Three months of planning insue...
"In Love" and Planning a Wedding
Things have been extraordinarily busy, attending to all the details. My idea of bringing Evander in as part of an honor guard, or some such plan was completely swept aside when Gerard said he had a much better idea. He said it would be more complex, but it would work out more smoothly. I learned nothing more.
Random and Vialle left a few days earlier. They had announced that they were going to do a tour to Mycenea and then Aes. Was this part of Gerard's idea. I really wished I could see him and Chryseis at their first meeting.
During the entire time, as the day approached, deWinter became increasingly calm and composed. It was a dirty move, since I seemed to become more and more nervous. It was the usual worries that I've always heard about. Whether I was ready, was I responsible enough, etc.
We are in Aes now and people are starting to arrive. My sisters arrived first. My suspicion is that they wanted to meet deWinter. He was very quiet and calm, which confused them. He was determined to keep cool under all the pressure and they expected me to choose someone more…exuberant. I have, but they'll never know it, at least, not for a while. I repressed my laughter and let them go about trying to figure it all out.
By the end of the day, it seemed like people were pouring in faster than I could keep track of. In addition to every known Amberite, I also invited representatives from the noble Amber Houses. I made sure to invite Master Resort and Lord Hendron, the first because he has always been helpful to me, the second because he would be very disappointed if he were excluded.
Today is the day. True to deWinter's word, it was raining. There is some consistency in the universes. I had spent the last day pretty much attending to last minute details. Every once in a while I saw deWinter but there hadn't been any time to speak with him.
Eventually, the time, which had been crawling, surged forward and the ceremony began. The main hall held about a thousand people and it looked quite full. It was amazing that this many people chose to attend. At best, I had thought perhaps one or two hundred would be here. I seriously underestimated the attendance. It was pretty daunting.
Outside, there were endless throngs of people, including many of the weir aristocracy that managed to attend. There were thousands. That really made me nervous. Owen resorted to giving me a soothing drink to calm me down.
The next thing I remember clearly is walking down the aisle. I entered from one hall with Julian and Random on each side. The original plan was that it would be Mother and Julian, but I was informed that there were some last minute changes. There was no time to argue, which was probably what they intended. deWinter was escorted by Mother and Tatasha.
The ceremony was a blur and I hoped I didn't make any terrible mistakes. I really can't remember. All I do know was that I kept my focus on deWinter and blocked out almost all else. Again, I had little choice in the dress, but Julian chose well. It was not what I would have designed, a pale cream with gold details, but it matched deWinter's black and silver to perfection. If I must say so, we made a striking couple. His fair hair accentuated by the black, me dark-haired and pale dress.
We were escorted to each other, meeting at the center. Again, in concession with three cultures, we had three ceremonies, intertwined about each other as they each picked up a stanza or a speech, relegating to another at an appropriate time. The Mycenea priests were in blue and gold, our country's colors, the priestesses of Aes in green, and the Church of the Unicorn in white.
Have you ever been in a solemn, important situation where, to relieve the stress, you had the urge to do something silly? I had to fight the urge to ask the Unicorn priests if they knew who they were marrying? It would have been a scandal, but for some reason it struck me as funny. I tightened my face; laughing would not have gone over well. Someone might ask later and I would have to explain.
After the required speeches and such (I really remember none of them) it was over. DeWinter and I turned to each other, and given the sign, gave each other the Kiss. Personally, I didn't think it was particularly long, but Julian's discreet cough said it was otherwise. I wasn't about to time it.
We walked down the aisle with the rest of the recession following behind.
Now, I know this may seem odd later, but I was wearing my armband under my dress. We had invited Dalt to the wedding (I had handwritten "sans army" in the corner, deWinter thought it was funny), but I had not seen him. Not that he would have stood in the midst of almost every Amberite I know. And, I really didn't think he would do anything, really. It just didn't seem right that he would ruin his brother's wedding. But I was concerned if he might have told Dastard. So, I wore it.
We were about two-thirds of the way down when it went off. I had little time to react, so I dove to the floor, taking deWinter with me. It was my assumption that one of us would be the target. deWinter, unaware, was caught off guard and I managed to bring him down.
All I caught was a glimpse of the grenade as Julian stepped forward, caught it, and threw it far, out of the window into the outside courtyard. It was so fast it was a blur and I doubt anyone nearby registered just what had happened. No Boom erupted from outside, so he must have launched it far. The trajectory showed it came from the musician's loft.
deWinter asked, in the next seconds, if I had pulled him down. I told him someone just threw a grenade and before I could say more, he was on top, shielding. Random said, "That's my boy!" and I told deWinter that Julian got rid of it. Disgruntled, he got up, pulling me with him. Julian said we should watch for a second hit. If there was one, I couldn't do much. deWinter had me tight against his side, protectively. In tight formation, we made our way out to the vestibule.
Amber guards there were in full fight against a small contingent. We were just registering what was going on when a figure on the far side of the conflict seemed odd. He was just standing there, a piece of fabric over one arm. Then my armband went off again. I pushed deWinter and Julian to either side, thinking he was some mage. The others, still in the castle proper were safely out of range.
I took a few steps and the next thing I know I was down. It was the oddest feeling. I knew I had been shot, badly in fact. The bullet went in to the left of my sternum, just next to my heart, continuing on into the wall behind me. But, I felt only discomfort, no pain, really. Julian was there immediately, staunching the blood flow with his hand while initiating a Trump call.
To the side, I heard this roar of rage and another blur as deWinter launched himself at the assassin. I never really saw him connect, since Owen appeared, but I heard the coward die. Still, the sounds did not cease as deWinter continued with his attentions.
Owen quickly got the bleeding stopped, using some of her petticoats for pressure bandages. I asked what happened, what was going on. Owen told me to never mind about that, just to stay calm. I was a bit annoyed since not knowing what was going on would be far worse. Julian gave a brief smile and told me some specifics. A force of some 12,000 had entered the north pass, led by Dastard. There was a second front, a naval force, but little was known about it. I felt sick. Everyone was here while this was happening and now there was nothing I could do about it.
deWinter was still furious. I saw Dalt just past Julian's shoulder. I asked him to calm deWinter down. He was the only one who could do it just then. Short of a body hold by Gerard, not much would stop him. Dalt gave a nod and left my vision. I could just hear him talking, not shouting, to deWinter. Then deWinter was at my side.
It seemed to be agreed that I should be taken upstairs, before anyone learned what happened. We needed to go on, as if they had failed and nothing was wrong. I'm still not precisely sure why, other than possibly a morale issue. Dastard wouldn't even be given the satisfaction of even the slightest success, even if was wounding one minor Amberite.
Between deWinter and Julian, I was on my feet with only a few seconds of light-headedness. We were escorted up into our suite where Owen finished closing the wound. She was mightily upset that no one had warned her of the possibility of the attack. Slowly, the story unfolded. With everyone unaware, Benedict, Julian and the Lady knows who else had arranged for substitutes to stand for some family in the ceremony. As far as I know, Benedict, Random, Julian, Gerard, Kinkel were all in the know. I can only hazard a guess that they found Shadow people to play their parts.
All we could do was wait for news. deWinter sat next to me, holding my hand. We were both frustrated and seething; what a day to choose to do such a thing. He was very sorry that the wedding had been ruined. So was I, though I refuse to take the blame for this. Thankfully, he felt the same. Still, I wanted to do something.
Benedict entered, bearing a new dress for me. Actually, it was identical to the one I was wearing, without the bloodstains. As Owen helped me to get into the new one, deWinter asked him if there was a spare "deWinter outfit" if he'd had gotten hurt. Benedict said, of course.
Dressed, I asked if I could go to the lake. I had taken time in Amber to invite Galantia. She said she'd be here, in the lake. I wanted to see if she could help, or perhaps had some information. No one was particularly happy with the idea of me traipsing off to stand in some water. Julian offered to scout the area first after asking if I wanted his opinion on the matter. I said I did and he left, promising to let me know what he found.
I did learn that there were two factions involved. The grenade came from a Black Adder and all of them in the castle had been caught. Imagine that! I set one free and this is how they respond? Or is there another agenda? It made me furious all over again.
Outside, I could hear the weir chanting my name. Whatever for? Benedict had suggested to Tatasha that she had 15,000 weir here, ready for whatever force was approaching. They were ecstatic that they were about to do battle… almost as if I had arranged this particular entertainment, just for them. We went to the window to satisfy them. We waved and they roared, moving past to join the fray. It was a surprisingly short period of time before they were gone and it was eerily silent.
