By Command of the King

Amber Castle’s main corridor is dark, lit only by the eerie sunset light that reflects from above. The afternoon rain has passed, but the tension and electricity can still be felt, as if suspended in the air of the wide corridor itself. You pass three light wells as you follow the two royal guards that came to fetch everyone. On the walls, they behold the portraits of Oberon’s progeny – at least the progeny that has graced Amber Castle of their presence.

The tension suffusing the place seems to roll right over Rebecca. Her lazy saunter through the halls had been at total odds with the guards and the summons of the King. The jingle of her spurs echoed off the stone walls. Anyone that knew her well knows she doesn't use the vicious things on the horses she rode. She doesn't need to. She just likes wearing them.

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Faylinn had been outside - to no one's surprise - when the guards came to find her. She had trailed after them, dribbling bits of mud and wet leaves from the damp hem of her black skirt the entire way; the trail of muddy barefoot prints only followed her for a dozen yards before tapering off. She'd chosen a leather bodice to go with the skirt, also black, and a gold necklace whose abstract, asymmetric curls suggested a waterfall cascading from her throat. Her dark hair was loose, slightly curled, damp but drying, and possibly tangled by the looks of it.

Finn followed the guards, his face expressionless as he went. His eyes grazed over the Familial statuary with a distinct lack of interest. He nodded when the others arrived, giving Faylinn a hug, and Rebecca an honest, if slight, smile.

Fay smiled a bright smile for Finn and a slightly lesser one for everyone else as she arrived and collected her hug.

The guards stop before the heavy oak doors that mark the entrance to the Throne Room and simply say, “Wait here.” They leave them there and they notice that the six royal guards usually posted before the carved doors have vacated, which gives you a chance to appreciate the exquisite carving of a rearing Unicorn. The oak itself was surely grown in Arden thousands of years ago. The sculptural masterpiece has lost none of its luster, as far as anyone can tell anyway.

In turn, all of the group of youngers arrive. On cue, King Eric’s voice resonates beyond the doors: “Enter.”

As they enter the richly decorated throne room, adorned with a white marble bust of Oberon and one of Eric to the right, facing busts of Queens past to the left, they see King Eric seated comfortably on his throne at the back of the large room. The rear of the room is three steps higher than the room’s entrance, and to the right of the throne there are six green velvet seats, a heavy oak table with half a dozen maps laid out and four small wooden boxes in one of the corners. On the left of the throne, there is another table, smaller, with wines and liquors, glasses and a variety of finger food.

Eric called them inside, and anything Finn might of said was made to wait. He entered the room, his eyes flicking about, taking in the details, missing nothing. He noticed the six seats and the table laden with maps, and sighed slightly. Finn began to mentally put aside the battle he'd left, and began to prepare for whatever new strategy lay ahead. He raised an eyebrow, wondering briefly if whatever task lay ahead would require all six of the members of his Generation.

The King regards the lot with a stern look as they approach. As they walk to the foot of the steps, King Eric stands up and explains, “As all of you may have realized, the threat of the Black Road is increasing with every passing week. Our efforts to contain the damage have been successful thus far, but the Black Road itself has continued to extend and widen. Many worlds are affected by this and in the interest of Amber’s safety, we have worked relentlessly to protect Shadows of the Golden Circle.”

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Rebecca gives Eric a jaunty salute from the brim of her off-white cowboy hat as she enters. Then she goes and slouches against a wall, thumbs tucked into the back pocket of her brown leather trousers as she listens to the briefing. She lights up a cigarette about half way through and watches her father through a curling haze of blue-white smoke. She looks vaguely amused, and entirely relaxed despite the situation.

When they were summoned inside, Fay followed the rest of the group; she listened to the King with curiosity, and a hint of interest at the mention of the forest path.

He looks at all of them , one by one, and continues his speech, “Many of my brothers are assisting in that endeavor successfully, but enemy troops are gathering in larger and larger numbers and according to our scouts, they are moving to detect and destroy Amber’s resources.” He pauses again briefly, “There is a Shadow called Greymoor, which sits outside of the Golden Circle and is linked to Begma by a forest shadow path – and now the Black Road. This Shadow’s inhabitants have successfully routed several major assaults and slowed troop movement of the enemy, which thus far has worked to protect Begma. What I wish from all of you is to establish a relationship with the rulers of Greymoor and offer our support in the war against a common enemy. If Lords Julian, Gerard and Caine are successful, Greymoor will become the last line of defense of the Golden Circle, by land. We wish to establish a force there, in time, before the enemy realizes Greymoor’s future significance. There is a part each of you must play in this and I need you to be secretive about our ultimate goal for Greymoor. There is a lot of information for me to share about Greymoor, so for now, make yourselves comfortable. It’s going to be a long night, so for now, familiarize yourselves with each other.”

