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Cassandra's Diary.33

Day 146/24
Planning to Leave

We're still planning on leaving Amber for a while. As a result, there are quite a few things to put in order before the move. Not only do we have to close up the estate, but I have to get a fairly firm idea of what anyone else may be looking for, especially the young adults. The best way I could think of was to take them out for a quiet walk in the orchard for a little talk. I'm getting to know the trees quite well.

Toby and Jim were a little confused about it all. All I wanted to know was if there was any special skill or knowledge that they wanted to learn about. I realized that their exposure was a bit limited still, but I wanted to put it into their minds that their were options, endless choice from which to choose. Instead, I spent a fair bit of time reassuring them that they weren't fired and I wasn't planning on getting rid of them. Once they were reassured of their place, they said they'd think about it all. I don't believe they really understood what I was getting at. Hopefully they'll understand once they see the opportunities for themselves.

I was pleased that Richard, the chef, wants to go with us. He's such a quiet, unassuming man, yet he's served us well for years. He even though the weir are rather un-demanding, he lets himself fade too much into the background. Hopefully, new places and peoples will give him a chance to grow, just like the rest of us.

I did have a talk with Kai-Revere. I'm worried that she will, eventually, notice his expressions of brotherly…commentary, when he thinks one of Xhimena's ideas is silly. I tried a hypothetical situation. Once I define what hypothetical meant, I asked him how he would feel if Tigh or Ergian ridiculed him in front of others. He scrunched up his face and tried to get around the idea that it hadn't really happened, but why was it important if it wasn't true. I have to work on his imagination. He's not yet at the point where he can look at a situation from another's point of view. In the end I told him not to do such things in front of others, that it would hurt her feelings. He was still doubtful that this was important, but promised to try. DeWinter settled it by saying it was a Bad thing, a spanking offense. That settled the matter for Kai. As a reward, if he succeeds, his father and I will start his weapons training. He closed his eyes and jerked his fist down, whispering “Yes!” We have made his day, no his life.

I sent out an invitation to Julian, Vivant, Shapir and Rhiannon for an informal dinner. I wanted them to meet the girls. I also invited Gerard & The Owen, Llewella, March, Kent, Owen, Tigh, Ergian. I sent the boys their own invitations, since they are of age where they can begin responding to them on their own.

Day 149/24

Julian paid us a private visit today. He was deeply disturbed by the news of the girls. The implications, that they were now actual members of the Royal Family had ramifications, which we, perhaps, had not foreseen. I wasn't sure just what he meant until he explained. In Mycenae it is not uncommon for an adoption to take place. It usually strengthened the bloodlines because a person of distinction or promise was chosen. We just happened to do it on a larger scale.

But his point was that they would have all the privileges and entitlements of the rest of the family. That meant that should they get into trouble, become hurt, or in danger, or even killed, the rest of the family was obligated to assist or avenge them. Frankly, I believe that if any member of the family did not feel “related” to them, they would do as their conscience dictated, or not. But, I began to see how they could be used against the family. Still, with training and education, they would be as Kent, or Vivant. No one would begrudge working to save them, and so I believe would be the case for the girls.

The most significant factor would be the girls' entitlements. When they become of age, they can petition to King Random for the right to walk the Pattern. That set me back to thinking. Of course, it would kill any of them, and I would never keep that knowledge secret from them. Anyone sane wouldn't do it. But, at 15 years, they might not be necessarily…logical. I could see at least one of them being resentful, unless they were carefully steered away from such a course. Julian said the strictly speaking, Random cannot forbid them the chance to ask, and he implied he may not be able to actually deny them this right. Hm.

As a result, a few people might be upset with the girls' new privileges .I believed he was referring to others in the family as well as some of the members of the nobility. If it had been one child, perhaps this would have been seen as a minor upset, but nine of them? That was a different story altogether. He advised us to warn Random of the event, giving him time to repair the damage. Or, if the paperwork hadn't yet been processed, perhaps we could amend them to having the children being wards. It made sense. After all, it would change our minds in how we looked at them, or treated them. They were still our daughters and we would treat them accordingly.

After Julian left, DeWinter and I went to the orphanage. Unfortunately, the paperwork had already been sent to the castle, the Master Clerk's office. So went quickly made our way there. Unfortunately, the office was closed for the day. We did, however, encounter Random on his way out to the rear drawbridge for a cigarette.

Now I still wasn't particularly happy to see him. I haven't worked my way around my feelings toward him since the last time I spoke with him. But, it had to be done, for the girls sake, so I put my feelings as far behind me as I could. Granted, it wasn't that far, but I hoped it would be enough. He still made no mention of Chryseis, nor any inquiries of Mycenae. But, he also wasn't being the “King” right now, so we might get a more honest response as far as our options go.

We told him what we had done. He had to stop us for a bit as he choked a little on the cigarette. He kept repeating, “Nine?” I admit being pleased that he was so nonplussed. He said we were both either very brave or completely clueless. Neither of us bothered to respond to it. “Nine?” But, since the papers were already at the Master Clerk's office, he said there was little he could or would do. He implied that if it were just DeWinter involved he could override it. I chose to take it that he referred to DeWinter giving up his title as a Prince of Amber. But, he couldn't override mine. Politically, his interference with my decisions set a bad precedent for the rest of the family; one I think he couldn't afford to do, not with such a minor items as this. So, the deed was done and that was that. Any problems that came up, we would deal with them. I think, in the end he thought it an interesting situation, even if we were a bit silly.

He didn't make any comment if this would cause him any personal problems, and I didn't ask. I do think he was more than a little perturbed that Julian and Gerard, etc., got to meet the girls before he did. I refrained from mentioning that I had had little to no intention of introducing them until much, much later. I really need to get away from Amber for a while. Amber, after long durations tends to make me rather silly.

Day 150/24

I Trumped Dalt today. I looked forward to telling him he was now an uncle, nine times more. He was in a tavern and said I was much too much conspicuous. His surroundings were of a rather seedier nature. I said I'd Trump him back and changed into my tavern disguise. No one would think I was anyone but a streetwalker.

