At breakfast I asked Mother if she wanted to talk about some of the arrangements. She agreed, suggesting we take a walk somewhere. Ah, she doesn't want witnesses. After everyone was off to do whatever he or she needed to do, we left the house.
It was some time before we found a pleasant place. It was a little café with an outdoor patio. Where we were seated, we had a wonderful view of the harbor. The café was just busy enough that no one inside, or walking by would overhear our conversation. We ordered tea, patiently waiting until it arrived.
I began the discussion by apologizing. I pretended to ignore the surprised look on her face. I said that I had placed her in an untenable situation with no real solution, or choice that would satisfy either of us. I then went on to admit that I could see no solution, therefore we must decide how we are to go about things. She agreed, thereby setting the tone for a very civil discussion.
Since I didn't want to encounter any hazards while traveling with the entire clan, and the children were settling in nicely, I proposed we go on without them. I believe this would be a good place for them. She nodded. So, if she would allow a few weeks until after Yule, and we were settled, I would go ahead and find the Shadow for her. Then I would transfer both her and Eidolon and any of the weir who wished to go. I did warn her that being alone might present some problems for her, but I would mitigate them as much as I was able. Of course we would be a Trump card away and expect us to reunite from time to time in visits. She again agree that it was acceptable. She had expected to live alone with Eidolon for the duration. That came to something of a surprise to me. Mother has never lived alone. I wonder if she realizes the inherent difficulties she was going to have. She'd have to learn how to cook, go shopping, all the usual habits that have always been done for her. I doubt that any of the weir would perform up to her standards. That's why I engaged a cook who oversaw those issues. Byslamia took care of the rest while we were gone. And, I suspect, she'd grown used to a lively household, though I could be wrong on that score. The silence would be unnerving for a while.
All in all, I have a few weeks before we might have a chance to change her mind. I wonder if it is enough time.
Back at the inn, I had a discussion with Byslamia. She decided to go with Mother when the time came. If anything, that annoyed me more than anything. Byslamia has never been beholden to take care of the house, or do anything she didn't want to. But Mother would expect her to give up any portion of her life to help her or Eidolon. It wasn't fair. I know she was always there for me, and I did think Eidolon would benefit from her presence as well. But, I've never been able to get her to talk about how she felt about that.
As for Eidolon, we both knew he didn't want to go. She would talk to him about how he would deal with the transfer. I was worried he might run away. She just shrugged and said she would deal with it as she dealt with me. this was the first time I learned she knew of my unauthorized excursions out of the palace. She is sneaky. She gave me enough freedom that I didn't feel I need to search for more. And here I though I was being so clever.
The children are settled into their classes. It didn't take long to choose their courses, since they were so young, they haven't had time to get very far behind. Soon after we moved into Porter Hall. That took a full day to get everyone and everything across town. Another couple of days to settle in and we were fine. We even got a letter from the Emperor welcoming us and invitations to visit him. I sent a courteous reply though I didn't know when we might get up there. Mother's invitation came separately, I noted.
Tralee's classes were a different matter. She had some of the basics, but she had a bit of catching up to do, though we had time. DeWinter and I narrowed the selection down to a dozen or so, letting her choose the three final decision for herself. We only determined she had to take French in order to speak to the population. The others she chose were Art and Geology. I was surprised they only take three classes at a time, but again, we are in no rush.
Preparing for Yule
I gave an "account" to each of the girls that they might buy gifts for each other for Yule. This was an entirely new experience for them they'd never done this before. I set up a large, closed basket, one for each of the children, to place their gifts inside. I made it a firm rule not to go into another's basket. Over the next couple of weeks, I and some of the weir women would take them out to do shopping.
Out young guide, Kapta hasn't found a place for our shop yet, but he's confident he'll find one. In the meantime, I would go back to Amber to bring some tailors through. Eidolon, in a fit of depression, wrote a letter to Random asking for a new life. I don't think he believes we will change Mother's mind.
I Trumped to Amber Castle's drawbridge and made my way into town. I checked my messages. I had two, one was an invitation from Cassiopeia for a tour of the local bars in their Shadow. It was a week overdue. I wrote back my regrets, informing her that I was not in Amber right now and unlikely to return for a long duration. The other was from Sebastian complimenting me on keeping out of his business. That one I tore up.
Since the day was early here, I quickly went to the shops buying as many of the clothes as I could get through a Trump connection. After all, we'll need some stock to start with. It didn't take long to find the Seamstresses, Clothiers' and Fabric-Makers Guild. I told them what I required and they set up some interviews. One person, Printel, wanted to go immediately. The other two were a bit more reserved, though they all felt they could acquire any additional personnel. In the meantime, I'd have to wait to see who was interested.
I was a bit dismayed to hear of the terms they'd require. Apparently an apprentice makes absolutely nothing of the profits from any venture. I suppose it was to encourage them to get experienced and learned, but that seemed excessive. I expected to feed and house them, but still.
I returned to the Castle, where the deliveries had been made. These I Trumped through to DeWinter. Our Shadow moved faster than Amber (though I never seen any that move slower). For every six hours here, twelve pass there.
At dinner I had the company of Simone, Kinkel, Vialle and Random. I learned that Yule is three weeks away, six for us. When asked, I said we would probably make it. After dinner I got a bit of a lecture on Amber's Guild system from Kinkel after a bit of prompting.
Amber imports about twice as much as we use, stockpiling raw materials as needed. Now the average life expectancy is around 250 years. If one could learn a trade in, say, ten years, all of the Guilds would be overflowing with people, because there is a new generation every 25 years. The Guilds slow the incoming workforce by requiring long apprenticeships and even longer periods for their journeyman status. By their terms, I would be in charge of them because we'll be out in Shadow. While there, I can set up my own rules. But I have to keep in mind that they will have to return someday. If they are too used to things otherwise, the transition back might be very difficult for them. Seeing as we'll probably not be gone for very long, it shouldn't be a problem. Wonderful.
Afterwards, I got some tea and biscuits, set myself in front of the fire in the library and quietly read.
When I woke, there was a faint trace of pipe smoke in my room. I said good morning to Eric and got dressed. I went for my morning workout. The army was there, so I found a quiet spot. While I was stretching, Kinkel happened to come out. He was less formal than usual, wearing brown leather pants and a loose shirt. He was amenable to sparring with me, and so we did, with both sword and hand-to-hand.