On that note, he walks over to the table holding the hors-d'oeuvre and drinks and helps himself to a ruby-colored wine from a crystal decanter. Finally smiling, he looks at them all and asks, “Bayle’s best, anyone?”

Finn listens to the King, and when he is done, quietly walks over to the table with the maps. "Tequila would be more soothing at this point." Finn tilts his hat back on his head a bit, and looks over the information on the table, giving it a quick scan.

In the end, Rebecca pushes off the wall and approaches her father. She gives the decanter of wine in his hand a good natured sneer and pours herself half a glass of whiskey into a crystal highball.

"Reckon I'll be needin' ta cancel my plans for the evenin', yeah?"

Eric chuckles quietly at Rebecca's sneer, then says "I'm afraid so, darling. I imagine that my company will do just as well as your prior plans."

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She raises an amused eyebrow and laughs. "Don' think ya want to go there, Dad."

Eric sips his own glass as he walks over to Finn, seemingly ignoring his request for a stiffer drink, leaving the others to partake in food and company before getting down to business.

Finn can see that among these maps, there is a very general one that depicts the lands of Greymoor. It is crude at best and lists a handful of regions and towns amidst symbols representing valleys and mountain ranges. Several places on this map are marked with keeps and fortified cities. Some are named, some are not.

If Finn could get more detailed information and knowledge of where the Black Road lay, a strategy could potentially be formulated, but with so many variables, things would become more uncertain.

There is, however, a very detailed map of Begma, listing port names and landmarks with great detail, as well as several sea charts depicting Shadow paths rendered at different scales and with a variety of annotations, that would lead from Amber's Northern sea out into Shadow, with Begma as the destination, it would seem.

Finn recognizes Gerard's talent: the sea charts were his. During his study of the maps, Finn can feel Eric eying him, sizing him up perhaps.

The tall woman pours a glass of Patrón Silver and saunters over to the other hat wearing member of the group. She nudges Finn with her hip and hands him a glass.

"Nice hat," she grins. "Reckon we have to postpone the usual 'Finn's off tha field' plans." Then she leans back on her heels and gives him a long once over with a shake of her head at the end. "Damn…"

Finn looks up from the maps when Rebecca nudges him with her hip. He smiles at her, the expression reaching his eyes. "Thanks, " He answers her, accepting the glass of tequila as his other hand gives her a tip of his hat. "My favorite Princess gave it to me." He took a drink then, closing his eyes as the warmth spread, and then opening them again with a sigh. He chuckles softly, "Looks like we'll both be going back out this time." Finn catches her eye, smiles, and leans towards her to speak softly, "Think we can hide behind the tapestries?"

"Ooooh, feelin' brave, are ya?" Rebecca laughed lowly. "Should prob'ly wait 'til Dad aint' watchin' ya quite so intent." She winks at from under her hat. "Remind me later to show ya the new chaps."

"I'm always feeling brave. You know that." Finn smiles, and raises an eyebrow. "Your Father isn't watching me for that. He's wondering what I make of this -" He gestures at the maps. "- mess." Finn's eyes brighten a touch, and then he nods. "I'll remember."

He nods when his Sister draws near, and then his eyes flick to the others that approach the table. Finn eyes Preston, "Water, Cousin. Have a drink, or juice. Hydration. It should help." Then Finn turns to Rebecca, who gestures with her glass towards the maps.

"Whatcha reckon?"

Finn makes a slight face, which was enough for her, and certainly Faylinn, to know that he did not think much of what he'd seen. "The information here is just a little bit north of useless. The map of Greymoor is outdated, and surely inaccurate by now, if not utterly obsolete. Only Gerard's charts are certain to be useful — which are fine for escape or naval disposition, but as we're looking to occupy and absorb, it is only a minor advantage." He gestures, "I am guessing that the Shadow path meets Begma -" Finn drinks, and places a finger on the map. "- here. We'll put boots on the ground in Greymoor somewhere near Kathorn, where all these feudal Cities are. This does not even indicate whether they're allied or not, or whether its a City-State culture, which means we have to deal with a plethora of jumped up Elders or Mayors or whatever." Finn drinks again, "I doubt even those borders still exist today, given population growth, population pressure, the likely possibility of all manner of wars and consolidation. We'll be half blind if we work by this."

