Steed's Tale -
"Return to the Fold"
Journal of Prince "Major" Jonathan Steed of Amber:
Based on a Scenario by Cal Westray, in 1999.
Written by: R. Cal Westray, Jr. in 1999.
Steed's history was written in 1994.
"Extraordinary crimes against the people and the state,
need to be avenged by agents extraordinary..."
Mother: Flora of Amber
Grandmother: Dybele (deceased) Grandfather: Oberon (deceased)
Great-grandmother: Unicorn Great-grandfather: Dworkin
Personal History Time Line:
Time conversion: 4 Amber yr. = 10 Earth yr./4 Earth yr. = 1.5 Amber yr.
>Ages 0-10: (1922-1931) (2369-2372 d'L)
Born Jonathan Steed, on February 6, 1922.
Shadow Earth: in Berkshire, England.
>Ages 11-14: (1932-1935) (2373-2374 d'L)
Shadow Earth: Boarding school in Winchester, England.
Amber: Walked the Pattern at 12.
>Ages 15-18: (1936-1939) (2375- 2376 d'L)
Shadow Earth: Eton College, student.
>Ages 19-28: (1940-1949) (2377-2380 d'L)
Shadow Earth: British Royal Navy, title Major.
>Ages 29-32: (1950-1959) (2380-2384 d'L)
Amber Army, title Major.
>Ages 33-50: (1960-1977) (2385-2390 d'L)
Shadow Earth: Ministry of Intelligence, independent agent.
>Ages 51: (1978-1979) (2391 d'L)
Return to Amber after the Patternfall War ended.
Episode A0-1 - After the Storm
In which Steed resigns
... and gets reassigned.
The storms were building up in Shadow Earth. They were wide spread, a full scale environmental disaster, verging on a cataclysmic event. My Pattern awareness identified it as a Shadow Storm, probably affecting many Shadows as well as Shadow Earth.
It would be a severe understatement to say that trouble was brewing. I have never experienced a Shadow Storm, but I have read about them in the Castle Amber library as a lad. I remember that it forebode the possible extinction of Shadows unfortunate enough to be in the way. It has been quite awhile since I spoke to any family member and even mother was tight-lipped about what was happening in Amber. I knew that she was in New York with her servant Carmilla, more than that I didn't know and I hadn't had the time to investigate further.
I used her Trump, but there was no contact. In fact, none of the Trumps appeared to be functioning. Damned inconvenient - it was a bloody nuisance that the Shadow pathways were blocked to me for the last few years; now the Trumps were blocked. And not a word of explanation from anyone. Perhaps I should have stayed in the Amber Army; then, maybe, I would be in the thick of whatever is going on. Knowing mother and Eric, perhaps they are keeping me out of the picture; but why?
And why me? Undercover man and exiled Prince of Amber, Jonathan Steed. My description; I am 51 years old, 6' 2" and I weigh 170 pounds. I am slender with fair skin, dark auburn hair, and steel gray eyes. I typically dress in Edwardian gabardine three piece suits with a white Carnation, a bowler, and an umbrella or brolly. My casual or riding attire is a Tweed riding suit with a loose fitting jacket and high boots. I usually wear silver and amber jewelry. My traveling weapon is a sabre, just for appearances; in some places it is unwise to give the appearance of being unarmed. So, I leave it with my horses to be available during travel. My brolly and bowler serve me for protection. My personal colors are black and white and my personal symbol is a black bowler and a champagne glass.
I tried to call my mother, Flora, with a trunk call to the States, but I got no answer. Time to try more drastic measures.
I checked with the head office and got approval from Mother, my superior, for some time off to take care of some 'personal' issues. Mother is a portly gentleman in a wheelchair, and an old friend from the war. He, of course, agreed and wished me luck.
I gathered some travel equipment, including some wet weather gear and headed for the stables. I greeted Andrea and Andy, offering some sugar to both. "How about a little trip?" They neighed approvingly. I put the rolled up rain gear on Andy's saddle and have it ready to use. If I make it, I want to leave the horses in Amber, not here. We left the stables and I rode Andy into the park, trailing Andrea behind; heading for the cover of the forest.
Once we were unobserved, I put the rain gear on and began shifting Shadow. The gravel path changes to a grassy field and the trees thin. The sky color lightens and the sparse clouds become a soft pink. The clouds multiply and darken to a bluish hue, then the smell of ozone fills the air. The sound of thunder echoes in the distance and the sky continues to darken and I can see flashes of light behind the clouds.