I sat next to him. The place was crowded enough no one noticed my arrival. I actually think he didn't really register just how I was dressed. Well, we all see what we want to see. I ordered a drink and once we were settled at a table I told him of the events. He asked me why we would introduce innocent girls to a family of assassins and murderers. I shook my head and looked into my mug. I said I never thought to hear him in agreement with Julian and Random. I felt him stiffen next to me, but pretended not to notice. He asked me why we had done such a thing. So, I explained my beliefs of social duties and all that. Not to mention we couldn't just walk away from them. When I was done, he said it was a generous, wonderful thing I was doing. I didn't remark on his sudden change of opinion. Just for a moment I realized how easily he could be…manipulated. It wasn't a pleasant thought. Actually, it was a shameful one and I felt badly about it. While I got me his support, I don't want to use him that way. I suspect others might want me to do it more, but Dalt isn't necessarily…controllable. He has his way, a very honorable one in his own way. It would be like having the proverbial tiger by the tail. Or a lion, in his case. But attempting to do this was demeaning to both of us.

When we were done with our drinks, he hauled me out into the streets and woke a nearby shopkeeper. He finagled his way into the store and bought shawls for each of the girls. Each had its own color and pattern on the edges. He spent considerable time writing a personal little note to each of the girls and pinned them to their respective gift. When I was laden down, he kissed me on the cheek before saying I should go home to take care of them. I said it was a bit odd that he thinks so little of Amberite, but I was one of them. He nodded, his mouth tight. He said he tried not to think about it.

He held the packages while I fished my Trump out of my pocket. Once ready, he handed them back to me, and I returned home.

The girls went into fits of giggles as they received their first gifts. They made much of the different colors and I think there will be lots of trading back and forth. But, they were getting past the idea of their clothing not exactly matching each other. They read their notes and wondered about their uncle Dalt. DeWinter made his usual disparaging comment about him. Once he left, Xhimena descended into their midst and told them how wonderful she thought he was. Then she proceeded to tell them stories. That would carry much more weight with them.

Day 152/24

The dinner went well. Everyone attended. Julian accepted that we had spoken to Random, though it was my guess that he thought Random was taking it too blithely. I have to admit wondering at Random's attitude toward it. In a way, it didn't seem consistent. Was it simply politics, or was there more? Not that he would confide in me about anything like that, but still I wondered. Owen arrived with her troops, happily bearing gifts. We stowed they away for after dinner.

All in all, it was successful. Neither Llewella nor Gerard were particularly perturbed by what we had done. March just shrugged and played with them and talked with the boys. Julian had settled into one of the settees and held five of them rapt while he told them stories.

Day 153/24
Learning a New Skill

I really can't expect the girls to walk through Shadow, especially if we were going to be traveling for a long time. Nor if I want to keep them safe and from wandering off. I doubted they would do they; they were uncommonly well-behaved. But that might stop and I didn't want it to be while we were moving.

So, I needed another carriage. I had one for Mother and Byslamia. I needed one for the girls, a much larger one. There are three places in town that made them. The first one I visited was right by the harbor. Its walls were a light purple and the door was definitely Dalt-proof. I rapped but got no answer. I slid open the door to find few workers, but they were working steadily. No one looked up as I walked in.

An older man came out of a back room. He introduced himself as Guildsman Vitro. He asked if I was an apprentice. I had to smile. He didn't know who I was. I told him, not exactly, I was here to buy a carriage. Looking around I saw one nearing completion. Two others were in various stages of construction. He said it would be two months before he could even started working on it. Even then it would be another two months, at least before it was finished. He looked me over as we talked. He clearly didn't know who I was and by my clothing was unimpressive. I was not dressed in any particular fashion, other then for walking, and working. I knew he doubted I could pay for it. Then he named a sum and crossed his arms, waiting for the joke to be up or for me to leave. I nodded and pretended to think about it. He said that perhaps I'd buy two while I was about it. Actually, that sounded like a good idea. He shook his head. Everyone in town that could build quality carriages was all too busy. No one could do it. At least not without a long wait.

We talked and his gruff manner, his blunt forthright manner, his bearing all had the marks of an old veteran. Indeed, he worked his way around telling of his stories, how he fought in the war against Chaos. He'd once seen Gerard, mounted, at a far distance while he led troops. That seemed to be his crowning highlight for the entire campaign. I was charmed.

By now one of the apprentices had caught on to who I was. He tried to distract Vitro, but was unsuccessful and I didn't help. I just didn't want the over-solicited behavior that would come once he knew who I was. And I couldn't stop the apprentices from telling him once I was gone. So, I set about enjoying myself while I could. Everyone in a while I could see one of the youngsters rolling his eyes or wincing at a gaff from Vitro.

While we had some tea, Vitro even went so far as to take one of my hands. They are calloused from all my sword work and he asked again what training I had, was a journeyman? No, but suddenly I thought that wasn't a bad idea. I liked the idea of learning something of a trade. Hm…

I asked how many people would he need to finish the existing orders more quickly. He leaned back, playing along. A dozen or so would be fine. But I would need permission from the Guild to allow non-Guildsmen to assist. That meant three signatures. He gave a small smile, not believing I would succeed at that. I smiled back and told him I would return, with the signature. He nodded, "All right, all right. Well you best be getting on now, the Guild closes at dusk."

I took my leaving and headed over to the Guild Hall. The entrance was partially blocked by two groups of youngsters playing some sort of game. I worked my way around the watching crowd and went inside. There I was surrounded by the evidence of the Woodworkers Guild. Carved and inlayed wood graced the floors, walls and stairs. It was truly impressive and beautiful. I was met by a journeyman, the attendant of the day. Now I made no pretence on anonymity. I stated my purpose clearly. The man had no idea what to do. I was taken to a series of increasingly aged men who were here probably before Oberon. Each time, they had more authority. Each time I was interrupting them as they watched the game outside.

And each time they tried to persuade me against working with old Vitro. They warned me of his temper, saying he was crazy. In fact, he'd once bounced an awl off of a Master Carpenter's head. Oh, I could definitely see that. I'd better warn him not to try that with the weir. But, I would not be swayed. It was clear that Vitro's temper had cost him, not that he might care much. But it prevented him from being given the title of Master Carpenter. So, I decided to strike a tiny blow in defense of Vitro and pushed through to gaining the signatures.

Armed I went back to the shop. I was delighted to see that while he now called me by my name & title, his manner had not changed one whit. He did say, however, that a person with my distinction would perhaps be more pleased to go to Crown Carriages. Apparently they made many of the nobles' carriages and a Master Carpenter ran it.

