Things have settled down a bit. Now that there aren't any distractions, Tralee has gone to thinking about Thrum. She spends most of her time quite distracted and DeWinter is getting a bit concerned. I tried to assure him this was natural and it will fade in time but he's not entirely convinced.
DeWinter did say he thought Thrum was most civilized about the whole matter and I quite agreed with him. Eventually Tralee came to talk with us, asking if we could bring Thrum back to Gianassa. I had to prevaricate a bit. I said we could but not for a while. I stressed that the rules stated that he couldn't come back for another four or five years.
Strictly speaking, in Mycenae, they wouldn't meet again, unless it was a strictly social setting. It's the result of having too many use there unusually close attachments for political ends. Of course, Thrum would be a bit different. The Weir aren't political in the same sense. And he would have both Tatasha and me after him if he used Tralee to push his own agenda, so I doubt he'd risk it.
Instead, I suggested we'd have a party in about two weeks. All the young people here in Gianassa and their parents. I sent out the invitations today. Hopefully, we will be able to expect a nice turnout.
Well, the invitations are coming quickly. I wonder if it's due to curiosity about us, Mother's association with the Emperor, or simply Gianassan sociability. I suspect it's a bit of all three. I even went so far as to invite Emperor Ketchum. He said he'd have no place amongst the parents and young people, but could sneak in. He seemed taken with the idea of trying to sneak in. Hmm, better tell the weir.
Tralee's attention has been diverted to matters of attending to the invitations, conferring with Richard regarding refreshments and her gown. I tried to convince her to use DoBlique's gift, but she was adamant in saving it for an important occasion. I gave up and let her pick out her own. She definitely has a stubborn streak to her. Since this is hardly a situation to argue about, I let it go.
DoBlique won't mind because she won't even be here for the event itself.
I did ask DeWinter how long DoBlique stays out of touch. He said the longest period was about ten years.
Oh. I can't say I wasn't disappointed, but I hope she comes by a bit more often. I know our lifestyle isn't something she cares for, but she'll miss so much of the children's lives. He went on to explain that without Trump, and with all their traveling, not to mention time differentials, it wasn't necessarily 'on purpose.'
Well, that's no excuse now
Tralee found a gown. She'd gone to one of our competitors. I wonder what my employees think of that. I was an astute choice. She'd have no one dictating her in her choice and might soothe some feelings from our competitors. She did well. It was a peach affair, very light and gauzy, quite suitable for lots of dancing. It flowed well and suited her coloring. She did ask if one of the older weir boys, Link, could escort her to the dance. I had no objections and she was satisfied.
I did invite Rhiannon, but her duties in Arden are pressing it seems. She'd spent so much time with Owen, traveling through Shadow, that she feel behind in her work and now has to make up for it. So, she won't be able to make it.
Giving a Party
The party went well tonight. Tralee finished the night floating from all the attention of the young men, even from the boys who were a bit older and hadn't met her before. There was much dancing, both local and Amberite. Kai and Eidolon did their best to enjoy themselves, talking to the young girls and most of the boys. I had a chance to talk with the parents, learning a bit of who they are. They're a bit mystified at all our children, but were friendly and polite. About a third into the evening, the Emperor snuck into the dance. I noticed that no one seemed surprised to see him
Just before midnight, he and Mother went for a long walk, for a bit of fresh air. Vis informed me that they were indeed walking. I think he was a bit puzzled.
Mother got a proposition
Most of the household slept in late today. It'd been a late night for everyone. I went to the kitchen for a bit of tea before I went to begin my daily workout. I was surprised to see Mother at the table still in her gown. I know when Ketchum left, so she must have been sitting here for hours. She had a teacup with a small bottle of whiskey next to it. To say she was distracted would be an understatement. I said good morning.
She said, No, thank you. She went to get more tea, carried the kettle to the table, stood for a minute and then put it back, without pouring. She put sugar in the empty cup, lifted the cup. When she got no tea, she went back to the stove.
Byslamia came in and we said good morning. She asked Mother if the water was still hot.
Mother said, "Oh, no, this is an old gown.
Byslamia's eyebrows drew together and she asked if she was all right. Mother snapped out of it and asked her what she had said. This went on for a long while. We did get out of her, somewhat, that Ketchum had made her a proposal. That surprised us. I know he's quite fond of her, but had it progressed that far?
DeWinter came in and found us staring at Mother and trying to get her to focus enough to explain more. I think he was amused at the situation. Mother is hardly ever nonplussed about things. He then made a prudent retreat for his own workout.
Eventually we got the story out of her. But not before she poured the whiskey in the sugar bowl, brought the kettle to the table and put her cup on the stove, and broke off every sentence halfway to silently muse about whatever was going on in her head. Apparently Ketchum hadn't proposed marriage but, rather made her a proposal. He offered to be her love-slave her words, not my interpretation. Her head was somewhat inclined to think this was a bit perverse.
He is, after all, an Emperor.