Drops of rain hit the raincoat with loud popping sounds. The staccato of raindrops increase to a steady pounding of rain. I send out waves of mental calm to Andy and Andrea as I put the shifting of Shadow into high gear. Lightning becomes blinding and thunder becomes deafening. The terrain becomes uneven and visibility becomes difficult as the sound of hooves pound the hard and slippery soil. It seems like hours as we make our way through this inhospitable place. I am approaching the Shadow of the barrier, the worst of the storms. The sky finally begins to clear and the lightning decreases, a good sign. I see massive trees in the distance and the sky clears. I break through into the familiar scenery of Forest Arden. By the Unicorn, I made it!
I slow the horses to a trot and continue the ride towards Amber. I remove the rainwear and get more comfortable.
Eventually, I reach the front gate of Castle Amber. There was a battle here, a battle beyond measure. Amber survives, but at what cost? The guard at the post stops and questions me. I identify myself, my name registers in his mind and he checks a book filled with pictures. He apparently locates a picture of me and snaps to attention.
"Lord Steed, welcome to Amber." He turns to other guards and nods. "This man will take your horse. And this man will escort you to the castle."
"Thanks, lads. Take good care of Andy and Andrea, if you please." I dismount and follow the young guard to the castle. I am escorted to the Yellow Room. He opens the door and he announces my arrival.
"Steed! So glad to see you again!" A tower of a man approaches me, slaps my shoulder, nearly dislocating it. My favorite uncle pumps my hand vigorously, smiling broadly.
"Ge`rard! How splendid to see you again, uncle."
"It's been so long, so long. Welcome back, nephew. You missed all the excitement. Most of the others are still on the other side of reality, mopping up from the war. Negotiations for a treaty and all. There will be a full briefing later." He appears to be distracted and a frown replaces his smile. "Excuse me, Steed. Just make yourself at home and get reacquainted with things. I will send for you when everything's ready. Things are winding down and I'm receiving another Trump contact."
"Certainly, Ge`rard. I'll be around, thanks for seeing me."
He turns and gets some papers from a desk. I turn and leave the room. Ge'rard seems to be the man in charge of Amber, at least it is in good hands. Where are the others? On the other side of reality... in Chaos? Our war was with Chaos? My curiosity is aroused. I think I will check around to gather some information, instead of waiting for a full briefing. I can get some details from staff members.
First stop, my room. Down the hall, up the stairs to the second floor, and turn right. I turn right again at the first hallway and find the first door to the right. I withdraw my key that I haven't used for years and open the door. I step in and inspect my old flat. Someone has been taking good care of it. Nothing has been moved, it's like I never left. More to the point, it looks exactly like my Westminster Mews flat. Only the view outside my window is different, overlooking the European garden that looks like Stonehenge.
Time to get cleaned up after the long ride and change clothes. it is important to look and feel refreshed, even after a long hard ride through Shadow. I wear my light blue-gray suit with matching tie, bowler, and umbrella. My white carnation gives it a final elegant touch, matching my white silk shirt.
Ready, I head for the Great Hall for food, drink, and information. I retrace my route to the Yellow Room, but turn right to the double doors leading to the Great Hall. Guards are posted along the doorways, alert for 'something'. I pass them and stroll to the family table, currently unoccupied.
Not to be deterred, I pass the table and make for the kitchen. I intercept a lovely lass with blonde hair and dark brown eyes. "Miss, excuse me, is 'he' in?"
She pauses and looks up from her tray of foods. "Sir? Oh, yes. In the cellar, milord."
"Thank you, my dear." I tip my had and head for the cellar. I make my way down the corridor and rows of wine racks, until I hear some clinking of bottles.
I approach him from behind, the man in charge of the Great Hall and most of the service staff. "Careful, old sport. It wouldn't do to bruise it's bouquet."
He nearly drops the bottle and turns in surprise. "Master Steed! You've returned, how splendid! How have you been?"
We embrace. "Michael. It's been ages. It's good to see that some things never change. You're a sight for sore eyes, old friend."
"Thanks, Steed. Have you eaten yet?"
"I just arrived, only moments ago."
"Good. It's time for a break and I thought I would retrieve a bottle of my favorite vintage. Please join me. Then, I won't have to drink it alone." He slaps my shoulder.
"I couldn't refuse such a kind offer, Michael." We return to the Hall, through the kitchen.
We find a small table and motion to a server. Michael orders for us and we have a chat while we wait for the food to be delivered.
He is anxious for news of my activities since I left the Amber Army. I give him a rundown of my activities in England, some of the most memorable events, and my trip to Amber. I ask him about events since I left.
