An Afternoon Stroll

There are guards at Rhaya's door. Apparently, Oberon still didn't entirely trust her not to revert to the hoyden of the past, even after nearly five years. They nod greetings to Juliana and knock on the door.

The door opens, and Rhaya stands in the opening wearing a dress that is, for her, practically staid. Still in her favoured colours, but cut closer to her than usual, with no flowing fabrics.

"Hello, cousin. How'd you convince my gaolers to call me?"

Dressed in white leggings, a bright scarlet captain’s coat with silver couch work, and black knee boots, Juliana leans against the wall with negligent grace. “Actually, I was conscripted when I came in to give a report,” she says cheerfully. “I am given to understand you want to take a walk.”

Rhaya rolls her eyes. "I mentioned, off-hand, that maybe it was about time I walked the thing, and before I had a moment to think, he had those two watching me everywhere. He clearly thought I was going to run down and leap into it without any thought at all."

“It’s possible,” Juliana shrugs. “He’s right to be cautious. That thing is dangerous.” She pushes off the wall and moves to take a chair. “So, has anyone talked you through what to expect?”

Rhaya rolls her eyes. "I understand that it's dangerous. I thought he trusted me not to be an idiot. Obviously not. And no, no one's said a word."

“You know,” the sitting woman grins. “You’re eyes are going to get stuck like that if you keep rolling them back.” She crosses her legs at the knee and taps a finger against the chair arm. “The Pattern sounds deceptively easy to traverse; step on, do not step off, follow the lines to the center.”

"Deceptive, yes." Rhaya shakes her head. "But only if one doesn't remember Barnabas or the others who've failed. I do. In fact, I started paying attention somewhere around my fifteenth year. I knew I'd have to walk it sooner or later. Unfortunately, that's all anyone has ever said in my hearing, and there's nothing written down."

“When you step on it,” Juliana recalls slowly. “Silvery blue sparks will rise. They start about ankle high and end up taller then you by the end. There are three veils; they are the most difficult parts. Each is progressively harder. The last is like trying to move through rock. But once you are past the final one, you are just a few steps from the Center. You may also experience visions.”

Rhaya looks at Juliana, confused.

"If it's like moving through rock, how do you get past it? Wouldn't that stop you?"

The Captain gives her a wry smile. “You have to get through it. You cannot stop once you’re on the Pattern. There’s a reason everyone ends up on their knees in the center. Once there, just visualize where you want to go – it has to be someplace you’re familiar with – and the Pattern will send you. I went to my home Shadow and slept for the better part of a day. Then I ate an embarrassing amount when I woke up, so warn your staff.”

Rhaya shrugs. "Okay. I'm not sure I understand, but we'll table that. As for the rest of your advice, I don't keep a staff, and I've only rarely been outside of Amber. I suppose the castle staff will understand well enough?"

She nods. “Just send a page down to the kitchens to let them know.” Juliana looks around the room briefly. “You don’t have even a personal maid? Well, I suppose the guards can stay and keep people from disturbing you. Although that just makes it look as if you are under house arrest.”

Rhaya shakes her head again. "No, not even a private maid. All my gowns are designed so I can dress myself. I've done a little bit of travel, mostly on minor business for Oberon, and I've found it easier if I don't have to pack an entire household. But for guarding my door, I'm sure I can ask Hilene. She won't let anyone in without my word."

Juliana beams. "There you go. It's good to have loyal friends and companions."

"So. When will you be wanting to skip 'round the squiggly knot?"

Rhaya shrugs. "Is there any preparation? If not, now is as good a time as any, for me." She gestures at her clothing. "I guess I'm even dressed for it, though not by any prior decision."

Scrunching her nose in thought, Juliana takes a moment to reply. "The only real preparation is mental. Be calm in your mind, but determined. This is your Birthright, as a descendant of Dworkin the Creator. But not everyone can claim it. Make peace with yourself. I found that easier to do after I was down there, oddly enough."

Rhaya nods. "All right. Let's do it, then. Waiting for hours or days won't make it any easier, after all."

