Judgement at the Esquiline Redoubt


"Sleep is for the dead, cutes," Nicolo says softly. "We've got work to do."

"Oh really. What work would that be?" Cat asks suspiciously, trying to pull away.

He just smiles and winks at Cat. She feels a wave of..something..washing over her. As it does, she is aware that something..someone..is soothing her mind, making her more agreeable. Cat fights it as best she can but feels as if something is forcing it's way into her mind, a calm, patient and reasonable presence that reduces her desire to fight to nil. She finds herself standing still, swaying slightly from side to side. Cat stops trying to fight the presence and concentrates on keeping a corner of her awareness for her own, so that she will retain the knowledge of what happens even if she is told to forget. She has no problem doing this and has the strangest feeling that it was designed to work that way.

Nicolo appraises his work and hops up, all signs of his tears gone.

"There. Isn't that better. Now, let's leave the right fingerprints here before we run off.."

Nicolo seems to concentrate for a second or two, and Cat gets the clear and present sense of a Logrus connection being formed. The room is transformed, slowly, before your eyes, as if a veil were being drawn across it. Cat shivers. She does not feel comfortable with Logrus at the best of times and this is definitely not the best of times. Nicolo notes her shiver, but says nothing. The room is filled with the signs of conflict and a battle. Blood appears on the walls, splattered and smeared, and torn articles of Cat's and Nicolo's clothing lay scattered. On the floor she sees a playing card with the Queen of Diamonds on one side, and the standard of two crossed sabres with the other.

"This should keep them guessing for a while," Nicolo mutters, rubbing the back of his neck. From where Cat stands she can see the edges of the wound closing.

"OK. Let's go, babe. We got an appointment to keep."

He takes your hand and concentrates on a Trump. Cat notices that the Trump is an image of a massive keep, the sky above it traced with racing clouds of crimson and sable. As she examines it with Nicolo, she hears him mutter, "Come on.. come on.." A few seconds pass.. Then the clouds begin to take shape.. Then she sees them moving.. And she finds herself standing on the ramparts of the keep, looking out on a flat, blasted plain of low scrub. The air smells of ozone

Standing nearby is the figure of a man, back to her, leaning forward on a section of curtain wall. He looks out over the plain, the skirts of his red robe flapping in the slow breeze.

Nicolo shakes his hand suddenly, dropping the Trump which burns as it falls to the ground, vanishing in a small cloud of flaming ash. "Jesus, you didn't have to make it self-destruct like that, did you," he growls.

"Do not take the Lord's name in vain, Nicolo Borgia," says the man in a calm, modulated voice. He turns, and Cat sees that it is Paolo. A gold cross is slung around his neck and tucked between the third and fourth buttons on the front of his robe. Underneath she sees the hint of chainmail, and his hands are gauntleted. Other than that he seems relaxed.

"Welcome to the Esqueline Redoubt, Cat," Paolo says, bowing slightly. "Your presence here is most..essential. Come, let us go inside and await our other guests."

"If it is so essential, why could you not just ask for it? Or was the playacting all Nicolo's idea?" she asks acidly.

With a sober look, he fingers his cross absently. "No, Nicolo was working under orders. But he has always chosen a certain particular..style..in carrying out orders, you see."

"Hey, don't bitch at me, padron," Nicolo growls. "You give me a job, I do it."

Ignoring Nicolo, he continues. "I am afraid that I was not confident of your response, and could not risk your disagreement. I am sure that when all is done, you will understand my motivations for your involvement in this..delicate affair, and the value of your being kept unawares until the time was right. Your..impartiality..is of the utmost importance."

Cat raises a quizzical eyebrow. "Kidnapping me is supposed to keep me impartial, is it? I'm not sure I follow your logic, Don Paolo." There is the slightest hesitation before she speaks the title which shows she has deliberately not used an ecclesiastical one.

"That is well..princess." There is the slightest hesitation before he speaks the title as well. "Look, listen, and learn. You will have choices to make."

