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Cassandra's Diary.38

Day 362/25
Reconnecting

Losing eight months…I almost can't believe I was gone for so long. Everyone is reacting to my return a bit differently. Kai-Revere just decided, firmly, that I was on some long secret mission, which I won't talk about. He has the most incredible capacity to avoid thinking about it at all. The girls were relieved I was back, and I've spent a great deal of time with all of them, trying to reassure them that I and quite real and won't be going away any time soon. Of all of them, I think Tralee was hit the worst. Wherever I went, for the first week, I saw her, somewhere, watching me. This has tapered off of late.

DeWinter has also relaxed, and Eidolon had a great many questions which I tried to answer. For me, it was only a few days, so I had precious little to tell him. He can't quite grasp the time paradox, so it is unsatisfying, to say the lease.

Xhimena and I had a little talk today. I had to make sure to talk to everyone a bit, to stay on top with what's going on from day to day. Otherwise, I'm not prepared for the little twists they throw at me. It was a general talk, nothing really momentous. We talked about the Family tree. She was particularly interested in her own bloodline. Her great-grandmother was Queen to Oberon. Her grandmother was a Queen and now is an Empress. Tatasha is a Queen in her own right. And I stand to inherit, at least Aes, in the mix. It was a little bit of time before I realized she was trying to find out if she had to be a Queen as well. I had to hide my amusement when she was relieved to know it wasn't required of her.

I spent a bit more playing catch up. Kai-Revere is taking after his father more and more. Over the past few months, his teachers have been sending notes home with him. He has the habit of “correcting” his teachers on a wide variety of topics. They think it's quaint that he believes the world is round and spins around the sun. Kai can't believe they think it's flat. And I can't convince him that here it just might be flat. Sigh. Existentialism for eight-year-old children.

The girls have been doing their best to keep up with the weir. I wonder if that's a good thing. Physically, they are doing very well, but the weir are another concept entirely. The weir won't insult them by making things much different, though they do make some concessions. Still, if it was just one child, it would be hard for them to deal with this. But, they try together and they fail or succeed together, so it makes it easier.

My largest concern was for the random bouts of wrestling. It seems that the girls privately practice together. They pile on one another until the one's on the bottom give up. I was more than a little concerned when I learned that “giving up” meant passing out due to suffocation. So far it's only happened twice, but I had to put a stop to it. I told Vis to look into it. He did so and got a black eye for his intrusion. Ah. I should have talked to Claw. Claw explained that what the girls believe is that if you do not try your hardest, you are not honorable. They do not want the weir to look down upon them, so they try so hard to meet the weir expectations.

It presented a pretty little problem. It isn't as if those expectations weren't there, they are. And to change that for the girls would diminish all that they are trying to do. But, I also don't want them to go so far to prove themselves. I told Claw that I was to be told immediately the next time this occurred. I wanted to see, for myself, just what the girls were doing.

Kai and Eidolon's sword practice has been accelerated a bit.

At school, I was in class when we were all startled by the door crashing open. One of the weir girls was standing there out of breath, saying something about a stabbing, a child, and the hospital. I think I made an apology as I ran out of the room.

We ran through the town and to the hospital. I even ran over a Felis professor in my haste. I shouted an apology, my name, and to call me to make it up. I barely paused. At the hospital, the boys were laughing and having a grand time. Eidolon's arm was in a cast.

I hadn't even gotten a part of the story when DeWinter arrived, also crashing through the door. They were all right. They had been practicing on their wooden swords and managed to shatter them with an extreme blow. Kai's sword splintered badly and he accidentally put it through Eidolon's arm. The physician assured me he will retain the use of it.

They were still boasting and laughing about the whole thing. Unfortunately, DeWinter wasn't. In fact, he was so angry, he grabbed them each by the hair and shook them. The Turtle physician was so alarmed, his head retreated completely into his shell. We decided to take them home straight away.

At home DeWinter went on a rant that lasted for over an hour. I don't remember the last time he did such a thing. He swore he'd break both their legs so that they'd never do such a thing again. I could feel the whole house go quiet. Both the boys were wide-eyed and very subdued by the time he finished.

As an experiment, I took them outside and got them two more swords. I had Kai break his against the stone. It was a solid oak sword, actually it was much harder than the oak I was used to. He hefted it once and brought to down. It shattered like pottery, no effort involved.

