We got to sleep about dawn, hoping for an hour or two before breakfast when I was woken by a Trump call. It was March. There were people running behind him and his words woke me up completely, instantly. Amber was under attack at the harbor. He wanted to pull me through. I said to give me five minutes. I closed the connection and woke deWinter. All I had to say was there was a war and we were under attack. He shot off the bed and was reaching for his clothes before I finished.
Dorimae Trumped for March and this time we went through. People ran everywhere, some joining fire brigades while others prepared for defense. Many ran because they could think of nothing else to do. Out in the harbor a large ship was heading out to meet the twenty ships that were attacking. They had formidable catapult or ballistic weapons because even at this range they were hitting the buildings. It wasn't cannon; rather they were launching something with a soft, breakable skin. When it broke, Greek fire (or something akin to it) spread out to engulf the area.
Dorimae said Gerard was on the ship. I asked where we could be of help. She asked if we knew had to fight on a ship. DeWinter said he could fight anywhere. I couldn't say that, but she pointed to a frigate starting to loose its moorings. We made a mad dash down the docks and managed to jump to some rigging and pull ourselves on board.
We headed for the captain, who was looking at the target ships through a spyglass. I was going to ask where he wanted to station us, when deWinter reached out, took the spyglass out of his hands, and began to look himself. The captain turned, outraged at this and I hastily told him who I was. He was instantly differential and I explained that deWinter needed to look for a bit but that he, the captain was still in command of the vessel.
DeWinter began muttering about lots of troops on those ships. He said we were going to “be creamed.” Then he caught himself. It almost sounded like he was on our side. Nah. Couldn't be.
As he was rattling off specific information, I Trumped frantically. Random was not answering, nor any of the first choices. The third time I tried for Fiona. She actually answered, still in bedchamber, apparently unaware of what was happening. I told her and for the first time saw surprise on her face. She ran to a window at the front of the castle and saw, yes, Amber was under attack. I began relaying information to her, knowing she would relay or use the information appropriately. She was silent, listening carefully and we both cut the contact when it was done. No time for idle chatting.
DeWinter had moved to the bow where there was a crossbow-type of weapon. He was beginning to arm it. I went to help but within a minute, my armband squeezed. I looked up in time to shout loudly, “Incoming!” Most of the crew had time to scatter as a ball of something descended. It burst against the main mast. I very good shot I must say. These aren't usually designed with a great deal of accuracy, especially at this range. At least, not with the first shot.
The mast began to collapse while the crew tried to free the ropes and sails. It fell and slipped over the side. We were down to one mast, a terrible barrier to getting any decent speed. The rest of the ballista had spread across the deck; oil mixed in with what looked to be fabric or bits of fur. Perhaps the oil diminished too quickly and the solids helped to catch other objects afire.
I ran forward to help bail, as did any free hand. Unfortunately, part of fiery oil had worked into the ropes of our main weapon. The tension caused the siege weapon to release, pulling itself from its anchoring, crushing two seamen before pitching half off the deck. The ship was lost and the flames spread, immune to the pitiful amount of water we could gain from the ocean. We couldn't bring it up fast enough.
Off to one side, deWinter shed his jacket and shirt. While the view was as wonderful as always, I didn't know what he was about. Perhaps he was going to dive and had some plan to get water up faster. He shouted to me that we had to make it back to the docks. He pointed out toward Gerard's ships, which was leaning dangerously, and yelled that Gerard was surrounded and he was going to swim for one of the enemy ships. Before I could protest, he was gone.
What was he about? There was no way he could swim that far in time. And alone. I was tempted to follow but knew I couldn't make it. I was a good swimmer, but not that good.
I could see that a couple of the attacking ships had reached the docks. I wasn't worried. The ground forces more than outnumbered them. We had to do something for this crew. I saw dinghies, about five, in various spots. I shouted for them to be lowered and manned. It was a long shot, but if the ships approached, we might try…something. The captain and his officers elected to stay and use the foundering ship to block any advancing ships, if he could. I saw no sign of deWinter.
We pulled away from the ship and I received a Trump call. It was March, on Gerard's ship. I had to pass men through. Gerard was doing the same with someone else. I managed to get twelve through, though thinking back I was amazed I got that many before it became too dangerous.
We were heading back to the harbor. We were overloaded, barely making any headway. At an indeterminable amount of time later, I received a Trump call. It was deWinter. I had to pass Sebastian through. Sebastian was not looking well at all. This was in addition to the recent injuries he suffered, so he looked truly terrible. I called March over for reinforcement of the Trump, which I badly needed. We got Sebastian through and secured. His shape-shifting was frozen, so he was misshapen and… odd. I gave DeWinter March's Trump. He called March, I went through and March followed. I didn't trust my ability just then.
We emerged on the command deck of an enemy ship. A pennant flew overhead, decorated with only a burning skull. Around us, bodies littered the deck, in various state of death. From what I gathered, deWinter had made it there (amazing) and Sebastian had flown or swum, I'm not sure. Between the two, they captured the entire ship. I could believe it of deWinter, I've seen him fight. But Sebastian? He's full of surprises.
