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Cassandra's Diary.32

Day 91/24
In Aes

I got another Trump from Sansain. This time I was prepared for her. She still seemed unsure of who I was, which was odd given my strong resemblance to Tatasha. It could only mean she'd never met Tatasha, though how she came by my Trump, I'm afraid to speculate. She had two others with her, women--one older, one younger. The older woman was Ravice; she had a stern look about her, calculating. The younger was Keptha, who seemed surprised to see me. They informed me they were the candidates to replace the High Mother. I almost got Sansain to pull me through but Ravice knocked her hand away. Then Sansain whirled to start a fight and the Trump contact was broken.

Then I got a call from Keptha who followed my instructions and actually brought me through. I found myself in Tatasha's office. There was a note that had been attached to my card warning no one to touch it. I even managed to get my card back. Apparently, Sansain was insulted by Ravice's actions and the two were fighting it out. Ravice is part of the Blood Hawks Clan.

I told Keptha I had a few of the Sable Wolf Clan to bring through and she guided me to a safe place to do so. As we passed a stair, I could hear sounds of a fight. Looking over the balcony, I saw Sansain throw Ravice into a wall with an ugly sound. I continued on. Keptha told me that Tatasha had been growing increasingly ill over the last few months. The clans were initiating events to see who would become the next High Mother. Keptha wasn't at all happy about this. A number of people seemed to feel the same. As we moved down the hall, I saw one girl crying in her room. She looked barely more than a mid-teen. Unfortunately, Tatasha's unusual life span of 500 years has left no one alive who remembers the proceedings exactly---so things are in a bit of a muddle. The elders of the clans were trying to work it all out.

I Trumped DeWinter and brought the weir through. I gave them instructions to find out what has been going on, especially if Tatasha had been poisoned. Keptha's eyes grew large at that. It's generally not a weir thing to do, but I reminded my weir that the Boar Clan, the same that Sansain belonged to, was responsible for my sister's murder. We got rooms assigned and my folk dispersed.

My rooms, along with the other candidates (there were quite a few) were isolated in a wing. There are strict rules about remaining separated. DeWinter wasn't happy, but there wasn't much I could do. Then, as everyone was getting the lay of the land, we went to see Tatasha.

The short story was that she thought it was time to see who the heir was going to be. So to initiate all this, she'd been giving herself a homebrew poison. To my eye, it was working entirely too effectively. DeWinter just looked at her as if she was crazy. I told the "bad High Mother" she needed a physician to make sure she wasn't doing irreparable harm to herself. She was reluctant, but she agreed after I agreed to become a candidate.

I Trumped Owen who got her bag and came through immediately. She even brought Rhiannon with her. They were wearing very strange clothing: wood clogs, wool dresses and clips in their hair. Tatasha got the poison from a secret compartment in the headboard of her bed. Owen examined it. There were seeds soaked in oil, belladonna, and some strange fruit-like pieces, amongst other unknown things. Rhiannon looked on in horror. Displeasure flickered across Owen's face and she examined Tatasha.

Oh yes, there was considerable damage done, some of it permanent even with the formidable healing abilities of the weir. Heavy metals were saturating Tatasha's soft tissues and might never come out unless special treatments were done immediately. Tatasha began to look a bit uneasily at this, possibly because DeWinter sat there with his arms crossed, glaring at her, occasionally muttering “Bad High Mother,” to her. Owen put together a substitute toxin, one that will actually begin to restore her while keeping her looking ill. It smelled vile and will make her feel even worse.

Owen departed after promising to do more when she got things prepared. We left Tatasha to rest while we settled in.

Day 93/24

It seemed that being a candidate is more than a forensic debate or simple votes. Oh no, that is not the weir way. I'm now committed to fighting all the other candidates for the job. I realize Tatasha set me up for this, which I resent. And I can't back down without losing face for Tatasha, the Sable Wolf clan, and myself. Tatasha could have said something.

To give myself a psychological edge, since I look so much like Tatasha, Claw and DeWinter were giving me instructions on how to walk like…a weir, or the High Mother. I made progress but DeWinter thought me too civilized for the almost predatory walk that Tatasha has. We shall see.

Day 95/24

Twenty-three of the thirty clans have sent candidates. I continued to train with DeWinter. He's scaled up the regime, given that I may very well have to fight not a few possibly highly-trained weir. I can barely walk some days because I am so bruised.

Day 97/24
Entertaining the Weir

The tournament starts today. Owen and Kent arrived. With a public sanction from Tatasha, they can render medical aid for any that want it in between battles. If possible, no one will die, though it isn't uncommon. They brought Moran, Rhiannon, Tigh, Jaycenea, and Ergian. Now I'm nervous. I don't want to look like a fool in front of either the weir or the young Amberite children. I hope they can handle it. The eldest of the candidates will fight first. If they win, they can take either a three hour rest period, or go onto the next fight. This choice will be given to each of us.

Last night I was taken by the Sable Wolves to a room in the cellar of the castle for a ritual bathing. From the moment the tournament begins until it is ended, I am in solitary. I did ask one of the guards to tell DeWinter to tell the kids the penalties of interfering. It would disqualify me immediately--and bring a challenge upon the instigator.

Tatasha was brought out in a palanquin. She announced that since she's had stayed alive for so long, she thinks it is a good omen. So she's asked the Amberite doctor to render medical aid for any that have survived and wish it.

Like many weir rituals, the rules are simple. You lose if you step out of the circle, are thrown out, or if you cannot rise to continue fighting. No weapons or Changing are permitted.

Ravice is the oldest and first candidate. She's a few years older than I. She stood in the circle as the weir moved around the perimeter. Six candidates jumped in to challenge her. One woman, who landed closest, won. A gong sounded and the fight commenced. She is of the Blooded Hawks Clan. They aren't the best fighters, but once they begin to bleed, they become enraged and fight like berserkers. The fight was mostly grappling for that reason until her opponent gave her a serious cut lip and Ravice went into frenzy until her opponent could not rise any more. It was over fairly quickly. The gong was sounded again and a candle demarking 3 hours was lit. Ravice elected to rest.

My turn. I removed the caftan and went into the circle. Fighting nude is the best way to avoid having your clothing used against you and all the Weir do this in the contest. My first opponent is of the Sun Lizard Clan. They are known for being very, very fast with superb balance and speed. The girl fought very deliberately. She made a good showing for herself, but it was clear her heart was not in it. She'd been the girl crying in her room when I first arrived. We'd sparred a few times and she thought she'd had a bit of a chance since she knew my fighting style. What she didn't know was that I have more than one.

She's very fast, so I had to think what to do. If I wore her down, I might be too hurt or tired to last through the others. She was too quick for me to seriously challenge, so I goaded her. I left openings or silly (but calculated) mistakes to draw her in. When I succeeded, I got in a few blows. I was much stronger. I staggered her a few times and I felt a rib cracking under the damage. Eventually, she couldn't rise and she was carried from the field. The whole fight took 75 minutes. The candle was lit.

I didn't want to lose the energy and momentum I had worked up, so I made another challenge immediately. I chose Sansain, the toughest I've seen. This seemed to surprise a number of the spectators. I saw Ravice watching despite her rest period.

Sansain was still the tallest woman I've met. From what I've seen--she's almost as strong as I am. This was no easy contest, which was why I chose to fight her, now. I am faster…and sneakier thanks to DeWinter's training. I made very careful surgical strikes in the openings she gave me. My problem---she healed almost as fast as I damaged her. This might have taken forever. After the first hour, I switched to judo, which was extremely odd for her. But I still wasn't making enough headway in keeping her hurt. Two and a half hours into the fight and fatigue was beginning to set in. Three and a half hours and we were both sweating like horses. At the fourth hour I could finally see she was beginning to wear down and the spectator clans were going wild. Sansain had fallen a few times, but just kept getting back up. When the end came, it came quickly.

She went down and got up very, very slowly. The second timed she went down due to a kick to her thigh. Then she dislocated my shoulder. Her strength and determination were amazing. My shoulder went back into place, but very slowly and very painfully. I felt the immediacy of danger kick in and I was ready to go on that rush of energy. I went on an extreme offensive now. She fell a third time but was having difficulty getting up. I could only lift part of her. I grabbed her legs and swung her out of the ring. Done.

I took my rest. There were a number of fights while I lay down. Ravice won the next round. The fighting continued, five others being eliminated. For my third fight I chose the candidate. The woman had a polished fighting style and favored using well-placed kicks. Strong and quick leg kicks. By the end, I was badly bruised. The clans of candidates I had bested were cheering for me. I didn't quite understand why until it was pointed out that they'd rather get beaten by the winner than just another candidate.

After another hour I was looking for anyway to end this. I had three layers of bruises and she wasn't getting tired. I had to get within her reach. I slowed down, trying to draw her in. Finally I was able to dodge a kick and got her in a hold. All I could do was hold on and squeeze. She made odd squeaky noises before she blacked out. I put her down and limped back to my tent to rest. I wasn't even going to watch the next set of rounds to see what was in store for me. I needed rest that badly.

It was becoming the final set of rounds by the time it was my turn. The lesser fighters were all gone. Now it would get really tough. I still couldn't see DeWinter. I was sure he'd have some good insight. I was surprised to see Dalt there, talking with him. Why was he there?

Owen came. As nominal medical personnel, she was allowed in. Dalt came to tell DeWinter that DoBlique was in trouble. Dalt had come to get DeWinter to help. That Dalt would even ask meant it was serious trouble indeed. I told Owen to tell DeWinter to go. I said that I would worry about Dalt and DoBlique, increasing my problems here. Imagining what was going on would not help. I thought that a rational, logical voice should be there. Owen told him. I could see him say something, and I could hear her laugh. He must have decided to go after all because he left the ring and did not return.

Kent gave me a restorative just before I went back out. The fourth candidate was just as tired as I was. It was a strange blur. It lasted only five minutes. She came in a frenzied attack with this shocking scream. I suppose it startled her opponents into immobility. But I was too tired to respond correctly. I took an opening she left and I knocked her out. I think I broke her jaw. I know I had a cracked rib but had not registered the blow until after.

Everyone was startled that it ended so quickly. No one was prepared to go next, so I took my next fight right away. It was Keptha. She fought much like Claw does; focused and disciplined. After thirty minutes, I knew that if I wanted to win, I'd have to kill her. She would not stop otherwise. She was giving it all her strength and stamina, totally committed. No holds barred. It was the scariest, most vicious fight to date. I threw civilization to the winds. For a timeless period we just exchanged blows. This was a mortal fight, and I could feel the energies rising. I knew I could hold out. We were both bleeding badly, from bites, deep scratches, all manner of wounds. Finally, I just outlasted her. I hit her and she went down. She hadn't the strength to get back up.

I went back to my tent. Owen made compresses to staunch the blood flow. I got a trump call. Needing the diversion, I answered it. It was Sebastian. Sigh. He asked if I was in Amber. No. A large battle was occurring behind him. He let the connection drop.

My sixth opponent was a scrawny young girl, not more than sixteen. She looked terrified. All she did was run around, evading everything she could. Something did not seem right. How could she have lasted this long, if she would not fight. The crowds were not pleased at her display. I was trying to hold on to the energies, but the lack of danger was letting them dissipate. She was an acrobatic marvel, though. When I got close to her I said she was doing no honor to her or her clan. She collapsed, weeping to the ground.

Uh huh.

