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Cassandra's Diary.27

Day 282/19
A Short Talk with Dara

While DeWinter and Owen escorted Suhuy out of Amber, I sat in the King's office, watching him pace back and forth.

He must have concluded whatever he was thinking and sat down. “At least Suhuy didn't insult our intelligence by insisting we believe all he said without proof.”

I suppose that's true, though if that is all we got out of the conversation we would be disappointed. The question is: could anything he said be true? The only person we, or rather I, could ask, would be Dalt.

Random nodded his agreement and I Trumped Dalt. It didn't work at first until I remembered the elaborate but useless code he'd come up with. It was worse than DeWinter's. At least DeWinter's was based on a system we could figure out. Still, I gave it my best shot. Surprisingly, it worked. Just for a moment I wondered about that. I came to the conclusion that the code was a cover. Few would know he had a code, so if I were someone was actually using one, it would mean we were probably not attackers. So in a skewed way, his code did work. Just like Dalt.

But those thoughts were chased away when I saw he was sitting in a copper bathtub, quite nude. The rim of the tub was high enough for discretion, thank the Lady. I would never have thought he'd answer like that. He wouldn't speak through the Trump so he wanted me to go through. I rephrased things so Random knew what Dalt was saying. Random piped up that he thought this was a bad idea. I wasn't terribly keen on the idea myself. DeWinter would be furious. Dalt understood, but then guaranteed my safety and my return to Amber.

I considered the ramifications and agreed.

He stood from the tub and reached out his hand. I took some pride in the fact that the connection didn't waver in the slightest. I did note that his eyes weren't as dark a green as DeWinter's. I kept my eyes firmly fixed. He'd be annoyed if I showed such an interest. It was tempting, though. I stepped away once I was through and waited until he wrapped a towel around him. I wanted to start out with him knowing just why I had to get back to Amber. So, I told him he was going to be an uncle again. He's usually rather impassive or grim, but for that moment he gave a wide smile and lit up. The transformation was as startling as it was warm. He was truly happy with the news. He gestured for me to take a near by seat while he sat on the tub's edge. I think he was going to ask a few questions, but we were interrupted.

A small but wiry woman walked inside the tent. I had no idea who she was, or who would dare to just walk in while Dalt was bathing. But the way his face shut down was really disappointing. She seemed a bit surprised to see me, then gestured for me to leave. I hesitated which surprised her in turn. Quickly, I could see she was thinking about calling the guards. Then she was moving and my arm is up behind my back. I hesitated too long to try and stop her. Starting a fight just wasn't prudent, I thought. She reached around with her other hand and surprised me by stroking my jaw.

"Who is she?" the slender woman asked.

Dalt didn't answer.

She pushed me towards the door. I didn't want to go. I had this sudden thought that if I left-- his protection would be gone. But, if I stayed, she'd call the guards.

So, I introduced myself. "Cassandra of Amber."

That really annoyed Dalt, to the point that he was quite angry. I shrugged at a loss and tried to cover. “Sorry, I should have told you.” I hoped he'd get the hint and pretend that he'd been tricked.

It didn't work. I suppose he liked it less for anyone to think he was duped by a mere Amberite. In that second, she was moving toward me, now with the visible intention of killing me. Armor was forming under her clothes as she moved. Dalt moved quickly as well. He called her name, "Dara!", causing her to hesitate for a moment, enough time for him to intercept.

Then they fought. Dara? Of Chaos?

I wonder what Dalt's bathing experiences usually were. I mean; no guards came despite the noise. I think I'd rather not know. The fight was a bit of a stalemate. She had armor that protected her from his blows and had enough edged points that they were causing him some cutting damage. Dalt had strength, endurance, reach and a lot of experience. He managed to keep himself between her and I.

He explained that I had information.

Dara responded. “I don't need information from your Amberite whore.”

Oh my, that sent Dalt over the edge.

But it was then that I realized I was still dressed like a streetwalker. I had forgotten in the rush to answer the Trump. Now things made sense, Dalt trying to pass off my presence as unimportant; Dara not recognizing the import of me being in Dalt's tent. I probably could have just walked out of here and straight back to Amber.

Sigh... and I thought Dalt was slow on the uptake.

They continued in earnest for the next hour. I must say, I learned a lot while watching.

Finally the guards had peered into the tent's interior. I saw that they were in Dalt's colors. Dara called a halt. Dara was breathing hard and I could see he'd just warmed up.

I found myself wondering where I sat in prowess between these two. I've fought hard for a number of hours, once for about twelve. So I know I could last a long time against Dara, but I know I wouldn't last an hour against Dalt in hand-to-hand combat. So, Dara is very good. Good enough, I couldn't wear her down. So, now I needed the diplomatic approach.

Dalt dressed while the guards waited. Somehow in all this, I began to talk with Dara. I told her we had no idea she was alive, or that there were two Dara's. It seems as preposterous writing it here as it did saying it. I tried to reconstruct events, as I knew them, through the Patternfall War and to this strange moment. I brought up Corwin's name and she was riveted. I told her that after everything settled, Corwin had left Amber and hadn't been seen much since. That seemed significant to her. Corwin wasn't in Amber. Corwin was nowhere near her retribution. I thought she was also wondering if he left Amber because she "died."

After a few centuries, I'm sure that bit of romanticism appealed to her. The question was, did it appeal to her enough to stop her attack until we got things settled? The best I got was that she was seriously thinking about what I said. She wanted to disbelieve it all, except that Dalt reinforced what I was saying.

Still thinking, she left.

Dalt remarked that I probably should leave. I agreed. I asked if he had any messages, perhaps one for Peia? He jumped up. “That reminds me, give this to Kai-Revere.”

In the next partition of the tent, he opened a trunk at the foot of his bed. He pulled out a large blond bear dressed in Dalt's colors. It was easily twice Kai's size. I fought to smile normally but the thought of big, bad General Dalt trooping around with this stuffed bear in his war-chest was almost too much. I caught the hint that he wasn't going to discuss Peia, so I took the bear and thanked him. I truthfully said that Cai would love it.

I Trumped back to the Castle and changed out of my all-too-effective disguise. DeWinter got back around one in the morning. I filled him in on what happened and we got into a minor argument. He insisted that I had waited until he left before Trumping out of Amber because I knew he would have objected.

I argued back that this was not some sort of predetermined plan of mine --- it just worked out that way. It lasted all of a few minutes but in the end he begrudgingly let the matter dropped, apparently convinced. To let out some steam, he hit me with a pillow.

I hit back.

We ended up with our own peculiar contest, much more fun than the earlier one. Especially considering how it ended.


Day 285/19

I've been trying to reach Corwin for a while now. I'm just not getting any answer though it's not blocked or being pushed aside. It's as if he's too far away. I went to see Random about it. Before I could say much of anything, he asked if I had ever led troops. I said only once. Owen, Doblique and I did fight one war, but Owen had pretty much taken charge of things, so there wasn't much I added, aside from some minor planning and logistics. Mycenea had been peaceful for a long, long time. I'd learned tactics and strategy and had some practice, like with the last Amber wargames, but little applicable experience.

He listened and asked if I'd be willing to lead Amber troops into Kashfa. He thought my being a woman might appeal to Dara. Of course it was a sensible thing, having a woman there, but I wasn't the most qualified. I also just didn't want to go into a battle while pregnant.

Sigh.

I'll bet that after the child is born, I won't have this opportunity. But, I would go into Shadow to get closer to Corwin. Perhaps that would make the Trump easier. And, Mycenea is a goodly distance into Shadow to make a difference.

DeWinter and I went back to Tiryns, said goodbye and then returned to walk the Pattern. Before I left, Claw said I should take a few weir with me. I declined and she fairly insisted. She said we might have to "argue" about it. I realized I had allowed things to progress too far. Her tone suggested that I should be listening to her, not disagreeing. She was becoming dominant. I knew we'd have to settle it. I said this and she agreed. I realized she thought she'd win. We left before things went too far.

I'd have that discussion when we returned.

We Trumped to the drawbridge before heading for the library. Did I mention my husband was going with me? He's not leaving my side when I am out of Amber. Privately, I think he's starting to think he can't leave me alone period.

We got down the stairs from the library and met a small group of guards in front of the Pattern room. They'd gotten notice that I was going to walk the Pattern but not for DeWinter. I vouched for him, but we still had to prove who we were. They showed us to an anvil in the middle of the floor. About ten feet away, there was an “X” marked in chalk on the floor. Guess what I had to do?

This would have been exasperating if it wasn't both serious and funny. I mean, they had little chance of detecting spies, so the castle guard were coming up with as many ideas for tripping-up imposters as possible, and I think they're having a wee bit of fun while doing it. Imagine being able to set up tests, to see how the family measures up, or just to see a few remarkable things. Performing Amberites might be a treat--- even a guard's day gets tiresome.

