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Esprit de Corps

Steed's Tale - "Esprit de Corps" - Chapter 01

Journal of Prince "Major" Jonathan Steed of Amber:
Based on a Scenario by Rain Donaldson
Written by: R. Cal Westray, Jr. in 1996.
Steed's history was written in 1994.

"Extraordinary crimes against the people and the state,
need to be avenged by agents extraordinary..."




Family Background:
Mother: Flora of Amber 
Grandmother: Dybele (deceased) Grandfather: Oberon (deceased)
Great-grandmother: Unicorn Great-grandfather: Dworkin 
Father: unknown

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 Cineverse: Ministry of Intelligence, independent agent.
>Ages 51: (1978-1979) (2391 d'L)
Return to Amber after the Patternfall War ended.
>Ages 52: (1980-1981) (2392 d'L)
In Chaos for exchange program.
>Ages 53-58: (1982-1995) (2393 d'L-2398 d'L)
Return to Amber, royal agent.
>Age 59: (1996) (2398 d'L)

Episode A3-1 - Death a la Carte

In which Steed finds a hobby
... and Mother displays her collection.

I am in of one of my favorite places in Amber, Bayle's Place. This is the place where I am in my social element. The high ranking officials, the elite high-born nobles, and others of position and power frequent Bayle's establishment. Many unofficial deals, bargains, and partnerships are struck here. Strangers become friends or enemies, fortunes are made and lost, and destinies are found in this place. It may sound rather melodramatic or even maudlin, but it is profoundly true.
The best description of this place would be that it is similar to Casino Royale from a James Bond movie: elegant, spacious, and eccentric. As you enter Bayle's Place, there is a cloak room on the right and left, the entrance to the hotel is ahead. Just before the front desk of the hotel, the spacious hall divides; to the left is the entrance to the bar, the casino, and the restaurant; to the right is the entrance to the hotel rooms.
This is my place to observe and participate in influencing important events in this part of Amber. I have been involved in Golden Circle Treaties, various trade agreements, I am also involved in investigating illegal smuggling activities, and whenever King Random decides an undercover man is needed. My skills as an independent agent gives me a lot of freedom to do many things. King Random constantly assigns me a diverse range of tasks, that are challenging and rewarding. I am known by the officers of the Town of Amber's Police force. They make sure that any resources I need are provided. They are most cooperative with me and there is absolutely no feelings of rivalry. I am one of their contacts with Castle Amber and I am frequently used to send important communiqués to and from King Random. So, the constables are more than cooperative with me.
I am John Steed. I am 59 years old, 6' 2", and I weigh 170 pounds. I have a slender build with fair skin, dark auburn hair, and steel gray eyes. I usually dress in Edwardian gabardine three piece suits (from Thrift Brothers), with white oxford cloth or silk dress shirts (from Saville Row). I wear a white Carnation, a bowler (from Hemmings and Paul on St. James), and carry an umbrella or brolly (from Bolton and Sons, the 1963 model). My casual or riding attire is a Tweed riding suit with a loose fitting jacket and high boots (from St. James). I wear silver and amber jewelry. My traveling weapon is a sabre, just for appearances; sometimes it is unwise to give the appearance of being unarmed. So, I leave it with my horse, Andrea. My brolly and bowler serve me for protection. My personal symbol is a black bowler and a champagne glass.
As I mentioned earlier, I see often see destinies found and strangers become friends or enemies. I mention this because I have noticed that someone has been following me around for a couple of days. I made sure that I was easy to follow here. I also made myself highly visible here. Among a crowd of people I have been dining, drinking and now playing the roulette table. I am not trying to win, just having a good time and making myself visible and available. No hostile moves have been made and no internal alarms have gone off, just the awareness of a tail.
My tail has been here for over an hour, nursing a beer in a strategic corner of the room near the bar. He is a rather tall husky gentleman at 6' 8". He has pale skin and black hair. He wears a black cloak with silver trim that covers blood red clothing underneath. The style is rather medieval. He is either under hire to watch me by someone else, or he has personal business with me and is waiting for the right opportunity. I have arranged this to be the place and time for strangers to become acquainted and maybe a destiny or two will be fulfilled. It is important that these things are done properly.
