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Cassandra's Diary.46

Day 7/31
Working on the Sudan

The household has been in a flurry of activity to try and get ready for Amber's Yule. This meant frequent trips into town for everyone to shop. Julian and Vivant were foremost, and the most difficult. Every year I wonder what would be interesting or unique. This year, I decided to do portraits. I made one of Julian, Vivant, Shapir and Rhiannon. On impulse, I also did one for Vialle. It was of Rebma, in impasto to bring the paint high up off the canvas so she could feel the currents, the city, the castle. I tried to get as much detail as I could. I hope she liked it. I have a few weeks, Amber time to finish everything up.

Tremerule and Dastard are still not communicating well. They are talking, but not saying what was on their minds. We still have not put aside the problems in Libya. It is one of the common issues that keep them working together, so there is still hope.

Dastard is singularly frustrated with the Sudanese. He's working from a idealistic viewpoint, which isn't convincing anyone to change. I can sympathize. I went to the Libyan president, a very canny man with sympathy for the Sudan people. But there is not much he can do other than advice. The Sudanese president is more disturbed by the recent events. He was of the opinion that he should just shoot all the dissenters. I spent a week trying to persuade others. I think I got about half of them willing to take conciliatory measures. The president was so angry with my actions, he had me escorted to the border. I've never been kicked out of a country before. DeWinter was highly amused.

I, on the other hand, was very put out. I told him I was starting to feel very contrary. DeWinter just “Uh oh, someone's going to get hurt.” I began working my way into the heart of the Sudan, where the dissention was highest. DeWinter Trumped me to tell me that Dastard had also return to the Sudan, so I might run into him.

Day 8/31

Still no word on Dastard. I've talked to several key merchants, arranging to bring supplies through them. I'd get whatever was needed from Shadow and transport it here. medical supplies, educational materials, grain and such.

Day 10/31
Tribal Pow Wow

I finally got a hold of Dastard. He Trumped me. In the background, I could see he was surrounded by warriors, all armed. He invited me to dinner. Hoping this wasn't an ambush, I went through when he was alone in the surrounding jungle. He filled me in a bit while we walked back to the encampment. He'd gotten lost and met up with these folks. He introduced me to his new friends. They formed a line and I met each one. It took a long while as they recounted their heritage, their bloodlines, and their personal history. Dastard said I was the Mother of 10 daughters, which seemed to impress them. I had led armies and bore warrior-sons. I just looked at him. I only had one son. But, this seemed to put me in good esteem.

We sat around a large fire and began discussing what we could do. It was a lengthy affair; made more so by the drinking and smoking and frequent segues into stories. They were reasonable and proud. Whenever someone said something profound or stirring, they would jump up and lift the person over their heads, passing them around the fire before settling back down again. This happened several times, a few to myself. Dastard seemed highly amused.

What was more disturbing was that they had absolutely no fear of the forces that could move against them--even of tanks. To them, it was one thing to fight, not understanding the destructive powers they had. They saw it as an exercise to prove their bravery. It was dismaying.

When I asked what they needed, they said, “chickens.” Chickens? Yes, more chicken would mean they could have more wives. More wives meant more sons, which meant a bigger army. Well, at least they were looking at a long view.

Dastard said he would get them their chickens. This brought much cheering and they carried him around the fire. But, he continued once he was seated again, fighting is not good for chickens or for wives. To stop the city people from stealing your land you have to either not be there, or convince these others that this is wrong. They nodded, seriously. He asked them what they were going to do? They had no real idea. It is a daunting task. We both offered to help.

Dastard told me to tell them how I fought tanks. I just looked at him. I couldn't admit I haven't actually ever fought against tanks. I said that DeWinter was better at telling such stories. I told them, instead, about how we won back France. I stressed how we won the sympathies of the city people by being unarmed. The concept of passive resistance was novel. Thankfully, they saw clearly that it takes as much bravery, perhaps more, to stand unarmed against a formidable enemy.

I asked if my husband might join us, since he was not too far away. I said he had followed behind, but hadn't wanted to intrude without invitation. They waved their assent and I went into the jungle to Trump him through.

I brought him into the camp. With his blond hair and white skin, he was a minor beacon in the throng. Not to mention he stood much taller than most everyone around. I could see them all assessing him, how he stood, how he walked. I don't think they found him wanting.

Dastard asked him how France was won. DeWinter glared at him. He was most reluctant to talk about it, but the others entreated him with telling the story. He said that war and fighting were stupid. That met with a stunned silence. He said wives and babies were much smarter. They met with hearty shouts. And for how France was won back, he said I was stupid. Oh, thanks hon. He didn't even look at me when I spoke that.

He told them how I stood in front of their rifles unarmed. I had even made the men stay inside. He said they should have resented it. No man was made that way, not to be angry about it. It so surprised him, he found himself listening. He shrugged. “I am smarter, but she has more faith.” I think that was a compliment.

By now there were only a handful of men left. Their way is to drink. The ones still left standing when it was time to make a decision, were the ones who made policy. The few left leapt up, and went to lift DeWinter up and carry him around. They couldn't do it safely, so Dastard and I helped them. DeWinter was seriously disturbed by this, but let it pass.

They all drifted off to talk things over. Dawn was peaking over the horizon.

Day 12/31
Tribal Women Take Over

Well, this was an alarming day. The warriors still haven't made any decision. Instead, we found that all of the women had left. They were going into the city to try what I did. I left Dastard and DeWinter arguing with them as I went to catch up. There were 500 of them, so they weren't hard to find. At their current speed, they would be at the city in two or three days. They would not be dissuaded.

I broke off and went into Shadow and back in to Libya. I went to see Commander Jacobs. To his surprise, I hired the Legion. It would seriously drain my resources, but what else could I do? I wanted the Legion in Sudan, watching over the women, unobtrusively. They would do nothing until the women were attacked. I got the president to perhaps start applying political pressure. They I asked the Egyptian president and the King of England to do the same. Egypt was more than willing since a civil war on their next border would do no good for them. Then I went back.

Day 14/31

The 500 were now more like 5000. There were a half dozen or so who seemed to be leading. But, they were not completely united. Even in this, there were factions. They reached the city. The women dispersed though the streets. Every corner had someone talking about their troubles. It got a lot of attention. The Legion arrived later, and were spread pretty thinly.