So I picked it up, and with a fair bit of struggling, carried it to the spot. Now I noticed the anvil had been on another “X”. Guess what deWinter's test was? The guards asked me if I was going to vouch for him. Nope. Not that I couldn't, but I think I shared a bit of the guards enthusiasm. Besides, I like watching DeWinter given any opportunity.

DeWinter walked the Pattern first. After he went about thirty feet, I followed. I remembered that the second patternwalk, for me, was difficult and it was the same for DeWinter. He seemed to be having some trouble and staggered once or twice. I didn't have as much trouble, but it was an odd walk.

When I passed the first veil and the sparks were to my waist I heard a strange squeaking, almost like a mouse. Once I was through, it stopped. As I approached the second veil, it started again, like a small animal. Ahead of me, DeWinter was almost jammed in the third veil. It seemed like too long before he went into a crouch, like a linebacker, and pushed himself through. He got free of the veil and fell to his knees, still working towards the center.

By now I had caught up a bit and entered the third veil. The tiny sounds started again. I wondered if this was an effect of two of us walking the Pattern at once. The sound started and did not stop. It fact, it was continuous until I was through the Veil. This time, I didn't collapse when I reached the center.

We spent a few minutes recovering. In answer to my question, he hadn't heard a squeak at all. I Trumped to Mycenea, again the sound. I waited and DeWinter told the Pattern to take him to me. I didn't know if he would remember my rooms from the last time. He'd only been here for a few minutes and that was almost a decade ago.

I went in search of some food. I found a servant at his post in the corridor and had something sent up. I ignored the goggling look at my sudden appearance. We waited and Linea arrived. I went into “Mycenean” mode and we talked and ate.

After the amenities were over and I explained that this was a business trip for the Crown, I Trumped Corwin. I doubted any of my sisters would be insulted, but I wanted to make sure. I tried reaching Corwin. I knew I was closer, but I just had to try harder. When I discontinued, I found it was three hours later. DeWinter was in a nearby chair reading one of my old books. I found I was famished. He'd ordered another tray of food and I fairly devoured it. We tried again, this time both of us.

This time, there was a response. I hit something, a sharp pain, like hitting water the wrong way. We kept at it. Then there was a lessening of resistance. We hadn't even known it was there until it began to fade. We were moving faster through the connection when I felt my stomach cramp. We must have been doing this for hours. I ignored it and continued. Finally, Corwin picked up the call.

He was wearing a tweed cap and leather jacket. There was a light rain and it was clearing late in the evening. I didn't want to assume I could keep the connection open so I asked if we could meet with him. I gave him some particulars, not yet mentioning Dara. Instead, I focused on the armies outside of Amber and that his past may be involved. He was intrigued enough to arrange to meet us by his Pattern. The connection collapsed and so did my legs.

I had stabbing pains in my stomach. I tried to eat when I realized it was cooked. Too nauseous to have it around, DeWinter took it and ordered some raw meat. By the time the servant came back, he thought of a cover story; we'd be using it for magic, so don't bother us. That satisfied the girl's curiosity and gave me privacy. I ate everything on the platter. It tasted Wonderful, though it was not rare enough.

We made our excuses and Hellrode to Corwin's Pattern. I got one of the dragonflies to ride. It only took a couple of hours to find one near a marsh. DeWinter was skeptical about it, but seemed to enjoy the ride. Oddly, within the hour it had shown signs of distress. I couldn't calm it nor reach its mind. Could I have gotten a different kind that I had before? I had to slow us down to give the creature time to recover. In the end, though, it only took about seven hours to reach Corwin's Pattern. The creature simply sank to the ground with a total loss of motor control. I gave it quite a bit of sugar that helped a great deal. Then I was hungry again.

We were force to leave it behind for a while to hunt for food. I ate, DeWinter cooked his. We went back for our mount but it was gone. I can't say I blame it after what I put it through.

So, DeWinter and I walked to Corwin's Pattern. No one was waiting, so we settled down for a bit. DeWinter taught me a game called mumbly pegs and we wiled away the time.



Day 286/19
Talk with Corwin

It was six hours later when we heard a horse approach. It was a black horse with red eyes. Riding it was a figure in Chaosian armor and bearing a lance. With a bombastic shout, he announced he was here to kill Corwin. Curious. How did he know Corwin would be here? Could he have monitored my Trump contact?

DeWinter and I began to argue. I said the stranger was welcomed to try and kill Corwin, DeWinter said I was being unfair. He left in a huff, the better to scout the area out and warn Corwin before he arrives. I must say, we were quite convincing unless you knew I don't generally argue with DeWinter in public.

As he was gone, Corwin arrived at the center of his Pattern. That threw me. Where could he have come from? I'd had heard, I'm sure of it, if he'd been in Amber. And if he'd been in Rebma, it wouldn't have been so hard to reach him. Tir? Was he wherever Tir was when it was absent from the night sky? Or at the Primal Pattern?

Corwin began walking backwards along the path. The stranger moved to where he would have a line of sight once Corwin was done. At least he was being sporting about it. Corwin was almost at the end. I heard him say, “I don't have time for this.” And with a gesture the knight was gone in a single BOOM! Only a charred mark in the grass marked ground zero. I heard an exclamation and saw that DeWinter had returned in time to see the show. He was as impressed as I was.

We began to talk with Corwin. I was startled when he said he didn't know who Dara was. It only took a few minutes before I realized we were talking to a Pattern ghost. So, we had to explain everything. He assured us he could and would give the real Corwin all the information. As we finished talking, I got more stomach cramps. Hungry again. It got worse the more I talked, every five minutes or so.

Corwin left and we went for more food. Walking seemed to help, some. We found food and afterwards realized the child was responding to my voice. No words, no images, just sounds that he or she was listening. To say I was alarmed or surprised would be a gross understatement.

The sky grew dark long before Corwin, or his ghost, returned. He said Corwin will be going to Amber to see if he can help with this situation. That said, we were pretty much ready to return home. I desperately wanted to talk with someone about the baby. Rather than exacerbate the situation, we decided to walk back to Amber. I found the runaway dragonfly and walked it to its home.

Day 287/19

I did get to speak with Owen about the baby. First, I'm actually four months pregnant. She assumes that walking the Pattern accelerated the child. As for walking the Pattern, as usual, she assumes that I should have known I wasn't suppose to do it while pregnant. She wasn't sure of the effects on such a newly conceived child. Owen added that no one else had ever done something like this. Her tone made it clear that she thought I should have stayed home and been a good little Amberite.

Perhaps. But why should I assume that it would be dangerous? I am of the Blood and I have walked it in the past. It runs through my body and I call it into my mind when I need it. I even did so when we were trying to escape from the Paris trap. The same goes for DeWinter. The Pattern was a part of me and that which surrounded the child, yet the child was not harmed. I'd Trumped and shifted Shadow with no difficulty. I'd even walked through UnderShadow with no problems. And, at no time, did anyone say, 'Oh, by the way, don't walk the Pattern when you're pregnant.' So, why should I just Know?

At the meeting I was feeling very frustrated, judged, and terribly frightened. Owen commented that I've had my bit of adventure so that should last me a few months.

DeWinter muttered something like, “Don't bet on it.”

Owen replied, “It was just a suggestion. We have no control over you."

DeWinter said, "Neither do we. That's the problem.”

That was enough. I got up and left.

I realized that DeWinter might get frustrated from time to time, but I would have liked him to tell me privately. He might not have many people to confide in, and he should have them, but I'd rather have heard it first. I was worried about the child before being made to feel like a recalcitrant and willful child myself. Ah…

There was nothing I could do except wait. And think. What might this mean? Will my daughter be able to shift Shadow? Imagine letting her out to play and having to find her in Shadow. The possibilities for problems were endless. DeWinter caught up to me after a while.

DeWinter and I made our way to the Castle. I wanted to tell Random to expect Corwin. He repeated his offer for me to go to Kashfa. I was subdued in the meeting and he might have mistaken it for wanting to leave Amber. His offer was by way of trying to cheer me. I filled him in on the fact that I was pregnant, which he thought was "great."

Then he realized what I had been doing over the last day or so and seemed pale. His alarm wasn't gratifying, though I appreciated the concern. He made no further comments about me leaving Amber.


Day 288/19
Settling Weir Disputes

Claw and I had another argument. She'd stated that I was going to stay in Tiryns for the remaining time. That did it. I will discuss anything with DeWinter, and Mother and Byslamia. Actually, I will discuss my life with virtually anyone. I will not take orders. At best, only DeWinter could get away with it. It was time to settle this between us.

It wasn't until we were in the courtyard that she sniffed out I was pregnant. So as we fought and I saw that she held back. The trouble was, even if I won, she would always think she let me win because of my condition. And we'd have to do this all over again. So, I goaded her and pushed her until her weir temper took over.

Then we really fought.