I Trumped Gerard and told him to Trump March, that we had a ship. He immediately came through. He Trumped Random and they began passing men through until we had a skeleton crew. Then he came through. We began the chase. I took the opportunity to bind up deWinter's wounds. If he was going to fight again, collapsing from blood loss would be unfortunate. I think it was only then that he realized he was hurt.
Dewinter examined the catapult and as it wasn't very complicated, we both began to arm it. He lined up a shot and set it off. It was a shame it overshot the target. Swearing loudly, he began to reload it. Gerard looked out and simply remarked that they now knew we were not friendly. Yes, we should have waited. DeWinter shouted invectives at the retreating ships. Gerard looked at me and remarked that deWinter had a temper. I could only nod.
Even with a light crew, they were outdistancing us. We tried for a few more shots, which would have hit except that red lightning came from the target to destroy our missiles. Damn!
I was giving up hope when Gerard yelled to March, who was all the way to the stern, to get ready, there was going to be a favorable wind soon. I looked at him. “That wind was going to favor us?” “Yes,” he said. “And not them?” “Yes,” he said again. I turned forward to see.
I could feel him shifting Shadow. The next thing I knew, there was indeed a favorable wind. Because we were in a storm. We surged forward while the other ships foundered. Lightning rained upon the enemy ships until they keeled from the onslaught. Two ships did escape, but the rest were ours.
We pulled along, working to get survivors. There were none. Some had drowned, but more had self-inflicted wounds. Suicide before surrender. Stupid.
There was nothing more to be done. The only thing I could think to do was to find the captain's quarters. I was fortunate to find papers, maps of Amber harbor, logs, and journals. I wasn't so lucky because they were in an unfamiliar language. Still, I gathered them all up and put them in a satchel. If someone could read it, there might be useful information.
It took a full day to get back. I don't know why. Everyone was ensconced in the infirmary. I took the satchel to Random who was pleased to see it. He began opening up the papers and such, still giving orders to organize the chaos in the city. Random mentioned the attackers were the Crimson Wizards and primarily pirates. Or so he supposed.
He asked how we got the information and I said that deWinter and Sebastian had captured the ship. Random got his mischievous look, despite all he had to do. He thought it ironic that deWinter had fought on the side of Amber. He said I could tell deWinter the good news; deWinter was going to get a medal…and his writ to stay in Amber would be extended indefinitely. I knew deWinter would not appreciate the first, but the second might cheer him up. I went down to the infirmary.
I would have told him the news, but he, Gerard and Sebastian were all beginning war stories as Dr. Foom tended to them. I told deWinter I had some good news and some great news. He nodded and said good. He didn't ask for anything further and I saw he was quite focused on Gerard's stories. I hadn't fought, so I didn't have the familiar adrenaline rush that follows a fight for a while afterwards. I left them to their stories.
News, Aid, an Amberite Celebration
Random called the family to the Library for a briefing. To our surprise, that included deWinter. I did get to tell him what Random said. He grimaced at the thought, but said he'd keep the second half in mind. A medal is a small price to pay, to be able to stay in Amber.
From what they've been able to learn, it was indeed the Crimson Pirates. They had gotten the order to raid Amber, to show us that we were not immune to outside threats. If the decryption of some of the correspondence was correct, the entire affair was precipitated by the belief that Amber was making an alliance with the French Thorn, another group I was not familiar with. Sebastian had Simone fetch his magical glasses so he could read for more information. I seem to remember they translate unknown languages into Thari.
The Crimson Pirates were a problem four or five centuries ago, but it seems they've gotten bold again. They tend to operate out of sea fortresses and holdings. Gerard will go and search them out. March will be supervising Amber defenses here. He looked like he'd rather be hunting the pirates.
The meeting dispersed into little groups. Flora came up to deWinter and said he was very brave as well as handsome, she admired that. Then she gave him a kiss on the cheek and moved to another group. He was stunned and looked at me as if to ask for a rescue. It was then that Sebastian issued invitations to the Cracked Pot for a celebration. It was a good idea, because tomorrow there will be a lot of work to do in town. I haven't' been there for years and I thought deWinter would like it.
We got there with most everyone else. Actually, the only family members not there were Benedict, Llewella, Fiona, Gerard and March. The rest of the entire family chose to attend. I wonder if Sebastian is aware of what that says of him.
DeWinter and I were sitting quietly, talking when Sebastian came over. He and deWinter had bonded somewhat and I can understand that. They both like to be straightforward. Besides, fighting along side someone always creates certain bonds.
Then Sebastian got the idea of a drinking contest. I declined but deWinter accepted. Sabrina, overhearing this said that she could not see two handsome men drinking themselves into a stupor… unless she could join in.
No one else came forward but Sebastian didn't think that three was enough. He asked Random who declined due to impending King's business. Then, to my horror, Sebastian issued a challenge to the entire family. Actually, it wasn't the challenge that shocked me, but the words. I believe he said something to the effect of “Are any of you 'wussies' going to join in?” If I ever said such a thing, I would be hung up from Mount Kolvir.
The room got silent as Julien stepped forward. He asked Sebastian to clarify his phrasing. Sebastian covered himself and said that 'wussies' was just a friendly nudge to encourage participation. I had little doubt that Julien knew what it really meant, but he got Sebastian to retract his meaning in public. Julien was satisfied and sat down to join. DeWinter gave me a look as if to say that perhaps this wasn't such a good idea. I return a look that clearly said, no it wasn't. But, he was committed and he couldn't back off now.