I thought he was a bit astute. He can't give her power, but he could give her a bit of control. She would hate it if he ordered her to
accompany him or use his influence to the same effect. And Mother likes being in control. Now Mother has had any number of paramours over the years. What she's having difficulties with is that he has also stated he's in love with her. And I know she is at least a little fond of him. I think she's uncomfortable with the emotional aspects of the potential liaison; it's never really been a part of any of her previous affairs. Not that I know of at least. But the very fact that she's still working it through her mind, trying to convince herself to say no, a part of her wants to see what will happen.
In the end I suggested it might have been a communication or translation problem. She brightened at that idea. Yes, of course, she'll talk to him about it. Well, at least it'll get them talking. I left her to get some sleep and went out to join DeWinter. I told him of the situation and he was stunned. Actually, he was looking a little stuffy. What was I going to do about it? Nothing. At least, nothing that I had already done. This was not something I should get involved in.
Even as we worked out I could see him thinking about it. He was trying to wrap his brain around the idea of Mother is such a relationship. I said in a strange way it was rather romantic of Ketchum. Ever since we've arrived, he's bent over backwards to accommodate her, to welcome her, involve her in some aspect of his life. There's little doubt that he does have feelings for her. DeWinter just shrugged. He said he wouldn't know about that, he's not the romantic sort. That stopped me in my tracks.
I just couldn't resist tugging that chain a bit.
I said he was one of the most romantic men I know. Now it was his turn to stop. We gave up sparring at this stage. Did I really think so? He looked at me as if I was daft. I nodded. Indeed, in their own ways, most of the Amber men were romantic. Now he gave me his you're-being-crazy look. No, really. Julian is nothing if not gallant. And he went after the men who harmed Vivant. Gerard spent 18 years, trying to convince the Owen to marry him. Random leapt in front of a blade to rescue Vialle. After all this time, even Stargazer is still putting up with burnt food from his lady's cooking. Romantics, the lot of them.
He wasn't looking at me; he was so busy trying to assimilate the images. He was having trouble with the idea. I said it was all right. I wouldn't give away his secret. Distantly, he said thanks and we went back to sparring. I didn't say I needn't tell anyone
most figure it out in a little time, just as I did.
The shop is running fairly smoothly now. I stop in from time to time. If there is any difficulties then, I attend to them. It's not so difficult. They consist of minor translation problems, tallying what supplies are required, and general bookkeeping. In fact, with all the children at school for a better part of the day, I needed more to occupy myself.
So, I enrolled in classes. I'm taking Chemistry and Metallurgy. I was thinking that if Evander has so much keener a sense of smell, I could perhaps develop this in myself. The one thing that comes to mind is perfuming. Of course, I could just practice, but this gives me some academic knowledge as well. Besides, most perfumes are a bit obvious. It's why I rarely wear it. But, if I know chemistry, I could make them quite subtle and challenging. And I could work towards being able to identify a wider variety of chemical compositions. Like chemistry, metallurgy seems to be a cross-Shadow discipline that may be applicable. It actually just struck my fancy. Now that I think about it, it has a much wider application. Just looking at some of the more technically advance Shadows tells me that. The computers I've seen, and all electronics require wiring and such. And the more complex the machine, the better the science has to be. Definitely a challenge.
Even DeWinter has decided to take a class or two. He's taking economics. I asked Byslamia if she wouldn't be interested in doing so. She said she was learning. She's learning to be a teacher. Hmm, she'd be excellent at it with anyone but Mother. Actually, I have no doubt that trying to teach Mother has sharpened her skills considerably.
I did add one class to Tralee's. She's to meet with Kai and Eidolon while training. She really needs to have some self-defense classes to start. I will not allow her not to be able to defend herself or anyone else if the need calls for it. Fortunately, she agreed readily enough.
Classes are going well enough. Their sciences are a bit odder than I expected. At first we had some difficulty because my Frank didn't include much in the way of scientific jargon. They happily took it as a challenge. Their mindset is different as well. I almost call it Sympathetic Chemistry. It's not so much as mixing a few chemicals together and create something else. There is a mystical component as well. On one hand, it makes perfect sense. A lot of Shom Dao's teaching had this quality of awareness of the universe while doing everything and nothing.
This thinking pervades everything, as I'm finding out. DeWinter is getting frustrated with it. He's learning economics. That means making money. You do what you can to make money. When you make money, it means someone else isn't. Simple. They, on the other hand believe in a slow, steady progress, not a fast get-rich-quick attitude. I had a difficult time expressing what I think they're trying to teach. He's looking at microeconomics while they are incorporating a sense of it at the macro level. That explanation didn't work. I struggled with it for a while and could only give him an analogy. You had to not care about the economy at the whole in order to make a make money quickly. If we only care about the money we make for ourselves, it stands to reason that the easiest way to do it would be to not care about anyone else. If you think about it long enough, people would naturally devolve to that level. We begin justifying ourselves, becoming disenfranchised. In the end, people would end up like in Martin's Shadow, where working is what they do. They don't talk to each other; they don't even look each other in the eye when walking a street. In fact, they don't even walk. I don't know if that's precisely what our teachers mean to explain, but it gave him a starting point, perhaps.