He tells me of the return of Lord Corwin. An uncle I never met, who was in Shadow Earth for centuries and returned to claim the throne. King Oberon had been missing for some time and Lord Eric decided to make his play for the throne, just before Corwin made his move with Lord Bleys as a partner. Corwin was captured by Eric's army and was blinded and imprisoned. Bleys disappeared after falling off Mt. Kolvir. I winced at the news.
Eric declared himself king and it was commanded that Corwin was forgotten. Nearly three years later, Corwin regained his eyesight and escaped. Eric prepared for a new battle with the Courts of Chaos, after a black road was discovered. This black road cut through all Shadow and ran from Chaos to Amber. That is how the invasion occurred. I encountered the black road myself, after I found the way to Amber blocked.
He pauses at some unpleasant memory. "Corwin brought an army to take Amber, but suddenly allied himself with Eric when he saw the Chaosian invasion force. Steed, he brought rifles to Amber! They slew the invading force and King Eric died on the battlefield."
"Corwin claimed Amber, but didn't take the throne. The Shadow storms began. Rumors spread that the Pattern was damaged. King Oberon returned and plans were made to repair it. Corwin was to repair the Pattern if Oberon failed, at least that is what I overheard."
"Shadow storms spread, until Oberon died repairing the Pattern. The storms still didn't fade, whatever happened to Corwin is anyone's guess. Some of the family led a force into Chaos itself, while the others met the invasion here. The storms broke and the invaders fell."
He was silent for a moment. "As I understand it, Chaos will sue for peace and a treaty will be drawn up. Oberon's body was taken to the Abyss for burial. Steed, we have lost two kings and the Crown is still vacant. Lord Ge`rard, bless him, was put in charge of Amber. He and the others fought bravely, it was the stuff epics are made of." He was nearly moved to tears in telling the story. Understandable, for it was tragic indeed. And I was kept away.
I had known of Corwin's blinding and Eric's crowning, mother mentioned it years ago. Corwin and Bleys dared to attack Amber and were punished for it. I missed the coronation and the Patternfall War, as it came to be named. Shadow Earth felt the fringes of the Shadow storms and things should be returning to normal now.
We were eating during the story telling and nearly finished Michael's wine. Another bottle was brought to the table. Time passed quickly in his company and I learned more from Michael than I would learn from anyone else in the castle, save Ge`rard.
Still there was no sign of family members and Michael makes his excuses, he has to make arrangements for the return of the family. I thanked him for the tale and the superb wine. We clasped hands and he left for the kitchen, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
What now? History is being made on the other side of reality. A kingship is to be resolved. Will it fall upon Ge`rard? Would Corwin take the throne upon his return?
I finish my glass of wine and leave the hall.
I climb the stairs to the second floor, walk down the hall to the front of the castle. This is the residence of Princess Florimel Barimen, AKA Evelyn Flaumel, AKA my mother Flora. I knock on the door.
It opens and I am greeted by Carmilla, her maid. A slight smile crosses her face. "Master Steed, welcome." She motioned me to enter.
"Hello, Carmilla. Nice to see you again. Is mother in?"
"Alas, no. Mistress Flora is still away and I don't know when she will return. Is there anything I can do for you?"
"I just thought I would see how she is doing. Would you please have her contact me when she has the opportunity?"
"Of course, Master Steed."
"Thank you. Good day, Carmilla."
"Good day, Master Steed."
I turn and retrace my steps. Instead of the stairs, I pause. I feel Pattern energies. I turn and walk to the library. Stepping through the double doors, I scan the area. No one there. Something draws me here, as though I was summoned by a geas. I let the pull have it's rein. Definitely Pattern energies, but nothing I can define; just a general 'feel' of Pattern. I walk to the far corner of the library to a shelf of ancient tomes. I move my hand along the row of books and the tugging stops when I touch an unmarked brown leather-bound tome, five centimeters thick. I've 'seen' this book before.
Why have I been drawn to this book again? I take a seat in a comfortable high-back chair and leaf through the pages.
It is written in ancient Thari and my Thari is rusty from lack of use. I mentally switched from spoken English to Thari upon my arrival in Amber, with little thought. But reading takes a little time to remember, and this is an ancient form. What little I can make of it, it doesn't mention anything of importance to anyone but the author - Dworkin Barimen, my great grandfather.
I detect traces of Pattern energies in the book, along with something else. In the back of the book, there is a card. The back of the card matches the backing of my Trumps, the Unicorn rampant. I turn it over and see a Trump of my room. I concentrate upon it. It becomes cold to the touch and a portal opens. Through the portal, I can see my luggage by the fireplace; indicating that this is a Trump of my Amber quarters, not my Westminster flat. I pass my hand in front of the Trump and break the contact.