Day 16/31

Today the stupidity started. There was a riot. We don't know who fired the first shot, but shots were returned. Later I learned that old women were being arrested. Then they were targeting women without children. But, they were being replaced by tradeswomen in the city. I heard that one of those women was Sarah Bernhardt, newly arrived from France.

We heard about the fighting hours after it was done. But, now the women had reached the boiling point. They said they had nothing, so they had nothing to lose. They stripped themselves of everything, including clothes, and sat on the sidewalks and walked in the streets.

There was one point where soldiers had made their stance, ordering the women to surrender or be shot. The women just stood there. The commanding officer was not happy. After an hour of the standoff, he ordered his men to move in. They bore both clubs and rifles. He said to use either or both, but to get those women into custody. It was not a popular order. For the last hour, they'd been looking at grandmothers, daughters, and women with small children. The commanding officer screamed at them to follow orders.

He was shot.
The men started to back away. The women advanced throughout the city, converging on the government offices. Then they started to “clean house.” Literally, they threw all the people out. I spent the better part of days trying to prevent them from destroying everything. Not only furniture and people, but documents and treaties. They were not disposed to listen, but I managed to do some good. They will need all this. I explained that these papers allowed them to work with other government. It was essential that they learn to administrate or else they would lose everything they've gained. I sounded like the typical European, but one or two listened.

Day 19/31

Things have stabilized a bit. The tribal warriors arrived early today, aghast at what their wives had done. A few demanded that they dress properly, as befitting their wives.

The Legion was ordered to throw them out.

Women were placed to learn about various functions. They were learning that there is indeed a use for the capital. Emissaries were sent to see them, but were not granted an audience. Reporters came and told them they had to make a statement. They were twitchy whenever someone told them what they had to do. The reporters were thrown out as well. Ms. Bernhardt made a sensible suggestion and had the emissaries send their wives. Things went much more smoothly.

Day 20/31

Commander Jacobs informed me that some of the bordering countries were very worried. They were sending troops to the borders. Sigh. They were still under my command. They were the only ones allowed armed into the government buildings. I left a contingency there and took the others. I got permission to act on the Sudan's behalf. I think they were testing me.

Day 21/31

We managed to intercept some troops. They were largely confused about the notion of women running a government. Surely this isn't so? We assured them that the situation was contained; they need not worry about their borders. There is no desire to expand. Once we validated who we were, word spread through to the other borders and things quieted down.

One small thing. Kai was really upset. The first large scale action and he was still on administrative duty. Ah well.

With things settling down, I said I had to leave for a bit, unless they required anything from me. No. Hm. I told them to send a wire to France if they required anything of me. Work would get to me and I could be here within a day. That made them curious, but they wished me a safe journey. I said good bye to Commander Jacobs. He was now under the temporary employ of the Sudanese. He smiled and shook my hand.

Day 22/31
Yule

We got back to France and began to get ready to go to Amber. Getting everyone in one place was a task in itself. Eidolon did manage to give me a gift. I was very touched, for it's been a while since I've received one. It was a beautiful glass orchid, with just a touch of a deep red in the center. The color bled out to the tips into a very pale rose color. He said he had made friends with a glassblower in town and had it commissioned for me. It was stunning. And surprisingly light, for all its size. He helped me fasten it to my dress. I gave him a hug and kiss and told him I loved it. He went off pleased.

I couldn't resist. I showed it off to DeWinter. He just stared at it and said, “That rotten bastard.” I wonder if Eidolon ever figured out why DeWinter started the evening glaring at him.

We gathered together in back of the house. It was quite the procession. I got Tatasha and Evander, Tralee, Robert, Elandra, Mother, Ketchum and Eliappea, Richard, the tailors, the girls, Mal, Matisse, Eidolon, Tremerule, the weir, Dastard, in a tuxedo, DoBlique, DeWinter, and myself. Wow. I went to the drawbridge and then to my room where I brought everyone through.

The next hour was spent in getting people alone and giving gifts. It was a good excuse to introduce Dastard. Since most know and like DeWinter and DoBlique, they extended pleasantries and good wished to Dastard.

He was stunned.

I took him to see Vialle. I told her I had a small gift sent to her rooms, if she did not mind. She didn't and I introduced Dastard to her. She gave him a wide smile and said she was so glad he came. It was full of sincerity and warmth. He took her hand, amazed.

Tremerule wandered around, having met many of them. I did notice that he was particularly tongue-tied around Jacynea. Mosi and Devi had seated themselves to either side of Fiona, trying to engage her in conversation. They were talking about their magic lessons. Fiona wasn't talking back, except for solitary words, which was putting them off their stride. But, they weren't giving up either. I don't know whom I should be sympathetic with. I think the girls, but this is something they would learn to deal with.

Xhimena was excited. She asked, “Did you know there were ghosts in the castle?” Yes, I did, as a matter of fact. She went off to talk with people

Owen and Kent arrived about an hour later. The room just kept getting more crowded. Either Yule would have to spill into the surrounding area or we need a larger room.

I did manage to introduce Jeremiah and Richmond to Dastard. They seemed to get along and I left them to talk. Perhaps Dastard would see he wasn't alone. He didn't, of course, and didn't believe me when I told him.

Benedict came a bit later, with Dame Louisa. Rhiannon entered on Julian's arm. It was a bit tricky. Her hairs swept up in a flattering style. She wore a green chiffon…thing with many, many tiers. She had to move sideways to fit through the door.

Martin went to Benedict and seemed to be reporting to him. Benedict said nothing, just nodded. Martin spoke some more and then broke off the intercept Rhiannon off of Julian's arm. Julian looked wonderingly at the two of them as they moved off. I went to speak with him. Vivant was nowhere to be seen. I asked if all was well. Julian hesitated and, in unusual candor, said that she took to her rooms, just after Rhiannon presented herself. Ah. I asked if he would relay that she was sorely missed. He gave a brief bow and excused himself. He went to find refreshments.

I introduced Dastard to Benedict. Dastard gave a cautious bow. Neither said anything. Random appeared, talking hurriedly. “Here are two guys I'd like to see in a drinking contest.” He went on, almost manic. I suspected he was 'on something'.

Benedict asked if there was any hard water. Dastard looked surprised and intrigued. “You have that here?”

Random broke in, “No way.” He turned to Benedict, “We don't, do we?”

Benedict said, “There is a cask in the cellar. I know where it is.” Dastard looked really tempted.