I approach the gentleman, jauntily carrying a glass of champagne in my left hand and my brolly hanging from my left forearm. My right hand is holding my bowler. I greet the gentleman. "Good afternoon, old boy. Perhaps it is time that we were formally introduced."
"Certainly, my name is Mr. Suehprom, I have been wanting to meet you. You seem to be a rather important person in Amber." He is rather pleasant and well mannered.
"My name is Steed, John Steed. I am from Castle Amber. Is there something that you are interested in?" The straight forward approach often works.
"I came to Amber to see if I could locate my parentage. I thought that you may know where I could start. Maybe you could help me track down that information." He looks sincere. Even more so, he has struck an empathetic chord with me.
"Do you have any names of family members or the names of people who may have raised you? Some place where we can start?"
"No idea, I have no memory of them. You can't imagine what is like to not know your parentage. What do you suggest?" He pleads a good case.
"Yes, I can understand it. I know my mother, but I do not know who my father is. I gave up searching for him long ago. But, I will do what I can for you. First, I suggest that we visit the local constable. He will get resources in the Hall of Records to see if there are any references to Suehprom. I will also try to contact a friend in the Courts of Chaos. The name Suehprom may be a derivative of the name Suehy. Both may be long shots but worth a try." Tracking genealogy in Amber is easy if there are records, but not all birth records are available.
"Thank you. I appreciate your help, this is more that I hoped for. You mentioned that you came from Castle Amber, what is it like there?"
"It is the home of our family. A rather large imposing feature overlooking all of Amber. We will go there after things are set in motion, unless you have other plans. I could even give you a tour of the Castle if you wish."
His eyes widen. "That would be great."
"Let's get started then." We leave Bayle's Place and head to the constables office.
We reach the office and find Constable Stefan Cage busy coordinating activities. He is a tallish, muscular, and gruff figure. He has light brown hair, blue eyes, and a closely trimmed beard. He is a man who is a fanatic about specific and accurate details. He gives clear and precise instructions to his men. He has no patience for miscommunication in his department. He has to review instructions with one of his men, something he would rather do, than to send him out without a full understanding of his instructions. We wait patiently as he calmly finishes with his men. They depart and Stefan sits back in his chair, shaking his head. He sees us for the first time and smiles. He stands and motions us over. "Steed! What a pleasant surprise. What brings you to our humble offices and who is your companion?" He shakes our hands heartily.
"Stefan, well met old friend. I was at Bayle's Place and I met this gentleman, Mr. Suehprom. He provided me with a mystery and I thought of the best person to assist me with it. Old friend, I need a small favor."
"Steed, you know that I will help anyway I can. By the way, how is Random. Things have been too quiet lately and I thought he has forgotten his little town." His smile widens.
"He fares well, you know that I never let him forget anything as important as his little town. You are right about things being too quiet, though. This favor is unofficial and possibly a waste of time, but it is worth a shot. Friday night, you can come up to the castle and help Michael and myself sample our latest batch of wine. I am hopeful that it will be a good batch. Michael swears that it will be good enough that Bayle will be envious of it. I expect that the Baron will be there to sample it as well. If you like it, I am sure that I can convince Michael to part with a case for your staff."
"Steed, I am intrigued with such a challenge and I look forward to it. As for the wine, Michael is rarely wrong about anything. I wouldn't miss it, just to see Bayle's reaction. Now, what is this task you have in mind?"
"Stefan, I would like to help Mr. Suehprom identify his parents. There may be records in the Hall, you know how elusive such documents are. That is why it may be a waste of time. Your contacts in the Hall of Records have cracked some tough nuts like this in the past. There are none better in all Shadow." I give him a wry smile.
"Steed, you flatter me. I agree with your assessment and I will get the ball rolling. If something turns up, will you be at the castle?"
"Yes, old friend. Thanks for your help. Join us for dinner in the castle when you can. You are always welcome." We shake hands and leave.