I examine the blank pages where the card rested. Through my Pattern sight, letters flare in the blue of the Pattern. 'Welcome home, my child. Many happy returns.' They fade.
I muse over the words and give thanks to my benefactor. I close the book and return it to its resting place. The geas departs and I leave the library, looking back at the shelf once more. Quite odd, almost a de`ja vu of how I found my Trump of the Unicorn Grove; nearly forty years ago.
A guard intercepts me leaving the library. My presence is requested in the Throne room. I thank him and make my way there.
Ge`rard is waiting there, alone. "Steed, you're needed."
I freeze for an instant and smile at his words, so familiar for so long. I mentally see Emma, her auburn hair and brown eyes, then her image fades. "Certainly, uncle. How may I serve?"
"My siblings will return soon. The status of the Crown is resolved and the family will gather for the coronation and swearing of fealty. All are expected to attend."
"I understand." He hasn't said 'who'.
"Your cousins will be brought to Amber soon. Like yourself, they were kept in Shadow for their own protection. My siblings have little trust of the others. Now, with the war over and the regency settled, it has been decided to summon the children of Amber out of Shadow."
I nod and remain silent.
"The scions of Amber will need guidance and training. Most of us will be busy in negotiations with Chaos and the Golden Circle. Little time will be available to educate your cousins. The new king 'requests' your service to provide for their education."
An old insensitive quote comes to mind. Those who can't, teaches. "I see. This may take some time. When is the coronation?"
"In one week."
"That should give me enough time to tend to my affairs in Shadow Earth. I can tender my resignation there and disappear without suspicion, so I can return without incident later."
"Very well. This should help." He hands me a Trump. It is a Trump of the front gate of Castle Amber.
"Thank you, Ge`rard. This 'will' help. Pity there isn't one of London." I smile.
He returns my smile. "Good luck, then. See you in a week. Contact me if you have any difficulties."
"See you then." I leave, still not knowing who will be the new king of Amber. I am not on the need to know list. I would guess that the information is kept secret until all are back safe. No need to advertise who the target is, besides there may be someone listening.
I send word to the stable to have Andrea ready in the morning. I return to my room to get some rest. It's been a long day and it will be a long day tomorrow.
In the morning, I rode Andrea back to Shadow Earth, retracing the route I took before. The storms have stopped, but the rain was still pouring in several Shadows.
The time flow is different between Amber and Shadow Earth, nearly two Earth days to one Amber day. So, I've been gone for more than two days. When I reach Westminster Park, I keep to the woods and dismount. I write a quick note and attach it to the reins. I calm Andrea down after the hard ride. I pull out the Trump of the front gate of Amber. I take off my rain gear and bundle it to the front of the saddle. I concentrate upon the Trump and it grows cold. The portal opens and I send her through and close the portal. The guards will read the note and take Andrea to the stables. That takes care of my horses, now I'm on my own.
I stroll through the woods into town and locate a taxi stand. After a short ride to my flat, I change clothes and withdraw the Trump of my Amber quarters. I gather items that I want to keep with me in Amber. Mostly, cases of wine, boxes of cigars, my best brollys and bowlers, and some clothing I would like to keep with me. After all, I want to travel light; not even a brief case or suitcase. I open the Trump portal to my room and pass the items through. I also send through anything that will cause problems getting through airport security. Handy little items, these Trumps.
I pocket my Passport and extra keys to my flat. Time for a few stops.
I first drove my Bentley to see my solicitor. I signed over power of attorney to him. He agreed to take care of all financial arrangements and keep my flat in order. He knew a reputable company for maintaining homes and would take care of those details and scheduling payments. I had him retain a hefty fee for himself for his services. I gave him a key to the flat and thanked him for taking care of the arrangements.
Next, I visited my banker, Lord Maxted. I told him of my planned trip to the States and my need for arranging future money transfers. We arranged for contingency codes if I wired for money, for security reasons of course. I gave him a list of the codes I planned to use. I also withdrew a modest amount for travel expenses. He would also contact my solicitor for scheduling payments. Lord Maxted was very accommodating and was surprised that I was heading to the States on family business, and amused at my cloak and dagger precautions. I thanked him for taking care of the arrangements.
Next, the travel agency. I purchased one way tickets to New York via Concorde jet. First class, of course. Yes, I said tickets, for different departure times for the next two days. I don't know when I can get away safely and it will keep others guessing.
Now for the hard part. I drive to headquarters and park the Bentley outside the gate. A white haired grounds keeper greets me and opens the gate.
I smile. "Good afternoon, Giles."
"Good afternoon, sir."
"Is Mother home?"
"Hasn't been out all week."
"Poor thing. How are the bulbs coming on?"
"Coming along nicely, sir."