I moved closer, fairly certain this was a trap. Sure enough, when I got in close enough she kicked out and landed a beautiful blow to my knee just as I hit her jaw. I had put everything I had left into it and she went flying out of the circle. But, the damage was done. My knee was in very bad shape.

I limped back to my tent. Owen confirmed, the injury. My knee was broken in three places. If I tried to use it, it would tear apart. I rested, the energies all but gone. Lady, I was tired.

By the time I was due to begin again, there were only four candidates left. I left all my weight on one leg. Of course, everyone tried to use it against me, but it made them leave openings which I capitalized on. It took three hours and then there were two of us left.

Ravice. Of course.

I rested. It was almost over. I just sat, bled, and hurt. The Amberite children were avidly watching. Apparently, they weren't as horrified as I expected them to be. This wasn't clean, rule-bound fighting. The weir do not allow Changing, or weapons. But guile, trickery, and cunning were not only expected but encouraged. They were handling it all amazingly well.

By the time I was due to fight for the last time, I had stiffened up sufficiently that it was going to be bad. I tied to call up some of the energies, which worked partially. I was able to walk at least. I took comfort in seeing Ravice was in just as bad a shape as I was.

I walked into the circle. I put on a grin. I would not allow her to see I was at all worried. If I was going to lose, I was going to do it with Amberite style.

Ravice and I fought similarly. She has the greater reach, but did not overextend herself. She did not become crazed nor make foolish attempts. I'm a bit faster and stronger, but her style was an art of deflection. She used my movements and momentum against me, not unlike aikido. In a way this was good. The longer I had to fight, the more I was in danger and the more energy I could summon. It flowed up out of the ground and through me, though it did stop in one leg right at the knee. Well, I still had one good leg. Ravice noticed I was favoring it and shifted her style to take advantage of it, using my lack of mobility against me. She was doing an incredible amount of damage and the energies started pouring into me. Maybe it was occurring to her too for she kept getting faster and faster. I was so giddy with the energy, I was actually laughing at points. I certainly had a grin on my face throughout the bout. It was like fighting ten people.

I hit her twice---good solid blows. After an hour, she wasn't bouncing back quite as fast now. I kept moving in, not letting her have a chance to recover. She was becoming very frustrated. She said, “Why don't you just go down?” I laughed and hit her once more--tremendously, knocking her out. I was almost dizzy. I certainly didn't want to stop. I looked around for the next candidate, and realize there were no more. It was over.

Tatasha got off the palanquin and came over. She gave me a hug which felt wonderful. Ah, she was using her powers of the High Mother to soothe some of the injuries. It was over and the energies were vanishing faster than I expected. I suppose I didn't have the strength to keep them. My body was shutting down.

Somehow I got back to my tent. Owen was there, to see just how badly I had gotten myself hurt. I became a bit dissociated from my body. I was too hurt to want to pay attention to it. It was too much work. But my mind was alert. Alert enough to Trump DeWinter. He was with a gypsy caravan, trying to track down Dalt. Dalt always could move very quickly through Shadow. DeWinter's luck was as usual. He'd been shot at three times. Someone was following him through Shadow. They were using crossbows, which fortunately had a decided range. He didn't seem too worried. After all, they'd failed so far. He looked at my face and prudently said nothing. I'm sure I looked a mess. He signed off.

Owen decided there was too much that had to be done. She Trumped me to a Shadow with high technology. We emerged in a crowded place, in an alley off a main street. She led me through the alleys and streets to a large building. I could only wonder what people were thinking when they saw me. The building's sign said Tana Naka 2000CE. Whatever that means.

Inside Owen spoke with a receptionist. The woman asked if Owen was licensed. Owen said she was. The woman was skeptical; there are only 15 licensed users. She checked the files anyway, and saw there were 16, one of them being Owen. Owen filled out the necessary forms. I stood there and tried to bleed unobtrusively.

We were led to a room. On a dais were a series of lighted disks, mirrored by disks on the ceiling above them. She had me stand on one. Owen explained that this was a Shadow where there was a continuous street festival. Not unlike Mardi Gras. The machine was designed to make “costumes.” Except that the alterations were on a molecular level. If you wanted to be a cat during the party, you could actually have fur and a working tail. Owen called it a 'flash chamber' because of the bright energy release when the change was initiated. Ah yes, it was where she repaired DeWinter's heart so long ago, I think.

She adjusted the machine, turning off the alarms. It was warning her that I was injured and apparently designing costumes for me in this state was against its programming. She overrode its objections and began working. Within a short amount of time, she had the machine reading my normal state. My costume was to be myself, without injuries. Remarkable. Owen said that this was almost a cosmetic healing. I was healed, but if I traveled to a Shadow which would not support the technological knitting, it would all vanish. She thought it would be alright in Aes. I just had to restrict my movement until my natural healing kicked in.

We went back to Aes. The healing did not become unraveled and everyone was looking like they were preparing for a celebration.

Day 98/24

I haven't rested. I feel so much better that I didn't need to. I got word that Tatasha was looking for me. I went and found her, encountering numerous congratulations along the way. I found her in her rooms and I settled in for a little talk.

I was curious what I had gotten myself into. Tatasha wasn't unrealistic about things. She knew I had other responsibilities. Well, not really, but I could be called away for any reason. She wasn't expecting me to bring my family through and settle here immediately. Our arrangement would be whatever we set up. She thought it would be a good idea to visit regularly, somewhat frequently, so I could learn as much as I needed to. I was fairly satisfied with that, though I did tell her I didn't like being maneuvered like this into the position. She didn't deny it.

We talked a bit. I said I was worried about DoBlique. I may have to leave earlier, if my help was needed. She understood. We talked then about DeWinter's family, Amber, a bit about Mycenae. I was now the 'Little Mother'. Then, seeing how she was getting tired, I left her to rest.

Outside I encountered Sansain. She was pleased that I had won. I wondered about this and she explained that she knew she wasn't fit to be the heir to the High Mother. She said she knew she was strong and tenacious as a fighter, but there was more to being a High Mother than that. She said she knew her limits. As for the ones who had killed Chryseis, she said they were radicals that had been repudiated from the clan. She very decidedly stated that the clan had not supported their actions. I don't know still whether I believed that, but I understood she believed it. She said her clan was preparing a fest in my honor. Would I want to join them? Well, it might go a long way to repairing those fences, so I agreed.

I was still very tired from all I had done. I went to my rooms and napped. Then I ate a bit and napped again.

Day 99/24

I rose at dawn. Full preparations were being made for a number of celebration feasts. I dressed and Trumped DeWinter. It was raining where he was. He was roasting something like a squirrel over an open fire. He still hadn't found Dalt. I swear the man must have Trump of places throughout Shadow. DeWinter was ready to give it up. If he came back for a bit, I would help him track Dalt through Shadow. He agreed and came through.

After he washed and dressed, he realized he was also hungry. We went in search of the Boar Clan.

It was a large gathering at one side of the grove where the fighting took place. There was lots of food, hugs and kisses. Everyone wanted to meet me. They are a very tactile people, so they also wanted to touch and get my scent. It was very late when the singing started. Most everyone was drunk then. Things followed normally and a couple of small groups began splitting off for more…private time. I grabbed DeWinter's arm and we found a lovely place in the nearby woods.

Day 100/24

We said goodbye to Tatasha. We'll try and get back soon. I said goodbye to Owen and Kent. She knew Dalt was looking for DoBlique so she tried to get a sense of where she was or, at least the general direction. She got nothing. She said there was some sort of elemental interference, whatever that means. I tried to get Dalt, but got nothing.

We left.

Day 105/24

DeWinter's been leading. It seems to be working. I got us some horses, very nice ones at that.

Day 110/24
Rescuing DoBlique & Dalt

We entered a Shadow, an industrial one by the look of it. Chimneys belching dark smoke all around--flames roaring at intervals. The sky was black, like oily ink clouds. Shifting around, we keep ending up here. DoBlique or Dalt must be here. On the last entrance, I made sure our clothing changed and got identification, and money. Our horses became a very elegant car, complete with luggage.

We found a hotel and checked in. Trump won't even work here, which might explain why we couldn't reach them. This is a very crowded place with all types and species of people. Finding them might be very difficult. So I hired some private investigators, paying a handsome retainer. The first was only four feet tall, rather like a bear with clothing. He was a cautious one, not given to getting into physical trouble. No problem. I'd rather have a smart one. I paid him a week in advance. The second was as tall as DeWinter, but painfully thin. His hair gave him a bird-like appearance. The situation didn't sound right and he was scared off. I got three more, though, and made it a bit of a contest. Now we just have to wait.

Day 111/24

I began working through back issues of their newspaper. Perhaps something unusual happened and it might have been reported. It took most of the day, but finally found something. A famous operatic prodigy had arrived in town a week earlier. They even printed his picture. It was Dalt. What and odd cover for him. I left the Shadow and got us guns with permits when we entered. It seemed prudent.

We went to the Zardoc Hotel. The maestro wouldn't see us, but relented when the concierge told him there was a pretty girl waiting to see him. We went up, to the penthouse. He let us in. Within a few minutes I realized that either this was but a shadow of Dalt, or Dalt had lost his memory. I got his autograph, which made him feel better.

We went to the lobby. DeWinter went to ask a few questions about our maestro. I waited, watching the people moving in and out. A couple caught my attention. One was a hugely made, noticeable by any standards. He was as tall as Gerard with gray skin. Not unlike a walking statue. He wore a low fedora that obscured much of his face. Walking next to him was a woman, looking remarkably like Blythe. They went straight to the elevator. I watched the indicator rise until it stopped at the penthouse. Something was odd about it.

DeWinter came back and I filled him in. We went back up. I knocked on the door but there was no answer. DeWinter was hidden to the side and I pretended to be a gushing, fawning fan. I said the maestro had asked me to come back here, without my husband. There was no answer. I checked and the door was unlocked. I went in, ducking to avoid the vase heading for my head from behind the door. It was the woman. At close range, I saw she was much older than Blythe. I told her she was too old for him and moved further into the room. The big man came out of the bedroom. Oh my, what have I interrupted? I maneuvered so that DeWinter, still in the hall, was flanking him. As the man moved in DeWinter rushed him. With a neat move, the big man was completely flipped through the air and crashed to the ground unconscious.

Well it was a tense situation. Inside the bedroom we found the maestro shot. I've seen Dalt shot. This wasn't a killing blow for him. The woman claimed she hadn't done it. They'd found him this way. So if she was telling the truth, someone got in just after we left, just prior to the woman entering. Apparently, the man was her bodyguard. The Maestro had been blackmailing her for her…indiscretions. I searched her while DeWinter looked over the man. No gun. And there was no gun in the apartment. It would clear her with the police, but not us.

We let the woman leave. I believed her story. We searched the place more. We found the ubiquitous safe behind the painting. Having seen it in theater films, I tried listening to the tumblers. To my amazement, it worked. I got it opened in short time. DeWinter was shocked and impressed. Inside there was money and many, many pictures. All of them of women with men, one supposed not their husbands. The maestro was not a nice man. Curious thing was all the women were red heads.

More than one of the redheads I could imagine I recognized. Just like my mistaken identification of the Blythe-shadow.

We left by way of the stairs and got out without anyone noticing. DeWinter decided to ask around about gun shot victims. Why? I don't know. But we did get the address of a doctor in a notorious part of town. We took the car and went there. It wasn't nice, but not as bad as I feared. It was a neighborhood of run-down brownstones. On impulse, I left my Trump deck in the glove compartment.