"Let's head to the stables, do you have a mount stabled there?" I ask Suehprom.
"No, I have been traveling on foot."
"No matter, I will provide transportation." Maybe, he can provide exercise for one of my horses at the castle. I see little William, the stable boy, walking one of the horses. The farrier must have put new shoes on the gelding and wants to make sure that he walks comfortably with them on.
William sees me, "Lord Steed, good day. Are you ready for Andrea?"
"Yes, lad. Is there an extra horse available for castle guests? We need a rather stout horse for my friend Mr. Suehprom. Mr. Suehprom, this is William. He is the only person I trust with my horses."
"Lord Steed, please, I am only an apprentice for Lord Bayle. Everyone here is more experienced than I am." He is blushing.
"William, tell Andrea that, she doesn't believe it either." I grin at the lad.
William continues, "Mr. Suehprom, sir, will this horse do? He was just given new shoes and likes them well enough."
My quest smiles at the lad. "Yes, the gelding will do fine. Thanks, lad."
He hands the reigns of the gelding to Suehprom and turns to get Andrea from the stall. He leads Andrea from the stall and hands me the reigns. I move her out into the open where she has plenty of room. "All right girl, get the kinks out, we are heading home." She snickers and proceeds to leap into the air and kicks with her back legs. Then, landing gracefully, she leaps and kicks twice more. She neighs and snorts. "Ready, now?" She nods her head in approval, moving around into position. I toss William a Gold Crown and we mount our horses.
"Thanks, sirs. Good day." He turns and heads back to the stable.
The stable is just on the other side of the Unicorn Shrine. As we pass it, I doff my bowler and sniff my Carnation in reverence. To others, it seems as an affectation. However, it is done with deep respect.
Andrea moves smoothly and silently down the road from the town of Amber. Time moves quickly and the distance seems insignificant to my mare. The wind is cool and comfortable. The sun is at it's peak. A lovely day for a ride, almost made to order. The only sound is the hooves on the cobblestones and the slapping of the sabre on the saddle flap.
She seems to be showing off for the locals, proud of carrying a gentleman of Amber, unlike the more common horses. Yes, she is definitely showing off. "Good show, dear girl, let's give them a good view." I pat her neck and she seems to almost purr, a throaty neigh. A most uncommon of creatures.
Homes of dignitaries and noblemen, assorted trees, and countless shrubs line the roads from uptown Amber. The houses are tastefully done and constantly cared for by talented groundskeepers working the yards and carpenters working on the houses. Ornately designed carriages, smaller cale`che, and other horse-drawn vehicles are visible around many homes. Groomsmen and drivers are preparing the carriages for travel, possibly for a trip into town.
Fortunately, it seems we have the road to ourselves so far. Andrea keeps her head held high and snorts. She is prancing as she usually does, she is also enjoying showing up the gelding. In a few minutes, we are at the edge of town. We speed up to a full trot as we leave town and begin the road to Castle Amber.
The trip back to Castle Amber is an uneventful one. We pass the time in idle conversation, I describe the scenery and landmarks of Amber. We soon reach the stables. I show him my personal stable '3 Mews'. It is a private little joke. My Westminster apartment on Shadow Earth in London, England is '3 Stable Mews', so my stable's address is '3 Mews'. To be fair, I didn't say it was a good joke, just a private little one. In the stalls are my rare and beautiful Andelusian horses. One, is a beautiful golden-brown Bay mare Andrea and her mate Andy. The other pair have exquisite silver gray coats, Lucy and Lucian.
His eyes widen like William's did when he first saw them. "You may keep the gelding while you are here, or you can help me by exercising my horses. I need to provide all of them with regular exercise. You seem to be able to handle horses pretty well and if you are interested, you can ride them anytime you are here." He smiles agreeably.
We head on foot to the Castle, passing the various gardens. We reach the main entrance to Castle Amber. I tip my hat to the guards, and they let us by. "My good men, can you have someone inquire of the King if I may have an audience with him? We will go to the Great Hall and wait for a response. Thanks, lads."
