Birds and Bees
I tried talking with Robert some more, since I was certain he had some questions. Most of them had to do with the nature of Shadow. I particularly wanted to see if I could find out how he slipped out of this one. He said he had just been thinking of Tralee and how hard it was to leave, even though it was temporary. Still, he nearly turned back at one point. He was looking at the moon and he fell through the bridge at mid-point.
He and Tralee haven't decided if they were going to stay here and continue to get to know each other, or return to his home to do the same. There has been a lot of energetic whispering between the two of them.
What will we do, for that matter? I wasn't particularly inclined to go back, but the children had started to make friends and Eidolon was beginning to be sociable there. DeWinter and I canvassed their opinion. The girls were particularly dejected about the engagement, formal or otherwise; they believe Tralee will be leaving them. But, they really like it here, and they want to stay.
DeWinter thought the engagement would bring on questions, as he puts it, about the birds and the bees. Hmm. He had a talk with the boys (I was to talk with the girls) and really didn't know what to make of their reasoning. The boys assured him they knew all about it.
They said that people really got married so they could practice their hand-to-hand fighting skills with complete trust. No better way to get better at it.
Now, I know we regularly practice, so we can improve and protect, but this is ridiculous. We are not so reserved that we do not engage in
intimate gestures, a hug, a kiss, and a touch here and there. In fact, I doubt anyone would fail to miss our endearments. And the weir are certainly not shy about such matters. Quite the opposite. So, how did the boys miss this?
Still, DeWinter tried to tell them about sex. Eidolon thought the whole notion odd. He wondered why anyone would do it more than once. Come to think about it, DeWinter didn't mention how he responded to that. Kai was certain that I don't do anything like that. In fact, neither was happy with the answer at all. They just wanted to believe that we just pound at each other, to get good at fighting.
Now the girls were a different story.
They knew all about the physicalities, some of which Tralee filled them in on. And, what they had questions about; they just went to the library and looked it up. We talked about it until I was certain they had the facts correct.
Their misconceptions came from the actual dynamics between couples. They thought Tralee would allow Robert to make the big decision, and then she'd make the rest. Oh. Hmm
I said that wasn't how it worked. I realized, as we talked, that I was usually the one to announce our plans. DeWinter and I discussed things in private and then I informed the others. From the outside, it would look as if I made all the decisions.
I explained that no one person in a relationship makes unilateral decisions, especially when it comes through a marriage. We discussed, argued and debated, just not in front of others: a form of teamwork. They thought that was a novel idea, and seemed to like it. They thought I had decided to adopt them all and DeWinter had to go along with it. I explained that it was actually their father's idea. That dismayed them a bit, and they asked if I didn't want to do it. I said, of course I did, but I wanted to see how he thought. I was not a decision I could ever contemplate without his approval and support. When he came to the same decision, we had the papers jointly signed within the hour. That relieved them a lot and, I think, they preferred the idea that we both wanted them in our family.
The conversation did turn quite serious, then. We were talking about how each thought they would handle a situation. For example, is it better to be romantic or practical in a relationship? They saw that Tralee wanted to be practical and give each time to learn about each other, while Robert was the more romantic of the two. They didn't know how to deal with someone who wouldn't compromise.
I said it was difficult, to say the least.
Then the subject moved toward unhealthy relationships. I saw the time was as good as any to introduce an unpleasant subject. With great difficulty, I told them about the possibility of rape. Their first response was horror, then they became more than a little weir, discussing various ways to maim or kill the person attempting it.
The ground was treacherous here, because I didn't want them to have any misconceptions. But, I didn't want to scare them either. I explained that they might not have a choice in what happened. The most important things to remember are that they should not feel ashamed, or responsible. That they could talk to any of us about it. We wouldn't love them one mite less, no matter what happened as a result.
The prevailing opinion was that they would be too ashamed to talk to anyone about it.
So, with great difficulty, I told them it happened to me. They didn't move an inch as I related what Luke had done. I didn't go into minute detail, but I didn't hold back much either. They were still at the stage where they thought I could do anything. It rocked their world a bit to know that if I could be taken against my will, so could they. And I tried to explain just a bit about arcane or psyche strength.
But, no one cried or disbelieved me. And I got hugs and kisses from them all. They sat thinking furiously and then announced, after a bit of silent discussions, that they would tell each other, and me. Then, we would help her through it and together make things as right as they could. I was satisfied with that. If something like this were to occur, we would deal with it. And with ten daughters, that is a possibility.
The discussion moved toward simpler matters, such as their own initiations. I was stunned when Devi asked if it was allowed to share their partners in their rite. She and Ekaterin had thought about it, apparently. Faintly, I said I'd have to check.
Oh, wait until DeWinter hears about this!
I really didn't get a chance to talk to him about it. He was astonished that the girls knew all about sex. I think he wanted to go and tear down all the libraries. But he was appalled at where our discussion went. Or that I would even think about telling them about Luke. He relented a bit when I told him that I'd had that discussion when I was a teenager. True, they are younger, but they were, collectively, much more aware and advanced. And it had been those talks that helped me through the whole incident.
DeWinter was of the firm opinion that no woman should ever have to go through it, let alone explain it to her daughters.
Robert and Tralee came to talk with us. Reluctantly, she decided to get married here and then go with Robert to his home for the honeymoon. I took everything I had to remain calm and as neutral as possible.
