Tue Mar 25 00:21:52 1997
Subject: [AM] Brandi's Tale Chapter 3: Performances
Laura put an arm about each cousin's shoulder and drew them closer to 
her. "Where," she whispered in a conspiratorial tone with a sly smile on 
her face, "can a girl go to learn a little sorcery?"
        No doubt about it, Laura was ambitious.  She was eager to learn 
all she could about what it means to be from Amber, and made it quite 
clear with a refreshing openness uncharacteristic of the rest of her 
family.  Brandi wondered how long it would last.  She felt a sudden pang 
of sadness for Laura, so young and eager.  This was the wrong place for 
that, she knew well.  I hope she handles it better than I did, Brandi 
        Orbus smiled.  Brandi had heard mention of him- Fiona's son.  He 
had the presence and mystery of his mother, immediately drawing 
attention when he entered a room and not letting you forget him.  He 
also had a certain commanding, almost Machiavellian sense of power about 
him, like a vampire- compelling, at once captivating and dangerous.  He 
knew it, too. Brandi reminded herself not to get on his bad side.  She 
liked men that made her do that.
        "Well, Laura, you've come to the right place," she said, 
gesturing to herself.  "Sorcery is a unique power, usually underrated by 
our family. It's not in the same league as the Pattern or Trump, but you 
can combine it with them for an extra little kick."
        "And when you fit it to the Shadow you're in, it can be quite a 
force," added Orbus.
        So, Orbus knew sorcery.  That was no surprise- look at his 
mother.  And he was probably quite good at it- Brandi was good, she 
knew, but she also accepted that she should avoid any magical 
confrontations with this guy, even if he didn't have the reputation of 
being Fiona's child.
        "It's Shadow-specific, then?" asked Laura.  "How does being in 
Amber affect it?"
        Gods, she was quick, thought Brandi.
        "You have to make the spell fit the environment it's taking 
effect in, including Amber," continued Orbus.  "You need to have a 
specific objective in mind ahead of time, when you prepare the spell."
        "It can get tedious sometimes, the preparation at least, but the 
theatrics you create are worth it," Brandi said with an impish grin.
        Over the course of the meal Bloody Bob's had become steadily 
more crowded. By the time they were done it was close to capacity, with 
only a raised platform opposite the bar remaining clear.
        "I guess I shouldn't keep my public waiting any longer," said 
Brandi, smiling widely.  She excused herself from her fascinating 
company, slipping The Deep Blue Sea off her finger and extending an 
unspoken command to it. She worked her way across the crowded room to 
the dais, the press of people helping her conceal The Deep Blue Sea's 
quick transformation.
By the time she reached the dais, on which a stool had been placed, she 
was carrying an exotic-looking, brilliantly crafted deep blue lute.  A 
sweet melody sprung out of thin air, defying any attempt to pinpoint the 
source of the sound; for surely, the Lady Brandi had not begun to play!  
Witnesses would swear afterwards that she had made the instrument appear 
just by humming a single note, that it was a song made real, as she was. 
In reality, the lute was one of the forms of The Deep Blue Sea, and the 
ethereal music was a quietly triggered spell named "Adagio for Swans in 
D Major", her signature spell.  As she had said before, the theatrics of 
spellcasting were well worth it.  The crowd had become silent in awe as 
she seated herself.
She rarely planned ahead what she would perform; it usually grew out of 
the moment- the mood of the audience, the location, her own emotional 
state. This time, however, she had known what she would play.
"This is a song about a whale," she began, then smiled as if at a 
private joke.  "No.  This is a song about friendship and absence."  The 
lute sung high, sweet and clear for a moment before settling into a 
sparse, simple melody in Brandi's hands.  The tone was rich and full, 
and people marveled at it's beauty.
But the instrumental music was relegated to the background when Brandi 
sang her first verse, high and melodic, piercingly sad.  She began:
Perfect sunsets in autumn winds,
White cold on the horizon,
A promise as winter descends.
Tears unsaid, a return unspoken,
Expectations high for familiar sights,
A promise, and a song of parting begins.
Moving in waters blue and black,
Recollections pure silver become,
Shelter when bad nights impose.
Across an ocean something amiss,
That anchor against strange tides,
Slipping, sinking, locked in depths.
Never to reach again,
A sudden orphan born.
The walls around Brandi's heart were strong, out of necessity, but there 
were cracks in them.  She had realized long ago that she could hold her 
emotions in for only so long, so she had developed two ways to vent 
them: through destructive displays of temper, as she had unleashed the 
night before in her room, and through her music, as she did now.  As she 
played and sang she mourned for Aum Leth, Master Drokk, and the simple 
fact that she could never, ever, go home again.  She sang of friends 
parting, promising to return; the passing of time, when thoughts of old 
friends kept one's heart warm; and the sudden loss of one's home, when 
one realized that those friendships were forever beyond reach.  Brandi 
did not weep, no tears left her eyes; her music wept for her.
By the end of the song the child in her had been calmed, and the wounds, 
though still tender, were no longer raw and open.  She had vented her 
immediate grief, the emotions that had threatened her outer calm, 
leaving the more deep-seated, lingering pain to remain.  A thick silence 
had overcome the patrons in the tavern, and she could see some red eyes 
and a wet cheek or two in her audience.