Benedict continued, “It would be helpful if someone held the torch.” Random looked surprised.

Dastard spoke, “I can help you with that. Would you excuse me, Cassandra?” I nodded gladly. I just knew I could count on Benedict to welcome Dastard. I gave him a big smile as they walked out of the hall.

Random watched them leave. He said, “Be very afraid.” He looked at me smiling, “Now I'm really worried.”

He linked his arm with mine. “Did I just get skunked by my big brother as he spirited Dastard away?”

Yes.

He sighed. “Just when I think I've got him figured out, he gets sneaky”

I said that's why I never believe I've got anyone figured out. It eases up on the thinking.

He said that was good. Faiella's line was never much good at thinking. My smile went away. He stopped walking. “Did I say that out loud?”

“ Yes.”

“Shit. Can I take it back?”

“No. Faiella's line is also known for remembering opinions.”

“Yeah…assholes.”

I dropped his arm. I suggested he take a half dose of whatever he took. Perhaps Doctor Owen could help him with that. And I left him there.

I went out to get some air. As usual, the garden was calming. I went back inside and found Mal and Matisse sitting with Fiona. In fact, Matisse was forgetting she was larger than a two year old and was almost in Fiona's lap. She was telling Fiona everything. Fiona was repeatedly putting Matisse back into her seat, but was listening to what she was saying. Mal was looking angry. Really angry. I asked her if she wanted to take a walk. She looked at Matisse, still happily talking away, and nodded.

Outside she paced. She was convinced she was a horrible mother. Matisse never talked to her like that. She must be a lousy mother. I told her that because Matisse was talking like that, she was a good mother. What? I said if Matisse did not feel safe and loved, she wouldn't feel safe enough to include others into her world. She is happy, and talking, and sharing what she knows. How can that come from nothing? It can't, so it must come from her and Mal. Mal looked hopeful and reassured. We walked for a bit more and then went back inside.

Xhimena came and found me to talk about the ghosts. She saw Eric in my room. I smiled and said I've talked with him a few times. She said, though, he wasn't a ghost. No? He said that you have to be unhappy to be a ghost. Plus, he's a royal. I asked her why that made a difference. She said that Eric told her that when you are a Royal, you get to make your own rules. Hence, he's not a ghost. I laughed. She also said that there were a lot of ghosts in the castle. This made me curious, since I had only met Eric here.

The rest of the evening was spent watching over people. The children were all chattering away with people, especially Andromeda and Altair. People watching in this family is always interesting.

An hour later, Dastard reappeared; glass in hand filled with black liquor. Dalt appeared from the corridor. Dastard was treated to the unusual sight of all the girls flocking to him, happy he was there. DeWinter followed close behind. Dalt greeted the girls and spoke for a bit. Then he excused himself from the mob and went to Dastard. He told Dastard he had something to tell him. Dastard said he hoped it wasn't about business. Dalt paused, what kind of business? Military. Dalt just looked at him. I would never talk to you about such things. Dastard huffed, but they went into the corridor to talk.

Suddenly, I was tired of all the sly comments and digs. I went up the stairs and out the door. I went to my room. The fire was going merrily and I found a book. An hour in quiet was what I was looking for.

I didn't get the hour, of course. Tatasha came in. She sat in front of the fire, looking very worried. Sigh. I asked her what was wrong? She said that Evander was going to ask the King to walk the Pattern. Ah.

We both know the risks. And that she didn't want to lose him so quickly to Shadow. I diverted her and got her to talk about Aes. The non-weir people were expanding their industry. Which was good. But, they were doing so in the direction of their ancestral lands. Not good. That was how she met Eric. He'd been helping the city folks when she came to stop him. At a point where negotiations broke down, Eric challenged her. They fought for three days.

With the story, I saw a layer of sadness gripping Tatasha. Now both of us were getting weary. I suggested we go back down stairs. We left the room, arm in arm.
In the library, we found Evander with Random by the fireplace. Random turned to look at us. He said, “You know, you two look like you could be sisters.” Evander looked disbelieving. “Naw, my mom's much older.” I heard Tatasha sigh. I glared at them. I led her away remarking loud enough for both the hear, “It's a wonder we ever breed.” Tatasha stifled a laugh.

At least Evander isn't obtuse. He came to find us, wondering why we were upset. I explained the remark and after a bit, he understood. He tried to make amends and say that if he didn't know us, he could see how we looked like sisters. He looked hopefully at Tatasha. She gave him and smile and he relaxed. All is forgiven.

I hadn't seen Xhimena in a while. I went and found her. I don't' remember how it came up, but I ended up showing her the mail slots. She was amazed because all of them had their own now. She immediately wrote a note to Benedict writing that she had some questions about the Moonriders of Genesh.

Then she wrote a note to Eric. She wrote in large print in case ghosts have a hard time reading. Then she wrote to Simone, saying she was sorry that she couldn't make it to Yule. After the fifth noted, I suggested she do that tomorrow. Enjoy the people that are here now.

By then, most of the girls were in bed. The older were allowed to stay up and they were determined to make the most of it. Many of the Elders retired as Random and Martin began setting up drums and getting ready for some music.

While we waited, I saw Sebastian talking with Rinaldo's wives. He was easily identifiable by his scarlet skin and odd eyes. Both women looked like they wanted to escape. Rinaldo was talking to Fiona. I drifted over and suggested he might want to rescue them. By this time, Rhiannon had joined them and Sebastian had his arm around her shoulders. Rinaldo made a beeline for them.

After a few minutes, I could hear a small ruckus from them. I didn't hear what they said but the women got away as Sebastian laughed loudly, and said something about drinking to horses. He sounded drunk, loud and boorish. Poor Rinaldo was stuck with him for a while.

DeWinter and I danced. Or, rather, we tried to. When a dance first came up, he was miffed when Moran cut in. He's grown a bit since I last saw him. He was still much younger, but he did try hard. I waited for him to talk. He usually only dances with me when he wants to either say something on his mind or ask my opinion.

Sure enough, he told me that Francine and Vestalowen were gone.

He'd made many mistakes, he admitted, so they left him. I believe he said they were living in town. I didn't say so, but I thought that was very brave of her. She was such a shy person around us. To stand up, even to Moran, must have been difficult. Moran, for his part was feeling some guilt. I think he was trying to expiate some of it my telling me this. I probably wasn't the first. He did say he had a medallion made with his face on it. Inscribed on it was “world's worst boyfriend.” Or something like that. He said he was going to give it to anyone who went out with him. It made me laugh. I told him that that was rather clever. At least he was admitting, up front, what was going on. No one could say he wasn't giving anyone fair warning.