The children are doing fine in classes. The teachers thought it was an interesting concept when I asked about parent-teacher conferences. I only plan to go about two or three times a year, to keep abreast of their progress. They liked the concept, though. I was worried about Eidolon, since he's so intelligent. I hope the teachers will keep him challenged.
It's a rather interesting sight at the house just before dinner. We all gather at the table with our books to do our homework. Every once I a while, as he's reading DeWinter will start to exclaim about something he read. Usually, it's along the lines of that's crazy! But, he doesn't want to give the children a bad impression of the school, so he tries to change it to Oh, um, interesting stuff here
interestingly enough, Kai is keeping Eidolon involved in his work. Kai is much like his father, from my point of view. DeWinter is always surprising me with a different outlook or interpretation. Kai is doing the same thing. Eidolon will finish his work or finish reading something and he'd pass it to Kai. Kai would look it over and make a comment or suggestion that makes Eidolon take another look, or have more to think about. Kai's not really aware of what he's doing, but I'm glad that Eidolon sees that Kai has his own strengths. Not that he thinks about it so explicitly.
Mother finally convinced Ketchum that there had been a translation problem with their last communication. Today, she went to see him for a little talk. She came back with a 10-page epic poem. In heroic verse. I wonder how much he's driving his staff to distraction. That took no little time. I almost smiled at the vision of some visiting dignitary cooling their heels while Ketchum is finishing up a stanza.
So, while we were doing homework, Mother had three dictionaries, trying to interpret it all. Thari is a trade language here, not commonly used by the population. So she had to translate back and forth, since trading doesn't often use the kind of language Ketchum was employing. There was no Thari to Frank dictionary, so she had to translate from Frank to Ang, another language here, to Thari.
Byslamia finally took pity on Mother and began helping her to translate. They start arguing from time to time over the oddest words, but it's done now. Mother went back to the palace to talk with Ketchum just after lunch.
Mother's having Fun?
We were a little concerned. Mother hasn't returned. DeWinter was getting increasingly nervous about her absence. I admit to feeling a bit nervous myself, since I thought Mother would at least send a note to say she won't be home. But, she is a grown woman after all.
After about 18 hours missing, DeWinter suggested we go to the palace. At least we could make sure she was still there. I agreed reluctantly. It took a while to get to the Imperial wing, mostly time spent identifying ourselves. An officer met with us but had little information. No one had seen either of them since the day before. No food had been ordered, no messages sent out. Now what was I to do with this?
He was willing to allow me to get close to the door, to sense if they were inside. I gathered he was a little nervous about the situation himself. I sensed nothing. But then, the outer doors were several rooms away from his bedroom. For security reasons, there were no rooms above or below the Emperors. We went through the kitchen and tried from a different vantage point. Nothing.
DeWinter was becoming a bit more spooked. He wanted to take charge of the situation. However, this was not a door I was willing to break through. This was my mother after all. She would never forgive me if I interrupted something
delicate. I got DeWinter to come back to the house. If we hear nothing by tomorrow, we'd come back. He reluctantly agreed.
DeWinter and I was woken up in the early hours. About 4:30 to be exact. We both sat up straight in bed when we heard the front door close. I peeked out our door in time to see Mother creeping back to her rooms. She had the oddest clothes on. A voluminous skirts with a mismatched cloak. She carried sandals in her hand. Ah, a disguise.
I went back to bed. We were wide awake, so we spent the few hours entertaining ourselves.
Mother ended up sleeping through breakfast and lunch. She joined as for dinner and was very hungry.
I went to Mycenae to see when would be an appropriate time to have us visit in force. Portia was delighted and cleared three days in the next week, so the whole family could get together again.
Today we decided to make our trip to Mycenae for a visit. We got everyone ready and passed them through to my room, after I went first to check the area out. The guards were very solicitous of all of the girls; I think they were taken aback by it all. I forget sometimes that this is all new to them. They came into the household so smoothly and charmed their way into everyone's affections, it's hard to remember they weren't always with us.
So we went via Trump. 13 children, 6 weir, Mother, myself and DeWinter. Even Toby and Jim determined to make a good impression. Byslamia declined to go. I think she planned to have the days and the house to herself for a while. Mother was confused, but I managed to derail her questions.
We started with tea, so everyone could get acquainted with each other again. Mother was more than a bit perturbed to realize her daughters were now quite close to her in age. And she was a bit irritated with the prattle that was spoken.
The visit was thankfully uneventful. The children of my sisters were around the same age as our girls, so they got along quite well. I still felt more welcome by my nieces, or else my sisters felt more comfortable with the relationship. They have every reason to have difficulties. They could assume my Amberite heritage was the reason I don't seem to age. But then they saw Mother and new something else was at work. Then, Mother realized how much she had changed. She even wore a simple dress, sans corset or layers, which appalled them. I breezily related how we had to assume the cultural trappings of the people we were staying with. Meaning, of course, we dressed to fit in and not to offend. Mother jumped in and supported the discussion and everyone took it at face value.