For our swordsmanship, we were well matched and it was a lively session. Some of the army even paused to watch. But our hand-to-hand was a different story. Our styles were so different, we spent considerable time saying, "Oh, sorry about that," and "Are you okay?" I'm going to have to work on countering that form.
I did meet with Vialle this morning. I thought she might give me advice on the situation with Mother. She seemed to agree that Eidolon would not benefit from being separated. she definitely was concerned. Since she was a non-Amberite, having raised an Amberite son, her perspective might be taken seriously by Mother. She said she would think it over, after having a talk with Moire. Ah yes, a perfect idea. Moire knew of the same trials. Now she and Martin aren't estranged, I don't think, but he did leave Rebma for a very long time.
During the afternoon, I went back to the Guild Hall. I paid, in advance, the salaries for two year for three apprentices, two seamstresses and three journeyman. That gives us four years in Shadow. All in all, I paid 240 gold crowns. So, while they began to acquire all the equipment they'd need, I'd go back to make sure we secured a shop.
Well, things have settled in. We got everyone here with no problems, the shop had been found and rented for the long term and everything is set. The populace was a bit doubtful about what we were doing. I took the liberty of Mother's connection by sending the Emperor some fine trousers and slacks. A day passed and the following morning, he'd sent on of his courtiers for more. Then the business started trickling in.
A successful Enterprise
We now have more business than we can handle. I'm thinking of obtaining more help, but we're trying to train some of the locals. After all, we'll be leaving some day. They might even make it a guild here. In the meantime, they're quite busy. I spent a fair portion of it translating for everyone. But, they are picking things up fairly quickly so after a few months it won't be necessary. I have manage to request some simple dresses for the children for Yule, nothing too demanding. They're finishing one every day or so. It should be enough time. Oh, our shop is called Antoinia's" after the senior member there.
Mother has been getting regular invitations from the Emperor. It started out about once per week, but now it's about once every two days or so. Ostensibly, it is to learn about these foreigners in his land. Most of us know better. Well, Byslamia, Xhimena and myself know better.
The Emperor's clever. At least clever for Mother. He invited Eidolon along, showing him around the palace. He knew Mother's weak point right away. The poor boy got dragged up there each time they were invited. Fortunately, Mother realized he was bored and allowed him to enroll in a few courses with the rest of the children. He was obviously puzzled by this, since they were supposed to be leaving, but after I gave him a nudge, he didn't say another word.
Well, things have been moving quickly. Much more than I thought they would. We just ran out of clothing, again, at the store. we set up commissions in reservation, I went back to Amber for more stock. We've made enough profit to afford this, and then some. We've got some additional people and I probably should look for a more spacious shop. We just don't have the room we need for expansion. And when I introduce the idea of fashion trends, it's going to get worse. I have to laugh but Flora would be proud of me! I wonder if any of the family would think I would ever be doing this!
I did manage to get all my shopping done for Yule. The girls were all very straightforward.. DeWinter and I agreed that we could replace Kai-Revere's knife. He's been exceptionally good. I got Xhimena a typewriter and a writing box. I even found a perfect one for DeWinter: an 8-foot claymore.
Tralee's present will be the most difficult. Since she was born and bread in Amber, she's probably never heard of the Menakous. Well, I could end up terrifying her, horrifying her, or pleasing her. But I can't ignore the fact that next year she will be considered a grown woman. I would be seriously amiss if I ignored her passage. Frankly, I think Amber is rather stupid to let young people off to find out about the other sex. It leads to a great many mistakes, not to mention disasters. I can't imagine how it could be the wonderful experience it should be when neither would no what they are doing. And if one is experienced, well, it could lead into a very unhealthy situation if not careful. No, I had to talk with her.
I got her alone, which meant another walk. No orchards though. Maybe I could ask if they would allow me to plant some trees. I began by telling her of my own experience. His name was Stavash and he'd been hired by my Mother. He'd come highly recommended for young girls first. Of course being a member of the Royal Family, I expect we got the finest professional available.
At first I know she was surprise, but it turned out to be a pleasant one. It seems she'd been asked questions for years about men and sexual activity. But no one would answer the questions. No doubt because it was 'not fitting.' Sigh. The idea that all her questions would be answered and that she would have a wonderful first time thrilled her. I let out a little sigh of relief and I went into a few of the details of the two-day ceremony.
There would be the site itself, in which we all go to great lengths for it to be comfortable, pleasing, safe and above all private. All manner of things can go into it, depending on the nature of the woman to be. Books if she likes to read, games to pass an uncomfortable beginning, music, artwork, anything that might make it easiest. Traditionally, all the women of the household make suggestions and give advice, but ultimately, it will be up to Tralee. Then, by the second night, there is a dance, a celebration of the family. In my case there was also a grand ball on the third night where I, like my sister before e, were presented as adults. There are some cases where the second day had to be extended for an additional night or two, but I don't think Tralee will be that shy. Still, we'll be prepared. She was fairly skipping by the time we were done. I had no trouble eliciting a promise of no experimentation before the day, now that she knows there is an end in sight for her youngling years. It'll have to be after Yule since I probably have to go to Mycenea to hire someone.
I Trumped Dalt. He was sitting in a mess tent of some sort. It was huge, with a lot of soldiers around. I invite him to attend our family Yule before going on to Amber. I even went so far as to say if he wanted to bring Tremerule, he was welcome. He accepted, but couldn't answer for Tremerule. His time frame is the same as Amber, so he didn't have much time to make arrangements. So, no promises.
Then I went to Castle Black. By forgoing sleep, I made it there in two days instead of four. I was even surprised that the Captain of the Guard remembered me, though he remembered me as an entertainer, a dancer, not Princess Cassandra. Ah well, at least I didn't have to fight anyone.
I told her about her new nieces and she was stunned. Then she thought it was wonderful. She said DeWinter must love it, all those little girls to protect still, she didn't know if she could make it. Then I told her about Tralee's upcoming event and she thought that it was a most wonderful idea. She fairly lit up at the notion. When I mentioned all the arrangements that the women would make for her, she jumped right in and said she would take care of the dress. Of course, DoBlique wanted to give her something in black .not a traditional color for such a thing.
DoBlique then jumped up and said she had the perfect thing. She ordered two servants to retrieve a box from storage. It was a little over five feet in length, and about one foot one each side. I had no idea what could be inside, but it had been stored for a long time. The box was covered with cobwebs and dust. I lifted it, it weighed about 100 pounds. It had better not be a dress. She immediately went back with me to Porter Hall.
