. Finn decided he would say hello, to be polite and move along. He approached at a casual pace, since it was likely he'd already been seen.

The man that approached was tall and lean, dressed simply in jeans, boots, a button down shirt, and a leather jacket. He would have looked at home just about anywhere, if it weren't for the Chinese tasseled broadsword he carried on his back. His hair was dark and worn loose, falling almost to his shoulders. His skin was mildly dusky, tanned from exposure, and his eyes were a smoldering light brown. He smiled slightly as he came nearer to the edge and the woman on her blanket.

"Good Evening." He offered from a polite distance.

Another horse — a black — stood off a ways grazing. It raised its head, ears perking before it swung its head around to eye the interlopers. Shaking a brilliant golden mane and flicking a matching tail, it called a whiney in greeting to the tiger-horse. Apparently he recognized the new comer.

Finn glanced between the horses and smiled slightly. Despite his somewhat fierce appearance, Blake was actually quite friendly off the battlefield.

The woman looked up from her inspection of the smoldering tip of a cigar at the horse's call. Then she pushed her cowboy hat back a bit with the tip of one finger to look at her company a bit better. She tilted her head to one side briefly before she gave him a nod. "Evenin'," she drawled in response. Her accent was decidedly not Amberic in nature, nor anything he had likely heard in Amber or its surrounding Shadows.

She leaned back, her weight resting on one arm stretched behind her. "Didn' expect ta see anyone else way up here t'night."

Finn was not sure if that was a casual 'move along', or an invitation to conversation. He smiled slightly, and could tell, even though she was sitting, that she was quite tall for a woman. She seemed completely at ease. "Nor did I. I needed to get out of the castle, and getting off the Mount would only find me volunteered for this or that. I believed the crest would be safer, with a far better view." His expression brightened slightly, and he seemed bemused. "I see that I was right." He gave her a small nod. "If I am intruding, Blake and I can move along."

The hand bearing the cigar waved dismissively. "Nah. Yer good. Not my mountain. 'Sides, we know Blake, me an' Demon." She glanced over to where the horses were. Not that she was convinced yet that Blake was truly a horse, but he was alright.

Finn looked over at Blake, "Gossip!" The tiger-horse lashed his tail at an unseen fly in response.

Names could be tricky things in Avalon, and Finn, a private fellow himself, had long since gotten over the young man's reflex of asking for a name right away or thinking everything should have one. He'd ask soon enough, or be told if she wanted him to know.

She gave her attention back to Blake's rider. "Just came to watch the sunset ourselves. Yer welcome to join us — whoever ya are."

The man bowed slightly, "I am called Finn. I've been away from the Castle for several days." He smiled and lowered himself to the ground gracefully, adjusting for his sword with the casual ease of someone long used to bearing one. He offered his hand, "The sunset is why we came as well. I fear that I must have missed your arrival to the Castle. It is a pleasure to meet you."

She looked amused at his show of courtly behavior. At his offered hand, she stuck the cigar between her teeth and shook his hand. Her grip was strong and her hands had the callouses of a horse handler, as well as odd ones on the pads of her fingertips. "Rebecca," she replied around the cigar like one used to doing so. "Been here awhile, actually. Here an' there since Cor'nation. Don't spend too much time at the castle m'self."

"Aah, Eric's Daughter." Finn replied with a small smile, "I've heard your name mentioned. I'm afraid I was not in Amber for the Coronation, and upon my return, I was inducted into service. Arden is more than one place, and its easy to lose time in Shadows. I've only been in the Castle couple of days, not including the handful of trips I made back and forth through the Trumps." He shook his head, "How are you finding Amber? I have always marveled at how it gets under one's skin."

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She chuckled and blew out a stream of smoke. "Bettin' my name was in the same sent'nce as -" she paused, cleared her throat and continued in a snooty voice devoid of accent "-Oh, great goddess, did you see what she was wearing?" Rebecca flashed him a grin as she reached over into her saddlebag. She offered him a cigar cylinder before continuing on in her own voice. "It's a'right. Bit more civ'lizati'n then I'm us'd ta havin' 'round me. Bit less to do then I'm us'd ta." She shrugged and looked out at the fingers of orange and pink unfurling on the clouds in the deep blue sky and painting it purple as the sun started to set. "But it's mighty pretty."