We discussed the pros and cons of this. If she were to stay there, she would learn all about his world, which is good. But, Robert would not learn anything about Amber, the family, or any obligations they may have. I was worried that he would find himself in a situation he found untenable, much too late to do any good. And it could do great harm.
I asked if they would allow me to have a dinner party, so Robert could meet some members of the family. They saw no reason not to, so agreed.
My idea was to invite those who had spouses that were either not of the Blood of Amber, or were not native Amberites. Perhaps it would give Robert an idea of what he might be facing. It would also, through talk and actions, let him see a bit of how we were. It is impossible to get a true representative of any sort, everyone is so individualistic. There's no such thing as an accurate random sampling in this family.
In the end, I thought to keep it small. I invited Owen and Kent, because Kent is so good with discussions like this. And, shamelessly, because Owen has Trump to invite those I don't have one for. Namely, Richmond and Jeremiah. Owen asked if she could bring some of her houseguests: Simone, DoBlique, Dara and someone named Destine. I thought it would be fine. Ultimately, I wanted to see how Robert handled the idea of non-traditional relationships. To that end, I also invited Rinaldo, Diana, and Cassiopeia. That was even more non-traditional, and the two women were both from Shadow. The timing would be up to them.
I got a Trump call from Richmond, asking to clarify a few things. He was dressed much like the last time I saw him. He was dressed like a buccaneer, or as he puts it, a privateer. A full shirt, a vest and a large plumed hat. Very dashing. Specifically, he wanted to know if there was anything he wasn't supposed to talk about during the dinner party. I had no idea what he was referring to, since I couldn't think of anything I wanted to withhold.
How about the idea that Robert could ask the King to walk the Pattern?
Yes, that would be all right, we'd have to make sure he knew why he shouldn't. Then he asked if we could talk about what he called inappropriate contact. I didn't know what he was talking about.
Richmond said, when he and Jeremiah had become partners, he was worried about how the family would react. He said that the opinion of the family went towards whether the relationship would work or not. In his opinion, if enough people in the family did not like Jeremiah, then Jeremiah might attract enough adversity to kill him. It wasn't a formal action, like a curse, but the family's intent generated actions in Shadow.
Did the rest of the family know about this?
He thought so.
I had to fight not to grit my teeth at the knowledge of yet another phenomenon no one bothered to tell me about. In retrospect, I was appalled. And if the family did not like my daughters, what would have become of them?
Richmond seemed to register my thoughts because he nodded and said when his mother was upset about Jeremiah, he though he had better introduce Jeremiah to the rest of the family, a form of damage control to ensure Jeremiah's life, to combat any negative feelings.
I know I don't like the implications in all this.
I told him a bit about Robert. He was a bit reassured that Robert was a bit older, so he wasn't too young to handle things. And he liked Robert's resourcefulness. He'd check with Owen and get back to the matter of timing, but he and Jeremiah accepted the invitation.
Two hours later I got another Trump call. This time there was nothing but green flames. I tried to close it, but couldn't. An echo-y, nasty laugh sounded. I managed to let Claw, who was in the room, know that I was getting into trouble with the call. She came over and with all her might, hit me squarely in the jaw. In fact, she came close to breaking it. But, it did shut down the contact.
I made sure I could still speak and she shook her hand out. I think she might have sprained it. The she got DeWinter. Just in time for the next call. He waited, tense, but it was Rinaldo. I was more than a little annoyed to learn that the previous call was from him. It was a new trick of his and he was going to share it with me. I waved to DeWinter to tell him it was all right.
He came to my shoulder and saw it was Rinaldo. Ah.
Rinaldo eyed the large bruise on my jaw.
DeWinter told me to invite Rinaldo through so he could punch Rinaldo.
Rinaldo declined. He wanted to make sure that both his wives were invited?
Yes, indeed. I was nettled enough to say they were the reason for the invitation. Either he missed what I implied, or he chose to ignore it.
He just wanted to warn me his wives had gotten something called cosmetic surgery.
Had they been injured? It seemed obvious that surgery needn't be explained and the cosmetic part implied a disfiguring injury.
No, they had gotten it done on a whim.
That was an odd concept. Even odder, they both now sported little pig-like snouts with nose rings and slightly pointed ears, designed exactly to annoy him. I didn't bother to ask what he had done that they would resort to this. Of course, we would deal with it without comment. Then he accepted the invitation and would get back to me as to the most convenient date.
A Dinner Party
I had a talk with Xhimena. First, I somewhat lifted the ban on her nocturnal visitors, providing that either DeWinter or I were present. She readily agreed. Secondly, I decided to check her wards. I went into her mind and saw that they were there, but not very strong. They were too squishy for my liking. She enjoyed the mental contact with me and thought it was fun to talk this way. Still, I wanted to test those wards, just a bit, to see how well she could hold up. I told her I was going to pull out then try and get back in. She was to resist me as best she could.
Oh, I was the foolish one.
I gave her a few minutes to prepare herself. She went to the wall and leaned her forehead on it, rocking herself as she concentrated. When she turned around, her eyes were a solid black. To compound my foolishness, I tried anyway. I launched a soft thrust at her. I felt a jerk and a falling sensation.