I shook my head, told him to call me Cassandra, and asked him when he wanted us to arrive tomorrow to start working. He shook his head, so be it. We were to arrive first thing in the morning.

Day 175/24

Well, we had arrived that morning and every morning thereafter. The first week sent Vitro's chief apprentice into despair. It took a few day to convince the weir I brought with the that when a joint didn't fitting cleanly that they didn't make it fit. They weren't used to the idea of craftsmanship, rather than simple function. One carriage was finished right away. Vitro then had a little party for us, a bit of a ritual with him I think. But the weir loved it and him.

They told him of the war, Vitro told them his stories. They were too young to have been there, but they related what their elders had told them. Vitro had heard of the weir and was mightily impressed. Even to the point of telling them the shop was theirs. I had to warn them not to take it too seriously, to see it for the welcoming and respect that Vitro was bestowing on them. And no awls were thrown in the entire time.

There were set-backs, though. The weir, in forcing the undercarriage together on one, left it listing to one side when finished. It had to be done over. I couldn't let Vitro's reputation be harmed. In the end we dismantled it. Rather than have our schedule moved back, I went to Mycenae for replacement parts. Vitro said they were all right, though not of the quality he preferred, but satisfactory nonetheless. Despite his manner, he was a craftsman at heart.

We did have a visit from a nobleman. I'm not as much of the social scene as I should be and I didn't immediately recognize him. A minor noble, I believe, and he never gave me him name. Even after I gave him mine. Granted, I didn't supply my title. I wanted to see his true colors first. Vitro was out, getting more supplies when he arrived. The young man was demanding assurance that his carriage would be ready. The apprentice stammered out an affirmative, but I didn't look like he was believed. I voiced a second assurance and he just gave me a scathingly disdainful look not bothering to reply. I admit I didn't look quite royal, not with sawdust in my hair and wearing work clothing. The apprentice was a bit apprehensive, but I slipped him a hidden wink and he relaxed. Nothing was going to happen to him. But, the noble didn't give any further troubles. And left shortly after. I hope at some point I manage to make his acquaintance.

At one point, when we were setting out for the day, I found my crew replaced by other weir. They wanted to have some of the fun the others were having. I had to turn them away. We'd just gotten the original crew trained in how things operate. And they had volunteered first. I was not going to let them be set aside, even if it was by their elders. The next time, they'd have to volunteer first.

Day 185/24
An evening at the Cracked Pot

The carriages are done. We were all pleased with ourselves. They looked and worked wonderfully. The noble man did return, with two of his older brothers. At least, that's who I think they were. The younger man gave a surreptitious gesture toward DeWinter and I realized he was a bit frightened by him. Good, he should be. He had brought his family to help with any…problems. Vitro showed them his carriage and the two older men looked at their younger brother in disgust. He'd dragged them all the way into town for nothing. They never did find out who we were. It's a shame, but I would have li8ked to see their faces.

To end the day, I invited them to the Cracked Pot for a celebration. Because he loved the tales of seeing some of the royal family, I also invited as many of them as could come. That was quite a few. Owen, Kent, The Owen, Martin, Shapir, Byslamia, Sabrina, Grace and Dorimae. Gerard was at sea, so he couldn't make it, but Vitro's eyes shown when being introduced. Shapir couldn't stay long since he had a dawn patrol to make, but I was happy he came for a while. March was in Eregnor and couldn't make it. He did Trump me back. I handed him several steins of black-bottom beer, which he happily took.

Within an hour or two the inn was bursting to capacity. It was late in the evening and I could see there was some commotion at the door. Something about a fight? I stood on the bar, but saw no way to get through. Taking one of Owen's jest to heart, probably because of the quantity I had drunk, I began walking across the room on the shoulders of the patrons. DeWinter just shook his head. I almost made it. Fortunately, the press of bodies made my fall short

I laid on the floor, trying to figure out how to get up in the crowd. A woman stood above me wide-eyed. She leaned over to help, extending a hand. She had forgotten that her other hand held a stein and I was deluged down my front with the beer. I got up and she looked like she was going to faint. I smiled, thanked her, and got to the door.

There were some constables there who had gotten word of some sort of fight. It took about two minutes for them to realize who I was. When I made mention that a significant number of the royal family were inside, they departed with alacrity. I'm sure they dispatched some of the city guards to ensure nothing untoward occurred for the rest of the night.

Pushing my way back to the bar, I saw Vitro in conversation with a few of my younger weir. They seemed completely absorb in whatever they were discussing. That meant they were up to something. I made a mental note to ask about it later.

My little accident set off a new sport. Everyone was splashing or pouring their beer onto the shirts of those nearby. Most of the men found it enjoyable. Owen, not to be outdone, did the same to Kent's trousers. The effect wasn't the same, but she seemed to enjoy herself. Kent, on the other hand was less than amused.

The closeness of the bodies gave me ample excuse to sidle next to DeWinter and snuggle a bit. He didn't seem to mind. I had had a few drinks myself, so I, being a bit mischievous, decided to shock him a little. It wouldn't do for him to become too complacent in our relationship. So, I made a few…well is suppose gropes is the only word. Or, rather, a quick pinch here and there. He swiveled around and fixated on a nearby man who looked suddenly quite alarmed when DeWinter scowled at him. Actually, I think DeWinter was going to hit him. I kissed him quickly, forestalling a brawl and managed to make him forget the incident. Later, when we were at home, I did it again. Realization hit in and he said Owen was having a bad example on me. I think Owen would be mightily pleased.

Day 186/24

The party didn't really end until dawn. We got the weir home, but no one was really up for working today, including Vitro and his apprentices. So, DeWinter and I decided to go open the shop ourselves. We knew enough now to do a bit of work and Vitro's reputation for being reliable wouldn't be besmirched. While the shop was, technically open, we left the door barred. If anyone came there, we would open the door if they knocked. Or tried the latch. Meanwhile, we did do some work, but not before we got a bit distracted with each other.

About midday we did get a visit from some guildsmen. Actually, it was the second one we've had. I think they were trying to make sure that Vitro wasn't badly representing the Guild to us and they were wondering how he was managing to complete so many carriages in such a short time. This time, though, it was a journeyman who was looking for work. He had worked for Royal Carriages, but had heard of our completion parties and rumors were flying that he was an…eccentric employer. Actually, the journeyman was tired of the stodgy, rule-oriented nature of the other businesses and thought the pay would be less, he was looking to enjoy his work. I was a bit presumptuous, but I gave him a brief interview and told him to return tomorrow to see Vitro himself.