I walk along the wooded grounds to the expansive Victorian mansion. There are a few guards in black and gray suits. A slight bulge under their jackets, expose the fact they are carrying firearms. I tip my bowler and withdraw my pass.
After a quick examination, one escorts me to the inner sanctum of our headquarters. The other guard is using his radio, notifying others. Mother knows I am here. I am lead down a hall with vases, paintings, and other items pleasing to the senses. We enter a door on the left that takes us into a waiting area. There are chairs, cabinets, vases, and more artwork filling the room; designed to make one comfortable.
A gentleman comes out to see me.
"Simon Filson, nice to see you again. Still taking care of Mother, I see. Good man." I am standing by a cabinet. I finger a model cannon that I once used to disarm him. "Can I see Mother?"
"Yes, but he is on the phone. Please make yourself comfortable and I will return for you when he is done."
"Thank you, Simon." He leaves. A pleasant enough lad. Devoted to Mother, but he is the most paranoid man I know.
In a few moments, he summons me to Mother's office. A bare room in bold contrasting colors, filing cabinets, and the ceiling has hanging straps every square half-meter. From the shadows, a wheelchair rolls into the light.
"John! How nice to see you."
"Mother. You look well." I look at the phone. "Hot line to Washington?"
"Thank you. Luke-warm, I'm afraid. Care for a drink?"
Mother pulls himself from the chair with a cane on the rafting above. He clasps a hanging strap and pulls himself from one strap to another. "It's the only exercise I get, you know."
"You are quite good at it."
He stops at a ladder and pours us both whiskeys. "Soda?"
He gives us both a shot of seltzer. He hands me a drink, gets his glass, and we clink glasses. "Cheers, John."
"Cheers, Mother." We drink. A moment of silence passes between us.
"Now, John. Why the visit?"
"As you know, I took a few of days off for family matters."
"Yes, of course."
"Something has come up. My uncle Eric, on my mother's side of the family, just died and mother is beside herself with grief, bless her. He ran the family business and now there's no one left to run it. No children to carry on - yet." I smile at that. "I'm the only one in the family with the ability to run the business, and I have been neglecting it outrageously; since I have been with the Ministry." I pause. "I don't want to bore you with the details, but I'm needed to train the future managers of the company. I have no idea how long it will take to get things running smoothly again."
"I would like to tender my resignation, a retirement effective immediately, to take charge of the family business. Things here have been pretty quiet lately, I'm sure I won't be missed. If things can eventually be turned over to capable hands, I would like your blessing to return to the fold." Everything I have said is the truth, but not in any way they could check on.
"Well, John. I 'am' saddened by the news and your decision and returning is a distance possibility. When are you planning to leave?"
"Immediately, sir. I'm flying to the States after a formal de-briefing, of course."
"Of course." He turns. "Simon."
He advances. "Mother?"
"Process Steed's retirement. Effective immediately. You know the drill." He turns to me. "Steed, once you've set your mind to something, there's no point in trying to change it. Good luck, old friend."
"Thanks, Mother. I'll miss you." We shake hands.
I turn. "After you, Simon." We leave to process the final paperwork and exit de-briefing.
The de-briefing was rather dull. They wanted forwarding information and I gave them the address of Evelyn Flaumel in New York. I gave them the name of my banker and solicitor. I waived my pension, indicating the funds be donated to Mother's favorite charity. Also, proving I don't need money.
As a safeguard, my banker and solicitor were given special instructions to collect correspondence, but not give access of funds to 'any' agencies that request it. Any notes would be forwarded to my solicitor, then to the address in New York.
I left headquarters a little uneasy. This was going too smooth. My instincts were telling me something is wrong. I dropped the Bentley off at the garage and put the keys in my flat, with the keys to my other vehicles.
Time to make my move. I take a taxi to the airport. I have a little time before the next plane leaves. At the airport, I notice that I am being followed. It could be Mother's men, but I don't recognize any of them.
I stop for a drink at the airport lounge. I keep the Trump of my Amber flat in my jacket pocket. I may have to bolt at a moments notice. They are within sight, not very good at this business. Three men dressed in business attire. I can see they are carrying small weapons, but they got through metal detectors. Very well, high impact resistant plastic weapons? Something subtle, like a dart gun?
Curse me for a novice. Could they be using air guns with drug tipped darts? Of course! The amnesia drug darts... Silent, discreet, and effective. The victim would collapse and onlookers would think it was a fainting spell or a coronary. Then get carried off to who knows where. It may even be an improved drug, it was 'years' ago, or something deadlier.