I went and got a dull steel sword. Kai was fairly confident, and tried it again. I could see his eyes spin and the blade bent and straightened with a loud reverberation. He'd lost all feeling in his arm and hand. For a while, they'd have to use these, then. We couldn't stop their training, but we'd have to concentrate on finesse now, rather than brute strength.

When they were gone, I had to try the sword for myself. I lifted it, judged, and brought it down with all the force I could muster. I snapped in half, and both ends went flying. The back half bounced out of my hand and into the back wall of the house. The front flew up, over the roof. I found it later. It had gone through another's roof and embedded itself in a neighbor's mattress. Fortunately, it was empty at the time.

Day 4/26

I was in class again, when another weir girl came running into the room. My teachers were all going to develop a nervous disorder by the time we leave here. The girls are fighting.

By the time I got there they were in a tangle of arms and legs. We proceeded to pull them off. Two of them were unconscious this time and one had lost a tooth. We woke them up and I had them all line up. All I could do was glare. They weren't particularly put-off; they were mostly puzzled about what they had done wrong. I couldn't think of anything to say. All I could do was set up a wrestling pen for them and forbid them from practicing without an adult watching and supervising.

Kai and Eidolon were upset because they weren't able to participate. For the weir, this is the traditional training for challenging to be the High Mother. Oh, lady, will I have to do that fighting all over again? I put the thought aside. The boys would not be allowed to do it. But I gave them permission to watch as long as they did not make fun of it.

Day 36/26

I went back, with all the seamstresses, tailors, and weavers to Amber today to visit and renew the contracts with the Guilds in Gianassa. Most of it was routine, and the Guild was satisfied with their apprenticeship. Since I was giving them all time to see their families, I would be here for a few days.

I've spent most of the time working my way through all the guilds. It took most of the morning. I also went to see the architects and carpenter's guild, for them to draw up expansion plans for Tiryns. Eventually, all the girls will want their own rooms, so DeWinter and I planned for it to be a surprise for them.

I did meet Gerard at the castle and he surprised me with an invitation to dinner. It was an informal affair, with just he, I and The Owen. She's retired now, and spends much of her time with a sort of Lady's Auxiliary, trying to improve some matters in the city. Apparently there are so many people coming here, hoping for a new beginning, that there are a large number of unemployed, transient people here. All of the trades and professions are full, and beyond that. There is simply too many to employ. Her group is attempting to find some sort of solution. The most difficult problem is when there is no formal education or skills to start with. I sympathize with the difficulty. I've never seen any place that didn't have this problem, in some way.

We talked long about it. I wished I had some useful suggestions to give her. But the talk moved on to other topics and it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Day 92/28
Pax Gianassa

It's been a very quiet time. I still can't believe how fast it went. All of our schooling is done here, and we are thinking about moving on. The girls are all doing well and they are closer to us and each other than ever. They're like a little commando squad, especially when they gang up on the boys. The boys are still a little mystified about how to deal with such a united front. I just smile, as it's good for them.

The girls all graduated with the equivalent of an associates degree. They've not only made up the learning they lost, but exceeded expectations thoroughly. It was difficult at times, because they continually tried to keep up with Kai, Eidolon and Xhimena. They are very advanced for their ages, now.

DeWinter and I have gotten our full bachelors degrees as well. I'm thinking of continuing on in the sciences, perhaps into biochemistry. We'll have to go somewhere else, to expand our knowledge base.

I've taken everyone to visit Mycenea a half dozen times or so. It helps to instill some sense of decorum and etiquette to adapt to the new rules. Kai-Revere still struggles with this, but he is getting better. The girls have an easier time of it.

I go every month or so to visit Tatasha and Evander. She's fully taken advantage of the second chance and both are doing extraordinarily well. Evander is in the equivalent of his teens. And he's as unlike the old Evander as is possible. He jokes, laughs, smiles and is genuinely caring. I had my reservations, but Tatasha was wise and correct to tell him the truth of our relationship. He knows he is my father, though he's still having time to wrap that idea around his perceptions. In fact, for the longest time he thought it was a joke we were playing on him. He knows he was older, and had gotten into trouble. He knows he was serving a sentence in Amber and the events surrounding his amnesia. It was all talked through, matter-of-factly, without the emotional baggage that went with it. Truly, if he is to have a real chance to begin again, hampering him in this way serves no purpose. We went into no details of our relationship with each other. Again, it serves no purpose and I've moved past it. I admit I miss the idea of having a father, but it's just a concept, and perhaps it's better that way.