The rules were clear. Each person would take a turn to give a toast, count to three and everyone would drink. It was about midnight now.
The toasts started out innocuous enough. Toasts to Random, who took a bow. Toasts to Vialle, who stood and curtsied. Toasts to various family members. Then they began to get increasingly odd. At one point, deWinter toasted to Random as “the greatest King Amber ever had.” Then he stared at Julien who repeated the toast before downing his drink. It was only then that Sebastian got the idea that everyone had to repeat the toast. Then it became a contest to see who could make Julien or the others say outrageous things.
Four hours later, the effects of the alcohol were beginning to show. Frankly, I was amazed how much they could all drink. Sebastian's eyes began to glaze a bit and Sabrina was looking Very Happy.
4:15 a.m.: Sebastian toasted his owl and then disappeared under the table. The only sign of life was his hand, which flopped on the surface of the table looking for his spilled drink. Then the hand disappeared and he was out. Sabrina remarked that it was awfully warm, couldn't she take off her shirt. Julien said no, she had to finish the game in the same state she started. Still, she unbuttoned it and said that wasn't fair.
4:50 a.m.: deWinter was wobbling in his chair. He tilted his head to drink and kept going backwards over his chair and onto the floor. I could have gotten him out then, but decided he wasn't going anywhere and I wanted to see how this would end. Ten minutes later, snoring came up from the floor from the vicinity of deWinter. Sabrina asked again if she couldn't take off something. No. She told Julien he was very mean, but she liked that.
6 a.m.: Sabrina was still holding her own against Julien, but it didn't look like for long. She was leaning heavily on the bar. Julien looking largely untouched by the alcohol asked, “What in the name of the Unicorn is holding you up?”
6:20: Julien proposed that they just skip the toasts and just drink. They each picked up a full bottle and began to drink continuously. This would be about the fifth bottle for each. Sabrina got about two-thirds done before it slipped through her fingers and she slid boneless to the floor. Julien stood carefully and made his way slowly, if not exactly steadily, to the door, to make his way back to the Castle.
The party was over.
I knew I could handle deWinter, but called for help with Sebastian as Flora and Dorimae picked up Sabrina. Martin came over to claim Sebastian and the four of us began carrying our companions back to the castle. I remarked to my three companions that it would be a shame if any of them remembered any of this. They chuckled at the prospects.
I got DeWinter in bed, on his side with a handy receptacle should he need it. I changed clothing and went into the city. Before that, I went to the kitchen. They were preparing for breakfast and I asked for something that the others might find restorative. Four hung over Amberites were too much in the castle. I left the concoctions by each of their doors for when they woke.
Aid, Town, and Woman-talk
The day consisted mostly of helping families get re-situated within new homes. The attackers hit primarily residences rather than any military targets. That suggests that they might not have much in the way of intelligence. There are not really any significant, obvious governmental or military buildings in the City. Therefore, either the Crimson Wizards did not know this, or they did not know where they were. We had seen that their people were accurate with their weapons; therefore, they had some significant disadvantages. They were also foolish to mount a ground strike before the other ships could back them up. Therefore, they were a little foolish.
Flora arrived with a wagon, fully loaded with bed, bedding, and essentials. Vialle and I handed out foods and supplies. Before beginning, I contacted the musicians I once hired. They came and began a light tune, enough that it might have helped spirits a bit. Mostly, I think it was seeing people like Flora helping; that did much as they stood near engaging in conversation. On any other day, they would never have interrupted her or any of the family, not wishing to intrude. But today she, as were everyone else, was acting within their lives and they took the opportunity to speak with her and other members of the family. During the course of the day, morale rose significantly.
That night, back in my rooms, deWinter was rising. He was in a good mood, though he didn't remember walking home. I busied myself in my wardrobe to hide my smile. He was still intoxicated.
A knock on the door was Dorimae, letting me know that Sabrina was awake. She spoke softly; Sabrina remembered nothing as well. There was a decidedly wicked look as the potentials available. I smiled. She inquired about deWinter and I said all was the same. A conspiratorial look and I opened the door for her to see him. He was sitting in a chair and he waved to her.
For face grew innocent and her eyes wide and solemn. “You were wonderful last night. You are my hero.” She turned to leave, giving me a wink. I shut the door and went into the bedroom to dress for dinner. He was still puzzling out what Dorimae had meant. I pretended not to notice his confusion.
He ate from the platter I had brought up earlier and that, with the alcohol still in his system, he was soon back in bed, asleep.
I went to dinner.
Tatasha was there. After dinner she, Vialle and I got to talk a bit. I was nice, since I don't talk with Vialle as much as I should. Tatasha had gone to Eric's tomb. She felt better now that she had said good-bye. She really needed to do that. I hoped that Eric might visit her, but not if it would reopen wounds.
To my surprise, she then asked after Corwin, if he was doing well. I said I thought so. We talked about who he was and who he might be now. Talk began to range through other member. Vialle said that everyone changed after the war. Perhaps coming that close to losing everything, partially resulting, at least, from the way they behaved with each other, they figured out they were more vulnerable to bigger threats than each other.
