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Cassandra's Diary.15

Day 230/6
Healing DeWinter

With DeWinter and Sebastian still unconscious, Owen, Fiona and I settled down to plan what we were going to do. There was any number of variables, to be rather clinical about it all. If we told Random, which we should do, he may very well tell us not to fix them, to have the opportunity to learn more of who is behind it all, by watching the two of them. This made me a bit uncomfortable, since DeWinter's standing is more precarious. This cannot do him any good. But, we all knew that Random needed to know to suspect, if not him, then anything DoBlique or Simone did. It would be likely that the two of them were probably also “infected.” Fiona did amend her initial estimation on how long Sebastian had been infected; she said it would be more like a few weeks.

So, in the end we decided Owen would go and tell Random. I would wait, in case Random also wanted to talk with me. Fiona would take DeWinter and Sebastian somewhere safe, where time would flow much more quickly. She said that she had a manor that was both Warded and Trump-locked. Then we would restore the two of them. After that, we could all plan how to find out the status of DoBlique and Simone and ultimately, who was responsible.

Owen left for the castle and it wasn't long before she Trumped me. Fiona, in the meantime, Trumped out, taking DeWinter and Sebastian with her. I told Mother and Byslamia that there were some problems and we would be leaving for a bit. I'm always telling them "there are problems". They are long used to me saying this. In the spirit of optimism, I asked Byslamia to see if she could start setting up a room for DeWinter, on the hope he would be returning, whole and hale. He is a fighting man and really is knowledgeable and interested in weapons. So…we'll put in weapons, books on tactics and weaponry, tools and materials, anything we can find. It won't be complete, but it might make him feel welcome, like a part of this house is his alone. He can personalize it to his heart content. It would be our first anniversary gift for him…is that odd?

I went through to the King's Chambers. Owen finished informing Random, who was not at all pleased that Simone might be affected. I was a bit surprised to see Bleys there. He was charming as usual. He kissed my hand, saying it was again a pleasure, despite the circumstances.

It was surmised that perhaps Dastard had employed someone for the task. Bleys, oddly enough, took out a Trump of Dastard, it was the mysterious man in Sebastian's deck. He was dressed like a Crusader, which I suppose he was. He was charging, on horseback, with sword drawn and pointed at the artist, a look of determination on his face. Charming.

Bleys also told us that, years ago, Dastard had tried to penetrate Corwin's Pattern. He had hired Luke to help him. Could he have learned to do this from Luke? Possible.

It occurred to me that Sebastian, Simone, DoBlique and DeWinter had never really been in the same place, at the same time. Not in the last two years. Was that significant? That had also occurred to Bleys as well. Then Bleys came up with his own hypothesis. Luke was still trying to return from UnderShadow. It would take the actions of several people to bring him through. Given DeWinter's longer exposure to this, it may mean that Luke was planning to use DeWinter' body as host. Such a cruel and twisted action would be just like Luke. It was such a chilling thought that Owen, Random and I simultaneously rose and went to get some strong spirits.

Random really wanted Simone back. We were all in agreement with that, no hesitation. The question was how to do this without arousing suspicions? Could Martin and Sebastian do this? The talk turned a bit to this idea. The problem was that Sebastian was not predictable. Rather, he was not a team player. He would act as he saw fit, unlikely to adhere to any semblance of a plan. Bleys said that this was how he worked sometimes, and he could work around unpredictability. But Sebastian could not even be counted on to do that. He would follow the plan or not, with no way anyone could try to work around it all. Bleys would have no idea what was gong on and Sebastian may very well just get himself re-infected, or captured, for us to get out of trouble again. Bleys held up his hand. He said he only helped people out of trouble once. That was curious, since he helped me a number of times, in one day. I reminded him of that and he replied that I was a productive and valuable member of the family.

Oh.

I had the idea that I could Trump DoBlique and have Simone come through. DoBlique was already aware that I was going to train Simone, this being set up over a year ago, before our wedding. It would be natural to ask her to bring Simone through, so I could arrange equipment and such. It was agreed that I should try. Bleys asked if I knew how to sustain a Trump block should I fall under attack. How long might I sustain it?

"Indefinitely, ideally." Was his reply.

No, I didn't know how to do that. He showed me how to use my own Trump, held in my hand, out of sight, to concentrate on, when contacting someone. I suppose it would be like initiating a Trump contact with me. It would be sending up another call, which the other could not penetrate.

With extra card in hand, I Trumped DoBlique. She answered. I greeted her and she seemed normal. I told her why I wanted Simone to come through and she looked puzzled. She said that Sebastian had just Trumped Simone out and so she was with him. Everything about her said she was telling the truth. I thanked her and said we would be coming by for a visit soon. She thought that would be nice and we closed the contact.

Owen checked with Fiona. Yes, Sebastian was still unconscious, no mental activity was apparent for him to have done anything.

So, what we have is Simone missing, Sebastian and DeWinter compromised and DoBlique untrustworthy. Sigh.

I Trumped Byslamia and had her bring Claw through. Fiona had given me permission to bring one other through with me. If we lost control of DeWinter, I think we would need all the help we could get to subdue him without really hurting him.

Owen Trumped Fiona and brought us through. She would be staying behind to attend to matters on the Amber side. We found ourselves in a Victorian drawing room. It was actually quite cozy, not at all like her rooms in Amber. We settled in, had a brief meal, and began to work a schedule with which we would work over the next few weeks.



Day 234/6

The days are pretty similar. For the first many days, we largely spent examining his mind. To get an overall plan as to how it was all set up. We had to start from the most recent and work our ways back. I attended to DeWinter's care while Fiona or Claw attended Sebastian. I've not much training in hospice care, so I learned how to care for someone completely helpless. It was difficult to see him like this, but I just kept telling myself it would get better. I had to ask Fiona why she did not awaken Sebastian since he was “clean” of all infection. The answer was logical, though Sebastian might not agree. He would want to leave, going to find his daughter. He could very well alert the unknown director of this plot that we were onto his workings and do so before we were ready.

Largely Fiona spent the days examining the workings in DeWinter's mind. She was impressed with its precision and obvious skill behind the work. This had been in place for a very long time. I watched as she pointed out relationships with the various nodes, how they interacted with his own inclinations and personality, to form a seamless outward appearance.

Fiona works by a very rigid schedule. I adapted as well as I could. We worked for 20-hour days with a short break for resting. She ate very little, rarely more than some tea and scones before going back to work. Claw thought this was silly, as we were not sustaining ourselves sufficiently. I admit to usually eating a bit more, but tried not to impose too much. I did ask the staff to prepare a bit more for Claw during the day.


Day 235/6

After making sure she was not out of place, Claw offered to guard the two men while the two of us slept. Fiona was very circumspect in turning that idea aside. Rather than simply refuse the offer, she asked Claw if she could actually stop them before they did harm, or escaped. There would be no telling if anything was triggered in them to do us harm. Claw was fairly confident she could do this. But, could she do this in a matter of a second or two, because that might be all the time she had.

Claw has seen me fight and knew DeWinter was older that Dalt, whom she could not stop in that time frame. Reluctantly, but honestly, she admitted she could not. But, she was not going to let the matter rest. Taking up the challenge, she went to the basement. From time to time, we could hear her practicing. She had taken up the challenge.