Finn laughed softly, "I believe it was 'You'll know her when you see her.'" He shrugged slightly, "And you look very fine to me. I like the hat." He smiled, and glanced toward the view, his eyes passing over the City, and looking at Arden as if he could penetrate its green depths from where they sat. His eyes turned back to Rebecca, and his smile brightened as he accepted the cigar. "Thank you, this is very kind. Have you a match?" He opened the cylinder and from — somewhere — produced a very small, very sharp knife. With it, he made a v-cut into the closed end of the cigar. "It's a beautiful place. I used to think Avalon was all green rolling hills and a sky so blue you'd be pressed to find a proper name for the color. Amber is that and more. The City is impressive, in places, but Arden, the view from here, even Rebma…its certainly worth preserving." He smiled, "Have you been into Arden? Or Rebma?"

Rebecca handed him her silver box of matches, the top etched with running horses. While he lit his stogie, she produced a couple of bottles of a Begman brewed ale. She set one by him and opened her own. "Ain't been ta Rebma. Don't trust that whole breathin' underwater business just yet. But I've been to Arden. Sev'ral times. Been tryin' ta figure out how ta get Julian to let me ride his horse."

Demon made a sound that was suspiciously like a snicker, and Rebecca threw her bottle cap at his rump. The stallion just flicked his tail in what could only be described as a 'whatever' gesture.

"Shut it," Rebecca muttered.

Finn puffed on his cigar like someone that knew what he was doing, and knew that sometimes you had to stop and have a smoke or drink, now and again. "Thank you for this." He smiled, and took up the ale. "You planned well. I'd almost say you were ready for company." He opened the bottle. "It is — strange at first. Wait until you try eating and drinking under water. Neat trick, that." He chuckled, "I think you'd have better luck asking Morgenstern directly. I doubt Julian wants to be responsible for the King's daughter being eaten by his not really tamed monster of a horse."

Rebecca snorted. "Don't matter what Morgenstern says if Julian'll end up all puffed like a riled up polecat." She started to take a swig from the bottle and paused, stuck momentarily at the image of Julian riled up. She smirked and took a drink. "Weren't really expectin' company. But them folks in the kitchen seemed ta think I needed enough fer an overnighter. Reckon they've noticed I tend ta do that."

"Anyone take you to see Jones Falls yet? That's pretty far in." He frowned slightly, "And likely dangerous now, but I'd be willing to lead the way if you've not seen it. It's one of Amber's wonders — at least, one of the ones they put on all the maps."

"Went out last week, actually.." Rebecca pulled a knee up and set her hat on it before laying back to watch the sky. "Didn' git to stay long though. When the troubles are all passed, I'm plannin' on campin' out there a coupla days. Seems a good spot. Get me away from Flo's damned tsking."

"Well, hopefully soon, you'll be able to make the trip before too long." Finn smiled, and blew a perfect smoke ring over their heads. "I'll be going back down there in another day or so." He laughed quietly, "Florimel does that a lot. She is a very beautiful woman,
but I do not think that I've ever known a person so purposefully put together as she is. I'd wager that somewhere away from here she dresses way down, and even partakes in a vice or three."

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She turned her head to look at Finn, but her eyes slid to the hilt of the sword on his back. "What's that?"

He tilted his head to one side for a moment, and then easily unbuckled the shoulder strap, and placed the blade on the blanket, hilt towards Rebecca, for her to examine if she chose. "This is a chinese broadsword." The blade curved slightly to the tip, which was double edged. The hilt also had a slight curve, and had a red tassel. "This was once in Benedict's collection. He doesn't keep museum pieces, they're all in good order, it is from a place in Shadow called Qin."

Rolling to her side, Rebecca propped herself up on one elbow and put her hat back on. She leaned in a little to look at the blade. "Right pretty for a weapon." She didn't touch it; a person's weapons weren't meant to be handled by anyone else. Swords even more so according to her Dad. She could respect that. "Pretty big deal, ain't it? Gettin' one from Benedict?"