Mother and Ketcham are also well. He's made Eidolon his heir, so the concept of children isn't pressing, though he would like a child. Mother warned him from the beginning that it might not be possible, and he accepts that. However, he insisted that they make the attempt and she agreed. So, they try and try and try, and are enjoying themselves silly. Mother still can't believe her good fortune and how happy she is.

We are thinking about moving on. I was thinking of a Shadow with higher technology, to give them all a basis for more experiences. Although, finding one with magic would allow Xhimena to also grow. Could I find a place with both? Mother will allow me to take Eidolon with us. He's lived with us for so long, it would be cruel to separate them mother agrees and sees the necessity for him to get more experiences and learning behind him.

It's hard to think of all the time that has gone on. Kai and Eidolon are ten. In five years they will be eligible to petition to walk the Pattern. The very idea gives me panic spasms. There is just so little time! I even asked Owen if there is a spell or something to slow it all down. She just smiled. I think all of the Amberite parents have asked that at some time. We'll just have to do our best to prepare them.

I have gone to Amber from time to time. The new wing is finished and only lightly furnished. Each of the girls will be able to decorate their rooms as they see fit. I look forward to seeing their expressions. The architects did a wonderful job. The wing is open in the center, making it a private courtyard. All their rooms face the interior garden which has trees and shrubbery and pathways. So, they each have their own room, but also a partly covered area to gather in.

When commissioning the builders, I made it a clause in the contract that at least half of the workers were of the unskilled, non-guild population. It wouldn't make much of a dent in The Owen's work, but it might help a few. She graciously accepted the task of selecting those suitable and overseeing the construction in my absence.

Day 106/28
Random's Surprise

I got a Trump call today. I was a little surprised and dismayed to see it was Random. He asked me if he could visit for a little talk. He was coming here? I had to agree and he came through a few minutes later. I went to ask for some tea and coffee, and to alert the weir that the King was here. Vis would handle any security issues. I also sent for DeWinter.

Random skirted around the purpose of the visit. Enough so, that I was fairly nervous. I tried to get an empathy reading but he's difficult to read. I slipped into deeper concentration and found that I couldn't do it. I came out of it in time to hear Random ask if we would be willing to do this. It would have to be a secret though. DeWinter just shrugged and said it was up to me. I floundered a bit, not at all sure what he had asked, but not willing to admit why I wasn't paying attention. I told Random I would think about it and get back to him. He agreed and Trumped back to Amber. I then admitted to DeWinter I hadn't a clue as to what Random had said. So, he recapped for me.

Apparently he was giving Vialle another birthday party. It was all being done secretly, which explains why he came here. Then he went on to say that as King, it wouldn't be appropriate to invite certain “criminal” elements of the family. But, it would be within my right to do so, since I have some affinity for that sort.

Ah, I began to see. He wanted me to invite Dalt and Tremerule and DoBlique. He also said that it have would have to be a secret that he wanted them there. Of course. Why would he want them to know they were welcome?

In the end, we decided to invite them. We had about three weeks our time. The party will be for a full month, in Melinda's Shadow of Emerallia.

Day 107/28
Invitations

I Trumped Dalt first. He brought me through to an army camp. We had something to drink and I issued the invitation. He looked at me as though I were daft. Why in the world would he want to go celebrate the King's wife's birthday? I thought about using the girls as an excuse to see them, but thought better of it. Instead, I told him Tremerule would be there, and perhaps he would want to be there as well. That gave him pause to consider. He said he'd think about it.

Then I went to see Tremerule. I went to the Church and quietly asked to see him. I went through an inordinate number of functionaries, all who were surprised, to say the least, at who I was. I, in turn, was surprised they didn't try and arrest me. In the end, they brought Tremerule to see me, rather than allow me to go further into the Church. He was pleased, I think, to see me, but nervous that I had come. He accepted the invitation after I guaranteed his safety. He was looking well, and I was pleased that he had decided not to become a priest after all. He has chosen another path for himself and I was happy for him.