Now an angry weir is a frightening thing. We were more closely matched than I realized. She went glittery-eyed crazy and shifted. She healed faster and didn't seem to feel much of the pain of my blows. I had speed and endurance on my side. The problem was, she was healing everything I dished out. So I went for some pretty brutal strikes to slow her, and then a chokehold. I got fairly cut up by her claws as she slowly lost the battle, but rendered her unconscious. I won and without the benefit of anger.

I do dimly recall DeWinter shouting sometime in the fight. So was Kai-Revere. What I didn't realize was that when Claw Changed, DeWinter saw this fight getting far more out of control than he liked. He'd moved in to stop the fight only to be tackled about three other weir. He made some rash comments but they didn't let go.

I found out later they were interpreting DeWinter's harsh comments at being stopped as grounds for a duel, each and separately.

I tended to Claw and she returned tender ministrations to me. Amazing. No rancor, no lingering resentment. It was all good again. Now if only I could get DeWinter out of three duels. He wasn't too pleased with the situation himself.

I did send a full report on the pregnancy to Fiona. If anything was to become of my Pattern mistake, perhaps she'd benefit.


Day 289/19

No matter what we came up with, nothing was sufficient to get out of the weir challenges. So, today, DeWinter fought. The first match was over inside two minutes. DeWinter left himself open and when attacked let loose with a haymaker that just couldn't be beat. They cleared that fellow away for the next. This weir, Howl, was far more cautious. The two fought for an hour and DeWinter ended up using my tactics. He caught the weir in a chokehold and rendered him unconscious. The last, against Scowl, took the longest. The entire time, he stayed out of arms reach, using mostly kicks and a very defensive fighting style. In fact, he fought unlike most of the other weir. I wondered if he not only had been watching DeWinter and I practice, but learning as well. I have to remember him. This fight took fifty minutes. DeWinter faked him out and lulled Scowl into a sense of security by appearing tired. He moved in and DeWinter finished it.

This is more fun than the weir had had in a while. The whole clan was "ringside" for the duels. Kai and the other kids were going crazy with excitement. Mother wasn't pleased but just stayed in one of the rear rooms of the house. Kai and Eidolon even volunteered to be my guards during the duels. I was confused. If I could fight so well, why would I need guards? I think they were working under the premise that they would be able to fight as well, or they'd learn to fight. I told them I would think about it.

Day 323/19

Dalt arrived in the middle of the night. I could tell because half the weir were noisily fighting him off. He got pretty close, was he testing the house defenses? Well, they stopped him though they know he's not barred. He could have goaded them.

Dalt? Goad a fight?

Nah. Heh.

When all was settled, he told me that Dara hasn't called off the attack on Amber but he doesn't know when it will strike. He's not working for her anymore, so he decided to come by and visit Kai-Revere. I showed him to Kai's room and he saw that he slept. So, we went back and had some more coffee. I learned that Kinkel and Martin are in Kashfa. Martin's been trying to do some negotiations but Corwin has yet to make an appearance. Dalt didn't hold out much hope of diplomatic solutions.

Day 325/19

In case Dara did attack Amber, and to keep busy, I went ahead with my plan to use aerial defense. In short, I built a hot air balloon. I'd ordered the fabric years ago, so we just had to sew it and make the basket. It filled the time nicely.

Simone visited for a bit. She'd made friends and was gone most of the time. She'd gotten especially close to Silviera, a visiting Chaosian of House Bodann. Later, I tried to finish Peia's Trump, but no luck. I just can't seem to concentrate fully on Trump right now. So I built my weapon of mass aerial destruction and went riding a lot.

In short, I'm bored.



Day 333/19

I hit an idea. I'm going to build a tree house for Kai and Eidolonn. A little fort. He's so sweet. While designing it, he made sure there would be an extra room for his new sister. Eidolon didn't like that idea too much. 'Why have room for a girl?'

Before I launched into a tirade against him, Kai answered. He wanted one because: 'then it will be easier to fight back to back with her.' I gave him a kiss on the top of his head and we finished designing it.

Day 352/19

DeWinter spent most of the time taking vitamins, lounging, sleeping, and resting. My demand for his attention is peaking. I had to laugh, because he needs the extra rest. The fort is finished, though it's bigger than I anticipated. I added a few more levels and made an elaborate add-on of exercise cagebars in the back. Now, all the weir children are playing on it with enthusiasm.

I've spent time riding. Max and I visited the Ranger outposts. DeWinter and I visited Julian's home a few times. We've ridden to Shapir's even though he's a bit farther out in Arden. And hunting. We've done a lot. I'm eating far more than the last pregnancy, but it had been far too long since I'd hunted. I'd almost forgotten how wonderful Arden smells. In fact, once I was back in Tiryns, the wood fires just smelled odd.



Day 358/19

Since Kai is still asking for a 'clock dog', I've made him a wooden gorhaz just for him. He almost cried he was so happy. Unfortunately, Eidolon made some disparaging comments about it, like it was 'real anyway.' Suddenly, he and Kai were into a fight. The frightening thing was that Kai was winning. He's three and Eidolon's five.

I separated the two when I got to them and sent Eidolon to Mother and I took hold of Kai. I wasn't pleased by this sudden violence. I tried to get across to him that just because someone doesn't like what another says, that was no excuse for fighting. He didn't understand the ethics involved. I ended up just telling him not to hit Eidolon. That was simple enough to grasp. He wanted to show me how he would have won. He made a few quick moves, a wrestling maneuver that he called the 'Secret Stomp'. It seemed like a vicious maneuver for a child to know, so I asked. He said Dalt had shown it to him . . . .

I took him straigh-away to see DeWinter. I didn't want Dalt to be showing Kai such things. He's too young.

After Kai showed him the 'move', DeWinter's shocked comment was: “Hey! That's my secret stomp!” I don't think he understood why I didn't want Kai learning this at such a young age. He did understand that beating Eidolon wasn't such a good thing and I was genuinely upset.

Angrier than I should have been, I went to dig a moat around the fort. And added a drawbridge.


Day 364/19
An Unexpected Journey

Tonight I decided to paint the fort since I can hardly sleep for the excess energy of the pregnancy. It was the quietest thing I could think to do in the middle of the night. As I was approaching the fort, I saw a figure standing inside. Thinking it was one of the children, I went closer. As I got closer, the fort became the size of Castle Amber. The figure was on the parapet and waved to me.

I realized I was in Tir, though how I got there I couldn't imagine. I went up to the roof and met with the figure, my grandfather, Eric. We talked. He stayed in the shadows a lot, which I thought strange. He did ask me to tell Tatasha that he should never have 'sent her away.' In response to my question, Eric said that his mother could come and go to Tir at will, or at least when the moon was full. When I shared some current events, he asked who was King. "It couldn't be Benedict because of the curse."

Curse, what curse?

He led me to the King's chambers in the castle and told me to place a hand on the fireplace mantel.

I did so. It was very cold. I could feel a heavy trembling like the body of someone who was trying not to cry.

Eric told me Benedict was responsible for that. The fireplace was actually one of his lost brothers.

Oh, I so hope that wasn't true.

He asked again who was King. It seemed so important to him. I knew too well the last time he asked, he disappeared in agony. Now he didn't seem to remember asking before, so I wanted to build up to telling him and perhaps avoid the shock.

It didn't work. I got through a very abbreviated synopsis of the Patternfall War (with him asking many questions) when I got to Deirdre's death--- the news came as if for the first time and he disappeared with a mournful shout.

I have to stay away from Eric. I always end up giving him grief.

I went outside and could see the faint rose of dawn. I had no Trump deck and the Pattern would take too long to reach and walk. So, it was the stairs. I still hate heights, but the fear of falling is a good motivator. If I didn't move, I would definitely fall. If I tried the stairs I might live. So fear of heights was overridden by fear of falling. I climbed down towards Kolvir, clinging harshly to the stairs. The stairs moved faster and faster as I descended. It might have been my imagination but I almost thought Tir had kicked me out--- and fast. I hit the bottom with considerable speed, tumblng over the grass.

I got to the Castle, borrowed a horse from the stable and headed to Tiryns.

It was four in the morning before it got back to Tiryns. The entire place was in an uproar. I was anticipating a bit of a fuss. I'd gotten off the estate without anyone able to track me. I decided to allow myself a perverse sort of satisfaction from it, even though I didn't do it myself. So I got people into breakfast and told them what happened. I could see it being a difficult story to accept except for the changes. My white cotton shirt was now silver silk. My black pants were black silk. And my belt was of a strange hide--- I'd almost think of whale. The same with my boots.

And when I went to look at the fort in the yard, it was now solid silver instead of wood.

Day 365/19

Since Owen has pretty much said her knowledge with the Pattern is limited, I've decided to go to the best source I know: Fiona. If there was a way to avoid just walking into Tir, she would know it. I Trumped her. Her card cleared and I found her at a dog race. She found a quiet spot to talk. Her advice was simple, wear cold iron cuffs and rubber-soled shoes. She felt those would anchor me during the full moon until it wanes.