Day 239/24

We got our carriages in short time. It helped now that Vitro had his new apprentice, who seemed to fit in well with the others. I wanted to do more for them; maybe it would help his reputation further. Perhaps he would welcome a commission for some work at our estate. It's a thought. Vitro's work is quite good; he should have long since been made a Master Carpenter in title as well as skill.

Vitro had designed a larger carriage with six wheels, to carry all the girls in relative comfort. It was huge and comfortable and Vitro boasted it would handle anything in Shadow, even brigands. We had a quiet party, bid him goodbye and began preparations to leave.

Day 241/24

We started our journey today. We made quite a procession as we made our way through Arden. We waved to the rangers we saw. They realized, from working with the weir against the nine-killers that there was no need of an escort and they blended back into the forest.

My plans are quite simple. My first priority is that this trip will be safe. The second is to find a place of educational opportunities for all the children. Hopefully, that will meant something for the adults as well.

As far as accommodations go, I plan to mix things up a bit, for variety. Sometimes we'll camp where we stop, sometimes we'll have an inn or a hotel. I can “rough” it as well as anyone, but I see no reason to give up regular bathing and good food if I don't have to.

Day 252/24

The scenery changed dramatically over the last few days. The sky and terrain got a decidedly pastel look to them. The days were shorter as well. There was any number of times where we had to backtrack and go around mauve bogs or ochre cliffs. But, wherever we go, we still end up in this land.

Day 254/24

We still haven't been able to leave. I wasn't especially worried, but I was becoming concerned that we could be nearing a trap-Shadow. I just can't get us out of here, though no danger has presented itself. It's just that while the whole place is picturesque, it doesn't sit well with me. I think I realized what people felt when they first encountered Picasso's cubism, the colors were fine, but something was just wrong to them. I was having that feeling.

By now there was no evident of the sun. The sky brightened each day as if the sun were there--we just couldn't see it. All we saw were brilliant bands of lights and color. At dusk, they dimmed down, but never went entirely away. Mother hadn't said anything, but once the cotton-candy trees appeared, she remarked that the children were disturbed. I spent a short time in the carriage with them. Long enough to realize that they weren't disturbed at all, but it was a good excuse for her to express her discomfort with what she was seeing. I just wished she had said something directly. Why didn't she feel she could?

By the end of the day, things were rapidly becoming stranger. In the time we passed any given tree, we saw it sprout up as a shoot, grow to maturity, die and wither away back into the soil. Odd, in an interesting way.

Day 255/24

The forest is gone, but now the ground feels like we are walking on wet sponges. The weir do not like this at all, though the horses are adapting well enough. We decided to continue traveling through the night. All the children were placed in or on the carriages to sleep if they could. I'm going to try and get us out of it.

Day 256/24

We didn't make it through the night. We encountered another bog. This time it looked as if there were underground vents of some sort, because the bog would bubble up frequently. But, as we approached, we realized there was no heat at all. Still, it was too risky to pass through in the dark.

Day 257/24
cotton-candy trees?

We had a cold breakfast and moved on quickly. The general nervousness of pretty much all the weir was now affecting the children. Overhead we saw the sun rise for the first time in days. But it was not like anything I've seen before. It pin wheeled across the sky in a ball of fire. As it came overhead, we saw it wasn't the sun at all, but a phoenix. A really Big phoenix.

At noon it got warm and the ground began to quake a bit. The warmer it got, it started to smoke and vaporize. Once again, we got the children onto the tops of the carriages. The multi-colored fog began to rise. It would go over our heads soon, if it continued.

It showed no sign of abating, so I ducked down under the bank and inhaled shallowly. Nothing happened. In fact I felt no effect at all. I rose and told everyone to remain calm. The children did just that and spent time as we traveled inhaling and blowing out puffs of the mist, or swirling it around with their arms. Once it proved to be of no harm even Byslamia smiled as the children played. Mother, however, did never lose a slightly green tinge to her skin.

The ground was rising and soon we were about the mist and on solid ground. We were on the face of a shallow mountain at the peak; we could see a crystal castle at the peak. With little choice as to where we should go, we went up.

The doors to the castle were very narrow and very tall, about thirty feet high. I wondered who lived inside that needed such doors. We stopped at the drawbridge and I approached the door. No one answered my knock, so I slowly and carefully opened the door. It was surprisingly easy to open and it moved without a sound.

From within I heard lovely music coming from the courtyard. Near the center, at the rear of the courtyard was a tall tree. People, with eagle-like wings, large eyes and nude stood around it. They held glass rods, which they used to swirl the mist around the base of the tree.

Two saw me and approached. They didn't know Thari, but we pantomimed as best we could. One was named Cho, the other Irna. They didn't stop me from approaching the tree; in fact they seemed to welcome it. I kept my hands visible and empty, to show that I had no ill intent. Gently I touched the tree. I heard a voice shout Don't do that loud enough that it hurt. The voice was in my head.

I went back outside, not sure what we were supposed to do. I doubter few other than the children would be comfortable here for any length of time. Cho and Irna followed and I made some introductions. DeWinter asked what happened. I said it was like speaking with Galantia, though much louder and a bit painful. Suddenly there was a crack of thunder and the door slammed shut. The fog returned and the sky became soupy. I saw three pairs of feathers approaching from the horizon. The weir went on guard and I had to yell for them to stand down.

The wings grew larger and I could see they were glowing. They made a sound like artillery falling, which did not help my peace of mind any. I had a brief flashback to the war in Paris and moved aside to no one else would be in danger. Whatever I had done was not good.

They sped in and stopped about six inches from my forehead. One drifted in and landed on the white circle of my forehead. Then I heard Galantia's voice. My heart sunk. I had inadvertently summoned her. It had never happened before when I spoke of her, unless I was in water. I made rapid apologies, explaining that calling her was an accident. I felt her brush my mind and she said she understood. She didn't seem to be upset with me, for which I was grateful. She dissipated her avatars in a puff of smoke and fire after wishing me well, and the weather resumed as if nothing occurred.

I had no eyebrows left, but that was the worst of it. Cho and Irna were clearly astonished by what they saw. Mother was decidedly distraught. Sigh. She must learn to take these things in stride. Not that I did, but I've learned not to break down, either. Time, that was what we needed.