We ended the dance and DeWinter stepped in for another go. This time, Rinaldo interrupted us. DeWinter grumbled and went off. This was more relaxed and Rinaldo is still a good dancer, so I enjoyed it.
The third time DeWinter and I danced, this time to try the Tango. It was Sebastian who tried to cut it. DeWinter fairly snarled at him and I told Sebastian that the tango wasn't a dance one cut in on. He looked puzzled and DeWinter took the opportunity to sweep us past. Frankly, he's one I just never want to dance with and certainly not a tango.

It all ended up well. We gathered up the remnants of our group, at least the rest of the girls and got them upstairs and into bed. I bathed and went to my room. Once inside, I could smell pipe smoke. I said hello to Eric and DeWinter got up to take a walk. We talked a bit. He kept trying to figure out who was King now. I wouldn't say because the shock always causes him to vanish. He went through the list, trying to cage hints. I doubt Random would be pleased to learn that his name never came to mind. Eric was pleased at how the family has grown and was much interested in learning about his great-grandchildren. He was especially fond of Xhimena. He appreciated the note she wrote to him.

Dawn came very soon after and I didn't bother to go to sleep. The older children hadn't either. So we gathered and went to breakfast. It didn't take long after their bellies were full to become sleepy. So, we hustled them back upstairs for some real sleep. On the way, Evander did stop me. He said he watched some of the dancing. It seemed important, so he wanted me to teach him. I agreed and he went off.


Day 23/31
Ghosts and Speedy Pete

Xhimena came and briefly described the ghosts she had met. There was Marion who had been a maid that died after being strangled by a boy. There was Chase, but he kept himself outside. There were about 10 others. The one that worried me the most was Finndo. She said he had warned Eric about the attack from Chaos long ago. But, she also said he was a “hungry” ghost. He wanted the blood of a Family member, to waken his doom. He even got her to go into a room. I made her show me.

Xhimena led me downstairs and through several corridors to a locked door. She looked at the lock and said, “Open, please.” It unlatched and we went inside. It was an unused room, with dust everywhere and an odd yellow stone on the walls I'd not seen anywhere else in the castle. In the center of the room was a high-backed chair that looked to be an old throne. There was a crown inscribed high into the back.
Xhimena whispered “they” had cut Finndo up and lined the walls with him. Quietly, she said it was Benedict that killed him.

I had us leave the dark, chilly room.

Upstairs, we talked about it. First, I told her not to do anything Finndo asked her to do. She nodded. She said he'd tricked her into going into the room, but she knew better now. She said he was Bad. I believed her. I wondered if Random knew about this. I suppose I would have to tell him, just in case.

Then we talked about withholding “messy” details. Sometimes it's necessary if someone does not have the experience, need, or constitution for such things. It can be unnerving and doesn't serve a purpose, often than not. She sighed. She said she feels dumb sometimes. She thought that Kai-Revere and her father were much better people-persons than she is. On one hand, I wanted to argue that point, but on another, I can see why she feels that way. They don't always understand people, but they do tend to draw people to them that are willing to follow. She said she wanted to be like them.

It was my turn to sigh. That is not easy. But, we can work on it.

Just then a maid found us. She said there was a delivery. She left and returned with a page trailing behind her with two heavy leather valises. With them came a note to Xhimena from Benedict. She had questions about the Moonriders, so he sent her his journals and the like from the war. She was ecstatic. She was diving into the bags when I suggested she write to thank Benedict. She jumped up and turned to the page. She asked him to fetch some paper. Then asked if he could write. He was about her age and was particularly undaunted by her. Enough so, he looked insulted. I asked him to step outside for a moment, if he would be so kind. He gave me a knowing look and went out, closing the door behind him.

Xhimena looked at me. “I messed that up, didn't I?”

I said that assuming he might not be able to write was likely insulting here in Amber. And, she had two good legs. She can fetch paper herself. Especially if he had other duties to attend to. Ah.

She went to the door and asked him to come in. He strolled in. I admit, I liked his style. She asked him his name. He said he was Speedy Pete. Pete, then. No, Speedy Pete. Xhimena looked a little flustered at his corrections. She asked if Benedict was still in the castle? Speedy Pete said he thought he was. Then, if he were not busy, could he come to her room in an hour for a message to be delivered for him? Sure, no problem. She smiled at him and it was his turn to be a little flustered. He bobbed his head and went out.

We dragged the bags to my room. Then she spent the better part of the next hour writing a three-page thank you note. When Speedy Peter arrived he took it and said he'd get it to him in just a few minutes. Xhimena looked surprised. That would be awfully quick. That's why I'm called Speedy Pete. She asked him how he learned to be so quick. He said it was a talent. Could she learn it? Well, he supposed so. Xhimena struck a bargain. She would learn how to be quick and she would teach him something. They shook hands. Deal struck. I reminded her that she would be going back out into Shadow, but they could work on their bargain whenever she came back. They were both amenable to that. He jaunted off and I noticed her face had a bit of a blush to it.

The books were everything about the Moonrider campaign. Quartermasters' reports, water ration reports, casualty reports, maps, troop dispersals, and much more. Even I was drawn into poring into them.


Day 24/31

We took the girls into town early in the morning. The girls noticed that people were watching them. It was unnerving for them to be at the center of attention. They got very little of that in Paris. Their etiquette lessons came in handy. Their politeness and manners increased as the day went on.

When we got back, Xhimena and I continued to read. We did so for several hours until dinner. I was ensconced in a psychological profile of the Moonriders. It was fascinating. Six hours later, DeWinter poked his head in to find us exactly in the same spot, reading. He just shook his head.

Day 25/31
Dilemma with Evander

We took carriages out to Tiryns. Chef Robert was kind enough to pack a lovely lunch for us. It was pretty much the way we left it, aside for the number of apples on the ground. Dastard watched, bemused, as most of the children began picking them up and pelting each other with them.

Inside, they went up to the room and found the new addition. They ran around all the new rooms, trying to decide which ones they would claim. It was beautifully done. The new wing stretched out to the back, bisecting the main house. In the middle was a lovely open-air courtyard where everyone could converge. Every door opened up to the courtyard. Each room was fairly sizeable, having both a bedroom and a sitting room for private meals. They could be guest rooms if we had the need.