The end of the war could have gotten nastier. Vialle said the King Swayvill had lots of experience and was very savvy. Random hadn't been on the throne for even a year. It was understandable that he was concerned the older King could work him into a deal he'd regret later. So, Random kept it simple, to prevent loopholes further on. Basically, to cut revenge crimes and feuds, they simply let it all end, no recriminations of either side. I could see why some would find that unsatisfactory.
Conversation shifted to Eric. Tatasha said they met when she was trying to kill him. I had to raise an eyebrow, or two, at that. He had been hunting on her protected lands. He had been told to leave but refused. She had sent soldiers after him to drive him out and those that returned were seriously injured. That was when she got involved and, with some of her trusted court, went out to meet him. They got hurt, but in the end, they wore him down and captured him. She brought him back to her castle to “play” with him. Really didn't want to go into the implications of that statement, though images did come to mind. But, if the end, she had grow rather fond of him and the rest is history.
With a little prompting, Tatasha got Vialle to speak about how she and Random came to be married. I had read to bare essentials but there were more subtleties when she told it. Not just about being in a cell across the hall from him for a year, but the struggle with other people in their lives. She hadn't much liked him, but that changed over time. He had the reputation of being a never-do-well and a scoundrel. But, when she learned he had once defended her honor, she began to look at him a bit differently. I guess not many had a favorable opinion of him and she just bore with it, until others also learned differently.
There were parallels between her story and mine, which is just beginning. I took it to heart. Perhaps deWinter and I could get through this. Once thing was certain, not many of the Amberites had an easy time with relationships, at least in the beginning. Even Gerard had to work for decades for The Owen to agree to marry him. We don't seem to like to do things the easy way.
It was about two in the morning before I slipped into bed. DeWinter was still sound asleep.
Both deWinter and I made it to breakfast. Either what Chef Robert gave me helped, or he was resilient. I'm betting more of the latter. Sabrina was there as well, as Dorimae was having great fun teasing her. She could have been much crueler, but instead she was simply vague but hinting. Once, Sabrina looked to me for some help. I just shook my head and said Mycenean culture would not allow e to talk about such things in public. Sabrina's eyes were wide and deWinter was suddenly a bit apprehensive. Dorimae worked hard not to choke on her toast.
Random was there, with Vialle. He was in a very good mood. Towards the end, Julien came in and spoke with him. He said he might have discovered what had happened to Tedra. She, with Macy and a few others had often gone to the harbor in the early mornings to swim. They hadn't done this for a while because her dragon had impeded on her schedule. Dragon? What dragon?
They had gone that morning to the harbor. It is a likely possibility that she may have been picked up by the incoming force and may still be in their hands. He then asked Random to be able to search for her.
Random thought for a few minutes and then declined his request. I don't particularly agree with his reasoning. If they knew she was an Amberite, they would be contacting o exchange the hostage and negotiate. If they didn't, they would probably do nothing. Also, Gerard was looking for their stronghold. If anyone could find them, he could.
I understood his reasoning, but not his assessment that they would leave her unharmed. All someone would have to do would be to threaten her friends. Tedra would give in to avoid that. I know it.
But, I also believe that Gerard could find her. Random said Llewella was helping and I relaxed. Between the two, far more skilled than I am, Tedra would be found.
Julien did say he should talk to Queen Moira about this. That she might have a different perspective. Ah yes, it now becomes a political situation. Llewella and the Queen are close. If Llewella were upset, Moira might be as well.
The rest of the day went by quietly.
That night I was woken by deWinter talking to someone. It didn't take long to realize it was Doblique. When he was done, he settled back on to the pillows and said she had grown concerned when he was overdue to contact her. The time differential was more pronounced than we had thought. It'd only been a few days, but a month had passed for her. She had grown concerned and was beginning to wonder about Sebastian. Damn. We'll have to prod Sebastian into keeping in touch with her. Or call everything off. Leaving her in Limbo wasn't fair.
We were awake, and we talked for a long while. He shifted to face me, leaning on his elbow. We each talked about our families, Amber, Rebma and how it fits into everything. It was a nice, comfortable talk, whatever came to mind.
I made a remark, not really thinking about it, saying how I wanted to go to Tir-na Nog'th. He looked at me strangely and said he was thinking the same thing the other night while we were on the battlement. He thought it was eerie, that we were thinking the same thing. I had noted the other night that, perhaps tomorrow will be the full moon. Other than that, I just wanted to go.
We skirted around saying that we would go. I realized that he wasn't going to commit unless I wanted to. I was just concerned about the whole notion of being at the mercy of a few stray clouds. We settled for just checking when the full moon would be, perhaps we would just go and see what it looks like.
Well, I learned that tonight is the full moon. DeWinter was somewhere around the castle, so I had the kitchen pack us a heavy lunch, just in case we stayed overnight.