"And to refuse to choose is in itself a choice, which means I have no choice but to do as you say or be lost before I begin," she notes ironically. "Bravo, Don Paolo."

He bows, slightly, and presses his hand to his chest. "We all make choices. Rarely do we have the luxury of anticipating them so clearly."

"So I am privileged, then," she says drily.

"In many ways, some yet unknown."

Nicolo takes you by arm, not terribly gently, and leads you forward. The two of you follow Paolo.

"Oh, for heaven's sake, stop manhandling me. Where the hell do you think I'm going to run to?" she asks irritably.

Nicolo chuckles darkly, but does not release his hold. "I always thought you were a cute one..too bad I don't go in for the sort of cousin-grabbing that old dead Andy did.."

"For which I am devoutly grateful, I assure you," she flashes back tartly. "It may be your one redeeming feature."

"Aww..don't be that way toots. It's not as if you'd even have to do anything.."

"Nicolo, that will be enough," calls Paolo from ahead of you. "She is a guest. You will treat her with respect."

"Sure, sure." Nicolo lets your arm go, and raises his hands in a gesture of placation. "Don't blame me when that geas of yours fails and she takes a dive."

He falls in step behind you, and Paolo stops and looks back. "Come, walk with me, young Cat. I anticipate the potency of the geas to diminish by the time we have entered the Redoubt proper. You must be of clear mind and clearer resolve by then."

Cat quickens her pace to catch up with Paolo. "You speak in riddles, Don Paolo, as if you have some sort of test for me. Is that so?"

"A test..perhaps you might consider it a test. You are..different, princess. That difference qualifies you for unique responsibilities. I merely wish to learn if you are ready for them." Paolo looks up at the sky as he walks with you. "This is a most beautiful place. It is ironic that such beauty will be the backdrop for a prison..but perhaps that will be the most bitter irony of all, si?"

Cat looks around her. "I am not sure that everyone would agree with you as to the beauty of the place. Certainly it seems desolate enough for a prison. I do not suppose you are going to enlighten me as to whom you intend to imprison here." She keeps her tone neutral.

"Everything in its time, princess. Everything. But you should look beyond appearances, to see the heart of things, of people. That which seems most obvious is often the least telling.."

Using Pattern sight, Cat realizes that this place is incredibly charged with Pattern energy, as if the essence of many Pattern-ley lines converge here from places where the Patterns live..Parys, Amber, and beyond. Yet all the lines seem to converge in an ordered manner, as if they have been ordered by a separate hand to act in accordance with some plan. The vision is both lovely, and startling. Cat stops dead for a few moments, absorbing the nature of the place and trying to understand how it has been achieved. "Fascinating," she murmurs.

Looking more carefully she realizes that this is a Pattern intersection point, where the energy vectors of Pattern meet..much like the Keep of the Four Worlds, this is a place of potent power. The subtle changes that have been made are evident to her through her enhanced Pattern vision. Like water, flowing visibly, emitting cold and heat, yet shielded through a piping that transmits effect, while preventing access to the source. Like bars of iron that combine to produce an effect.

"Aahh..so you see. Very good," says Paolo softly. "I have ordered this place.. this.. intersection.. to serve its role. It is the amber that will hold an Amberite.." He pauses. "..if you so order."

Cat looks at him, her face showing shock. "You plan to make me a judge?" she asks bluntly. "Why? There are already others who claim that title."

"We are what we are. Titles..as you have made apparent to me..do not make the man, or woman. It is our inner selves that gives us form, and decides our proper function. You are..uniquely qualified."

They proceed into the keep, and down many stairs and turns. Through sealed doors, through tall corridors of sweating rock and puddles of moisture, she finds herself ushered into a small salon. In it are four chairs. Nicolo leaves with one last lingering look, and shuts the door behind Cat and Paolo. Without appearing exactly at ease, Cat is clearly less uncomfortable once Nicolo has departed. So is Paolo.