He shakes his head, "There's not enough here to plan for anything but a vast array of variables, which is always dangerous. Poor intelligence is as bad as no intelligence in this kind of situation, and from the looks of this map, there hasn't been a scout in Greymoor for at least one of their generations, very likely more." Finn eyes the map again, "There's not even a notation regarding technological advancement. For all we know they still cast their weapons in bronze, and build their walls half out of lumber — without the benefit of pitch or tar."

Rebecca pushes her hat back with a finger of the hand holding her glass and nods at Finn's assessment. "Agreed," she says as her eyes scan the maps. "Wish we knew more 'bout the folks there. Stop off in one of these border towns in Begma and see what we can gopher up, I reckon. Kinda s'prised somethin' this close to the GC hadn' been visited in a coyot's age from the look of things."

She runs a finger along the forest path. "That'd be the safe route, yeah? I'm almost tempted to follow the Road." She eyes the rest of the room's occupants and then sucks her teeth briefly. "Meybe."

Altair's eyes have been long staring at the map. They meet Eric's, finally breaking his silence. He relaxes, removing his folded hands from in front of his mouth. He takes up his drink and sips slowly. With a nod to Eric he speaks, "I am not sure what to make of the situation myself, but it may be the excitement I am looking for." He gives a grin and a wink, "And I am more than willing to help the will of my King."

He begins to pace the room slightly, deep in thought. He mumbles some to himself, stopping occasionally to study the map again. He shakes his head each time, and continues right along. Eventually he stops, and resumes sitting.

His smile is broader now. "This is quite a mystery and I grow more and more intrigued with each passing second."

Kade retires to a seat, wine glass cradle between his hands. He smiles and shakes his head.

Eric seems to grow bored and stands, the last rays of sunlight shining upon him from a small window to the left of the room, framing his face. As he walks to get some hors-d'oeuvres, he says, "I assure you all, the situation is actually quite simple." He helps himself to small pieces of pate-en-croute and some blue cheese with honey. "The truth is that Begma has had very little relations with Greymoor. The forest path that connects Begma to Greymoor leads through a long forest path and through a mountain range. Begma simply has had little to gain from trade with Greymoor, at least too little to cross such a border on a regular basis." He takes a few bites, and punctuates with a sip of his wine. "Begman officials do not know of our plan to re-route the enemy's forces through Greymoor, and they are not to be made aware of it either. If Greymoor were to fall, Begma would certainly be next. As far as they are concerned, we are simply sending an expedition in order to better secure Begman borders. After all, the late King Oberon has invested much in this small kingdom and we are in fact fulfilling the requirements of our current treaty."

The King takes a few more bites then sits back into his throne. The light outside has faded fully, the sun has set completely and darkness encroaches the room a bit more. "The map of Greymoor certainly is outdated, but I suspect your expedition will be able to fill in the blanks… If we find out where the Black Road falls, a clearer strategy will be available to us. Our information currently comes from sharing intelligence with Begman scouts."

"Your main goal will be to establish contact with the various Kingdoms and convince them to allow us to send our troops for support. Secondary goals include defining a preliminary strategy in defeating the Chaos menace there, as well as preventing large troop movement via the Black Road." Another sip.

"If things should prove to be too difficult, you should of course contact Lords Julian, Caine or Gerard… Which brings me to these," he points to the wooden boxes. "These contain trumps for each of you who do not yet hold a deck of your own."

He looks at everyone in turn, with a wink for Rebecca, as he finishes his food and empties his glass. "I'm open to questions now." His best smile yet appears, casual and classy. A red glow hints at his chest, through his black garment.

Rebecca pulls a chair out from the table and straddles it backwards so she's got her arms propped on the back and facing Eric. "Sounds susp'ciously straight ferward," she notes. "When we leavin', and who 'sides us is goin'?"

Altair nods, as if to second Rebecca's words. He finishes the last of the wine in one gulp, sucking in every last drop. His smile is gone and his gaze is fixed upon the face of the king. He says nothing, but begins to rap his fingers on the table slowly.

"I think that answers Kade's question." Finn begins with a nod to the man he named, before finishing off his tequila in a quick toss of his head, and placing the glass on the old map. The bottom of the glass magnifies the point at which Greymoor supposedly meets with Begma; the shadow path. "None of us have been to Greymoor." He catches Faylinn's eye, and gestures at the glass that now magnifies the somewhat mountainous forest path.