I found him and Gerard on the practice grounds, sparring. I settled down to watch for a bit. I'm ashamed to admit it, I was a bit surprised. Gerard has more years, therefore (an assumption) more experience. As the blade whirred it didn't take me long to see that deWinter was holding his own. He was Good. Very Good. The blades moved so quickly, that all you could do was hear them move, and occasionally see the light of the sun flicker along the edges. The other soldiers quickly stopped and silently watched as well. All told, the two went for an hour, when they broke off. Gerard grinned as if he had had a great time and deWinter was startled by the applause.
As they went to sit and drink some water, a number of men approached to ask a question about their techniques or strategies. Gerard definitely had power behind his sword, but deWinter was the quicker. All told, they were evenly matched. DeWinter was a bit surprised and chagrined to find himself answering the questions; he was helping the Amber army. I think he answered out of both politeness and because he isn't seeing the Amberites as being as evil or horrible as he had been led to believe. He's changed a bit since his first arrive and that wasn't so long ago.
Off to the side, I saw Evander watching. I would have loved to ask him what he thought… his face was so closed, I couldn't read it. I wished I could talk to him…it's been a while. Actually, I just occurred to me, right at this moment, was that if he carried out his complete sentence, it would be over 1000 years until he could return to see Tatasha. And, as long as her life span is, I doubt it will suffice. She's already lived twice the recorded time for weir. I know they don't always see eye to eye, but I'll have to arrange a meeting somehow. I might even be able to have him meet deWinter.
I told him about tonight when in our rooms as he got cleaned up. I had nothing more pressing, so I enjoyed the view. As we headed downstairs, deWinter asked if we didn't need permission to go to Tir-na Nog'th. I stopped, rather stunned. I can't believe I didn't think about that! I wasn't sure whom to ask. I could ask almost anyone, but even if we didn't need permission, I didn't want to be prevented. Hm. Random, of course, would know, but I doubted Sebastian would. So, I Trumped Martin. I was surprise to see him on horseback, with army men near by. He was dong something for Random, I guess.
I asked him the question and saw him wince. No, I didn't need permission. He didn't try to dissuade me, for he must have known I was thinking about going. He just grew serious and told me to be careful. I assured him and broke contact.
DeWinter went to get horses while I picked up our food and drink. We were forestalled once more by the question of where on the mountain were the steps. I asked one of the clerks in the castle, who didn't know. Then I went to Lord Hendren, who didn't know but directed me to the Master Librarian. I found his office down on the first floor. He wasn't quite sure either, but called a page to move some books piled on the floor around him. Actually, there were books piled around on every horizontal surface available, including the floor and the chairs. The book was an index which told him which bookcase and which shelf an appropriate book could be found. A prodigious memory, to know which book would have the information. With Master Resort's instructions, I set off.
I found it precisely where it was supposed to be. It was a book that Aunt Florimel had written on the sites and monuments of Amber. There were three routes we could take. I jotted them down and copied the little map.
Finally, we were ready to go. I suppose half the castle knows where we are going, now.
Two hours later, we arrived at the spot. We wouldn't have found it without the directions, of that I am sure. It wasn't much to speak of, just a small odd-shaped boulder that didn't much resemble steps. But the view, oh, it was spectacular! Far down below, we could see Castle Amber and in the distance was the Cabra lighthouse. The air was brisk and clean, not too chill, but invigorating.
We settled down and ate the pleasant meal the kitchen had prepared. Then DeWinter settled down for a nap. The workout with Gerard was a bit fatiguing and we both wanted to be ready for tonight. I curled up next and rested.
We roused about dusk, just as the sun was slipping past the horizon. Without the mountains hiding everything, the view was glorious, shining off the ocean in a myriad of colors.
As the sun disappeared, we noted that there were few clouds riding low, far apart and not very substantial. As the evening grew and the moon appeared, the boulder seemed to change in the softer light. Depending on how we looked at it, it sometimes looked normal, sometimes more chiseled, defined. The night grew and the temperature dropped a little. I was certain the city would appear tonight.
Unexpectedly, my armband went off. I said something was wrong and DeWinter immediately took position behind me, back-to-back. Up above lights appeared in the sky as the tops of towers appeared. I pointed this out to DeWinter and we watched the castle appear in a light shower of blue, white, and silver.
It wasn't at all what we had expected, really. DeWinter had heard it was a city suspended on clouds, but there were none there. Nothing held it up. The shimmer of lights continued down as the stairs formed, leading right to the boulder, looking like it merged with it.
I touched the stairs, they were icy cold. Actually, they were ice. About two feet wide and slippery. I stepped carefully on one, just above the boulder and felt my booted foot slide. I stepped down and pointed this out. DeWinter was looking at the first two steps and saw nothing wrong. Then he touched the third and didn't like this new development. I stepped back, seriously reconsidering the trip.
The idea of travelling a thousand feet into the air, with nothing below but crags and an ocean, on steps of ice with no barrier, no railing, was daunting to say the least. It didn't help that I really don't like extreme heights and the wind seemed to be picking up. No wonder no one needed permission to go there. Who would be crazy enough to try this? Us, I suppose.
I realized now how much Prince Corwin's written account had glossed over the danger of his trip into Tir.
I thought about it. If this was like Rebma's stairs, in any way, we should be safe as long as we stayed on the path. DeWinter used his knife to roughen up the soles of his boots. It seemed to help but not much. I removed my boots and stepped on with my bare feet. That was better. It did give new meaning to the phrase getting cold feet!