Dinner was interesting. To include him in the conversation, my sisters asked him about some of his military campaigns. He denied being a general, colonel, or any rank they are familiar with. It's true. I doubt they'd ever heard of a saint-commander. It did outrank all the rest. They did talk about general campaign issues; camping in mud, lots of rain, problems with supply lines, etc. I'm sure he meant to discourage the boys, but they were enraptured. I don't think they ate, or even breathed, the whole while. Xhimena looked like she was filing all the information. If she'd been allowed, she'd have run to her bags and gotten pen and paper right then.
The rest of the visit consisted of mostly picnics, play sessions with the children and one day spent touring through the city. We all was done, we exchanged warm goodbyes and went home.
Mother is a bit curious about my interest in the dress shop, or why I bothered with it. I don't know, I'm learning skills that cross through Shadow; economics, design, manufacturing, commerce and we are doing a civic duty in furthering the industry of the area. I even plan to bring looms through to expand our interests.
Mother spends a great deal of time at the Palace. Claw was distinctly smug about their relationship. When I questioned it, she admitted to working a bit of weir magic at the two. She knew we wanted to stay and, more importantly, we wanted Eidolon to stay. This was the only way to do it. I'm not sure if she was kidding, or if I should be upset. I didn't want anyone taking away free will, but how much did it control? Claw said it worked more on their natural inclination, so I let it go.
Expanding the business
I went back to Amber to bring through weavers. Their guild was much more
relaxed then the seamstresses and tailors. Their hall was a simple building built along the design of a cottage. The ground floor held the massive looms, and the offices were upstairs. Even the air smelled of wood, polishing oils, and wool. In short, it felt homey. And the cost of the same number of personnel was about a fifth of the others. I ended up getting five times the people, because their demand would be higher and it takes longer to make a product.
I brought them through. We even dismantled a loom to bring through. The local craftsmen will have to modify and adjust the looms that exist, or create new ones. I'm hoping we don't alienate anyone.
We got everyone installed. They've taken with the people, all three races with remarkable ease. They are more than confident that they will soon have a product available.
Mother did have a bit of a confession. She'd just learned that her translation of Ketchum's poem was in error. He had proposed marriage. Byslamia took it with sisterly ease. She said something to the effect of, Oh, good, now someone else can hold her down. Mother's worried that he's 23 and she's 30. What would he do if he learned the truth? Mother didn't look much past 40, but in reality, she was over 60. What if he wanted children? She wasn't much assured with the idea that her living in Amber pretty much guaranteed she could still have children. It wasn't really an issue, since Ketchum said he'd planned to formally adopt Eidolon. Smart man. Mother would never agree to anything if she thought Eidolon would be left out. In the end, all I could do was tell her to talk to DeWinter. After all, he was significantly, proportionally, older than I am. She wanted me to ask him what to do, but I doubted DeWinter would want to tell me how Mother should deal with a younger partner. I fear I wouldn't like the answers.
So, I went to DeWinter and convinced him to talk with Mother. I think he was more thrilled to go fight vampires again, but he agreed.
Ketchum came to the house to pick up Mother. As she was getting ready, I had a chance to talk frankly with him. I had a chance to tell him a little about the family he's about to inherit. Of course, some of it is hard to grasp, so I could only give him fair warning. He did say that should Eidolon feel unable to commit himself to Gianassa, he would not be compelled to follow his example. But formally adopting Eidolon gave him options later in life. If he declined the throne, his younger siblings would have the option. At least he's thinking that far ahead.
We talked about the weir, the Courts, Amber, the Unicorn. It was fairly extensive.
Mother and DeWinter Bond?
Mother finally talked with DeWinter. All she would say after that is that he is brilliant and she takes away all she ever said about my poor judgment. I let the gaff go and politely agreed with her. Byslamia just rolled her eyes. But, she has still yet to make a decision. Eidolon is getting anxious about it. He said if he could walk he Pattern, he'd go where he wanted. Apparently Xhimena told him and Kai-Revere about being able to walk the Pattern when they are 15 years old. But, they can't so it is a moot point. But, Eidolon has a plan. He'll initiate it just before dinner. He asked if I wanted to know what he was going to do, but after a moment, I declined. I liked to have plausible deniability while being ready for damage control. He thought that was smart.
At dinner, everyone was acting quite cool and calm. Mother left just prior, to go to the palace. We all got our homework out and had an ordinary evening.
In the early morning, our attention was arrested by a series of trumpets and declarations from a royal carriage. Emperor Ketchum had taken a bride and left the city. The city was to have a day holiday in their honor. Well, and we never even got an invitation. Claw and Eidolon both looked supremely smug. Eidolon's plan had been to ask Mother for money for the betting pool. The bet? That she was too scared to go face-to-face with Ketchum about the age difference. Hmm. He took quite a chance. But, apparently she did talk to him and he was alright about it. I predict he may someday win at poker against Random. Then I had to explain poker to him.