"Depends on your view. He trusts me to bring this back in one piece." Finn placed the scabbard across his knees, and slipped the sword back into it. "It is also a big deal to get to spar with your Father, though he's had less time of late. I learn as much about swordplay as I do about politics." He smiled and puffed on his cigar. "I've not specialized yet. Eric has his saber, OSensei his tachi, Gerard his claymore, and even Deirdre has her axe. I've yet to choose, so Benedict wonders if I ever will, and lets me sample the weapons in his collection. I think he's more curious than anything else." Finn shrugged slightly, "The basics are all the same really, its just a matter of adjustment."

Finn eyes Rebecca curiously, his gaze following her long legs to her face, "And yourself? You would be one of the few, other than Flora, I've not seen with a blade. Even Fiona has at least two, though I'm certain there's more."

In answer, she pulled one leg up and removed a silver throwing dagger from her boot. "Nothin' so fancy. Got a few of these, coupla throwin' axes." She resheathes the dagger. "Got a six-shooter I prefer but it don't work here." She tone showed her displeasure. Rebecca smirked. "Right handy with a whip too."

Finn smiled slightly at the dagger, "Axes are good, but one can never carry enough I find." He smoked and looked thoughtful a moment, "Have you considered going into Shadow for a very clever hand crossbow. Modern materials can still be brought back, and while it might only be good for one or two shots — I'd be willing to wager you can make them count." He sat in the lotus position, looking as comfortable and casual as another might appear in an armchair. "A whip? Very versatile."

Behind her, Demon snorted.

"Oh, get on with ya!" she called over her shoulder. "Only used it that one day with ya; back when ya were an ornery little cuss and didn' know who was boss! Didn' even touch ya!"

She looked at Finn and whispered. "Not like he still don't ferget now and again."

He smiled, a bit amused before Rebecca whispered to him, then he laughed. "It seems the spirited ones always forget from time to time. Blake is actually a decent fellow, but he doesn't take well to 'what is that?' from a stablehand more than a couple of times. Then there's not much I can do about the fellow being terrorized."

"Deserves it then, don't he?" she snorted. "Too many folk think horses're just dumb animals. Folks can learn alot from horses. If'n they'd just pay attenion."

She flicked ash off her half forgotten cigar and took a long pull from her bottle before setting it on a flat spot on the blanket. She wiped her mouth with the side of her hand before getting to his previous question. "Might be a fair bit before I can get out into Shadow fer anythin'. Dangerous times ta be the King of Amber's kid, and he ain't too taken' with the notion of me hiein' off. Reckon I could find one of those crossbows in the armory. Sounds like somethin' that someone woulda brought in 'fore now. Truth is, I tend ta do my fightin' uplose an' personal-like. They make a satisfyin' thump when they hit tha ground after I introduce 'em to my fist."

"Blake is anything but dumb. He chose his own name, after I read a poem to him by William Blake, Tyger Tyger. He doesn't — talk — per se, but he has a language I've gotten used to." Finn glanced over at his singular stallion, and shook his head slightly as a small squirrel paid the price for complacency around what had seemed another grass-eater. "No eating between meals!" He called out to Blake.

Blake lifted his head in what might have been feigned innocence, his very pink tongue licking the blood from his lips.

Rebecca watched Blake a moment. She didn't look surprised by the bloody display, lending credence to her earlier statement that she and Demon knew Blake. For his part, Demon snorted at Blake and used his hoof to flick water from the small pool at the hybrid horse in a manner that suggested he should wash his face.

Finn smiled and drank some of the ale, "I suppose I should be thankful he's not bringing us one of his 'gifts'. He was quite offended the first time I refused a dead chipmunk he brought to my fire in favor of a venison haunch." He shook his head, "Eric cannot expect you to stay an Amber until thing are safer, it won't be for some time, and while he's King, I suppose there's a stray chance that you'll always be in danger. Shadow is the place for you, trackless Shadow. At lease you'll be expanding your horizons. He can have someone make a Trump, and you're but a thought away."