Seemed simple enough.


Day 1/20
Rescuing Corwin

Since Corwin has still yet to make an appearance, I tried his Trump. I had to borrow a card from Kinkel. I really have to either get a deck or go find mine. I did get to Corwin, quickly enough that he could be relatively near. Unfortunately, he was hanging from a horizontal pole, ankles and wrists chained up. Underneath him was a long fire, enough that he could not touch the ground at any place. Those bindings had to really hurt with the heat. I tried to move in closer, in order to help free him, but I just couldn't move the connection in close enough. Kinkel tried his sword through the Trump but even with that reach there wasn't the necessary leverage. Both Kinkel and DeWinter added their concentration to the connection and we moved in, but we were unable to free him. All of this went quickly and the conversation with Corwin was short and brief. He'd been abducted on his way to Amber and no, he didn't know where he was.

We ended the connection, assuring him we'd get help. Of course, we ran to Random to tell him of the latest development. Random asked me to try again.

It worked, better than before. We moved the connection closer. This time I could see changes. Corwin had a metal gag in his mouth and he was unconscious. At that precise moment, Random moved to knock the card out of my hand. It was just registering that a Trump contact can't be made with an unconscious person when I realized that the connection was still going with Corwin's card on the floor at my feet. In fact, it was turning into a Trump gate. Random yelled to shut it down, but someone, or a few someone's on the other end were far stronger. On the other side we could see about 50 people waiting.

BlackAdders.

I felt the onrush of adrenaline as I realized they had an immediate and direct route into Amber and to the King. I drew my blade and heard DeWinter and Kinkel following suit. The Adders began to push towards our side of the Trump and DeWinter and I held them at bay. Only four could come at us at a given time, so the odds were only about two to one. We had little problem with this. In fact, none of our opponents lasted more than a minute or two. My internal energy charge was unbelievable; such danger and excitement! I could have done this all day. The King's guards had come through the door and were waiting for some opportunity to aid. After all, they were supposed to be fighting for us. I cut another robed Adder down. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the pinpoint of a rapier moving toward my face. Before I could respond, a young guard launched himself through the air to deflect the blow. He saved my life, but he was badly injured in a riposte. I reached around him and killed his opponent then pushed the young guard to one of our fellows to get care.

We continued the fight. There was no contest here. DeWinter and I were doing just fine. So well, in fact, that he often pressed the fight forward and had to be pulled back to the Amber side a few times. It didn't matter because no one was getting through.

I heard the sound of something heavy moving behind us. I spared a glance to see Random hefting his large desk. He shouted to DeWinter to break left on his mark. I was to break right and we were to follow his lead. He gave a shout, we moved, and Random rushed forward. I thought he was going to throw the desk, but of course he couldn't do what we expected. Oh, he put the desk through all right. He used it as a battering ram and did a beautiful carry through until he was on the other side. He slammed into the crowd of attackers and I followed. DeWinter didn't even bother to argue, he came right along. As a Knight of the Realm; it's his duty to protect the King.

I'm sure he was thinking it would be nice of the King made the job just a little bit easier.

Random forced his way to Corwin. He threw the desk down on the flames leapt upon it and began to free Corwin. I moved to his right, and DeWinter flanking his left and about three guards filled in the spaces.

No one was able to stand against my blade. The excess energy of the pregnancy had something to do with it, as I was fast and constant. The only snag came when Random was hit by a spell from some caster behind the enemy swordsmen. Little flanges of metal swept through the air to embedded themselves in his back. He responded by throwing a knife back, hitting the target dead in the eye.

Random got Corwin down and put him in a fireman's carry. We flanked them and began to fight back to the gate. It was still open, a group of guards fighting to keep it clear, holding it for us to get through. Suddenly March came through shouting, “The Unicorn is right behind me!”

That caused more than a few of the BlackAdders to pause and look just before they died.

Random and Corwin were through the gate. I targeted one of the robed figures and managed to hold back enough not to kill him. Instead, I launched him through the gate for questioning. The guards fell on him immediately.

March and I held the gate. Our problem was shutting it down. It takes a lot of energy to make one, so how much longer can they maintain this? DeWinter ran to Random's bar and selected a number of bottles. Random yelled for him to get him a drink, too. DeWinter came up between us, carefully and threw the bottles to the floor, ignoring Random's indignation. They he used a torch. The floor on the other side of the gate was immediately immolated in flames. The energy or the heat was large enough, if brief, to close the gate down. Random thought that was pretty “slick.”

He went to a box that had fallen from his desktop and handed out cigars to all. The guards carried Corwin to the infirmary. Cigars are such strange things. They smelled horrid but tasted…different. Not entirely unpleasant, but that could be the adrenaline talking. I had one or two scrapes, nothing worth mentioning. But I did tell on the King to Owen. She went and dragged him off to remove all the metal bits from his back. She especially checked for poison. I didn't realize I had gotten one of the flechettes in my cheek. It had been poisoned but my blood, Amber or weir, was neutralizing it.

A good morning's work. I got about 14 attackers myself. Kai thought it was all terribly exciting. He even got to meet his uncle Corwin.

Most everyone was very curious about Corwin and the infirmary filled with people. He'd been gone for so long, most of the family now do not know him at all. I admit I wanted to talk with him, but his journal and his current demeanor said a public conversation wouldn't yield much. Actually, he reveals precious little. A very guarded man.


Day 3/20

Benedict and Martin are missing in Kashfa and Random has closeted himself with Corwin to discuss matters. That leaves us pretty much in the dark. I did fill in Simone about what's been happening. We had a really long talk. She was curious about my pregnancy, since the Courts shut away women who are pregnant. I think she was feeling very useless with all that was happening in Amber. I suggested that she ask the King for something to do, but she felt that she wouldn't be of much use without being able to move around like the others. In fact, she was feeling very insecure about her place. It took a little prodding but she finally revealed that Sebastian had told her that because of her Chaosian upbringing, amongst other things, she would never be relegated above the status of a second-class citizen of Amber, much less a member of the Royal Family.

The Bastard!

There are times when I think Simone and I have very similar issues with our fathers. Sebastian told her that to keep her close and alienated from the rest of us. Or, perhaps he believes it. Either way, it was a means to use her and I doubt he had much regard about how hurtful he was being to her. Evander has done the same to me. Sometimes I wonder just how much we are progressing in our relationship, and how much he is just using me to make his life a little better. But, in Simone's case, I can whisper in a King's ear, or the Crown Prince's, so that that matter is settled.


Day 4/20

Corwin left today for Kashfa with Llewella. After Random told me, I warned him that I was about to meddle. He looked interested and I told him about Simone's comments. I think he was just a bit disgusted with his grandson. Or disappointed. It was a cheap shot to tell Simone. He said he'd talk with her.


Day 11/20

Corwin returned with news that the armies are moving against Kashfa, Mallik, Begman, Caladon and all the rest. We are talking a large contingent to be able to cover all these points. Dastard was also in the Golden Circle because Dara apparently has gotten herself kidnapped. Rumor has it that we have her.

Wish we did.

I Trumped Dalt to see if he'd have any more information. He made no promises, but he said he'd ask around. I told Random this, in case he had anything specific he needed to know about. He didn't just yet, but said that if I had the urge to "subvert any more of our enemies so that they'll spy for us, I should feel free to do so."

You know, it was an insidious thought because I came up with one right away. Daksheer, the BlackAdder that was trapped in Paris with us.

Would she talk with me? It was worth a shot. DeWinter thought that was going a bit far and didn't like it one bit. He wasn't having any of this plan, but I wore him down. Actually, it was easier than I thought it would be, as if he didn't have a lot of conviction to argue with me; as if I could get him to agree to anything. I did get Sarek as backup. He was fairly intrigued with my plan. I wanted backup in case I got hit with a magical trap while in the Trump contact. While he took time to prepare, I alerted the weir and got the children out of harm's way.

I Trumped Daksheer. Amazingly enough, she was dressed in a Parisian-style dress. That boded well. Was she sentimental over her time there? It took a great deal of energy to get through to her, but I had plenty to spare. The room she was in was dark with flickering lights, like fireflies, in the corners. She was amenable to a talk though highly cautious, suspicious of my motivations. I'll just have to hope that she'll see that I'm really not all that different in temperament and disposition than when we were friends without our memory. We arranged for me to Trump her again in 24 hours. That way we'd know the time differential and could plan a meeting.

When done, I sent a note to Random about my contact.


Day 12/20
Another Unexpected Journey

I Trumped Daksheer. This time it was much easier. Her hair was wrapped in a towel and she had a robe on. She was a bit startled to see me. For the day that passed for me, six days passed for her. After a short talk, she said she didn't want to talk about confidential matters over the connection. Would I come through? She gave her word that I would be guaranteed my safety. I took a moment to speculate about the risks, decided they were minimal, and stepped through. DeWinter wasn't happy.