I decide it is time to neutralize the opposition, before I get on the plane. I go to the bar and order four cups of hot coffee, black. I put them on a metal tray and carry them to the table where the men are sitting, trying not to look obvious.
"Good day, gentlemen. Coffee anyone? My treat." I watch their actions.
One is making a move for his weapon. I toss the contents of the tray onto them. The hot coffee startles them. "I'm most dreadfully sorry, that was rather clumsy of me." I jab the jumpy one with the tray, into his concealed weapon. I hear a pop. The gun discharges and he slumps into unconsciousness. One down.
I feign slipping on the coffee and swing out with my arm and crack number two in the temple with the edge of the tray. He sprawls sideways and doesn't get up. Two down.
The third makes his move. He pulls out his gun, forgetting there is an audience. An elderly lady nearby, screams at the sight of the weapon. I comment. "You do realize, that it is illegal to fire those things in a public place?" I use the tray as a shield. Hearing a 'pop', I block the projectile and knock the gun away with the flat of the tray. With him off balance, I drive my fist into his solar plexus and knock the wind out of him. He falls back into his seat and drops the gun. I repeat the routine with the tray to his head. Game, set, and match.
I look around. They have no back up. Amateurs.
I use a cloth napkin and gather the guns and dart packets they were carrying. No point in checking their ID's, there won't be any. I turn to the distraught lady, tipping my bowler. "Not to worry, mum. The situation is under control. I'll contact the authorities and they'll deal with the ruffians." Anyone in the lounge who was watching, is going back to their drinks.
I turn to the bar. "Excuse me. May I use the phone to call the authorities?"
He looks startled. "Sure, governor. Are you all right, sir? Are they...?"
"Yes, thanks. They are just fine, barman." I dial a number, one I remember quite well. "Simon? Your men are in the airport lounge, please be more careful in selecting tails. One even drew a gun in public. That is quite improper. Quite improper, indeed."
"Steed, I don't know what you are talking about. They 'aren't' our men. I didn't send a tail."
"Really? If you 'hurry', then they soon 'will' be. Three of them, out cold. I have a plane to catch."
I go to the men's room and place the guns into a dustbin and cover them well. Then I straighten up my suit and tie.
I make my way to the plane without further incident. I observe all passengers and crew members for suspicious activity. I take a seat where no one is sitting behind me in first class, to prevent getting shot in the back.
The flight itself also went without incident. I refused drinks and food offered by the flight attendant. Very well, I'm being over cautious. Was Simon telling the truth? It occurred to me that we never caught the people that were behind the use of the drug, only the traitors in the organization.
The Concorde sets down in New York. I go through customs quickly. No luggage, only my bowler and brolly - 'normal' ones, not my special ones. They wouldn't make it through security. Therefore, no weapons on my person. Thus, the caution.
Customs sent me to a nearby phone, someone was calling for me. I pick it up. "Yes?"
"Simon. We received the packages, thanks. You mentioned they were carrying guns. We found none."
"I confiscated them. Look in the dustbin in the men's room, next to the lounge. I didn't want to take the chance that anyone would find them. They are wrapped in a cloth napkin. And Simon, they were dart guns; the amnesia drug."
"I see. That is curious. That would also explain the confusion of one of them. Good work."
"Thanks. Anything else?"
"Be careful. Either someone else has learned of your retirement, or someone is just following you. Either way, watch yourself."
"I will. Thanks, Simon. Give Mother my best."
"Right." We hang up.
So, someone is following me. I don't want the authorities to get involved, that would do little but impede my actions. I just have to look for the proper opportunity to disappear and make it look like I slipped through their fingers.
I call the dummy office answering machine, set up for the family. "I have arrived at the New York airport and I'm being followed. I will lose them soon and head home. Be ready for unwanted visitors." I hang up.
I tip the odds in my favor with a little Pattern manipulation. I go to the men's room and look around. It is unoccupied, there is a mop and bucket, it has removable ceiling tiles, and a ventilation system with man-sized ductwork. Excellent, just what I wanted.
I turn the lock on the door and check for monitoring devices. One is hidden behind a mirror. "Naughty. So much for privacy." I break it. Pattern sight reveals that no other such devices are here.
They may be here soon. I use the brolly to push out a ceiling tile and a nearby mop to scatter dust around the opening. Then I pull off the ventilation screen and repeat with the mop. This will give them something to mull over. Two possible escape routes to follow.
I have a third. Someone is knocking on the door. I pull out the Trump of my Amber quarters and concentrate upon it. It grows cold and I step through the portal, before anyone can get in. They will waste time checking the ductwork and the ceiling area. They will assume that I slipped past them and will have reached my destination in New York.
A little mystery for whoever was tailing me. They will show their hand when they check on me in the New York office. Nothing for me to be concerned about for now.