She steps into some slippers and squares her shoulders. "We'll have to stop a page to send a message to Hilene. From what you say, she'll probably need to be ready before I start."

Juliana nods and rises smoothly to her feet. "After you."

Rhaya cocks her head. "I think you might need to talk to the guards. Though maybe himself gave them orders already."

She opens the door and, sure enough, the guards are gone.

"That's pretty clear. Down, right?"

"You know the way?" Juliana asks as she steps out into the hall. "Through the Throne Room."

Rhaya shakes her head. "I know that it's down because I've explored just about every other part of this castle that can be explored. But even I couldn't get too far into the cellars, so I figured it has to be there."

"Past the cellars, below the dungeons," Juliana says as she begins walking for the stairs. "T'is quite a walk."

She looks at the other woman out of the corner of her eye as she walks. "What is it you do to keep yourself from being bored silly around here? Other then obviously worrying Oberon, that is," she finishes with a grin.

Rhaya shrugs. "I spend time in the library, I go riding. When Cal is here, we spend time together. Hilene and I often play ga shaur. I also run the occasional errand for Oberon, right now, only to Shadows I can reach through established paths, but with this, that'll change. I've been studying military history of late. I wouldn't mind a chance to safely observe actual battles."

“Really?” Juliana responds with some surprise. “I wouldn’t have pegged you for a military type. Is your participation limited to observation and study?”

Rhaya shrugs. "Oberon made sure I could take care of myself, both at range and close in. But my interest is largely historical. How better to understand the impact of a battle than to understand why they fought it the way they did?"

“Perhaps,” Juliana agrees vaguely.

Rhaya grins "Well, of course, there's actually fighting the battle - but I'm talking about the historical perspective, not the military. For instance, there's the battle of Corcon Falls. History can tell us why the battle occurred, and what they hoped to accomplish, but history will rarely tell us why the battle occurred there. At most, it'll usually say 'They went here, they went there, they fought at this location'."

She shrugs. "Studying the campaigns from a military perspective tells me more. What decisions were made, why they made them - or at least, what reasons they gave. All of which leads to why the battle was fought at such a stupid location."

Juliana laughs at that. "Quite a few of them are. Usually those are the ones where the combatants caught up with, or just happened upon one another. The extent of their planning is usually "Get 'em.""

Rhaya grins at that as they find the stairs and start down. "True. A lot of the time, too, they're trying to get the other one to fall into a trap, and meet each other where neither wants to. But that's what I'm studying."

She looks down the stairs and shakes her head. "How far down are we going?"

Juliana peers into the darkness ahead of them. It was like trying to see into infinity. "All the way," she says with a shake of her head. "Careful not to trip; it's a long fall."

Rhaya nods as she cautiously looks over the edge. "I'm fine with heights, but that is a long way." She moves back towards the wall. "Better safe than sorry."

"True enough," the other agrees, and began the descent into the torch lit gloom. There really isn't much to say as they continue past the storage levels and down into the dungeon even more dimly lit dungeon levels.

Rhaya lapses into silence as well, though Juliana can occasionally hear her whisper a number, increasing as they go down. At the bottom, she whistles silently.

"That's a lot of steps."

“All the way down,” Juliana smirks. “Imagine what this will be like in a couple of hundred years. There’ll be quite the collection of disturbing things in the cells that are mostly empty and mostly clean at the moment.”

Rhaya shakes her head.

"I'd rather not, thanks anyway. So, it seems there's only one way to go from here. You'll tell me when we've reached it?"

“Right this way,” she replies and strolls down the way. She comes to a door and gestures.

“Through there,” Juliana says. “Take your time; there’s no rush. Walk around, study it, meditate upon it. “ She moves to stand in front of Rhaya. “The most important things are do not step off once you start, and do not stop. For anything.” She cocks her head to one side. “Do you wish a witness, or do you desire to walk it alone?”

Rhaya stops in the doorway staring at the glowing maze on - in - over - the floor. She hesitantly steps into the room, staying well away from the Pattern.