The room was large, dark and moody. It had a rather primitive feel to it. The furniture was simple, not polished, not ornate; almost rustic and Spartan. Not at all like the other Chaosian dwellings I've seen.

She was willing to talk with me for a number of reasons. First, we had been friends in Paris. Second, she saw me fighting to free Corwin. In fact, I had hurt her brother, but then shoved him into another BlackAdder. I hadn't killed him, so she felt grateful to me for sparing his life.

Third, because I'd killed so many, she's now in a position of authority, so she owed me for the opportunity.

She'd been imprisoned because after she escaped Paris she began to speak against the continued aggression against Amber and had also been charged with consorting with amberite blasphemers. The room she was in was, in fact, built for confinement. She thought that would change soon, as the current leaders of the clan were in disgrace for the debacle with Corwin. Their latest attempt against us was a ruinous defeat, thereby proving her stance with Amber wasn't perhaps as foolhardy as the majority had thought. And apparently she had some seniority.

She did ask what I knew about someone known as the Kangaroo. Someone with that name has been attacking BlackAdder territories and had been entirely too effective.

There was only one person I'd heard with that name: Sebastian. And he hates them enough wage a war against them, of that I have no doubt. All I could promise her was that I'd look into it. I couldn't admit to the Sebastian link because I didn't know for a fact that it was him. I think it's likely, but…

Once I said I'd look into this matter, she confirmed a few pieces of information of the trio that had started actions against Amber, especially in Caladon. Of those three, only the Beastmaster was a BlackAdder. The Trump artist, VanGrast, had been cast out of the BlackAdders because he had a nasty tendency to experiment on people. She also told me to take back an idea to Amber: while a BlackAdder Embassy in Amber probably wouldn't work, what about setting up a diplomatic line of communication?

A large portion of the young BlackAdders have never been to the Courts. They act in accordance with Chaosian law, but without the true context, they are just mimicking a culture their exiled parents or grandparents had. They had houses just like the Courts. Which meant that the actions of some, like the Dagger Jesby, weren't necessarily a reflection of the whole. Rather like Amberites, come to think of it.

Daksheer was thinking it was time for her House to become something more. I agreed to pass it on to the King. And as a measure of goodwill, I gave her a quick hug. She allowed me to do it.

I think she was a decidely torn. Good Chaosians don't touch that way, but we were friends in another life, when we did not know we were enemies. I left commenting that perhaps her effort would make a strong new offshoot of the BlackAdders.

I went back and we spoke with Random. He's a bit skeptical about the whole thing. He wasn't terribly surprised at Sebastian's actions, though I think he was pleasantly surprised that they were successful enough to give the Adders a few worries. I just wonder what will happen when he's captured, because it will happen.

Random did agree to tell Sebastian to lay low for a bit, until we see how this new ingredient brews. He's not too hopeful about this and I don't blame him. I know very well Daksheer might be using me. She'd plenty of time to plan something out. Suspecting isn't knowing. It was worth a shot and I was willing to take a bit of a risk, though no more before the child is born. My gut feeling is that Daksheer is being honest about her intentions.

For if nothing else, the BlackAdders have been dying against us for several centuries; they'd better come up with a different plan soon.


Day 13/20
An Attack

A Trump call came through while DeWinter and I were rather busy with each other. I pushed it away. Five minutes later it happened again. And again. I gave up and answered it. It was Dalt. He'd called to say that there was some communications going around the Golden Circle about an attack on Amber. Tiryns was specifically mentioned. There was a heavy thud from above and I wondered if one of the weir finally fell on the roof. The love climbing up there. I thanked Dalt for the warning when another thud hit. Were the weir fighting up there? Not an impossibility. I wanted to get dressed and deal with this. I told Dalt I'd get back to him in a bit.

We went outside to the sounds of many thuds and shouts. We saw skysails, hundreds of them descending from the sky. In shadow-France they'd called them parachutes. Where were they coming from? No matter, we were in some serious trouble.

I got Kai-Revere and Eidolon to Simone's room and ordered them to hide. Then I Trumped Random. "Help. Incoming. Hundreds against my fifty and lots more landing."

It was going to be fun.

Then I went outside to help fend off the attackers. We weren't doing badly at all. We were seriously outnumbered; quite a few were going to slip past us. But they weren't expecting a household of 'servants' to become snarling bloodthirsty half-wolves either. So, we were able to hold our own, but they were still descending. From the darkness I could make out enough that we were talking at least a thousand, perhaps as much as two. Again that burst of energy came and I felt I could take them on. Too bad I wasn't guarding the steps of Kolvir, hm?

I got a Trump call. Actually, I think it was trying to get through for a while, but I was too involved, having too much fun to pay much attention. To my surprise, it was Llewella, dressed in battle gear. She said she had a thousand ready to come through. I didn't gawk at her. A thousand!

At my last party, I was giddy after Trumping sixty. Well as many as I could get would help save lives. We grasped hands and began to ferry them through.

I have no idea how long I was there. All I saw was an endless stream of Rebmans. Every time my energy began to flag I'd grow afraid that I'd lose the contact, and lose whomever was going through. That danger would spike the energy and I'd have enough to keep going. I just blinked when they were all through and Llewella herself came through.

She began to disperse the nearest, though most had taken prepared positions. Llewella took an object from her belt and pointed it to the shy. A bolt shot up and burst. A magical flare? Whatever it was, it lit the sky. Her people targeted and shot their crossbows and ranged weapons, reloaded, and continued until the flare died.

I tried to check in from time to time with the boys in the house, but I couldn't find them at all. Calling out, they recognized my voice and I found them with Mother and Byslamia hiding in the attic space of the roof.

Once the attackers grounded, they engaged us on the grounds, so the boys were safe up there.

Hours later the enemy was thoroughly stymied. Small groups began to surrender. I got a Trump call from Dalt and I brought him through. His first action was to give me his cloak. I'd forgotten I'd never gotten dressed. I think Dalt agreed with me (though he didn't say so) that we couldn't kill all of them. They were just following orders. Dalt offered to give some counter-codes to their orders and get them to surrender. I did not point out that that would be helping Amber.

No, that wouldn't do.

I did Trump Shapir and found he, too, was fighting. He was pushing the invaders to the west in Arden. He'd heard that Random was doing the same with the incursion from the east. All in all, we were doing fine. If anyone needed help, we'd supply it.

By mid-morning we had 400 attackers surrendered. Llewella took up an iridescent purple arrow. She took up her bow and sounded the bowstring. It gave a strong pure tone before she notched the arrow. One shot, and the bolt was sailing over the ocean. It was a signal that Garnath was secure. Later I found out that Random had had a harder time of it. He was dealing mostly with flat lands, not much terrain to be used against the enemy.

I also heard that Dara was in Amber. She'd been rescued by some Family members. I mentioned she was here to Dalt and he discreetly stayed in the house. Later that morning, the surrendered were taken away and negotiations began with the commanders of the invading troops.


Day 25/20
Dara's Petition

A found a few answers to what had been going on. Sebastian, disguised as Dalt, had kidnapped Dara for her threats on Amber. One of her Cabinet members had heard of Dastard as a faction against Amber and resourceful enough to survive opposing us. So, they called in Dastard to act as a negotiator for Dara. One of Dara's complaints was that Oberon, in exchange for her cooperation during the war, was promised an Amberite prince and a place in Amber. Some were surprised to find out that not only was Corwin married; he had an extended family, including grandchildren. He was no longer an available match for Dara. Random called a Family meeting for us to hear Dara's petition. To validate her claim, Dara had a ring Oberon had given her. Benedict and Julian avowed its authenticity. Dara then began her petition.

First, she was unfairly imprisoned for being an ally with Oberon. The treaty clearly stated that all allies to Amber were not to be detained or imprisoned in retribution for their actions during the war. She should have been protected by the Treaty. If this is true, she had a valid reason for vendetta against Chaos.

Second, she wanted Random to know that House Hendrake had been working with the line of Clarissa to take the throne. She was a bit thrown off by the fact that we already knew that. Thirdly, Oberon had promised Corwin to her. When pressed, she did admit that Oberon had probably promised a prince of Amber. It had been four or five centuries and she couldn't exactly quote him. Nevertheless, she wanted her heirs to have a chance in Amber. Fourth, she wanted to have vengeance on the person that abducted her. Benedict replied that this would probably not happen.

Once she was done, she left and we discussed the matters. It was generally agreed that Dara had a few valid points. Random let Corwin off the hook in regards to Dara, but he wasn't sure how to deal with Oberon's promise. "Volunteers, anyone?"

There were no takers.

He asked Benedict, "How upset would you be, brother, if I can't honor Oberon's promise?"