It might be a coincidence, but Claw was interested in the fact that I was experimenting with perfumes to improve my abilities with scents. She began teaching me more about it. Weir magic has a totemic usage of scent. She broke into the Emperor's hamper to get something with his scent to use in Mother's room. She did it because I was arguing that this Shadow was good for Eidolon. For all the children. And she likes me more than Mother. I had to laugh a little. She tied the scent into partnering and courtship ritual; scent being an important component.
Mother and Ketchum returned today. It was jarring when Eidolon called him Father. I think I'll just call him Ketchum in private. It struck me again how much she's changed when she actually kissed Ketchum in front of us. Amazing. I noticed Eidolon watching. Later he said he was curious about how someone does it well. I told him not to watch, it was rude. I said it wouldn't do much for him. Practice is what makes perfect. Oh. He thinks about that. I have visions of him kissing all the weir girls. Good thing Mother is preoccupied.
Mother explained to my sisters that she has complicated her life, in a good manner. She's met an extraordinary man who has convince her that his life is incomplete without marrying him. They were taken aback by it, but took it well. Mother told me later, she's never realized a relationship could be this way. Ketchum is focused on her, Thelia, not Queen, not a consort or a mother of his children. I think Mother has found someone interested in her identity, rather than her role. And she confessed the sex was much better. If this is any indication, as queen it was fine, as a person it was horrible. She had no idea what she'd been missing. I think I'll keep Evander away for a while. If he and Mother get into an argument, it could be the end. In the meantime, I thank DeWinter for our marriage.
Mother has been busy with attending to wedding plans. Thus far, she has not consulted or drafted any of us to do anything. I remarked to Byslamia that she might be busy in the months to come, but she just smiled at me. She said she'll just have to make a few suggestions. Knowing Thelia, she'd be ousted from whatever committee drafting her, before an hour is up.
Classes are still enjoyable though some of them are becoming a bit difficult. At least, more so than I am used to. Claw is still tutoring me in weir magic. There is a saying: Beware weir bearing gifts. It is more telling than one might suppose. They take no offense if a gift is declined, or simply discarded, since the recipient might not want to take chances that something influential is in them. For example, a gift might have their scent on it, to make the receiver more disposed to be kindly towards them. It is actually closer to being an attempt to alter probability, rather than some of the more obvious magicks I've seen.
The semester is over and I'm happy to say we all passed the classes. DeWinter did very well at curriculum studies, but not so well with impromptu creative essays and writings. Well, to be truthful, they are awful. The registrar sent over a letter recommending that he repeat his classes, so that he would reap the full benefit of what they had to offer. It was very nicely worded. He came to me asking what they meant. I tried to be diplomatic by suggesting that the creative aspects would become increasingly important the further he attended. He thought I was being nice and went to talk to the school in person.
The children also did particularly well. In fact, they did so well; the teachers were designing new coursework for them, to take into account their special abilities.
At the end of the day, DeWinter returned home. He would be taking the classes over.
While we were all off from school, I attempted to arrange a surprise for DeWinter. I told the children and the weir, that we were going to plan a special day for him. Something like a cross between Father's day and his birthday. Everyone got into the planning. His would have his favorite meals, a few gifts, essentially a day to show him how much we care and appreciate him.
Well, today was DeWinter's day. It didn't quite come off as well as I had hoped. For one thing, it wasn't a surprise. He caught some wind that something was up. He just turned to Kai-Revere and asked how the surprise was coming along. Without thinking, Kai just said 'fine'. An instant later, he realized just what happened and said "It would be fine, if there was a surprise. What surprise?"
The weir put on some fighting displays, of course, DeWinter was intrigued by the head-butting contest they held, thinking correctly, that he would like it.
Xhimena was more than a little alarmed by it, though.
The girls danced weir-style. It was beautiful. They wore lovely beaded decorations which flowed around them as they tried to do the steps. Unfortunately, that was all they wore and Xhimena was one of the dancers. DeWinter's expression said it couldn't be over too soon.
The party lasted until late into the night. I hadn't drunk or ate anything unusual, so I was a bit alarmed to be woken up with some serious stomach cramps. I took me a while to identify what was wrong, since I'd never had them before. They were very uncomfortable, occasionally becoming quite sharp. I woke DeWinter with a shove. He thought I was kidding, but realized I wasn't. He checked me over and had no solution.
I gave myself an easy morning, even going so far as to decline my morning workout. Breakfast made me nauseous, even when I thought about eating something raw. Claw licked the back of my hand and agreed that I wasn't sick. What could it be? I hadn't done anything different that anyone else. We'd all eaten the same foods. It was unthinkable that it was something done by anyone in the house. By mid-morning even Byslamia knew something was wrong. By sunset, it was gone.
The semester begins today. Already I think the teachers are regretting having DeWinter for the same classes. He already knows the material, now he's questioning it all and pushing the boundaries. He'll make up scenarios, speculations, and questions, driving them all to distraction and a lot of hair-pulling. It is going to be a long semester for them.
A Lord of the Court came to the house asking if I would help them. Curious, I dressed for public court and went to the palace. I was ushered into a Councilor meeting, consisting of Felis, Turtles and Humans. They had lost contact with the Emperor's party a week ago. Hmm. I Trumped Mother. I saw her, nude, hanging from a tree by her hair which was knotted around the branch. I held my hand out and told one of the guards to give me his sword. I tried to go through when she reached out for me, but a hairy arm reached out and pushed her to swaying and the contact was broken.