The guard nods, "Yes, my lord." and departs. We move down the hall and I show my guest the portraits that are on the walls of the main hallway. I identify the subjects of the portraits and answer his questions. There is a portrait opposite the entryway to the Great Hall, of my mother Flora. A beautiful lady of perfect features with the coolest of blue eyes, wearing a gown green as the sea. As described by Uncle Corwin later: her long hair and low bangs, all of a cross between sunset clouds and the outer edge of a candle flame in an otherwise dark room. He knows so well how to turn a phrase. In mother's portrait, she has her Irish Wolfhounds at her side. They are well trained and extremely nasty.
With mother, everything is a grand showing. She constantly reminded me that appearance and behavior is everything. Pay attention to the details, they are what is important. Flora is the most possessive, irritating, demanding, manipulative, calculating, and fastidious person I've ever met. Regardless, I love her dearly.
We reach the Great Hall and I direct him to the open bar. I explain the flurry of activity, as I pour myself a glass of wine. "The people are the kitchen staff preparing for the evening meal. We will eat in a couple hours. They are expecting a large retinue of the Golden Circle Treaty, mostly members from Kashfa. I am expecting to see King Rinaldo I." I look around for a specific familiar face. I spot him with a glass of wine. He is tasting it, then he looks disappointed. He shakes his head and sees me as well.
He is a fit and lean man with thinning hair, with his hair tied back with a black cloth. He runs his kitchen like a drill sergeant. "Steed! You are back, good!" He walks toward me. "Steed, verify something for me. Try this and tell me what you think." He hands me his glass.
I smell and taste the wine. "Tannin, this wine has been corked." He smiles.
"That is what I thought, I can't serve this during the Kashfa visit. A whole batch may be the same way."
"Put that batch aside for now and we will check them individually when we have a smaller group. I will be happy to help you check them." We smile. "Michael, we have a guest in Amber. Meet Mr. Suehprom. I will be showing him around the castle and he will join us for dinner."
"Certainly Steed, is there something you would like prepared?"
I look at my guest, he shrugs. "Surprise me."
Michael smiles and nods. He disappears into the crowd.
A guard approaches me, "Lord, His Majesty requests your presence at five minutes before the evening meal." He waits for my response.
"Thanks, old boy. We will be there." The guard nods then leaves.
Michael reappears and hands me a key. I smile, "Thanks, what's on the menu?"
"Is Beef Stroganoff acceptable? We will have other entrees as well. Desert is a selection of Key Lime Pie, Cheesecake, and something Flora requested: Death by Chocolate. Sounds promising?"
"Of course, but be generous with the sour cream in the sauce." I smile, teasingly. His Beef Stroganoff is superb with a golden brown sauce and he knows it.
I turn to my guest, "I hope you won't be disappointed. It looks as though we have some free time. I will take you to your quarters, it is down the hall from the Library." I hand him the key. "Michael, sees to all arrangements personally. The room should be quite comfortable."
"Lord Steed, you have all been more than kind to me, is there some way I can repay the kindness of all?"
"For me, nothing. I enjoy the break in the monotony, and I hope we find information of value to you. It will serve you well to gain as many allies in Amber as you can. The others are dear friends who lack my resources. I do anything I can for them, because they are the truest of friends. Michael likes to keep busy trying new recipes, new wines, and new beers. I have always found it challenging to give him a recipe for something he has not already tried. Also, there are not many beers and wines that he doesn't like or hasn't tried."
"I will keep that in mind." He smiles.
We go to the second floor and I give him a tour of the Library and show him the Index Card Catalog and how the books are organized. As we look over some of the older tomes, someone quietly enters the Library. Dame Margot greets us. She is ancient but still beautiful, though she wears her white hair under a veil. She wears a flowing white dress with gold stitching. She is the expert on court gossip and she regards Florimel as her finest creation. She also worked her art on me.
I take her hand and kiss it. "It is a pleasure to see you again, my dear. My guest is Mr. Suehprom. Mr. Suehprom, you have the honor of meeting our dearest lady, Dame Margot."