Day 263/6

We've made a fair amount of progress up to now. I've not gotten to know Fiona much better, due to our work schedule, but I have learned to appreciate her dedication and skill with these matters. She has not rushed, taken any short cuts, nor made one single comment on the time we've taken up in her life. And the entire time, she had made sure I understood what was occurring, taking time to point out anything of interest. And it was interesting, amazingly so. We were making progress and I knew DeWinter would be free from all this, so I've let myself fall into the task, learning to see what she sees and the immense craftsmanship before us. I equate it to having Benedict attack me. I could still appreciate just how far beyond my skills are. I think Fiona almost felt the same way, supposing it is easier to deconstruct than construct, which I think it is.

Day 254/6
And Worlds Come Crumbling Down

We were barely halfway through the day when Fiona paused, considering a particular network of pathways. She spent a long time examining this. All I could tell was that this particular work tagged an entire series of pictures and events together. There were images and events with his mother, himself, DoBlique, his brothers…I was still in a secondary position, so I did not pry further. Eventually, Fiona had us withdraw, clearly not pleased with what she had found.

She ordered some lunch, which was another surprise. I had a feeling that what she had found would not be good news. We ate a bit, silently while she thought. Finally, she told me what she had found. I could see why she stopped, since it is very upsetting for me. The series of events were centered on a particular trauma, something that happened a long time ago. She had not gone in further to see the actual event, but it would be very unpleasant. I said it was probably the same event that prevented me from doing an “appropriate” Trump.

She asked me to explain that. I could not make a Trump of him? No, I made one but not one I would ever use. I told her what my difficulty was and it was clear I would have to tell her what Dastard had done to him. Fiona is normally very contained, but when I told her the whole story, her eyes grew a bit surprised. He survived that? Yes. She turned to look at DeWinter, impressed. He is very tough.

The second thing she found was that he had not made the decision to marry me. It had been planted by the Other. In fact, all of his involvement had to do with the tampering, not his choice.

I sat there stunned. Was everything a lie? Our entire relationship, our marriage? No one tried to mitigate the news. It wouldn't have helped. I'm grateful she had not let me see this while we were working. I don't know what I would have done.

We retired for the day. I spent the most of it in my rooms, pacing. The entire world I had built was crumbling quickly. I tiny, wicked part of me said I could leave it all there and all would go on as before. I killed that thought immediately. It would be a lie. It wouldn't be DeWinter I was married to. How different will he be when he woke up? How radically, would this change him? Would he remember everything, or would he just remember it all differently? In the end, I knew we had to take it all out. For him, if not for the rest of the Family.


Day 265/6

We began once more. Fiona looked like she got as much sleep as I had, which would be none. The entire house was grim, but resolute. We went in.

As we examined the workings closely, I saw that DoBlique was behind most of this. In fact, she may have been pulling strings on all of her brothers. She had begun when she had saved DeWinter's life after the burning. His mind had broken down and while he healed, she had all the time and access to do what she wanted with him. Why? So she could be in control? Or to keep a measure of protection for herself from them and also enemies?

There were conversations between her and DeWinter. She was telling him that she had approached me, thinking I was interested in her. I remembered telling her I was not so inclined. She told him it was okay, he didn't have to hold back any longer, since I was interested in him. Sigh, how could he have missed the signals. I thought I was being pretty obvious at the time.

Fiona wanted to see precisely what was happening. Amazingly, she wanted me to finish the disassembling of the work while she watched. If she can devote herself to watching, she would be able to have total and complete recall of this stage. It was important that this be done. I was acutely aware of the level of discipline and, perhaps, trust she was handing me. She was requiring that I would not only put my feelings aside in order to work, but also to not follow a personal agenda. She did not say so, that would accomplish nothing. I suppose since we have not worked together, closely, before, she would have no firm opinion of what I might do, but then again she made no lecture, didn't ask anything. She may already know what I would do.

I started out slowly, gaining a bit of confidence when Fiona did not stop me. It was all a tangle of lines, layers on layers. The trick was to retrieve and remove a line without collapsing what is left.

Other images and scenes appeared as I worked. DeWinter's antipathy for the family was considerable and he didn't want to have anything to do with us, but the Other nudged him slowly on each point to where he wanted to see the other side of things. He had thought that Faiella's line was ruthless. "No, they're just passionate." It was even likely that DoBlique had control of Dastard, enough to make him put DeWinter to death. And then she would save him. How cruel. All of this was working on him for the last hundred years.




Day 274/6

The last pieces were almost gone. By tomorrow, DeWinter would be healed and ready to be woken. Fiona had been in regular contact with Owen, thereby keeping Amber apprised of our situation. When she was done talking to Owen, she asked me if, at any time, if my armband had gone off in relation to DeWinter? Only once, it hesitantly warned me when he was trying to stop me from telling Owen about he feelings about the card. Fiona said it must have warned me when she was near. I smiled, only the first two or three times. I think it had given up. Her eyes smiled in understanding. I showed it to her and she pointed out an interesting point. Snakes were considered sacred in ancient Mycenea, in fact they are still popular today. Mine is a two-dimensional design, so that you cannot see it has one eye. I didn't try to pretend to misunderstand. I was surprised I hadn't noticed it before. The forest for the trees, I suppose. It is Chaosian. How could it have gotten to Mycenea?

I remember the story I once told Julian, about the sea serpent that had encircled Mycenea, after my ancestors arrived on the island. Where had they come from? The courts or had members of Chaos visited? Of course, we could just be another reflection, but we started out as one of the Courts, not Amber…I'll have to re-read my history, maybe I could find where that shift occurred. Curious.


Day 275/6
Waking DeWinter

We rested and had something to eat. We were done, all the influence had been removed. We talked about whom to wake up. in the end, we decided to wake DeWinter first. It would have been my vote, regardless, but there were logical reasons behind it, as well. Sebastian could do a lot more damage. And, if it went well with DeWinter, and not with Sebastian, he would be available to help contain Sebastian.

We also knew he could be very different. Fiona understood that what she excelled at was very intimidating to others. It would be best if he not see her when he first woke up. The same with Claw. He might go completely defensive, perhaps aggressive. I had Claw wait just outside, in case I could not handle things.

I put a dress on, leaving my sword behind. The less I looked threatening, the less he would see a problem while we discussed what happened. I pulled an ottoman over, sitting on it in front of him. I thought that not towering over him was also appropriate. He might very well believe this is a plot against him and there would be no way for us to prove otherwise. That was what Fiona said, but I had a plan. It was risky, yes, but he was worth it.

I sat down and took his hand. I had affixed my collapsible staff under the ottoman, just in case. I reached in and woke DeWinter. It was eerie how he just started speaking, finishing the sentence he had started in the hallway in Amber. All his animation and intelligence was just…there. He stopped talking, confused. He wasn't in the same place. No, he wasn't. Okay? He looked at Sebastian, still asleep. “He's looked better.”

I said I have good news and bad news. He said to give him the bad news first. I asked him which bad news he wanted first. He gave me a strange look at that. That could have come out better, hmm? I said he'd been infected, just like Sebastian. He wasn't particularly surprised, given that we were thinking DoBlique was infected, just before he “left” Amber. Then I said that Fiona and I had been working to clear all of the intrusion out. He winced at Fiona's name, but wasn't particularly angry. Then I told him he'd been here for about a month and a half. “What!” he shouted and Claw, who was waiting for signs of conflict burst through the door and rolled to the side, coming up in a defensive crouch. DeWinter looked at her and mildly said, “Hello, Claw.” Sheepishly, she got up and left the room. He turned his attention back to me. “Just tell me who did it.” No. His eyes went wide and then narrow. I wouldn't refuse him, unless it was really bad.