I was in UnderShadow, a swampy fetid UnderShadow.
I got onto what ground there was and started walking. I knew I had to do something shocking enough to get myself expelled. But, I needed people, or denizens to do it. By UnderShadow time, it took about 3 weeks to found myself by a small village.
The tents had a Zebra-stripe to them. It took a few minutes to register that these were not animal skins, when I saw some of the people. They looked like two-legged camels. They looked at me, some surprised (I guess few come out of the swamp) some curious. I did the silliest thing I could think of: I made a face and some meaningless jabber. Instead of shocking, I scared them silly. They screamed and ran up the road.
I walked. Another half day and I was by a small town. It was reminiscent of a western town, complete with sheriff and cantina. I saw the cantina nearby, and the sheriff was waiting for me. Some of the camel people had warned them about me.
I stopped just in front of the posse with spears. By remaining visibly unthreatening, I was taken to the jail for a few hours. They wanted to make sure I wasn't being chased by something worse. Actually, the sheriff was quite nice about it. He didn't think I was a threat, but he was allaying the fears of his people.
Later I was left to go my own way. I walked through town, trying to figure out how to get out of this. I was powerfully thirsty and hungry, even if only mentally. But, if I ate it would be harder to get out. I'd already had a little water in the jail and I didn't want to lessen my chances any more.
Desperately, I looked for anything I might do. I had to get out of here. In time, I'm sure someone would come get me, but I was equally certain Xhimena would be near to hysterics. Besides, I just wanted to get myself out, not to be rescued again.
What I came up with was absurd.
Near one of the shops, there was a pen of things. Somewhat akin to a pig, I suppose, in function, but more lizard-like, and with more legs. I pretended to fall in love with it. To the shock of the local people.
Hmm, not enough, though I felt a jarring. I proposed to it. Ah, a bigger tremor, but not enough.
Some went to get the sheriff. I got a real large lurch when I kissed the thing. Gah, I never want to do that again. The Sheriff arrived with an it's you again expression. I exulted on the beautiful children I was going to have with my future husband. Perhaps even a litter. That idea was enough as the faces of the crowd recoiled and one woman fainted. I felt the world recoil and shot back up and out.
To find myself in my bed.
DeWinter was trying to resuscitate me and I could hear Xhimena wailing. Claw was holding on to her. I made DeWinter desist and spent a long while assuring Xhimena I was fine, that it wasn't her fault, and she did precisely what I wanted. It took a long while to convince both her and DeWinter.
I succeeded with her, not so to DeWinter. In fact, he was more than a little unsettled that Xhimena managed to do this. While it wasn't a quick defense, it was something she had as a weapon, which might stand her in good stead one day.
Xhimena stayed behind a while talking. Mostly I think it was to make sure I was all right. The topic meandered a bit as we both relaxed and she asked me if I could explain a picture.
She came back with another of her large books with a picture of a Martyr Prophet, with the crown of thorns. Hmm. I told her of the beliefs here. It made her sad and she wondered when he was going to die. I said he died a long time ago. No, she was wondering about Mal. Why? Because he had the same thing on his head.
I had her draw what she had seen. Her drawing did make it look similar. I said it wasn't the same thing and he wasn't going to die soon. Reassured, she went to play with the others.
I went to the parlor and concentrated on bringing up the Pattern-lens. Then I went looking for Mal. He was in a parlor, reading. I told him to stay still for a little bit. He did have something like that, covering his skull. But, the spikes went out, far past the house.
I started to backtrack them, to find out where they came from. It seemed to go on forever. After a little while, I felt a tap on my shoulder, but couldn't hear anything. I said I was fine, I was checking something out. A minute or two later, the tapping was much more insistent. Since I was not getting anywhere, I let it drop.
I had been standing there for over 18 hours! DeWinter had thought I was sleeping with Xhimena, to keep her calm. When he saw her and I hadn't come down for lunch, he went looking for me. I forget the villa is huge. It took him a bit to track me down. He was not in a good mood.
I told him what I had seen.
He said we could discuss it later; the dinner party was starting in a couple of hours. Owen hadn't been able to Trump me. Oh! I ran to get dressed.
Owen came through first. She brought Kent, DoBlique, Simone, and Destine. I don't remember having met Destine before. She was small and dark-haired, somewhere between 35-40 years old. Her hair was cut bluntly at the top of her jaw and she had a silver lock on one side, in the front. Her skin tone was Polynesian, but with definite Caucasian features.
Richmond and Jeremiah came through, splendid, dashing, and handsome. They certainly attracted everyone, especially the girls. Then came Rinaldo with Diana and Peia. I'd warned Tralee, who told the girls, about the odd appearances adopted by Diana and Peia.
But the information flow did not extend, apparently, to the boys. Kai and Eidolon stood gaping at the ladies until DeWinter and I nudged them.
The girls all tried their hand at hostessing. They took some of our guests on little tours and the youngest ones showed Richmond and Jeremiah how the geared curtain mechanism worked. Both Richmond and Jeremiah were gentlemanly enough to be attentive and I think a bit charmed.
I took the opportunity to whisper to both Eidolon and Kai-Revere that they should watch the gentlemen. They could learn a lot about what behavior is expected of them. Throughout the evening, they carefully watched the men. Especially Kai. Though they both still had a difficult time refraining from staring at Diana and Peia.