"Lord Steed, Mr. Suehprom, how nice to see both of you. I wanted to remind you of our tea tomorrow, it would be splendid if your friend would like to join us." She smiles.
He bows deeply, takes her hand and kisses it. "I am indeed honored beyond measure. I would love to take tea with you, my lady."
"Indeed, my lady. My guest is curious about Amber and I can think of no one better suited to satisfy his curiosity. I will try to attend as well, if His Majesty has no plans for me. I should be better informed by dinner." I plan to be absent to let the two of them have some time together. They may feel less inhibited without my presence.
"Very well gentlemen, I look forward to tomorrow's tea. Good evening." She curtseys and turns to leave.
We soon go to his room, then mine, then I show him the stairs to the third floor. I show him where the bath rooms are, the fencing and workout rooms, the laboratory, and the area overlooking the Library. We take the stairs, passing the fourth floor to the opening to the roof of Castle Amber. We have a breathtaking view of the area around Amber. We can see the town of Amber, the Port of Amber, the various gardens, Mt. Kolvir, and Forest Arden.
The time is nearing dinner. "We have a few minutes before we see Random, you may want to freshen up first. Come to my room when you are ready and we will go see him."
I head to my room. It is on the second floor along the side of the Library and adjacent to Bley's quarters. It is near the stairs leading to the main hall. Behind the room is the stairs leading down to the main kitchen or up to King Random's quarters. The bathroom and showers are down the hall and around the corner.
The doors to the rooms are heavy oak. Inside the furniture is golden oak. Paintings adorn my room: elegant settings and people; Napoleon at Waterloo; painting of horses of all kinds; also, paintings from Rene Magritte.
My study has bookcases, a roll top desk, couch and reading chair. The couch and chairs are covered in black velvet. An umbrella stand is next to the desk for my sabre, Shadow Veil and other brollys and canes. The black bowler usually sits on the desk, and the white Carnation usually sits on the bookcase where Haviland China teacups and crystal goblets are stored. Writing material is kept in the desk. I carry a small notebook and pencil for taking notes. Some things should not be trusted to memory. The roll top desk has a hidden compartment in back, it contains several small firearms of various caliber's and clips of ammo.
The bedroom has a washstand, dressers, reading chair, night stands, and bed. The bed has down feather pillows, satin sheets, and a sheepskin coverall. The bed posts are hollow for storing items, the tops screw off with reversed threads. I usually wear silk pajamas. The windows are at head of bed.
My favorite reading spot is in the Study area or in the Amber Library. It is a great place to find interesting items.
Tea and other room service items are provided by many servants, but usually by Dana. Hand picked by Michael for her charm and grace.
I gather any items that may be useful. I pour a small glass of Napoleon brandy. I lift the glass to a silent toast. To Amber and the Unicorn.
A few minutes later, my guest arrives and we depart for Random's quarters. The guards make way and we enter his office. He is a wily-looking little man, with a sharp nose and a laughing mouth and a shock of straw colored hair, currently sporting a short beard. He wears a Renaissance costume of orange, red, and brown. He looks a bit tired after a full day of negotiations. I am sure that Random and Luke had a few words. The old argument over the Jewel of Judgment.
"Good evening, Uncle. How have you been?"
"Well enough, Steed. Thanks. This is our current guest? Hello, young man."
"Hello, your majesty. My name is Suehprom. Lord Steed has been kind enough to help me to identify my parentage." He bows deeply.
"Yes, Steed likes to keep busy. My, you are a tall one. At least you aren't red-headed. You certainly aren't one of mine. Possibly one of Ge`rard's." Random is studying him closely.
"Sir, is there a problem with red-heads? Who is Ge`rard?" He looks confused.
"No, not at all. Just thinking out loud. Ge`rard is the largest of us, he will be at dinner. Steed, do you think he may be one of us? Oberon's lot tends to turn up everywhere."
"It has occurred to me. I must say that it will be nice to see more relatives around here. I could use a break from "some" of the official duties. Also, we always need backup support."