Now came the hard part. I told him there was no way I could tell him what was going on and prove my sincerity and honesty. He waved that aside, saying I “dripped with sincerity and honesty.” Hopefully, he will keep that in mind. I told him my idea.

I would let down my wards and he could see for himself what I had learned, as I learned it. He sat back. I know he thought it extreme, but he didn't refuse. At least, he didn't think I was trapping him. So far, in fact, he was acting as if nothing had altered between us. That might still change.

He checked around, making sure we were alone. I opened my wards and let him in.

He saw the memories of what we had found. He was surprised and a bit angry at how extensive it was. Then he saw where all the roads led. I felt the anger building, but when he learned it was DoBlique, it exploded. I now know precisely why Fiona had me withdraw before telling me what we had found. I've been shot before, but this was much more powerful, and painful. It actually felt as if the back of my head just exploded. The ceiling flipped in front of me and I belatedly realized I had fallen backwards. Then everything went black.

I woke to see Claw and Fiona bending over me. Claw was talking but I could hear nothing. I felt Fiona pressing along the back of my head and neck. It didn't take long for her to do whatever she had done, but I could hear and stand, after a fashion.

DeWinter was gone. He hadn't left by the door and the window was still locked and intact. How had he gotten out? We didn't have time to discuss where he had gone. I knew. We all did. He was going after DoBlique. We hurriedly got our gear and weapons and set out. To her credit, Fiona said nothing about what I had done, which in retrospect was pretty foolish. I suppose it was all done with now, and I had learned my lesson, so there would be no point in berating me.

Fiona led us down the hall to some stairs. Down the stairs into a cave, through the passages to a forest. We went through the forest to a beach, along the shore to a bridge. We went over the river, moving to higher ground, across a road, to another forest. I recognized it as the forest near Castle Black. Even Fiona seemed surprised by this.

We went out into Shadow again, moving to intercept DeWinter.

We found him easily enough. He had about 150 men, all very nasty looking. Was he going to attack the castle with such a small force? I was nervous about approaching, but I had to try. I called to him, to ask if I might speak with him. He held up his hand and they slowed and stopped. I was a bit more nervous. He looked terrible. After a month and a half of shaving him, I could tell he had been traveling to a lot of fast Shadows. At least for over a week, perhaps a week and a half if the beard was any indication. Dark circles were evident under his eyes and he looked like he'd not eaten much at all.

He regarded me as if he barely knew who I was. After a moment, he got off his horse and plunged his sword in the ground. Perhaps to show his troop and me that he would speak without us worrying if he would attack. It was a worry for me, for the first time.

I said I wasn't going to address why he left me lying on the drawing room floor. He looked confused. He didn't remember that. Oh, he was in a bad way. Yes, he was going to Castle Black. Muscles ticked near his jaw when I mentioned DoBlique's name. DoBlique had used both of us, he said. For her own schemes. Didn't I want her to pay? Of course, but I needed to know more. And, he couldn't go in there with just this force. They would be killed and he wouldn't accomplish anything. I appealed to his paternal side. Simone was still in there. If DoBlique had done this, there would be no telling what she would do with Simone, who didn't deserve for us to use her in that fashion. I also said that if he would not be dissuaded, I would ride with him, if he would permit it. I would not like to let him do this alone. Side by side, was how I wanted it between us.

He was almost believing me. Still he commented that everything we had shared was a lie. I said we could work that out, if he was willing. I would do whatever it took. He narrowed his eyes and removed his gauntlets. He asked me to kiss him. I did so, though this was not the first thing on my mind.

Nothing happened.

The Circumstances were gone.
All the despair at what we've learned crashed on me and I turned away to hide my tears. I didn't know what to do.
A roar from many throats bellowed behind me at that moment. I turned to see DeWinter on his knees with despair. The noise came from his men-- because DeWinter had fallen to his knees. They thought I had attacked him and were charging. Claw was already running to meet them, to do whatever she could. Fiona shouted, “No” and made a gesture. Suddenly, a wavering wall of flames appeared between Claw and the cavalrymen. She scrambled to stop, but the riders hit hard.

I went to DeWinter and took his face in my hands. He had to collect himself, or his men were gong to kill us all. His eyes came into focus and he started to rise. There was a cry of pain and I saw Fiona drop, an arrow in her abdomen. One of the archers had managed to hit her, despite the barrier. I went to her and DeWinter went to his men, getting them under control.

I held my hands over her wound, using basic field measures until we could get her to a real doctor. She was bleeding badly. I asked DeWinter to Trump Owen, hoping she would take the call. She did and thank the Lady, she was in Glantri. I passed Fiona through.

It was less than five minutes before she Trumped me back. Fiona was going to be fine.

I convinced DeWinter to leave the Shadow and make camp. He gathered his men, and we did so. He admitted that he intended these men to be a diversion while he worked his way into the castle.

We got to talk a bit. It was just like when we first met. We were hesitant and circumspect, trying to not upset the other. He asked how she could have faked the Circumstances we had felt? I didn't know. Even if I had seen something in his mind, it didn't account for how I was responding in the same light. Fiona had checked and said I was fine.

The only thing I could think of was that we had been dealt a great shock, perhaps we had to regain our equilibrium before it would return. He sat with his head in his hands. I sat next to him, putting my arm through his and leaning. I wanted him to know someone was there for him.

We talked about what we were going to do. He assumed that DoBlique would know he was not under her control anymore. So he wouldn't approach her directly. And, we had to watch out for the demon, Trouble. He had forgotten about her. The best way was to get DoBlique out of her Castle.

I stressed that we had to plan this carefully. He gave me a look he'd never done before. He said fine, but we had better do something, because one way or another, she was going to die. I could only nod my head in response.





Day 277/6
Making a Plan

He dispersed his men and we went to Tiryns, thanks to Byslamia. He just gave her a nod and went to clean up. She looked at me, wondering at the change in him. I could only shake my head-- not now.

He ended up in the parlor. It might be a bit until I could gather everyone, so I fetched his puppy. He brightened ever so slightly and took the animal. He seated himself in a corner, and began to play with him. I could understand. The corner was safe, no one could approach, and the puppy would be no threat. Everyone else was.

I trumped Fiona. She brought Sebastian through and with the help of magic, made the parlor, our clothing, everything look exactly like it did on the day this all started. She had a remarkable memory. With luck, Sebastian might never realize how long he'd been gone. It had only been about a week here.

She woke him and he livened up just as DeWinter had. Then Fiona and Owen filled him in. Disbelief, anger, and worry all warred on his face. I think he wouldn't have believed us if DeWinter hadn't confirmed what we said, with a few monosyllabic words. I said precious little. I had nothing to add and was growing more despondent while watching DeWinter. He had every right to be angry, but I wondered how long before he lost that harsh look, so foreboding. He sat there, not looking at anyone, just playing with the puppy's ears, letting him crawl up, trying to lick DeWinter's face.