Today we spent the morning opening gifts from each other. There was much laughter and paper flying as each was opened. Kai-Revere almost reverently handled his new knife. He looked it over carefully, noting everything before resolutely putting it into his sheath and putting it on his belt. I doubt we'll have cause to take it away from him any time soon. DeWinter was just as pleased with his, though he tried to hide it. He thought it wouldn't be seemly to be happy with a weapon in front of the girls. Later, though, when we were alone, he took it out and practiced with it. Xhimena took her new typewriter and began practicing. Her writing box was immediately used to begin a story about today.
I went to the drawbridge and brought Mother and Byslamia through. Then came the children. We escorted the horde into the Castle library and got them settled.
Dalt and Tremerule did indeed make it. Tremerule was still quite haughty and formal. But he was also a bit amazed at the , well, homey fell of the days. None of the children cared one whit about being of the royal family. They were getting and giving gifts, and having fun. I suppose he just didn't think there would be that much laughter. Dalt gave each of the girls stuffed animals. I suppose it was because he didn't know them individually yet, or perhaps because he wanted to give them exactly the same type of gift he gave Kai and Xhimena. Either way they loved them and showered him with little kisses.
The girls, through simple acceptance, good will and infectious even manage to thaw Tremerule out enough for a few quick smiles and a story or two.
The last gift to be opened was DoBlique's gift to Tralee. Everyone had been eyeing the musty old box for a while now. We dragged it out so we had room. DeWinter got a crow bar and we ended up helping her to open it. As the lid lifter, numerous spiders crawled out. DeWinter began stomping on them until DoBlique told him to stop and ordered them out of the house. Apparently they were her guardians. I told her to take them back with her. DeWinter just shook his head.
Inside the box was a two-foot bottle with a lead stopper. DoBlique explained that Tralee just had to get nude and pour the Kyssian Syrup over herself.
There was a long moment of silence as we processed this bit of information.
It didn't seem like a gift to give to a young niece. Tremerule looked scandalized, then I think he was thinking very un-uncle-like thoughts. DeWinter looked decidedly unhappy. I gave DoBlique and expectant glance and she caught on that we had no idea what she was talking about.
Kyssian syrup was a magical elixir. If Tralee poured it over herself while concentrating, it would form up the dress of her dreams. The perfect size, the design you thought of, whatever color you wanted. I caught Byslamia looking a bit wistful at the very idea. And the created dress would be permanent.
Then we were all getting ready to go to Amber. The girls got into their new dresses and Mother, Byslamia and I were busy arranging their hair. While I got ready (DeWinter was already done), DeWinter watched over the girls. He had a fine time trying to get them to settle down. In fact, he failed because they were just too wound up to just sit still. But, no one spilled, tore, or ruined anything before we were ready to go. They were bouncing off the walls and he was enjoying every minute of it. Dalt was going to see Tremerule home safely and then meet us in Amber. Tremerule even went so far as to thank me for the invitation, that he had a surprisingly nice time. I gave him a smile and said he was welcome back next year.
I Trumped through to the drawbridge and then brought Mother and Byslamia through. DeWinter passed through the girls and boys and soon we had found a nice central area in the library. We introduced them to the Queen and they were instantaneously shy beyond words. Xhimena had a little chat with her and gave her her gift. Apparently she brought one for every woman in the family. By the shape of the boxes, they were all variations of the same thing. Vialles' was a white peaked cap with a tiny white feather. She immediately put it on and wore for the evening. Somehow I think no matter what it looked like, she would have worn it. Xhimena was floating on air as she said goodbye to Vialle.
I especially introduced Tralee to Rhiannon because they are about the same age. In a way they are an unlikely pair in some ways, but they were good friends by the rest of the evening.
At one point Xhimena tugged on my sleeve. She was gazing at Llewella who had just entered. She asked who that was and I told her it was one of her Aunts. I took her over to meet Llewella. Xhimena had to run back to get her gift. We went into the hallway because gifts had to be given privately. Llewella dropped down to Xhimena's height in a meltingly smooth curtsey. Xhimena could barely talk, but managed to give her her gift. It was a sea-green cap. She, too, put it on. Llewella told Xhimena she was a very pretty girl. Xhimena just shook her head and hid her face. I spoke with Llewella for a little while, letting Xhimena listen in. By the time we excused ourselves, I could see that Xhimena definitely planned to have green hair when she was grown up. She said Llewella was a most beautiful woman ever.
Essentially, the early part of the party entailed me introducing Tralee and keeping an eye on the girls while DeWinter escorted Xhimena through most of her gift-giving. We traded duties from time to time for variety. Mother and Byslamia mingled through most of the family. Every woman got a little cap from Xhimena. She didn't forget anyone. And she had managed to give each of them their own color. Owen got gold, Vialle's was a faun color, Rhiannon got green, Fiona got red. There were so many, it can't remember just who got what.
Then Dalt entered. His reputation irrevocably changed a bit tonight, in the eyes of some of the family. He entered, very confidant, very commanding, ready to meet any Amberite face to face. He stood a moment in the door, surveying the scene, hands on his hips. One of the girls saw him and cried out, "Uncle Dalt!" And made a beeline right for him. As she went, the others fell in line and soon eight little girls were hugging him. Yes, Dalt, the scourge of Amber.
He said nothing for a few moments. No doubt because he would not hurt their feelings. But after a minute or so, he gave a discreet cough and they let him go. He led them back to their chairs before wandering around to see who was here. It is an image I'll treasure forever.
I talked with Simone who was still trying to learn magic. She's currently working with Blythe. I even met Aurora who was now about 20 years old now and a lovely young woman she's different now, not nearly as shy and retiring as she once was. She's almost as tall as I am. She particularly struck Eidolon and for the first time I ever saw he was genuinely speechless. I see a young boy having his first crush. Kai-Revere was oblivious, though he couldn't understand why Eidolon wasn't talking. I covered up for him a bit, allowing Aurora to talk for a while so he could learn a bit about her. She had been in Glantry studying but that was done now. She's done with formal college for a little while and is seeking other opportunities.
She wants to continued to learn magic, but beyond a theoretical avenue. Specifically, she wanted to learn under DoBlique, but was turned down flat. I explained that her magic is not particularly "nice" since she deals with very potent, aggressive magicks and demon and such. Then people are always hunting her and attacking and she probably worried about Aurora's reputation. DoBlique is not a chaste, demur woman. Aurora took this in, but was not particularly daunted.