The doors to the castle opened up and now there were over a hundred women in the courtyard, all bearing rods. This made the weir nervous, but I gestured for them to keep calm. At least I know they'll comply. I approached with DeWinter. Cho and Irna came with us and when we were back inside, Cho offered the glass piece to me. This time it was DeWinter who took it. And immediately keeled over, unconscious. He revived quickly though. Then he realized he could speak the language. I did the same, and passed out as well. It was if my mind were hit with a sledgehammer. But I could speak with them as well.

It took a large part of the afternoon, but what we learned is this. The rods were their…books. People came here to learn. The tree, whom they referred to as the Sire, gave them the information they sought. Our minds were too young, too immature to handle the sheer volume they were accustomed to. One of the children came me one of theirs, a tiny rod of about two inches. After that, it was painful, but not unduly so.

The Sire was related to Ygg, the tree Corwin had encountered. I admit if it was just DeWinter and myself, of even us with Ca-Revere and the girls, I would have had us stay. But the weir would never be comfortable here, much less Mother. Regretfully, we had to go. We were allowed to make camp for the night, though.

Day 258/24

In the morning, I made my thanks to Ygg. He seemed to feel that my being here, or our being here was important somehow. That there was something to learn from him. But, it would take time to fathom, more time that we would probably stay. He made some cryptic remark about my learning of it soon enough. If possible, he would tell me some day. He bade us well and we departed.

Day 261/24

After a number of short setbacks, where we kept arriving at the castle, we finally got out. I think, if I have the chance, I might return for a brief visit to see if the Sire figured out what he wanted to tell me. But for now, that will have to wait. Actually, it was DeWinter who got us out. Something in my mind was telling me we should stay at the castle. I have this feeling I'm missing something important, but we pressed on. I amended my destination a bit, by adding a search for something Mother would like. That got us right out, quickly and permanently. I'm seeking to find something for Mother to do. Otherwise, I think she'll drive herself, and us, crazy when she no longer has Eidolon to take care of every moment.

Day 273/24

The days have gone back into our routine. In the mornings I get up and do my morning practicing. DeWinter usually joins me or sees to some detail or another. When I am done, usually just after dawn, I rouse Kai for his training. He is definitely not a morning person, but once he's awake he's ready to go. Thus far, the training isn't quite what he's expecting. We haven't touched a weapon yet. All we are working now is general tumbling and a fitness routine. But, he is determined and I don't think he'll be giving up. Especially since he knows that his father and I do the same things. At one point Xhimena announced that she would be an acrobat when she grew up. Not to be out-done, Kai has been flipping and tumbling each morning. I wish he didn't feel like he had to compete with her. Or is he trying to live up to what he sees as her expectation? Hm, something to think about.

He and Eidolon have been wonderful so far. They have taken upon themselves the task of guarding the girls. Not that there has been anything to guard against, but they are being assiduous about it. Kai was making a supreme effort, to keep his promise to me, to be polite and helpful to them. Actually, they took it further and was becoming friendly with them. The weir children have been given the task of guarding the carriages in general. So, as a result, it is an orderly procession with no one having time to get into trouble. Eidolon, and Kai, are becoming a bit bored though. Soon, they will get into some sort of trouble if I don't head that off soon.

I spoke with Vis and got the boys placed with two scouts each, to learn a bit of the skill. That made they eager and happy once more. The surprising thing is the boys, while guarding the girls, have gotten to know them better. I know the girls surprised them. They never complained, they settled into camp life with no problems whatsoever. The boys expected them to get lost in the nearby bushes, or complain of no beds. It perplexed them that there was nary a peep. I could see that a small part of them liked their self-assigned duty; so I told them they would scout in the mornings, but return back to duty for the afternoons. Relieved, they happily agreed.

As we moved, the girls took their lessons. Xhimena was having much fun with this, helping them to catch up on there letters. I made sure that at one stop, I was able to get a large number of slates they could practice their writing and mathematics on. I tried to join them a little bit each day, letting the carriage move on for an hour or so without my shifting Shadow. I offered to let DeWinter shift, but he wouldn't do it. He just didn't want to take any chances of bringing us into something unpleasant.

Day 282/24

The scouts reported that we were approaching an ocean. I shifted a bit to find a beach with a house large enough for all of us. What we got was an abandoned house with only minor repairs necessary, but a good, solid foundation and construction. DeWinter and the weir checked it out. All they found was many lizards and dust. We settled in for the night and the girls elected to sleep indoors. Unfortunately, they were fairly uncomfortable. Half the windows were gone and they were cold because the walls kept out the warm breeze from the ocean.

Day 283/24

I scouted around for most of the day. While the house could be restored for us, there was nothing, not even another house within an hours ride. So the search was still on. I wanted something closer than a few hours ride if they were to go to school. Otherwise the logistics were too tiring, trying to shuttle children back and forth each day.

Day 288/24

After our rest, we continued on. When we tried to leave, we followed the beach. We learned, upon reaching the house again, that we were on a large island. And there was no mainland on the horizon. That explained the lack of neighbors a bit. So I shifted Shadow for a way off the island.

We continued on and found a land bridge. It was sturdy enough for the carriages, but the sea level covered it in spots. So I began to subtlety shifting to keep us above the tide.

By noon we were getting some spectacular view. The water was a lovely blue and the sky was filled with brilliant colors at dusk. We were moving at half speed still, and had ample time to enjoy it.

Day 291/24

We still haven't reached the other side. I suppose I could have shifted for something closer, but something about this told me to wait it out. There might be something at the end for us. The journey is getting a bit monotonous, but that is something everyone can handle.

At mid-day one of the scout that had ridden a few hours ahead came back. He said there was something ahead I should see. I went and they showed me a creature coming toward us on the road. They had never seen a turtle before. I had but this one was a bit larger than usual. It spanned about eight feet across the shell. They were thinking this would be a filling dinner. Hm. Given some of the other creatures I've met, I wanted to make sure it was an animal before we took any action. And despite it being slow-moving, it could cause many injuries depending on its species. A snapping turtle that size would not be easily killed.

I approached slowly and it stopped. I said hello. It looked at me for a moment and shook his head. Then he said hello back, in French. Ah. At least we can communicate with it. His name is Dabich and he is a scholar traveling from Port Gianassa, which we are traveling toward. The weir were impressed that I could speak with the creature, and made no further motions against it.