He turns to Rebecca, and nods. "That path is the only way in, as far as we know." Finn considers her notion, "The only problem with following the Black Road is not knowing how many Shadows it will wind through before getting there. With that, we have no way to know about the time differential, and thus no way to schedule our arrival or our plans." Finn smiles, "Though with a Hellride, that still could be an option."

Finn tuns to Altair, and claps him on the shoulder once, before saying, "The King's Will won't amount to much in Greymoor. They won’t know the King of Amber from the King of Siam, so dropping his name will bear only the weight of legend, if it has leaked that far. They may even assume we work for Grandather Oberon, rather than Eric. Their only avenue for world news is that path, after all.”

The Duke of Avalon lifts his eyes to Eric when he begins to speak, his lips press together slightly in disapproval. "You keep using the word 'expedition', does that mean that we will be leading troops to Greymoor with us? Or will they be bivouacked in Begma, ready to enter Greymoor when the way has been cleared?" Finn takes a seat beside Rebecca, sitting straight and tall. “Gathering intelligence as we go is, at best, unwise. We will be starting out at a disadvantage. How long ago was this Begman intelligence shared? Has anyone besides Begma confirmed the information? When we go to establish contact, with whom are we treating? Are their divisions along cultural or even ethnic lines? I take it that our troops can also be available for Trump transport, but in what number and disposition?”

Finn tilts his head slightly, “You are asking for a handful of disparate goals.” He holds up one finger, and then lets it drop, “Permission to stage upon their lands, which implies alliance or conquest, if any of their leaders are at all alert. We must assume that they are. In either case, we need them far more than they need us, a fact they cannot help to be aware of.” He frowns slightly, “Which means we need to create native sentiment for our cause, a kind of insurgency, and we don’t know enough to pull that off, and won’t have the catalyst to do so in a hurry without Chaos hordes pouring in – which renders the issue a bit moot, because if we’re not organized by then, we’re in trouble. Once we’ve located the Black Road, strategy becomes easier, but that assumes that our only enemy is Chaos alone – and not native Greymoorians unhappy with our presence.” He raises an eyebrow, “Do you know the names of any of the leaders we might be dealing with? Whom we might need to play against the other? Are you aware of any current conflicts that we could unbalance in our favor?”

He snorts softly, “It is anything but straightforward.” Finn shakes his head, "Not to put a damper on anyone's enthusiasm, but we're not a strike force, there's larger concerns than simply filling in pretty little tree symbols on a map."

"I think," Faylinn says as she reaches across to nudge Finn's glass aside slightly, "that what Finn is attempting to ask is, 'is there a plan, or are you simply throwing us in and hoping we will be able to swim?'" She doesn't pause for a response, just continues on while examining the supposed trail. "But he has ever been on the blunt side. What sort of woods are these?"

Eric's daughter smirks; she had said it was suspiciously straightforward. She sips her whiskey and eyes Finn from under her hat.

At Finn's words, Altair smirks as well. "I did not mean to say that his name shall get us far, but rather I will do what is required of me by his name." He reclines, taking out some paper and tobacco and begins to roll a cigarette. "Of course there is an ulterior motive in all of this. What else are we to expect? However, so many different talents would not be gathered here unless they had a chance of accomplishing any tasks set before us. Either way, is the suspicious manner of this mission going to stop anyone from going?" He strikes a match and begins to take the cigarette slow.

Eric nods through most of the exchange as he processes quickly the questions thrown at him.

First looking at Rebecca, before anyone can respond to Altair's question, apparently assuming it to be rhetorical, he says "You'll be leaving at first tide tomorrow. Arkadios will be doing the navigating, probably, while Gerard will provide temporary protection from the dark waters until you make port in Begma's Sunderland."

"I imagine some of you may wish to Hellride there, but Caine reckons that the Black Road always seems to remain. The troops that you will be taking," looking at Finn now, "will have to travel by sea. This should give time for those who decide to scout Greymoor for themselves to do so."

"You will be taking fifty or so infantry men with lances, fifteen archers, and… Julian has also volunteered twenty cavalry men from his rangers in Arden. The ones led by Sergeant Labro, I believe you're familiar with them, Finn.. Oh and a handful of standard bearers in case there's a need for grand appearances. I'll leave that up to you as needed."

Eric clears his throat, then continues his long-winded explanation, looking at Faylinn as he says, "I'm not about to sacrifice anyone in this endeavor, and I'm sure you understand that competent resources are stretched thin at this time."