We were finally settled after I introduced Tralee, Robert, Mal and Nachoth. I think Nachoth was more than a little daunted about being surrounded by Amberites, but she was equally as fascinated. It was as eclectic a group as is possible. Nachoth kept her comments and questions careful, drawing responses, especially from Simone, while she calibrated her own questions. I don't think many of the responses were what she expected to hear.
We eventually sat and ate. Chef Richard had out-done himself this time. He's been experimenting with French food for a while, so he really relished the idea of going full out. The food and drink was outstanding, in my opinion. Though given Owen's travels (at the least), it might seem to be plain fare for the rest. They did seem to enjoy it though. The boys especially loved the flambé dessert. Their eyes lit when it entered the dining room.
Kai tried to make polite conversation. In his own way. It would have been nice if I were close enough to get his shins. He started to talk to Simone about the best way to kill Chaosians. Apparently he'd forgotten that she was from the Courts. Eidolon did, in vain, try to nudge Kai. But Kai dismissed it. He said he wasn't talking about her.
He did pay her the ultimate compliment to her. He asked if she would want to spar with him. She said that sounded interesting. He said he'd do it any way she liked, but he was best with hand-to-hand. I don't think, no, I know he didn't realize the double entendres he was making.
Simone looked like she wasn't sure. I remember once, Moran was interested in girls at that age. Perhaps she thought Kai was, as well. She said she would think about it.
Dinner ended with no other incident. We took ourselves into one of the larger parlors. The children said their good nights and were herded to bed. The rest of us settled in for a chat. We brought the matter of romance and relationship right up. There was no need to pretend. I told Robert that if he had any questions, about what he could expect from the family, he should speak right up.
Peia started it out by saying everyone in the family was nuts.
No one argued with that one.
We talked about Shadow and Infinity. Roberts asked if we could find specific ones. Only if there was something to aim for. He came to realize that was why I left a hand-full of weir at his home. So we could go back in the near future.
Destine said she thought that Amberites can improve the quality of a Shadow. Mal looked skeptical at that. He wanted quantitative support for that. He was more than a little challenging. She looked like she was gearing up to match the confrontation.
I said that it is impossible to be quantitative. How many experiences were quantitatively enough, when compared to infinity of choices?
Mal acknowledged my point, but was definitely looking toward Destine for her response. She asked if she could work qualitatively. She went on about her observations. Shadows tended to thrive and advance during the time that an Amberite was in residence. She gave a few examples.
Then Mal really went confrontational. He asked her if she enjoyed killing?
What was going on with him?
Destine said, Always. If I have to do it, then I might as well enjoy it. I just don't always like the situation which makes it inevitable.
He said, That was interesting. It's strange, but I believe I know you.
Then he stiffened and pitched over onto the floor.
We laid him on the floor and Owen began to examine him. He was very rigid, his irises were jumping and his pulse was racing. Owen used her magic to perform diagnostics. I tried to tell her about the construct around his head, but I don't think she wanted me to. Everyone else sat quietly and watched.
All Owen could tell was that he was in a great deal of pain and that something was quietly imploding memories in him. I felt the head construct was responsible, of course. When I finally explained the thing I'd seen through the Pattern, Owen cast every shield she had at Mal and only managed to bring the memory failures down to a quarter effect of what they were. There was speculation, based on some of Destine's knowledge, that this was an ancient Chaosian technique, to deal with criminal exiles. They were exiled to live in Shadow, but they could never reveal any House secrets. What an appalling idea. Surely after all this time those secrets would be obsolete? A vicious thing to do.
After a few minutes, the attack stopped and Mal began to wake.
We seated him and resumed our positions. No one was willing to talk about this, not when it could trigger it again. I got him a brandy and he sipped it slowly, obviously confused.
We continued the discussion as if nothing had happened. Mal is smart, though; he fell into it and managed to catch up enough to follow along. Robert was wide-eyed, looking at all of us sitting, apparently, calmly. Sangfroid at its best.
The topics moved along, Tralee did venture to draw out Diana about how she met Rinaldo. She had been at a society function when she first saw him. He had come in very late, so his entrance was noticeable. He removed his hat and scarf and handed it to the nearest servant. That the servant was a passing full admiral didn't seem to register on Rinaldo, though the admiral wasn't pleased. Rinaldo even gave him a tip. Diana proceeded to ignore him. Later when her date wasn't particularly gentlemanly and he treated her badly. Rinaldo, at one point tapped the man on the shoulder, gaining his attention. He suggested she might want to go powder her nose while he had a few words with the gentleman. Oh? She was confused but got to the ladies room. Diana said she knew the situation would have gotten worse if Rinaldo hadn't done anything; she was certain he knew precisely what he was doing. By the time she got back, he was gone, but the rest of the evening went fine.
At intervals during the next three months of social events, each time Rinaldo was there he arrived late and each time the nearest person got his hat, scarf, and coat. She couldn't stand it any more. Diana finally went to him and told him he had to stop doing that on purpose.
Rinaldo said, oh, I was just waiting for you to tell me to stop.
And he did. He's never done it since. And, they started dating shortly after that. They've been together ever since.