We spoke while we walked him back to our caravan. His specialty is languages, runes and archaeology. He tried to place the Thari we spoke, but obviously failed. We just vaguely gestured to have traveled in our current direction for months. As for Port Gianassa, he told us of some good places to stay, and a bit about the people. He'd been traveling for about ten days. A quick translation given his speed, and I realized we'll reach the port in two days.

When he saw the carriages, he graciously offered to go down the bank and into the ocean so we could pass. The children watched fascinated as he slid down and quickly swan by.

We continued on and by evening we could see land on the horizon.


We entered the city today at midday. It is about the size of Mycenae, with much of its look. While it is comfortable for me, I think I was hoping for something a bit more exotic for the children to see. The building are low, perhaps 2-3 stories only. Many ship were in the harbor, so it must be a thriving city. I got every assigned to a partner, to avoid anyone getting lost in the dense crowds. Our cover story, should anyone ask questions is that we are from a small town of Tiryns, many months behind us.

It was slow moving through the docks because they were so busy. There were many different clothing styles, so nothing we were wearing stood out at all. There are three types of people. Humans like us, turtles, and cat-headed people. So there were many things for everyone to see. The main language is French, so once everyone else learns it, we'll be fine. No one speaks Thari or Weir.

We went to the inn Dabich recommended. Unfortunately, the owner only had ten open rooms. It will be a tight fit, even if it is just Mother and the girls. The owner was reluctant to allow the weir to stay in the courtyard and stables. He'd tried that in the past and it was always too disruptive. I made a deal with him. Let us try it for one night. If it didn't work, we'd leave in the morning with no hard feelings. He was dubious, but gave us a chance.

When paying him for the night, I saw that the money had Rinaldo's face on it.

Day 294/24

Well, we haven't gotten kicked out. The weir took the situation as a challenge and a game. They settled themselves in the courtyard, filling it to capacity. Even to the point of setting up a fire to one side. The owner, seeing the commotion, went out to get them from blocking any patrons from moving through. By the time he got out, he was astonished to find them all gone. Mystified he looked around but found nothing but a few warm paving stones. I knew them better. I looked up. They were sitting on awnings, handing from wall edges, pretty much any purchase they could find. This continued throughout the day, and the owner never figured out where they went. The weir had even rigged the fire on a moving, collapsible platform that they could hoist up above.

DeWinter spent the morning looking for more suitable housing. The only thing he found was a place that wouldn't be available to be occupied for three weeks. I think that's a little long to wait. He had found a native who was willing to guide us around the city. His name is Kapta. He assumed we were here for a trade negotiations, given the splendor of our clothing. That took me aback for we were wearing nothing particularly fine. DeWinter went out again, this time even including the possibility of renting a warehouse, if necessary. I took Kapta for a tour of the city.

The short version of our talk with him is that there was nothing in the city for us to rent or buy. Everyone who came here made prior arrangements. We did look at shops, especially for clothing. What we found was strange to me. Al of the clothing was badly made. There was no guild, and therefore the standards were quite low. The patterns were made on the spot, without any real templates. It was as if any person with the inclination just decided to make clothing and started stitching fabrics together. So the seams were uneven, the hems crooked, no double stitching and no attention to the nap. In short, we were dressed well, perhaps even better than their Emperor. My first thought was that we had a perfect market here. All I had to do was get a place, go to Amber, buy whatever I could find off the rack, entice a tailor or seamstress, or two, and we were in business. We just have to find a store.

That proved a tricky part. We wandered everywhere. Kapta had no idea about marketing. I only have the vague, overall idea of how it works, but even that surpassed his knowledge. So most of our difficulty came from not knowing how to explain to him what we wanted. We did pass a statue of the Emperor Kaychem.

We met up with DeWinter and I told him my plan. He was agreeable to it, so we walked some more. We even went to the university. It was no use to make these plans if this place wasn't suitable for the children.

It turns out that the university is rather close to the palace. As we got closer, the crowds thinned and we saw more and more of the turtles. Kapta is what they call a Hume. The cat-headed people are Felis. We spoke to one of the admissions officers. All lessons are given privately and they accept anyone generally between the ages of 10 and 20 years, though they can and will accept children as young as three years. Since I don't look much past 20 years, I doubt I or DeWinter would have trouble taking courses if we wanted to. I find I want to study as well. There is so much I still want to learn, this would be a perfect opportunity.

I mentioned I had 34 children with me, all needing an education. The man looked astonished and congratulated DeWinter on his virility. Then he gestured for us to wait and hurried off. He returned with two others, proclaiming that I had 34 children. I corrected him in saying that I had 34, indeed, but I did not say I bore them all. They gave DeWinter another look, as if to commend him for his industry, as if he had some harem back home. I shook my head and let it go. DeWinter was more than a little perturbed.

Anyway, the curriculum is tailored, no pun intended, to each of the children. I even got to see a sample of some graduates work to assess at what level I could expect them to know. In some ways they were more advanced than Mycenae, but in others I might know more. For instance their mathematics and science was better; they had steer-able gliders for air transportation, but there were hints that their medicine might not be as adequate.

I did grow concerns at the idea of funding an education for that many people. True, I could go in and out of Shadow bringing funds with me, but that could be an awful amount of work fro little yield. At least until we could set up our shop. But the answer surprised me. It would cost 500 crescents per sibling per year. It was their theory that sibling who were raised together often thought & learned in similar fashions. Once a curriculum and teaching style was created, it only had to be adapted in a minor way for each child. It was a nice theory, and I'm sure it worked for them. But, I doubted it would apply for all of ours. They were all such unique people, from many different background. Toby & Jim were one group, the weir children another , Eidolon and Kai were very different from each other as was Xhimena, not to mention the girls.

But, once I figured it out, I some real way, they were all siblings. The girls were adopted, so they were related, legally, to Kai, eidolon and Xhimena. Now that I am the Little Mother, technically I am related to the weir, who are actually part of my clan. So…distant cousins of a sort. I was honest with them and told them the situation. The advisor had to leave several times and bring back several people, from several departments in order to answer my questions. It took a great deal of time and confusion. Once I asked a question, they would not be distracted unless they answered it.

In fact that is one thing the Felis explicitly said. Humes cannot NOT answer a question. I think if I'm not careful, I would drive me to distraction. We got along well with the Felis, who responded as favorably. They said we smelled nice. It must be the weir blood.