We watched for about an hour, seeing only one man enter. We needed an excuse to go in. I used my knife to cut my hand. I let the blood soak into DeWinter's sleeve. I thought if they thought he was wounded he might not intimidate anyone. I mussed him up a bit to make him look more of a ruffian. As we headed to the door, he leaned into me as if hurt.

I rapped on the door. A man let us in, a fairly nondescript man. I could hear music playing upstairs. He asked us if we had money or if this was charity. We opted for giving some money. We were escorted to a room to wait for the doctor.

The doctor arrived a few minutes later. He was slightly middle-aged and wore a monocle. He asked his assistant, the doorman, to prep DeWinter for surgery. The assistant looked startled. Without examining him first? Yes, it won't be necessary. They left. We knew something was wrong.

Then the door burst in and this…white gorilla barged in, going straight for DeWinter. It slammed him into a wall and then came at me. I got to the door and managed to tear the thing from the hinges. Using it as a shield, I got a few hits to the gorilla, but I didn't know how to fight one. I know they are very strong, this one in particular judging by the way it got DeWinter. I charged and slammed it into the wall. Then it used the wall as leverage and pushed me back. DeWinter came from the side and began to grapple with it. Then I felt pain in my back. The doctor had shot me with something. Looking around, he had a wand in his hand, and it glowed. I hit the floor. The interesting thing was hitting the floor prevented me from blacking out. The doctor yelled to the gorilla, not to kill us. Good.

I rushed the doctor. He took off, running up the stairs. My, he was fast. I gave chase. At the head of the stairs he shut the door. I just went through it. There were two men on the other side, along with three women. By the women's un-dress, they were not nurses. The doctor had a little side business going on. I took this in as I kept going.

I hit the two men with the door I just came through and continued my chase. Upstairs I saw him frantically going through a desk drawer. I ducked to the side. Damn guns. I hate them. But he was able to compensate for my cover and shot through the wall. I broke a nearby table and threw pieces at him. My gun was lost downstairs.

I managed to disarm him of the crystal rod he had. I hauled him downstairs using him as a shield. No one going to shoot their boss, I hoped.

I got him to call off his gorilla. Who in the world uses gorillas as a guard animal? Watching, I let the doctor treat him. He explained that his business was an embarrassment to some of the other syndicate people. He was afraid we were hit men. Really? He knew DeWinter's wound was false. It would have bled a lot more and it didn't run down his arm. Sigh. I'm still not good at that sort of thing.

Relieved that we were here for entirely different reasons, he sent some of his people to look into finding Dalt. Apparently he had been there a week earlier. He had been shot in fact. But he left as soon as it was tended to. All we could do was wait.

We had dinner. The doctor was sure they would find something out quickly. How he could tell, I wasn't sure. It wasn't until dessert that I felt dizzy. Damn. We were drugged.


Day 117/24
Rescuing myself, a first?

The days were seriously a blur. I had been transformed. Into another pet for the good doctor. I was also a gorilla, I think. People flittered in and out. They kept asking questions, wanting to know the road to Amber. It focused my mind. I floated in and out of my identity. I knew if I stayed too long, there drugs would permanently erase everything. Another man, the leader--who looked remarkably like DeWinter--wasn't pleased at my answering. Several women tended to me when they didn't have clients. One of them was DoBlique. She had no idea who she was or who I was if she was 'working' here. I had to get out, but my mind wouldn't focus. I saw no sign of DeWinter, my DeWinter. I overheard conversation in a lucid moment; the leader wanted DoBlique, though the doctor thought it was a bad idea. In her current state DoBlique might go along with the leader's ideas. I think he knew very well who she was and with whom he looked like he thought it would be amusing to have sex with her, knowing if she remembered it would be traumatic. Repellant man. Because of the possible trauma, the doctor would not let it happen.

There were some aborted tries to shadow walk when no one was about, but I just ended up walking into walls. I had no idea what was real or not. In one of my more lucid moments, I walked the pattern in my mind. Things got clearer. The knowing part of me watched as I did their bidding. When I was a strong as I thought I would be, I walked to the kitchen as if going to my meal. Focusing, I shifted Shadow.

Thank the lady it worked. I got out of there.

Day 124/24

I just continued to shift. I could get weapons, but despite being around them, I had no idea who they were. Chaosians? Possibly. They could force a shift on us. And I couldn't walk the streets looking like this. No, I needed backup if I had to rescue three people. Besides, I had to warn someone about a possible threat to Amber. I gave a mighty thanks that they didn't get my deck.

Over the last few days, I made my way to Amber. I rested only when I had to and ate while walking. The best thing was that as I shifted, I was reverting. By the time I hit Arden I was back to my normal shape.

I made my way to the closest person, Shapir. He saw me in, got me something to drink and listened to my story. Something struck a chord because he immediately Trumped Owen & March. They came through. Owen also brought Kent.

I told the story again. Shapir's idea was that I should walk the Pattern and go back there. Then, I was to walk out of the Shadow far enough that I could use Trump and bring them through. March in particular wanted to waste no time. He was greatly incensed about what was being done to DoBlique.

Owen did fill me in on the barest of information. There was someone, whom they only referred to as the Apprentice. He was one of Dworkin's students from before Amber's creation. Very powerful, not trusted by the family. In fact, when they established Amber, Oberon specifically made it so the Apprentice could not get inside. This fellow had then been working on various master plans to enter Amber in any way he could find. Hence, DoBlique. He'd heard that she had a spell that would get someone inside Amber. Never mind that things tended to go splat when they landed.

Shapir finished a Trump call with Random. He'd gotten permission for me to walk the Pattern. How many times is it now? He thought he ought to go with me. I was pretty tired and March did not look like he would wait. March thought he should go with me, just in case. I supposed I looked pretty tired. I hadn't had much rest.

We Trumped to the drawbridge and went to the Pattern Room. We did have to get “passes” from Random first. It was the newest of his security plans for the Pattern. It seemed silly, but I said nothing.


March saved my life today. The walk was harder than I had ever experienced. It was as if I was more open to the Pattern. The sparks showered up and actually felt like they were going through me, siphoning off my strength. As there was a lot of heat. I could feel it through my shoes. It was as if the Pattern was filling me up, to replace my own lost energy.

I hit the first veil and it was like a fiery wall. I could feel my clothing smoking. I could smell chemicals, like the drugs they had used on me. I remembered a steel slab.

By the time I hit the second veil, I was soaked with sweat and it felt like I was walking on burning coals. Even my hair was singed as I passed through. I took a long, long time to get through. Too long, in fact. I was pushed from behind. March. I fell through the Veil with my clothing singed.

I got to my feet, still trying to move forward. He was encouraging me, shouting to keep going. I was very dizzy. My knee cap, injured in the Weir contests, was splitting again and then suddenly the knee gave out. His hands grabbed me around the middle and lifted me. Idly I wondered if this counted as having left the Pattern. Apparently not, because I was still there. Then March realized I was really burning. It charred his hands and he had to put me back down.

My leg gave out again and I found I had to crawl the rest of the way. I didn't care. March shifted from cajoling to just any comment that came into his head. I remembered at one point he said I had a nice rear, but to get it out of his way. I had to laugh weakly. The only way to do that was to move forward. I couldn't see because of the sparks. I was still burning.

Overhead, a whistling sound and a black tornado was forming. Then I hit the third veil and March pushed me through. I landed in the center and just lay there panting. March was pretty pale as he stepped through. He eyed the tornado as it dissipated.

We rested. When I was as ready as I was gong to get I had the Pattern deposit me to a nearby Shadow from our target. March came with me. Luckily, Trump worked here and he got everyone through. I laid out the floor plan as best as I remembered it.

Day 125/24
The Real Rescue

We worked our way to the Shadow. March arranged for us to have clothing and weapons. We each had powerful rifles. I asked for bulletproofed vests and March added those as well. Owen asked for and received a special rifle for tranquilizing animals. If our suspicions are correct, the gorilla was Dalt. DeWinter was one too, probably, though I don't remember seeing him. Not that I remember much.

We got to the street. I stopped by the car. Amazing that it was still there. I retrieve my deck, even more amazing. March wasn't even contemplating waiting to watch the place. He was extremely anxious to get inside. I wondered at his interest. He seemed unusually anxious to rescue DoBlique.

He kicked to door in and we entered. Kolo, the gorilla, raced down the stairs. Owen shot a tranquilizer into him, but it didn't seem to have any effect. It lunged for March. He and Kolo fought, making too much noise. I ran up the stairs and encountered a second gorilla. It went for me. If this was DeWinter or Dalt, they would survive anything I could do to them. As it was about to hit, it reared back and used its momentum to carry it over me and down the stairs. Owen shot it. Shapir engaged the second one, using his rifle as a quarterstaff. It was an incongruous sight, since Shapir is so much slighter than the gorilla. But he was holding his own.

I heard noises from above. I continue up the stairs hoping they wouldn't do anything like killing DoBlique. I found the good doctor. He had two wands this time. One was pointed at me, the other at DoBlique's head. A stand off. Shapir appeared at the top of the stairs and brought his gun up. The doctor fired and I leapt to the side. Shapir ducked down. He missed both of us. I tried to get him to surrender. I even gave him my word I would not harm him. He was smarter than that. I wasn't giving my word to protect him form the others. Shapir rose. Aimed and fired. I did the same. Shapir's shot hit the doctor's hand that was aimed at me. Mine got the other hand, the one of DoBlique. As DoBlique went running past, Shapir grabbed her. We had to get out of here. We could hear police sirens in the street. DoBlique, sensible to the idea that the police would be a Bad Idea, said she could lead us to a back exit. I could leave the doctor to bleed to death, but that would leave him to try again. I had some notion that he might tell me about his boss. What if that had been DeWinter? But, I was sure he'd trick us again. I shot him, ending anything further from him.

We got downstairs. The gorillas were sedated and would be very awkward to carry. DoBlique led us out. As soon as I could, I started shifting shadow. Fortunately, it was pretty soon, though it did feel as if someone was trying to stop me. As a matter of fact, it was just as some policemen rounded the corner. They didn't follow. I kept shifting.

Owen took over. She led us to a Shadow to undo the transformations. She said it was an alchemical spell. They got their right bodies back, and they were, indeed, DeWinter and Dalt. But none of the three remembered us at all. DoBlique would have the most difficult time. The drugs they gave her would cause serious withdrawal, but a not deadly one.

Day 123/24

We made better time getting back to Arden. Neither Dalt nor DeWinter seemed inclined to believe anything we had to say. DoBlique seemed willing to go along with us, though she was as untrusting of our motives. Dalt was a bit foggier, since he'd had the drug for a far longer period of time.

We got to Shapir's place. Owen filled us a bit more on this Apprentice. He'd been trying for a millennia to get into Amber, usually by using intermediaries like we just met. She would not give me his name, a description, nothing. Not even to write it down. She just said he'd been taken care of recently --permanently-- and what we met was his left over plots and shadows. If he was taken care of, why should I not know him name or what he looked like? She declined to answer.

Family. Sigh.