I Trumped DeWinter and pulled him from class. My, his teachers were probably just a bit startled. I sketched out what I saw of the creatures. It was basically a reddish ape, but none in the Council had ever seen one, nor heard of one.
I Trumped Mother back. I had to force her to be calm. This was going to hurt. I went through, grabbing her arm. Her arm dropped immediately, and I swung underneath her. She let out a scream as my weight pulled on her hair. I had to let go, lest I tear her arm as I went up over her, from behind. I managed to grab the branch as an auburn arm grabbed at my hair. I gave it a punch in the face as hard as I could. It pulled back, surprised.
But, it also caused me to fall. I managed to grab another branch as I fell, saving me from a good 120-foot fall. I was lucky I only wrenched my shoulder. I pulled myself up through the jungle tree until I was next to Mother. There were about twenty or thirty of the creatures looking at us. Mother gave another scream as I grabbed one hand and cut her hair with the sword. She'd always been proud of her hair.
I got her on the branch and asked her what happened, where was Ketchum? All she could remember was that she woke up from a nightmare by someone yelling. The next thing she knew, she was falling into a river. She swam and got to the bank where these creatures found her.
I got a Trump call. It was DeWinter. He pulled Mother through with my assist. I asked him to get the story from her and Trump me back. In the meantime, I climbed down to the jungle floor to look for Ketchum. It was very muddy and took me a good half-hour to get to the river. I went upstream for another half-hour, wondering what was taking DeWinter so long. The apes didn't close in, but they followed me. Then I got his call and pulled him through.
I told Byslamia to get something personal of Ketchum's and Trump back with it and Bison so we could track. Then we continued the hunt for Ketchum.
We followed the river some more. The apes didn't speak nor understand anything we said, but they were more curious than threatening. I found the spot where Mother pulled herself out of the river. But there was no sign of anyone else. The thick jungle was just too much to get any one scent. I'm not as good as I need to be, not yet.
I did offer fruit to one of the apes. The smallest of the three still with us accepted. The two others made a fuss, but the small one screamed them down.
We continued walking finding nothing. We ended up camping for the night. As soon as DeWinter started to make a crude pallet, the smaller one did the same. Competition? I almost laughed. I was still in my gown, so I used the under skirts as fuel for a fire. DeWinter fished for dinner, which we cooked. The apes didn't like that. We were ruining perfectly good meat.
I Trumped Byslamia. The time difference was about 1 hour there to 11/2 hours here. We are definitely in a different Shadow. How did they get here? My mind ran through all the possibilities. Merquier, Chaosians, any one else with an axe to grind. DeWinter's mind was running along similar lines, because he started talking about the same people. Still, we had no answers. Byslamia let Bison come through. I was at once gratified that Bison couldn't read scents well here, and annoyed, because finding Ketchum was going to be a lot of work. He did remark that some of the Councilors had fainted when their future Queen arrived in their hall naked. Hmm
they'll learn. Better get some sleep then.
We took turns keeping watch during the night. Nothing untoward happened until my shift. I got another one of those bouts of stomach cramps. What was strange was that they coincided with small tremors that shook the ground. The apes ran for the trees and both the men woke up immediately. It went away and then returned, worse than before. Likewise, the tremors were worse.
I began to meditate, reaching out with my senses trying to discern the connection between the two. To make the most of the opportunity, I sunk my feet deep into the mud. I saw a black wedge moving through the world, getting closer. As it did, my cramps got worse. When I realized it was tearing the Shadow apart. I pulled out.
We started moving quickly, running through the underbrush. I began shifting us back toward Gianassa; any where there was no black entity. We hit winds and heavy rains.
It was taking a long time
we were farther from Gianassa than I thought, and the pain was getting worse, but not quite debilitating.
We reached a beach. The sky was overcast and there were still winds. I began to shift, aiming toward Ketchum, without the entity, where it was safe. My stomach turned into knots upon knots upon knots. I could hear the sound of many things passing rapidly overhead through the air. It was just like when we had dropped into the trap-Shadow of Paris. We pulled together, preparing to ride it through. We held onto each other as a small tornado swept over us. My stomach felt like knives were buried inside. Trees were being ripped up around where we were huddling.
We were swept up. The horizon tilted crazily and I was being stabbed with bits of ice particles. We were moving fast now. I tried to shift and I was hit by lightning. I felt myself falling
then falling down a cliff that had only a little bit of soft earth.
I had some pieces of black wood in my hand; though I don't remember where I got them I used them as pitons to bring myself to a halt. I saw no sign of DeWinter or Bison. I rested as best I could, regaining my breath. Then I saw that I was also nude. Sigh. Another Trump deck lost.
Looking down the cliff
it was at least 3000 feet. My vision swam. Aaahh, that was not good. The wood in my hands broke as I crushed them in reaction to the vertigo. Forcing myself to look up, I saw I was only a few hundred feet from the top.