Julian Trumped me just after. There had been no response to his scout at the lake. I told him that I had spoken to her when I was in the water and he said he'd try that. A short period of time later, he Trumped again. No answer. He was hip-deep in the water, but no one responded. I don't know if she was busy, just not there, or wouldn't answer him. I asked to come through and he said he didn't recommend it. I asked what if I wanted to go anyway? He shrugged and said if I did that, then it meant his opinion was not worth anything to me. It was a dirty trick because he knew I valued his opinion and wouldn't want him to think otherwise. It effectively kept me in the room.
It wasn't long before we were due at the reception. Benedict arrived one final time. He placed one hand on my right shoulder and one on deWinter's left. He enjoined us to act in concert in all things, now that we are pledged. Puzzled at the idea that he felt he needed to remind us of that, we responded, "of course." He asked permission to kiss the bride and gave me a kiss on either cheek. He said giving out medals was fine, but it was much more enjoyable to give out kisses. deWinter held up his hand and said he'd pass. It made me smile for the first time in the last hour or so.
He did report that the first skirmish with Dastard only lasted for about half an hour before they hurriedly withdrew. It seems they were not expecting opposition. Everyone returned and only a low percentage of men were wounded. This entire thing makes me think that Dastard is either very stupid or ignorant of military matters or has no information networking in place. He's stupid if he thought that with the entire Family would convene and not take precautions for their own safety after centuries of doing so. Just having Benedict here would assure that. He's ignorant in military matters if he not only expected no opposition, but also came through a pass that gave ample opportunity for defense. The attack at the pass was done so badly, the entire affair lasted no more than a brief period before morale was shattered. Lastly, he has either no information sources or whatever he had, which told him where the wedding would be, did not also tell him the nature of the people here, the terrain, etc. I suspect that without Doblique's intelligence and deWinter's experience, he may be of no threat to Amber. That was reassuring even though it did not mean deWinter or I were safe. Far from it. Dastard would be even more determined the next time. And he could be even more vicious in light of his humiliation today.
We went down to the reception. Owen had allowed me one dance, given my injuries. I parlayed for four: deWinter, first and last, Evander and Julian. She didn't argue with it, though cautioned I should take it easy. deWinter and I started the festivities with a dance and I was relegated to our table for the rest of the evening. The story about the recession was that I tripped. Virtually no one not directly involved with today's events knew otherwise.
Evander did stop by my table, more animated than I've seen him in years. With the slightest encouragement, we had tableware set up as he recounted the entire battle. I think this might have been the first fight he'd seen since his duty in the army began. While he was energized by the events he was singularly unimpressed with the opposition. They came in as he led his men in the first engagement. His "crack troops" broke through the front lines easily. The sides tried a flanking maneuver and then the weir arrived, screaming and howling in anticipation. Within minutes, the enemy was running, morale shattered, discipline in tatters. He couldn't too stay long, but I did get to dance with him. I had to tell him of my injury, so he could lend more support, so I didn't reopen the wound. He was silent about it all, but it was a pleasant dance.
Most everyone came to us, wishing us well and congratulating us. We received many compliments on the arrangements and the ceremony. (Ha! If only they knew.) Mother danced with deWinter while I danced with Julian. Simone said she was having a lovely time and thought the ceremony terribly romantic. Tatasha had regained her cheer. She had been equally frustrated to have to stay behind as a commander, rather than join the fray against Dastard.
Owen did find us later to say that the Embassy in Glantri was available. There, deWinter would have the protection of Amber, since there was a warrant out for him there. It was a good idea. I was informed that Random could go through the official channels to have the warrant invalidated, or I could talk to the Duke myself. To save him the paperwork, which any sane person hates, I opted to see the Duke when we arrived.
Finally, deWinter and I had our last dance. He virtually held me aloft so that I wouldn't hurt myself. It wasn't half finished before he picked me up and carried me out, to the cheers of all the others.
Outside, horses were waiting. Within minutes, we were out of the Shadow and heading for Glantri. As soon as we left, my wound felt terrible and I hadn't the energy I had a few moments ago. I had a thought that we could simply Trump to Glantri, I'm sure Owen would have obliged. But, Dalt and about a hundred men met us. deWinter reminded him that he wasn't supposed to bring an army and Dalt reminded him that a hundred men does not constitute an army. They fell into their usual banter and I had to avoid laughing. It hurt too much. I chose not to insult Dalt by returning and using Trump to get to Glantri.
We arrived today. Dalt saw us off. His parting remark to deWinter was that he hoped deWinter "didn't feel stupid a year from now".
DeWinter said, "Yeah, I care about you, too."
Dalt even went so far as to give me a quick embrace, though he moved like I was made of glass. I returned the gesture with a full hug and, if I can trust my senses, he was just a bit flustered at that. Guess he hadn't expected it. Good. I kept my face solemn.
Lady Lucille met us at the Embassy. We were escorted inside. She offered us the King's suite. Actually, she had had it prepared. DeWinter declined as gracefully, and firmly, as possible. He whispered that he just couldn't bring himself to have his wedding night in the King's bed. I wasn't particular about where we started it, just so long as we had some time together. Travelling with Dalt and his crowd left little in the way of intimacy and privacy. Lucille gave in and showed us to another suite.
I did ask to have a physician attend to me. It had been largely healed for a few days now, to our surprise. I believe that being in Aes, and being a tiny bit weir myself, accelerated my healing impressively. The last time I got shot, I was unconscious almost immediately. The only explanation would be Shadow Aes itself. It hurt, to be sure, but it had closed up within the time before we left Aes. I suspect it was healing from the outside inward, to prevent further blood loss. Once we left the Shadow, I did feel worse. But, by then my natural healing had gotten enough of a boost, to continue the work.
Our suite was conformable. Lucille left to attend to some matter and deWinter spent a while prowling around until I realized he was searching for traps. He checked everywhere, including under the sheets. Satisfied, he pronounced the suite suitable. Lucille, just before dinner, did ask about my requesting a physician. She hinted that the last time the physician came there he had been frightened senseless and I think she was hoping this would not be the case. I told her I had no such intention, but that I had been shot and wanted to make sure everything was all right. She accidentally let slip that Sebastian had been the Amberite who had frightened the physician and I wondered what Sebastian had done to rate this caution. I'll probably never know.
Dinner was a quiet assembly of six, Lucille, deWinter and myself with 3 university professors. Talk ranged through a variety of topics keeping everything lively. It was just after dinner when the physician, Dr. Mikos, arrived. He gave me a full exam, using two different colored rods moving along my length to give him his information. He pronounced me in perfect health.
Again, there is no need to go into details about our first married evening. Suffice it to say we did some collateral damage to the bed. We ended up just disassembling the thing, to prevent further harm, or expense. I had no idea that our Circumstances would become an actual energy force, though I should have guessed, I think. The evidence of singed sheets made me concerned we might actually set something afire. We agreed to "discontinue things" until we left this Shadow.
I am concerned about the fact that deWinter was not his usual self, much more tired than he should be. He forced himself to get up though I could tell he badly needed more sleep. Of course, he denied this, so I had better keep an eye on him.
Breakfast was pleasant. When we arrived, Lucille remarked smoothly that it had been a nice evening with a glint in her eye. DeWinter went around to his chair and when he was not noticing, she gave me a gleeful look and a wink. "A very nice evening," she said quietly. Oh my, I wonder if everyone can feel what is going on?
DeWinter, used to travelling, initially began to order trail rations. Once he recalled where he was, he got two orders of steak and assorted dishes, in succession. While he ate, Lucille caught us up on her own history. I had thought she was an Amberite, though I don't know where I got the idea. In fact, she is Kent's sister, so she is an Amberite by marriage. And Dorimae is her daughter. The Merton family consists largely of farmers, ennobled long ago by Oberon for services rendered by her ancestors against Amber's enemies.
I had asked her to arrange a meeting with the Duke. We explained why and she later told me I had an appointment with the Duke for the day after. It will be a private meeting at the Palace and she hadn't told him the particulars, preferring to leave that to me. I took the opportunity to ask her if she felt the energy we were generating. She said, "Somewhat." Glantri has a thin veil between other dimensions and Circumstances fed energy, like a localized bonfire, into those places. Especially dimensions with "spirits". This sort of activity attracted some types and there had been "high spirits" last night. Ah well, I'll consider it a community service. She assured me that no harm was coming to deWinter. It affected men this way, here. Lucille is a bit more connected with the spirit realm, so she got some of the "feedback".