Sebastian must have thought that the threat might have emanated from the Shadow where he'd been staying for the last year. How else could I interpret his desire to see that they were safe before even attempting to learn about the status of his own daughter? He shifted into the form they knew him by. He grew taller by about 6 inches, his hair grew darker. Really, he looked like he could be my brother, at least with that coloring. Then he was gone, Trumping to friends there.

It was a much faster Shadow, so he finished his work in less than fifteen minutes our time. He even asked Fiona to come through at one point. A minute later she appeared and a minute later he Trumped me asking me to bring through two of his friends. Frankly, I didn't know what they could do, but it was better to keep an eye on him than not. The first was a woman who introduced herself as Hip, then corrected herself and said her name was Hippolyta. I complimented her on her name and introduced myself. She immediately asked if I was Cassandra the Seer. I didn't really have an answer, so I brought the second guest, Cicero, with Sebastian following.

Now Sebastian was ready to deal with the situation. He wanted to know about Simone. I tried to tell him numerous times that DoBlique said she had received a Trump call from him and was gone from Castle Black. Unfortunately, he was totally focused on Fiona and interrupted me each time. I decided to remain silent, since my only other option was to throttle him.

Sebastian got a Trump call and brought Martin through. Wonderful. He was as likely to have been infected, but that wasn't his consideration. Fiona made no objections, so I refrained from commenting.

We talked for a long while, circling around various options, reaching no real consensus. Towards the end, even DeWinter spoke up with a few questions and comments. He still played with the puppy. He asked how long it would be before DoBlique learned they were not under her control. Fiona estimated between five seconds and a minute if they were in DoBlique's immediate vicinity. That left him and Sebastian out of direct contact with her for the moment.

Sebastian got out yet another Trump. He was Trumping DoBlique. That was disturbing. He made some talk about having a surprise for her and wanting to tell DeWinter and myself some news. I couldn't hear her side but was outraged when he asked her to come through! Oh yes, bring in the one person responsible for taking over the minds of who knows how many people! Into my house! Without so much as a by-your-leave, and not giving one person a chance to prepare.

I was on my feet in a moment, so was DeWinter. Even Fiona straightened up in alarm, as did Owen. Was he insane? Possibly. Apparently DoBlique declined since he dropped the contact and the card. He deflected my protests by saying he knew she wouldn't have accepted. Then why make the offer? She knew she couldn't come here without a writ, it was suspicious even to have asked. And what if she had agreed? He just dismissed my outburst with a cavalier wave and continued talking as if I had said nothing.

I sat down and DeWinter said he was getting a call. Fiona said it was likely from DoBlique, since Sebastian had mentioned his name. She would be verifying what Sebastian had told her. He wasn't ready to deal with her, but not taking the call was more suspicious. He answered it and said that Sebastian was here. That they were at Tiryns and he had something to tell us. He was obviously nervous and ill at ease. DoBlique saw through it right away and she cut the contact. I hoped she would Trump me, but she didn't. I thought I could explain all this, but never had the chance.

Now what? These Trump contacts initiated by Sebastian hadn't accomplished anything but putting DoBlique on her guard.

Martin brought out a large sheaf of paper. He'd been giving this some thought for a while now and had used his computer to generate a visual chart. He had entered the known movements of the victims, and tried to find common threads. He had another explanation for everything. Simone. We really had no idea who she was, or how old she really was. She could do things no one her age could do. We were taking her at face value, for everything she told us.

Oh, this was quite exasperating! I'm going to have a contest in town, with the two participant being Bleys and Martin. Then we could truly see who could come up with the worst case scenario of any given situation. Really! They talked about this for a bit, again going no where. Owen did have some ability in sensing people she knew out in Shadow. How, I have no idea. But to the best of her ability, Simone and DoBlique were not together and both of their Trump were now being blocked. That was a damaging bit of information on Simone. Frankly, I had a great deal of difficulty believing that Simone had fooled all of us for so long, even with extended contact. Was anyone that good? Probably, but we were all resisting that notion.

I said I wanted to go to Castle Black. That stopped talk. It made sense. I was never under any suspicion or influence. DoBlique would welcome someone coming to her rather than everyone trying to get her to Amber. And, someone could monitor me through Trump. They would know if I were compromised. This was reminding me more and more of the situation with Beth. Martin's chart had accomplished one thing. There was a possibility that there was something else at work here, whether it was Simone or not. We had to have answers. If she was the person responsible for all this, we must know. If she wasn't, she needed to be warned. Of course, the idea was shot down, almost immediately. Sebastian was insisting he had to be the one to deal with DoBlique. I would have argued, actually I started to, on the basis that DoBlique and I did have a relationship, one that we have built over years. But, he wasn't listening to that.

At that point, Fiona started prompting DeWinter with suggestions about our strategy. She demurred as the one most able to finalize a plan--- but it seemed she was getting us all to think about the next step.

In the end, Sebastian was going to try and find Simone. DeWinter and I would go to Castle Black. When we were there, I would Trump Owen and she would watch passively through Trump. DeWinter asked if Owen would take care of his puppy. I think she understood just how important that small creature had become for him, a little lifeline to sanity. She asked him if he had named the animal and DeWinter said his name was Happy. The puppy bounded around the room, as happy as DeWinter was unhappy. Ouch.

Day 278/6
Castle Black and Trouble

We arrived. We made good time, which is usually the case with Hellriding. My horse actually was intelligent enough to make it through the entire journey, as long as I reassured him. Hopefully, he will grow more used to Shadow-shifting. We did have to stop three times so we could change DeWinter's horse. I was so anxious to do something, I almost ran his horse till it dropped, before DeWinter shouted that it was faltering. It was early morning, which meant it took us less than a day to get here. That cut the average time by a factor of six. It was raining, a big storm was moving overhead. According to DeWinter, that was an indication that there was trouble. I trumped Owen and told her we were going in.

We got to the gates and were met with silence. Then we saw the bodies of the guards. Immediately, we both drew our swords. We went to the stables, to quarter our horses. Along the way, bodies were strewn about the courtyard and watch walls. I suspected we weren't going to find many alive here. And someone took the time to pile them up, which either meant they were very fastidious, or they intended to stay here for a while. Whether they were still here was a good question.

All the ground floor doors were locked. And reinforced. There was no way in from down here. DeWinter climbed to the top of the stables with me following. There was a window about fifteen feet up, barred, but it was a start. He cupped his hand and braced himself. Sigh. I sheathed my sword, planted my boot in his hands and the next thing I was flying toward the window. I didn't think he could throw me that hard.

I managed to grab the bars and haul myself to the ledge. I couldn't budge them but DeWinter's strong. I hooked my knees into the bottom-most horizontal bar and let myself fall backwards until I was upside down. He knew what I was about. And here I said I would never do a trapeze act. At least I wasn't swinging.

He took a few steps back on the rain-slicked roofing tiles and launched himself upward, kicking off the wall to give himself more height. It was a solid jump and I grabbed his wrists as he swung into the wall. I lifted upward, or downward depending on the perspective, until he could grasp my upper arms. Then I curled inwards, bending upward and drawing him up with me. Frankly I didn't think I could do it and was surprised at how easy it was. I made mention of this and he thought a moment. He said it must have been all the exercise over the last year. Oh. I glanced his way. Yes, he had made a joke, though his face was still impassive.