Rinaldo arrived sometime later, with Diana and Cassiopeia. Actually, Cassie and Diana did not look happy to be there. I went over to say hello and to bring them over to meet the girls. Rinaldo made a great fuss over them, more than I thought he normally would. It was almost a parody, though I think he meant it. Rinaldo took Tralee's hand and kissed it. She did well with the unexpected protocol.
But Rinaldo was in a baiting mood. There was a dangerous glint in his eyes. At one point he almost set DeWinter off. It was almost as if he wanted a fight. But since that was forbidden during Yule, perhaps he just wanted to say things he couldn't ordinarily say. Unfortunately, that didn't ensure someone wouldn't seek him out after Yule.
I signaled Owen. I knew that she knew of Rinaldo's difficulty. I think I was seeing his other side. I clued her in as Rinaldo made his way purposely toward the Queen and Fiona. We went after. I didn't hear his greeting, but Vialle looked uncomfortable, uncertain, as if she sensed something was wrong. As we approached, he turned to Fiona an said he "hadn't heard her greeting, auntie." Fiona fixed him with a cold smile, but said nothing. Abruptly, he broke away and headed for the King.
I intercepted, asking if he would help take the girls upstairs. They were all wilting about now. Rather than bother with refusing, he let himself get involved. I was hoping I could find out what's wrong. We managed to usher those still awake up the stairs while carrying the rest. As we entered the room I claimed for the girls, the weir became tense and alert, aware something was not quite right. They relaxed as the girls were put safely down and we were leaving.
I talked with Rinaldo as we were walking. He denied anything being wrong. He said if there was, I'd get a sign. That was when my armband went off. I step back, allowing for more room. He gave a nasty little smile and looked at my arm, the band hidden under my blouse. It stopped pulsing. Creepy was decidedly the right word for the situation.
He said he didn't know what he wanted to do tonight and I thought he was being truthful. As if he were causing trouble to see what might happen and if it leads to something he wants. Very confused. Before we parted, at the base of the stairs, he made some oblique statments I took as threats which I countered less delicately. He seemed to enjoy the exchange. That was fine with me. If he got some satisfaction, he might be less inclined to push things with someone else, knowing he's already succeeding with me.
We went back to the party March and DeWinter were talking. DeWinter broke off and headed over to us. He's getting a little sneaky. Instead of taking my hand, he took my wrist. I knew he was taking my pulse as a silent gauge of the seriousness of the situation. But, I'd had time to relax, so he did likewise.
Rinaldo, in the meantime, had been assuring DeWinter that all the little princesses were tucked in bed and he was returning the belle of the ball to him. Trying to connect with him again, I gave him a brief kiss on the cheek. He gave an odd look at DeWinter and said I was just a tease. Something in his stare bothered DeWinter, I could see the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Rinaldo gave a smile and a half bow and wandered off.
The rest of the evening passed without incident, though we both kept half an eye out for Rinaldo. Tralee met most of the family, she and Rhiannon kept close together. I made no comment about curfew; she'll sleep when she wanted to.
Kai got Eidolon to ask Martin if they could get jobs with the castle guards. I could see Martin was amused, but he kept a straight face for there benefit. Of course, he told them no, but Kai persisted in his prepared arguments. Eidolon had an "I-told-you-so" look on his face. Martin did not change his mind. A little while later, we got Kai-Revere and Eidolon upstairs and asleep. Then it was time for us to enjoy ourselves.
I did manage to see Evander. I gave him his gift, a pair of leather gloves I thought would be useful with either sword work or riding. He seemed surprised and touched. I know he wasn't expecting it and he said I was constantly surprising him.
Later I did meet up with DoBlique, who was talking with Diana. DoBlique, I think, was primarily worried about Aurora's reputation since she lives a most unconventional lifestyle. So we talked a it about some of the relationships of the family; such as Sabrina, Grace and Dorimae. Diana brought up her marriage with Rinaldo and Cassiopeia. Of course there was the open secret of Flora and Carmella. It struck me at the time that almost all of the women have some long-term relationships, more than the men it seems. Perhaps it is just an impression. I'd have to give that more thought.
But in the end, DoBlique said she would think about it and she'd contact Aurora before she left Amber at the end of the week. Aurora was happy for even that much and thanked me. She even called me Auntie Cassandra. I don't think I'd ever been called thus and I was happy to have tried to help. Personally, I think both would benefit from the association.
Random then brought out his drums and Martin got his saxophone. They set up informally and slowly, giving family members such as Flora time to say good-bye and leave. We started to dance. Shortly thereafter, after one or two dances, Tralee ran out of steam. She went up to bed and DeWinter and I danced well into the morning.
Reconnecting in Mycenae
We got the children back home safely. In the meantime, I went to Mycenea. Outside my room two guards were posted. Given the last time that happened, I was very cautious. I asked why they were there. They were tense, I was tense. I made to surreptitiously loosen my sword. They asked if I was Princess Cassandra I said the last that question was answered, it didn't bode well. They asked again and I gave an affirmative. They relaxed and explained that since the last time I entered the room I was attacked, the queen had set a guard on the room. Oh. I thanked them for their diligence and made my way to the throne room.
I hadn't changed from my Amber clothing so, wearing nice trousers, boot and jacket I entered the hall. Needless to say, I stood out amongst the full skirts and high court garb. There were many people here to see Portia, excuse me Queen Portia. Silence descended as people took note of me. Ah, yes, the barbarian princess has returned.
Then Portia called out to me, coming over quickly to greet me. She even hugged me in front of everyone. Then she closed court much to the dismay of those who had been waiting and we went to talk. Not one person argued with the decision which meant she had the court firmly in hand.
I told her of my mission and of her 9 new nieces. She was quite pleased with both bits of news. It will take a few days to arrange for interviews. In the meantime, I got to meet the rest of the family.
Things have certainly changed. I found two of my sisters, Delia and Matyias not only were married, but they had children and grand children. Linea had just gotten married. I hadn't been introduced before because they didn't know if I was interested in meeting them. I assured them I wished to meet them. They sent for them and it was an awkward meeting. Apparently my actions when I was here previously had grown much in the telling. So, I spent a great deal of time diffusing and correcting tall tales and myths. It was easier with the grandchildren. They were all between two and 6 years of age, like my own girls. So I played with them for some of the afternoon. They called me auntie and any reputation I might have had was diffused as I played tea with the children.