Benedict replied that promises given with good honorable intent rarely outlive the King that made them. Random seemed relieved until Vialle spoke up. She said she would "be upset" if Random didn't honor what could be considered Oberon's last request. Just like that Random was back in the hot seat. One thing was certain; we had to be careful about what we said to Dara. She didn't yet know that her son, Merlin, was on the Chaos Throne. If she found out, a Chaos vendetta could go badly for us, and the tangled facts of Merlin's ascension might be more than enough shock to send her over the edge. Not to mention, we needed to prepare Merlin for this bit of startling news before Dara learned of it. Merlin was in a lose/lose situation. Technically, if a Chaosian, Dara had broken the Treaty in pressing Amber. If Merlin treated it lightly, he'd be favoring the Hendrakes. If he dealt with it according to Chaosian standards, his real mother is back in prison or worse. If he did nothing at all, he'd favor Amber.

He's in as nasty a political situation as I could imagine.

In the end, consensus was to welcome her here and eventually give her a prince to marry. Random said that he might very well have to appoint someone for the honor. If that worked out, he would be able to get a promise of loyalty to Amber. He was perplexed by Dara, though and made observation. For someone who had been imprisoned since a relatively young age, I believe she was in her teens, she's more sophisticated than he expected her to be. Corwin was more than a little alarmed to find that Dara had been around fifteen when they'd…"met."

As far as Dara's army, I suggested I ask Dalt if he would talk with them and have them hold off on any more attacks. He's been part of her command staff and they might listen to him. Random thought it was a good idea to try. Dara telling them to stand down might make them think we'd taken over her mind or something. Now I just had to convince Dalt.

The meeting broke up and I took a few minutes to go see Dastard. I couldn't, wouldn't, invite him to the estate, but didn't want him to get offended. No worries there. He wasn't planning to stay that long. He just wanted to meet Dara, give her a report, and leave.


Day 26/20

Temporary repairs were coming along nicely. I improvised a little ceremony to give Kai and Eidolon Tiryns medals, for conspicuous compliance in following orders. Positive reinforcement, always a good tactic. This was followed by a lot of good words to the weir.

I did talk with Dalt. I worked around the discussion but Dalt wasn't gong to volunteer. He didn't even agree that someone going to talk with the army was a good idea. Anyone we sent would be suspect and perhaps killed. In fact, he didn't think the army cared either way, they would attack anyway. They have an army, organized and ready.

Why did they need Dara now was Dalt's point? I tried to impress upon him that Garnath valley was not gong to be terribly secure within a month or two. Depending on when they hit, everyone in the house, including Kai and Eidolon were at risk. I ended up telling him about Amberite Circumstances and pregnancies. I was going to take up too much time for anyone to defend the valley. He didn't believe me about Circumstances. In fact, he called me a liar.

I said fine, let's step outside. No one calls me a liar.

He was halfway out of the chair when he remembered I was pregnant. He grew pale and withdrew his statement.

It took a while, but he began to believe that we were telling the truth.

The only other thing to do would be for me to go into Amber City (not my first option), go into Shadow (less than optimal), or through myself into one of the cells in the dungeon. Dalt thought about it and slowly asked permission to bring in 50,000 troops to defend Garnath. Even DeWinter was surprised at that. I told him to wait and let me see if we had some maps.

Once upstairs, I grabbed a map, Trumped Random and found that Benedict had given him a similar assessment. Random listened to what Dalt had asked and thought it remarkable. He said Dalt should pick different colors, though. He wouldn't want to be know for fighting on Amber's side. Good point. As for my leaving Amber, he said he'd give me my own mattress if I wanted to stay in the dungeon. A small incentive.

I went downstairs and told Dalt it was a go. I surreptiously winked at DeWinter and told him Random would give me my own cell to play in. DeWinter said good, but he'd better throw in a few blankets, it gets cold in there. Dalt was half out of his seat as we continued. DeWinter, uncharacteristically, broke first and just began to laugh. Dalt was a bit disgusted at the two of us and prepared to leave.

I told him if I was out of commission DeWinter would be too. That left Doblique in charge. Not that she knew it yet, but I'd a feeling she'd be pleasantly surprised.


Day 46/20

We'd gotten as much of Garnath ready as we could. The balloon was up and used as a long-range sighting outpost. When attackers arrived, it'll have hot oil or whatever we had on hand. I'd designed traps in the river to stop and scuttle any boats and the weir were doing regular scouts of the perimeter. Max and his ladies were our long-range scouts.

Day 55/20

We'd reports from Max. There were a few small groups, of ten or so people each, poking around. I relayed this to Benedict and Julian.

The energy of pregnancy was constantly with me now. Soon, very soon, I'd be full-blown mad with it. I knew because I actually wanted to go up in the balloon because of my fear of heights. The weir tried to prepare Kai and Eidolon, not to mention Toby and Jim about what I would be going through. They just kept saying how we were going to have one big party to celebrate the coming child. Mother was not particularly impressed with the story, but we didn't come up with anything better. At least it was a consistent one, all of the weir refer to it from time to time.

Rumors of a plague spreading through the Golden Circle reached us. Anyone not of Dara's army was affected. The number of casualties were huge, though I heard it was not fatal.

Dastard came to visit, even after I told him not to. DeWinter and I were upstairs when the alarm was called. We went out to see him. I small contingency of the castle guard were with him. He said that the plague had hit some of his people. He'd brought some men with him and they were still behind Dara's army. I didn't say anything, but I did wonder just what he was planning to do with his army had Dara won?

He asked us to intercede with Random on behalf of his people.

Apparently, Random had implied he thought Dastard was in some way responsible for the plague. I told him we couldn't leave the estate, and no we couldn't explain why. DeWinter wanted to know why Dastard had bothered to come all this way, anyway. He said because if he knew nothing else, DeWinter knew he didn't use Amberite tactics. He wanted DeWinter to plead his case with Random.

I admit I blew, right there.

Oh, so despite that we were plague-using warmongers, Dastard was asking for our help.

He affirmed.

I supposed he thought that we should acknowledge our nature. He certainly saw no reason for me to so upset. It was just the truth. I told him to go and DeWinter took a small measure of satisfaction in backing me up. Dastard left with some angry words.


Day 132/20
Xhimene is Born!

Well the full attack on the Golden Circle never came. As much as I'm happy that no one had died, I was just the tiniest disappointed that I never got to try out my defenses. Ah well.

Well, the last two months were the splendid joy of pregnancy. Much of it is a blur though I know I enjoyed it. I do once recall Dalt Trumping and he dropped the connection like a hot rock. I think I shocked him, not that I hadn't warned him. Two days ago I had a baby girl, whom we named Xhimene. She is also dark haired and perfectly healthy, despite being a few weeks early.

The people in the Golden Circle recovered from the plague in the meanwhile. It was what they were calling a 'polymorphic disease', turning people into animals. Turned out not to be permanent. In fact, as people recovered, Dara's army fell prey to a virulent sleeping sickness. I guess that when the disease they were carrying did not take and adapt to the surroundings, the army couldn't survive and fell into a sort of hibernation. Not that I have any proof of this, just some wild speculations.

Back to Xhimene. She's healthy and noisy, though not as loud as Kai-Revere. Though Kai isn't believing he was ever as loud as all that.

It's begun to snow.

Really, I've spent very little time in Amber while in winter. So, the weir taught all of us games in the snow, though they take some to extremes. They particularly like to ambush their parents. They'll burrow into the snow and wait, turning blue if necessary, and ambush their parents as they are walking by.

Attackers explode from the snow at odd moments.


Day 134/20

DeWinter got a letter from Dastard. It looked like a large packet. He was just going to throw it into the fire but I stopped him. Actually we had to wrestle around a bit as he didn't want me to read it. It became a sort of game and DeWinter couldn't stay mad too long. Kai and Eidlon heard the commotion and came in to cheer me on. We all knew if this were serious, he'd win. I got about half of the pages. Essentially, Dastard had written all the things he'd done for DeWinter, going back as far as when they were young adults. Then he claimed he disinherited DeWinter from his family. As if he hadn't done that with his actions all those years ago when he put DeWinter to the stake.

In disgust and anger I began to throw it into the fire but, this time DeWinter stopped me. Now for fun, another wrestling match ensued, pulling me out of my dark mood.

Kai and Eidolon came back in to cheer me on again, and DeWinter got half of the pages back. Then, one by one, he threw them into the fire.

His plan worked, I forgot all about Dastard's wild claims.


Day 141/20

I sent a letter back to Dastard. It was fairly scathing about the cowardly and petty character he had revealed. He'd have to work harder to win DeWinter.

So what? His actions have spoken louder than his words and he'd have to shout long and hard to get them past recent events. He was a coward for wanting a few words to smooth things over and sending a letter when things didn't happen to his satisfaction. He's petty because he actually made an account, a scorecard, to show how much he'd done, no doubt out of the goodness of his heart. Well, that heart is a small one. Even the "dreaded Amberites" do better. Given his grievances with the royal family, I would think he would try to be above such things as keeping a lifetime scorecard with his own brother.

Dalt had made his reputation and he's honest about it. He knows who he is and is fine with it.