After dinner, deWinter and I played some billiards to while away the time. He taught me how to play, though it really is a simple game. I couldn't resist, knowing he was fine, heating things up, so to speak. I moved with subtly provocative motions around the billiard table, keeping his attention. I did win the game. It was nice to know he was as affected with my proximity as I was to his. Later in my room, when I let him realize what I had been doing I realized he hadn't thought I was doing it deliberately. Shocked silence fell. I was about to apologize when I was tackled from the side and our agreement to "ease off" was null and void then.
Meeting with the Duke
I went to the Palace. It was only a few miles away, so I dressed for the occasion and decided to walk. Inside the main courtyard there were a variety of soldiers, in many different uniforms, the colors and styles all different. Four men approached and asked me my business. I announced myself but their list did not have me on it. I wasn't concerned just yet, but they went into a small huddle to discuss the matter. One, in the end, decided to escort me in. His name was Cymry. I took his arm and there was a noticeable spark. He pretended not to notice it, but I was aware something wasn't usual.
He escorted me to the reception area where an officious fop met us. His name escapes me. Cymry made some derogatory remark, which I silently agreed with. I couldn't resist playing a bit and told the man that I had expected better than to me omitted from the visitor's list. He was puzzled and I said the guards outside hadn't put me on the list. "What guards outside?" he asked. It was then I knew what was happening. The guard, whose arm I still held, was a ghost. I held my mirth in check as I told him the guards were being very diligent, though it was understandable that some information was lost. After all, they were ghosts. The fop grew wide-eyed and pale, looking around. I bade Cymry good day and he departed, with a bow.
I was led to the Duke's office. Inside, he was sitting at a low table, a tea service set up for an informal meeting. We made the usual pleasantries before I embarked upon my reason for the meeting. My intention was to skirt deWinter's name so as to bring forward the nature of what I wanted to talk about, before he had any preconceived ideas brought into play. He had heard of my recent marriage and I explained that, given the close relationship between Amber and Glantri, I was hoping that my husband might be allowed to visit freely. I said he had not been in particular favor in the past, but with the marriage, not to mention he has fought for Amber and been decorated by Random himself, that perhaps we could come to terms with his presence here.
The Duke, well, I could say he was a bit pompous. But, his… affectations were jovial and he was delighted at this bit of mystery. It seemed that the purpose of my visit was set aside as he began to ponder who I was talking about. He carefully, with great detail, reviewed my points, pulling out the hints and added some conjecture. Before he got very far, there was a knock on the door. He was perturbed at the interruption, which turned out to be one of the guards. They wanted to speak to him on some matter but he would not allow the breach in etiquette. He sent the soldier away and returned to the table to renew his cogitation eagerly. Let's see, decorated, a former enemy, one of probable noble rank, perhaps even another Amberite…as he reviewed what I had told him I could see how I did let all that slip into the conversation. He had a decided twinkle in his eyes as he worked his way through all the permutations. Eventually he grew a bit silent, almost aghast. "Dalt?" he queried. I didn't laughed but I did deny that, though he was very close. He sat back, relieved. Then I told him it was Dalt's brother, deWinter. He was only a bit uneasy, but was making every effort to listen.
I told him I had no expectations that he should make a decision then and there, but if he would care to, we could arrange hi to meet deWinter, to form his own opinion. "Capital idea!" he said as he jumped up "Shall we go now?" I admit I was a bit startled as his impetuousness, but agreed. He fetched his tri-corner hat and we left his office. Outside a bevy of soldiers were grouped, discussing something they apparently thought was important. They made some motion to ask again for his time. The Duke firmly told them to go about their business. I went so far as to say that if he needed to work on some details, I had no difficulty in waiting for a while, they did seem to be serious about the whole thing. He dismissed the suggestion with a wave of his hand, taking my arm and proceeding to the main doors. I mentioned that perhaps it had something to do with the ghosts I saw. He was not precisely unnerved by the idea, but he was both unsure and intrigued by the news. He said he would like to see them, if he could. I led him down to the courtyard, filling him in on Cymry. Cymry, according to the Duke, had been a stout warrior in the distant past. That he should be here was, I think, a good sign.
Outside I scanned the area for Cymry. Sure enough, he was there with his men. I called to him, attracting odd looks from some around me. I wonder just how many men were actually there, not ghosts. There were so many types of uniforms, I suspect that the courtyard was largely empty.
Cymry approached, greeting the Duke with a salute. The Duke was unaware of Cymry. I relayed their greetings as the Duke vainly looked around, trying to see something. I still had his arm, his hands had gloves on. I moved my hand to his wrist, lifting one cuff aside, to touch him skin. Perhaps, in retrospect, this was not particularly polite, but he gave a jump as Cymry came into view. The two exchanged polite words. Cymry knew he and his men were dead, that was why few could see him. Nevertheless, he assured the Duke of his loyalty, that his men were ever vigilant. The Duke graciously thanked him for his service and let Cymry be about his business without interruption. He was certain that the Palace was the more secure for his service.
We continued on to the Embassy, a small contingent of guards along each side, for the Duke's protection. It was an uneventful walk, and he both expressed the novelty of seeing Cymry and my visit while greeting various citizens who took the rare opportunity of seeing the Duke out amongst them.
We were at the Embassy and our guards were instructed to remain outside. This could be awkward. I had no idea if I broke protocol by bringing him here unannounced. Perhaps that was his idea. If it was unplanned, he would get a more genuine idea of deWinter. I think he was savvier than one might think at first glance.
Inside, I told him that deWinter was probably… no, he interrupted... he wanted to guess. He is a royal, but newly accepted by the Crown. He guessed, correctly, that not only would deWinter refuse the Royal Suite, but would feel decidedly more comfortable on the third floor of the west wing. My surprise at his correct deductions was apparent as he beamed his pleasure. He led us upward, encountering Ambassador Lucille. If she was put out by his surprise visit, she did not let on in the slightest.
We went to our suite where Lucille rapped on the door. DeWinter asked who it was and she identified herself. He said to give him a moment. Lucille turned to the Duke, playing his game a bit. She said that that was the response of someone who wanted to freshen up, perhaps put on a new shirt. Rightly so, the Duke responded. Sure enough, deWinter opened the door, wearing a newly pressed shirt. His eyebrows rose a bit at the entourage in front of him. I gave a shrug, as if to say, sorry, didn't plan this. The Duke asked if deWinter shook hands, or refrained from the practice as did many other Amberites. No, deWinter held out his hand. The Duke shook it firmly, almost enthusiastically, saying that he hoped that deWinter would enjoy his stay here, now that he was free to come and go as he pleased.
That was it.
In the time it took to shake hands, deWinter was given leave to come and go as he pleased. I was surprised, deWinter was baffled and Lucille, unsurprised, had laughter in her eye, as she stood behind the Duke. deWinter thanked him and Lucille suggested that we have some tea. The Duke made a motion as if to enter our suite. I hastily opined that one of the salons would be suitable. I did not want to have them inside. It would be awkward, no embarrassing, to see the broken bed frame we dismantled the other night. It wasn't, well, 'proper'. Lucille pickup up the idea and we all went for some tea. The Duke chatted pleasantly with deWinter. For every ten sentences the Duke made, deWinter got in one. The Duke took no offense, readily seeing and remarking that deWinter was a "fighting man" and deduced his choice of weapons from the calluses on his hands.
On the way down, deWinter drew me aside. "What had I said to the Duke?" I was a bit baffled, because I hadn't really said anything that would sway the Duke's opinion, not really. I did say that the Duke was really very perceptive, much more than one might suppose. I recounted his inference at what suite he was in and deWinter was impressed.
Tea was pleasant, though brief. Actually, we didn't have tea. Lucille brought in a bottle of brandy from Random's private stock. I've heard much praise about it from Sebastian and it was every bit as good as he claimed. We offered to escort the Duke back, but he declined. I really didn't want anything to happened to him while he was visiting us, so I insisted that this would give deWinter an opportunity to see his fair city and the Duke graciously assented. Lucille opted to go with us. The walk back was equally pleasant and soon he was safely back in his Palace.
We took the time to write thank you notes and letters to everyone who attended the wedding. I had given it some thought and explained to deWinter why I now choose to believe we actually had a very good wedding. He wrinkled his eyebrows and waited for me to explain. I asked him to think about it. With the exception of Corwin, Sebastian, and Merlin, every single Amberite had attended. That was a lovely gift. Now, I've never directed a campaign, so how difficult would it be to learn a completely foreign terrain, with a foreign, unknown population, in a span of perhaps days or hours. Then, mount a defense, with no one being the wiser, to the point where you are also attending a wedding. All so that the bride and groom's day wasn't ruined. It seems to me that that would take considerable planning and effort. I don't know if gift-giving was the norm at weddings, but this was indeed a very great gift. I'm happy to have learned about it. He said that thinking about it that way, maybe it was pretty good.