Even with his help, we couldn't get in. We climbed over to the battlements, where a door was located. Ah, the battlements. A fond memory.

The door was not only locked, but there was a bar across it. I reached out with my senses. Nothing, not anywhere in the castle. I was wondering if this was a waste of time. I told this to DeWinter and he started cursing. If DoBlique was not behind this, then if someone had killed her, no one would ever find out what happened. There were two places she would hide: her tower and the Pattern room. We had climbed in the wrong direction. We made our way there, only to find ourselves with numerous feet from the ledge we were on and her window. I asked Owen if she were there. Yes. Could she get us some rope? In a few minutes, the bundle came through. DeWinter cast it outwards and was swinging across easily. I took a deep breath and did the same. Except I was spinning wildly by the time I got to the other side. With all the rain, I was having a difficult enough time just keeping my grip. DeWinter had to reach out and catch me before I was out of range.

We tried to pry the bars, but ever since the transformation of her castle, it's gotten pretty solid. DeWinter shattered the glass and we could see into Doblique's lab. It was empty, not even her wards were drawn on the floor. I thought that whatever happened to DoBlique, it probably didn't hurt Trouble. I called her name.

And Trouble came.

She appeared just above us, clinging without effort on the wall. She laughed and called us "burglars".
Then she attacked.
She spit at us and we were enveloped in a red, mutable sphere. We lost our grip and fell. Fortunately, the globular substance cushioned a great deal of the fall. That meant it only hurt a lot. Not bad for an eighty-foot drop.

We were fully encased, with no way to draw in fresh air. We maneuvered around until we could push against each other. We each pressed backwards until the material stretched. We pushed some more and it ripped apart with a ugly sucking sound.

As we gasped for air, she appeared again, surprised we had survived the fall. She spit again but we managed to roll to the side, clearing the range of her…weapon?

I drew my sword and went defensive. This wasn't going to be an easy fight. She was a demon, after all. She squared off with me, giving DeWinter time to draw his dagger. He threw, hitting her squarely. She turned to him and encased him once more. Now I was really upset. He was alone in there, only his strength could get him out. I had to keep her busy, buying him time.

Hoping this weir-changing would work, I initiated, if that is the right word, Trespass. She had hurt one of mine…I felt the energy seep up from the ground, much slower than the last time. She saw the effect and drew herself back. Then she assumed her true form, twelve feet of orange-stone with glowing red eyes. And I was only 6 feet tall.

We fought, though I learned quickly that my weapon did almost nothing. She got in a solid blow and I flew through the stable wall. DeWinter was free, now, so I had a moment to get up. I could feel my ribs grind back into place.

Trouble and DeWinter were fully into the fray. My weapons and claws were fairly useless. Hoping I had the time, I began to walk the Pattern in my mind. I'd heard or read that Chaosians don't like it.

Ten minutes and it was an eternity. I had to close my eyes to not be distracted my watching DeWinter getting hurt. He's one of the toughest men I know, but he wasn't going to last long against her.

Finally, I had walked the entire Pattern. I could feel it around me. I opened my eyes to see a one-sided fight. DeWinter's left arm was mangled beyond use. He was using every trick of materials around her to attack as his weapon had broken on her stony hide. He smashed into a wagon and then used a large piece of broken wood to impaled her leg. She slowed, but was far from down.

I approached, drawing the dagger Shapir gave me. She turned to me and went for a grapple. I stabbed. Whether it was the blood from her leg or my dagger, I could see her blood ignite. Her eyes got wide and she screamed. It could hear the fire crackling through her, and through the Pattern around me. The last I saw as she disappeared, was she was in flames.

DeWinter looked at me. “Nice knife.”

I tried to tend to his arm, but the energies seem to hurt him more than help. It was as if I had sent electrical energy through him. I was loath to put it down, since we had no idea what we would face next.

I went to the castle door, hoping there was someway inside. There would be supplies and, if nothing else, a place to hole up in until we could get reinforcements. I felt myself pass through an invisible wall and could feel the magical barrier disappear. Was it Chaosian? Did Trouble do this?

We went inside. Doblique's kitchen staff were alive, but almost comatose. They would be no help. DeWinter moved to the inner door; he'd heard something. He gestured for me to be silent and we moved away. the door opened and a figure stepped through. DeWinter struck true and the figure fell. So did he. He was suddenly covered with streams of energy, he was burning. I touched him and, again, the energy went away, failing with the touch of Pattern. He lay still and I went to the figure. I was going to secure them, so we had no nasty surprises from that quarter. It was a woman, with red hair, and unknown to me. I tied her up securely, gagged her, and found a Trump deck and dagger on her person. I took both. The Pattern was beginning to really fatigue me, so I dropped it.

I saw to DeWinter. He was unconscious, but not terribly hurt. I took that time to splint his arm. Better to do this now than when he was awake. He came to shortly after, wondering where the lightning bolt came from.

I Trumped Owen and thankfully she answered. I lifted the woman by the collar until she was in her view. Owen told me she was Jasra, widow to Brand. I dropped her. Owen said she used to be an enemy of Amber (really?) but is not as such any longer. I passed her through for safe keeping. Owen asked if we wanted to go through. DeWinter shook his head. We had to find DoBlique and Simone. There was no telling what was here.

Even battered we were not going to stop now.

Owen mentioned something that happened a long time ago. There had been the Magister, who had initially worked with Luke to obtain a cobalt glove Sebastian had in his possession. He may very well be responsible for all this. True, he was very familiar with Doblique's Shadow, and he bested her once in magical warfare.

DeWinter was still a little wobbly, so I took point as we searched. What we found was not good. Lying in the hall was DoBlique, still in the red globe Trouble must have put her in. She'd been there for under a day, but she was very much dead. DeWinter stared in disbelief, not knowing how he should react. I Trumped Owen once more. Glantri revived DeWinter once from near-death, perhaps it was not too late to do it for DoBlique. If nothing else, we needed the information. The mages in Glantri have been known to be able to revive someone within a day or so of their death. Owen drew the body through.

I reminded DeWinter that there was still some hope and he nodded, not saying anything, but trying not to give up. We continued looking for Simone, even though I was sure she wasn't there. It was something to do, and we might find something useful.

As we moved along, I got a Trump call from Sebastian. It seemed he couldn't get through to a number of people. I gave him the general picture, including what happened to DoBlique, prefacing it with my belief that all will be well. To my surprise, he was angry, but so out of control as to lose the connection.
We continued on and I received another call from him. He saw that we were in Castle Black and asked if we'd found DoBlique yet. Oh, no. Belatedly, I remembered that Simone had gotten a Trump call from Sebastian and had gone through. I told him what had happened. He confirmed that he thought there was a second Sebastian. The one that the Magister had created. And I had given him all the information. He had created a ridiculous word, a code word to assure us he was the real Sebastian. Sneizothrope, whatever that is. He also told me that Simone was with Dastard.

I couldn't contact anyone until I thought of Julian. As far as I knew, he was not privy to what had been going on. Luckily, he answered. I filled him in briefly on what had happened. He said to stay here, he would attend to Owen and DoBlique.