Finally, Robert was drawn out enough to tell about his family. He said his ancestors were part of a royal line. Long ago, there were five brothers who were in line for the throne. Years earlier they had made an agreement. When the oldest was to become King, the other four would leave the country. Eventually, the eldest did ascend the throne, and the others said goodbye.
Each went out into the world, traveling until they found something wonderful for their King. They didn't find treasure, money, or power. Instead, they brought back ideas. Each returned alone, and presented their King, alone, their gifts. This was over a period of many years. The earliest came back in about 16 years. The next returned after 22 years. Each return was kept secret.
Over time, whenever there was a younger successor to the throne, the brothers would offer this secret induction. It developed into a brotherhood that has continued ever since. It was better than having a war over the throne. For a long time, theirs was the only country that escaped such a disaster over decades of turmoil.
They still go out, occasionally, to bring back something they've found. They got so good, and the country prospered, and they extended their actions to other countries. This is why Robert's lineage is a secret. He was a younger brother, and his place is within this brotherhood.
An amazing story. I can understand why Mal thought theirs was a family of assassins. It must look odd for younger successors to just disappear. I'll have to tell Robert he needn't give up his oath. There are many things to find in Shadow, after all.
Peia lightened the discussion by stating that with this family, 'the sex is great.'
We all laughed and Robert was more than a little flustered and shocked.
We ended the evening a few hours past midnight. I extended invitations for anyone to stay. We certainly had the room and the weir, anticipating this, had already seen to it. Everyone accepted and we saw everyone settled in his or her rooms.
Rinaldo stayed because we promised him waffles for breakfast.
Destine still looked pale and unsettled from Mal's attack. I know she felt a little responsible for what happened, though she couldn't have known. But with everyone around, I couldn't say anything.
I didn't sleep right away. I did find a moment with Nachoth. While she liked Mal, as much as she would admit it, she thought I should send him away. If nothing else, it would protect my family. I reluctantly agreed with her. But, I didn't like the idea of Mal, or anyone for that matter, having to live a life like that. Never being able to know who you are, having memories wiped away, for no apparent purpose than Chaosian cruelty.
Warnings of Dastard
Kai and Simone did spar that morning. Kai prefaced it by saying, You will probably kick my ass, but it should be fun. She did win, but he did very well. He congratulated on her expertise, which bemused Simone, and he never lost his temper. Privately, I gave him a kiss on the cheek, telling him that was well done.
DeWinter and I got up to help with breakfast. I gave Richard a hug and a kiss for the wonderful dinner. Richmond and Jeremiah left shortly afterwards. DeWinter asked DoBlique if she was staying in Amber.
Because it is too dangerous at Castle Black. It took a bit, and a lot of things were left out, but the general story is this: Dastard had besieged Castle Black.
DeWinter was more than a little upset at this. Why did he do this?
Dastard wanted to talk about old history between him and her. She would not say what it was.
I have a feeling Owen knows about it, though. Dastard brought battalions (and not Church troops, either) with him, to threaten her if she didn't talk with him.
DoBlique called his bluff, which was no bluff at all. He broke the Castle and killed everyone inside. They fought, but he won.
She did the only thing left to her. She cast a defensive spell. She transformed into stone and the Castle collapsed around her.
Owen and others came to visit and found him frantically looking through the rubble for her. He went away and they managed to find her and restore her.
Well, we all knew something was seriously wrong with Dastard. That he would do this.
DoBlique was still in pain from the memory of the attack and we couldn't press her right now. As much as I don't like Dastard, something will have to be done with him. He's too dangerous and the Lady knows what he'll do next.
I did talk with Owen and Kent a bit before they left. We wanted somewhere very private to talk. Rather than one of the parlors, DeWinter found a dank and dark place in the basement for the talk. I asked about Mal and the safety of the villa. The prevailing opinion is that I should abandon Mal. I agreed that I need to keep the children safe, but the choice was unpalatable.
Owen was of the opinion that Mal is very dangerous and I shouldn't take any chances.
Breakfast. Richmond and Jeremiah left shortly after. Rinaldo really did love waffles. He liked them so much; he hugged Richard and tried to hire him out from under us. Not fair! Laughing, he and his ladies Trumped to Amber. Everyone left except DoBlique and Simone. We shelved the discussion for a while and went shopping. DoBlique had a good time with the girls.
I asked them both to stay for the day. I was going to escort Mal away. DeWinter was not about to let me be alone with him, so he accompanied us as well.
The Shifting went well. I was looking for a few things. A Shadow that would be safe, where he was protected from the construct and where Trump worked. I found it fairly easily, actually, after hours rather than days.
We entered a Shadow with floating forests, riding horses with an extra set of legs. They became birds later on. We found ourselves in a place with blue ground. The objective was difficult, slippery but I was almost meditative as I got into the right frame of mind.
We entered a Shadow at night. The moon and stars were bright and I knew we had arrived. The ground had a metallic glint to the gravel.
I told Mal why we brought him here. In the dark, he voice was growing cold. I didn't want him to think we were abandoning him, so I said that the construct shouldn't work here. Perhaps he could heal himself.
Mal pointed out he didn't know how.
I Trumped home for some wood and food. Only 10 hours had passed. Once the fire was burning brightly, I could see that Mal's skin had taken on the metallic sheen of the ground. He was a shifter? Was his Chaos heritage coming out?
I thought more information was needed.