We left Glantri today. It had been a very pleasant stay and Lucille hoped we would come back soon. It was nice, but deWinter was still feeling the effects of being tired each day. So, now we would begin our real honeymoon, together, with privacy, and no trouble.
A stay at the beach
There hasn't been anything to write about. Well, not for other's eyes. We rode through Shadow. I was very specific, to a degree, about where we might end up. It had to be very safe, environmentally stable (We didn't want the incessant rain that he seems to call up) and private.
We ended up at a lovely beach house, nothing particularly elaborate. I was content with a few amenities and running water. There wasn't another house within walking distance and we didn't see another soul the entire time we were there. It was wonderful! We found a note tacked up on the ice box. "Knew you two would make it here eventually. Everything is stocked up for a long stay. Congrats! Enjoy. Love, your sister, Tracy. We broke open a bottle of wine she had set aside and heartily thanked her for her consideration, whomever she is.
We spent our days swimming, sunning, talking, making love, clamming and fishing. Not in any particular order, though some we did more than others. We didn't entirely escape from rain, but that only occurred about five or ten minutes each day. deWinter said that it didn't even classify as rain. No Chaosians, no assassins, no armies, no Trump calls, wars or worries. We became relaxed and spontaneous, whatever mood struck as the moment. We had all the time we needed to focus on each other.
We decided to move on. Frankly I was thinking we were being rather indulgent already, taking all this time. Thinking a bit about it, there really wasn't anything pressing in Amber that I had to return to. And the time differential could be such that only a week or so had passed. Right. I could have Trumped someone to ask, perhaps to see how time was passing there, but I decided in favor of complete indulgence. I was loath to hear of any bad news and break the entire mood of the last few months. I asked deWinter where he would like to go. He said he'd play along if I were to choose the following destination. A third? We would be gone for quite a while. Happily, I agreed.
He had just one criteria. He wanted to go where he could be relaxed and be entertained. That shouldn't be so hard. I still maintained that safety was paramount, along with the environment. I then focused on his request and we started off. I took a few long moments to memorize this place, our Sanctuary, so we could come back some day.
It's been a while as we travel. deWinter has given up, certain there is no place he can both be entertained and relaxed. I'm equally certain there are probably many such places, but I'm not as skilled, perhaps in Shadow walking. I know we are getting closer, we could be there in a day or so. He settled back, letting me continue to try.
See the Circus
We arrived at night on a tarred highway, with a forest on each side. There were no lights, but the full moon lent enough for us to walk by. There were cars moving at regular intervals, their exhausts leaving a discernable trail behind them. deWinter showed me how to "hitch a ride" though we were unsuccessful. I wasn't entirely certain, but I thought this was the Shadow we should be in.
From the trees came an unfamiliar scent. Actually, it was a mixture of odors, some appetizing. Cautiously, we made our way into the trees. It took about a half an hour when we came upon a large clearing. In front of us, we a wide assortment of tents, hanging lamps, cheerful music, a dozens of wagons and trucks. I had never seen the like before and apparently, neither had deWinter.
We walked among the throng. It was a circus, that much I could tell. But I was used to them being indoors, perhaps an arena, where everyone sat at a distance to watch and applaud. Here, as we walked among the animal's pens, I could have reached out, it would be a stretch, to be sure, but I could have touched the elephants as we walked by. The more dangerous of the animals were in cages and I noted two things, specifically. One, all the animals were alert and healthy. Not like Martin's Shadow where they were dispirited and permanently dazed. They paced, made their various noises, played. Second, none of the crowd disturbed them. They didn't make rude calls to incite them, didn't throw anything. They watched, smiled, pointed and talked, excited to see them. Even the younger ones and the teenagers were well behaved and appreciative.
We exchanged some of the local coinage for some tickets. What we got were an enormous amounts of tickets, to be used to see the various shows. We walked around following the flow of the crowds. At first, we were really too busy trying to see everything around us; the lights, hawkers bellowing to draw crowds to a show, the smells of different foods, posters and signs, music changing from location to location. Eventually we made our way to the "Big Top". We found seats somewhat in the middle. Unlike Mycenea, there were different shows all occurring at the same time, rather than one after another. They had something for every sense to absorb. We ate food while watching the clowns run amok, hearing the laughter and the cries of the crowd. I watched deWinter, to see if he was enjoying himself. Slowly, over the course of the evening, he was relaxing. It was as if the boy in him was emerging a bit, perhaps the first time in a very long while. He laughed at the antics of the clowns, shouting a warning to those in the front row as one launched the contents of a bucket. Then laughing as confetti sprayed over their heads.
The acts grew more daring as the time went on. The clowns were the entertainment as each act began to prepare. Trapeze artists went up and began their act. I wasn't too keen on this one. I don't like heights and these people must have been insane to do what they were doing, without safety nets. We always had safety nets in Mycenea. I found myself clutching deWinter's hand as one after another launched themselves off of perfectly good platforms, to risk death and catch another's hands. It was a ludicrously small target for such a height. I didn't want to watch, but was unable to stop. Eventually, they stopped and the clowns returned as some of the large cats were brought in.
This time deWinter was unnerved. At one point in the show a woman placed her head inside the lion's mouth. deWinter groaned that "That just wasn't right" and put his head behind my shoulder. "I can't watch…let me know when she's dead!" Laughing, I told him when it was safe and he heaved a sigh of relief when they went away.
The show ended with a spectacular parade of all the participants, all show and glitter, smiling and happy.
We found ourselves, once more following various strands of the crowds as they moved from place to place. One hawker yelled that his show was not for the faint-hearted, nor the young. Like a magnet, we were drawn to this tent. We stood in line as some were allowed to enter while others were turned away. Of the latter, it was usually young adults and women that were not permitted to enter. When it was our turn, deWinter was let in immediately. The sentry, for lack of a better name, peered closely into my face and finally said that he thought I was strong enough to enter. Now I was really intrigued.
What we found inside was a woman on a vertical table. She held onto to hand holds above her head, her feet on little steps. Around her waist was a broad belt, securing her into place. A man entered and with few words, began to spin the table. It didn't move around. Rather, she was spun forward, so every half revolution, she was facing away from the showman. Once it was set in motion, he paced away from the table and began to throw knives. I could see no hint of a trick. He had to have been good to never hit her. I was much more impressed with the woman. She had to have faith in his talent not to be skewered every time they performed. It said something about his skill. I asked deWinter if he had any notion how he could do this, but he just shook his head, as perplexed as I was. I don't think there were many people in all of Shadow I could trust to do that to me. I wasn't untalented, but I couldn't bring myself to do this. I couldn't be sure I wouldn't hit. Benedict could do this, I'm sure. Just as a hunch, I reach out with my senses, to read the woman. She had a smile on her face, and she flinched from time to time, to stir the audience. But the truth was, she was faintly bored. This was indeed an act.
Afterwards, we found a tent where three women danced with large snakes. It did remind me of some of the legends of home, snakes being a particularly valued symbol even now. The decoration of the tent was even reminiscent of home, as some broken pottery scattered around was Mycenean. It was a show designed for men, or women if they were so inclined. deWinter threw me a couple of looks and I said, no, I didn't know how to do that. After the show, deWinter excused himself to speak with the women. He had a few questions for them. He went off and I went outside for some fresh air while waiting.
The crowd was getting a bit thinner as the evening turned into night. Through the crowd I saw a man with a striking resemblance to Gerard. I had to smile. Perhaps he was the one to sit in at my wedding. No, as dazed as I was, I'd like to think someone would have noticed the long beard. It didn't flatter his face, in my opinion. I could just make out part of his act, where he lifted an entire horse above his head. Yes, a decided resemblance.
I was approached by the knife-thrower. He was intrigued that the hawker had let me inside, especially as I was so young. We spoke for a bit and he ended up offering me a position. He seemed to think it would draw a significantly larger crowd if, for part of the act, a woman did the throwing. Perhaps my husband would be willing. No, I didn't think he would go for that, and neither would I. I made the excuse that I'd hate to break my training in order to learn how to miss a target. It might make me slip up at a crucial time. He was a bit puzzled. Why was someone so young talking about soldiering? He shrugged it off and offered me his card should I change my mind. I took it and asked how could he take the chance that he might hit his assistant. He said he "never has". I was clearly disbelieving. He smiled and said he "cheated". Ah. With a nod, he headed back into the crowd.
deWinter made an appearance, shaking his head. He had wanted to know how women found themselves doing such things, where did they learn to do this, that sort of thing. Everyone seemed to be participating, but I wonder if he wanted to make sure the woman were voluntarily participating. He had been told the eldest of them had learned from a teacher and was currently teaching the other two. He muttered something about getting too much information and I didn't press him for more.