The Apprentice tended to use friends, or relatives to lure Amberites in. She believes he may very well have bee responsible for Tatasha's actions with the poison. He was trying to get Amberites to leave Amber so that it was largely unprotected. It was working to some extent. Demi found herself in an insane asylum and Jeremiah was in a prison before they were rescued. March also had contact, but wouldn't go into it. The Apprentice had placed a magical device in shadows near Amber that created a magical pulse from time to time. It made people act more so to their natures in selfish fashion, forgetting all else. It went off once a week for the last 3-4 years. It was directed to make us change the way we saw Amber, to put our own desires before protecting Amber. He was trying to get us to abandon Amber, so he could get in. Interesting.

Day 124/24

Neither DeWinter nor Dalt remembered anything. Nor did they trust us at all. I went back to Tiryns. Strangely, it was only Dalt that was willing to come along. He saw Kai-Revere and immediately recognized him. Xhimena looked at him and said he looked terrible. He did look pale and tired. He told me that he had had dreams all night, some of the children, so he'll stay for a little while. He recognized the house and the lands. He was beginning to believe me. Actually, he thought we were married. I told him the truth, before anything got out of hand. I let him get settled and went back to Shapir's.

DeWinter had decided he'd had enough and left. A few hours later he was escorted back by the rangers. He looked all right though not happy to have his hands tied. It was fortunate he didn't know he could break through. It would have been harder for the poor rangers if he fought with them. They'd have felt badly if they had to hurt him.

Disgruntled, and certain he was now a prisoner, he went to the salon. DoBlique was starting to have similar dreams that Dalt had. She realized we might be telling the truth. Both DoBlique and DeWinter didn't believe they were related. Was this an old joke? They never believed they were brother and sister when they have lost their memories, even though they look related, to my eye. DeWinter just looked disgusted. I kissed him. Owen looked amused.

He looked surprised. "Hey, that was good. Okay, you could seduce me if you want. Maybe I'll believe you then."

I had to laugh. Then I took him away for some private time. We didn't have long before he started to remember. He remembered us on a beach, lots of water, very nice. I nodded. Our honeymoon. We went back to the house, interrupting Kent and Owen being just a bit amorous on the porch. I told them I was going home. I had to watch over Dalt and DeWinter, so Owen agreed to have DoBlique stay with her. It was just as well. DoBlique would be happier at the Green House.

We went back to Tiryns. Kai-Revere saw DeWinter and yelled “Dad!” raced across the courtyard and launched himself at his father. Xhimena walked up to him. DeWinter looked at her and said, “Oh, your very cute!” She giggled and gave him a hug. Kai just rolled his eyes and fell over as if hit by a bat. He lay there twitching. I jumped on him and tickled until he gave up the act. Dalt was on the porch, shaking his head. Kai , and I attacked him and the rest of the weir children joined in. It wasn't long before we were dirty, muddy, and generally gasping for breath.

Day 130/24
Celebration

DeWinter and Dalt had enough dreams to realize we had been telling the truth. Dalt left after a couple of days. I hope he will be all right. That he was able to Shift Shadow made me believe he'd be fine. DeWinter seemed to be fine. Every once in a while he would recall something and asked me to confirm if it happened or not. I did the best I could.

Tatasha Trumped me. The clans were just about done gathering, making the population of the area increase by 10,000 or more, and wanted to celebrate, officially, my appointment as 'the Little Mother'. Ah. All right. I got the children ready, along with most of the weir. Mother and Byslamia elected to stay, so we left a skeleton staff behind.

Once there and settled, I began calling Amberites. Anyone I had a card for. Well, almost anyone. Not Dastard, nor Sebastian. I even determined to be polite and Trumped Random. I'm still quite upset with him, not that he notices. Anyway he declined. Then a few hours later, he changed his mind. Or, rather, Vialle changed it for him, I think.

As the day wore on Tatasha introduced me to as many of the elders as she could. It wasn't all at once, thankfully, but just as she ran across them. I tended to get a great deal of compliments. After the first few times, it was getting embarrassing. The compliments came in two flavors; they either liked my fighting and how I handled myself, or they liked how I was looking after Tatasha. Even now, Tatasha was looking much better than before. Tatasha grew very annoyed with the second. She couldn't tell then she was poisoning herself that that she looked better because she stopped. It wouldn't have gone over well. So, she had to eat their compliments.

Gerard and Evander came through first. They didn't know why I was having the party, but Gerard was pleased nonetheless. Evander gave me a short nod before heading off. Hmm, not one word. Random and Vialle came next. I assigned a small group of weir to watch over them. Martin, Sarek, Genevieve, and Jacynea came next. Then I had a new wave of introductions before the next batch came through.

It was an interesting day. The weir women are more politically aware but not in charge. They are senior advisors, and the rest tended to take them very seriously. I saw that Kai-Revere was noticing this. That the women weren't hidden, they didn't remain silent if they chose not to, and that the leaders were very respectful of the senior women. He stood with me during the introductions and the conversations, avidly watching.

Later I went back to Amber and got some Black Bottom Beer to distribute. I thought the weir would like it. It was a bit problematical to hold a card in one hand while trying to move a cask through. And they weren't that small. We solved the problem satisfactorily, though awkwardly. We sat until our knees touched. Then I just rolled the cask through the connection to his side. It worked.

We set up a small area. The weir really liked it. Their compliment? "It was potent and had the consistency of warm blood." Ugh. Well, it won't look at this stuff the same way, ever. I made sure Sarek got some. He was trying to get Gerard into a discussion on Golden Circle politics. Gerard didn't look that interested. I decided to rescue him. I led Sarek off, introducing him to a few people. The women favored him quite a bit. He is very handsome and distinguished looking, belying the fact that he claimed he was a simple scholar.

Walking around, I spotted Vialle sitting on a table. Random was nowhere to be found. I few weir were hovering nearby. Ah, the Sable Wolf body guards. I sat beside her and talked for a while. I'd forgotten the weir preference of raw meat. The poor woman had nothing to eat aside from raw vegetable, which she was not accustomed to. But she insisted I did not have to fetch her anything. While we talked, a young woman came up and asked if I was giving away remembrances. Ah, there's still so much to learn. I had to ask, 'what in the world are remembrances?' I thought they would be simple keepsakes, but with the weir, I couldn't be too sure about that. I asked the girl to find the High Mother for me. That daunted her, but she ran off to comply.

Eventually she returned with the High Mother in tow. I hadn't meant for her to bring her, just to tell me where she was. She scooted onto the table with us, shooing away the girl. At my inquiry, she said that Remembrances were bites that I should give, preferably where they would be seen. At this time, in this place, for a few days, if I gave them out to promising young girls, they would bear the marks for the rest of their lives. Vialle looked a little uncomfortable. Truth to tell, I did as well. I may have placed myself in weir society, but I'm not at the point where I could just bite a young girl, in cold blood. No. I can't.

I told the girls there would be no Remembrances. They were strangely disappointed, but left without arguing the point, for which I was grateful. I saw Random making his way over. Since Vialle would have company, I made my excuses and left Vialle and Tatasha.

Wandering I eventually found Kent and Owen. Sarek was looking much more relaxed. I wondered how much beer he'd had. Genevieve had her arm wrapped around his waist. A visible mark to tell the weir women hands off. I saw Kinkel and March. They announced that the beer was running out. Ah. Time to get more.

March & I Trumped to the drawbridge. I made a brief stop into the kitchen and got a large basket of food from Chef Robert. I explicitly said it was for the Queen. He hummed happily as he put together all her favorite foods. Then we went into town. It took a short while, but I got four more casks. I did make one more stop to the tailor shop to see Cassiopeia. I was stunned to not only know she wasn't working there anymore, but that she had gotten married. It stung a little bit that for something as important as that, she hadn't even written me a note to tell me. Sometimes I wonder just how cold people think I am.

I Trumped DeWinter and we proceeded to pass the kegs through in our improvised manner. March thought it highly amusing. He helped, but he kept making comment about “speed bumps.” I'm not sure what he meant but DeWinter was decidedly annoyed. No, he was getting downright angry. We passed through, DeWinter still glaring. Actually, he pulled March through so fast, March landed in the dirt. I just had to step through.

March had this odd gleam in his eye. He said he'd gotten DeWinter all figured out.

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah."

DeWinter started circling. I thought I should put a stop to it, but it would only serve to undermine DeWinter. I stopped a young weir from pilfering through Vialle's basket. I finally had to put it under my foot. Throughout the match the little fellow kept trying though. Persistent little thing. So, I kept my peace. The weir, however, were ecstatic. They quickly made a ring around the two and as they started. March and DeWinter brawled, March laughing, DeWinter cursing. Then, after a few minutes, DeWinter was grinning and March was chagrined. The two were very evenly matched, though their clothes were sadly overmatched. To the weir women, and my eyes, it was very nice to watch. The two ended up in a lock, both struggling, muscles rippling, oh my. Then, they seemed to realize neither was going to win, not unless it got much more real and ugly, and they both burst out laughing. Everybody was happy. In fact, the weir tried to get both of them up onto their shoulders. DeWinter evaded it all nicely, but March enjoyed the attention.

We went to see Vialle. I presented the basket to Vialle who was delighted. I placed it in her lap but Random grabbed it, trying to scarf what he could. I guess he didn't like roe sandwiches because he made a face. I told Random it was for Vialle, since he could go and find some for himself. He ignored me. Vialle, only a little indignant, asked if I would hit him on his head. DeWinter beat me to it. I remonstrated that Vialle had asked me to do it. Random did not look happy. At the risk of being a bit…treasonous, I didn't care.

Random got up from the thumping. DeWinter was looking a bit smug. There was a look on Random's face that said, "Okay, you want it---you got it." He gestured to DeWinter to do his worst and moved away, rolling up his sleeves. DeWinter didn't have any sleeves at this point, so he was ready. Sigh. I sat at the table. Vialle asked me what was going on and I filled her in. She asked if I would mind letting her see through my eyes. I didn't and we made contact.

Random doesn't fight cleanly. The first thing he did was a vicious cut to DeWinter's throat with the side of his hand. DeWinter staggered, trying to breathe. Random gave a few really nasty kicks to DeWinter's ribs and DeWinter flipped over onto the ground. Vialle's nails dug into my hand. Random made a few flirting motions to some nearby girls and Vialle hissed something I couldn't catch. DeWinter got up. DeWinter made a few steps in an arc, sizing Random up. Then he launched himself through the air. I thought it was too obvious a move, but he was spinning like a throwing star. Random couldn't duck far enough before DeWinter was on top of him.

The two wrestled, but Random made the mistake of allowing himself to get within arm's reach of DeWinter. Still, Random made some really nasty blows, guaranteed to immobilize most men. I began to wonder if this had stopped being a game.

I felt the energies rise in me. I've always suspected Random would be a dirty fighter, but DeWinter might be holding for some sort of rules. Like it or not, Random was King, after all. My Change depends on protecting my own. And DeWinter was definitely in that group. Actually, I was getting a double dose, for something was going on in Vialle's head.

DeWinter took the blows, maneuvering Random until he had a firm hold. Random was having a hard time breathing. DeWinter kept squeezing. Eventually, Random said, for the good of the crown, he had to call surrender. DeWinter loosened his hold, but not taking that as the final word, backed away carefully. Random came over and told Vialle they were leaving. Vialle looked like she wanted to get him alone. Whether to yell at him or to kiss him, I couldn't tell.

We searched their things and found his Trump deck gone. I spotted my erstwhile thief. I grabbed him and shook him down. Out fell Random's Trump deck, March's dagger, and a few other items I recognized from the family. The boy just looked down. 'Hey, how did all that get in there?' I shook my head and he grinned at me.