His tone changes as he speaks. "Bene. Now, princess, would you care to refresh yourself? It may be a little time before our other guests arrive, and there is no reason why you should not make yourself comfortable. Some chianti, si? Mangiama, if you like. I prepared the polenta myself, earlier today. Details are important to me," he says, pouring himself some wine.

Cat permits herself a brief smile. "Chianti, certainly. And since you have gone to the trouble of preparing a meal, far be it from me to be so churlish as to refuse it."

"That pleases me, princess. Truly, I do not wish to make an enemy of you...I hope that you will appreciate the merit of my actions when our other guests arrive. You will be protected, of course, and absolved of your role. In fact, the means of your delivery here is more for your protection than your detriment.."

"So that I cannot be thought to have been complicit in your plan, do you mean?"

"Correct. Nicolo brings many assets to the table, but one of them is not the power of subterfuge. His obvious seizure of you works to your advantage."

"I doubt that he intended to do me a good turn, however," she remarks acidly.

Paolo swirls his glass of wine as he holds her eyes, then looks down briefly as he takes a slight sip. "Nicolo lacks..refinement. It is an unfortunate trait of the Borgias."

The meal is excellent, and Paolo makes a point to serve Cat first. But it is entirely contained in the room; no servants or others enter to disturb them. Across a glass of wine, Paolo says after a while, "Princess, we have had few occasions to discuss matters of import to us both. Is there some..insight..I could give you on affairs that you would find helpful? You have my complete and full attention, as you can see.."

Cat swirls the wine in her glass gently, watching the ruby sparkle in its depths for a short while before looking up. "You spoke earlier of my being 'uniquely qualified' for the role you plan for me? Could you explain that, please?"

"Certainly. You are the leader of the KBCF. You are the daughter of one of Amber's greatest diplomats. You are free from partisan wranglings in such affairs as Parys, Rolandae, Thelbane, and the current court in Amber. You have a reputation for honesty, forthrightness, and do not fashion yourself an ingenue. And you and I have never, ever been connected or associated in any way known or suggested. That alone may be the most significant asset you have, for my influence is more pervasive than has been suggested, making one unaffected by it singularly valid in the role that has been prepared."

"I have always tried to keep out of family politics, certainly," she says thoughtfully. "Though I am not sure how successful I have been, especially recently."

Paolo laughs, a wry sound. "Amberites may avoid politics with as much success as the bird may avoid the skies. Eventually, all nestlings fly."

"Are you about to push me out of the nest, then?" she asks quizzically.

"Are you prepared to fly?" he replies.

Cat considers for a moment. "I don't know," she says frankly.

"Then we shall find out, will we not. The time to fly has been long in coming, and is long overdue."

"Especially if she's talking to you, Don Paolo," says Mordred, suddenly appearing in the doorway. " No offense, Father, but if you're going to kidnap my lover, at least drop me a note."

Cat looks up in surprise at Mordred's sudden arrival. She smiles at him, her face showing both pleasure and anxiety, before looking worriedly at Paolo. Mordred smiles back, with a similar mixture of emotions. He mouths the words "I love you" to her and then glances back at Paolo. She glows with pleasure at this and mouths back "love you, too", before composing herself and turning her attention back to Paolo.

Paolo makes a bit of a face. "I have no desire to know any more of your..relationship..than I already do, Mordred. But I am glad that you elected to come. It was, Princess," he says, turning to Cat and pouring her another portion of wine, "another sign of my good faith to you that I allowed your..friend..to come. Do understand.. he will not be a party to what will happen here, which has risks associated with it."

"Which are for me to take, because you think I am best equipped. Yes, I understand that," Cat replies steadily. She looks at Mordred. "I believe that Don Paolo does not mean me harm," she says, adding "Nevertheless, I'm glad you came. I think I may welcome the moral support."

Mordred says, "Insomuch as I am a moral creature, I shall provide it."

A giggle escapes her, but is quickly stifled.