It was around midnight when the site began to close up, gently ushering the crowds to go home. We didn't have an idea where we were, but an inquiry to a nice, older couple let us find out that there was a town nearby. We were gong to walk the distance, but since we seemed like a "nice, young couple" they offered us a ride on the back of their pickup truck. We readily agreed and soon we were off. We could see the town in the distance after a short ride, when the truck pulled to the shoulder of the road in front of a private road to a farmhouse. The older man leaned out and said that they had a spare room should we want to use it. How uncommonly generous. Perhaps it was the Shadow, where inviting perfect strangers into one's home is acceptable. Since finding a room this late at night seemed unlikely, we accepted.
We drove up the road, to a quaint house. It was well tended and…comfortable. We were shown to the spare room and left to ourselves to get some sleep. Well, we didn't really sleep, right away. It seems odd to be right now, but I can't remember ever sleeping where there weren't stone walls. Except for the beach house, and there we were alone. It wasn't until later that we realized how thin the walls were. We must have given them some ideas.
No one got sleep for a long while.
Join the circus
The next morning I helped with breakfast, the woman, Emma, humming cheerfully all the while. I never learned her husband's name. I could hear them talking a bit. He ran a "hardware store" and thought deWinter would work out well there, should he decide to take a hand in it. Emma asked where we were from and I was vague. I said something like we were from the West Coast. She was satisfied with that and thought it was very romantic to be travelling wherever the whim took us for our honeymoon. I asked if she'd traveled and she said no. In the beginning they hadn't the money, now they had the store to run. She wasn't bitter or regretful about it. Just the tiniest bit wistful.
We didn't stay long, just enough for breakfast and to help straighten up. I went to make sure our room was in order before we left. I did some quick calculations. I don't really spend all that much money. Enough to eat, a change of clothing, that sort of thing. But I do make sure I have enough should something arise. Like the time I was preparing our group to see Tatasha. One has to keep up appearances if necessary. Using the expenses from the circus as a guide, we had quite a bit of money. Enough for two people to live for a few months. I took half of it and put it on the dresser with a note. Everyone should have the chance for a honeymoon. They could use it to hire someone for the store, or for the travelling itself. Or not, as they choose.
We walked into town, a small three-block affair. There was one house, serving as the hotel. We booked a room for that night and wandered around. An hour or so later, we had seen it. deWinter was puzzling out the situation. There were maybe a few hundred people in the town. There had been many more than that at the circus. Where had they come from? It was easy enough to find out.
We went back to the area after getting a picnic basket for the afternoon. It was quite early in the morning and most of the performers were still asleep. We settled into the shade and spent the day alternating with watching them set up, talking quietly, holding hands and lightly entertaining ourselves. The animals were let out, on tethers, to romp and play, eat and sleep. They were energetic and seemed happy. Some of the performers practiced their acts, sans uniforms. Just as the sun dipped halfway to the horizon the atmosphere became different. Almost charged. Lights were replaced and lit, music was turned on, and costumes were donned. The sun went down and from our vantagepoint we could see the lights of the cars approaching. People were driving in from miles around, from every direction, to see the circus.
I made an offhand comment that perhaps we could come back some day and travel with them. deWinter said that was precisely what he was thinking. We've been doing that more and more. Did he really want to do this? We went back to the knife-thrower. We still had more than two-thirds of our tickets left. I wanted to see the knife-thrower. How could he cheat? We stood toward the back, since we had already seen the show. It took almost the entire act for me to see what was later to seem obvious. We spent most of the time watching the thrower when we should have been watching the woman. It was not precisely cheating, but an illusion. The spinning table let you forget that she was really only taking up a small percentage of the surface. In fact, there was ample room for him to miss. I was pleased by the idea. The thrower did have considerable skill nonetheless. He had to in order to avoid an accident. It wasn't cheating, it was misdirection.
We spent another enjoyable day. It was about mid-afternoon when I proposed an idea to deWinter. We sparred with live steel almost everyday to keep our skills up. We also had all the time in the world. We had an act ready in the making. All we had to do was convince them to give us a chance. Did he want to try it? The only question he had was whom should we approach. He was rather eager to try it. Since we had made some contact already, we approached the knife-thrower.
We made the proposition. I think he was skeptical, but gave us a chance to show him what we could do. We are not the best by Amberite standards, but we are very good any almost any other. Despite how young I look, we did impress him. Enough to take us to see the circus master, a woman looking remarkably like Audrey, whom I met at our last Yule. He convinced her to see us and we auditioned again. She thought about it for a moment, said she had a good feeling about it, and agreed to take us on.
We spent the day deciding on our "look." I remembered the movie I was in and suggested we make the semblance or a ship. We could fight, alternating who was defending the ship. All we needed was the form of part of a deck. We could alternate our roles as the day suits us. I even thought I could use some of the movie's choreography in our swashbuckling act. I felt like I was playing "grown-up" all over again. I especially liked our costumes. deWinter, handsome as always, cut a dashing figure in high boots, form-fitting trousers and white, full shirt. Oh, that could get distracting all too easily. Apparently many of the women in the troupe thought so, too.
We practiced a bit. We'd have a few days before our "set" was built so it could be easily dismantled for travelling. Given his life, deWinter wasn't practiced in delivering jokes, to entertain. It came out too forced. Rethinking the act, we settled on him being the "straight man" and we alternated whom the jokes were directed at. I found myself not minding at all being a little silly or causing people to laugh. In fact, it was fun.
We've been busy, travelling and performing. The entire troupe was wonderful. Almost immediately we were accepted as…family? Yes, that was correct. Everyone watched out for each other, kept things private if it wasn't harmful or their business. Very clannish. If we had a question, they answered it. I would have thought they would be more protective of their secrets. But being part of them now, they just accepted us without reservation. deWinter was continually amazed at their generosity. He really liked these people.
Once the animal trainer, Meera, saw I was unafraid, I was allowed to help tend to them. The animals seemed to like me as well, though I couldn't explain that it was my weir blood. I especially liked feeding them. . The elephants liked company and we all talked to them as we worked around them. There was a game we played with the cats. We attached meat to rope and tossed it in to their pens. They just seemed to know we weren't teasing, it was more like a contest of skill. They would get ready, knowing what time it was, taking any vantage point the area provided. The trick was for them to get it, our job was to keep it away, but we could not withdraw it from the pen. It was their skill against ours and we invariably lost, though we were counting more on how long it took to lose. There was always anticipation in the animals. The cats would hunker down, wiggling their hindquarters to stabilize and get ready to pounce, eyes riveted on their prey. We tensed and tried to move it, to make it a challenge. The monkeys would race around in a flurry as we propelled the food through the air in arcs. They would do aerial acrobatics, tossing it amongst themselves before settling down to eat. All in all, it was great fun.
During all this, deWinter was making friends throughout the camp. It came to him naturally, though I wonder if he sees it. He would go along with whatever he was doing and if he saw that someone needed a hand, he was there, pitching in. One just knew he does it freely, without looking for excessive thanks. He fit in very neatly here.
It seems hard to image that we've been married for almost six months. I want to see if I can come up with some way to celebrate a little. Not that we need a reason…
Learning to Dance
I've got it. Since he was pretty interested in the snake dance, I thought to learn some of it. Without the snakes. I don't want to be worried about it slithering off or something should the night go as I hope. It could be the perfect surprise, since I don't know one person who would expect me to learn something like this. I have about three weeks to learn it.
I approached the dancers. The eldest, Nanelle, thought I was a bit young and perhaps not disciplined enough to do this. I was confused at this. When I told them I was over 30, they simply laughed. It's the first time my appearance has tripped me up. I forget I don't look my age, and probably never will again. I've gotten rather used to acting as I feel and having people, well, just go along with it. No argument, no point of view, nothing about my past convinced them that I could be older than I seem.
They did agree to start me off and each day I will slip away for an hour, or so, for lessons. The eldest said I could learn enough for our anniversary. It hadn't thought it would take such time, but it's apparently a very disciplined skill.
I've gone as far in learning as they will allow. Well, as far as the eldest will allow. The two younger ones seem bent on changing her mind. I'll admit I'm curious. I've learned the 33 steps but apparently the 34th is something special. The other two have been petitioning on my behalf, so we'll have to see.