She was in a better mood now, and her subsequent songs reflected that; 
the crowd quickly cheered up as well, and some even began dancing.  But 
that first song that would stay with them for many years to come.  After 
a while, when the dancers seemed to tire and the mood settled, she stood 
and bowed in heartfelt gratitude, to a round of spirited cheers and 
applause.  Bob came to the stage and handed her a mug of Bayle's, 
toasting her performance.
"The next round is on me," she announced, and was cheered again.  The 
Bard slowly made her way back to her cousins, receiving more praise on 
her way over, not forgetting to make her lute "magically vanish" in the 
process. Bob joined her, shooing away other patrons to give her some 
privacy with her companions, who had ordered a bottle of red wine some 
time during the performance and were sharing its contents.
"An inspiring performance.  I am in awe," stated Orbus with a smile, 
lifting his glass in salute.
"Agreed.  That was wonderful!  It's no surprise you've been called the 
Bard of Amber, " added Laura.
"Thank you," Brandi said, not knowing what else to say, at an 
uncharacteristic loss for words.  She had always appreciated the lavish 
praise she received for her music- she certainly deserved it- but coming 
from her two companions it somehow seemed more important, a higher 
accomplishment.  Other than Zachary, Laura and Orbus were the only ones 
in Amber to ever have commented positively on her music with any degree 
of sincerity.  She appreciated that deeply.
She hid her temporary loss of speech by pouring herself a glass of 
wine.  As always, she felt a bit drained after her performance, and was 
content to sit quietly and watch the other patrons.  Her gaze landed on 
a figure heading out the door, slightly stooped, wearing a black hooded 
cloak.  The figure turned to survey the room momentarily before leaving, 
and actually did a good job of seeming not to pay special attention to 
her table.  The stranger also succeeded in keeping his hands concealed 
while appearing not to, and left. She glanced at her companions.  It 
seemed Orbus had picked up on the figure as well, a grim look on his 
face; Laura's eyes were intent while she retained the appearance of 
calmly sipping her wine.
"Time for a different performance" Brandi sighed to herself.  "Well, 
cousins, shall we go?"
"Excellent suggestion, Brandi," said Laura.  She and Orbus had hard 
edges to their gaze now, mirroring her own.  Brandi felt her weariness 
bleed away; she, Orbus and Laura had responded equally to the implied 
threat, an unspoken consensus that usually took years to form with 
someone else, even though they barely knew each other.  By the gods, it 
would be good to work with them.
They silently recovered their mounts, eyes roving incessantly.  Orbus' 
sword was loose in its scabbard, as was The Devil, while The Deep Blue 
Sea had become a dagger up Brandi's sleeve.  A bow and a quiver hung 
from Tovarich's saddle.  Indeed, Moonghost, Tovarich, and Orbus' Torch 
reflected the tension in their riders.
"Let's ride," said Orbus, and led the way down Death Alley; Laura rode 
beside him and Brandi beside her, leaving the archer in the middle.  A 
large, hooded figure was skirting along ahead of them, picking up 
speed.  He ducked down a dark, seedy-looking (even in this part of town) 
"Ooh, aren't we creative," snorted Brandi.  The figure was either very 
stupid and deliberately trying to lead them into an ambush, or very 
stupid and unknowingly trying to lead them into an ambush.  No fool 
would rise to that bait.  Brandi almost followed him in anyway- she felt 
eager for a fight. Orbus was smiling.  Evidently he thought the same, 
and it looked like he was tempted to pursue the stranger as well.  He 
looked at her, giving her a look of amusement and curiosity.  Laura had 
caught on to the unspoken debate, but was clearly not as thrilled with 
the idea of walking deliberately into a trap as her cousins were.  The 
sensible voice in Brandi's head agreed with her, but it was as always a 
minority voice.  Laura nocked an arrow to her bow, looked at Orbus and 
then at Brandi, and nodded.  She would provide cover from the street 
while Orbus and Brandi entered the alley.
As one Brandi and Orbus broke their horses into a trot, quickly 
overtaking the man.  The alley was narrow and cluttered enough to impede 
a pedestrian but little trouble for the horses.  Brandi and Orbus had 
both drawn their swords; their quarry turned to glance back just as 
Brandi drew close enough to impress on him the fine workmanship of her 
red leather boot.
"Hello, friend," said Orbus in a tone of voice that sent chills through 
the man; Brandi herself paused momentarily as she dismounted.  Orbus 
remained on horseback, which only enhanced his presence before the 
cowering stranger. He held the tip of his sword inches from the man's 
throat, unmoving.
"You!" exclaimed the stranger hoarsely.
"Who are you, and why are you here," continued Orbus in a flat, deadly 
tone. "Quickly."
It was Orbus' show now; Brandi kept her eyes open while her cousin put 
the poor guy through the wringer.  Obviously this goon and his 
compatriots had some sort of history with Orbus, who was presently 
leaning over the man and intimidating him in a whispering voice.
She felt a sudden chill in her blood, and knew things were about to go 
wrong.  "I've got a bad feeling about this," she muttered.
