Grace - Session 1

     The Swallow was under full sail heading on a clear, cloudless day from Amber to Memphis moving at a comfortable 18 knots. The comfortable temperatures and steady breeze made handling her an easy job for the experienced helmsman. While not the Swallow's top speed, it was faster than most other ships could manage. The Swallow was 12 years old. Amber's oldest clipper, and it represented the culmination of many years of effort and innovation in ship design. Top speed on a clipper was twice that of frigate and while the Swallow lacked the heavy armament of her slower colleagues, nothing could come close to catching her, except, of course, Amber's other three clippers. While still viewed as expensive toys with little military significance, Amber's clippers represented an accomplishment unmatched anywhere within the Golden Circle.
    Grace loved the Swallow and had made it her flagship, but on this trip, Grace had little to do. Lady Diedre had requested the specific itinerary to work on "maintaining the shadow paths" and providing Grace more "instruction".
    Grace found the instruction confusing. According to Diedre, the only reality was Amber of which the rest of the universe were mere shadows. Those of the royal house derived power from a "pattern" by walking on it. Every few sentences, Lady Diedre would remark "Never mind, you'll understand when you walk the pattern. You're almost ready." Grace was not sure whether to be happy or apprehensive. Walking the pattern appeared to be a rite of passage for the royal family, the legitimate royal children having walked the pattern in their late teens. Grace was 80 while appearing to be in her mid to late 20s.
    Diedre wore a large crystal pendant which caught the light every so often sending blinding flashes into Grace's eyes. Grace found Diedre's theoretical discussion difficult to follow and the pendant a welcome distraction. Grace was used to dealing with concrete objects, ships, rigging, storms, etc. Abstract philosophy about the nature of reality was far more difficult.
Grace finally interrupted the instruction at a suitable point to ask about the pendant. The response was a vague reference to the pendant being an heirloom before Diedre went back into the "theory of why the universe is controlled from the basement of Amber castle" as Grace privately thought of the instruction.
    Suddenly, Diedre's pendant started to glow, and Diedre paused contemplating the pendant for a few moments before announcing, "I think we had better stop the lesson for today. Can you take the ship around to a heading of 30 degrees N?"
    The heading would take them off the path. The paths between kingdoms were not marked though they were like the channels. Ships on the correct path could get to their intended destination. Straying from the path meant going into uncharted territory with all its inherent rewards and considerable dangers. Getting back on the path often required a bit of tricky navigation and, usually, some trial and error. Unless, of course, there was a member of the royal family on board who could guide the ship back or Lady Diedre.
Grace gave the commands to turn the ship from the path. Lady Diedre's crystal alternately glowed and dimmed. Each time, she provided new headings which Grace dutifully relayed to the helm. Whatever her inward thoughts about the distance and complexity of the voyage from the path, Grace remained outwardly very calm. Lady Diedre was a senior member of the royal household and had the authority to take this Amber navy ship anywhere she chose.
    After half a dozen course changes, a storm suddenly appeared a few miles ahead. It did not appear on the horizon or sweep in on strong winds. It just appeared sitting in one spot directly on the ships current path.
Diedre next instruction was one that taxed Grace's professional calm, "Can you take us into that and try to keep the ship as steady as possible?" After taking a second look at the severity of the fast approaching waves, winds and lashing rain, Diedre amended "Try to keep us afloat anyway."
    Grace privately thought the best way "to keep us afloat" was to stay out of that storm, but her job was to obey. Grace gave the necessary orders which were relayed quickly. The crew was efficient in furling sails until only three remained. These three strained at their ropes, but the smaller number were easier to control in the lashing rain and winds. The waves and winds appeared to be acting at cross purposes at times as the ship was battered. Grace found herself lending a hand when the rigging on one sail broke.
Grace was thankful that Diedre showed good sense in lashing herself to a mast while holding out the crystal. "Quite a lot of work for an heirloom" Grace thought as her attention was again diverted to the immediate need of keeping the ship from foundering in the waves.
    After what seemed to Grace an eternity in the storm, Diedre called "Its no good. Take us back out of the storm."
Grace hastened to comply all the while keeping a professional expression. The crew was professional about the exercise, but clearly relieved to be turning away and leaving the storm behind. Though the very act of sailing out of the stationary storm again highlighted the odd nature of this storm.
    As the Swallow was almost clear of the storm, Diedre freed herself from the mast and turned to peer intently back at the storm. Suddenly, out of nowhere a huge wave came thundering out of the storm and across the deck of the ship. Grace managed to catch a rail. Lady Diedre and a half dozen sailors were not so lucky getting swept over the side.
Grace first made sure that the Swallow was safely out of harm's way before ordering the boats out and joining the one headed toward the retreating wave. Grace was relieved when Diedre was found floundering in the water. Grace was impressed at Diedre's swimming ability.
    On the return to the Swallow, Diedre, wrapped in a blanket, pulled out a stack of cards and began going through them tossing some over the side as "ruined" while labeling others "salvageable." Grace only caught some of this as she was focused on signals passing between the boats. All six missing sailors had been retrieved alive. This was an extremely lucky event.
Diedre looked over at Grace "It won't help my reputation if it becomes known that I let myself get swept off the boat."
Grace responded in kind "It won't help mine if it becomes known that I almost a senior member of the royal household almost drown."
    Back on board, as the boats were being secured and the ship returning to its course back to the shadow path, Diedre pulled out a card and commented that she needed to contact King Martin to tell him about this storm. Grace understood that the storm was odd, but was still baffled by its significance to Diedre. The comment about contacting Martin intrigued her though and she asked Diedre to explain.
    Grace began to regret the request though as it led to more theory than she was quite able to grasp. Grace did understand the basic premise though that by concentrating on a specially drawn card, one somehow was able to communicate with the person pictured. Diedre gave Grace one of her own trump as Grace might need to contact her. The idea was certainly useful and Grace could see a number of applications for coordinating ship actions if the trump could be drawn of all the captains involved and if the trump lasted though enough contacts.
    Diedre did finally get to her call to King Martin and the news was extremely troubling. There had been an assassination attempt on Martin apparently from members of the Church of the Scarlet Flow of Antioch. Grace turned the ship back toward Amber and put all efforts into as fast a return as possible.