Interviewing for Tralee
I've been visiting the family some more. They're getting used to me for the most part, especially the younger ones. I suspect my sisters will acclimatize soon enough as a result. Today I received a number of application, given the short notice. 18, in all. They all looked good, on paper; they are had experience and excellent references. I began the process of elimination. First, I said they had to be willing to travel. I know I can Trump them through, but I wanted to be prepared in case of any
complications. Also, she's not Mycenaean, her father is an Outlander, she's rather young for this, etc. The list went down to three.
The first was a 26-year-old man who struck me as wanting to know more of us rather that Tralee. Apparently, he's read the novelization of my adventures and wants to learn the facts behind them. He wasn't even a bit fazed when I told him no one here knows anything of my life after I left, aside from what has happened when I returned. It is all fiction.
The second was 22 years of age. He asked all about Tralee, dozens of questions regarding her athletics, hobbies, interest, and education. He's still interested despite her limited experience.
The third was 24 years old. His first question was to confirm who I was. You are Princess Cassandra? The winner of the Track and Field gold medal of fifty years ago? It was quite brash to bring this up, but I liked his forthrightness.
Well, we'll just have to see what Tralee and the others think. That evening I said good-bye to everyone and promised to bring the girls regularly to visit.
Tatasha lends her support
Eidolon came through the Trump to demonstrate its ease of use and to allay fears of the unknown "magic." Then we all went through. We all interviewed them separately. Mother was a bit perturbed that Byslamia had private questions that didn't include her presence. Of course, by midday DeWinter said he didn't like any of them. The first was too political, the second was lying about his age and asked about Tralee to avoid talking of himself. In short, a con artist. The third, was just trouble. He wanted someone like Shapir, or March. The problem is that while I could ask them, I think they'd be too embarrassed or the situation too awkward for them to accept. Of course, he wants someone like them, but it's always easier to choose someone you know. It also created more difficulties.
We all had tea later in the afternoon. They tried to make Tralee comfortable but she's very shy today. I don't blame her. I never had the opportunity, and I don't think I would have known what to ask. Still, I can't decide. I like the third, but none seem to hit any special spark with Tralee.
In the end, I asked Tatasha to come through for her opinion. She was trying to gauge if this was a civilized adoption, meaning legal only, or a weir adoption, which makes them part of the clan. Definitely weir. I got her some clothing more like a Mycenaean. I didn't want to excessively shock them. But with Tatasha here, I doubt it's avoidable. Still, it's a good test to see how they react. She decided to interview them all at the same time.
The first question was to ask how many women they had. I almost choked my tea right along with them. The second man refuse to answer. She asked if he knows and won't tell? Yes. Because he's lost track or that it's not special anymore? Insulted, he got up and walked out. Hm.
The first said 33, though he was clearly uncomfortable. She raised an eyebrow and said "Interesting." The third looked shocked. But, when we promised this would be kept confidential, he said he couldn't give an exact number. Why? Because, if we were to count all, he can't include those he associated with when he was drunk. I almost laughed. But an approximate number was 112. She asked why it was such a small number? He did choke that time. She explained that he had been in business for about ten years. That average out to about one woman a month. Ah.
Then she asked each if they could take out the other. I debated stopping it there, since they wouldn't have much training in martial capacities. Generally, men are only trained in personal safety and home defense. Still, I wanted to see their reactions. It was humorous, the poor things. She even went to far as to feel their arms. The second walked out to join the first. That left the third. I had to hand it to him, he was sticking through with it.
But, Tatasha wasn't satisfied. She thought Tralee should have more choices. So, she went back to Aes, to bring some more through. I explained that there would be no combat between the candidates. She agreed.
She brought three of her own. The first was about 15 years, the second around 45-50 years and the third was 25. as for experience, the first had 25 over a span of 5 years. The second had 493 over a period of 30 years. The third had 190 over a period of 10 years. The third Mycenaean man was relieved. He was still in the running. Their numbers weren't disproportionate to his; she'd just been testing him.
I asked a few questions. DeWinter was present for this part. Nothing outré. How did they handle mishaps, for example, like they all fell out of bed or broke it? Or what was the most important thing Tralee could take away from this, aside from the obvious. The older Aesian man said there should be something remaining to recall the joy. The younger one said their should be beautiful singing parts. We all understood that reference, even if Tralee didn't. the middle one said beautiful marks. DeWinter was never going to let him near Tralee.
Afterwards, we let the rest have some quiet time. We adjourned for a house meeting. Tralee asked if she could ask them some private questions. Of course. I tried to help give her some examples of questions. So did DeWinter. he told her to ask them if they had insurance. I knew the Aesian men wouldn't know what insurance was, but he couldn't withdraw his question. Tralee decided to ask them any way. she knew he was only trying to protect her and wanted to make him happy.
When they left mother surprised me by asking for a hug. I gave her one, perplexed. She said she was a terrible mother. She saw how I was trying to make the decisions for Tralee and she not only knew she had done the same, but that it was wrong. Wonderful. I looked at Byslamia who rolled her eyes. Mother caught the look and was confused. She asked Byslamia if she had done it again. Byslamia said, yes she had. She didn't understand how. I just told Mother I was going to see how our guests were doing. I left before I said anything I would regret. She had no idea that on top of the stress I was going through to make the right decisions, she'd just told me I was a terrible mother.
I met up with Tralee and DeWinter. she'd made her choice. She chose the young Aesian, Thrum. Now it was up to me to agree. I was torn. He seemed too young to ensure she had a wonderful time. All the boys I knew of that age were rather self-involved. Though that might not be the case with Aesian men. He certainly wouldn't want to look bad in front of Tatasha, so he'd probably try his best. And if I overrode Tralee, what would that say to her? After quite a bit of agonizing thought, I agreed with her choice.
The Longest Day
I dismissed the other candidates, thanking them for their time. We spent the morning introducing Tatasha to all her grandchildren and finding a suitable locale. It had to be a secure place, near enough for a call for help, for DeWinter's peace of mind. It had to be private, for mine. We chose an attic room. It was well-ventilated, not too warm, and none of the girls would be able to knock on the door and ask Tralee if she wanted to play. We cleaned it up and we decorated it with many of things to make it more familiar. DeWinter gave her a code word in case she needed help. Since this wasn't the more formalized version, I forgot all about the dress DoBlique had given her. I suppose it's just as well. It would not have helped the situation. I was a bit out of sorts, trying to adapt to the new situation. I hadn't realized how much I was depending on the formalities to see this through.