As he walked me to the door, he remarked privately that I had taken a risk in coming here. There had been an incident a number of years back when one of the Churches was vandalized by someone fitting my description. Ah. They have a long memory. I confessed. I told him about DoBlique abduction, with that awful mess of the Chaosians that were using the Church against Amber. He remembered the incident well. I outlined the trap set for us and admitted to the damage.

He was aghast. He didn't call the guards, though. He just ushered me out a bit more quickly. I arranged to meet him, six week his time, to escort him to the event, before he changed his mind.

Day 128/28
To Emerallia

The whole troupe is ready to go. To help keep Tremerule safe, I had twelve weir selected to be his escort during the festivities. That should be sufficient. We went by carriage. I had commissioned Vialle's gift and it was ready in time. It was a bust, to accompany the one she had made of Random. I hope she likes it. DoBlique would be going there separately and we picked up Tremerule at a pre-arranged location.

The preparation for the event was extensive. Melinda Trumped me to ask about what security measures or accommodations I would require. This ended up with me going to Emerallia frequently to help. She was a bit overwhelmed with the enormity of it all, I believe. First she had to make security arrangements for the King and Queen, then house and accommodate everyone in the family. Dalt did decide to go. He had an army with him and Melinda paled at the idea. I finally talked him down. A Chaosian ambassador was to be permitted only a decorative escort of 125 men-at-arms. He would be allowed no more. Though I did make a point of mentioning that none of the family, barring Tremerule, would have armed guards. After I assured him that this would have all the protections of Yule, and that this was neutral territory, he declined his escort. Whew!

Still, I was invited to attend the security meetings and helped wherever I thought I could. I hoped I made her job a bit easier.

We arrived in Emerallia. It wasn't as ostentatious a place as Eregnor, but it had it's own pomp and etiquette. All of the people were eager to prove themselves. In that, they were fairly competitive and any snag was seen as a challenge. It was a huge city, though, promising many entertainments. They are centuries behind Mycenae, though. We got everyone into their rooms.

The first evening, Random brought Vialle in to meet everyone. She was very surprised and pleased, though her face spoke of a reckoning later when Random handed over the speeches to her without giving her a chance to prepare.

Tralee was a bit nervous, with all the people about. Florimel had stayed during the time I was gone to continue her etiquette lessons. I was sure she'd do well, but she didn't share my confidence.

She did note that Moran didn't look well. Indeed, he sported a nasty gash on his forehead and the stitching made it look ghastly. She wondered if he had done the work on himself. I said she should ask him. She looked over where he was standing. He was surrounded by at least three tiers of girls, all vying for his attention. I was pleasantly surprised when Tralee squared her shoulders and said, 'allright.'

She wandered around the circle, assessing. I stayed far enough away to not interfere, but still be able to watch. She worked her way into the fringe. Most of the girls gave her a side-long glance and dismissed her. She worked her way in deeper, to the second tier. She whispered something to one of the girls. The girl replied and Tralee looked surprised, putting a hand over her mouth. She said something back and the girl moved away, now looking worried.

Moran was talking, perhaps a story. At the proper cue, all the girls laughed, except for Tralee. I heard Tralee say, “That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard a man say.” All the girls looked shocked but Moran laughed. He looked at her and said that he thought he knew her. She said they hadn't been formally introduced.

No, I do know you.

She shrugged and said she was sure she'd remember him if so.

Some of the girls tried to recapture his attention, but he was still trying to figure out the enigma in front of him. Tralee said little more, allowing the others to speak. Moran kept waiting for her to say who she was, but she didn't. He was still trying to guess, when she left the area.

He yelled out “Hey!” but she didn't turn back. Bravo!

Over the next week, there were a lot of activities to choose from. I did get to speak to Vialle at length one morning. She asked about my family, remarking that Tralee should be almost all grown up by now. I said she was a full adult now, though Tralee had to remind DeWinter about it from time to time. Moran has been out in Shadow for about ten years now, though it's only a little more than a year for her. It's hard to not be part of his daily life and I could tell she worries. I highly sympathized.

I was surprised to find out that she never learned that I was missing. I thought for certain Random would have told her. If for nothing else but for her help with DeWinter. Apparently, I was in error.

The talk moved into talking about Random. I was uncomfortable, because there were questions I wanted to ask, but thought she'd be insulted. Still, I did mention that I should probably thank him for his help during my absence. Vialle remarked that Random doesn't do so well with gratitude.