We went to the dining room to have an indoor picnic. They were chattering on about how they were going to decorate their rooms. I foresee many more trips into Amber City once we come back here permanently.

While we were eating, I got a Trump from Eidolon. He wanted to talk with me about something “official.” I told DeWinter I was going back to the Castle for a bit and would return shortly. I had a feeling I knew what this was about.

I Trumped through to Eidolon's room. My suspicions proved correct. He had asked Random to walk the Pattern. Random said he was sure of his blood and sure about his loyalty. In fact, Random said a lot of complimentary things. Uh oh.

But, Random gave him the same test he gave me. And he failed it. He was miserable. Random said this wasn't the end. He could try again in a year or so. I reassured him that there were others who were also asked to wait. He wasn't the only one, and there was no stigma attached to it. Really? Absolutely. We would rather have someone wait. The alternative was just not to be considered. The Pattern can kill, if we are not prepared. He brightened up a bit at that. I said, when we got back to Paris, we would start training him, if that was what he wanted. He agreed. Then he said that Random wanted to talk to both of us. Hm. All right.

We walked to his office and were shown inside. He had us sit down. He said this is going to be difficult and he would try not to be King. He poured us some brandy. Oh, I knew I wasn't going to like what was going to happen. He sat on the edge of his desk.

He said that Evander had asked to walk the Pattern. He is going to tell him he can try. But, he is almost certain that he will revert back to his old self.

That rocked both of us into silence.

Random continued, saying he'd done some research into this. Our line has always been strong in healing. And, our line cannot be killed with lightning. I recalled the Shadow where I had the use of lightning. And Corwin's accounting for electroshock treatment. It had helped him rather than extend his amnesia. And, long ago the Pattern did restore my memories, just as it had for Corwin. I had to admit I was compelled to agree with him. At least with the possibility that his suspicions were correct.

I said we should tell Evander. Let him make the choice. If it comes down to it, despite him being disappointed, I doubted he would walk it. Not with those risks. I kept going over all the things the old Evander had done. I didn't want to lose this Evander and get the old one back. Random shrugged. He said that he believed it would undermine any favorable results if he walked in with those fears and doubts. Me, I'm not so sure. I said so and said if Evander asked me, I would not lie to him.

Random said that was my choice.

I was so upset, no frightened at what might happen, that I just got angry. Random was going to allow this. Mother, Ketchum, Eliappea, the girls, all of us were at risk. Evander, the old one, would not allow us to go unpunished. He would kill Ketchum and Eliappea just for daring to take his place with Mother. Not that he loved her, but because she chose “beneath” her. She chose someone to replace him. He'd find that unconscionable. Everyone I cared about was at risk because I opposed him. I would rather face all the Fey, rather than the hurt Evander could dish out. I boiled over and found myself leaving the office, slamming the door behind me.

I found a practice room and spent two solid hours demolishing the practice dummies. When I had worked out some of the fear, I left to find Eidolon sitting on the floor just outside the door.

He looked up at me. “We are screwed either way.”

I could only nod and sit down next to him. I asked him if we should tell Tatasha. He said we should. We talked some more, but there were no answers here. I knew if he reverted, I'd take DeWinter and hopefully Dalt with me to track him down. When he reached the center, he could go anywhere. And he knows where Giannasa is. We'd have to move Mother, Ketchum and Eliappea here to Amber during the walk. I said so to Eidolon. He didn't look happy, but he agreed. Privately, I didn't know if I'd take Eidolon. And he didn't volunteer, so I think I have my answer.

We went back to Tiryns. I got DeWinter alone and told him the news. I saw all the same implications running through his mind. And there were probably a few more I hadn't thought of, knowing him. Again, we talked, but there were no answers.



Day 26/31

I talked with Tatasha in Aes. She said she had told Evander he couldn't walk the Pattern, not for a while. I said that might be a good idea. When Corwin lost his memories, he'd spent centuries in a Shadow. While he was never “normal”, it did change him when he got his memories back. Perhaps the same could happen to Evander? If there was enough history to balance out the old self, he just might come through this. She thought it was a better bet than the alternative. She told Evander and while he was disappointed, he trusted her. I hoped it wouldn't be misplaced. I did tell her, like Random, that if he asks, I wouldn't lie to him, not even by omission. She gave me a hug. She said that was my call, as the Little Mother. I did warn her that he might just get up and try for Amber on his own. She knew the risk. The old Evander did the same.


Day 27/31

We had a Family meeting. I put a question to everyone. Did they want to stay in Amber or go back to Paris? It became a really complicated issue. It was fascinating to watch. Dastard, of course, wanted to go back to Paris. Not surprising. I am surprised that Random hasn't said anything about his extended visit in Amber. Half the girls wanted to stay, the others wanted to go back. Especially the older girls, they saw more opportunities in Paris. But, the younger girls thought they should stay and learn more about being royals.

DeWinter was amused. He said you just threw a pebble in the water and got a tsunami. Just how are you actually going to make a decision? I said I'd see where it goes. Right. He just kissed me and said I was in charge. Oh, you're behind me, right?
Sure am, behind you and out of bow range. I had to laugh.

The girls wrote up a lot of questions they wanted answered before they made a decision. The presented the list to Tremerule. He looked at the pages as Dastard watched.


Day 28/31

Tremerule and I went into town. He was researching his questions and I was going to the moneychangers. I wandered around town for a bit. I dropped off a written letter at the carpenter's guild, expressing how pleased I was with the work they had done. I visited the carriage shop and generally just reacquainted myself. At the moneychangers, I took the 250,000 gold from my account for Tralee's dowries. When we got home and I presented it to her, she almost fainted. Robert just gaped. We gently put it into perspective. It could sit and accrue interest, which might be wise. Even that amount wouldn't go far in Amber. They had much to think about. They did decide, either way, that they were going back to France. It was where their home is. I spent the afternoon creating their Trump.


Day 29/31
Family Parliament

We had another Family meeting. Apparently my work in Paris was influencing how they were going to make their decision. The decided to use Parliamentary procedures with my vote being the final decision and supreme veto powers. I sat back, bemused, watching.