The elder has given in. Tonight I've told deWinter that we're going to have a bit of a girl's night out. He was pleased to see that sort of thing. It hadn't been evident until now.
I was led into the woods where we set ourselves up comfortably. One of them brought forth a bottle and small cups. I restrained myself from smiling. This was the key? Getting drunk? Even without practice, I'm certain I could at least finish the bottle and return to the camp unaided, and still not be completely intoxicated. I was thinking of a way to perhaps drink the majority without injuring feeling when our first portions were meted out. Mine was filled to the brim while theirs were only half full. I see. I'm the one who needs to get drunk.
It didn't work, but the point was actually just to relax. I suppose my… manners do get in the way sometimes, though I personally don't think I needed quite as much to relax as they thought. Then again, perhaps I do. There are very few people I really relax with. deWinter and Byslamia, Mother at certain times…and not many more. With anyone else, I'm aware of my position and what's proper. That sort of thing. I like being around those I know, but letting loose isn't my forte.
I drank, though it was difficult. I could have drunk turpentine and had a more agreeable experience. Fortunately, any sense of taste was burned away within the first three or four forced mouthfuls, so all I had to contend with was the slow burn down to my stomach. It's times like these I'm grateful for my Amberite (and weir) healing abilities.
Still, relaxed, we danced. It took a little bit, but I learned to stop trying. To just "go with it." In the end, I was told I did all right. I believe I surprised them, though I'll never be truly accomplished at this.
To prove my age, I had spoken of my time in Shom Dao. Once they were drunk, though, I learned that they pretty much interpreted what I had said into believing deWinter stole me from a convent. He'd love to hear that. Not!
The day went by, ordinarily enough. I'm almost certain deWinter suspects nothing. I made mention that perhaps we could have a dinner-picnic, to have some time alone. He was agreeable and arranged for us to meet. We're lucky, we've spent the day travelling, so there won't be any shows tonight. It does get a bit cramped and close with everyone when we are on the move, so no one will wonder why we are getting away for a bit.
I got some dinner and wine, along with one of those wind-up victrolas. I have no idea if he'll like the dance, so I'm taking the girls' suggestion and bringing some wine to help things along. For me, not for him.
We ate, talked a bit, and generally enjoyed each other's company. Before the night could naturally progressed, I changed the music and danced.
To say he was stunned would be an understatement. To say he liked it, I think, would also be an understatement, but it took longer for me to realize this. I don't think he knew how to react, or I was too nervous to read him easily. I think this was so different from what he expected me to ever do, I would hazard a guess he was wondering if I was an imposter, or some such thing. The rest of the evening he set about making sure I knew how much he liked it. It was so intense, we actually singed the grass around us with the power.
The intensity of our joinings seems to be affected by any tensions we might have felt during the course of the day. Almost as if it is a physical release as well as an emotional one. I wonder, though, if there is a steady progression. Are we ignoring a potential problem? Or, am I worrying for nothing?
We bid the circus good-bye today. Most everyone was sorry to see us go. We had become a good act, at least earning our keep. We had also made some friends. I hadn't realized how many relations I had, and how few friends until we came here. It almost didn't matter that they had no idea of who we were. In fact, in some ways it made it easier to be friends. I'll miss them.
I asked deWinter where he wanted to go to next. I was hoping he'd forgotten our agreement and would choose some place. No such luck. It was my decision and I don't really have any good ideas. My imagination just hasn't inspired me at all. I really don't know if he'd like my choices. The best I could come up with was perhaps somewhere where we could learn something. Perhaps a University, though nothing that formal. I didn't want tests and the like. But, rather, time to explore a variety of things, to learn what interests each other. I know deWinter once mentioned going to a school to learn something other than fighting, but I think the experience wasn't entirely agreeable. I have noticed that if he passes a book, he'll generally pick it up and leaf through it. So he is inquisitive. The question is, about what?
He was agreeable and assured me he would tell me if he didn't like where we ended up. He said it would ruin everything if he just suffered through; the whole point is for both of us to enjoy ourselves.
I asked if he wanted to lead. He must get tired of me shifting Shadow all the time. He thought about it for a few seconds and then said he'd like to. I think he was formulating how to search. He said he'd been watching what I've been doing, and I've told him as much as I can, so he was fairly confident he could get us where we wanted to go. Now, I had no doubt about that, it was the points in between I was worried about. It's been so nice, I really didn't want to dodge flash floods and bandits. I propose an experiment, if he was willing. I would call up the Pattern from time to time. Then I would shunt energy his way, for him to use. It might mitigate the effects of Doblique's Pattern. It was then he confessed he had walked another Broken Pattern. I wonder how many of the things were out there, whole enough to walk, that is. He thought it was a good idea and we set off.
It's been easy travelling. The worst weather we've had has been overcast skies. No bandits, avalanches, nothing. I don't know if it is his skill or our experiment, but whatever it is, it is working. I only have to raise the Pattern a couple of times a day. It is fatiguing, though the effects take a long time to wear off.
We had an eerie experience. We were walking along a road when it simply stopped. He was puzzled at this, saying it was supposed to continue along to the coast. Has he been here before? No, but that was what the map says. What map? He looked at me as if I was daft and inquired if I had been drinking again. I thought he was referring to my drinking before I had danced. Did he really think I would become an alcoholic? From that one time? Ridiculous.
He shook his head, saying I'd promised not to after what happened with the horse trough. What horse trough? He reminded me of the time when I had gotten so drunk, I had climbed into a horse trough to get a drink of water. I'd never done such a thing in my life! He sighed and said we'd have to get going if he was going to be able to start his new job. New job? Yea, the one my "daddy" set up for him on the coast.
This wasn't my deWinter. I didn't bother explaining anything. I simply turned around and walked back, shifting Shadow as swiftly as I could, targeting my husband. Somehow we'd separated and found ourselves with our counterparts.
I found him on a similar road with my counterpart hanging on his arm. It was eerie to see myself almost whining at him, trying to get him to talk to her. He just shuddered and backed off. I went up, excused myself, grabbed her and shifted her to her own husband and got back. He was as "creeped out" as I was. He gave another shudder, glad to be rid of the "clinging vine." His clue that something wasn't right was when the other me started talking about "daddy." I've always referred to Evander by name or by "Father." I've never said the word "Daddy." We held hands firmly, so that never happened again.
We stopped at a roadside inn, planning to have a nice dinner and night's sleep. We settled down at a table just as someone made some noise to announce the start of a show. It was some sort of musical or dance show though we saw almost nothing of it. Why? Because the main performer looked exactly like Julian. deWinter upset the entire table as he leapt up and left, dragging me along with him. I wasn't trying to stay but the scene was so absurd I was barely able to walk while laughing as I was. He was muttering "not right, not right at all!" We camped in the woods for the night.
We found ourselves on a wide thoroughfare. Hitching, we got a ride on a wagon. I thought about suggesting he find some horses, but he was used to travelling this way. I didn't want to seem needling or critical. Besides, it was pleasant and good exercise.
We entered a large city via the farmer's market. We inquired if there was a university or college. Not here. I remarked that I generally knew when I've arrived at a Shadow I'm looking for. Wasn't it the same for him? He said he never knew, he always had to ask around, to see if what he's looking for was there. Fair enough.
We've wandered the city, shifting Shadow within it to see if there are permutations that would get us to where we are going. Once, I saw a bookstore with a Mycenean façade. I ducked inside. Since we were still holding hands, he ducked inside with me. We moved along the shelves, glancing at books. He was pulling out a few, leafing through them when I realized the nature of the shop. And why he was getting such odd looks from the women in the store. All the material was a cross between Phoenicia and the Isle of Lesbos. I pulled him out as one of the women plucked the book from his hands. He complained he was just looking and she replied he couldn't look there. Outside, I let him in on the nature of the shop and he gave a sort of grunt. He understood. We continued on.
The next shift put us in the middle of about thirty to forty people. All in there early twenties. It didn't take long for us to realize we were on some sort of tour of the city, looking at sections that have been historically preserved. The next place we were to see was some author's home, restored to it's original state. It seemed dull, even to my tastes. deWinter leaned over to one fellow, asking if anything interesting was going on. The young man said that some of the others were going to some gyroscope places afterwards. He called us by name and asked if we wanted to go along. The idea of spinning around out of control appeals to neither of us and we shifted out.