We didn't really talk, just waiting for one of us to make the decision. It didn't take any amount of perception to know I was nervous about the whole thing. I just hated the idea of giving up.
Call it blind faith, but I trusted that if we moved carefully, the stairs would protect a bit from the winds. We could discuss this all night, but there was a time limit. So, I took a deep breath and began to climb.
I kept my eyes focused on the next step, fervently trying not to look down. Once, I realized that DeWinter had fallen behind a bit, so I looked down the length of my body, to see where he was and wait. A huge error. At that angle, the steps seemed to disappear and I closed my eyes at the vertigo. I looked up, taking deep breathes until I felt his hand on my ankle. I focused on the next step and started moving again with two hands on the steps before me as I moved. Lady, how was I going to get down?
We were closer than I thought, and kept that in my mind. The wind was picking up, blowing my hair around, though not so much that I couldn't see. I heard him chuckle behind me. I called down, not daring to look, what was so funny. He made some remark about the view. He was not referring to the ocean. I could only wonder at the timing; it was inappropriate. Then I had to chuckle. It was an…earthy statement, perhaps crude, but it did get my mind off being afraid. We continued, more easily. In fact, the stairs seemed to move, like the moving sidewalks in Martin's Shadow.
We reached the top and were at the boulevard in front of the castle. The ground was just as slippery as the stairs. Carefully, we went up the road and into the castle. I did not want to slide off the city!
Inside, the walls were a pale blue or silver. Sometimes when the light hit a certain way, shades of lavender swept along the floor and walls. The air was misty, like in a dream. Now that we were here, where should we go?
We stopped by the dining room. Faint whispers of voices could be heard and I saw indistinct figures at the table. A dinner was in progress and there was much debating over some issue. A figure at the head, stood and shouted, pounding the table. He, for it was a large man, shouted again and stalked out of the room right through DeWinter. He shuddered as if suddenly cold. It looked like one of the men in the tapestries lining the wall: Oberon. I asked DeWinter about it, but he said he didn't really see anyone. It was as if we were the ghosts. I turned to the room and said “Boo!” Nothing. DeWinter chuckled and shook his head.
We went to where my rooms were. I touched the door latch and found it much colder. I knew there was someone inside. Why? I don't know. This used to be Eric's room and I thought it would be rude to just walk in if he were there. Not that he had such reservations with my room, but the dead may have different rules. DeWinter did the same, but with much more force.
The door opened. Standing in the door was a woman, with dark hair and large eyes. I could see, as faint as she was, that she was very beautiful. She looked startled to see me and turned to talk to someone behind her. DeWinter placed a hand on my shoulder to ask what was wrong and then jumped. He could see her, too. He removed it and placed it again. He could only see her when touching me.
The woman tried to ask something, but the words were unclear. Finally, she stepped back only to reappear a moment later with a knife. She was holding it like a weapon. She held it aloft and it glowed brightly. “What do you want?”
Well, it seemed trite to say we were just passing through and somehow I don't think humor would have gone well. I tried it, however, and she wasn't amused. The second figure came into my view, a misshapen man gnarled and twisted, by injury or birth I could not tell. His eyes and hair were almost wild. He kissed the back of her hand.
DeWinter said it was me. I didn't think so. She did have a mark on her forehead, but it was like a dot, not the white disc on mine. I didn't know who she was. It was at this point she realized I was talking to someone and turned her attention. She looked very surprised, dropping the knife to one side and stepping back. Before much more could be said, she closed the door tightly. We stood uncertainly, not knowing if she would open the door again, and decided to move on.
I took his hand as we walked, so he could see more. It was better than trailing behind me with his hand on my shoulder. Actually, it was nice. With the whole circumstances thing, we don't do that much, but we had other things on our mind. Like balance.
We walked, or rather slithered down the hall as ghostly couples danced past. DeWinter suggested we try the King's rooms. It seemed easier to slide along than walk. Unfortunately, I forgot to warn DeWinter of what I was going to do. He pinwheel for a second, regaining his balance. “Oh, we are going to give warning the next time we do that,” he grumbled. I didn't laugh. Nope.
There were guards there, but they took no notice of us. I rapped on the door, no answer. A voice said beside me, “There's no answer, milady.” I jumped before I realized it was DeWinter. His voice sounded odd in the echoing hall. He had spoken in his normal voice, not the whispers we had been using.
He reached for the latch and turned it, peeking in. “Do not try this at home, children,” I said and he laughed at the idea. This was getting to be fun.
We entered. I saw a large figure at a desk in the far wall. Random had entirely changed the layout of the office. His desk is in front of the balcony windows. I wonder if it was to show he had trust. It would be like him to make such a statement, especially to the older members of the Family who remembered Oberon.
“What do you want, Faiella?” It then hit me that the ghost in Eric's rooms was my great-grandmother. Was that why Eric had the fireplace, because Oberon placed it for her? I wanted to go and speak to her, but that would be rude. I said I wasn't Faiella and he looked up. “Really?” He seemed unconcerned. He bade us to sit and we did. I had to concentrate hard to see him with any clarity.