I Trumped Fiona, who wearing a sweater and a full skirt with a dog appliqué, sat at a gleaming counter. I was startled since it wasn't her look at all. She had to Trump me back as there were people about.
I explained the situation when she Trumped back under cover of using a phone booth. She asked how long it had been since I talked with her last. I said about 7 hours.
Her eyes widened. "Get out of there." She quickly explained we were near or past the Eventide Veil. Any shadow with a time ratio greater than 10:1 to Amber is considered unstable. It had been hours for us, but seconds for her. We were at something like 300:1. The Shadow might collapse.
Fiona told me what to tell Mal, how to describe his head-construct, and then said we should hurry and leave as fast as possible.
I cut the contact and told Mal. He looked confused. I touched his hand and let him see the construct. His face began to ripple. He looked at me with surprise and said that I only saw in five dimensions.
With a chill, a grabbed DeWinter's hand and began to run reaching for details of shadow. The stars brightened in the heavens and began to fall to the ground. On the horizon, a crack formed in the universe. DeWinter began to run faster, outstripping me easily, though I managed to keep up.
We were not going to make it. I couldn't grab enough of the Shadow to shift. I could feel the reality of our surroundings breaking apart and slipping away. Frantically, I Trumped Fiona.
I didn't get her.
What I got was a female, sort of, bald and with a spikey head, but this woman had Fiona's emeral eyes. Frying pan or fire? DeWinter grabbed my hand and went through the contact without looking.
We were in a room, fairly unsophisticated. She named herself Riak. She wasn't pleased that I had her Trump. I didn't and I showed her. The talk didn't go far before she said that if we left without her leave she would kill us.
DeWinter swept up a couch-draped throw rug and tossed it over her. I ran for the door. It was locked and I couldn't wrench it open. I began to kick it as DeWinter tackled Riak. I didn't see what happened, but I heard the zap and both of them went flying. Both were out cold.
I finally got a hole in the door. I put my arm through it and tore the door out. Thank the Lady it wasn't lead. I picked up DeWinter and began to run.
I got a few corridors away and I Trumped Fiona. She brought me through immediately. We had barely spoken a sentence when black spikes appeared as if through our just closed Trump connection and nearly hit us.
Fiona just said 'run!'
More spikes appeared and speared wherever we had been moments before. It was accompanied by thunder. We were just managing to keep ahead. Was this Riak? Or Mal? Fiona just kept running and shifting shadow. She seemed able to grab shadow and twist us even with people and objects strewn about.
At one point, we entered a shadow where there was no color, only shades of gray. Fiona slowed suddenly until we were walking. She put her hand on my wrist and I heard her voice tell me not to think of Mal. Then she began to talk of inane things. Men, clothing, food. I drew upon conversations I had heard some of Tralee's old friends make and we chatted like 14-year-old girls. I could hear thunder gathering behind us. Fiona said don't look.
"Too late," said DeWinter.
Fiona shifted again. "Don't react!"
DeWinter tried to be blasé.
Twenty times we heard the thunder and felt the impacts. Fiona just kept on making minute changes in the shifting. An hour later, we were definitely back in the normal universe and the attacks had faded. She shifted abruptly a few times. We had been in a ghost town. When we turned the corner, we were on a busy street. Neat trick that. She gave me a look that said we weren't out of it yet.
DeWinter looked like he was about to start talking about Mal.
I could tell DeWinter wanted Fiona to cough up some answers. I had to distract him. I told him about Devi's question of her initiation rite. Could she share someone with Ekaterin? That fairly made him explode. But it derailed him nicely.
Fiona gave me an approving wink.
We ended up in a café. Fiona seated us and a nice young man came with drinks.
Fiona had no idea what Mal was, but she thought he was a multi-dimensional being. Whatever that was. All she could say for certain was that we should not mention his name. It might call him to us. And, until he became whatever he was supposed to become, it would be safer to stay away from him.
What else could we do?
Fiona went back to where she was staying and DeWinter and I went back to Paris. We talked about what we should do. Neither of us was willing to give up Paris, not yet. So, we're staying, hoping that Mal, or whatever his name really is, would not come after us. Given the implications, we'd have to avoid too much of Shadow to avoid him and that is not feasible.
Nor is it the Amberite way.
We told the children that Mal was recovering from being ill. We explained that saying his name would disturb him and he wouldn't get well as fast as he could. So, we would call him X, and leave it at that. Everyone readily agreed. They had liked him and they were all good-natured enough to want him to get better.
DeWinter and I did fill in the weir and Tralee (and therefore Robert) as to what really happened. I could see Tralee was wondering how often we had hidden real event, now that she was a part of the inner circle. If X was ever to arrive, the first priority is to get the children to safety, probably Amber. After that we'd deal with what we had to.
Then, DeWinter and I went to get some rest.
He ended up doing some exercises before sleeping. He said it had been so long since he had to run so fast, or was so scared; he'd actually pulled a few muscles. Well, the day wasn't a total loss then. I made him lie down and massaged the aches away.
We spent the days walking around Paris. Since we planned to be here a while and the city is rather sprawling now, we decided to hire a few drivers. Actually, so many people were coming to the city; there was a labor market unused. Each day, there were at least a few people ringing the door, inquiring about work. So, I easily got four drivers.