Random continues, "Yes, Steed, we have had this discussion before. I would also like to delegate these tasks to others. Maybe, we will get the help we need. You have already talked to Flora already? There seems to be a group of possible Amberites on Shadow Earth, in a place called Los Angeles. She is checking it out now. Will you be joining her after dinner?"
"No, I haven't heard from her yet. More Amberites?" I feel an itch at the back of my neck. A Trump Call, it must be mother. I push it back for a bit. "I think mother is trying to reach me now." My head hurts from fighting off contact. I open contact.
:Hello dear, Random wanted me to let you know. I am on Shadow Earth, in L. A. I am checking out some people who may be possible Amberites. Their abilities make it promising. Are you with Random now?: Flora seems to be busy.
"Yes mother, and we are getting ready for dinner. Is everything all right? Is there anything you need?" It looks like World War III behind her. She pulls a hand grenade from her purse.
:Not yet, I have things under control. I will contact you in time for desert.: She tosses the grenade and closes contact.
"Uncle, mother will contact us during desert. She just tossed a grenade at someone. I would guess that she is wrapping things up there. I hope these possible relatives are reasonable people and don't make the mistake of mussing her hair." I smile wryly.
"No doubt. It would be best if they arrived in one piece. Let's go downstairs for dinner, I am starving." Random gets up and motions us to lead the way.
We head downstairs to the Great Hall. At the head table, Queen Vialle is already seated. In attendance, I introduce Suehprom to Ge`rard and Martin. Since few elders are present, we sit at the head table. Otherwise, we sit at one of the tables in the next row. On the other end of our table I see our special guest. He is dressed in green, with red hair and a full beard.
"Mr. Suehprom, I would like you to meet our guest of honor, King Rinaldo I of Kashfa."
"Please, Steed. Mr. Suehprom, just call me Luke." Luke gives a broad smile.
"Pleased to meet you, Luke." They shake hands. "I would love to hear about Kashfa sometime. It sounds like a very interesting place."
I noticed something, "Luke, where is your lovely wife? I have been so looking forward to seeing her again."
"She doesn't travel much these days. Her pregnancy makes it uncomfortable to travel. The roads and vehicles aren't as smooth here, as they are on Shadow Earth." Luke grins.
"One of the disadvantages of Amber, no doubt. Please give her our best wishes." I also realize that something remains unsaid. The Jewel of Judgment. Coral still wears it, in an eye socket, after the accident. Dworkin must have been mad to have implanted the Jewel in Coral. Not because others want to utilize its power, but because the effect it must have on Coral. My concern extends to the child growing within her. Hopefully, there will be no adverse effects to mother and child.
We are seated and dinner begins. Servers bring out beverages and platters of food. The dinner proceeds very well. Many dinner conversations are overheard, no serious arguments are heard. The Beef Stroganoff is excellent, the Cabernet goes very well with the dinner. Desert is arriving. My guest takes Key Lime Pie and Death by Chocolate. I throw caution to the wind and take a Death by Chocolate. As I lift my spoon, I receive a Trump Call. Her timing is incredible. I open contact. My guest notices me staring off at nothing.
:Steed, dearest, has desert started? Is that Death by Chocolate?: Her eyes widen and she reminds me of a hawk ready to strike a tender rabbit.
"Yes mother, would you like some?" I lift up the plate with the spoon in the ice cream. My guest is watching me intently. His jaw drops when my hand disappears and reappears without the desert. I grin broadly. "Is everything under control? Do you want me to come there or do you want me to pull you through?"
:Not yet, go to my quarters, and I will bring them there. One of the party felt that guns make the man. I had to prove that he was greatly mistaken.:
I reach over and touch the shoulder of my guest. His eyes go wide as he experiences Trump contact through my eyes. "Many people make that mistake with Amberites. This is my mother, Flora. Mother, this is my guest, Mr. Suehprom. He will join us in your room. We will be there in ten minutes. Is there anything you need now?"
:Hello, Mr. Suehprom. Yes dear, hand me another desert. Have the infirmary staff ready for possible casualties. See you then.:
I take a plate from the table and pass it through to mother. We break contact. I motion for the guard. "Have the infirmary staff ready for possible casualties. Have medics and guards ready at Flora's apartment." The guard leaves. My guest looks at me in amazement.