I told DeWinter what was going on. He cursed mightily in a language I didn't know. How many does he know? It didn't sound polite at all. I inquired what he said, but he shook his head. "Nice girls from Mycenea don't get to hear such things." I had to smile. He always manages to regain his humor, dry as it is. On impulse, I kissed him.

Oh! The energy had returned as strong as ever. The walls trembled and shifted around us as we kissed. I looked at him in surprise and he had the largest smile I've seen in a while. Months, in fact. He waggled a finger at me, shaking his head, still grinning. We had important business. So, don't go and distract him, there were important things we had to do. Just move along…

I ignored him and kissed him again. Our swords clattered to the ground as we lost track of everything else for some time.

Right there in the middle of disaster, we celebrated each other.


We found nothing more in the Castle. His wounds were still bad. I'm sure we'd done nothing beneficial for them in the last hour or so. I suggested we go to Glantri. He had to be up to par, if we were going to continue.

We rode there. The emergency room was in a chaotic state. Walls were damaged, part of the ceiling caved in. I Trumped Owen and found she was in Amber. Her face was more stoic than usual. I think she was fighting back a lot of emotions. She told me, gravelly, that the surgery room had been attacked. DoBlique was the target. She described the creature and it was clear it was Trouble. Damn! I had hoped I had wounded her more than that. Trouble had gotten to DoBlique before anything could be done for her and had torn her apart. I glanced over at DeWinter, making sure he was not listening. He was, but I knew he hadn't heard what Owen said. I thanked Owen and cut the contact. DeWinter said that he knew I had bad news. I managed to shrug and say that some creature had attacked her, but they had managed to repel it.

He was hurt and tired, so any questions he might have had didn't rise. I just couldn't tell him that DoBlique was truly dead. I got a nurse to attend to him, though it took a while. There were many that were more hurt more than either of us put together. We waited. I put my head on his good shoulder, trying to hold back any mourning. Even if DoBlique was behind this, though I now question that mightily, she had been a friend. I couldn't mourn her, not yet.

DeWinter was treated. It would only be twelve hours until the magic set in, so he could leave. Our next goal was to go get Simone. He knew not only where Dastard's castle was, but how to get inside. He gave me the image of Dastard's castle, trusting I could get us there faster and more easily than he could. He drifted off to sleep while I watched.

It was about nine hours later when a nurse came to check on us. one or another was popping in from time to time to check his status. He wasn't bad off enough to have a room, especially now as they were in short supply, but they found a relatively quiet corner and partitioned it off with a curtain.

The nurse checked him over and said he could probably be released, though he should take it easy. Thinking what was in store for us, that wasn't likely. He looked so peaceful, I smiled at her and asked if we couldn't give him another hour. She smiled back, of course. She'd just get the papers.

When she came back, she had the forms prepared. She handed them to me, and I signed them. Then, when she was going to retrieve them, she touched my hand. I was instantly paralyzed. I couldn't move, couldn't call for help, nothing. She went over and touched DeWinter. Then she walked to the nearest wall and drew a rectangle there and added a 'handle' with black chalk.

A door. She opened it. She came back and picked up DeWinter. She passed him through and then it was my turn. We were back in Castle Black.

What was going on?

We were on the floor and the nurse came over. She sat on my stomach and stared into my face. She told me she was going to put her finger in my mouth. It was the only hole in the 'shell spell', the only thing that was allowing me to breathe. If I bit her, I was going to be in a world of hurt. DoBlique? It was her voice. She wanted me to let her in my mind. I panicked. Then we'd both me compromised. I didn't want to let her, but I had little choice. I could only hope I could fight her off. She said someone had tried to kill her five times, she wasn't in a good mood. She'd had a Very Bad Day.

I tried to negotiate. I promised her I would let her if she let DeWinter free. She wasn't buying that. She knew her brother. She went over to him and gave him the same offer. He wasn't letting her do anything. They had one of their arguments, though I could only hear her side of it. You open up, no you open up…etc. She got up and paced, trying to decide what to do. She was so frustrated and confused, she kicked DeWinter. I hoped the shield protected him a bit. It seemed to.

She returned to me. In the end, I promised to let down my wards if I were free. She agreed to that. Of course, she would. I could do nothing against her if she attacked psychically, and DeWinter would still be a prisoner. She let me up, backing away, out of distance. I could see DeWinter was awake inside his own transparent 'shell'. Oh, he must be very angry.

I opened my wards and I felt her go inside. I gave her five seconds and slammed them shut. She got out in time, but it had been enough. She let DeWinter free. We were just about to discuss what had happened when Trouble arrived.

Again.

I reached for a Trump, but Trouble tried to spit at me. My attention was diverted to getting out of the way. DeWinter charged and she sent him flying into another room, and through a table. DoBlique charged and Trouble rendered her unconscious with a single backhanded blow. I went for her and managed to get her into a grapple. We were locked together, I wasn't going to let go. DeWinter grabbed a heavy sideboard and smashed it into pieces. He picked up one of the heavy legs and charged. Trouble tried to teleport, I could feel it, but she couldn't, not with me hanging on. And I was stronger. Good.

I moved a bit, to give DeWinter room to hit her. I felt the blow and Trouble grunted and cursed. The next thing I knew, her hand was free and suddenly clawing into my stomach. I felt her talons rip through and I fell back.

Trouble and DeWinter crashed into combat again. I was bleeding badly. It was a bad wound…one that could easily lead to my death. And it Hurt! I know that gut wounds can take a long time to kill, despite how painful they are, it didn't mean a quick end. I crawled over to DoBlique, the target of Trouble's assassination attempt.

I got one of my Trump out, the top one, and to my surprise, actually managed to get Owen despite the pain. I got out, “Doblique's here, alive, so is the demon, help!” She said to bring her through, grabbing a long white ash staff.

She came through and yelled for DeWinter to get back. He finished another punch and jumped back. Owen leveled the staff and fired. A bolt of lightning shot out, but Trouble teleported away in time. Owen cursed and began circling, to see where the next attack would come from.

I wasn't going to stop getting help. I tried Julian, the next card from the top. As I had hoped, he came through without requiring an explanation. He knew I wouldn't call like this without a reason. He took a second to assess the situation and moved to position himself for the next attack. There was a sound from the top of the stairs. She was up there. She tried to spit at Owen, but missed.

Owen fired. Julian called to Owen, telling her to get a Trump gate open. Owen was in a full fury, her whole concentration on destroying Trouble. She wasn't out of control, but it was the closest I've ever seen with her. She registered what Julian said and, reluctantly, got out a Trump. Trouble attacked and Julian and DeWinter met the assault. Julian easily matched his movements with DeWinter and the two effectively kept her busy. They fought well together.

My stomach was burning horribly. Owen got the gate up and I picked up DoBlique. Owen was maintaining the opening and the two men were very busy. There was no other way, though I could feel I was doing more damage to myself.

We came out at the Castle drawbridge. We must have been a sight to the guards. I set DoBlique down and turned to wait. They had better come through. Owen stepped through, followed by both Julian and DeWinter.

Owen dropped the gate and picked up DoBlique. DeWinter picked me up and we were taken to the infirmary. I was holding on to my stomach, I was losing a lot of blood.