DeWinter and I got some private time in the woods. Really, it was the only place that was generally empty. DeWinter was surprised at my reactions, but acquiesced to the situation. It wasn't until afterwards that I realized he wasn't as…enthused as I was. Which was fortunate since I would have gotten pregnant right then and there. I had found out he put his hand over my mouth because of the noise. With the Ardor, I hadn't noticed I had bitten him on the hand. The wound was filling in with dark blood. He looked curiously at it, but dismissed it. Hmm, I think DeWinter got a Remembrance.

Day 131/24

Dawn came, quiet and peaceful. We went in search of the children. DeWinter remarked I had “grove hair.” Quickly, I tried to remove the worst of the leaves and twigs caught up in the strands. We found Xhimena happily sleeping in a pile of other little girls. Three weir women were circling them. Ah, guard patrol.

We found Kai-Revere sleeping in a tree, in a pile of little boys. Three men circled the tree. I wasn't too thrilled about that. I hate heights. But, I also knew Kai wasn't too fond of them either. If he woke up, he could panic and fall. DeWinter got a good grip and began climbing. He didn't' get far. I got a Trump contact and it was he, stuck. If he moved too far one way or another, he'd sway a limb and topple the boys. I Trumped him down. He tried again with the same result. Bison was one of the guards, and he was trying mightily not to smile. Finally DeWinter asked him to go get our son.

Bison scurried up the tree. He got to Kai, picked him up. The limb shifted dangerously. He put a hand on the top most boys until they shifted and it all settled down again. Then he climbed down and gave Kai to DeWinter. Kai-Revere woke and we collected Xhimena. Then we had our breakfast.

Kai-Revere was very proud of himself. They'd had a contest to see who would be on top and he'd won. DeWinter wasn't terribly enthused and I tried to make up for it, when Kai's face fell. I nudged DeWinter in the shin with my foot and he told Kai he was impressed. Kai felt better. Xhimena asked why he slept in a tree. Kai said it was to stop people from cutting their throats in the night. Wonderful. I allayed the fear in Xhimena's eyes as best I could. We talked a bit more about what they'd been doing all day. Then a strange, nasty gurgling came from my side. It was Xhimena. She rolled her head sharply, eyes twitching and fell out of the chair. It took just a minute for me to realize nothing was wrong with her. She was acting out having her throat "cut." Kai and DeWinter were highly alarmed. Then Xhimena giggled below us. DeWinter looked chagrined and Kai had a disgusted look on his face. No, they didn't find it funny at all. I however could not stop from laughing, which set off Xhimena. Every time we looked at them, we started laughing. She's a child, so they couldn't say anything. I had no such excuse, but I couldn't help it.

We went in search of people we knew. I still had people coming up to me to introduce themselves to me. Trying to remember names was an impossible task. Rather, I tried to remember their faces and some personal item. I find it's easier. And with around 10,000 weir gathered here, I'd be grateful at whatever I could remember.

We found Kent and Owen. I proposed that we could gather as many of the Amberites as we could and play a game. Perhaps volleyball? I know Owen always likes when Amberites get together to play. I did tell her about the match between Random and DeWinter. She seemed impressed. She said Random was a dirty fighter. Well, if we didn't know then, we know now. She had a little gleam in her eye. I also told her about Xhimena's little prank at breakfast. Immediately, Rhiannon wanted to learn how to do it. Xhimena set about instructing her how to make the proper noise. It really did sound awful. They even performed for DeWinter when he showed up with Kai . I could see in his eyes visions of all the Amberite children falling down, making horrible gurgling noises whenever he came into a room. It didn't matter. Xhimena, in one of the few times, was the center of attention. Kai just rolled his eyes. I'm going to have to talk to him about that.

Owen and I split the Trump contacts. She got Martin, Tigh, March, Sabina, Grace, and Ccapella. I got Llewella to think about it, Dalt, Dorimae, Tatasha, Shapir, and Rinaldo. I tried to get Benedict. He was in a white dinner jacket with a red carnation in the lapel. In his hand was a onyx cigarette holder. He looked quite dashing. He asked if there was anything wrong. I said no. He asked what the occasion was. I told him about becoming the Little Mother. He raised his eyebrows and said that was quite an accomplishment. Coming from him, that was very kind. A woman's voice called over his shoulder, asking to whom he was talking to. He said he was talking to himself. The woman pulled a revolver out of her purse. I moved the Trump window to see her better. She was very beautiful, elegantly dressed. She told him she wanted the papers. Benedict flicked his wrist and the cigarette holder went through her eye into the brain, killing her instantly. Just like that. He gave me his best regards but he would be unavoidable detained with matters there. No, he didn't need me to pull him through, thank you anyway. I let the contact drop. I also tried Steele, who was in the middle of a furious sword fight. He just said, “Later!” I let it drop so as not to take his concentration. I did manage to get him just before the game began, though. He was fine and he came through. Owen also called Fiona. I didn't expect her to come through, though her words were much like Benedict's. Very generous. Actually, Owen pretty much told everyone what was going on. I hadn't anticipated it. But, there was nothing to be done about it now.

I did try to get Evander to play, but I found out he had gone back with Gerard. I admit to being somewhat disappointed. He came here, he must have learned what I am accomplished. But, he left without so much as a single word.

Dalt refused to play. I should have expected as much. But he did allow he would be the referee. That suited him. He would allow no rule-breaking in the game. I not only told him of the fight between DeWinter and Random, I showed him the memory. He got an almost beatific smile on his face. I think he'll cherish that for a while. DeWinter didn't know what I had done, so he was surprised when Dalt clapped him on the shoulder and said, “Well done!”

I Trumped Rinaldo to see if he would play. I interrupted something interesting, because he had a rabbit's hat on. This is the third time I've caught him like this. I was beginning to wonder…

Dorimae, Sabrina and Grace arrived, creating quite a stir. They wore red fish net halters, red thongs, red fingerless gloves, and sneakers with lights that flashed when they jumped. Quite frankly, they stunned every man looking at them. And perhaps some of the women as well. Kai-Revere was riveted; all he could say was “Cool!” DeWinter hastily put his hands over his eyes.

Later DeWinter had a long talk with Kai about propriety and the need to not say anything…improper. Kai was very confused; he didn't think anything was wrong. I wondered, too. After all, the weir are the least body-shy people I know. Kai , innocently, just looked up at his father and asked why it was wrong to say anything about their shoes. DeWinter made some sort of sound and I had to viciously smother a laugh. He is only 6 years old. He really isn't noticing anything of that sort yet. The conversation trailed off.

But, the three outlandishly dressed ladies did bother both DeWinter and Dalt. I came to realize it wasn't the absence of clothing that bothered the men, but the women's selection of little clothing that did…entice. It was very provocative and they knew it. I suggested we play weir-style, namely sky-clad. They readily agreed. I showed them where they could put their things. It gave me a chance to whisper to Dorimae. I don't suppose she had a spare one of those? With a grin, she nodded. Then she found out we were improvising a net. She Trumped back home, got a net, a few balls, and my 'clothing package', and we were ready to play.

We'd had a few more participants show up. Llewella did arrive, bringing Moira with her. Wonderful. Tatasha was really happy to see her. Rinaldo brought Cassiopeia and Diana. In fact, Rinaldo was the one Cassiopeia was married to. That was even harder to understand. Rinaldo and we are friends, I thought. It was very odd.

I found out soon enough that Rinaldo was also married to Diana. Well, it was their choice.

However, according to Rinaldo, it was illegal by the Church of the Unicorn. And it turned out quickly that Dalt wasn't happy that Rinaldo got a former…date of his into such trouble. I hope Dalt won't do anything rash. Sigh.

Blaine & Blythe arrived and Ccapella brought Beauty. Blane caused quite a stir himself. Dalt just stood there in plain astonishment. Blane had pale white skin, a horse's tail, and hooves for feet, horse's ears and a horn coming out of his forehead. Dalt's jaw really dropped. Later we learned it was part of a magic show he was doing on something called a “space station.” He said it was quite the sensation.

It was a very interesting game of volleyball. There were far too many people on each side, but it was much fun nonetheless. From time to time we brought the children in. I lifted Xhimena so she could have a chance to spike the ball. She soon gave up using her hands and used her head instead. DeWinter did the same for Kai, teaching him how to spike. Tigh and Ergian were big enough, so they fended for themselves as best they could.

We played the men versus the women. The men tended to want to make a show, competed with each other and sometimes got in each other's way. We ladies brought in teamwork and cooperation. It was highly effective and with satisfaction, we won the game. But, it didn't really matter, because everyone was having a good time. Even DeWinter was laughing regularly, everyone was smiling and joking.

I noticed that Dorimae had another tattoo. I showed her Xhimena's. Xhimena was still a little unsatisfied that she had to have one but when she saw Dorimae's she felt much better about hers. She instantly recognized the stylized Unicorn on Dorimae's backside. Dorimae graciously made a little fuss over Xhimena's and my daughter was happy. Ccapella came over and introduced herself and Beauty to Xhimena.

They learned that Xhimena liked to make up stories. Dorimae, Sabrina and Grace were all very interested, since they were currently actresses in various plays. Xhimena didn't know what a play was, so they demonstrated briefly. They got Xhimena to tell one of her stories. They settled in a half circle around her. I joined them and so did Ccapella and Beauty. It was interesting to see that none of them thought it odd that a 4-year-old girl was entertaining them. The story lasted about twenty minutes, one of her longer ones. Trying to be objective, I thought she had great promise in this area. She had all the elements correctly; it just needed refinement. I wonder if I should act on that, or leave it to develop on its own.

Kai-Revere was busy with the other boys. They were exchanging stories. Kai told them about sleeping in the trees. They though it was interesting. They hadn't realized there was a test involved. So Kai got to tell them all about it and demonstrate how he won the test. I think Tigh and Ergian were going to try it.

At dusk we headed toward the castle. Llewella, Ccappella and Beauty were going to dance for us. The dance style was called the Kobi, which turned out to be a cross between martial arts katas and a Kabuki play. Because of its martial application, the weir really liked it. It think a new form of dancing will be emerging after we leave. I had both Kai-Revere and Xhimena on my lap and I tried to point out details I thought they were missing. I did see that Kai was picking up more and more subtleties.

Then each of the clans performed, each trying to outdo each other. With thirty clans, it took all night. The volume of noise the audience created gauged approval. And I do mean volume. You could hear them clear outside the castle walls.

Just prior to midnight, Xhimena tugged on my sleeve and said she was going to sleep now. I walked with her to a pile of curled up little girls already asleep. I have no idea how she was going to sleep through all this. But she lay down, snuggled in, and was asleep within minutes. Kai-Revere was not only wide-awake he was on overdrive. He didn't want to miss any of the dancing.

The dancing did start to become highly suggestive. I caught DeWinter watching Kai . I whispered to him that I didn't think Kai was picking up that sort of thing. He knew I was right, but he kept watching. He's really worried about this. I could understand. He is a gentleman, and he wants Kai-Revere to be the same.

We then had an opportunity to get the Amberites out onto the floor. Our dancing must be somewhat dull to them. We forego the waltzes and such dances, settling for vigorous reels. The weir liked that. It was easy to duplicate and they could…evolve them to suit their temperaments.