After lunch, she went upstairs. When she was ready, she called for Thrum. He went down on one knee before me first, giving me a snare he made. I suppose it was some sort of offering. I thanked him and wished them well. Then, with a determined air, he took to the stairs, fighting his way up to get his blood working. Tatasha confided that sometimes the other sisters would between the two, ensuring that he was acceptable. Sigh, I knew combat would come into it somehow. Fortunately, no one challenged him. Tralee had no idea what he was doing but it did make her giggle.
Then came an extremely long, agonizing, tense waiting period. At first I was very quiet. Then it sounded as if they were playing hopscotch. I had to laugh. Of course, they'd play first she is still partly a child, so I makes quite a bit of sense.
Then it got quiet for a long time. About an hour and a half. Then there was a tremendous crash. I had to hold DeWinter back from charging up the stairs. I guess the two took my comment about breaking beds literally. It just took them that long to figure out how they were going to accomplish it.
Then it sounded like they were rearranging all the furniture with much laughter following. The evening continued on for a while. Mother was so tense by the evening she started to drink. I might have to watch out for this tendency. I really don't want to be responsible for making her an alcoholic. I wondered if she did this for me, but didn't want to bring it up. Byslamia and Tatasha joined her later. DeWinter and I took a long walk, but it just made it worse. He didn't want to be too far away should Tralee call out the code sign.
We tried to sleep but ended up forgetting the idea entirely. For one, DeWinter kept getting up and I was sure he'd storm the room at some point. I did have to restrain him once or twice. Then, around 2 a.m. Mother, Byslamia and Tatasha, along with most of the weir women were singing very unusual songs. Weir songs, involving biting and clawing and things. I was astonished, DeWinter was disturbed further. We retreated. I never even pictured her saying some of those words
By the middle of the next day, DeWinter was convinced Tralee was in trouble and couldn't call for help. I could only just stop him from going up. If they didn't come down soon, I think he was going to have an aneurysm. Unfortunately, this things can take a day or so, until both parties feel equally comfortable with each other. It cannot be rushed.
But, by evening, they came down. We heard the door open, the house was that quiet. One set of footsteps came down and they were slow and measured. Eventually, they came into the room. Tralee was on his shoulders, her shift covering his head. She was guiding him by holding his hands. A quick look said she was still having a lot of fun. They'd come down for something to eat. Mother and Byslamia were just up by then, so we had a little impromptu party. Later, Tralee pulled me aside. She wasn't babbling exactly, but she couldn't get out everything she wanted to say fast enough. She'd no idea what had been involved. Of course not, how could she? She learned lots and lots of secrets. Like writing their names on each other's backs. I said that the reward for having her questions answered was getting more questions. It doesn't really end, she has a lifetime to learn.
We all retired and DeWinter was able to sleep. Seeing that she was alright and obviously unharmed relieved him to no end. He didn't even comment when they went back to their room. I thought it was a good idea, she'd learn that that first time wasn't a fluke.
It was quiet and somewhat subdued. Tralee knew that Thrum had to go home now. She wanted him to stay here. That was no surprise. We always want our first to stay. But he had a family, clan and responsibilities at home. She shed a few tears, but held herself together. We let them say goodbye alone. Meanwhile, Tatasha said goodbye to the girls and boys, who were completely oblivious to what had been going on. Even Xhimena only knew that Tralee was very happy. She was puzzled why Tralee was now so sad.
We had a quiet afternoon. Tralee and I talked some more. She understood when I explained that other people don't necessarily hold with our traditions. Meaning people here in Gianassa and in Amber. I felt certain that none of the Amberite girls her age went through this, though I couldn't be sure. That made her feel better. She had learned and done something none of the nobles here or the princes and princess of Amber did. In Mycenae she'd have others to talk to. Here, and in Amber, this might make her feel isolated if it occurs to her. But for now, I was content that she would be discreet. I was content that it went well for her.
Festival of Lights
The city is preparing for something called the Festival of Lights. Kai-Revere proudly told me of one of the traditions. On the first night, from dusk till dawn, all the children are in charge of running the households and the businesses. Tralee confirmed this. Hmmm. What trouble they could create did not bear thought. They are highly imaginative children.
Also, all the noble members of the land wore rags instead of their usual livery. Actually, they bought "rags" commissioned for the event since no one really wanted to wear real rags. But the purpose is to take the place of the average person. A room is set-aside in each house where objects such as food and clothing are set out for people to come in and take. I was pleased at this obvious sign of charity. We didn't have any time to prepare, so we made simple togas out of bed sheets. DeWinter did not like this idea, but when he went in search of "rags" he found that the entire surplus in the city had long since been depleted.
Thinking of what they wanted for their free things, Kai and Eidolon made an extensive wish list. Tralee told me it was originally ten pages long, but she and the other weir girls got them to condense it to one page. The girls set up mock thrones with crowns on their heads.
It was just after dusk when Kai came to tell me there were some people outside that wanted the girls to play a ball game. Curious, I played butler and went to the door. Outside were a small contingency of young people, nobles children, come to invite the "fairest girls to a ball." Ah. I explained this to Kai and we set out for Tralee and some of the weir girls to get ready. I got the visitors in a salon. One was disconcerted to see a nude weir girl racing up the stairs. He murmured something about she being fair and I left them to be hosted by Xhimena.
I learned that Eidolon had gone to the harbor to get a frigate. It was the first thing one their wish list. Ah. I told Kai-Revere that it was unlikely anyone had put one aside for donation. It wasn't something most needy first thought as necessary. If he wanted a frigate, they'd be expected to buy it. He was quite dismayed. He grew even more so when he realized they'd had other things on their list, which they might have gotten. Poor Eidolon. I can just see him wandering around the docks, asking for a frigate. I sent a few weir to fetch him back.
We went up to the palace in the carriage provided. Mother was already there at the request of the Emperor. She was quite distraught about the entire tradition. I could see that she imagined hordes of commoners running amok through the palace destroying anything and everything, stealing what they could and assassinating the Emperor. Obviously she didn't make the connection to Random's Yule where anyone from the city might meet the royal family. She was unusually distressed by the notion that someone might assassinate the Emperor. Hm. She actually took to drink to calm her nerves.