We've been wandering around and still haven't found anything specific. No place that appealed to us. It was my turn to think we couldn't find what we were looking for. We talked about it. Perhaps we are being too vague. Or he's trying too hard. He described what he was looking for and we were pretty close in what we're aiming for. I had a thought that maybe he should focus on the people, focusing on inquisitive natures, that sort of thing. He hadn't thought of that and said it he'd give it a go.
We were walking down the street, looking for somewhere to have lunch when the commotion began. It was like a little wave of…consternation that came down the street. It was crowded enough that I couldn't see too far ahead. Then there was a loud clattering, as if something had fallen from a height. The next thing I knew, people in the street were scattering in every direction.
What was coming down the street was a horse. A huge, black horse still attached to a delicate looking carriage and very much out of control. The horse moved to one side, causing the carriage to slide, careening off a street vendor's cart before being pulled along. It didn't slow the horse down a bit. I "sent out" to the horse, trying to will it to calm down. I encountered strong mental blocks.
I must have tensed because deWinter, who had been pulling me to one side protectively, waggled a finger at me. "No," he said, "You can't stop it, it's going too fast." I was still intent on the carriage. On the driver's seat were roofing tiles and no driver. The horse pulled around the corner we were at and I got a glimpse inside. There were passengers. I got the vague glimpse of two faces. They could be killed, not to mention what damage a horse that size could do to anyone in its way. It shot past us and I gave chase. I heard deWinter cursing and then his steps as he followed.
I hadn't thought I could keep up with the horse, but I managed, though I wouldn't last for long. I was behind the carriage seeking something to hold onto. There was decorative filigree all over, so flimsy that it broke off in my hands as soon as I grasped it. I heard a thud behind me as deWinter lost his footing on the cobblestones. Damn. I had to stop this thing now! I had hoped there would be a horse tethered along the way. It would make this so much more easier. But, not only were there no available horses, anyone on horseback simply moved to the side. In a flash, I actually saw one man put his hat over his mount's eyes, so it wouldn't be frightened. The insensitivity of this place to someone in need was apalling.
I spied the luggage boot. The carriage was pulling away as I was tiring. I almost gave up when I heard voices crying for help. It spurred me on. The straps were just outside my reach. I called up what energy I had left, convincing myself I needed just a little more. A lunge and I had one of the straps. A pull and I had both hands and one foot as secure as I could make it. I scrambled up to the top, my foot crashing through the roofing at one point when one wheel broke apart and the entire rig lurched.
I got to the front and, of course, the reins were caught up near the front of the horse. I grabbed for the hand brake and intended to gently, slowly cause the horse to slow down. The damn thing broke in my hands. Whoever bought such a useless, pretty buggy as this and then put this huge beast to it was flatly both stupid and insane.
At least the animal was huge. I couldn't miss, right? I balanced myself and jumped. It really wasn't that hard. The hard part had been getting on the damn carriage. Now I was just a few feet behind the horse and it was large enough I couldn't miss. It also had all the rigging, so there was plenty to grab hold of.
One lunge and I realized I had overcompensated. I landed squarely on the beast's neck. I slid back, grabbing hold as the animal made a small leap. My head snapped back striking the hindquarters but I still held on. Actually, I had a death grip on the harness. Now, while in direct contact, I yelled through the beasts mental shields. "Stop right now!" And through the shields, the animal cursed. The creature had been consumed with his free rein, no pun intended. He grew sheepish and slowed down to a stop.
I got down, admonishing it and telling it to stay. It hung his head and showed no sign of leaving. I went to the doors and opened them to see a wealth of petticoats. So much, that I couldn't see anyone underneath the fabric. I grabbed some and pulled, thinking to pull someone out. The fabric was as delicate as the carriage and pulled off in my hands. Wonderful.
Eventually the pile shifted and an arm emerged. Someone, a woman, was complaining that she was going to be sick. Then there was a retching sound and complaints from her companion. Okay, so someone was still alive in there. I had to get them out before they suffocated in the mess. I hauled on one arm and ended up with a young woman. She made some comment that I was "feisty" and I deposited her on the curb while I fetched the other one. Neither was injured, to my surprise, but the second was very ill. Both had been tossed around so thoroughly, they couldn't stand. I gathered that their names were Cecilia and Tharkh. The carriage was useless, they would have to ride back. I just knew they wouldn't be able to walk any great distance.
I began disengaging the horse from the carriage remnant when I heard the most awful retching. I went back to the pair. Tharkh was pleased that I had placed her out of Cecelia's path. Indeed, Cecilia was vomiting, a vile, green substance that was almost the most disgusting sight I'd ever seen. And she was hitting the side of the building, a good fifteen feet away! I backed away, keeping myself clear and looking desperately around for deWinter. Cecilia complained about the seafood she had earlier. Ugh.
I tried to convince them that they would have to ride. They thought that was a horrible idea and I had to restrain my impatience. They could stay there, then. There weren't many other choices. A crowd was gathering and I called out to anyone to help gain them another cab. Everyone pretended not to hear and many faded away. Not one person offered to help, though one said something about getting a constable.
There wasn't much else to do but to wait. If deWinter couldn't find me, hopefully he would think to Trump me. If they worked here, that is. As they recovered, Tharkh asked me who I was, general questions like that. She kept comparing me with one of their governess' from her childhood. Now, I had nothing to go on, and today's accident could happen to everyone, but I had the distinct impression I should pity that governess.
I heard deWinter giving a shout. Climbing on the wreckage, I shouted back in return. I few minutes later he came into view. I went to him, making sure he was unhurt from his fall. And to see if he was angry. He wasn't, really. He knew I would try. I put my arms around him and gave him a kiss. I also took the opportunity to say that one, I didn't think the women could walk. I had the idea that they might have been crippled. . And second, that their horse was smarter than they were. He gave me a squeeze to say he registered this and went over to review the situation.
He helped me get them on the horse. I hadn't introduced them, a lapse on my part, so they took to calling him Mr. Handsome. Fitting. Tharkh even tried flirting with him a bit, though her audacity of doing this with me right there was astonishing. Eventually we got them up, though Tharkh slid off almost immediately. deWinter not realizing what was happening only heard her land. He went around and gathered her up, apologizing profusely and Tharkh said she was all right. I got Cecilia to hold onto the bridle and Tharkh to hold onto her.
We were about to move off when three constables arrived. They said we could not leave the wreckage in the middle of the street. I was incensed. They asked not one question to see if anyone had been hurt. I had the feeling they would be troublesome, so I offered to help move it. Between deWinter and I, we hauled it to the side of the road where it would impede no traffic. Tharkh bade me to fetch their purses from inside. I found one lodge near the roof, the other under the seat. It was easy to tell which belonged to which, since they were color coordinated with their dresses. Tharkh paid one of the constables a few thousand of their dollars as a "political contribution" in return for their helping dispose of the carriage.
We tried to backtrack to where they had lost their driver, but all they could recall of the street was that there had been shop with a pretty hat in the window. deWinter hung his head in exasperation. Eventually, after wandering for a bit, he suggested we go to their home. The driver was bound to have been taken to either a physician or a hospital by now. I said it was a "Capital idea!" in a fair enough imitation of the Duke of Glantri to draw a grin from him.
Their home was in the opposite direction we had been travelling in, but we got there nonetheless. It took the rest of the afternoon, not because it was far, but because we had to go slow enough so they wouldn't fall off. Well, after it's race, the horse needed to be walked anyway. Along the way, Cecilia purged again. deWinter made a sound of disgust and complained that the stuff was bubbling. Ugh.
There home was a miniature castle, like those depicted in fairy tales. Completely indefensible, though pretty. A butler came out, alarmed at the sight. He moved like he was ancient, shambling in excruciatingly slow steps. He was flustered at the situation and I sent him to get some help. He turned and shuffled into the house. It would be a few minutes before he got back. I was convinced they were both crippled, though not by the day's accident. They had the mannerisms of those long used to compensating. For instance, before I had set Tharkh down, she had held on tightly, balancing much like Lady Kate did before she was completely used to her iron legs. It was almost the same thing. I hadn't asked, for fear they would find the question offensive.
The butler went inside and fetched a few maids. Again, they acted out of long practice. Both the ladies had a maid for either arm, to hold them up and carry them inside. They moved with the manner of many years' practice. Tharkh bade us to enter for some tea, for we had declined anything else in thanks.
I agreed and they were carried inside. deWinter took their horse to the stable to get him settled in. That left me with the butler, Topit, who nervously wring his hands. I took the opportunity to get to know our hostesses a bit and asked him how long he'd worked for them. Too long, he replied. Thinking that he meant they were rather spoiled I commiserated with him. I asked if they were a handful. He said I had no idea. "You have no idea what it is like to work for vampires!"