Eventually DeWinter and I took Kai upstairs. He kept claiming he wasn't tired. We all had a substantial meal, and sat quietly. We told Kai we were going to go to sleep now, and he should give it a try. We laid down. Kai just kept looking around. But, with a full belly, no real stimulus, just relative quiet, his eyes started to droop. DeWinter was watching him under lowered lashes. Soon, Kai lay down and was soon asleep. My, it really was a good idea. We both fell asleep shortly after.

Day 132/24
A talk with Rinaldo

We woke rather late. Around ninth hour of the morning. I found Xhimena already awake and having breakfast with the other girls. She really was having a good time with them. It struck me rather hard that there were no little girls her age at the house. Hmm, I'll have to do something about that. She had six friends. She knew their names, their mother's names, even their grandmother's names after a fashion. She got a few mixed up, but memorize the corrections. She had told them she had three grandmothers: Tatasha, Thelia, and Byslamia. Because of that, she was elected their leader. Wait until Byslamia hears about this.

I found Rinaldo playing something like checkers with the weir men. When you jumped an opponent's pieces you kept them. The pieces just happened to be large gold coins. We sat down and I just had to ask him what was going on about the rabbit accessories. His ears got a little red and he tried to dismiss the subject. DeWinter took the opportunity to give him a bit of a lecture about his illegal marriages. He didn't think it was right, especially when he found out the two women in question might not know it was illegal. Rinaldo explained that during the 'wave of pregnancies', the impaired judgment spell put him in a situation with Diana and Cassiopeia. They, in turn suggested he marry both of them. So, he arranged it. Odd, but he didn't sound like he was very enthused about the idea at the time. DeWinter said Rinaldo had to tell them sooner or later that it was all null and void in Amber. Rinaldo tried to pass it off as something to be done later, and DeWinter was annoyed enough, genuinely, to leave before he started something they would both regret.

I challenged Rinaldo to a game. The weir men waiting graciously let me go before them. We played and I began to speak in French so our audience wouldn't hear. Rinaldo followed my lead and we had a long talk. I think a part of him wanted to let it out. I wanted some answers, Rinaldo proposed a question game while we played. We traded questions.

He asked me what I was going to do about the Merquier's. I told him nothing right now. I was stuck on account of the treaty. I asked him if he was happy. That seemed to give him pause. After a few minutes he said he was about thirty percent of the time.

That seemed like an awfully low number from someone just recently married and I said as much.

He said it wasn't them; it was because he was angry and frustrated with himself.

Why?

But it was his turn to question. He asked if DeWinter and I were an exclusive couple.

Oh. Well, yes, I don't think DeWinter would be able to change his mind on that just yet.

All right.

To return to my question, which he made me repeat, he gave me a bit of his life. His mother was a Chaosian servant, which to us is little more than a slave. She'd been trained for…entertainment. Geisha? "Yeah," he replied, "something like that." When Brand was in Chaos planning the PatternFall coup, he met Jasra. She pleased him enough that he made her part of his negotiations. Rinaldo was born a year or two later. As we talked, Rinaldo almost absently wiped my pieces off the board one by one.

Brand had a sort of bipolar Circumstance. Jasra was able to keep him satisfied, whether he was a happy or a sad Brand. Rinaldo had inherited something of that, but perhaps worse. It's as if he has the stereotyped good angel/evil devil riding his shoulders. Except they are just for the ride, they aren't in the driver's seat. He's stuck in the halfway point between just simple mood swings to full fledged split personalities. The balance of that point isn't fixed in place. Sometimes he knows what's going on; sometimes he's having 'blackouts.'

The girls, as he referred to Diana and Cassiopeia, have figured out something of this. They figured out that when he was in a certain mood, they could make him do anything. Hence, the costumes and that was how they convinced him to marry them. I felt a bit of resentment that they were manipulating him this way. If they are now just innocently acting on a general notion, that is harder to assess. It could be no different than posing a question or proposal after someone has had a drink to relax. I really thought he had to tell them his condition. If they know, and they continue, the situation can be addressed. I really hope neither of them is so…mercenary with him. It would be best if he could have some sort of support, two people able and willing to understand and help each other help himself.

Ah, he was in a nasty bind. Can he trust them? Will he trust them?

Part of him does, part of him doesn't. He's talked to Owen about it, but they've not come up with a solution as yet. I really, really hope the girls won't do anything to hurt him. But I just can't get in the middle of this. Not because I can't but because Rinaldo himself might not like it, one side of his personality or the other. And, frankly, I'm just not qualified, no matter how much I care. I just hope both sides of him figure out I won't use it against him. I just wish there was something else to do or say except sit there silently, listening.

And wonder why Rinaldo was actually telling me all this...

The rest of the day passed calmly and uneventfully. The weir were almost mellow. All the energy and effort expended since the fight has left them quite calm and content. This is the best time to wrap up the celebration. While they are still satisfied and not yet cranky.

Later in the day, I just wandered around. Kai-Revere was up and about, eating breakfast with some of the other children. He had his day somewhat planned, mostly hanging around and talking and playing with the others. I found DeWinter with about 30 other men, tossing large daggers at a target. He hadn't missed yet. The men were trying to set him off his aim; they said it was bad luck to challenge the gods by doing anything with perfection, or that I was watching and he should quit while he was ahead. Neither argument held much weight with him. He threw again and hit the bull's-eye. Slowly all the others were eliminated until it was DeWinter and two others. I made a substantial bet on DeWinter. It was easy money, because he won in the next two throws. I'd come out just ahead from what I lost to Rinaldo. We went back to collect Kai and Xhimena. Kai was in some sort of game where they took running leaps through a hoop. It didn't look too bad until I saw that they were playing on a stony ground. Well, he couldn't get too hurt, right? If he did, he'd learn not to do it again. Or to do it better, if I understand him at all.

We found Xhimena, pleased because she'd had her face painted. She had blue lightning bolts radiating from the center. It brought out the green of her eyes. I could tell Kai liked it as well, but wouldn't ask any questions. I took pity on him and ask Xhimena if any of the older boys had their faces done. They had. Kai went in search of the artists. He came back a while later sporting a face full of black zebra stripes. He liked it a lot because he was of the firm opinion that black meant you were tough.

That night, knowing it was our final night; there was a last feast. There were a number of toasts and speeches; mostly the weir recounting how bloodthirsty and tough I was. It was highly flattering in their way. Of course, they did not realize that most of the Amberites were far tougher and better fighters. Fortunately, most of the Amberites had gone home, so missed the talks. Only Rinaldo, his wives, March, and Kinkel were still there.

Day 133/24

We collected Kai-Revere, Xhimena, and all our weir. The Amberites had all gone home so we paid our farewells to Tatasha and the elders. Then we went home. I thought it was best to stop the celebration while they were still sated, but before they got tired or trouble broke out. It took a little while, but we managed to get everyone Trumped through.

Day 133/24

We've settled back in. Well, settling enough in to begin planning on leaving. We figured a week or two should be just fine. Hopefully it is enough time for what I have planned.

Day 135/24
Expanding the family

Mother needed to go into town to pick up a new wardrobe. I guess I will have to prove to her that she need bring everything except truly personal things with her. I suppose it doesn't hurt anything if she brings them. I just wish she'd take my word on this. It's like I'm five and trying to convince her the monster under the bed is real. If she doesn't see it, it doesn't exist. Sigh. Fortunately, she didn't expect me to go clothes shopping for any children.

I drove her into town. We left the carriage just outside the city. She went to find clothing for Eidolon, and I went about my own business. We agreed to meet for lunch.

It took about an hour to get to the orphanage. I probably should have told DeWinter my thought, but I wanted to see just how feasible my idea is. My idea was to find a companion for Xhimena. I tough choice considering she's rather bright and she will outstrip any child her age. But, any older child might not have the desire to stick around with a littler girl.

I was shown inside. I met with a woman, a Ms. Sennat, who showed me into her office after I explained why I was there. She began by giving me a standard speech about the level of responsibility I must have, the cost of raising a child, the importance of placing any girl into a good home…etc. It was about a sentence in when I realized she hadn't addressed me by my title. She had no idea who I was. I was agreeable to this--even pleased. I wanted this to be straightforward and legal, no favors of my rank, at least until I needed to tell her. She showed me the necessary forms and fees, and then we went to look at the girls.

They were in a little playroom, about 8 sitting in a circular table with an older girl of about 12 watching over them. They seemed well fed and healthy. I wasn't surprised. Sebastian grew up here and is the most well-fed of all the Amberites.

I wasn't prepared to be in the same room with them. It was extremely awkward. I sensed each of them wanted parents. To choose one and walk away leaving the rest would be hard. Perhaps the hardest thing I'd ever done, because they were so little, they wouldn't understand why they weren't chosen. And unless I was willing to spend many hours here getting to know them, I would be arbitrarily picking one in the hopes it would work. It seemed like an impossible task.

There were three 3 year-olds, three 4 year-olds, a 5 year-old and one was six. The girl watching over them was called over. Her name was Tralee and she looked at me for a moment with such hope in her face. Oh, my.

The age of adulthood in Amber is fifteen years. In three years, unless Tralee had something to offer the orphanage, she'll be let go into the city to make her own way. With no family support and a few skills, her future looked grim indeed. But, she proceeded to enthusiastically tell me about the girls, their personalities and their names. All glowing reports about how wonderful the little girls were. I liked Tralee's integrity, but I had to get DeWinter here. He'd not say much if I came home with a little girl, but it wouldn't be fair to not include him.

I excused myself and found somewhere private to Trump him. He appeared in the stables. He was stripped to the waist and was helping the weir wash down and groom the horses. Ah, the vision was lovely, but I needed him to be dressed for this. Rather than surprise him, I told him what I was about. He seemed doubtful, but he said he'd wash up and Trump back to me.

I occupied myself by going back into the room. Now I could see little surreptitious glances coming my way from the girls. I stayed for a while, asking a few questions but mostly observing. I realized that my purpose here was not going to be filled. If I chose a girl Xhimena's age, unless she was unusually bright, she would not be able to keep up with Xhimena. If I chose an older girl, she might be unwilling to spend time within the confines of a 3 year-old's world. I really needed DeWinter to be here.

I went back to the office where tea was prepared. I think that Ms. Sennat did not really believe I was serious. I certainly looked too young to her eyes, I think. Since DeWinter was going to Trump through, I had better prepare her for his sudden arrival. So I told her who I was. She gave a violent start and the papers in her hand began to tremble. I tried to put her at her ease, but it didn't work. I didn't yet dare to mention that DeWinter was an Amberite as well, of the Royal family. I just told her, for now, that he was a knight. She didn't recognize his name either.

Shortly thereafter, DeWinter Trumped me. Holding the contact, I excused myself and went into the hallway. He was not only washed and dressed, but he wore one of his better suits. He was determined to make a good impression, I see. I brought him through.

Back in the office, Ms. Sennat took one look at DeWinter and was ready to faint. I admit he always looked good, but her reaction was a bit…extreme even so. We were walking to the room now. He spoke to her politely, and she fainted dead away. Ah, well. He just managed to catcher her. Not knowing what else to do, we took her back into her office and placed her in her chair. We roused her. She opened her eyes. He was much closer now. She gave a start and fainted again. He frowned and asked what was wrong with her. I just said he intimidated her, I think. He didn't believe it, but he backed off. I got her awake. She needed something bracing, but I'm not in the habit of carrying around flasks. Neither is DeWinter. After a good half hour, she was nowhere ready to perform her duties. After the third spell, I went to get help.