And DeWinter has looked at the people around him and wasn't afraid to re-evaluate things. It wasn't always easy, but he wasn't afraid to do it. Dastard could have learned a few things, but now that he has officially broken all ties, that chance would probably never happen.

It was a fairly scathing letter, but I stand with DeWinter in this. I will not force him to pursue a relationship, nor will I stand by and let him be insulted. Perhaps it is a good thing he waited until he was far from Amber.


Day 161/20

Yule

We celebrated Yule. There was a slightly larger turnout given that Corwin was here.

I haven't had much time at all to speak with him.

What was surprising was that Dalt attended. He came in bearing a large green satchel. He distributed mistletoe to all the women and bibles from the Church of the Sacrificed Unicorn to all the men. I asked for and received one. How better to understand these people? I had also invited Peia, but Dalt ignored her. That didn't go over particularly well with the ladies.

Xhimena is a very peaceful baby. Even this young she is no trouble. She only really fusses when I leave her for a significant period of time. So, I take her everywhere. Kai-Revere got together with some of the other children. They decided to explore the secret passages in the castle. They tried to involve Rhiannon but she refused. She wasn't taking any chances on being spanked for doing something naughty. After all, she reminded Kai, the passages are "supposed to be secret."

Some of Bleys' children came in from Shadow. The difference in shadow-times is notable, especially since they were all the same birth age. Now, Blaine is the oldest, with Blythe right behind him. Only Bellesara, who stayed in Arden to train, is still 15. But that didn't stop her. She made use of her time and had as much to contribute as the rest of them.

Sebastian arrived as well. He cheerfully greeted Simone and then promptly ignored her the rest of the night.

I could see that puzzled her, and perhaps hurt her feelings. She answered his questions and remained respectful, nothing more. He spent the night trying to talk with people who noticeably had little to say to him. Llewella and Flora were polite but brief, but it was Vialle who spoke the least. For her to react that way was startling and I suspect that Sebastian didn't realize anything was amiss or he attributed it to something else.

Kate was there. Her new pharmacology shop in town was doing splendidly and it was good to talk with her again. It is no surprise that she is an excellent alchemist.

Evander was there as well. That wasn't a highlight for the evening. Lowlight would be a better term?

For the last few weeks, Dara has been conducting marriage interviews with all the Princes. I'd found out that Evander was one of the few to participate. At a quiet moment, just after Xhimena was fed, I met him out in the gardens.

To say I was angry would be an understatement.

I told him in no uncertain terms that if he wanted to pursue this marriage to Dara, fine, that was his business, but I would not have Mother remain ignorant of what he was doing.

He replied that he would explain it all when I was older.

Of all the patronizing, egocentric things to say--- I was tempted to say that I am far older than he imagined. Actually, by Amber-time, I think I'm just under thirty, instead of nearing fifty.

I have a home, a family, some esteem from the Family, or at least respect. I have a position and responsibilities, which I may not be perfect at yet, but I am fulfilling. I am sorry he hasn't got any of that, but that was his choice and his consequences. He could have more, if he was just willing. My mother adores him and he has a son. I think I long ago ruled myself out with him. But I still tried. Yet I didn't have a chance to say much more.

He told me the King asked for volunteers and he is a member of the family willing to help Amber. I saw he was just as angry with my attitude.

As for tonight, all he was doing was taking her to dance. He was certain that Mother had done so much of the time he was gone from Mycenea. It had nothing to do with me or Mother and I shouldn't presume to tell him anything about his life. And I certainly had no place to judge him.

I wasn't fooled. I said I knew that he was doing this because it would exempt him from military service. I doubted that Dara, the person, mattered the slightest. And whether or not it had been postponed mattered not a wit. He'd begun this behind my Mother's back and once she continued it, he would continue to do so. Mother wasn't some fair weather liasion that meant nothing.

His tone might have implied more than his reference to dance. Could he have been making a cut toward backdancers? Could he think so little of her? I told him her expectations were not to be trifled with. She took no companions, not in the last forty years. Could he say the same? Even with his lovely friend Ire? Somehow I doubt it. Mother was acting with honor and in good faith. He was not. If he wouldn't tell her, I would. It was his responsibility.

Whew!

It was all jumbled in my head and it all spilled out. There was no diplomacy, no quarter. All I felt was anger and a certain amount of contempt for him. If the Family book had been in front of me, I would have erased his name from my family, listing him as unknown. Instead, I went back inside and found a quiet place to calm down before I started to cry in frustration. Amber men seemed to be such horrible fathers! I had to remind myself this wasn't true. Julian had done well, as had Gerard. And Bleys. And DeWinter and Kent.

Okay, maybe only Sebastian and Evander were pathetic fathers.

I went back to the party. Xhimena fussed a little. I think she knew I was upset. DeWinter definitely knew something was wrong. He worked harder than usual to make sure the evening ended well.

Much later, the whole matter of a suitor was postponed by Dara's request, so Evander's and my argument came to nothing.

Day 164/20

Evander came to visit. He spoke with Mother out in the orchard. I could see her nodding and she was utterly composed. He left and she walked back into the house.

Then I could see how angry she was. Could he have really missed that? She was absolutely furious. Oh, he told her alright, he told her everything. She said she didn't want to see him again. I don't know if she really meant that, but I told the weir he was not to be allowed on the estate until further notice.

DeWinter wanted to know what was going on. So I told him about the argument at Yule, about he treatment of Mother and I, everything. I usually don't bother holding on to arguments, but this wasn't going to go away. I felt we'd been used and I knew Evander would never understand, never apologize, and perhaps never regret this.

DeWinter listened quietly and spent a long time thinking. He got up suddenly and said he was leaving for a few days. That took me aback. His face was such I knew he wasn't going to tell me where he was going. Where would he go that would only take two days? Perhaps he was going to see Julian? I said I wanted to pry.

He said he knew that. He gave me a kiss on the forehead and headed out, Trumping to the castle first. Ah, he was going to use the Pattern.

Day 165/20

DeWinter returned in ten hours. It turned out he had some broken ribs, a dislocated knee, some broken teeth, (and we confirmed later) three separate concussions, and was missing part of an ear. To say I was alarmed would be an understatement. I got him conformable and began to patch him up. I said I wondered what the other guy looked like.

He didn't comment much, except to say he won, the other guy lost.

Oh. Then he asked if I could get something for the pain. Now I knew he was in trouble.

I Trumped Owen and said, “My esteemed beloved has gotten himself into a bit of a scrape and requested some medicaments from you.” That was enough of a cue. An Amberite requesting medication? Unprecedented. She grabbed her bag and was through in a minute. Yes, he'd punctured a lung and there were some other internal injuries. In fact, she said these were the worst brawl injuries she'd ever seen. The difficult part was to keep him from moving and exacerbating the injuries while keeping him awake because of the concussions. She gave him something for the pain. In 24 hours, she'd know if he had to be taken to Glantri.

Day 166/20

By morning his face was a series of green, purple and yellow bruises. I even had to pull a back tooth that had cracked, but he was well on the way to mending. Needless to say, Kai-Revere and Eidolon thought he was “cool.”

Late afternoon I had heard the rumor that Gerard had to go into Amber City to splint a Lt. Erickson's legs. They'd been broken in fourteen places.


Day 182/20

Snapping back from having Xhimene hasn't been as easy as it was with Kai. At least after we dealt with the Enemy. I'm suspicious about the fact that the Enemy has made no moves. Not that I'm not grateful. It's just curious. But, I tire more easily and am sleepy by mid-evening. It's getting better.

I did bring up the idea to Mother about a little trip into Shadow. She hasn't left Amber in years and I thought it would do her good. I mentioned it at breakfast for her to think about. She was doubtful about the wisdom of this. DeWinter wasn't too keen on the idea either. If we took it slow, and I took extra care, it should be alright. I probably should have consulted with DeWinter first.


Day 183/20

Tonight was a farewell dinner for Corwin. I finally got to talk with him more. He was very closed-mouthed about himself. I didn't expect him to just open up, but even the names of his children had to be dragged out of him. And even then, I only got the name of one, Dion. He had two other children and lots of grandchildren. I asked if he hated Amber that much, that he would never visit? He gave an odd smile and said yes and no. He also said to Random's credit, he has performed a miracle in Amber. The ire and distrust in the family seems to have ended with his generation and that was a good thing to see.

I asked him about Faiella, whether she went to Tir as Eric had said. He was intrigued that I spoke with Eric, but recalled no stories about his mother being able to do that. Eric had been about 20, and he was only ten when Faiella died, so there is much he didn't know. Benedict would be the one to ask.

I was quite grasping. I realized how badly I wanted to talk with him. So I told him I wanted to speak with him. He was my closest male relative. He looked puzzled and said what about you father. He got a sad look when I told him that wasn't an option. My father had made his place and I wasn't enough of a use for him. So, perhaps some things haven't totally changed in Amber, but no one said this was a paradise.