Tralee made a quick friendship with a few other people. One, Rory, paid her particular attention. There was much dancing. Tralee, being common-born, new quite a few dances which impressed her new peers.. they believed she had researched a great deal for the festival. I taught one of the noble-cum-butlers the Charleston, which I had learned in Paris. Mother was shocked that I knew such a dance.
The night passed on and Mother slowly relaxed as those who came to the palace came calmly and politely. No hordes, no riots, no attacks.
One of the weir boys, Shudder, I noticed came alert and made for the windowed doors leading to a patio. I went over. He had thought he heard something, like a yelp. My first thought was that probably a few of the young people had gone outside for some privacy. I trusted Tralee, and the weir girls were more than adequate in protecting themselves against over amorous teenage boys. Still, we went outside to look.
No one was in sight which reinforced my opinion. There were, in spots, little coils of rope, almost like twine, they were so tiny. Odd, but not alarming. It was then I noticed the silence. No birds, no crickets, nothing. That made me alert.
We searched and found nothing. I ducked inside but caught no sight of the girls. I got one of the other weir boys to do a head count. All were accounted for except for Tralee, and three weir, Misreal, Gip and Twist. Now I was getting alarmed.
I went back outside and called for them. Nothing. We did a search, again nothing. Shudder found a spot, which he said, had a "funny smell." But he couldn't track it. I trumped DeWinter, told him what happened, and asked him to pass through Bison and Cutwind, who were very good at tracking.
He did so, coming through with them. We tracked the trail as far as a set of rocks around a boulder. There the trail ended. Magic? DeWinter left to go into the palace. I thought he was going to search the premises but was proved wrong when he returned with the Emperor and Mother. Sigh. All her calm was gone.
The Emperor said it was probably the Izzians. They are a magical folk that live in a glass fortress in some mountains two days away. DeWinter immediately went to gain horses to go there, proclaiming he would be there in half the time. While he went ahead, I said I would Trump for magical reinforcements. My first thought was Aurora, but I didn't have a Trump of her. I Trumped her father, Stargazer, who looked back to health. She was not there, but offered his assistance. I was unsure, since the last time I saw him, he was grievously ill. But he assured me he was fine, though he appreciated my consideration. I brought him through.
He went to speak with the Emperor, introducing himself as my uncle. That was odd since he was a cousin, but he thought that might give him more authority with the Emperor. If so, it worked. Stargazer set about learning of the political situation involving the Izzians.
They are a small people, standing no more than a foot and a half tall. They have a long history of cruel tricks; toppling carts, crop failings, people hurt and children kidnapped, none who ever returned. There response is to chase them back to the mountains. They have, from time to time, when the situation is severe, to bring in foreign sorcerers. They go to the mountain and then leave. Stargazer was quick to get specifics: the sorcerers survive and leave with no further action against the Izzians. I thought it meant that something changed their minds from attacking or they were compelled to leave. The history of the Izzians goes back hundreds of years.
As for what they do with the children, the Emperor wouldn't say in front of Mother and myself, mother crossed her arms looking quite indignant at being excluded. Stargazer walked a few paces away and got the information. When he returned we, simultaneously, demanded to know. He said they are reputed to eat the children.. mother went pale and I reassured her that I had heard rumors like that in other places and they have never been true. She set her face, resolved to believe me.
Then we made ready to leave. Stargazer had a levitating staff that would take us to DeWinter. I was not sure I wanted to float along with only a stick holding me up, no matter how much I trusted Stargazer. He assured me we would only be about head height the entire way. Perhaps he read my nervousness with heights.
I grasped the staff and we were off. We were low enough to attract attention through the city as we passed, but fast enough to catch up to DeWinter. Stargazer was skilled enough to fly us over the unoccupied horsed and set us down gently into the saddles. DeWinter didn't even pause. We kept riding, pushing the horses a far as possible. It was at dawn that we had to stop and rest. An additional member of our party was an "expert" on the Izzians. He had nothing good to say about any of them.
We got to the palace. It was indeed glass, with no doors or windows visible. It was thick enough that we couldn't see inside. Stargazer asked that he be allowed to speak on our behalf. I agreed, since I was not at my diplomatic best, considering the situation. DeWinter agreed, until they said something he didn't like. Stargazer said that was as much as he expected.
I rapped at a wall with the pommel of my sword. An 18-inch guard appeared, in a shimmer of prismatic light, asking if we were here on behalf of the Emperor. I said no, we were not under his authority. We were here for my people which they took amongst the Emperor's citizens. Stargazer opened a dialogue with the guard. Since we were willing to talk with them, they would set four of the hostage free. That was both surprising and reassuring. It was clear they wanted to talk and this was the only way to get someone to listen. It showed in how readily they were setting some free. But, I underestimated how many they had. Four were mine, how many did they have? Stargazer asked. It turned out they had eight. They were desperate if they would give up half their hostages just for the opportunity for an opening dialogue. The question was, how far would they go in their desperation?
An hour and a half later we were still waiting. I Trumped Mother to tell her of our success thus far. To my surprise, she already knew it since Tralee had been returned. Magic indeed. I forced myself not to ask why she didn't Trump me when Tralee had arrived. Then the other shoe dropped.
They had taken the hostage through a secret, magical tunnel leading right to the Emperor's patio, right where the trail ended. They were unable to open the tunnel, but Tralee could. She had gone back to rescue her friends. That was not reassuring. She had no training, not even of self-defense. I had an inkling of what Mother must feel when I go off to do something. Now we had to wait.
The guard reappeared. Their demands seemed simple enough. In ages past, some of the Emperor's people learned that if they drained the Izzians of magic, they got gold. They wanted the gold back, which they referred to as blood, and renewed relations as they were 400 years ago. Well, we'll just have to convince the Emperor to give it up. If necessary, we'd just go into Shadow and replace his loss, doubling it if it was what he wanted. I Trumped Mother and DeWinter elected to go. I manage to keep contact, to see what was happening. I couldn't hear anything but I did see DeWinter hoist the Emperor up by the throat. He obviously never had anyone do that to him before. Oh, my. The contact broke as Mother went to Ketcham's rescue.
Finding the Izzian's Lost Blood
I was still waiting outside. DeWinter had no contacted me. So either he was busy or in the dungeon. I rapped on the door. When the guard appeared, I asked if we might have rooms, or did he want to leave us out here? He seemed surprised that we would be willing to enter.