"I ain't in no huge hurry to git out and about," she shrugged. "Plenty ta see close to home. "'Sides, someone's gotta keep on eye on Dad. Remind him there's more to livin' then that shiney hat and that chair."

Finn nodded, "If the Armory does not have one, let me know, Blake and I will sally forth into Shadow and bring you back a sampling. He laughed, "They do thump nicely. Maybe I'll bring back a cestus as well." Finn drank more of the ale then, chocolate colored eyes gleaming in amusement. "The nobles here are always stunned when they challenge you and you choose something like gauntlets at dawn. One young fellow, a Chantris, actually left town rather than fight hand to hand with me."

"Huh," she responded through a haze of blue-grey smoke. "Them nobles are a soft lot." She grinned. "'Cept their heads. Hard enough to be breakin' vases over. Lordy, Flo howled at me 'bout that."

Blake turned to Demon, and made a sound that was the equine equivalent of 'Hey!', before stepping lightly to the pool for a drink and to wash away what ever crimson stain remained. He whinnied and tossed his head at Demon, and trotted a few paces towards a garden, where there was more fresh water and longer grass. Black looked over his shoulder and waited a bit, before moving off again.

Demon pretended to ignore the tiger until Blake had entered the garden. Then the black toss his golden mane and made a resigned sound before following along with the air of one who was only going to keep the other out of trouble.

"Wearing the Crown is busy work, but someone has to do it, and despite Family grumbling, any of them would be hard pressed to find someone more suited. Ruling is not the same as being a General, nor does being a genius of esoterica necessarily make one a genius in the sphere of complex politics." Finn drank more ale, "Eric has managed to juggle all three." He shrugged slightly, "I would think that people as long lived as our kin would realize that more could be accomplished working together, than fracturing into cabals along matrilineal lines. But for all my years, I'm still just a 'callow youth'."

Rebecca snorted at that last.

"Aah, Flora was worried about the vase. Antique vases don't grow on trees, Rebecca." He paused for a drink, "At least not in Amber." He looked up at the sky as the sun continued to make its way lower and lower. "No Tir na Nog'th tonight. A shame too, by the time it returns, I'll likely not be anywhere to properly enjoy the sight."

She looked up at the deep purple sky that shaded to glorious sunset. "Suspect it'll be a while yet before ya get me up onta haunted stairways. Still not quite used'ta even seein' it from a distance." She took another toke from her cigar before adding; "It was an ugly vase."

Finn smiled, "If you think the view is spectacular from here, you'll be in for a pleasant surprise if you ever try the stairs to the moon." He smoked his cigar silently for a moment, and then added. "I've never been into Tir. They say it is a place of dreams and prophecy, and I have plenty of the former, and want no part of the latter."

"Unicorn, they're all a bit ugly. Oberon nor Dworkin, I suppose, were terribly interested in — what did Flora call it? Interior Design."

"Dunno," Rebecca shrugged. She sat up and bent one knee up to prop her elbow on. "She kept'a shriekin' about some fella named Ming. Told her if'n it was that valuable to this fella, it shouldn' 'av been downstairs where it was a viable weapon."

Finn's eyebrows rose, "Oh. That one might have been brought in by Flora herself." He shook his head, amused. "I take it you're not from a Castles and Antiques sort of place?" Finn blew another smoke ring, "I'm an import as well, though, Ojirasan, Benedict, has been my teacher for as long as I can remember. I come from a place called Avalon."

She gave an amused snort. "I'm from a place called Cimarron. Raised on a ranch that raised an' trained horses. Where china was the fancy dishes for Sunday dinner, an' stuff like delicate vases didn' have no place in my world. Stuff that import'nt stayed in yer room." She took a sip from her bottle. "A place of wide open plains for hundr'ds of miles, an' snow topped mountains that almost touched tha' sky. On the plain ya could ride for weeks an' not see anoth'r soul. Campin' in the mountains, ya' could almost believe ya could reach up at night and pull down the moon."