On instinct she dove to the right.  "Down!" she yelled as she hit the 
ground, feeling a faint movement in the air above her.  The Deep Blue 
Sea was out in a flash and spinning down the alley, only to disappear in 
thin air with the shadow that had initiated the attack disappeared.  The 
Devil, still in scimitar form, arced through the air beside her and cut 
deeply into flesh; another figure had suddenly appeared beside her.  The 
sagging figure grabbed at the sword as he died.  A six-fingered hand 
slid off the blade. She had NOT expected THAT.  She turned to her 
cousin, who was on the edge of fury, staring down at his captive and the 
thin-bladed knife sticking out of his back.  Had he learned anything 
before the stranger had died- apparently at the hand of his comrades?
"Laura," said Orbus, swinging Torch around.  Brandi jumped into her own 
saddle and followed.  Laura was at the end of the alley, looking around 
wildly.  Two bodies lay crumpled in  the alley, feathered shafts 
protruding from them.  Laura let another one fly into a darkened window 
above and behind her retreating cousins.
"We have a score to settle still, Laura of Amber!" came a hidden voice 
from down the street, away from the alley itself.  "With all of you!" 
echoed from a different voice in the opposite direction.  Coordinated 
movements were evident among the milling and fleeing pedestrians: they 
weren't done yet. This was a better ambush than Brandi had expected.
"Come on," she spat, heading back into the alley.  Laura and Orbus 
followed. She made a gesture and released a spell, blocking the entrance 
with a wall of white-hot flame.  "That will hold them long enough to get 
us out of here," she said.  That better hold them long enough to get us 
out of here, she silently prayed.  Laura had her Trumps in hand, her 
eyes closed; a knife leapt from Orbus' hand through the flames.
They dismounted to get more cover behind the flames, and prepare for 
Trump travel.  A shimmering portal appeared before Laura, and she spoke 
briefly. A hand came through the portal, and Brandi, Orbus, then Laura 
came through. A rush of cool air hit as the smoking alley was replaced 
by one of Castle Amber's gardens.  Zachary was there, holding Laura's 
hand still, concern clear in his eyes.  Brandi let out her breath- that 
was close.  If not for their combined efforts, there would probably have 
been a dead Amberite in town right now.
"Cousins! What happened?" he asked.
"Just a moment, Zack."  She drew a deep breath.  Feetal's Gizz!" she 
swore, following it with an impressive and unbroken collection of curses 
her crew aboard the Heart of the Sunrise would appreciate.  Once she 
finished venting her temper in such a very vocal manner, she felt in a 
better condition to answer.  She looked at him, and opened her mouth 
when something nudged her. She whirled, and almost punched Moonghost in 
the snout.  He reeled back, skittish, eyes big with equestrian anxiety.
"Whoa, whoa, big fella," she said, stroking his neck.  "Sorry 'bout 
that." The big white calmed somewhat.  Though he was trained for 
hellrides, a Trump voyage obviously unsettled him a bit; not to mention 
his new master almost taking a swing at him.  All three horses were 
jumpy, in fact, but they remained tractable, another testament to Mikal 
Grube's skills.  Tovarich looked ready to kick in any head that 
contained thoughts of attacking Laura.
"We were ambushed," Laura began.
"Are you hurt?" asked Orbus of his female cousins.  Brandi was tempted 
to fake a swoon so he could catch her, but restrained herself.  What a 
gentleman!  She and Laura shook their heads.  "But that was too close," 
said Brandi.  "And you?"
"I'm fine."
Moonghost was unhurt, and Torch and Tovarich seemed uninjured as well.  
At that moment one of the groundskeepers came into sight, bewilderment 
on her face at the sight of three horses in the middle of the garden.  
Zachary beckoned her over.
"Please take these horses to Master Grube, and have him look them over 
thoroughly.  Then have him report their condition to their owners," he 
said to her.  She blushed under Zachary's gaze.  Brandi and Laura patted 
their mounts comfortingly, and the groundskeeper left with them and Torch.
"Now, then," continued Zachary, "why don't we go inside and get settled 
down?"  His cousins agreed, and he led them back into Castle Amber.  
Minutes later they entered one of the comfortable sitting rooms near the 
Library.  A servant entered with a bottle of chilled wine and some 
glasses, then left. They seated themselves, with the exception of 
Brandi, who paced back and forth like a caged tiger, predatory but 
Zachary poured wine for them, then sat back.  "So, who wants to begin?"
NRPG:  This took me a bit longer to work out than I expected.  Brandi 
can be very demanding; I offer my computer to her so she can write it 
herself, but she just grins insolently at me.  Anyway, I hope the delay 
hasn't been too bad.  York University professors are on strike, so 
suddenly my schedule goes out the window; I may have some extra time 
now, but come April Chaos may come for an extended visit.  Not even the 
Unicorn knows how this will affect my Shadow.
Allen & Judi, your posts were great!  Chris, now we can get Zachary 
involved in this little mess we've created. Have fun!
Matt Greenwood
Master in Environmental Studies candidate
York University, Toronto, Canada
        "Luminous beings are we"