Home again, home again. I put my things away and tidy up my flat.
I need to get fully readjusted to the Amber time line; to reduce jet lag, in more ways than one. I change into my silk pajamas and go to bed.
Episode A0-2 - A New Beginning
In which Steed attends a Coronation
... and starts a school for young Princes.
The next few days in Amber are uneventful, except visits to friends in town. My relatives are arriving in small groups. Mother has returned, along with Caine and Julian. They are back early to prepare for the coronation.
Preparations? Well, Flora is in charge of overseeing castle preparations. To be honest, it is Michael's job, but mother likes to 'think' she is in charge. Caine has to ready the fleet and see to security in the harbor. Julian has to check Forest Arden. Security is the main concern now.
Mother left me a dossier on my new charges. Rather detailed information, at that. I spent hours studying the details.
Time for lunch, so I head for the Great Hall. A young lad is sitting between mother and Ge`rard. A slender strawberry blond with brown eyes. He appears to be nearly twenty. The first of my charges.
I greet my family and I am introduced to young Cyrus, Fiona's son. He is a quiet lad and well mannered. His dossier notes he is quiet and studious. It also mentions that I am to 'show' him the Pattern, but not to let him 'walk' it yet. The file further indicates to me that he is a practitioner of the arts; specifically, Trumps. I welcome him to Amber. We have a little small talk and I suggest a plan for a tour of the castle.
A young serving girl addresses Cyrus and hands him a key with a note. She tells him it is the directions to his room. She smiles coyly. It probably has the directions to her room as well.
After we eat, I walk him to his room and arrange to meet him shortly in the Great Hall after he freshens up. A servant carries his luggage into the room. We can begin the tour from the Hall. I return to the Great Hall and help myself to a glass of wine, while I wait.
When Cyrus returns, he is accompanied with another lad, Seth Green. Seth is Bleys' son and a Trump artist like Cyrus. He is nearly twenty and has reddish hair and green eyes. Seth is also to 'see' but not 'walk' the Pattern. Another young serving girl brings a key and a note to Seth.
We will start the tour from top to bottom. We stop at Seth's room, so he will know how to find it later. We begin the tour on the roof of the castle. I point out the interesting sights. The town of Amber, the docks, harbor, and sea. The stables, the gardens, the small lake, and riding paths. Mt. Kolvir and Forest Arden. There are other sights, but less interesting.
We check out the various rooms of interest in the castle, floor by floor. We finish the tour with a tiring walk down the long spiral staircase to the Pattern room. Always an impressive sight, they are both fascinated by the Pattern. Our very genes are linked to it; those who attune themselves to it by walking it, have access to its vast power. I caution them to maintain their distance. When they tire of observing it, we step out of the room. I withdraw a Trump of my room and we use it to save ourselves a long walk upstairs.
I suggest a ride into Shadow, I will supply the horses. They like the idea. Understandable, since Trump artist aren't capable of Shadow travel without Trumps of the Shadows they wish to visit. Once they visit a Shadow, they can draw Trumps of the places of interest to them.
It is early evening and they leave to their rooms to get dressed for travel. I also change into my riding clothes.
Shortly, they arrive and we walk to the stables. I ride Andy, Seth rides Lucy, and Cyrus rides Andrea. After we pass through Arden, I begin shifting Shadow. We pass through a myriad of Shadows. Seth has a small camera and takes pictures along the way.
After a lengthy ride, I bring them back to Amber using the Trump of the front gate. It saves us a long ride back through Forest Arden. After checking in, we stable the horses and return to the castle.
We revisit the gym and I encourage them to take advantage of open training sessions. They can sign up to practice with whoever is available in that field of interest. They will need a structured physical regiment to get in top physical shape. The last stop for the evening is the library. I suggest they checkout some books on family history and Amber history. They find some books of interest.
I take a spare Trump deck out of the display case and give them their first 'official' assignment. New Trump decks will need to be built for my charges. The spare deck can be used to duplicate the Trumps of the Elders for them and they can duplicate Trumps of themselves for the Elders and their peers. I give them one of mine and they give me each of theirs. I encourage them to ask questions. Between exercise, reading, and Trumps; that will give them enough to keep them 'very' busy and prepare them for what is ahead of them.
The busier I can keep them, the more free time I will have for all of them. Within the month, they will be on their own; if I guess correctly. I want to keep an open relationship with them, building their trust; so they will feel free to keep in touch and consult me in the future.
The following days are hectic. The lads are kept occupied and the castle is prepared for the coronation. Everyone has returned and activity throughout the castle is at a fever pitch.