Lifting his glass, Paolo lifts his head as he gazes dispassionately at Mordred. "Ora pro nobis deus vivum," he calls out in a steady voice. There is a thrum of energy in the room, as if a wave of energy passed through it. (Cat notices that the nature of the Pattern energy has shifted relative to the view she had before). "There," Paolo says, standing and drawing another chair to the table. "The feits are restored. Now we have but to wait for our last two guests. Mordred, I had prepared a meal sufficient for five. Refresh yourself, if you wish. You see that I intend the princess no harm. Following your meal, I would ask that you leave. For your safety."

Mordred sits down. "And what would be providing this danger, Father? Yourself? An external force? Too much wine?"

Cat waits interestedly for Paolo's reply.

Paolo looks into his wine. "There is really only one sort of danger worth worry. That of family. Especially.. close family."

Cat makes a wry grimace of assent. As he says this.. The door opens, and there is the creaking sound of two sets of rust-encrusted armor moving into the room. The figures are unarmed, and pause at the threshold, scanning the room.

"If you wished to leave, Mordred, do so now," whispers Paolo in an urgent tone, not taking his eyes from the door. "It will be your last chance."

Cat looks at Mordred, fear for his safety and desire for his support equally clearly written on her face. For a moment she seems about to speak, then she turns her attention back to the figures at the door, leaving the decision to go or stay to him.

Mordred does not look impressed. "I shall leave only if Cat desires it. I promise I will not... interfere with anything that goes on, so long as Cat agrees to it beforehand." Cat flashes him a grateful smile and gives his hand a swift squeeze before turning the whole of her attention to the figures.

"..ISN'T THAT JUST THE BIGGEST LOAD OF CRAP YOU'VE EVER HEARD.." crackles a processed-sounding voice from the armoured creature on the left. With this they both enter the room. The door shuts behind them. They reach up and press their hands to the sides of their helmets, and rotate some flange slightly. With a hiss, they lift their helmets.

"Hi, son," says Eric with a smile.

Caine just winks at Cat. "And a hello to the lovely lady."

She inclines her head to them. "Uncle Caine, Uncle Eric."

Paolo draws a packet of cigarettes from a fold in his sleeves and begins to tap out one. "Don't mind if I do.." says Eric, reaching out his hand. "That damned helmet smells like naptha." After a slight pause, Paolo holds out the packet, and Eric manages to extract one from it with his armoured hand. He presses the end to his chest, and it begins to smoulder. "These things really do kick off some BTUs..gimme a minute to shut it down," mumbles Eric through his cigarette. Caine, meanwhile, has been extracting himself from his armor to the side.

Mordred just watches. He pulls a cigar from inside his coat, lights it with a mirrored Zippo from the same source, and shakes his head. "Interesting," is all he says. Not taking her eyes from Caine and Eric, Cat holds out an imperative hand to Paolo for a cigarette. When she has it, she leans back so Mordred can give her a light. She inhales deeply, blows a leisurely stream of smoke and then says. "So, now we are all here, Don Paolo, you can tell me what all this is about."

"Of course."

Caine finally takes off the last of his armor; Eric manages to untangle himself, then as he kicks away the pitted breastplate, he pulls a small glass orb from a pouch and holds it lightly in his palm. Caine leans against the door, his arms folded. Cat continues to watch the three of them, smoking silently, waiting for Paolo's promised answer. She looks, if not exactly relaxed, reasonably tranquil.

"Nicely done, kid. Nicely," grunts Eric brusquely, the cigarette in his lips, twitching up and down with his words. "Thanks for setting this up."

"Not at all," replies Paolo, slowly. "But I should answer the princesses' question. What this is about..is your trial, father. I intend to see judgement passed on you, now, and the sentence carried out."

Eric says nothing, then begins to laugh.

"No kidding," says Caine, inspecting his fingernails. "Sorry, Eric. I made a deal."

Cat gives him a sharp look, eyes narrowed, then turns her attention back to Eric and Paolo.