Of course, that also meant we had to get cars. DeWinter and I, with our new employees went to a showroom. We started with some practical vehicles, which they seemed to know something about. It didn't take long to pick out two dependable, everyday cars. DeWinter wasn't too happy about them. He thought they were too flimsy. He kept opening and shutting the doors. At one point, he even asked about armor plating. The salesman was amused.
DeWinter didn't get the joke.
I was looking under the hood with the others when we heard a large screech. DeWinter was standing there with a fender in his hand. I guess we were buying that one.
He handed it to the salesman, who tried to assure us it could be fixed. DeWinter just grumbled that it was defective.
The man agreed, eyeing the torn struts uncertainly.
But we bought two of those cars.
We went to a showier showroom. These cars were all hand made, and much heavier. DeWinter thought we could take the other two back and just pick up more of these. We could afford it, but they were a bit more ostentatious. I told him to pick out two; I could tell he thought they would be safer.
To keep everyone in practice, I also bought a small ranch just outside town. We got horses for everyone, though the girls were much more enthusiastic than the boys. Wasn't it just a year ago Kai was adamant about riding a horse?
DeWinter had settled on two cars. Each was designed differently, so it was harder to choose them. They arrived this morning, much to the delight of the boys. Each of the fancier cars was hand crafted. The showroom had sent a dealer to not only deliver the cars but to teach us how they worked. I learned one and DeWinter learned about the other. We'd cross-train later. Kai tried to convince us he could drive them. We tried to explain the dangers of velocity and momentum, but he wasn't believing he would ever wreck them. DeWinter assigned him the task of writing a statistical report proving his statements. He said he would and the rest of the day, he spent phoning showrooms and various people. No one was supporting his idea that 9 years was old enough to drive.
The household is busier than ever. Neighborhood children seem to just appear at our door every day. Especially the boys. They thought it was a novel idea to be shaken down for weapons by the weir, before they could enter. In fact, they lined up at the door to be, literally, turned upside down and shaken down. A few were eyeing the svelte weir girls and some of the novelty became clear.
And, where the children went, the parents followed. Mothers came to find out where their children went every day. Some brought welcoming desserts or games. They were really quite nice. They also wanted to make sure all the children weren't putting us out. Given the circus we already had, a dozen more wasn't going to be too much. We set up games and activities in the front lawn where they could be seen by everyone, and left them to it.
Today I took the assemblage shopping. They were almost growing faster than we could supply the clothes. And with their games, the clothing often got destroyed, even with incessant mending. I even picked up a number of outfits for DeWinter. I do like shopping for him.
Robert elected to go with us rather than with DeWinter, who was shopping for armor plating for the cars.
Tralee's been having some difficulty with Robert, who insists they should remain celibate through their engagement. I admire his consistency, but not the practicality. Still, with effort, I refrained from any advice. The two will have to work this out themselves. DeWinter was on Robert's side, naturally.
Tralee came home today. She was in such a furious state that she slammed the door and stormed upstairs, five steps at a time. I went to look at the door. She'd shattered all the glass and the hinges were bent. Oh, my.
I went to her door and knocked. When she didn't answer, I listened and heard the shower. I went back to the parlor. When she was ready, she'd talk.
She came down about a half hour later, apologetic about the door. I waved that aside and asked her what was wrong. She said that Robert had somehow renewed his ideas and was resisting things even more. The frustration was coming off her in waves.
I knew where the difficulty was.
DeWinter had told me he had told Robert to stand up for what he believes. And Robert, not wanting to alienate his possible future father-in-law, was doing his best.
I tried to put that delicately, but it didn't work.
Tralee's eyes narrowed and she asked what her father had been doing.
I realized too late that DeWinter was in a world of trouble. Before I could defuse the situation, she huffed off to find him. I wondered where in this huge house would be safest to hide.
Tralee appeared not long after and stormed out to the garden. I saw Robert sitting on a little stone wall. She knocked him off it with a flying tackle. He yelped and they disappeared from view.
I had to call the weir away. They were enjoying the show.
They came back in to change, just before dinner. Claw told me that Robert had a few cracked ribs. If they weren't tended to, they would cause him problems later. I went up to his room and knocked.
He opened it up as I received a Trump call.
It was DoBlique, who wanted to come through. Knowing how she hates Trump, this was probably important. I brought her through.
Then I told Robert he had to tend to his injuries.
He said he wasn't hurt. Ah, pride.
DoBlique leaned in and gave him a slight poke. He winced. Huh.
We took the situation in hand and proceeded to tend to his ribs. He muttered something about everyone trying to take his shirt off. DoBlique smothered a laugh and we bound his torso up.
At dinner, Tralee kept trying to catch Robert's eye.
He studiously ignored her.
DeWinter ignored them both.
DoBlique said she wanted to talk with DeWinter and I. But, she did not want DeWinter to yell at her. I made sure to tell DeWinter that.
He was really mystified.
Afterwards, DoBlique, DeWinter and I went to a parlor. It took a while because she was reluctant to talk about things, even though she felt she had to. She started out by saying she had mishandled a situation. With Dastard.
Ah, we're back to him, are we?
Years and years ago, when she was a child, she'd taken the death of her mother very badly. In fact, she finally admitted to having a nervous breakdown. DeWinter helped her through some of it, but it was Dastard that was successful.