We got a brief tour. DeWinter and I split up. He went to look for housing; I got some samples to show Mother. I think she could be persuaded to stay for a little while. If she saw Eidolon progressing, she may relent enough to do him some good.

DeWinter found that not only could they accommodate us, but they had a building we could all stay in. And it wouldn't cost a thing. I could only imagine it was supplemented by the royal funding. Still, I felt like we were taking advantage of these people. Even splitting the children into groups as I did, it was six times the number they quoted. If they wouldn't charge me for it, or take the money, I intend to donate that sum, or more, once we get settled. It was the least we could do.

We took a slow walk back to the inn. DeWinter thought the people, the Humes strange, but he liked the place. He's usually not so inclined to quickly accept a place. I expected him to wait at least a few weeks, waiting for the dark cloud to rise. But, despite the people being a little confusing, he liked their industry and their honesty. I don't think there has been any place he accepted so quickly. Except the beach on our honeymoon, but it was just the two of us staying there. That settled it in my mind. We would stay a while.

We got back to the inn to find pandemonium surrounding it. Guards with a great deal of ostentatious displaying of gold and silver adornments surrounded the inn. My first thought was that the weir had gotten into some sort of difficulty. I realized no one else was fluent in the language, but I thought it would be safe to leave them for half a day, on the first day we were here.

We got in close to the cordon. I said we lived there and we were allowed to pass through. I heard mention that the Emperor was there. I asked why he was there and that got me a suspicious look. I thought it was an innocent question, but they took it to mean I was asking about the Emperor's personal business. I tried to amend it by saying that I was just wondering to what we owed the honor of having the Emperor grace our presence. There, I thought that was innocuous enough. But, no, it counted as two questions and now we were under suspicion.

We were taken to a sergeant and then to a captain. I was becoming increasingly nervous and angry. I explained that my children were in there and I wanted to make sure they were all right. "Why wouldn't they be?" he demanded. Sigh, we went round and round. I wanted answered and they were wondering why I was asking questions. I tried to confine myself to general statements only, but the damage was done.

I even went so far as to try and bully my way past, but was quickly surrounded. The order was given for them to fetch the warlock. Now I was really not happy. But, fortunately, the warlock was a Felis. I quickly explained the situation. He gave me a look of commiseration with the annoyances of the Humes, and escorted us inside.

We were brought to a parlor. It was filled with people with lots of shiny adornments and obvious courtiers. They stood at a respectful distance from the emperor who sat in a chair next to my Mother's. She had Xhimena in her lap doing her best to translate. The little minx. I had no idea she'd picked up that much French from DeWinter and I.

I moved to the edge of the crowd, trying to assess just what was going on. Xhimena didn't look upset, but Mother was on edge. The weir weren't nervous, in fact they were admiring all the shiny adornments of the Emperor's guards. Xhimena caught sight of me and gave me a brief wave, which I returned. The Emperor Kaychem inquired who I was and I was quickly introduced. DeWinter silently blended into the back of the crowd, preferring to remain out of sight.

Somehow, I'm still not sure how, he learned of our visit and of Mother and by the abundance of his flatteries was enamored of he, or at least charmed thus far. No, Mother was not happy and gave me a look that said she really didn't want this attention.

I sympathized with both their positions. How do you politely extricate his advances? Now that I was here, he was able to speak more subtly about his wishes and he pressed them a bit further. To do this in public made it more socially complicated by the minute. I thought that Mother was in a difficult position. Obviously, she would not want to encourage his interest, because he would be in the same position as she was with Evander. Namely, he would feel publicly embarrassed if this went too far when he learned she didn't return his feelings. Assuming the title Emperor meant the same thing here as I am familiar with, he wasn't someone we wanted to alienate. Not if we were to stay here for any length of time.

So, I express my pleasure in meeting him, wishing that my father was also present for this unique honor, so he could also share in this warm and gracious welcoming. The implication, that Mother was spoken for, was apparent, and Kaychem picked it up immediately. He gave a small pause and agreed that would be pleasant should he arrive. I did ask that if he were willing, I could have our gift sent for immediately, since it had been our intention of having the gift sent to the palace. I had made mention to DeWinter that we could send him an example of our clothing, so he would be the first to sample our proposed skills. He took the hint and went to fetch something. If nothing else, a gift is always suitable for a reigning monarch.

Then, Kaychem said he did not wish to intrude any further and within a remarkably short period of time, he and his courtiers were gone. I felt confident that upon reflection, he would realize my attempts to forestall any embarrassment. If any discontent remained, it would rest with me and not with Mother.

Most of us collected together in the room. Kai and Eidolon were discussing how they could have surrounded and captured them if there had been any trouble. It wasn't until everything settled down that DeWinter reappeared, bearing a huge, magnificent cloak made of pure white fur. My first thought was that Julian would love something like that. Then I wondered where he'd gotten it. It turns out he'd went into Shadow for it. Well, better late than never. We had it wrapped up and sent on its way in short time.

I had begun explaining what we had been doing all day when Mother interrupted. I was taken aback by the fact hat she was very angry. She wanted to know when we were leaving. I said it might by nice to stay for a short while, learning of the place. She said it would have been easier if I hadn't lumbered my way into making a fool of myself. She got quite insulting, which did nothing for my temper.

I realized then that she was perfectly willing to let Kaychem assume what he wanted. We were leaving, right? I wanted to explain that, nevertheless, I didn't want to leave a people behind who might think badly of Amber. There were enough Shadows that hated or feared us. But she Shadow was to stop and learn of the different places and people. But I didn't get a chance. She accused me of not being able to put anyone else's needs before my own opinions.

How do I answer that? Didn't she see that we were moving so slowly precisely because I was putting everyone's needs in front? N of course not. She's not sensitive enough to feel the shifting of Shadow. For all she sees, I'm just sitting on my horse and leading the way. Byslamia, stiff, left the room, slamming the door behind her.

I just stood there, embarrassed and angry now. If I acquiesce, I am placing her wants before the rest of us, over a hundred of us. If I tried to discuss this, I will be guilty of precisely what she's demanding. She doesn't understand how we are traveling; yet she wants what she wants. I'm feeling torn between my duty as her daughter and my duties to my children. It was a situation I can't win. No one here will. And the worse thing was, she was talking to me as if I were still a child. A universal lament if ever there was one.