Each person would get a chance to speak. The weir formed themselves into cheering sections, a few weir assigned to every girl. Not strictly procedure, but everyone was enjoying it. I idly wondered if I could get that introduced in Paris. I would make things a lot more fun.

Everyone had their say in the pros and cons of either place. By now, even DeWinter was watching and listening to their reasoning. They were widely creative in how they expressed themselves and in their reasoning. Matisse was the only one who had no real opinion. She didn't care as long as everyone was together. They said she had to have an opinion. Matisse asked, “Why?”

We really couldn't explain this to her. She was only two years old. I whispered that she could abstain. She asked, “Will it hurt?”

DeWinter left before he started laughing. I said no, it just meant she didn't have to make a choice. She was really very happy about that.

In the end, there were only 2-3 votes for staying in Amber, and those were by the younger girls. They went into a huddle and whispered. They announced that they would rather have a unanimous vote and changed their vote.
Dastard, despite himself, asked if they wanted to record their original vote, in case is doesn't work out. Mavis looked at him, curious. “Why would we want to do that?”

He said so they could say I told you so.

She gave him a Look and remonstrated him, “That is a silly idea. It would not do anyone any good.” Then they went back to the others and started packing up to leave. Dastard sat back chagrined. DeWinter smothered a laugh and whispered, “I love those girls!”

Day 30/31

We went back to Paris. I did make a quick stop in Sudan, to see how things were going. The various factions were still talking and things were progressing. I again offered any aid they might require and went back home.

Day 34/31

Mal has begun negotiations with Siggi about transforming Matisse back to her old self.

I began training Eidolon and Xhimena for walking the Pattern. Both were shocked at how we up scaled their training. Xhimena, I found to be surprisingly physical. She's quick and capable and has a tendency to look fearless. Sometimes, she manages to surprise me. Good.

DeWinter did mention that for my own training in hand-to-hand, well, it was coming to an end. There were a few things he could teach me, that would take a few years to learn, but he didn't want the weir to see them, much less learn them. I was intrigued. I got him to show me. He took me to a country lake where we could be alone. The moves were very deadly. One was how to crush someone's heart, much as Dalt did to him once. All were very painful and difficult.

Day 41/31

Well, my training is going well. I haven't been able to speak this past week, due to a blow to the throat. And he held back as much as he could. We are going to have to rethink the strategy here.

Day 46/31
Death Blows for Dummies
.

I had an idea. I took us out into Shadow and found a Shadow with technology more like Martin's Shadow. There, I looked for practice dummies that looked and felt like real people. DeWinter was amazed. He said he would never have thought to do that. I thought we could go every two weeks or so. Otherwise, I might not survive the training.

Day 47/31

We had another family meeting. I found out that the girls were going out to the city to locate members of the Hand. They were quite pleased to report that they had tipped off Splurghi of a few. They did admit that Xhimena had warned them that we would not like this, nor like that they were acting without our knowledge. They'd elected to keep it a secret amongst them. Well, Xhimena was right. We were not happy at all.

DeWinter and I talked about it. We don't know how they found out about it, but information has a way of leaking to each other here. No wonder there, really. The girls were taking the responsibilities of their actions. They didn't even try to avoid the issue or lie about it. They were trying to do what they thought Kai would do. I can't say that Kai wouldn't do anything of the sort.

We suspect it was largely the older ones herding the younger ones into this. DeWinter thought that if they were going to take on the older responsibilities, we should give it to them. So, we told them, like Kai and Eidolon, that they would also get jobs. I'm hoping for two things. First, after several months they realize they aren't really adults, and take their time growing up. Futile, maybe. Second, that their enforced separation during the better part of the day would constitute a punishment. The youngest ones can't really hold jobs, legally, so we made a list of chores. If nothing else, this might keep them too busy to get into more trouble.

Day 53/31
Clarissa and Consumption

Owen came to visit. She had some unpleasant tidings. Someday she will visit just for the sake of visiting, or with good news. Ah, well. She remarked how quiet the house was. I told her the girls were in town.

She brought with her an unusual dog. It looked like a miniature bear-like dog. It must have weighed 400 pounds. It padded in with her and quietly sat down next to her, on the floor.

She suggested that I call anyone else that might need to know what she was going to say. Such as DeWinter, Rinaldo, Eidolon. This was something everyone had to hear. She even agreed when I suggested Dastard. So, I got them together, including DoBlique who was staying with us for a bit, and Mal. I'll have to pass on the information to Kai; he's on maneuvers right now. Thinking about it, I also included Xhimena and Tremerule.

This sounded serious, so I poured Brandy for everyone. A slight hint, and I poured a small bowl of it to the dog. It happily lay down and lapped at his portion. Odd.

She said there had been problems in Glantri. Serious problems. Someone, said significantly, is campaigning to draw power through Glantri in order to escape the Shadow she was imprisoned in. Owen would not name names, but referred to her as the red-head's mother. This could only mean Clarissa.

Owen is taking magical classes in Glantri. She's pieced together some parts of an ongoing mystery. For the past ten years, a professor or a student on the campus is killed, many from the college of Neuromancy. Owen says that Clarissa has access to a Primal Power, which she calls “the Eater” or “Consumption.” Her description makes it seem almost like entropy, except she can draw power from dissolution. She says it chews up other forces, more actively than entropy. It's a predator force. Clarissa uses people to provide her access to people and things that will help her escape.

Most of the people killed were found with missing parts. Some were badly mangled, so any hints that something was going on were hidden. And, apparently, Neuromancy is a rather dangerous discipline, so deaths were too likely. But, all of the deaths were in the same place; in the Dreamlands or the Broken Lands. Owen says the Dreamlands are a “neighbor” to the Brood and UnBrood.

Dastard gave a start at that. She said that Clarissa might have had control over the Loathsome, and therefore had targeted Dastard. Clarissa may have had the Brood attack Empress Lora in the Empire of the Gleaming Banner some twenty years ago. That would be about ten years ago, in Amber. There have been several recent attacks, as well, attesting to her growing power.

There is no pattern to the killings, or with the conditions of the bodies, as far as anyone has been able to tell. Glantri has close ties to Amber and has a lot of power to be Consumed. Further, it is a crossroads, a nexus to other Shadows, which might explain why she chose to concentrate there. It could lead her directly to Amber, if not other places.

One sign of her influence, or activities, might be through nightmares. It was a curious thing to find out that Amberites do not have nightmares.