Dastard would go see her regularly for treatments. What he did was make some of the painful memories go away. While it seems extreme to erase memories, DoBlique reminded DeWinter that it did work and she did recover.
However, when Dastard came to Castle Black, it was if he were reliving those days. He was trying to give her the annual treatment. He even acted as if the mercenaries he had with him were Church troops.
She's worried that he is seriously ill.
Actually, she looked just as ill.
I know she hates it when they are at odds, but she broke down several times as she relayed this. Part of it was because all her people died trying to protect her, and she could do nothing about it.
I tried to console her with more than holding her. I said if she had given in, she'd been in trouble and there would have been no one to save them then.
She really had no choice. It did relieve some of her pain, not all, but some.
DoBlique kept repeating it over and over, "they all died protecting me."
DeWinter was more than a little upset. He hates when people cry. Especially DoBlique or myself.
When she broke down for the third time, I gestured for him to leave us alone. Over DoBlique's head, I mouthed that he should call Owen, verifying that DoBlique was all right herself.
By the time he got back, she had composed herself again. She'd come here because she was worried that Dastard would come here. I assured her that should he arrive with troops, the city is able to deal with it. If not, we'd have a lot of advanced notice. Enough to get the children to safety.
We turned the talk around to Dastard. We all know that their line had been mentally tampered with. In fact, DeWinter was the only one I know that is freed of it. DoBlique is so frightened; she won't let anyone else examine her. Part of me wondered if she didn't trust us, another said it could be the programming talking. Whatever it was, she wasn't changing her mind.
Instead, she asked DeWinter to Trump Owen for her. We couldn't really force her to stay. He made the call. Oddly, when the connection was done, she changed her mind. She wanted me to do it.
Now DeWinter was getting a bit put out by her erratic behavior.
DoBlique moved away from him, to my other side and I established the Trump link. Quickly, she went through.
He was fairly indignant about why she seemed so afraid of him. I could only remark that I had once seen Dalt hit her so hard, he knocked her out. He searched his memory, but could find no time when he had done that.
I believed him. It wasn't his style. But, now we were worried about her as well. I doubt Owen would tell me anything if I asked.
Doctor patient confidences and all that.
DeWinter said he thought we could all use a holiday. Perhaps the south of France? Since we'd just gotten here and set things up, it would seem abrupt. Anyway, if Dastard could find the Shadow, the south of France wasn't going to be much help. But, he was plainly worried.
That night he had a nightmare.
I sleep pretty lightly, so I woke up quickly.
His back was arched and he sounded as if he were choking. I touched his arm to wake him. He snapped up, accidentally throwing us both off the bed. I got a brandy and a washcloth.
He was coated in sweat and still shaken. He tried to remember the dream, but it went away too quickly. He thought it was about the time he almost got hung. A schoolteacher, in a distant Shadow, had had a bad life. She faked her death so she could escape. He helped her. What she left behind, he buried. The townspeople thought he was hiding evidence and he was convicted. Now that does sound like him.
It's been pretty quiet. The drivers all had gotten manuals and set up a little shop to maintain the cars and learn about the new ones. Tralee came outside to where I was painting. I was sitting so I could watch them working as well as paint. I was delighted when they stripped off their shirts, so as not to ruin them. DeWinter is picturesque. Tralee was glowing. Ah, I think she succeeded.
At lunch, DeWinter was eyeing her. I hint from me and realization set in. With a pained expression, he went back out to work on the cars.
That night he had another nightmare. The same one apparently. I tried to call his name, to no effect. I put a hand on his shoulder. He came awake much easier this time. And, no, it wasn't the same dream. All he could remember was lots of fire and not being able to break the ropes holding him.
That's it. We needed answers.
I drew a Trump sketch of Tremerule. All I got was a black scene. I could hear him. I was almost certain he was gagged and tied up.
I told DeWinter, who'd drifted off in the chair as I worked. He was not happy. I tried to make a Trump gate, but the sketch could not stand the strain. Each sketch just singed to powder.
As soon as we woke, we decided to try and find Tremerule. DeWinter was going to go. I asked him to take Bison and Tear, just in case. He agreed and was gone within an hour. He looked happier doing something.
As soon as he left, I went into town with the girls. Who would I ask for information? Perhaps Monad could help? The girls joined a tour in the Louvre while I sent a message up to Monad. I wrote that there was a crazy woman in the lobby, very dangerous to the government. He must have remembered the joke because he came down a few minutes later. He was delighted with the girls. I found out he'd never married. Have the women here no eyes? Apparently.
We talked a bit and he got me the address for a local Interpol office. I cold start there. With a promise for dinner later, we took ourselves off. The girls were escorted home and I went to the office.
The young-ish woman who was attending me was very competent. I told her who I was, since it would expedite her help. It did and I was soon in her office while she listened. I painted Dastard as a disturbed man, quite possible delusional. I just wanted an alert put out if he were to arrive. He could be considered dangerous, but no one was to approach him or hurt him. I would deal with it. I told her he was a relative, so I had a personal interest in the matter. She understood. She called in a few other department heads and they tried to quickly set up a plan.
Three hours later Claw Trumped me to reprimand me for not letting her know where I was going. I raised an eyebrow but told her. She signed off. They would be at this for a while, so I left them to it and went home.
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