Now thoroughly furious, I went outside. Perhaps a little practicing would work some of it out of my system. It didn't really work. I still felt like I had allowed myself to be pulled into too many directions. Who takes precedence? The one who will suffer is Eidolon. If it was just Mother, I'd Trump her back to Castle Amber. Looking back I realized she'd made little attempt to adapt to things along the journey. Now I wonder if change, no matter how insignificant, scares her. She resists everything and I have encouraged this by acquiescing to what she wants, mitigating things in light of her feelings. And Eidolon will be paying for it.

Claw came out, hoping I'd spar with her. Why, not? It was good. She ended up on the ground, gasping for breath. She liked it when I was angry. It was the only time she got a really good workout. I was sore and bruised and scraped, but she was hurt more. But, she did heal faster though. I did note that I was also healing at an increasingly rapid rate since the first time we fought. Perhaps I am getting better, at this.

But not at other things. I've really mucked things up now and I can't see how to get out of this. Still not feeling calmer I went to Mother before I retired. I told her that I have changed. Perhaps it was because I'm more Amberite and weir than Mycenae. Actually, I don't fit in anywhere, not really. But, if she wants me to take all my children, all the weir, to a place that would benefit only Eidolon, fine, all she has to do was say so. She can place him above all others, including me. But, I know it's the wrong choice. Not the worst, but I believe it was wrong. She could think about it and let me know in the morning.

I left her there and went to our room. DeWinter was a little alarmed when he saw my bruises and asked what happened. I explained that I had been sparring with Claw and why. I told him what had transpired and what I said. He took about a minute to digest it and said that what I had offered her was a “crummy” choice. I had placed her in the same position that she had placed me in. With a sinking feeling I knew he was right. But, I just couldn't think of an alternate. He tried to become optimistic and said that perhaps she'd elect to stay for a while. I shook my head--I doubted it. She was as stubborn as I was. It would be my responsibility to give in. At least she would see it that way.

DeWinter was disappointed, but he believed I was right. Damn, and he was really beginning to like this place.

I didn't get much sleep that night.

Day 295/24

We gathered for breakfast. With no prelude, Mother announced that she wanted to leave. I kept my face still, not letting anything leak through. Kai was confused, as were most of the children. They thought they'd get to stay here for a while. Of them all, Xhimena was the one that picked up the tension between Mother and myself. I just nodded and said fine.

I took the children out for a bit of shopping before we left. Everything was fine until I saw Revere-Revere and Eidolon taunting a Felis, making little cat-like gestures and generally being rude. It they weren't children, what they were doing would be considered a challenge by anyone's standards. Revere-Revere was doing most of the taunting, but Eidolon was egging him on. The Felis, an adult male, frowned a bit and was becoming increasingly annoyed, as was I. He came closer and I gestured for him to do as he wished to teach them a lesson. I would stop anything if it proved harmful to the children, but short of that I would let it happen. I will not condone such behavior.

He paused, pulling out his knife and sharpening his claws with it. Then he licked the blade clean. He sheathed the knife and came up to me. With a quick gesture, he then licked my face. It seemed to me a returning challenge. Perhaps he was claiming his rights over me? Whatever the intent, Kai and Eidolon didn't like it. They just charged right at him, probably with the intent of rescuing my honor. The Felis stepped back and neatly tripped them both into the cloth covering the doorway behind us.

The curtain came down about them and it took a few minutes to free themselves. Kai was furious by then and without a second thought drew his dagger and charged again. I stepped forward, grabbing his wrist and forcing the knife from him. I took his sheath, then Eidolon's knife and sheath. I forced them to apologize which they did badly and half-heartedly. So I apologized on their behalf, assuring the Felis that they will be taught a lesson. He accepted it with a shrug; they were only children after all. Then he went on his way.

Kai tried to justify himself but I was not having any of it. He drew his dagger against an unarmed man. It was the principle of the thing. We continued going to shops. The girls had missed most of this, their attention had been held by the goods in the windows. But for the rest of the trip, they watched the boys wondering what they were going to do next. This was almost enough punishment for the two of them.

We returned to the inn. I gave Eidolon's dagger to Mother. I said she would have to ask him what he had done; I'd leave it up to her. Revere-Revere, on the other hand, I took to see DeWinter. I told DeWinter what Kai had done and he winced at the description. He turned to Kai; reminding him that one of their rules was that Kai would never draw down on an unarmed person. No, it didn't matter if they had claws, it was a rule.

DeWinter took the dagger and went to the closed door. He stabbed at the door leaving the dagger buried to the hilt in between the door and the jamb. Then, with a swift push, he broke the dagger off at the hilt and returned the hilt to Kai.

Kai just looked between horrified and appalled at the turn of events. He'd been ready for a spanking but we both knew it wouldn't have meant as much. I told him to go and get ready for dinner. In a daze he left.

We discussed if there had been any other way, but DeWinter was right. Kai would have brushed off a spanking, perhaps taking it as a sign he was tough. This would have meaning for him.

Kai was subdued at dinner, his eyes red from crying in his room for the afternoon. Eidolon tried to console him, but it wouldn't do any good. Of course this wasn't a permanent solution, but we weren't going to tell him that just yet.

By that evening everyone was ready to go in the morning. Thankfully, DeWinter had an idea. Why not take Mother & Eidolon to the shadow she wants? We could stay here. It wouldn't mean Eidolon couldn't visit. But there was no other solution he could think of. And they would have our Trumps if they run into any sort of difficulty. The more I thought about it, the more I liked it.

I would make sure Mother was comfortable, but I would not find a place where she could work at the school. Eidolon, if nothing else, needed to get out from her constant supervision, or he'd stifle wherever we put him. That would leave Mother with nothing to do and it might just Eidolon would have to learn, what I had to learn. I admit I wish Byslamia would stay here, but I'm not certain what she will choose. She's always chosen to help Mother. I just don't think it will do Mother any good any longer. I'll talk with her tomorrow.

So, I'll make the announcement in the morning, adding to it slightly. I will take then in a few weeks. I will not just leave everyone while we are settling in. I want to be a part of it and I will not miss it. It will also give Kai, Eidolon, Xhimena and the others the chance to get used to the idea of being s3eparated for a very long time. I can only imagine what Mother will say to this. I can only wonder how I might make the situation worse.

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