Then I heard the call. It was weak
either very far or someone was very tired. It came from below. A few words and I realized it was Ketchum! Tough man! I was still tired, but I began to descend. He was a few hundred feet below me. One arm looked broken, one foot was wedged between some rocks. I'll have to carry him up. He didn't think he could make it, holding on to me. Did he have an alternative? I pried his foot loose and pulled him onto my back. This was going to be very difficult.
Ketchum is, for all intent and purposes, part of my family now. Would that make it all right to Change? I'll settle that later. I dug my feet into the ground and Changed. It worked, sort of. I was a white ape. At first I was annoyed, but then I realized it was a perfect form for climbing. The Emperor was surprised, even after warning him.
I climbed up in half an hour. It must have hurt him, but he said nothing, making no noise. I was impressed. At the top, the ground was barren and arid. I set his bones as best I could, though I had nothing to bind them with. Then I walked and carried him. I didn't wait before shifting Shadow. He needed attention if his arm didn't begin mending.
Then my Aegis warned me of danger and I went into a pure reflex action.
From behind I heard a horrible ratcheting sound. Turning I saw the Black wedge in the sky, splitting the shadow in half. I hefted Ketchum and ran, shifting as fast as I could. Sounds like artillery streamed overhead. Bodies littered the ground around us. Bat-winged things flew past us, becoming dragons later. Bullets hit me, but my Changing healed the wounds and spit the fragments out. Then came lightning and a posse of men chasing after us.
I ran for days and days, with assorted bursts of attacks. The shadows were mad around me. Just when I thought I'd collapse, I'd realize the thing chasing us would kill us, and the adrenaline would kick in, giving me more energy. Sometime along the way, Ketchum passed out. He lasted far longer than I thought he would, unfamiliar with hell-rides as he is.
I have no sense of time, there was no thought involved. Only flashes of memory survive
a black crystal beast charging me
blood-red surf under a purple sky. It was here that nothing attacked and nothing chased and I came to my senses.
Exhausted, run to ground, I set Ketchum down. I didn't have much energy to do much except find some large leafs and plants to set his arm. I didn't even Change back, just in case. I gave him some water, hoping it was not foul and collapsed next to him.
I woke just as my shoulder was pushing out an arrow I had gotten somewhere along our path. Ketchum was still asleep. I foraged for some food and laid some down next to him, should he awaken before me. I slept again.
Ketchum is still asleep. Comatose is more like it. I got some more water down his throat and managed to feed him a little. I didn't want to worsen his condition with traveling just yet. What I wouldn't wish for someone to bother me with a Trump call right now
I'd even take Sebastian's voice right now.
I got a Trump call from Byslamia--bless her. DeWinter and Bison are there. Since Ketchum was still asleep, I told her to get DeWinter to Trump us through. He did and we did. There were many long hugs from DeWinter and Byslamia after the Emperor was taken to his rooms. I still felt battered and bruised, but I wanted some answers before I slept again. At least, I wanted to tell someone what happened, just in case. I borrowed Owen's Trump from Byslamia and Owen let me come through to the green house.
It was only then I realized I still wasn't dressed. Ah well, she'd take no notice of it. She got me a robe and some food. As I ate, I told her what happened.
It was her opinion that it was a shadow-storm that I ran into. If run from, they have a tendency to follow in our wake as we are shifting to escape it. So, in essence, I had created my own problem, though the initial contact with Mother and Ketchum was probably accidental. Owen'd never encountered them before, so she Trumped Flora, who confirmed the assessment. She came through and we all had lunch. She'd encountered them five times in her travels. When I mentioned the stomach cramps, she remarked that Corwin also had those. Something like an early storm-watch bulletin. He had said that the trick was to, "stay still and not move as it would wash over her and be gone." Florimel confessed she had tried to do it, but her nerve failed each time.
I don't blame her. I don't know if I could do it. But, we talked some more, comparing experiences, before I went back to Gianassa. Owen told me to tell Mother she could fix her hair if she still wanted it long. I said I'd relay the message, gave her a hug and went home.
I made up my classes without too much difficulty. I didn't get any medals, thankfully, but I did get some gifts from a lot of people. I had told the Emperor that I didn't want a fuss and I wasn't comfortable with his extravagant praise. He stopped, but his court thought I should be given something. So, individually (they thought) they sent a gift to me, as a gesture of thanks.
The weir women heard about the form I took and I think they were a bit unsettled about it. They kept asking if I'd any bad dreams or odd feelings. I don't think they know what to make of it. But, I assured them I felt fine and gradually they relaxed.
I did have to ring Xhimena in line once I found her climbing sixteen feet up the side of the house. What is it with my children trying to climb up the walls? She wanted to be an ape. Sigh.
DeWinter eventually talked to her. He said she could not do it anymore. Xhimena looked at him and said it wasn't a thousand feet, though. He just leaned toward her and stared. She leaned away from him and wisely realized this was not an issue to argue about. In a small voice, she asked him how far she could climb. He gestured at his hip. Her brow wrinkled. "That wasn't very far." It was a high as she was going to get. She left to ponder this.