Still laughing, Eric sits down, and pours himself a portion of wine, letting the liquid spill over the rim of his glass as he pours. "And who will judge me..these.. children?"

Cat tenses a little, as if she knows, or guesses, what is coming. Paolo taps off an ash, and holds up the burning end before his eyes, inspecting it. "The princess will judge you."

Cat lets out the breath she had not realised she was holding. "So my task is stated clearly at last. If I am to judge, who will present the cases for the prosecution and defence?"

She draws again on her cigarette as she waits for an answer. "There is no prosecution or defense. You are the daughter of the King. A late King, but empowered in my eyes by virtue of your birth and character.. and by my association with your father..to judge."

She bows her head, accepting his assessment. She looks at Eric for any signs of dissent. Eric burps, and looks at the glass of wine. "Same crappy old I-talian reds, Paolo. Your taste is truly broken."

Ignoring his remark, Paolo continues. "For you see, this will end it. Only those in this room will know of how the result was reached. If you find Eric innocent..he can leave. If you find him guilty..he will stay. At your call, all is resolved. You are..and have always been..a separate party, unencumbered by these events. In arranging for this..meeting..I complete my oath. To bring Eric to justice."

"Ah, yes. But your oath spoke of two people you held responsible for those crimes. Only one of them is here. What of the lady Dara?"

Mordred leans forward at this point, cigar in mouth

"One at a time, princess. I will deal with her..separately."

"Good luck, kid," drawls Eric, leaning back in his seat and crossing his legs before him. "She's more than you can handle even on your best day."

Mordred nods. "If only my follow-through were better..." Cat gives him a wry, worried look

"Come on, kid," grunts Caine. "Up or down. I gotta go pick up someone up." Paolo shoots a look of cold venom at Caine. "You understood the conditions, Caine. Be still."

He turns to Cat and nods to her. "The time has come to fly."

"Indeed. And you have chosen a lofty nest to push me out of," she retorts drily. Only a slight tremor in the smoke rising from her cigarette shows that her hands are trembling. As if noticing this she takes another drag at it, then puts it in an ashtray. Mordred puts his hand on her shoulder and nods at her. Eric just lounges in his chair, puffing away. Cat looks at him dispassionately for a few moments. When she speaks her tone is more conversational than judicial.

"There is no doubt that you have been guilty of many crimes against Creation. I have spent enough time myself trying to mitigate the worst consequences of your actions to know that. Therefore I must find you guilty. But.." and here she turns to Paolo "others of the family have been guilty of similar crimes. I therefore return to you the question of whether it is just to imprison one man alone for crimes which have been committed by many."

"Your question is accepted, and in that justice does not rest, those will be judged as well. But for today..we are resolved."

Mordred looks at Paolo. "Mark me as interested in those... others, Paolo. Because Cat's concern mirrors my own."

Eric looks around, a little smile on his lips. "Well, that was a hoot." He continues to sip his wine.

She leans back in her chair and picks up her cigarette again. "You have my verdict. The rest is up to you." Mordred takes his hand off Cat's shoulder and nods.

"That will do," nods Paolo, standing. The door opens. Caine is first out the door; he seems to be in a hurry. Paolo invites Mordred and Cat to rise. "We have a train to meet."

Eric just sits, sipping his wine, then leans forward and picks at the polenta with his fingers, selecting a morsel to pop into his mouth. He does not stop Cat or Mordred. Mordred raises an eyebrow and extends his hand for Cat to take. His expression is such that it isn't easy to tell if it's for his comfort or for hers. She stubs out her cigarette and rises, taking his hand.

As they leave the room, they hear Eric's voice, "I hope this makes you happy," he says, his tone somewhat subdued. Then he chuckles, darkly. Cat turns her head as she steps out of the door. "For the record, no," she says quietly.

With a long sigh Paolo shuts the door behind him. "Come. There is not much time." They make their way back up through the keep, which now seems strangely empty and silent. Cat walks close to Mordred as they return through the keep, clearly gaining comfort from his presence.