"The intelligence that we've received is quite new, I assure you, a week at most, including the time difference, which according to Caine is just about two and a half days in Greymoor and Begma to one in Amber. The map is all that we could muster from Amber's library."

Looking at the rest of them, Eric says, "Greymoor is drawn outside of the Golden Circle by choice. The truth is that they have heard of us but either don't think much of Amber to begin with or are too isolated to concern themselves with matters outside of their lands. Either way, the Black Road remains a multi-Shadow spanning threat and I imagine it can be made very clear that we can offer proper help in destroying its source, as it was done in Avalon… among other Shadows."

Turning to Faylinn, Eric says, "My dear, there is in fact a plan. I wouldn't want to risk seeing who exactly can or cannot swim over a matter of such importance." He chuckles, "I thought it would be more fitting that we introduce our newcomers first… But since that does not seem to be a pressing matter, I will share it with you now." He stands and walks over to the maps. He takes Finn's glass and hands it back to him, then turns the Greymoor map around and places it partially over the Begman map and points at the connecting woods. "There is your connecting area. It is for the most part an overgrown pine forest as altitude is gained, which fades into oak and birch woods. The path descends here and crosses the Black Road about here," he says pointing to the north east of Almirior.

"Since Almirior dominates the conflict with the Black Road, I would like you to begin your diplomatic and support efforts there. If everything goes well, we can trump more troops as needed."

"Technologically speaking, they don't seem to have any more than we do, and certainly not much less. They still live off of the land at an independent level and the threat of a spreading Black Road can go a long way with Greymoor's leaders."

"Finn will be in charge of troops, with the support of Arkadios and Faylinn. Altair, Daniel, Preston and Rebecca will be in charge of dealing with Almirior's King Melor. An alliance is obviously 'de rigueur'. If it cannot be achieved, report to me."

He looks at Rebecca and winks, "This is obviously not set in stone, but where you will start. I want you to report the situation to me directly as things develop. If there is any change of plan, it will come from me, via Rebecca. Be adaptable and as long as you understand the importance of Amber's presence in Greymoor, I imagine you lot will make things go as smoothly as if I'd sent Caine to do the job himself."

"What else can I clarify on the subject?"

Having turned around in her chair to watch Eric, Rebecca didn't say a word until her father opined that the tech was similar to Amber's. Then she cursed lowly, though only Finn was near enough to hear what she said exactly — which was right filthy, actually.

She was looking fairly disgruntled at the notion of sailing anywhere, but then Eric assigned them into groups and she laughed out loud.

"Ar'ya serious?" She laughs again as she stands from her chair. The King's daughter drains her whiskey glass and adjusts her hat. "Lordy, Dad," she chuckles. She shakes her head and saunters back over to the sidebar for a refill.

Eric chuckles and says, "Yeah, I know… I thought I'd give it a try, as usual. As long as you guys get good results, you can assign yourselves to groups as needed. Rebecca, you can go scout with Finn ahead of the others. In the end, I'm counting on you and things will be up to you as a group… Unless I give you more specific goals based on the situation that is…"

She turns after refilling her drink and gestures to Altair and the rest. "Nuthin' personal, fellas. It's jist I am likely the last person ya want to be tryin' a hand at diplom'cy. I'm more like ta get us inna fight then accord."

Altair takes the final drag from the cigarette and coughs slightly. He runs his hand through his hair to push it out of his face and sighs. There is a look of bemusement on his face; not quite a smile and not quite a frown. His eyes wander momentarily on the map again.

He raises his empty glass and gestures back to Rebecca. "Not at all an issue, my dear. I find myself far more comfortable in the presence of kings myself, and I am sure that it shall be handled either way."

When Eric is done, Finn snorts softly again, “I seem to recall a certain Prince, when both of us were in our cups, telling me that ‘playing coy is for women and courtiers.” He smiles slightly, “The rules made over beer ‘tween Princes and Dukes, must change for Kings over wine.”

He falls silent for a moment, as the calculus of war runs thought his mind. “Less then one hundred men is not a lot, Eric, even with resources stretched as they are. Our men are likely the better of any two Golden Circle men.” His lips pressed together once again as he exhales through his nose. “I will have to be creative. Labro will be a major asset, as will all of the Rangers. As good as they are in a heavy charge, they also make excellent scouts and we’re headed right into their kind of terrain.” His tone is low as Finn is, more or less, thinking aloud.