We were settled together on the sofa, resting, when she came back. "Could she please climb in the basement?" It took me a moment to realize that she had worked around DeWinter's limit by now talking about climbing in relation to what floor DeWinter was on. Good thing we didn't live in a skyscraper. I looked at him and looked like someone had pole-axed him in the forehead. 'No,' he said. She went away. He said our children were entirely too clever for our own good. I had to laugh.
What DeWinter did do was get a long ladder. If she wanted to practice climbing, she could use the ladder. He set it flat on the ground and told her she could go up and down it, not using her hands or feet. She immediately set about it. Actually, remembering the artillery around Paris, it was a useful thing to know how to do that. She did it all day long. I was a bit disturbed to see the bruises on her elbows and knees, but she didn't complain. Actually, I think she liked it.
The bruises were gone in the morning. Xhimena ate quickly and went back out. I went into town to get her more things to climb. I commissioned a ladder in the shape of a half circle. She could swing from the bars underneath, climb forward up and down, and even walk along the steps. I remember using this when I was little and I had fun with it. She would develop her balance and agility. And it wasn't that far up.
Isn't compromise wonderful?
A Series of Tests
Xhimena is having lots of fun with her games. I predict the other girls will begin soon enough. Kai-Revere walks by every once in a while pretending not to watch her. In the afternoon, he came to have a talk with his father. He said she wasn't learning anything useful except how to move on ladders. DeWinter just looked at him, assessing. I kept silent.
DeWinter asked him How long could you hang from a window sill?
Kai thought about it and said a day.
What would you do if you had no grip left?
He thought for about twenty minutes and said, I'd use my Trump!
I wondered why he would wait a day to use it.
But If you hold on with one hand and hold a Trump with the other, how would you reach through?
That stumped him until he thought about his feet. We were on the first floor so we went to the window. He carefully climbed outside and held on. I gave him a piece of paper to use as a Trump. He tucked it inside his shirt. He held on with one hand, brought his foot up after kicking his shoe off. He held the Trump with his other hand and he'd use his foot to reach out. I guess it would work. He asked if we were going to ask Xhimena the questions. I was interested in seeing the answers, so we agreed. He went away happy with solving the test.
After breakfast, we asked Xhimena the same questions. How long could she hold on to a window sill?
She went over, licked the sill and poked it, then said, until she fell asleep. He had to push for a more definitive answer. After he defined definitive, she thought for a long time and said sixty hours. I sat back, impressed with her self-image.
Ok, after fifty hours, you're losing your grip. What do you do?
She said, I'd climb up and stand on the sill to give my hands a rest.
That accounts for another sixty hours, he prodded. At his further question, she proposed just to go up and down the ledge, alternate rest of her limbs.
Finally, he asked her why she wouldn't use her Trump? She looked a bit puzzled.
If I had Trump, why was I on the ledge?
He almost smacked his forehead and I had to fight not to laugh. He let her go and I did laugh. He joined in, shaking his head.
Just to see if we got a third response, we gave the test to Eidolon. He had no idea how long he could hold on.
He asked, Is the window open or closed? Closed.
Do I have clothes on? Yes.
I'd reverse my grip so my back is to the wall.
Ok, but your grip isn't as strong that way.
Yeah, but I'd kick off the wall and swing up through the window. My clothes would stop a lot of damage.
We tested the theory to see if he could do this, and while he would get a bit cut up, possibly badly, it would work. If he put enough force into his roll, it would break the window.
Xhimena woke me up quietly. She held a broom in her hand. How does this work? I was a bit fuzzy and said, it sweeps the floor. She looked at me as if I was a bit dim and said she knew that. By the darkness out side, it was an hour or so before dawn. She asked me how to make it fly. It doesn't
that's just in her fairy tales. Oh. She went back to her room.
I settled back down and then realized my daughter was up in the middle of the night pondering flying on a broom. Gah! I got up and snuck to her room. So was standing on the window sill, reading. Only minor heart failure. Thankfully, the window was closed. I went back to bed. DeWinter rolled over and made some grunt that I think was a question. I said it was nothing; Xhimena was just practicing hanging from window sills. He leapt up and was out the room in a heartbeat. He stopped running and came back once he realized I was still in bed, obviously not panicking. I explained what she asked. He got a book from my nightstand and went to a window.
"Hey, I can't read this!" I went and tried, and couldn't read it; it was much too dark in the overcast night.
In the morning I asked her if she could read her book. She nodded. How long had she been there? Since yesterday. I knew she was at dinner, so as long as she was eating right, I let the matter lie.
She is a stubborn little thing. Xhimena continued to practice. DeWinter did test her vision. She has almost perfect vision even in dimly lit rooms. But, while reading by starlight, she's colorblind. I can only imagine it a part of her experiences in Tir.
I have done some Shadow walking to try and recover my Trumps. No such luck. I found a wide assortment of cards, though, some quite beautiful. I wonder if I am going to set a record on the highest number of Trump decks lost. With luck, they were destroyed by the Storm.
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