I redirected the conversation to his Shadow and he did say we could visit. The problem is that is could be a one-way trip given the peculiar nature of his Shadow. When he described a bit of his world, it reminded me specifically of Paris. I asked if he knew France and it turned out he did. It was a place he loved. His Pattern apparently led to his version of 1920's Paris. Well, at least I would know the language.

We didn't talk much longer and others claimed his attention. By midnight he was gone.

DeWinter and I were just leaving the castle to head home when we were intercepted by Random. He took us into a side room to fill us in on some sad news: Queen Zakchere of the Courts of Chaos had been assassinated. Merlin wasn't taking things well, but their daughter was safe. Dara still doesn't know Merlin is King and Random wants to keep it that way for now.

There wasn't much to say. We left. They had been married for a long time, longer than we. I would be a great deal worse than 'not okay' if something happened to DeWinter. He must have felt it too, because we moved closer together and stayed that way all the way home.


Day 206/20
Xhimene Gone!

I woke up this morning to a horrible sight. Xhimene was gone from her crib! I asked if anyone had her, no one did. I asked if anyone had seen her, no one had. We ended up tearing the house apart. We searched every nook and cranny, outside, the courtyard, everywhere.

Vis confirmed that other than DeWinter and myself, there was no scent in the room aside from Xhimene. She couldn't even crawl yet, even though she was already lifting her head up and looking around. She's not even two months old. I was becoming so upset I had DeWinter Trump Dalt in the hopes he'd taken her.

Dalt came through and the two were already arguing. I told them to knock it off. If Dalt couldn't help, he could go. Dalt began to take apart Xhimene's crib almost down to the splinters for some clue, even shredding her bedding.

No trail was found outside and no one saw anyone different. Actually no one came or left in the night. That left Trump or magic. I Trumped Shapir. He immediately came through and while he was looking around I walked the Pattern in my mind in order to bring up the Pattern. Nothing aside from ripples around Shapir, DeWinter and Dalt. I was seeing the effect of their personal Patterns.

There was nothing left but to call Random. Xhimene might not be the only child to be taken, though why they left Kai, I don't know. Perhaps he'd have put up too much a fuss. He did share a room with Eidolon, so perhaps two together would have been too difficult.

Random came through, heard our reports. He was a serious as I've ever seen him. He Trumped Julian and we did it all over again.

They began to search, seeing if there was something we missed. I sat with Mother, who just wrung her hands. So much for Shadow being safer. She desperately asked me to tell her a story. For the life of me, I could think of nothing to say.

So, she told one to me. One of the ones she'd tell me. Funny how I remembered that. No matter how busy her day, she came in to tell me a story before I went to sleep. It became cathartic for both of us.

A few hours later, they left to pursue other possibilities. Shapir was closing exits from Amber, Julian was going to see Gerard on the docks. By dinner time I was a wreck.

Kai was amazingly sweet. He asked me to give his tattoo to Xhimene, then we could find her. I almost dismissed it and thought, why not?

Blood calls to blood, right? It was a nice theory, too bad it didn't work. I put the tattoo back on Kai with a kiss.

Gerard returned with Julian. From their mournful looks, I knew their search had not been fruitful. DeWinter began discussing possibilities, I removed myself to a parlor and just cried.

Where could she be? She's not even two months old.

My emotions moved me recklessly. I went into town. I found Sid and hired him. He was not enthusiastic about being hired, but changed his mind when he heard the job. Find a baby and help catch who's responsible. Then I found Xocet. That was disturbing because he didn't remember anything about me or our associations. The might be a good thing considering how much Clin terrorized him. I wonder if he lost his memory when he went into the Embassy. Still I hired him (he wanted to get in good with the royal Family). He said he'd have an answer by dawn. I doubted that, but appreciated his enthusiasm. Then I found Kicker. She was with a friend, not a client. Still, I did interrupt her. I told her my problem and she agreed to help. I gave her a handful of coinage to help with any expenses.

By dawn I was back in the Castle. I tried to sleep but ended up with a nightmare. I was at a funeral and in front of me was a black and silver coffin, so very, very tiny.

I woke up crying and DeWinter and I just held on to each other.


Day 207/20

All I could do today was wait. And I hated it. Runners came regularly from Sid, reporting on progress. Unfortunately, I had nothing to help him with this. He was amazed at the amount of information Xocet was getting from various people in town. He seemed to know everyone. A part of my brain wondered if it was really Xocet, but I didn't care as long as someone found Xhimene. Vialle was wonderful to sit with me all day. It was comforting.

Around midday, I got the idea of Dastard. We had just offended him, could he do such a thing. Quite possibly. I Trumped Doblique who had to be roused from her bed. She snapped awake when I told her what happened. She said she'd make inquiries.

A few hours later she Trumped back in shock. Dastard was dead.

He'd been assassinated. She was so distraught, the connection broken down quickly. I told Random. He had me try her again, this time with Vialle's help. The surge I got from Vialle was amazing. I could keep the contact open indefinitely like that.

By this time, DoBlique'd been drinking. It took some talking to, but I convinced her that Random did not suspect her by getting Random into the contact with me. We brought her through and got some idea of what happened. Dastard was killed by a man holding a black rod. He pointed it at the Prelate and he was instantly incinerated. It happened at four a.m., around the same time Xhimene disappeared, if there were no time differential where Dastard was. It was witnessed by the attendants of the Church. We settled Doblique down, finally getting her to sleep. Random Trumped DeWinter to tell him. I thought I should be the one to tell him because I wanted to know if he needed me.

Hours crawled when I began to wonder if Xhimene was even in Amber anymore. If someone got in and could Trump out, they could be anywhere. I needed to do something, perhaps a search through shadow.

Aes would be a good place to go first. Walking the Pattern would take up too much time and energy. In the end, I had to ask Evander to borrow his Trump. He was surly about my presence, saying that he thought I wouldn't want to be near him. I said there wasn't much I wouldn't do to get Xhimene back. He didn't reply, but got the Trump. I thanked him and left.

I was short and curt with Tatasha, but I know she understood. As soon as I told her, she was tense, ready to strike out. She'd have the worst time because time passes more quickly here. She'd have to wait much longer for word. I reminded her of this, so she wouldn't panic. She got me a horse and off I went.

Shadow would either lead me to her, or back to Amber.


213/20

It's been five days of shadow without success or sleep. Every time I close my eyes, I had the horrible image of the funeral in my sleep. Now I can hear her tiny fists banging on the lid, and I could hear her crying. But my search is heading straight for Amber. She must be there. Just to be certain, I rode in so that I didn't overlook anything.

So tired, I could barely move. I just had to sleep.

The nightmare came again. I hear her calling me: “Mommy! Where are you?” I tried to open the coffin, but it's solid. I yell, “Where are you?”

She doesn't know.

What do you see?

Smoke. And a nice man.

A man? What does he look like?

He's big.

Bigger than Daddy?

Yes.

Dark hair?

Yes.

Hair on his face, a beard?

Yes.

He wanted to talk with you, but you wouldn't go to sleep.

I'm asleep now.

Oh. OK. He says you have to come and get me. Tonight's the last night!

I snapped awake. Lady preserve us, she was in Tir and this was the last of the full moon! I Trumped to Castle Amber, abandoning the horse. I woke DeWinter who came through with sword and no clothing. One of the guards gave him his cloak. They must get them in bulk the way we go through them.

We woke Random and told him what was going on. I needed to walk the Pattern. It was almost midnight and we hadn't much time.

We ran down the stairs and the guards weren't going to argue with us since Random was there. We rushed through the Pattern. It was like being hit with a pile driver. I was so weary and sleepy; I could just barely do it. Every step was almost like dying.

Then we were in Tir. We raced through a ball going on in the hall, to the second floor, Eric's rooms and there she was. Eric was standing there watching over Xhimene.

She sighed and snuggled close when I picked her up. All I could do was hold her.

I thanked Eric who nodded. She'd just appeared. He suggested we'd better do something if we wanted to curtail her visits.

That we would. Little cold iron bracelets to shackle her to the crib during a full moon. DeWinter thought it was a great idea.

Eric's spirit said he had a message for Random. He held out a ruby, one about the same size and shape as the Jewel of Judgment. I took it and we Trumped back. DeWinter executed the contact flawlessly. Better than I did the last time I was here.

Then we were safe at the base of Mount Kolvir. Random wasn't certain that we'd be able to Trump, things being so uncertain in Tir, so he went to the steps in case we'd need help. He looked carefully at Xhimene and the relief was clear on his face. She was safe and sound.

I gave him Eric's message. He held the jewel up (no it wasn't the Jewel of Judgment). In the crystal was scribed a message:

"How many must die before you open the way?"

We began the long walk to the castle. I began to stumble just after I finished feeding Xhimene. In the end, rather than curl upon the side of the road, DeWinter carried us both.

Back to Castle Amber and safety.


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