I sat up straight, confirmed what he said and broke into another sprint, this time for the barn. I got inside as deWinter was cleaning out some of the gouges made by the falling roofing tiles. He took one look at my face and asked what was wrong. I said we had to leave, now. He tossed the horse brush to the side and was out the door, with me next to him, in a matter of seconds. Then he asked why. I told him what the butler said and he grabbed my hand.
Then we hit the barrier. An invisible wall that ran to either side of the gate. Okay, no problem, right? We walked and I shifted, changing the house, the terrain, as much as I could. And each shift brought along the invisible barrier. We were trapped.
DeWinter was pretty upset now. We were at the gates once more and he lifted me up. He said I was to run, he'd get out somehow. He was actually going to try and throw me over the wall! I said "Trump, we can Trump, Mycenea, my room, put me down!" He did and I got out my Trump.
It didn't work.
And throwing a rock showed that the barrier went too far up for us to scale. Or be thrown. deWinter headed for the house, which was a large cottage now. He went inside and found Tharkh in one of the salons. He demanded that we should be able to leave. She was surprised and a bit alarmed at the change in him. He can be very intimidating when angry. But I was in accord with him, just then. She stammered that of course we could leave and taking her at her word, we tried to leave, again.
And again, we hit the barrier. I tried one more time to shift, thinking to make the boundaries of the place large, perhaps to draw the barrier tight enough to break through. No such luck.
We went back to the one story house and deWinter, in a full fury now, kicked the door clear off the hinges. He was going to do something drastic. Not that I blamed him, but I didn't want to anger vampires. Any vampires, if I could help it.
He stalked into the salon where Tharkh was still sitting, a cup of tea in her hand. I grabbed deWinter's arm and managed to halt him, though it took considerable effort. He turned and said he wanted to leave. I said I know, but maybe we could talk about it. He said he wanted to leave now and he hadn't strangled anyone in over week. Tharkh dropped her teacup. To my surprise, I didn't miss the beat. I just fell into what he was doing. I said yes, dear, I know it has been a boring few weeks, but we've talked about this and he can't go about strangling everyone who makes him angry. Couldn't he hold out until they explained themselves? He crossed his arms over his chest and reluctantly (outwardly) gave me a chance to talk, but they had better make it quick, glowering the whole while at Tharkh.
To say she was frightened would not be accurate. She was virtually petrified. Good. She focused on me as if I was the only thing stopping imminent death. I sternly admonished her that we did not consider it polite to hold people hostage after they spent the day saving their lives. Topit had let out their secret and we wanted to leave. I didn't care what they were, but we do not take kindly to being held hostage.
She gave a groan as what I said sunk in. It seems that Topit liked to have his little joke on them, proclaiming that they were vampires to their visitors. He had promised to stop. I wasn't sure whether to believe her or not, but she did seem to be too afraid to be lying. And the vampires I've met were not easily frightened.
deWinter stepped forward and Tharkh recoiled. He said there was a way to prove she wasn't a vampire. He had to touch her neck. Given that he'd just threatened to strangle them, I could understand her hesitation. After a moment, she said fine, go ahead, and closed her eyes, anticipating something unpleasant.
He moved closer cautiously, belying his earlier display of fury. Fortunately her eyes were still closed. He moved his hand and touched her neck and snapped it back quickly. Then he touched her again, for a few longer moments. I know from earlier that they were not cold, so perhaps he was feeling the blood course through her body. With a sound of disgust, he said she wasn't a vampire and moved away.
Okay. That being settled we relaxed and got the rest of the story. With all that had happened, when we asked to leave, she simply forgot to tell Topit, who was in charge of the gate, to open it for us. Cecilia arrived at this point, supported by her maids, oblivious to what had been happening, only remarking on the changes in the house. She heard about our trouble leaving and sent Topit to see to the gate.
I had to ask why they couldn't walk. A breach of etiquette, but given the day, I think I needed to know. Cecilia gave a little smile, and drew back a portion of her skirts. A long snake tail emerged as she said she was a Lamia. I was my turned to be dismayed. All I've heard of Lamia's were decidedly unpleasant, usually involving eating people. My face must have let on how I felt because Cecilia tried to reassure me that some do, but they were not that sort. It depended upon what they ate. But, it was why most in this place did not like them. Ah, that explained the roofing tiles. It hadn't been an accident. Someone wanted to kill them, even at the expense of other innocents. I wonder if that had occurred to them.
During the course of the day, Tharkh had badly injured her head. In all the jostling in the carriage, she had split open her skull and she complained her head hurt. I got the maids to fetch some water and supplies and I went to examine it. Her hair was matted with long-dried blood, so it took a while to clean it out and patch it up.
Well, what shall we do while we wait. Tharkh was still plainly uneasy and the tension hadn't quite abated. I remarked that Topit should have made it to the porch by now. I got the tone right and deWinter started to laugh, followed by Cecilia. Tharkh would have laugh but had to restrain herself, as the aspirin hadn't kicked in yet. deWinter pulled up a chair, as did I, and we had tea.
It was Cecelia's turn to ask a question. How had we changed the house? I didn't think I could pass myself off, as a mage so I said the easiest way to start explaining was to ask if they knew anything about Shadow. Yes, she did. Oh, are we Chaosians? No, Amberites. It was her turn to get a sickly sort of smile. Oh. Tharkh again looked in alarm at deWinter. With a little cajoling she confessed that all she heard about Amberites were that we drank other's blood, ate babies, that sort of thing. Well, if I could put what I heard of Lamia's aside, I thought they could do the same. I reassured her that no Amberites did such things.
We talked about it a bit, and she drew the inference that we were very young Amberites. Well, deWinter isn't but he agreed with her. I suppose it's best they didn't know everything. Still, I don't think of myself as young even though, by Amberite standards, I know I am. It's just that I was raised without knowing my Amberite heritage, and the knowledge of my true life span. In Mycenean, what, only six years ago, I thought somewhere between a third to half of my life was over. It tends to make one grow up quickly. Even though intellectually I know I've a long, long life ahead of me (that is if I don't get into trouble) it still hasn't sunk in. The disparity of how I look to my actual age is starting to be a problem. I wonder how everyone else deals with it?. Ah, well.
We finished tea and bade them a good evening. Outside, Topit was just halfway to the gate. I shifted Shadow to get them all back to their original location. I had offered to Shift until they were in a Shadow where the inhabitants were more accepting, but they chose to stay where they were. By shifting, the boundaries of the estate went back to normal and Topit was at the gate. He released the barriers and deWinter grunted a thanks. I had half a mind to say something scathing to him, but I couldn't bring myself to say anything to the old man. Let Tharkh and Cecilia tend to him
Outside, we began to walk into town. deWinter put an arm around my shoulder, I placed mine about his waist. After a few steps he said, well we learned something, but he was still waiting for the fun to begin. I smiled and said that the bits of excitement just keep reminding me to enjoy any respite with him. He gave me a squeeze and we continued on.
We reached a very nice hotel. deWinter went to the front desk and ordered the Bridal Suite, whatever that is. They didn't have one, but offered the Palatial Suite instead. He accepted that and said he wanted the best of everything. Visions of lots of coinage danced in the manager's eyes as he eagerly set about helping us to settle in.
We woken this morning refreshed and relaxed. We had made a happy discovery last night. The silk sheets were not affected by our marital power surges. That meant we were unlikely to set our room or ourselves on fire. I told deWinter he'll just have to live with that bit of luxury. He said "darn," he'd just have to learn to adapt then, wouldn't he.
Breakfast was served in bed. As we ate, the staff opened up windows and straightened up. A bellhop arrived bearing a large vase of flowers. I can't say for certain just what brought up all his... concerns, but deWinter leapt out of bed and tossed the vase out the window. He thought it was a bomb.
I hid my face in the sheets while the he demanded where the flowers had come from. The bellhop was too astonished to really answer. He was staring at a very male, very nude deWinter in front of him. deWinter directed his attention to his face and asked again. The boy pointed at the window and said there had been a note.
deWinter sent him away. I suggested he might want to return to bed since he had gifted the maids enough with the view. He then noticed the maids who were all smiling and sent them away. He returned to bed and we finished our breakfast.
Throughout the day, on the hour, every hour, their arrived a vase of flowers. They were from Tharkh and Cecilia. Each note had a line from a stanza which, when put together, made a very nice poem of thanks and good wishes. By the end of the day, there wasn't a horizontal surface not covered in flowers.
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