Ah, is that why he evokes anger and resentment? I daren't ask. But, she's happy with him. She likes that he challenges her. Rather than let her fade away by risking nothing due to her blindness, he continually challenges her abilities past whatever point they are at. I must say: it's made her remarkable, because she has allowed herself to meet those challenges.

She did make sure that she told me that Amber misses me. I'm not entirely sure what that means. It's such an abstraction, for surely most of the people in Amber hardly know when I'm there, much less when I'm gone. So, I said I missed Amber, which I do from time to time. But, I'm not always sure Amber is good for me and mine. I doubt I'll ever find out the answer to that, but we'll see.

Most of the family was there. I thanked Flora again for her help, relating Tralee's episode with Moran. I think she was pleased.

Rinaldo was also there, being nice today, thank you. He invited DeWinter and I to dinner.

Day 129/28
Small War?

We hit a little snag today. Melinda sent for me. Apparently there was a small army approaching. Her outriders describe their banner. It was the Church of the Sacrificed Unicorn. Ah, my brother-in law. Since I knew him, she asked me to deal with it. Sigh. Time to stop a war.

I collected a horse and Melinda lent me seven of her champions. It wouldn't be much, but it was official. I couldn't lie to DeWinter, so I told him what I was about. He was decidedly not happy. But, I thought if he came along, it might give the two brothers an opportunity to fight, which was what I was avoiding. I assured him it would be fine. He didn't believe me, and frankly I wasn't so sure myself. But it had to be done.

Day 130/28

It took all night to get to them. They were still far outside the city. Sure enough, Dastard was there, with a number of Church officials. He was convinced we had kidnapped Tremerule. I tried to explain that he had received and accepted an invitation to the Queen's birthday party. And that he had been assured of his safety. Dastard scoffed and did his best to insult me. Where was the diplomatic and sometimes charming man? He didn't seem to be himself. Even more surprising was after a few other questions, the officials seemed to believe me. Perhaps Tremerule had told them and they hadn't wanted to admit this to Dastard?

As the time went on, I began to see the situation, if I am correct. Dastard isn't right, something is wrong. But he was certain to refuse any overtures of help, as he did the last time. But the officials know something is wrong. They are not preventing him from doing much, but they are mitigating and shifting things so Dastard doesn't create a situation they can't handle. Does he realize he's becoming a figurehead? Or is it Tremerule that has assumed the authority, in fact, if not officially.

But within the hour, they were heading out with my assurances. Dastard had walked out of the meeting, so the officials handled it all.

We rode back for a while. I left one of the champions at intervals, to make sure they didn't turn around, or that Dastard was trying to sneak in.

I got back by late afternoon. Melinda was relieved there was no incipient war occurring. She kept people on a lookout and we went back to the celebration.

Day 135/28

The celebration was spilling into the city. There were many contests, and a number of them were for “squire” level. Kai and Eidolon signed up for all of them. DeWinter and I thought we wouldn't. I remember many such contests and it wouldn't be fair. It wasn't until later that I found out that a number of the family were competing. By then it was too late.

Tremerule was doing well. He was keeping a low profile, with surprising success. He had been asked to dinner by Random and Vialle and was a bit nervous. He asked me how to have dinner with the King and Queen of Amber. Ah, how do I answer that? I wanted to tell him it depended on the King's mood, but I could think of a way to diplomatically say so. Or to explain the remark further, which I was sure he would do. I tried to explain, but he has had little opportunity for such things, I suppose. Perhaps Dastard does all those functions. In the end, I suggested he escort someone with him. It was in my mind that he could have an ally that would stop Random from…making a scene. Someone who would stand up to Random, if necessary. My first thought was Llewella, but she wasn't here. Owen could go, but I don't know if she'd want to. Perhaps Flora, but I didn't think that would go over well. Melinda herself? Perhaps if she wasn't so busy. Sabrina would be a good bet. Sigh…we'd have to see if anyone was available.

Day 136/28
Squires

The squire events were more than a little unnerving. The hand-to-hand fighting was fine…the boys were prepared for that. Even the swordplay wasn't too difficult. The boys were doing well. It wasn't until DeWinter cursed something out about “freakin' jousts!” that I got worried. We don't have this sport in Mycenae. At worst, we have bull jumping, but that's only for young adults, at the least. DeWinter wasn't as much angry, though he was a bit, but really, really worried. And that made it worse for me.