Finn gestures at the maps, “I may owe our new kin an apology. I knew we would all be going, but without a solid plan beneath us, socializing seemed wasted. Now that we have a plan, we should let Eric introduce the more recent arrivals.” He smiles slightly, “I already know Altair’s worth, which should be lighter by the ten crowns he still owes me.”

He laughs softly and Rebecca’s reaction to her assignment. Finn nods to Altair after the exchange. “Rebecca, Faylinn, and I will Hellride more than likely.” He turns to Faylinn, “That will put you in the Forest more swiftly, Fay.” He leans back to address the group again, “I want to know what the situation is like before we commit my men. We can join up with the company when they make port via the Trumps, though we’ll have to do so through Gerard — unless there are Trumps of us all in those boxes?” He looks to Eric for that answer, before asking the others, “Is anyone else thinking about riding out?”

Faylinn nods absently. "Once we reach the location, I will see what I can learn before the scouts arrive." She's still eyeing the forest and the mountains on the map thoughtfully.

Eric dismisses Finn's comment with a wave, though he does not seems to take it lightly.

Eric's tone has darkened just a bit, "Benedict tells me you've done better with odds much worse. A hundred men for now. More as get mobilized. I'm sure you have a certain understanding of troop movement across Shadow."

Finn raises an eyebrow unflinchingly, "You know that I have." He nods, "But I would be a fool not to ask for more, even if only a little. I have made do with half this number, but I would wager that if you asked Leonidas of Sparta if he wanted another three hundred, he would shake your hand and happily say 'Yes, Please'."

He tilts his head to one side, "There is always the option to recruit in Shadow." He glances to Rebecaa and then back to Eric, "How malleable are the axioms of Greymoor?"

"Plenty malleable I imagine… If I have the time, I can certainly ensure that gunpowder from Cimarron will work properly there on top of everything, if it does not already."

Rebecca had her glass halfway to her lips. Then she stopped, stared at the King a moment and then grinned broadly. "I love my Dad."

"The issue with finding troops in Shadow will come from finding a Shadow that has not been affected by the Black Road. As far as we can tell it is quite ubiquitous, especially around Amber and its Golden Circle."

"How much time ya reckon ta make my bullets work? We're gonna need to go to Cimarron ta arm ev'ryone."

"Not sure. If you make your way there and trump me I'll see if I can get away from here for a bit." Something seems to be troubling him then, but he shrugs it off. The red glow on his chest intensifies just a bit, then dies down again.

She pretends not to notice; but Eric knows she does when she returns to her chair, flips it around and straddles it again to watch him instead of doing the little dance of gunslinger joy as Finn - and Eric - have every right to expect from her at this news.

"Finn can get us there quick enough," Rebecca states matter of factly. "We've been thar b'fore."

Kade sits with a sardonic smile on his face, wondering when anyone will broach the issue of how the folks currently resident in Greymoor, will take to someone seemingly arriving and deciding to take over without so much as a by your leave.

So interesting in this is he that he raises a hand and coughs lightly before asking, “I take it the rulers of Greymoor will have a say in this?”

He looks around the room before continuing, “Speaking as a shadow dweller myself, with some experience of government thereto, were I ruling Greymoor I think I’d be inclined to resent Amberites simply arriving and muscling in, especially if they were to arrive with a large force of troops in tow, I might even suspect that the new arrivals were allied to the denizens of the Black Road.”

He shrugs and smiles again, “Just a thought.”

Rebecca turns from watching her father to looking over at Finn. She raises an eyebrow. "Did I doze off for a spell? Where in the plan was the musclin' in part?"

Kade nods at Rebecca, "Your pardon madam perhaps I was the one napping, I had assumed some sort of military action was in the offing." he grins before continuing, "Its simply that I suspect that the people of Greymoor would rather be asked before they receive Amber's help, and I haven't heard much talk of diplomatic contact as yet."

"Kade, a force of less than one hundred offering aid to an embattled Kingdom is hardly poor diplomacy. We arrive with a skilled force, rather than an overwhelming one. Even if I can disposition us to conquer the Kingdom of Almirior, or assassinate good King Melor, that is not something the Greymoorians are likely to understand until it is too late." Finn shrugs slightly, "And it is not unheard of for diplomatic envoys to travel in force. The roads are not always safe, even in the Circle, and the Black Road makes travel even less so. The strategy is diplomacy. I, and those with me, will simply be the iron fist behind the velvet glove." He smiles and nods to Altair, "And that is a familiar gambit."

"Yes, thank you, I think I already had that sir." Kade answers with a smile and an incline of his head.