"What was that?" He stared at me as though I just grew a third eye.
"You just experienced a Trump contact, through me. I should have asked first. It is usually considered rude to bring someone else into Trump contact without their permission. I will ask in the future."
He gathers his reserves and continues with his desert, "It was an interesting and dizzying feeling."
I continue, "We have very little time. We need to be ready for anything. Are you familiar with firearms? We may have to go to Los Angeles where gun powder works. You may also need to get more pedestrian clothing. Our biggest problem will be to avoid problems with the local officials." I motion to Michael. "Michael, we need a tailor for my guest."
Suehprom jumps in. "Is there a book on fashion of this place we are going?"
I continue, "Shadow Earth, late 20th century America."
He disappears and returns with an elderly gentleman, the Court tailor. He has a large book under his arm. My guest looks through it. "Thanks, I will see if I can find something appropriate. I will go to my room and change."
"Come to my room when you are ready. See if you can find a holster that will hold a gun. About this size." I take the Walther P5 Compact from my bowler and show it to him. I put it back and we leave for our rooms. I am certain that he has some hidden abilities. Possibly he is a conjurer, to create his own clothing. Possibly he has some artifact that accomplishes the same thing. Possibly, he may be from the Courts of Chaos with limited abilities and be unaware of its origin. I will need to pay close attention for more clues. It would be gauche to examine him with the Pattern without his permission. I may find an excuse to check later.
I have only a couple minutes to get ready. I pull out the desk from the wall. In the back, there is a sliding panel. A hidden cache reveals a pouch of Crown Royals and a small handgun, a black Walther P5 Compact. There are also a few clips of 9mm ammunition. These are for Suehprom. I take off my bowler and open a pocket. The Trumps are there in the silver case, with my own Walther P5 Compact: Flora, Random, Vialle, Ge`rard, Julian, Eric, Fiona, Benedict, Caine, Corwin, a host of others, three of my own, and the Unicorn Grove. I take out a Trump for Suehprom, close the pocket, and put the bowler back on.
I place two ammunition clips into my right inside coat pocket. If I need it, I can take it out with my left hand to load the gun held by my right hand. It helps to be mentally prepared for the proper procedure. It is almost automatic in nature, to prepare step by step. The silvered knife of mother's is in my left inside coat pocket. I have a pair of handcuffs in my pants pocket and a brandy flask in my jacket pocket. My lock pick set is in a silver case in my right vest pocket. There are other items: a Swiss army knife, a wind resistant lighter, a note pad, and a mechanical pencil. I am still wearing the Carnation, this will provide limited invulnerability. My bowler and brolly is with me. I am ready when he is.
He appears in minutes in very passable Shadow Earth clothing. I give him the Walther P5 Compact from my desk with 2 clips of ammunition, also a Trump of mine. I demonstrate the use of the handgun and the Trump. He seems to pick it up quickly. The Trump will be important, it will be his link back to Amber.
We are both ready. We head to the third floor and to Flora's rooms. I unlock the door and we enter. It is not long before a Trump portal opens and a group of people appear. One male is trussed up, one male is not, one is a large black cat, and the other is a young lady. They are covered in blood. Mother has been busy. The guards are here with medics awaiting orders.
"Anyone need to go to the infirmary? Is everyone here or do we need to go back into Shadow?"
"No dear, everyone is here and intact. Medics, take this one to the infirmary and have the infirmary stand down from alert." The guards help the medics place the one who is tied up onto a stretcher and they leave. Pity, I was looking forward to returning to Shadow Earth.
Flora and the others are now talking. One is shouting at Flora. "What is going on here, where are we, and why are we here?"
Flora says, "You are in the center of all reality."
I interrupt, "She means that you are in Amber, the center of all reality. You came from a Shadow world. This is Flora's room in Castle Amber, our home. I am Steed and this is another guest, Mr. Suehprom."
"I am Scout and this is Kat."
"I am Kesa Iltha, and Creed was the one taken to the infirmary."