I found a woman teaching a class. She looked seriously at me, almost ready to remonstrate me for interrupting her lesson. But, I was a stranger and she held her tongue. I took her aside and told her one of her staff was having fainting spells. She looked alarmed and left the class to one of the older children. That spoke volumes. The children here must be well disciplined to feel comfortable in leaving them alone. I wondered if this was good or bad. She stopped by and got smelling salts. There was no on-staff physician here. That was a surprise.

She helped revive Ms. Sennat while we stood off a bit. They had a whispered conversation. I assumed she mentioned who I was because the teacher gave a sharp, astonished look in our direction. Eventually, however we did go back to the room. We sat and watched--now getting a bit more attention. Tralee looked startled at seeing DeWinter, but not the instant "I'm-in-love look", which I found gratifying.

We talked for a bit before there came a rather loud thump from the floor above. The teacher mentioned something about the boys and left to see what they were about. This was heartening. I tried to ask if some of the children were…rambunctious. I think Tralee would have answered honestly, but the Ms. Sennat interrupted everything I was asking. No doubt to give the most favorable reports. It was annoying. If anyone were going to live in our house, they'd have to be able to handle a very active household with a bunch of…rambunctious weir. Eventually, I asked her if she would get us some tea. I was certain she dared not refuse any reasonable request. DeWinter looked approving at the strategy.

I explained our household to Tralee, if in an abbreviated form. She still pointed out the girls she thought would do well, though she seemed to favor each of them. She was trying so hard. I asked her if she would be prepared to come to the house. Tralee replied that she'd know if she'd like it if she were to live there a bit. She was perfect. She'd give loyal time to Xhimena and I really liked her. She certainly would be responsible and she knows how to deal with little girls. She had a curiously wistful and confused look on her face. I don't think she believed what I was saying.

Tralee went to one of the girls to help with one of their projects. DeWinter watched them all. For the first time ever, I saw real sadness in his eyes. I think he was coming to the same realizations I was earlier. It was painful to see. He is so agreeable, so accommodating and flexible, I hated seeing that look. But, he said nothing. I told him I had to have him here. I couldn't choose something so important without him. And it wouldn't be fair to carrying home all of them to surprise him. Choosing one will be difficult. His eyes said he understood completely.

He said we did have a large house.

Yes, we do. I realized he really wanted to adopt them all. I said it would be a lot of work. He didn't look like he cared. I said I supposed we could build an annex or something, for their bedrooms. He kissed me, right there in front of everyone. I said we were crazy.

He pulled me to the wall and kissed me again.

Giggles came from behind him and he turned and said we were just talking and get back to work. Laughter erupted. Tralee held a hand to her mouth.

It took another half an hour until he made his decision. Ms. Sennat had returned by now and was looking hopeful. Our prolonged visit must have meant we were serious. We were. DeWinter announced we'd made our decision. We'll take them all, including Tralee. I think Sennat was ready to faint, again. I hustled her to the door and we began ushering her back to her office.

Later we intercepted Tralee, crying, in the corridor. We let Ms. Sennat go ahead, hopefully to collect herself since DeWinter's announcement had dazed her. He went to Tralee and asked what was wrong. She wouldn't say. He crossed his arms and gave her one of his sterner glares. She was unfazed. I watched him struggle to keep his approval off his face. Oh, yes, she was passing muster in his eyes. He asked her if he intimidated her. She said no, rather puzzled.

He looked at me as if to say, see? What's Sennat's excuse?

Tralee went back to the girls and we went to the office. Sennat was just sitting there. I got her tea. I don't think it registered to her that I was serving her. He, on the other hand looked almost giddy with glee, to my eyes. I held up the form, he said we needed nine more. Ms. Sennat absently drew out more from her desk. He gathered them from her, laid them out and we began to shuffle them back and forth, filling out all the spaces. I didn't have 900 crowns, but he said we were good for it. Ms. Sennat, startled, said of course we were. I'll have to remember to have the monies sent to the orphanage before we leave Amber again.

Within a half hour, we were done. We gathered the girls and left. I carried two, so did DeWinter. We cycled through them, so they would be too tired from the long walk. I think he was ready to start whistling or singing as we walked. The girls might have been alarmed or frightened at the sudden change, but since all of them were together and friends, they saw it as just an adventure. Tralee, eventually confessing that she was just so happy, cried for most of the walk.

We had just enough time to take them to a shop to have some clothes picked out for them. For the time being, we just took what fit and was appropriate that was off the rack. I commissioned for them to have some clothes made and sent to the house for when we returned. The girls, not knowing any better, just began undressing right there. DeWinter fled quickly and I set about telling them where they could change and why it was done in private. The only snag in the shop was that they were used to wearing the same clothing. They didn't much care for having different colors and patterns of dresses. I'll have to slowly wean them from this.

Let's see, the forms were one for each girl and I made notes. Trying to remember what Tralee had told me, there was:

We met Mother. DeWinter fairly jumped ahead of us as we got to the restaurant. Expecting only me, Mother was sitting at a table for two. DeWinter had us stand by a wall and went to the table. He looked over the area and began moving tables nearby, to enlarge the gathering. She was startled to see him and repeatedly asked him what was he doing? He just replied, getting ready to eat. I could tell he was fighting not to laugh. The girls on the other hand found this very funny and began to giggle. That caught Mother's attention. I smiled and gave her a little wave.

She asked DeWinter who these children were. He came over, picked up Lini and tucked her under one arm. Lini was not expecting this and she gave a little squeak. He set her down into a chair and introduced her as Squeak. Certainly Lini gave a little laugh, liking the nickname. Mavis was nicknamed Giggle which caused a fresh outburst. Each got a 'DeWinter nickname' and Mother was becoming increasingly annoyed. Of course, she knew these weren't their names, but DeWinter was enjoying himself far too much to tell her their real ones.

Eventually we explained what we had done. I believe she thought he was insane. She was under the impression this was DeWinter's idea and he did nothing to dissuade her. She was much put out with the surprise. It's one of the few times I've seen her so discommoded. That's why he was enjoying himself. Personally, though I said nothing, of course, I think she could use a bit more discommoding in her life. If she's going to go into Shadow with us, she'd better get used to being surprised.

The girls behaved beautifully in the restaurant. Children weren't usually brought her, but they gave no one cause to complain, though plenty to talk about. Surely they'll wonder where all these girls came from. I wonder how many think they are ours, biologically. I wish I was more in tune with the gossip circle in the city. By the time the lunch was over, Mavis had worked her way into Mother's lap. Wonders of wonders. That Mother would do so in public. Hmm.

We couldn't take them all in the carriage we brought, though Mother tried. I did not want to spend hours with all the girls crammed in on top of each other. It took her a moment to realize just how uncomfortable it would be for everyone. The weir were looking at all this, completely mystified.

I Trumped Byslamia and went to Tiryns. I quickly filled her in on my goal for the morning. She thought it was a wonderful idea. Then I told her we got nine more girls and Mother was flabbergasted and will be out of sorts for a few days. Byslamia's eyes crinkled up with sisterly glee and she said it would be good for her. I also told her DeWinter was enjoying himself thoroughly and she gave a short laugh. I Trumped DeWinter in time to catch the tail end of Mother berating him; telling him he should be grateful that I could handle all of this, that sort of thing. He just nodded, holding Lini. He said, “Right, I got a call coming in.” He turned back and she huffed.

We brought them all through and made all the introductions. The weir will have to follow with the carriage. Byslamia was delighted with the girls and fairly beamed at DeWinter. I introduced them to Kai , who was almost as dazed as Mother. Xhimena jumped right in and began talking to them.

I did hit my first few snags, though. First, I realized we really didn't have quite enough space for them all. We would, with advanced planning, but it would take a bit of work to sort it all out at the last minute. Mother was all ready to take over and did indeed start to give out orders. I had the most selfish feelings. She's used to having daughters, quite a few. She may very well miss having young girls around. If I didn't do something, she'd take over completely. I was surprised at how quickly I'd gotten attached to all of them and how strongly. I didn't want to share, not the responsibility for them, certainly not on the first day.

I took hold of Mother's arm, to her great surprise, and ushered her into the corridor. I told her, maybe a bit unkindly, that perhaps she ought to take a nap. She had had an unsettling afternoon. She took exception at that. She said I had no idea of what I was doing or what it would entail. Perhaps, but we'd figure it out. I told her there were two other orphanages in the city; I'd be pleased to show her where they were. Byslamia, who had appeared on the other side of Mother, couldn't help asking Mother if she was upset she hadn't thought of this. Mother threw up her hands and left.

Her parting shot--I was never to suggest she needed a nap, again.

In the end we took back Simone's guest room. She preferred to stay at Owen's when she was in Amber anyway. We took the tapestries off the windows and aired it out. We used two other guest rooms, placing three to a room. Beds were the problem, though. We ended up taking our king-size mattress from our room and putting in one. For a night or two, they could bunk together and DeWinter and I could sleep on the floor. No problems there. From the weir, we gathered a bit of clothing. Once we were shadow shifting, I could get as many as they needed or wanted.

Vis was confounded about why we did such a thing. They weren't even weir girls. I tried to explain social duty, and that they were adorable, but he just didn't get it. Claw did, though. I patted her arm and asked her to explain it to them. I did however make it clear that the weir were not to take it easy on them unless I said otherwise. Claw acknowledged it and would see to it.

Day 136/24
Eidolon Has His Own Surprises

Mornings are going to be very busy for a while. I did my morning meditations and practicing. Then the girls woke up. We got them washed and dressed and eventually down for breakfast. Mavis immediately sat next to Mother. It was all busy and noisy and…a really large family.

Afterwards I showed them the house and where everything was. I Trumped Owen. I couldn't help it. I told her that DeWinter and I had done something perhaps quite foolish. I swear I could see her mentally preparing herself for some stupidity. Then I told her what we had done. She was taken aback. I said I didn't have Dr. Blythe's Trump, so would she consent to giving the girls an examination? She said she'd get back to me.

She Trumped me later and came through after passing Blythe through. We rounded up the girls. Owen was delighted and promptly set about making friends with them all. Xhimena allowed herself to be examined, to show the girls--no, her sisters--that it didn't hurt and they need not be afraid.

They were all quite healthy, though they could use a bit more variation in their diet. That was easily attended to. Mavis was the only cause for a bit of concern. She hadn't had the medical care that she required. Since the orphanage didn't have a physician on staff, it was no surprise. She'd had a number of bones broken, repeatedly, in her short life and they hadn't been set properly. It wasn't a problem now, but it would be as she grew older. Owen thought taking her to the 'flash chamber' would settle it, without any trauma of surgery. I agreed to whatever timetable or priority they thought best. Blithe gave me her Trump and left. Owen settled herself into the tea party Xhimena was having with the girls.

Tralee and I took a little walk in the orchard. DeWinter and I had told her that if she did not like it here, it was her choice whether she wanted to stay. Of course, right now, going back to the orphanage was an unthinkable idea to her. But, she had to know things and once it settled in, she might rethink it. I was just preventing her from feeling trapped. I asked her to give us six months or so. I didn't say so, but if she decided she was unhappy, we'd still make sure she was financially taken care of, even after she turned fifteen. Our obligations would not end.