Ultimately they enter a courtyard, which exits onto what appears to be a train platform, except there are no tracks, and no sign of a train. Caine is standing there, inspecting an antique watch with an agitated look. "You'd better have gotten this right," he mutters.

As if on cue, the air fills with a rush of fragrant steam, then a pulse of heat, then the piercing sound of a whistle. Through the clearing mists, they see a single locomotive, a single car, and a bright red caboose before you. On the locomotive is blazoned BRANDENBURG in bold capital red letters.

"Of course," Mordred is heard to mutter.

Caine tries first one door, than another, than a third. All are locked. Then a fourth door, which opens. He dashes in.. ..then emerges, supporting a frail, wizened lady, wrapped in a black veil, wearing a shapeless black dress. He pulls her away from the train; the locomotive gives one great whistle, then in another blast of steam, it vanishes.

Cat and Mordred note that the woman is busy kissing Caine's face, holding it between her two hands. "Ooohhh..my boy, mi familia, gratzi, gratzi..how I have wished to see you..my boy..ohhh.." He holds her close, but carefully, as if he were worried that he would break her.

Paolo, pausing, approaches the two from the side. She sees him. There is a pause. Then she extends her shaking hand and slowly draws him into the embrace with her son. "Lady, I have done what I said I would do," you hear him say, softly. Then the three do not speak, but merely stand there.

Mordred shoots Cat a quizzical expression. A whisper: "I hope this makes more sense to you than it does to me..."

"Caine's deal, I think," she whispers back. "That must be Rilga." She sighs. "Which may open another can of worms. Later for that. Let's get out of here." Mordred's expression tightens at the word "Rilga", but he nods

Cat raises her voice and speaks to Paolo. "Don Paolo, I have served your purpose as you demanded. Are we now dismissed?" Paolo detaches himself from Rilga and Caine, and approaches the two of them. As he walks towards them, an archway of light opens to their right, rising up out of the ground. Pattern vision shows that it is a trumpgate, straight into the heart of Amber - in fact, to the Pattern Room in the basement of the Castle, to the very center.

"You have served, princess. And you..prince," he says with a look to Mordred. "If you wish to go, I have opened a way for you. If you wish to stay..you have my welcome. But be aware that this..place..this Redoubt..will serve two purposes when we leave. It will keep it's occupant from leaving, but it will keep outsiders from entering with equal efficacy. It is a fortress that stands sentinel over..nothing. A fitting place for Eric's exile. In one hour the feits will coalesce into their final, inviolate state; departure after that will be impossible."

"I was planning on going with the Princess, Father Paolo," says Mordred. "No warnings or threats needed. Though I appreciate the heads-up on the nature of this place. Perhaps, sometime, you'll tell me how you did it."

Paolo smiles a little smile. "You are most welcome. I have long worked to your benefit, Mordred Osricson, and see no reason to stop now. Perhaps some day we shall discuss this place..but that may have to wait until it is no longer of use."

"I understand," says Mordred. "Please let me know when your next...trial... is to occur."

Rilga holds Caine at arms length; you see that she has a Rosary in her left hand. "Take me home," she says, looking over at the three of you. "Take me from this place."

"OK, Mom." Caine leads Rilga towards the gate. At the very edge of the gate, Rilga turns and looks back at Paolo. "Gratzi," she says, softly.

Paolo raises his hand and makes a small crossing gesture. "Go with God," he replies. They step through and disappear.

"Our turn now, I think," Cat says. She looks at Paolo with wary respect. "I am not sure that I wish to thank you, exactly, but these events have certainly been.. instructive."

"Betimes we know not why we fly, yet we do nonetheless. You have dared, and in daring, have won a victory. I thank you, princess, and am in your debt," he says, with some meaning.

Still holding Mordred's hand she turns to step through the gate.

Exeunt, Fiat Lux, Amen.

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