Finn closed his eyes, smoking his cigar, as she described it. The ash at the end of the smoldering bit of hand-rolled tobacco was just about long enough to tap off, or it would be soon. He smiled to himself as Rebecca went on. "That sounds — lovely. It's nice to get far out where no one else is. Where nothing but the sky and the earth can be seen on the horizon. He drank more ale, opening his eyes. "How long has it been since you've been back?"

"Oh, hell. I hadn' been back but once since I got here. That was to fetch my bed." Rebecca inspected the much shortened cigar, her mostly gone ale and the brilliant sunset that was starting to fade into the horizon.

"I'm feelin' a mite peckish. The Cock & Bull make the best steak dinner I've found since gettin' here. Interested?"

Finn watched the bronze disc that was the sun dip behind the distant horizons, spraying golden light across the top of the Forest of Arden just before it disappeared. He looked at his bottle, and tilted it back until it was done. "It sounds like a nice retreat. If ever you head home, and desire company, please let me know." He finally tapped the ash of his cigar off, smiling at its size. It had been a long time since he had a smoke this good.

She looked askance at him as she stuck her cigar between her teeth and climbed to her feet. She was definitely a tall drink of water. She was easily 6' if she was an inch, and the low heels of her boots declared she wasn't much shorter without them.

"Yes, actually. The cook here is fine, but a steak dinner sounds just right." Finn smiled, as Blake returned and pranced a bit at the word 'steak' being repeated.

She nodded. "Right then." Rebecca finished off her ale and stuck the empty in her saddlebag before handing the tooled leather bag to Finn. Glancing over at Blake, she saw Demon sauntering slowly back over and she whistled him to her while she gathered up the blanket.

"C'mon, ya great beast. We're headin' for the tavern."

Demon perked up, his ears flicking forward as he came to a halt beside Rebecca.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm a'certain Maggie will be happy to give ya a bucket o' beer. Ya lush."

Demon snorted, tossing his mane.

"I reckon it is good fer ya, but it still makes ya unnaturally happy."

Demon adopted a frankly haughty pose while Rebecca rolled her eyes and replaced his bit and bridle.

Finn observed her stand and looked up and up and up. He smiled and rose to his feet, uncrossing his legs and doing so with the strength in them alone, and a casual easy sense of balance. He set the bottle aside, and held the cigar in the corner of his mouth as he began to fold up the blanket, and add the empty bottles to what Rebecca had carried up. Blake came over him to push his nose into the back of Finn's neck for attention. The swordsman turned around and pet the Tiger-Horse roughly for a moment, before scratching him behind one ear.

"I will put the bridle back on. No bit, as long as you promise not to try and eat every chipmunk and squirrel we come across."

Finn turned back to Rebecca, "Thank you for inviting us along. We don't often keep company, and rarely do we stumble over company as good as yours -" Blake tossed his head, "- and Demon's."

Demon pawed at the grass with one hoof and Rebecca tugged at his ears playfully before moving back to his side. "Anytime," she replied with a lazy smile to Finn — and Blake. Taking her things back from Finn, she secured them back to to their place behind the saddle. She gathered the reins and moved back a step, then pulled her Trump case — hardened leather tooled with a rearing horse on the front — from her belt and selected a card. "I'm fer the shortcut down to the road. Else I may start competin' with Blake for tha stray squirrels."

Finn chuckled softly, and smiled. "Short cut it is." He turned to Blake and told him to stay close for the Trump Gate. Then he moved to stand near Rebecca, but a bit behind her. He raised an eyebrow as he observed her focusing on the Trump, and decided the view was very good from where he stood.

The contact activated and Rebecca - cigar still between her teeth - and company walked through. They found themselves on the road that led from Arden to the city, not far from the City gates. She put the card away, hooked the case back to her belt, and swung up in the saddle easily. She sat a horse like she was born to do so. The reins were held lightly in her hand, though it was unlikely that she would use them, since her horse seemed to understand everything she said. Horse and rider waited for Finn to mount up and Demon started a canter to their destination.


TOCCock & Bull

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