"Mother, dinner is just over but I am sure that we can feed our guests. Maybe they would like to freshen up first and we can explain the situation to them over dinner in the Great Hall. Michael can arrange quarters for them where they can rest later. It is the proper thing to do." I expect a snippy response to that.
"Don't try to teach your mother manners, Steed." She glares at me, then grins. "You are right, of course. I will take the ladies to the bath room. You can take Scott. We will meet at the Great Hall for dinner, when everyone is ready. The infirmary will take care of Creed, he will join us when he is able."
We leave for our respective tasks. I am curious about our new guests. I ask Suehprom to help Scout get ready, while I notify Michael. This may be a long evening.
I head for the Great Hall. The staff is still cleaning, but some of them are still there. It appears that the Kashfa retinue is staying for a late dinner and pleasant conversation. I see Michael talking with Luke. They turn to greet me.
Luke inquires, "I heard that Flora brought back some possible relatives, it true?"
"It is possible. They are upstairs, cleaning up. Flora must have been a little rough with one of them, he is in the infirmary." I grin slyly.
Michael inquires. "How many rooms are needed? Will they be down for dinner?"
"Possibly four rooms, one is feline and I don't know what her needs are. Yes, they will be down later for dinner. It may be a long night, I would like to find out what happened in Shadow and find out if is it possible that we may encounter others."
Michael hands me four keys. "There are four adjoining rooms on the third floor, overlooking the library, behind the bath rooms. There will be staff available to serve our new guests, when they are ready. Thanks, Steed." He turns and leaves for other tasks.
"Luke, are you interested in meeting our new guests? If you are here when they come down, I will be happy to do the honors."
Luke smiles, "It will be interesting to meet them. You said one was feline?"
"Yes, a large black cat, named Kat. Probably a shape shifter, they are fascinating. I haven't seen any outside of Chaos or Julian's lycanthropes in Forest Arden. I will bring our guests to you when they come down, so they can meet a cousin and the King of Kashfa." I point to a nearby bottle. "Care for some?"
He smirks. "Thanks, Steed. I am looking forward to meeting our quests."
I pour a glass of Burgundy for each of us. I hand Like his glass. I roll the wine around in my mouth and swallowed. "Perfect. I've heard it described as having a 'violent bouquet of cherries and violets'. I can't see that at all... To me, it simply tastes splendidly, beautifully, caressingly of wine!"
Luke drinks his. "Indeed, Steed."
"Luke, can I ask you something? If it is too personal, I do not wish to give offense."
"Sure, Steed. I will try not to be offended."
"I am sure the subject of the Jewel has come up before. How has Coral been? I have been concerned about the Jewel's effect on her and on her child."
"I can appreciate and share your concern. She is well enough though."
"Has anyone tried to use the Jewel's power since Coral has had it?"
"Not to my knowledge, no."
"It has been quiet, too quiet, here lately. If a crisis arises, it may be necessary in the future for someone to become attuned to the Jewel. Possibly, even to use it as Oberon and Corwin did. Perish forbid. Has Coral talked about this with you?"
"We have talked about it at length. We are hoping that the need will not arise."
"I sincerely hope that you are right and I also hope that the Jewel's effect is benign. I can not imagine the effect it would have on a person. Coral is truly a unique and special person." I pause and continue. "Luke, I know that you have your own security in Kashfa, but if you need the help of another Amberite, I want you to know that you can count on my support. I have never mentioned it before, but it is important that you know that. Coral's safety is very important to Kashfa 'and' Amber."
"Thanks, Steed. I appreciate your candor and support. I will keep your words in mind and I am sure that Coral appreciates your concern as well."
I finish my drink and set the glass down. "Well, I better check on our newcomers. Thanks for the company, Luke. Be seeing you." I turn and leave the Great Hall.
"Later then." He refills his glass and heads for the retinue.
I reach the quiet of the corridor. I take the stairs and head for the third floor to the bath rooms. Our guests should be ready soon.

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R. Cal Westray, Jr.
Copyright © 2001 [Westray.org].
All rights reserved.
Revised: October 23, 2007 .