She walks along the wall a bit, eyes glued to the lines before her, then shakes her head. "Huh? Oh. By all means, feel free to stay. I'm sure they'll be able to tell, but a witness couldn't hurt. And maybe some encouragement shouted if I look like I'm faltering."

Juliana's laugh - low as it is - echoes off the walls of the vast chamber. "I shall endeavor to yell loud enough should it be needed."

Rhaya gives her a manic grin as she continues around the glowing oval. Finally she comes to the clear starting point. She stops before the start and takes a deep breath. "You did this already, right?"

Not really waiting for an answer to the clearly rhetorical question, she steps onto the line, moving her other foot immediately in front. She frowns at the sparks that limn her feet, but keeps moving.

The outer line arcs in tightly against itself, and she falters as she hits the First Veil, darkness in her sight and a pressure against her body. She doesn't yet need reassurance, though, as she recovers and keeps moving, though much slower than before.

Juliana had moved up as close as she dared to the Pattern as the other woman passed through the First Veil. That part had been relatively easy for Juliana, so she isn't worried yet. She paces along the outside edge until she's as close as she can get to the Second Veil's position.

Rhaya makes it through the first veil, her steps quickening again, though still slower than when she started. The sparks up to her knees now, her gaze fixed on what lies before her. A long arc rises before her, and memories fill her mind, her steps now almost automatic, though a part of her remains apart and keeps her on the line.

The arc ends at another straight line, and she enters the Second Veil, and she subconsciously leans into the force, her feet slowing dramatically.

"That's it!" the Captain yelled. "You're more then half done, Rhaya! Show it who's boss!"

Juliana winces at herself. She has never been good at this cheerleading business, despite how often she tried.

A hand raised in thanks is all the acknowledgement Juliana gets, Rhaya's eyes glued to the line of azure fire she follows.

A right angle turn, then another, then another, but finally Rhaya is through the second veil, walking steadily along a long curving arc, then slowing again as she comes to a filigree of fire. From the filigree, the grand curve, her steps picking up speed again, even as the sparks start flying to her waist and beyond.

Three more curves, sparks reaching her breast. A straight line, her expression one of fixed concentration and resolve. A series of sharp arcs, and ten sharp turns. Her feet plod one after the other, exhaustion beginning to take its toll as she makes the approach to the Final Veil.

Juliana paces outside the Pattern's edge, keeping an eye on the cousin that was nearing the ends of her endurance. Juliana remembers it well. It hasn't been long since she did it herself.

"One more!" she yelled loudly. "One more Veil and then just a few steps. You're almost done!" She curses softly under her breath as she watches. She doesn't even know the woman, but she still bites her lip in worry. The damn thing was dangerous, but the pay off was worth it. Even without the more esoteric powers granted by the blasted thing; powers she had watched in awe as Dworkin and Oberon wielded them back in the beginning of Amber. Especially Dworkin. That man was fierce.

"One more..," she murmurs.

Rhaya can spare no more attention to acknowledge Juliana as she enters the Final Veil. What parts of her are visible through the sparks show signs of the agony she's in, as she pushes her feet oh so slowly through the pressure and the sparks. She enters the final arc, her feet moving slower and slower, until it looks almost like she's not moving.

But move she does, and step by agonizing step, she makes it through the arc, stumbling a little when it all ends, and she sags to the ground in the center of the Pattern.

"Congratulations!" Juliana yelled. "Now go get some sleep!"

Rhaya lifts her head with an effort, focusing with difficulty on Juliana.
"Right. I think - my suite, then. Home, Jeeves."

For all her flippancy - and where'd she get the energy for that - Rhaya disappears from the center of the Pattern.

Juliana stays awhile to watch the sparks die down. Then she saunters back up the stairs. She stops off to see if anything interesting has made it into the dungeons before searching out her uncle to report a successful walk.

On her way out of town, she orders a bouquet of congratulatory flowers to be sent up to Rhaya - along with a book on the tactics of sea battles that Juliana knows the dark haired woman doesn't have. How could she, when Juliana just finished writing it a few weeks ago.


Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License