Within minutes we were inside, in a dining hall. All of the children were there, as was Tralee. She looked a little abashed, but I just hugged her in welcome. The Queen of the Izzians bade us to enter and be welcome. Our "expert" looked like he was ready to faint. I sat and we began to talk.
How much gold are we looking for, Stargazer asked? There were 5,555 pieces of gold missing. Ah. I got a Trump from DeWinter. he was safe and sound and not in the dungeon. Ketcham said he did not know where all the gold was. Most of it had been dispersed to other realms hundreds of years ago. The Queen said he was lying. They knew precisely where it was because they could feel it. If it was anywhere. But there is a blank spot in the senses. She believes that is where the blood is hidden. I got the precise location and relayed it to DeWinter. He signed off.
I vocally wished I could see what was happening in the palace. The Queen asked why. She said she had been watching as DeWinter continually pressed the Emperor all night. That I believe. I said it might prove further evidence of our good will, and may be more than a little entertaining. She gave it a thought and a nod.
She had a large flat piece of glass brought in. The glass became cloudy and then we could see DeWinter. we all sat forward to watch the show.
He was moving toward the Emperor's rooms. He brushed by the guards, pushing them aside and kicking the door open. My, he was in a temper. The large doors flew off their hinges, landing a fair distance inside the room. The Queen was amazed.
The emperor was just finishing getting dressed. I did note that Mother was there. While he was getting dressed? Oh, things must be moving along faster than I thought. The Emperor stopped the guards from attacking DeWinter. Smart man. He wouldn't like losing his guards. Mother demanded to know what did he think he was doing? DeWinter stated that the two of them needed to have a serious discussion. He told the Emperor to come with him.
Two guards stood behind with swords drawn, the tips touching his back in tiny indentations. Mother looked carefully at DeWinter. she said that this was not a DeWinter she knows. She advised Ketcham that she didn't think it was a good idea to disagree with him right now.
DeWinter spun on his heels and batted the swords away. He moves so quickly, they hadn't a chance. He knocks the guards down and took two more down in barehanded fencing. And this is this best Ketcham had to defend him? He disarmed the two guards and threw the swords with incredible force; they were embedded halfway to the hilt on the other side of the room, just behind the Emperor. The Izzian Queen fairly swooned, half in love with DeWinter.
Ketcham collapsed, his knees too shaky to support him. DeWinter hefted him to one shoulder and led him right to the location I had told him. Mother trailed behind. There, they found a large lead vault. Ketcham was amazed, since he didn't even know it existed. Now his curiosity was raised.
The doors were thick. DeWinter grasped the handle and pulled. It came off in his hands. Piece by piece, he was ripping it apart. Ketcham said he'd never get the door open that way. He went to get the keys or some tools. Mother stayed behind trying to prevent DeWinter from harming himself. He ignored her.
By now, he had a hole in the door where the mechanism was. There was enough room to fit his arm in. Everyone on my side of the glass sat forward, wondering if he was really going to do what he looked like he was trying. I nudged Tralee and whispered, now watch your father. She glanced at me. I winked. " wait until you bring your first boyfriend home". Her eye grew very large.
DeWinter had worked his arm into the hole. Mother was getting exasperated by now. You really can't think you'll do anything but hurt yourself. He gave a grunt and a heave. Slowly, we could hear the metal tearing. She kept telling him to stop, but the words weren't coming out of her mouth anymore. I told Mother how strong he was!
With a scream, the door tore free of the large hinges. From where I was, I could see it was at least six inches thick. Unfortunately, he lost some of his balance and he fell, with the door on him. All I heard was a muffled "Ow."
I asked the Queen if she has means for sending me there. He'll need my help in lifting the door. She gave it half a thought and agreed. Next thing I knew both Tralee and I were there. Mother got her second surprise as I hefted an edge, telling DeWinter to get his arm out of the hole. He worked it out and I hefted it enough to pivot it on a corner and tossed it to the side. She looked at me like she didn't know me. then she realized Tralee was there and she was momentarily diverted, giving embracing her in relief.
I lifted DeWinter to his feet. His ankle was badly sprained. I gave him a sound kiss and then helped him into the vault so he could see what his labors had wrought. Inside, in neat piles were the gold. By a quick accounting, they were all there.
From the top of the stairs came a harsh cry for us to stand and deliver. They stated they had about fifty guards ready for us, so we should not do anything rash. I told them to tell the Emperor we found the gold. It took an hour and a half or so before the Emperor could convince them he would b safe coming back down. They'd had him in protective custody.
He was amazed at the sight and incensed that the records had been alerted so that he had no idea it was here. All these years the Izzians suffered and it was right here for him to return. Mother reminded him that his predecessors could have done the same so it wasn't his entire fault. I said, indeed, I'm sure the Queen would be pleased that he felt strongly about it. It would go a long way for re-establishing relations. I Trumped Stargazer who relayed that the Queen was quite happy about how this turned out. In fact, I could see her in the background fairly doing a little jig. With us keeping the connection open, Mother and Tralee helped to pass the blood through. As it passed through into their hands, I could see them progressively become younger, as if a part of them had been restored.
We pass the rest of the children back to the Palace unharmed. Stargazer elected to come back with the guards that were now outside the glass fortress, sent by the Emperor. He would make sure they arrives safely, along with their expert, who by now I'm sure is starting to doubt at least some of the tales.
DeWinter leaned on my shoulder as we went up the stairs. A physician attended to him as Mother relayed to the Emperor how he got the door open. Ketcham didn't want to believe us but she, Tralee, and I just looked at him solemnly. He realized we weren't kidding and was fascinated. DeWinter, tried to brush the subject aside, but was unsuccessful. It was too much of a feat to ignore and I, for one, was proud of him. Again.
It's been a couple of days. DeWinter is still nursing his ankle, but should be up and about by the end of the week. Tralee has written up her side of events. Ketcham is writing up a document to install an Embassy for the Izzians, so some of the stories might dissipate. I hope it will be close to us. Tralee really likes them and they had gotten some rapport. She's also decided, in addition to her studies, to research what happened 400 years ago when Ketcham predecessor had "forgotten" to give the blood back to the Izzians, thereby starting centuries of mistrust and animosity. He's also called for a complete accounting of everything in the storage areas.
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