In the infirmary, I saw Gerard, March and Random. The first two were there, on beds. Owen set down DoBlique. As DoBlique started to wake, Julian went over and tenderly assured her all was well. She was groggy, not really registering just who was talking to her. She looked at Julian. "Yes, it is all fine." He moved his hand over her hair, stroking it gently. He asked her if there were controls on her mind. She said "no, of course not", but also forced herself into nodding her head, 'yes'. It was clear she was fighting hard. She relaxed a bit and Julian laid a hand gently on her neck. He pressed on her throat in some manner and she was unconscious once more.

Random left the room. Owen and Julian began working on me. I was getting a little light-headed by now, so I found Julian's running commentary as to what they were doing interesting. DeWinter hovered by, clearly thinking Julian was insane. What did I care about what type of stitches he was using? Trouble had managed to rip through the intestinal walls. That was very bad.

But the surgery went well.

I was being bandaged up when Random returned. With him were Simone, Vialle and Dastard! Delight at seeing Simone changed to shock at seeing Dastard. Random moved around the room, asking each person's story. I was watching Dastard carefully but I was feeling glad for Random. It is rare that he had everyone in the same place at one time, in a position where he could get all the information he needed. I hope he was relishing it.

It was a while, but we had a Family meeting. Simone, Dastard and DoBlique were resting elsewhere. DeWinter sat near. With all of us unable to move from the infirmary, we all crowded in there. The general story was this:

Long ago, Dastard had been tricked into going to the Courts, disguised as another person at the behest of someone. I didn't hear why he had gone, but he admitted a “relationship” with Simone's mother. He believes he is her father. Sebastian looked crushed. Sebastian is frustrating beyond belief, sometimes, but that was a harsh thing to hear.

Dastard is aware that there are controls in his mind—now. His mother, Deela had set controls into their minds when they were young. When she died, someone stepped into her shoes, manipulating that side of the family. DoBlique was the only one that had contact with all the brothers. Hence, she was the hub of these controls. It is certain, the Other is a he.

Random speculated that Simone was part of an experiment to have a Chaosian-trained Amberite.

Random believes, and Fiona concurs, that the instigator of all this is someone named Suhuy, the Keeper of the Logrus. That was another shock for Sebastian, who said that was his mentor, called the Elder.

We don't know what his goals were, or are. Fiona said, for someone of his age and skill, he is unfathomable to any of us. He might have used Sebastian to gain a friend close to Amber. He might have really just wanted to teach him. Who knows? It was clear that the idea of DoBlique overcoming his work enough to not only resist, but to work against him was nothing short of a miracle.

Fiona was clearly admiring the skill that Suhuy showed. It was impressive, but Random wasn't buying it. He used a few choice, obscene words to express exactly what he thought of Suhuy. Fiona bristled at his unwillingness to see beyond the deeds, but I think Random was angry almost beyond words at what had been done. In his own way, he loved this Family and I think he is as territorial about it as I am with mine. I was on his side. I can admit to Suhuy's skill. I have little enough in that area to think what he has done is nothing short of amazing. Not to mention the scale. He'd been working for over a hundred years. But, Suhuy also made Dastard condemn DeWinter to a horrible death, manipulated DeWinter into finding a way into Amber, used Dastard to father a child he never knew about, used Sebastian's feelings to see to the child, and who knows how many countless other things we've missed. No, I felt no good things toward Suhuy.

Simone had learned that Dastard might be her father. I never learned how. I think the second Sebastian told her. Why did Suhuy let that out, now? To get the rest of that side of the family talking? Simone had convinced Dastard that not only was something horribly wrong, but that he might be a victim as well. In the end, she convinced Dastard to Trump Random and they were brought here.

Well, we were all apprised, but it was clear there was nothing we could do right now. If Suhuy tried anything more, he would know that we knew he was involved. We'd have to be vigilant, but there was nothing we could do about that Ancient.

Dastard would be staying for a few days in order to talk to Simone. Random went over to Julian and clapped him on the shoulder saying that Julian would have the responsibility of not only making sure nothing happened to Dastard, but making sure Dastard didn't get to be a problem. Julian looked something less than thrilled. Random left and March shook his head, expressing sympathy to Julian at the sorry duty he was just handed. I surprised myself when I offered to house Dastard at Tiryns, instead. Julian said he would consider it.

The meeting broke up and Dastard came to see DeWinter. He was very nice, almost charming. Actually, he is too much of a smooth talker for my taste. He expressed himself eloquently, how glad he was seeing DeWinter after all these years, how pleased he was that DeWinter had found himself a place, that he looked good, all things considering. DeWinter answered in monosyllabic words, if he answered at all. He was putting up a very thick wall, one Dastard couldn't hope to penetrate any time soon. Dastard gave up and left.

Day 280/6
Contemplating the Infirmary Ceiling

I was relegated to the infirmary for two days. I was told I could not sit up, walk or otherwise move my torso in any way whatsoever. DeWinter stayed by, tending to small things. Owen even let him sleep in the bed next to mine. We had a lot of time to talk.

Lady Kate visited. I was glad to see her. She was doing well and she shared some of what she'd been doing lately.

Most everyone was gone from the infirmary by now, so we had the room to ourselves, for the most part. DeWinter said that despite the fact that he had been manipulated into all this, he was happy to let our association continue. Even if it hadn't been real, we've made it Real and he didn't want to let it go. I breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn't sure what he would have decided. I certainly didn't think he'd come to this conclusion so quickly. But, he'd had a lot of down time to work it through. We were still married. In fact and in actuality. I told him he was wrong about one thing. About what? I said he was much better looking than Dastard. He shook his head. Most people thought Dastard was better-looking. I thought to myself, 'Only if they look on the outside.' Something about Dastard I just didn't like.

Sebastian and Simone came to visit just as we were finishing dinner. They had brought dessert. Ice cream. Ugh. I couldn't tell her that Myceneans hate dairy products. It's disgusting. I especially don't like cheese. It's just rotten milk. Ugh. I had been eating liquid foods and DeWinter made sure it was okay for me to eat. Sebastian said he'd cleared it with the doctor. Still, Simone was so happy to be here and, I think, to see if we were angry about her part in all this. I ate what she spooned to me.

Day 281/6
Home at Tiryns

I was told that I had a choice. Owen said I could stay a few more days in the infirmary or she trusted me enough to get me a wheelchair and I could convalesce at Tiryns. If I did absolutely nothing. DeWinter gave me a look that said I was going to do absolutely nothing, even if he had to tie me up. I opted for Tiryns.

We settled in. The stairs in the house were a major pain. DeWinter had to carry me up and down them. Sigh. Only for a couple of days.

I had told Julian that Dastard could stay here. I didn't have to say why. My private reasoning was: 1) I wanted to have the opportunity to watch him, to figure him out a little. He was now my brother-in-law, so I had better get on some rapport with him. DeWinter wasn't happy (we'd both rather have Dalt here, if that's any indication), but he didn't argue. 2) Dastard would be surrounded by weir and he was already aware of how formidable they are. 3)He would be out of sight, especially from any nobles who had a grudge (that would have been a political nightmare), 4) He would have access to almost nothing of importance. And, 5) Julian wouldn't have to deal with it personally. Julian agreed readily.

Toby and Jim are doing well. They were attending classes, but they had to think about what they were learning. Reading, they answered. I was curious., it was if they really didn't know what they were learning. Later that morning, I passed by their classroom. They were in a class with three of the older weir girls. They were infinitely more interested in the girls than in the books in front of them. I had to chuckle. They were learning. The girls were either completely oblivious, or they were studiously ignoring the two boys. Toby and Jim were in for a nasty surprise if they stepped over the line.