I looked back and, while I've had some bad dreams, none of mine would constitute a true nightmare. It seems that this is true for everyone else in the room. It makes sense, really. With all that happens to us, living as long as we can, it would be a horrible thing to re-live some of our experiences over and over in our dreams. A coping mechanism?

Owen was attacked through a nightmare. In it, she was in the middle of a stampede of horses. They were running past her and it took all her agility to jump and move so as not to be trampled. Always, she thought the stampede would end. It took a bit to realize it was never going to end and she was getting tired. Kent had been unable to wake her up and resorted to giving her a shot of adrenaline to bring her out of it. When she woke, she found that some of the injuries incurred during the dream had manifested in reality. While dreaming, she was violently moving around, as well. Her mind wards were fine, but there were “stress” marks on them.

A professor she had been working with was also attacked through nightmares---to the point of breaking several bones. Kent held him down while she gave him medications. It's been six weeks now and he's still in a coma. He had been in his office and the only thing missing were three pages of spells. She managed to go into the Dreamland and retrieve them.

She suggested we protect everyone's sleep. Hypnosis, reinforced regularly, which would prevent the dream state where nightmares occur. I was a bit concerned. This could, in the long run, be very detrimental. She thought that it wouldn't be a problem until about four months. Even children of Amber, while not of the blood, were usually tougher than Shadow folk. By then, she hoped to have more answers. I now wonder if when they do dream, it would be strong ones after such a lengthy denial.

We talked some more, much of it just picking at details. Talk turned into chatting while we waited for the others to come home. I think Owen was a bit surprised to learn most of them were holding jobs. They are a bit young for it. I decided not to go into details about why. I saw no reason to possibly embarrass them by telling her of our family's happenings. I just said they were all trying so hard to grow up, we felt they should try it for a bit.

Everyone came home and we got individuals alone and set the hypnotic suggestions in place. Thankfully, they trusted us and it worked well. I can do for myself, as can DeWinter. Matisse thought it was a fun game, though Mal couldn't let down her own guard enough. I had to do it for her. Eidolon and Xhimena didn't have the practice, so likewise, I did for them.

Everyone dispersed. We invited Owen to stay the night. I asked her if Kent might be willing to join us. Now that we were alone, she confessed that the dog was Kent. We just stared at him. He'd had a nightmare where he wasn't faring too well. In the dream, he changed form to protect himself. When she drew him out of it, he retained the shape.

One other bit of disturbing news was brought to light. The Fey may know about Xhimena…that she is the Witch. Sigh.

We had dinner and Owen and Kent left shortly after.

Day 54/31

As much as I'd like to ignore the Fey, it isn't wise. We decided that if they know of Xhimena, we should begin dealing with them as such. Besides, they would be interested in knowing about anything happening with the Loathsome. In the end, we decided to meet with each Khan separately, to trade information. We could see them collectively, but seeing them individually is a show of strength to them. They might not act in front of the others, but they could if they were alone with us. So, to meet with them alone, we are showing we are defended and unafraid. I'm hoping to start Xhimena out with a show of strength and power.

Day 55/31
Strolling for Ghosts

The whole idea of the Dreamland strikes me as being connected somehow with ghosts. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it is the reference of sleep being “the little death.” If Clarissa can attack through dreams, can she attack through the dead? Probably not. If it were true, she'd have done it before. But I want to explore this before setting the matter aside.

So, I walked through the Castle, looking for ghosts. Xhimena has mentioned that ghosts are sustained by pain and misery. By the nature of their deaths and the suffering by those left behind. I'm wondering if spectral activity has increased recently?

The first one I encountered was odd and dark. Actually, I can't remember much about her than she was there. I walked around the castle all night. I met a new ghost every few minutes. They were congenial and friendly, telling me their names and histories without qualms. I met over a hundred of them. I never met Finndo.

I do wonder if the Ghosts in Glantri could tell us more?

Day 56/31

When dawn came, I was exhausted. I met Random going downstairs for his morning cigarette. He did a double take at me. I must have looked as awful as I felt. He gestured for me to follow. I even took the cigarette he offered to me. He asked me what was up, so I told him about Finndo. That made him start. Then he got really, really serious. Not a pleasant subject, apparently. All he would say was that Finndo was a “bad guy.”

But, it was daylight, so we could talk about what Xhimena had learned. He made me take him to the room. I couldn't unlock the door, so he got the key. We went inside. It was very cold and dark. He stood there looking around. I used my empathy to see if I could feel Finndo's presence. The room got colder. Random brought in a torch to look around. When he came near me, I could see my breath on the air. He quickly got us out of there. He immediately ordered new and better locks for the door. He also gave standing orders that the key would only be given out to him or me. That surprised me.

I finished up by telling him of my visits with the ghosts. He seemed surprised that there were that many of them still around. I could only shrug. Then I took myself home and slept.


Day 61/31
Meeting the Khans

Our meeting with the Khans occurred tonight. For those we had relations with already, Xhimena was present. For the others, she listened from the next room. I don't know if this visual buffer would do any good, but one can hope.

The first to arrive was the Khan of the Ravens. I started the negotiations. I had information to share. Information, I added, I thought they would be most interested to learn of. Once told to them, they cannot share this information with any of the other Khans, until we tell them otherwise. Siggi was curious and asked what the cost was. I told her that if we request aid against the Sorrowful Hand, they will help. After a moment, she agreed. Then I told her about Clarissa, not mentioning names, and the fact that she can and has controlled the Loathsome. Siggi was so upset at the idea, she literally burst her skin. Feathers went everywhere. Xhimena was amazed to see her gleaming true form. Siggi was more than a little embarrassed at her lack of control, but thought the information gained was worth the cost.

She did share some more information. She said that the Dreamland was a place where mortals go and do impossible things. Interesting.

The second Khan was of the Ling Kai. I still think of them as the Moon girls. She looked to be about 15 years old, with long black hair and pale skin. A part of me wonders if this is the branch that Faiella was related to. Her name, or title, is Xhi Xhang. She also agreed to the terms of the agreement. When she learned about the Loathsome, she was just as upset as Siggi. Only her startled reaction was she let out a short, discordant song and blades leapt out of her chest. They missed us and hit the far wall.