"Tha's what Altair, Daniel an' Preston are s'ppose ta do," Rebecca says as shew fishes out a silver cigarette case from the back pocket of her leather jeans. "I s'ppose if yer feelin' dipl'matic ya can go with 'em." She grins while removing a cigarette. She snaps it closed and tosses the case towards Finn without looking in the man's direction. "Dad did say we could shuffle 'round as long as it gits done."

"Besides, I mean to speak with Almirior's General. His opinion is likely to be closer to the truth than Melor's." Finn's hand flashes up and catches the cigarette case. He considers the silver surface for a moment, and then cracks it open to remove one, before placin the case on the table in front of him. He puts the smoke between his lips, and leans towards Rebecca for a light.

Rebecca leans to one side and strikes a match on her boot. Before she uses it to light her cigarette, she pauses and eyes Arkadios over the top of the flame. "An' don' call me 'Madame'."

"You are all correct. The troops we are sending will clearly bear the colors of our Kingdom and approach the Greymoor Leaders as equals, or at least as diplomats representing the word of our Government. As much as I had hoped my daughter to represent myself I can certainly see how others would be better suited for the position," Eric helps himself to more wine and sits back down.

"We will not increase troop numbers, from other Shadows or from Amber's force, into Greymoor until we have support from the leaders of Greymoor. They are likely to take different stances on your presence there but I don't suspect they will be hostile towards your arrival."

"Scouting the area is likely to be more dangerous than arriving as officials, that much is certain, but I am sure Duke Finnleagh has his reasons for that. Who will you take with you?" he asks Finn.

Rebecca blew out the match after lighting Finn's cigarette. She looked slightly abashed at Eric's stated reasons for sending her with the other group.

"I'll go where ya need me the most, Dad," she says with a faint scowl through the hazy of a smoke ring. "But ya know well as Flo does that I'm shit at the dipl'mate games. I'm bett'r suit'd to scoutin' and ridin' with the cav."

"Oh I know that full well, Rebecca. I'm sure the authority that your position commands will have an impact there… Well, time will tell. I know I can count on you," Eric winks at her again.

"Troops would only be drawn from other sources, or Amber, if it were deemed necessary." Finn nods, "I will wait until or Diplomatic Envoy reports the alliance is a success. Though that begs the question; What if Greymoor turns their noses up at us?"

Eric replies: "That would mean failure of our primary goal, but it does not leave us utterly useless. Greymoor will be the Black Road funnel I speak of. We will have to adapt to what can possibly be achieved there. Arkadios raises the issue quite nicely but let us simply hope it does not come to an outright conflict with local forces. If the defense of Greymoor cannot be achieved, Begma will be in dire need of our help, which is where further efforts will fall."

Finn gestures, "Faylinn will come with me to speak with the trees. Rebecca will come, because I couldn't stop her from coming along anyway, and Demon could use the stretch." Finn smirked, "She's sharp as any Ranger, and if there is trouble, she's more than up to the task." He took a drag on the cigarette, "It is not unusual for Envoys to send forward scouts either. I will take some sort of official looking badge if you think it will help. I think it will be helpful to see how bad Almirior has it, before we get our troops there. We should be able to help the local forces as well, which will only be a point in our favor."

"I will gather the necessary things for your travel. An official seal will be easy to add to the list. Just report to me regularly so that I may warn the others while they are at sea."

Altair yawns loudly. "This is all quite lovely. With each passing moment the Black Road becomes more and more of a threat, and we are pleasant here to discuss what do to instead of doing it. I understand the need for preparations and all, but it appears that we are, for once, the victims of time."

He stops and looks at Eric, "Forgive me if I am speaking out of turn. I do not wish to press matters, simply get them under way. Are we all agreed on who should arrive first?"

This being Daniel's first meeting with his family, and the only with his peers, he was quite content to stay in the background. He was as much watching them as observing the actions being discussed, which seemed like a straight forward meet-and-greet to a lesser country.

After listening to what Altair has to say, Eric puts his glass down and walks over to the wooden boxes that are sitting by the maps. He hands one to Arkadios, Finn, Daniel and Faylinn. To Preston, Rebecca and Altair, he hands cards to add to their current trump deck. "You will find additions to the standard trump cards to be made by Preston's mother. Llewella has agreed to help Amber further and has kindly provided her skills to depict those that she has met." He turns to Daniel and Arkadios and says, "Alas she could only fashion sketches of you two, but they should function quite normally. You will find their range reduced, I imagine."