Day 284/6
A Chat with Dastard

Dastard came through by Trump. It's been really quiet and frankly, boring. I couldn't even practice. That was probably a good thing, since Dastard would never know I even knew how to fight. I wasn't in the forefront of the battle at my wedding.

I did get a chance to talk to him a bit. After he'd gotten a little more comfortable, we had tea one day. I asked him why he'd sent an army to our wedding.

He said he'd received an invitation.
He had been so “enchanted” with the idea that DeWinter had invited him, he couldn't stay away. I think he was truly amazed that DeWinter would do such a thing, so much so, he never stopped to consider it a trick. Of course, he was still under mental control, so he would have gone even if the thought had occurred to him. Imagine his surprise when he entered Aes, noting the odd wavering line on the ridge of the surrounding mountains. Then that line became a horde of 15,000 weir attacking at once. They had come for a celebration. They had no siege weapons, no defenses, and no fortifications. They were badly routed and the only thing they could do was run. He said that even without all that, even if he considered trying to make a stand, the 10,000 Amberite soldiers appearing at his flank convinced him otherwise. He was chagrined, now, at what happened. It's possible that either he was setting his anger aside or, like DeWinter, the fuse blows hot and then is quickly gone.

He complimented me on my home. He was pleased that everyone at my estate was pleasant and (surprisingly, I assume) outspoken. Everyone worked and moved confidently, with dignity. I guess he expected everyone to bow and cater to absurd whims. Or, to be completely cowed and oppressed.

He remarked that he saw changes in DeWinter. He was obviously happy here. I think Dastard was trying to tell me that he was accepting our marriage. Even if he didn't like it, his brother was important enough to let it go and that DeWinter had better stay happy. He was disappointed that things weren't going as well as he expected between them. What did he expect? He mentioned that there was history between them, “youthful indiscretions.” I just looked at him. Is that what he thought of it all? Indiscretions? I told him I knew precisely what those “indiscretions” were, DeWinter had told me. He winced. He then realized that I had still invited him here. He bowed his head and thanked me again for my hospitality.

I did get the opportunity to ask him why he hated the Unicorn so much. I was never so much aware of the mark on my forehead as I was then. His answer was both revealing and insufficient.

Dastard explained at length.

The Unicorn had demonstrated it was not divine, or to be admired. It was a fickle creature, not something to be counted on. Amberites had emulated its nature over time--- Oberon being as fickle in his nature and treatment of others.

The Unicorn had saved the Jewel of Judgment, but left Deirdre to perish-- the kind of decision that Dastard felt was typically callous and cruel. Apparently, there are many stories where the Unicorn has aided but even more when it has not. Fickle, Capricious.

I really wanted to debate all this. Did he want such consistent aid, that anyone who followed would be weaker, more dependent? Did he not consider that perhaps, just maybe, the Unicorn might know that the Jewel would save more lives in the long run than the life of one. Perhaps even Deirdre would have understood that. I know my experience with the Jewel in UnderShadow is not indicative of the real one, but it is powerful. What would be the consequences if it was destroyed? It was linked to the Pattern, I'm sure of that. I saw a small Pattern in its center. At least, the one I saw. I couldn't say much without revealing more than I should, I think. Perhaps I can arrange my thoughts for a later debate, being more prepared.

The most telling thing about the whole thing is that the Unicorn is an unknown. He not only hates it, he fears it. I wanted to tell him that I hated him, for what he did to DeWinter, but here I was sitting in the same room, learning about him. Had he ever tried to do the same with the Unicorn? Did he even want to? What would he do if he learned everything was wrong? Or, if everything was right? Despite all the good works his Church does, how does he feel that the basic tenets are founded on hate and fear?

I didn't get the chance to pursue these lines because there was a knock on the door. DeWinter came in to check up on me. Dastard made a few pleasantries, which DeWinter rebuffed. Dastard retreated from the room to walk in the orchard.

DeWinter tried to impress upon me that I shouldn't listen to him. Dastard speaks a lot, but says nothing. Perhaps, but I reassured him I wasn't about to forsake Amber and go join his Church. I was just taking his measure, as he was doing with me. He seemed a bit relieved. I think Dastard is the kind to charm his way through a lot. But, for me, excessive charm just nettles me. I automatically believe it is false. Overkill.

Day 286/6
Dastard Leaves

Dastard left today, an escort of cavalry seeing him off. No one was taking any chances. He paused for a moment and then kissed me on the cheek. He offered his hand to DeWinter, who refused it. Dastard turned the motion into a bow and left, promising to initiate correspondence. He would like to keep in touch. I accepted that, warning that he shouldn't take offense if it wasn't answered immediately, what with time differentials. He said he understood. DeWinter spoke in my ear, “We could always kill the courier”. I laughed. He looked at me, “I'm not joking.“

I did get the chance to speak privately with Random for a moment. I asked him if he would consider whether DeWinter could walk the Pattern. I had arguments that might persuade him, but I didn't want to bias his opinion. I suggested he could consult with Owen, or anyone, if he had any reservations. I didn't expect an answer right away, I just wanted him to consider it.

With all that has happened, I feel as if we were very, very lucky. We might not get as lucky in the future. Despite my deep reservations and fears about the way women bear Amberite children, it is being overshadowed by the desire to start our family. While I hope we have a few centuries together, I'm realistic enough to know that might not happen. I want him to have the fullest experience of being a husband and father…and I think he wants this. I didn't say anything to DeWinter just yet. I'm waiting to see what Random decides. Then we could start making plans.

Julian came to visit. He was absent through Dastard's stay, deliberately so. There is no love lost there. I finally got to present him with the hound. The poor beast was a bit more comfortable with all the weir around, but it was still a bit skittish. I told that to Julian, lest he think the animal too nervous. He examined the hound completely, pleased at his form and his intelligence. He thanked me for considering him, especially since it was on our honeymoon. He also thanked me for taking care of the matter of Dastard. It was the least I could do for him. He inquired about DeWinter and I led him to DeWinter's workroom. I said he was probably still setting things up…and seeing to Happy. "Happy?" I told him that Owen had given us a mastiff puppy as a wedding present and the two of them seemed to have taken to each other very well. Julian raised an eyebrow. "He named the dog Happy?" I smiled. He named it when he was decidedly unhappy, I told him. Julian thought for a moment and then nodded.

DeWinter came out, greeting Julian. Happy bounded out after him, aiming for his shoes (his quarry) and missed, skidding into a near wall. DeWinter gave a mock-frown and shook his head. Happy didn't care. He got back up, shook himself down, and padded over to the new set of boots. He sniffed, ignoring Julian's hand. DeWinter introduced Julian to Happy who now had the opportunity to pet him. Julian remarked that he would grow to be a formidable size, judging by his paws. Happy liked the attention but then saw another quarry, invisible to the rest of us, and bounded off.

Hip and Cicero were still here. Hip really likes the weir, especially Claw. She was always getting one or another to teach her more in-fighting. Cicero had found my library and was perusing through the books. Cicero and Byslamia had hit it off nicely. Maybe Sebastian would forget about them for a bit…I wonder if that would lead to anything.

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