They get on these large horses and hurltle toward each other with rather large poles. The boys were not first, unfortunately, and that meant I got many previews of what could happen. Small boys were tossed across the field. Wrenched muscles were the least of it. More often than not, there were broken bones and occasionally much worse injuries.

Kai-Revere learned that it is not how fast the horse is, or how strong he is, when meeting a 900-pound charge. He had such a grip on the horse, that when the lance toppled him, he drew the horse down with him. DeWinter and I had a death grip on each other's hands when we saw him go down with his horse over him. The horse got up, shook, and wandered off. Field hands went and put Kai on a stretcher and ran him to the medic tent. We began to make our way there.

By the time we got the, Kai was walking out with a sling around one shoulder and no other injuries showing. He grinned, he swaggered, and proclaimed that “I tossed the horse!” DeWinter wanted to pound him. Instead, he took satisfaction in telling Kai he was out of the contest. “What?!” Indignant outrage. We explained that since he fell, he was out. He walked away muttering, “I was robbed!”

Day 137/28
Tennis anyone?

While I didn't get to enroll in any of the sword competition (though I was put on the list for next year), I did sign up for the Amberite tennis match. I had no hope to win, but I thought it would be fun. Unfortunately, we did have to wear the local country's outfits, which was ridiculous for moving about. It had a skirt that reached to my ankles. And not a flowing, full skirt, no thank you, but one which allowed only half a normal stride. I cut mine up one side to just above the knee. That was more sporting.

The first match was between Julian and Bleys. It was close and Julian had Bleys all over the court. Bleys was lightning quick and though he was tired, he managed to win the match.

Next up was Sabrina versus Moran. Sabrina, who I remember did this professionally for a while, handily won the round.

I played against one of the Emerallian swordsman, the champion, in fact. It wasn't much of a match. He stopped dead when he saw my skirt. Well actually my leg, I suppose. The judges asked if I wouldn't rather change. I declined, but the game was lost. Even though I won, there was no fun to it. The man was categorically unable to play, knowing he might see an ankle.

Owen played against Bellesara. It was a long match, since they were evenly matched, but Belle finally scored the winning tally.

Shapir played Kinkel next and I couldn't decide who would win. They both have such different approached. Shapir won, but Kinkel caused a great many of the women spectators' fans to appear when he ripped his shirt.

Dalt played Stargazer. I was amazed to see him sign up. It, too, went on for a long time. Dalt tended to send the ball flying so fast we could hardly see it. By sheer strength, he won the match.

Tigh played against Flora, who won almost easily. It seemed to make no effort at all for her.

Benedict and Rinaldo played last in the first round. Benedict seemed to barely move, he was so economical with his movement.

We had a small break and then the second round started. Benedict played Bleys. We could see that the Eldest adapted his strategy depending on whom he was playing. His moves were faster than Bleys and he placed the ball precisely where it needed to go.

Shapir played Sabrina, which was a pleasure to watch. It was a long match, and Sabrina won, but they both made it a treat.

Flora played Sarek and handily won. I played Bellesara and was surprised to win the match. It took a long time, though, because Belle kept having “fashion accidents.” That meant she kept ripping her skirt hems and had to change. I got a lot of rest though.

Demi played one of the Emerallians and won, as did Aurora. Dorimae played against Dalt. It was visually as uneven as it was striking. She was a little slip of a girl against the hulking Dalt, so it was little surprise that Dalt won. There were times he put the ball across so fast; she didn't even see that he had served. But, she took it in stride and seemed to have fun nevertheless.

Then came the third round. We had an uneven number of players and by random lot I was selected to sit out and play the fourth round. I wasn't particularly happy, since I doubted I would play well enough to get there on my own. It was as if I had gotten a win I hadn't earned. Sigh.

Sabrina played Flora. Sabrina won, but Flora made her work for it. Aurora played Demi and held her own for quite a while. Demi took the match, but just barely. And Dalt played Benedict. Once again, Benedict shifted his approach and played to Dalt's strength and speed. Dalt was concentrating so much he didn't even realize it when he lost the match. He wasn't so upset at losing, but he wanted to play some more. I could see it in his face; he really was enjoying playing against Benedict. I suggested he ask for an informal, private match. Without a word, he got up and went over. He actually gave a pleased smile when Benedict accepted. I wonder if I'd get to watch.