We only spoke for a minute before he began to look puzzled. Slowly, he reached out and touched the mark on my forehead. A spark flew out between just and he quickly took his hand back. “You're not playing a game. You're not Faiella.” It wasn't a question. I shook my head. I told him I was, or will be, his great grandfather and he was mildly surprised at this. Then I introduced DeWinter, one of his sons.
Oberon held out his hand (which was odd since Amberites don't do that, today), but DeWinter didn't react. They couldn't see each other very well so I focused even harder, hoping it would help them.
It seemed to, since their eyes settled on each other, but it was clear they were still very indistinct to one another. I told DeWinter that Oberon had held out his hand. He hesitated for a moment and then held out his hand. I told Oberon the same.
With a little guidance, their palms met and energy surge along DeWinter, strong enough that I could feel it. They stayed like that for a moment and then Oberon said, “You did the right thing. I would have done the same.” DeWinter snapped his hand back, visibly shaken.
As I turned to him, the door opened. Faiella entered and said something I couldn't understand. Oberon said he knew about the visitors, they were with him, here. It seemed to upset her greatly. He went to reassure her. Perhaps it was because our concentrations diverted that they became ghostly again.
DeWinter was badly shaken by the exchange. He said to get him out of there, now. We rose. As we approached the door, I saw Oberon place his hands on Faiella's shoulders, still reassuring her. Eric was particularly superstitious; perhaps he got it from her. I focused on him briefly and said we had to go. He pulled Faiella close and looked over her shoulder. He nodded once and made an odd gesture with his hand before turning his attention back to her. I think I remember the gesture enough to ask about it later.
Outside, DeWinter composed himself. I took the moment to glance at my pocket-watch. We had been here six hours already! We hadn't much time left. DeWinter asked if we could see the Pattern.
It wasn't that I didn't want to show it to him, but if time was passing so quickly, he wouldn't have time to walk it, even if he wanted to, which I'm sure occurred to him. I seemed like that would be a sneaky thing to do. It also seemed like a cruel tease to show him it and walk away. But, he was probably aware of all this and still wanted to see it. All right, then.
We got to the Library, again looking much different in layout that what we know. There were people here. Focusing, I saw a young Gerard, about 14, but already the size of most grown men. There was…Caine, I think. His voice was indistinct, but his laughter was clear and full, infectious. On the sofa, with her back to me was…yes, Dierdre. She turned at our entrance, as if she heard us.
Off everyone we've seen, she was the most visible here. Her hair was jet black, with a blue sheen; her eyes were a vivid blue, her smile strong. “Hello.” The others couldn't see us, but Gerard moved between where he thought we were and Dierdre, to protect. Even that young, he was quick to defend. Dierdre tried to reassure them, but it did as much as Oberon's to Faiella.
We told her we were going to see the Pattern. She wasn't alarmed, in fact, she almost looked like she wanted to sit down and chat. If DeWinter hadn't been there, I would have. I've seen two, perhaps three Patterns. I really wanted to talk with her. She seems so inviting.
She asked who we were and I just said some descendents, future ones. I didn't want to explain why we've never met. She took the statement at face value, saying it was interesting. She said we should stop by again some time. I said perhaps and she went to the hidden door, still in the same spot. Moving the latch, she opened it up. Oh, the torches were out. She bade us to be careful on the steps. There was a broken one further down.
DeWinter asked about the guards and she was puzzled. “What guards?” He mumbled something about just checking if there were changes and began pulling me through the door. To us, the stairs were fully illuminated. I wondered at his rush, but as the door closed behind us, he said that was eerie. She was too…nice! Too friendly. I vow that someday he won't see the fact that someone is friendly as unusual. Like the floors, we slid down the stairs, though we had a banister to help keep our balance. Like the stairs coming up here, the steps moved, carrying us down faster.
We landed with a thud, though we didn't fall. I checked my watch again. 3:20. I found the seventh passage and headed down. Amber's caverns are so dark; I never realized how huge they really are. The lights never hit the walls, but still, one could build a zeppelin in here with plenty of room to spare.
We got to the door and, yes, the key hung to one side. DeWinter thought that strange. We entered the room of the Pattern and were both struck dumb.
All of a sudden, I remembered a dream I had years ago. But was it a dream? It's all so fuzzy and faint. I was on my way to Mycenea, just after walking the Pattern for the first time. I was on a flying dragonfly when a green tube of light descended, causing me to fall off my mount. I was trapped within the tube and heard other voices. Eventually, the cause of the trap spoke and we, through a lot of bumbling, met up. The voice belonged to a strange collection of amber-relations and we had been placed in individual areas, each looking like Amber, but without people. Each looked differently than our normal selves.
I had silver hair, with soft fur running down my shoulders. Again, I was nude and I had a horse's tail of silver. I vaguely remember other people there. Sebastian, who looked like his normal self, but later it turned out he was hollow on the inside. Melinda was there, taller than Gerard but greener than Llewella and very strong. There was someone there from the Courts, black as night—his eyes, hair, clothing all lightless black. Stargazer was there-- oh, and Rhiannon was there, looking like a tiny sprite, all red with a bow and arrows with which she shot bolts of flame. There was also a young woman named Jacynea, a descendant of Stargazer, who was covered in black feathers, looking rather delicate. We had to fight “seven ill dragons” which had removed themselves to outside existence and were now moving to destroy all of reality. We had to stop them.