In addition to the Standard trumps of Elders: trumps of Finn, Faylinn, Rebecca, Altair and Preston; trump sketches of Daniel and Arkadios. There is also an additional trump of each PC (or trump sketch if that is the case) to give. Two trumps of Amber: one of the port, one of the main gate.

Kade takes the proffered Trumps from Eric, he bows slightly as he receives them, then carefully opens the box and examines the contents.

Once the others finished their conversations, Daniel steps forward to accept the Trump deck Eric offers him.

"Thank you, your Highness." he says. "In regards to the diplomatic approach, how far are we allowed to go in regards to a strategic alliance with them? Is this a temporary alliance, or can we offer them a longer term arrangement if the short term solution is not favorable to them? Is there anything we can offer them besides temporary military assistance?"

Altair takes out his deck to add the new cards. Fingering through the cards, he stops and grins. We shoots a look to Finn and waves his card in the air, "It really does not do you justice."

"You still owe me ten crowns." Finn replies casually.

He stands up, compiles the deck, and walks to Finn. He places a hand on his shoulder and leans in to whispers moment. He pulls away and says loud enough to be heard, "As for my debt. Let us save that for a day of double-or-nothing." Altair winks at Finn before turning back to hear the answer to Daniel's question.

Eric eyes Daniel for a second, then answers, "In regards to real goals, I need to stress the need to keep our plan a secret. Greymoor is not to know about its own situation in the grand scheme of things. A long-term alliance can certainly be offered and Greymoor can be given a place within the Golden Circle and regular trade routes to Begma can be facilitated… after the Chaos menace is dealt with, of course."

"They can know that we are prepared to help defend its borders with our own troops as well as other allied troops. Gifts can be given them if necessary. Those of you who have braved the Pattern can help in that endeavor, I imagine," Eric says with a wink.

Cigarette dangling at the corner of her mouth, Rebecca eyes the new Trumps, fanning them out like a Poker hand in her free hand as the others speak around her. She isn't particularly pleased to see hers added to so many decks, but the times called for it. She sets her drink by her boot and pulls her case off her belt; tooled black leather with silver work tracing the outline and highlights of of the rearing horse on it's cover. The new cards are slipped into place and the case returned to her belt.

After retrieving her drink, she goes back to watching Eric from under her hat.

Faylinn takes the box and smoothes her fingers across the wood as though she expects the wood to tell her stories. And then she flips it open, neatly tipping the cards out into one hand, and inspects the inside of the box. When she finishes her inspection of the wood, she sorts through the cards, sliding them back into the box in an order that better suits her while she listens to the conversation.

Finn waits for Eric to speak to Daniel, and gives a slight nod. "I believe we are ready." Finn begins, "I need to collect a few things from my chambers, as should my traveling companions. I will Trump you before we leave, Eric, to collect whatever you think we'll need for our journey and our goal." He glances to Rebecca, and smiled bemusedly at Faylinn's exploration of the box the Trumps came in. "I believe we know what we need to. I will call on the others, or yourself, if we encounter anything of import to Amber's plans for Greymoor." He rises to his feet, "And I rather expect that we will."

Rebecca pushes her hat back with one finger and turns to Finn. "I'll be with ya shortly. I want a word alone with Dad."

Standing Kade tucks the box of trumps into one of many pockets about his person. He inclines his head formally to Eric and mutters, "Highness."

Eric acknowledges Arkadios with a nod and watches him intently as he walks away.

Finn does not open his box. He simply holds it in is hand. "Fay? Let us meet in the Courtyard, when you're ready to travel."

He lays a hand on Rebecca's shoulder, and nods. "The Courtyard, when you're ready." He smiles slightly, and turned to Arkadios. The two exchange a few words on their way out.

"I will be there shortly, Finn," Faylinn answers as she slides the last few cards back into the box. She looks up at Eric, her head tipping just a tiny bit to one side, and then rises to offer a picture-perfect curtsy and a murmured, "Majesty." Then she turns and heads for the door herself, the box in one hand.

Again, Eric offers a polite nod in response. He then walks over to his daughter and whispers to her, "I imagine you'll be needing to leave shortly as well… How private an exchange do you need?"

She tilts her head up so she can look him in the eye. "Wouldn' said 'alone' if I didn' mean it. I don't reckon ya want me what I got ta say in front of people," she says pointedly.

Eric nods quickly, turns to those still assembled and says, smiling, "Please enjoy the food, I will be back in a bit."

He leads Rebecca outside of the Throne Room and closes the heavy door behind them.


TOCBehind Closed Doors

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