We were down to four players. I played Sabrina, which was an easy match for her to win. Benedict played Demi, and he won just as easily it seemed. The final round was between Benedict and Sabrina. By this time the stands were standing room only. It took longer than I had expected, but Sabrina held her own quite nicely for a long while. In the end, though, the game went to Benedict.

Day 138/28
Lost relatives

Breakfast was different today. There were six people missing. Tremerule, Eidolon, Kai-Revere, Jacynea and two others whom I don't know. I decided I wouldn't panic; they might have just gone out early to scope their next competition. I focused on the tattoo and easily located their direction. I took DeWinter and two weir with me, and with some horses went out.

It wasn't until we were leaving the city that I was beginning to panic. By this time, the horses were worn out and I had to sign a promissory note for new ones. Fortunately, it was such a place that one's word counted for something. As we rode, I Trumped Owen, who is usually in the know about family things, and told her where we were going and why. If something was up, I wanted someone to know where we were going.

Besides Tremerule, two of the others were fairly grown. At least in their twenties, so it could be that they went out on a jaunt and the boys decided to follow.

If so, they were grounded for the next five years.

I got a Trump call later from Owen. No news yet, but Dalt was reading to the girls, keeping them calm. She'd asked him how the girls were and he replied, “Better now.”

Someone had told them what was going on, and his presence was calming them. If he was there, it couldn't be that bad, right? He did relay through Owen that if he hadn't heard anything in an hour, he was going to look himself. That was fine by me.

We were out in Shadow now and still no sign. The fact that they had left Emerallia gave me considerable stress. Then later, the signal had cut off. We decided to split up. DeWinter took Cutwind and I took Bison. We would go out, move in towards the boys and triangulate their position.

A few Shadows out, I came upon a campfire. Bison and I began to sneak in for a closer look. There were a lot of horses and about twenty people. A few were definitely acting like guards and lookouts. We got close enough to see that they were dressed as the Boar Clan. Not again!

I Trumped DeWinter and let him know. We crawled in further, just as dusk was setting in and saw the children, and thankfully no Chaosians. But one had to be around, for them to have moved through Shadow. But I didn't give that much thought; I was entirely focused on getting the children out safely. We continually crept closer.

I got a Trump from Benedict; they were heading out. All right, I'd wait as long as I could.

It wasn't long. One of the men pulled Jacynea up by the hair and began pushing her around to the others. This did not bode well. After about half an hour they got bored with the game, as I figured they might. They began stripping off her clothing where the ropes weren't tying her. Kai-Revere struggled to his feet and made some attempt to help. They laughed and knocked him out. I could not watch this.

I could feel the change happening. Bison saw or felt it start and with no little satisfaction, began changing as well. Fortunately, their little game had kept the attention of the lookouts and the guards. They never saw us until we were in their midst. It seemed like minutes of combat and they were all down.

We got the children unbound and Trumped back to the Palace while we remained in shadow. We had eight Boar Clan still living. They said that Evander was behind it all.

Is this possible? Could he have fooled us so easily? Bison and I decided to wait in a tree for the person they were going to meet. After another hour, one horseman approached. It did look like Evander. I gave him our clan challenge and he knew the response. Of course, he accepted. I hoped I knew what I was doing. Or that the others would get here soon. Then he changed for combat.

We began to fight.

The odd thing was, he wasn't better than me. He should have been, though. At least, I supposed so. It was close, but I didn't think I had learned that much since the last time we fought.

Shortly afterwards the others arrived. Benedict, DeWinter and ten Chaosians, I supposed…donated by the Ambassador. I wasn't so keen on that, but if Benedict brought them…

The short story of this was that those were not our children and this was not Evander. We had caught Shadow-selves. I was so disgusted with myself, I could have spit. We lost precious time in tracking them, and we ended up stealing someone else's children. We got them back and sent them on their way before riding off.

I felt like such an idiot.

Day 139/28
Finding not the problem

We all began tracking again. We did overtake shadows of myself and DeWinter, searching for the children. What a story they'll hear. Then we saw Bison and myself dead in the clearing. That made Bison shudder and avoid the area. In fact, we saw lots of variations as we moved through shadow.