I didn't know the man from the Courts, nor Jacynea. Neither did Stargazer. Actually, Stargazer didn't know me. And Rhiannon is just a babe right now. Ah, yes, we were all from different times. Our host was Galantia, who had also placed us outside time and space to defend Reality. We were chosen because we were within her reach.
We did engage the dragons, though they weren't really dragons. One looked like a comet, another, a storm. Our forms were our “attributes” all with special abilities. Sebastian was the “Sum of All Flexibility” and I was the “Calculator”. Everyone else had special abilities. Stargazer was the "Sum of All Matter", Rhiannon was "Fire". The man from the Courts was "Trickery" (no surprises) and Jacynea was the "Mistress of Mind-life", another term for a very powerful Mage, not unlike Fiona.
All this jumbled through my mind because in that dream I walked a silvery pattern in a room of blue and lavender and white. This room. A precognitive dream? I was stunned. All this passed through my mind in a second.
DeWinter was standing near, “It's huge,” he said softly. I agreed. I said it was the same as the one in Amber, though walking it would be different. He was confused. I had said I had never been here. I hadn't, but maybe I had.
I shook my head and let him be. I'm sorry he couldn't walk it. I wondered if he would try. I said there might be enough time, though we'd have to move quickly. He thought about it for a moment and then shook his head. It would annoy Random and he wanted to show Random he had integrity and discipline. He shrugged and said that maybe he'd get some points in his favor. I told him that if nothing else, he won a bunch from me. He smiled and gave me a brief hug.
I glanced at my watch. 4:30. Dawn would be approaching soon. I didn't want to take the steps down, so I tried a Trump. It worked! I Trumped Sebastian because he might not tattle where we were. Actually, I thought we could be evasive enough he might not figure it out. He was annoyed that we woke him, but pulled DeWinter through. Despite the close proximity, the call was extremely difficult to maintain. Actually, it took everything out of me. I saw DeWinter fall forward, as if from a great height and land heavily, but safe, before the contact was broken.
I could have called him back, but didn't think Sebastian could do that again. Who then? I had nothing to lose by trying Fiona. If she didn't answer, then perhaps Julien. To my surprise, Fiona answered. Before I could request passage, she held her hand out. It swiftly took it and she began to pull me through. I could tell it was a bit of a strain, physically if nothing else, since she was maintaining the majority of the contact.
It felt like I was falling down a great height. Actually, I was. I was going to crush her, no telling with what velocity. As I came through, I grabbed her arms and twisted, to have her land on top. It seemed wrong for her to help me and then get squished in return.
The sad truth was I succeeded in my goal, but fell to the floor badly. A sharp pain (with an audible crack) went through my skull as I hit the floor. I was senseless for who knows how long before being able to see straight.
Fiona was still atop me, largely because I was still gripping her forearms. She was also nude. I must have gotten her out of bed. I let go, leaving white marks on her arms. They were going to bruise. She asked what possessed me to go to Tir? I mumbled something, though I don't remember. She looked at my eyes and said there was the distinct possibility I had a concussion. Sounded right to me. I could barely move my head, or see straight. She got some brandy and helped me to drink it. Then she got a robe and a light to examine my head and eyes. Yes, a concussion.
I told her I had to check on DeWinter. She made me promise not to move from the floor (as if any part of me were going to listen to me if I said to get up) and went to find them.
A few minutes later, I heard them approaching. DeWinter shot through the door and was at my side. Fiona said not to move me, before he did anything. He was alright with that. He didn't care. He was just very happy I wasn't plunging to the ocean. He'd been trying to get me by Trump, but with the head injury, I didn't realize he'd been trying. The poor man was frantic.
Sebastian hovered. I remembered the dream; actually, everything was dancing in my head, trying for my attention. I hesitantly (I didn't want to seem insane, or something) said, “Galantia?” His eyes grew wide and he began sputtering. Yes, it had happened.
So much to think about. I wanted to curse my stupid head for being in the way of the floor, but the brandy Fiona was pouring into me distracted me. Before long, she allowed DeWinter to carry me to my rooms. He settled me into the bed as Fiona repeatedly told him I needed to rest. He understood the first time. She said fine, you're coming with me. It was not a question.
He stammered that he should stay here, but she was not listening. I was a bit giddy, between the injury and the brandy. I waved and said have a good time. Slowly he drifted out, not liking this turn of events. It had been such a nice night.
After they left, it was too quiet. I think I would have fallen asleep if I had to drown out their voices. Instead, my mind started to wander over all that had happened. I was afraid I would forget and I didn't want to. Spying my drawing case nearby (Yes, I did get out of bed, but I did it slowly), I managed to get in and back into bed without mishap. Then I began to draw everything I could think of. Galantia, who we only ever saw as a 'bolt of green energy', Rhiannon, Tir's Pattern, Oberon, Faiella, Dierdre, and everyone from the “dream”, the dining hall, the library, every image I could recall. I drew myself, but thought that pretentious. I tore it up and threw it away, before anyone saw it. I don't know how long I was at it.
I just remember drifting off, surrounded by sheets of drawing papers.
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