First I told her about the weir--a bit about their culture and the fact that they could Change. She knew the concept of werewolves, but the “facts” she knew were mostly stories to frighten children, not based on weir life. She seemed to accept the whole concept well enough, intellectually, at least. At least, she was choosing to believe me. Since that went so well, I told her who I am, or more correctly, what I am. That was harder to grasp. Technically, legally, they were now members of the Royal Family. At least I believe so. It would be the case in Mycenae. They would never be able to walk the Pattern (though I didn't try to explain that right now), but they were now our children. She was more nervous about the idea of official functions. Not that Amber had much of them. And we'd be out in Shadow, so she'd have plenty of time to learn. All the girls will. She's still unsure of this, but willing to give it a try. We started walking back to the house.

Kai-Revere wasn't exactly ignoring his new extended family, but he was staying out of the way. By now he'd decided that he didn't much like this invasion. He and the boys were seriously outnumbered. But, he also realized this was not a battle to be won.

Eidolon was also not happy, and he came to speak to me about it. It was a surprise to me, since he never really spoke so much to me before. He was concerned that all these girls would be too much for us. I assured him we'd do our best and no one, not Kai-Revere, Xhimena, or himself would be lacking. He nodded seriously and seemed to accept what I was saying.

Then he worked his way around to what was really bothering him.

He asked me if I knew of Mother's plans for him. I did. He thought her plans were wrong. I had a sense that something important was going to come from him. I was hungry, put the talk on hold and got us a little picnic lunch. We settled under one of the trees and I waited until he was ready.

Why were Mother's plans wrong? He'd watched DeWinter and I; he knew eventually he will want to have a relationship with a girl. How will he ever learn to cope with something like that if he spends all his time in a boys-only military academy for the next ten years or so? We talked for a long while. I tried to keep my face composed, but it was my turn to be astounded. He was Kai's age, 5 years old. But the words coming out of his mouth were that of an adolescent. He…didn't complain, but he was unsatisfied with things. Mother wanted him to stop “showing off” so he stopped talking about some things. He was trying to be a 5 year old for her. But it wasn't enough. Even I know he might be emotionally a child, but that was at war with his intellect. And his intellect was the only thing keeping control of him. The household was such that respect for one's parents was paramount. I think this was why he'd yet to rebel against Mother. He did want to do as she wished, but it…hurt, I think.

The more he talked the more I realized two things. First, Mother had no idea of his exceptional intelligence and through her ignorance, was repressing it. Second, Eidolon was a volcano ready to blow. I could feel all the frustration and helplessness churning around in there held only by his own self-control. I had this vision of him and Evander standing side by side. If I let Mother do as she wishes, he'll end up just like his father. Except, he'd know he was unhappy and why. Or, he'd explode as soon as he was fifteen and she'd lose him for a long while. At least until he sorted himself out. I wonder if he was at his wits end trying to figure out what to do. If I was the last resort, to get Mother to See him

I got one of the weir to ask Owen if she could join us. I needed her medical opinion of his mental age. I know she'd done it with the other Amberite children. And, if necessary, later I might need a more authoritative argument against Mother or Evander.

Eidolon was quite put out that I hadn't discussed involving Owen with him first. I apologized which surprised him. I was keenly aware that if I was correct, I needed him to trust me. And he needed to know someone was on his side. I don't think he'd let it go to his head, the respect I was showing him. Actually, I'd be happier if he did. He needs to let himself go a bit. How does one be both a boy and a man? In retrospect, I'm surprised he didn't go to DeWinter.

Owen still hadn't joined us. Eidolon eventually consented to talk with her. I went to meet her. I intercepted her right at the door. As we walked into the orchard I gave her a quick briefing. I don't think she approved of Eidolon's “consenting” to talk with her. It's funny, for all her ways, she's much more authoritative with children than I am. Well, until recently I've only two children. Even with 9 more, she has had more experience. I might change my mind, but I think of myself as a parent as being an affectionate teacher. We care for them, help them grow and learn, but they are little people. Owen has a more definitive idea of their “place.” Actually, she and Mother agree on many things on this subject.

But, Owen did agree he is very intelligent. Perhaps not as much as Aurora, but we'd definitely have to accommodate this in our future plans. She even was impressed enough to give him a Trump of herself, in case he needed an ear. I was uncertain of that. He may be much smarter than I am, but he's not more experienced. I know what trouble I can get into with Trump, and have. What would Eidolon do? But I was sure Owen knew what she was doing.

They even went so far as to practice a contact. Owen walked away a bit and he concentrated on the card. I wasn't included, so I sat and watched. I heard them talking and Eidolon saying something about strange lights. I heard from where she was standing, Owen exclaim to focus on her, don't look—

Then Eidolon was gone, vanished. I scrambled up. Owen was more than a little alarmed. He'd fallen into UnderShadow. She Trumped Kent and told him what happened. While he went to fetch something for her, she waited, saying nothing to me. Kent Trumped back and passed her a “fur skin.” She explained she was going after Eidolon. She put it on and dropped through the ground. All I could do was wait. Oh, Mother's going to be extremely annoyed when if she finds out.

A long while later, like a geyser, they erupted into the air from ordinary ground. Eidolon looked as if he were made of black glass. When it contacted with the air, it began to steam off, literally. In a nasty flash burn, it was gone and he was burned from head to toe. He wailed as blisters appeared.

Owen Trumped Blythe to meet her at the infirmary. Blithe was in the city. Owen agreed that I should Trump to the drawbridge and bring Blythe through. Then I Trumped Blythe, running through the streets with her skirts hiked up, and brought her through.

We got to the infirmary. They began tending to him. I acted as nurse. He was salved, bandaged and sedated with painkillers. He looked like a little mummy. He was feeling alright, though, now that the medication was setting in. Owen went back to Tiryns to explain this to Mother. Actually, she sounded like it was going to be a confession. I disagreed but she didn't pay attention to it. It was funny in a dark way. Owen gets exasperated when I, or someone else, take on more blame than strictly belongs to me. But here she was doing it. It was an accident.

She brought Mother back with her some time later. First, Mother grounded Eidolon. Then she said that when he was better, he'd have more punishment. I started to argue about that. If I didn't think it was Owen's fault, and even if I did, it certainly wasn't Eidolon's. He was following an adult's instructions. Mother might as well punish me for not stepping in. Mother did not like my tone, she did not like my argument, and she certainly did not like my impertinence. Blythe and Owen fled to the hallway during this. I tried to make my mother see reason. I rationalized it to myself that she was reacting to a bad scare, but it was not fair for him. And here I was trying to help. I ended up just holding my tongue.

Mother went back to Tiryns to collect a few of his things. He'll be here for a week or two. I went to the library to get him a book or two, something at his level. Owen had suggested one or two. On the way back, I intercepted Evander coming up the stairs. Chance or had he heard already?

I filled him in, assuring him that Eidolon would be fine. I also stalled him because Mother was still there. I told him about our plans for Shadow. He was a bit skeptical. Even though he doesn't see Eidolon, I don't think he thought leaving Amber was a good idea. Exasperated with the day, or both my parents, I, with his permission, shared glimpses of my memories many of the Shadows I've visited. Martin's world, City of Wonders, the 'flash chamber' shadow, and even Eregnor. I think I stunned him. Then I appealed to his competitiveness. Eidolon may be a genius, but Kai and the other Amberite children will outstrip him in adaptability, experience, and knowledge. He looked at me. Eidolon's a genius? Sigh. Yes, perhaps a formidable one. He thought for a bit. He said Mother is not prepared or capable of dealing with this. I wasn't going to criticize my mother to him. I said there are considerations to be involved.

He nodded and then said, “Do it.”

I didn't think it would be that easy. Either I scrambled his head a bit with the memories, or he was actually giving me an implied vote of confidence. I wasn't going to question it.

I got him into the library, at the door. I went and found Mother had gone. The coast was clear. I gestured for him that it was safe. Blythe and Owen were still talking in the hallway. They made no protest, or comment when I brought Evander in.

Eidolon was very happy to see his father. Evander stood, stiffly as usual, and told him he was pleased he would be all right. It went on a bit. Evander actually tried to ask Eidolon a few things, trying to engage a discussion. Will wonders never cease? Eidolon was having some difficulty speaking through the bandages. He was struggling so much-- I took pity. I placed a finger on his lips and tried to read surface thoughts; to act like a translator.

A blackness engulfed me and I realized this wasn't Eidolon at all. Or it was, but something else was in there. Damn! Something came back from UnderShadow with him! I fought the dark and lost. There was a moment of confusion and I was locked down.

It was dark. I couldn't see anything. If I was in UnderShadow, I had to get out. I walked the Pattern in my mind. It took nearly an hour by my reckoning, and it was awfully hard. But I got to the center. The pattern itself was very odd; I'd never seen it so active. It sparked, crackled and glowed unusually much.

In the center I found Eidolon, bound in the same black strands he'd had over his body. Eventually, I ripped the cocoon away. It was sticky and took almost two hours, but I got him free. Where to go now?

I picked him up and said we wanted to go home. It didn't work, but it got us somewhere. Why it didn't work, I have no idea. If we were in UnderShadow, that might explain it. I began to walk. I tried shifting. I tried for something as simple as and Exit sign.

I found it and went outside. Two tall girls were standing in an alley, obviously streetwalkers. Then I realized two things: one, Eidolon wasn't there, and two, I was in bandages. Oh no! I was in Eidolon's body!

I went back and tried to find him. Nothing except darkness. I went back outside. I had to get to Amber. I had to warn somebody that my body might be walking around, doing things.

Bad things.


What I did was to find some makeshift chalk and begin to sketch DeWinter on the side of the alley wall. It would only work once, though. But, Eidolon's body just doesn't have the energy necessary to create a Trump. Plus, the pain was starting to come back as I worked. That meant I had been gone far too long. Perhaps not, I had been expending energy in a massive way. I did find Eidolon, in a manner of speaking. He was inside his own head; I was just in control of his body. He was in the dark. I didn't know how to switch with him and probably wouldn't even if I could. He'd have no idea how to get back to Amber.

And I needed more energy to get a Trump sketch done.

I became this horrid little mummy-vampire. I roamed around siphoning energy from people on the dark streets. I took just enough energy to do what I needed to do. I made sure nothing more damaging happened than them falling asleep. It took about ten people before I finished the Trump sketch. Eidolon was amusing himself going through some of my memories. It was annoying when he came across DeWinter kissing me. That didn't sit right with him, since it was a first person perspective. And a woman's, at that.

I Trumped DeWinter. He answered and I quickly yelled who I was. He jumped at the sight and the contact was lost. I didn't blame him, but now I had to start over. To my surprise, I got a Trump call and it was DeWinter. It took a little cajoling and begging, but he brought me through.

I summarized the problem in one sentence. He Trumped Owen and she came through with Kent and a very upset Blythe. She was not happy she'd lost a patient. Owen went back to the castle where she thought I was. I called up a few memories to keep Eidolon occupied. He was beginning to tire of the situation. I wonder if this is what a split personality feels like?

A few minutes later, she came back bearing my body. It was later that I learned that she'd found my animate self holding a knife to March's throat, in his bedroom. Oh, I'll have to apologize for that.

Since touch was what got me in this predicament, touch might get me out of it. I got Eidolon to focus on himself, not the memories. Then I touched my body. With a gush I was inside, fighting this…thing. Black smoke seemed to rise from my mouth as I took over and rid the body. It wasn't as difficult as I feared. Here, in Amber, it wasn't very strong.

Blythe made sure we were all right. Then she hustled Eidolon back to the castle. She had more supplies there and with all the visitors, I think he'd like the respite. He was asleep by the time they left. A crisis averted. Another day done.

Phew.


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