After a few hours, I realized we were traveling through our own “wake.” We had no chance if we didn't try something else. I Trumped and got paper and a pencil. I tried for a trump of Tremerule. He was young enough, this might work. It took a while, but I succeeded in getting a sketch. I called him and almost got through. There was some sort of feedback and green flame before it cut out. I had just caught him call my name before the trump sketch died.

Well, he was alive and probably nearby. Otherwise, I doubt the Trump would have worked. This time I began to move very, very slowly. Bison and Cutwind wanted to do something, but DeWinter kept them away, allowing me to concentrate.

It took forever. Hours later I was inching my way through Shadow, literally. The “space” between Shadows was slick, almost oily. If I tried to move too quickly, I slid away from my target.

Finally we entered yet another Shadow and I felt the tattoo signals kick in. Wherever we were now, the magic tattoos worked only when inside. Trump did not work--we checked quickly. DeWinter and I got two sentences out, in trying to decide who was going back. I realized I'd have to do this, since I didn't know if he could get out.

Just then three men appeared.

In fact, one called out to us. They said we had the blood of the Defiler.

Wonderful.

We were surrounded, one to each compass point for a total of four. Since getting out would take every ounce of concentration that I just spent getting in, I somehow doubted I'd make it. Still, we had to try. The three would keep these guys busy while I got out.

I moved away and began shifting. I hadn't moved very far, just barely out of sight when three more men dressed the same way blocked my path. One moved his staff across my path. I did not waver my attention; I just slipped under it. It seemed to puzzle him. But, wherever I went, there were three blocking me. I gave up.

I had the oddest conversation with them. They were waiting for a battle between themselves and the Defiler. I asked and was able to get a mental picture of this foe—it looked like and immense black, barren tree with thorns.

A weird version of Ygg? Hm…

They did agree to take us to the children once I explained that they were ours. They hadn't realized they were still younglings. Well, only two of them were, but I wasn't going to mention that. They had been taken as bait for the Defiler.

Oh, that did not make me happy.

We moved through the landscape that changed from time to time. We went through a mist-hedge, like a labyrinth of fog to a cobblestone path. There was Eidolon, Kai-Revere, Tremerule and, to my astonishment, Dastard. What was he doing here?

The leader, who said he was Power, said that we should not leave.

He seemed certain that we would not be safe if we left his safety. I didn't care. I just wanted the children out of there. I even promised to return if he'd let me take them out of here. He was considering it. While he did so, we kept moving everyone out. Dastard was the only one reluctant to go with us. If he wanted to stay, fine. I didn't promise to keep him safe just to leave him here as bait for anything.

As we moved, we heard a woman's voice call out for Eidolon. That made us pause. Now what? A woman came through the mist and was immediately surrounded by men. No she was not the Defiler, she responded, and they would be fools to cross her. Eidolon asked her who she was and she said she was his Auntie Lilith.

Dammit!

Now we really had to be gone. We started moving away from both groups. Which way to go? Frying pan or fire. At least Lilith wouldn't harm us. She turned to the men with staffs and they shot blasts of green fire at her.

We ran. DeWinter grabbed Dastard, I grabbed the children and all of us ran. If there were any of the other missing ones around, I'd have to come back.

It was odd, but the slipperiness was gone. It still took a lot of effort, but I managed to shift us out to where we can Trump back to Emerallia. I got Owen who told me that the others had been found. What a relief! We were going to Trump through, if that was all right with her. She said it was fine.

We only hit a snag with Dastard. He wouldn't go through, only to be in the midst of the entire family. DeWinter knocked him out and carried him through. He looked smug at that.

Dastard had believed we had Tremerule kidnapped. He came in to rescue him. The boys saw Tremerule being taken out at night and followed. Dastard caught them before they could give a warning. I have to ask where the weir were. Dastard said they had better come along, or else. He threatened injury and death if all didn't cooperate.

Once back, Dastard was closeted with Melinda, for reparation and perhaps a treaty. I have no idea what was going on and no one was telling me.

We were safe, but we had to do get out of here should Lilith decide to show up. That worried Melinda more than a little. No one wants to mess with Lilith.

We went back home.

| Cassandra Diary 35 | Cassandra Diary 36 | Cassandra Diary 37 | Cassandra Diary 38 |
| Cassandra Diary 39 | Cassandra Diary 40 | Cassandra Diary 41 | Cassandra Diary 42 |