Coronation day has arrived, we are summoned to the Throne room in the morning. Everyone was taking their seats. The Elders are seated on the uppermost row, surrounding the Throne; the highest seat. The rest of us are on the lower row. My seat is below Flora's, decorated in black and white with my personal symbol. Seth's seat is below Bleys', still undecorated. Cyrus's seat is below Fiona's, also undecorated. The herald will decorate their seat when they decide upon their colors and symbols.
Once we are all seated, the wall opens, exposing the Throne room to the Great Hall and the assembled dignitaries it contained. Some Elders are activating Trumps, to broadcast the ceremony to those in Shadow.
The curtain behind the Throne rustles and parts to reveal the new king. Random! What a surprise. We all stand.
Random speaks up. "Thanks for coming. Please be seated. Let's get this over with. Ge`rard?"
Everyone takes their seat again.
Ge`rard steps over to Random, smiles, and bows. He turns to face the throng, speaking in a deep booming voice, that requires no sound system. "By decree of the Unicorn, Random Barimen has been chosen as our new king. Long live King Random I. I hereby surrender stewardship of Amber, to the one true king." He turns and proceeds to place the Crown upon Random's head. Massive applause. Then he hands his weapon to Random and swears fealty to the Crown.
Random was chosen by the Unicorn? How extraordinary! Another event I missed.
Random accepts and uses Ge`rard's weapon to touch Ge`rard's shoulders, as if knighting him. "Rise, brother. Thank you for protecting the realm, during this time of great need."
Ge`rard receives his weapon and resumes his seat. Each of us repeats the procedure that Ge`rard began. The lads were confused by all of this, but did quite well.
Random rose when we were done. "Thank you all for your support. And to all of you within the sound of my voice, in Amber and in Shadow. I accept the title and the responsibility that goes with the Crown. I shall do my best to bring honor, justice, and peace to the realm. Behold! Amber is united again! In your own way, grieve with us on our loss and celebrate with us on this occasion. May the blessing of the Unicorn be with us and with you." Massive applause.
He retakes his seat and the nobles are directed to begin their procession. In their fashion, they also swear fealty to the Crown. It goes on for hours. I was extremely bored with the procession, but I looked for familiar faces and found many. I nodded to those I recognized and they smiled back at my remembrance of them.
When the procession was finished, Random spoke again. "Thank you again for your support. The reception will officially begin, please enjoy yourselves. We will join the celebration in a few moments." The wall closes and just the family is in attendance now.
Random looked tired, but carried on. "Thanks again, all of you. Welcome to those new to Amber. Things may be moving rather quickly for you, but I expect you will adapt quite well. My brothers and sisters, thank you for agreeing to being them home. All of us will be needed to rebuild the realm and help guiding the future of Amber." He looks to me. "As the senior of your generation, Steed, I thank you for accepting the daunting task of guiding those of your generation." He looks at the others. "As for the rest of you, feel free to approach the Crown if you have concerns. If possible, consult Steed with any questions and for guidance. Anything he is unable to resolve, he will direct you to the appropriate person."
He smiles at me. I tilt my head. "I will do my best to serve, my liege."
"I'm certain of it. Steed has already given you assignments that will help in your development. He has also given the Trump artists, the important assignment of duplicating needed Trumps. I thank you for your attention in this matter."
Seth and Cyrus nod in agreement.
Random turns to the other Elders. "Any other family business?"
Benedict nods, but doesn't speak.
Random smiles. "Oh yes, 'that'. As many of you know or have recently heard. All Amber males are required to serve in the military for a period of two years. Amber females serve as well, but are not required for military service. We have discussed options on the way back from Chaos. Your choices are many: the fleet in the Navy, the Army infantry, the Army cavalry, and the castle guard. Ge`rard suggested an excellent one as well, Internship to the medical infirmary. There is no shortage of duties."
He looks around and then at me. "Steed has already served in the Army cavalry. His new responsibilities will run in conjunction with your services. His posting will be to serve as your contact during your service. Anything that requires the notice of the Crown should be channeled through him, and Steed will be responsible directly to me."
I smile at him and nod affirmative.
"Now. What is your choice of service?"
Seth speaks up. "I choose the Army infantry, my liege."
Cyrus follows. "I choose the Army cavalry, my liege."
"Thank you. Your service will commence in one month. That will give you plenty of time to take advantage of any education we can provide for you. Also to complete any tasks you are assigned. Make us proud." Random stands. "Thank you all. The meeting is adjourned, please attend to the reception and enjoy yourselves." He turns to leave through the curtains.
The rest of us leave for the reception and to our own entertainment. Training will continue tomorrow, for today we party. And I did.