The third Khan was of the Faceless Ones, the Ying Ko. I remember them being fairly neutral in our last encounter. They did not necessarily hinder us with the Loathsome, or Dastard, but they didn't help either. Xhimena was not present for this meeting. The Khan called me Faima-umbri and she referred to Xhimena as Fai-Xhi. Translated, fey means powers amongst powers. Fai-Xhi means powers above all powers. I think. Faima-umbri, I think means Mother of all powers.

Negotiations were a bit more protracted. She wanted to know who would help and how. How long until they had to respond to our summons and what nature their help should be. At first, I thought she was being difficult. I quickly realized that wasn't the case. I saw just how much wiggle room I'd left for the other two Khans to get out of helping. I guess I'll just have to bank on the hope that the Ling-Kai and Siggi want to maintain their relationship with Xhimena more than get out of assistance. So, in a way, this Khan was doing me a service. She gave a little smile when I caught on and began negotiating in earnest. She also agreed to the terms.

When I told her about the Loathsome, her reaction was not nearly as volatile. She backed up five paces and stood absolutely still with her arms out to the sides. She stood there for several long minutes. Then she moved one hand sharply and said, “So!”. I was a bit alarmed but managed to keep from moving. A wisp of shock traveled invisibly through the room. She then informed me that the only member of her bloodline within the Sorrowful Hand was now destroyed. With that, she left.

I had to sit back. Wow. I guess the information was worth the cost to her. I wondered if I wasn't underselling the whole thing. Still, they need to know and they would not understand it if I just gave it to them.

The next one was Shi-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed of the Zhan Zi. Oh, I was so not looking forward to this. Xhimena was definitely not present. As she entered, I could feel slight tremors under us. A tiny earthquake. A show of power? Probably. I could almost hear the weir wondering what the hell was going on now. As I laid down the particulars, her respect seemed to ratchet up quite a bit. Just for her, I put in one additional provision—she must help us personally.

She gave a little smile, thought for a moment and declined. And, she left. I wonder how long it will be until she realized that none of the other Khans can tell her what I told them. I wonder if she was banking on that.

The fifth Khan was Mal. She knew all the information already, but it was a nice touch. We had some tea and a light meal as a break.

The sixth Khan was Fa Lo Shu. These Fae call themselves the Ksss. I hadn't met him before. He was very tall, slender and dressed in the latest Parisian dinner jacket. He was almost too perfect. He also asked for specifics in the agreement. Then asked if other Fae were agreeing. I told him. He gave a long pause. I suppose it was significant to him that Shi did not agree to the terms. He said he would think on the matter and let me know. He, too, left.

The seventh Khan was Jin Wei Hu. He arrived loudly and ostentatiously in a Bugatti Roadster. He wore a tuxedo, with an aviator's white silk scarf, and he brought a box of candy. He looked a lot like Rudolph Valentino, if I could ignore the seven large fangs and pupil-less eyes.

Once he took the scarf off, it seemed to extend for yards. It was an exquisite white silk, of a quality I've never seen before. I complimented it and he seemed to be overwhelmed at the courtesy. He extended the scarf to pool at my feet. Even now, I don't know if he was mocking me, just acting, or if I had inadvertently done something clever. I told him my terms. He said that his kind were not warriors, but artists. The Fae called the Huli Jing. Nevertheless, he agreed to our terms. He was dismayed at the news of the Loathsome, but he said he was grateful to have learned it. He added that the Dreamland was a fascinating place. He said that mortals were very powerful there. It was a great way to lose a century. Hm, advice or warning? Or both?

The last Khan was of the Mer. I hadn't seen the Khan in a human-like form. She looked a bit like the actress Jean Harlow wearing nothing but silver paint. Her name is Sy Ming. She agreed to the terms, adding that she already knew of the news. Inwardly I was cursing. She said she's learned to listen to the other Houses and knew that Shi didn't agree. Well, at least she agreed to help us.

Sy Ming said that in the long run Shi and the Fey win, regardless if She is involved. She can sit back and let us do all the work. Damn it, but Sy Ming was right! Sy Ming said that Shi was the senior Fey since the Thorn King was killed. In fact, Shi killed the Thorn King. No one felt much remorse about his death because he was very, very bad. For her to say that made me wonder just what he had done. Sy Ming did, however, say that Mal was not included in that judgment.

I did remind her that in the long run, Shi's unwillingness to create a positive relationship with The Witch would bear consequences. I didn't have to say that if Xhimena chose to do so, Shi's line would never have more Fey. It could mark the beginning of the end of that line.

Sy Ming did ask if she could meet with DeWinter. I didn't see the harm in that. A few of her Fey have already met him. I had a weir call for him. He came a few minutes later. She looked delighted to meet him.

Then she started a peculiar transformation. I'm not really sure just what she was planning. She walked close to him, growing more arms, then more legs. She was trying to embrace him. I knew, I'm not sure why, that she wasn't trying to hurt him. But still, she could if she wanted and my feelings of danger were increasing. I finally put myself between them and told her this will stop, now! She collected herself, literally, and regained the form she arrived in. with a smile, she left.

DeWinter was so unnerved, he just stood there almost vibrating. I gave him a hug and kiss and the next thing I know we were most thoroughly engaged. It was wonderful. A few hours later, I realized just what happened. Sigh. I was pregnant. DeWinter hasn't caught on yet.

When he could breathe, he just looked at me. “And you wonder why I married you?”


Day 62/31

This evening, I set up dinner with just DeWinter and myself, in one of the parlors. I had candlelight and a nice fire. Very cozy. We ate and talked. Eventually, we sat on the sofa together, soaking in the evening. I remarked that yesterday was wonderful. He was in full agreement. I said I could only remember twice, when it was that good. I said he must really like his life, to want to continue it. he caught on right away. He was as stunned as I was last night. A part of him, though, wondered what in the world triggered his Circumstances. I still think it came down to his perceptions. And mine, for that matter. But, we have to be careful. If the situation comes up again, I shook a finger at him, you keep away. That got him to laugh, and we enjoyed a very lovely evening, thank you.


Day 63/31

Xhimena is in seventh heaven at the thought of a baby on the way. She sensed it before we told anyone. I told DeWinter he could announce it. So, at breakfast, as he was filling his plate, he said, “Oh, we're having a baby.” Then he went on eating as the entire table went silent. I just smiled and shook my head. Maybe he needs to work on his theatrics. Everyone just stared at me. I just shrugged, smiled, and ate breakfast.

I talked with Tremerule about this. At least, what he could expect. I thought it a good idea for him to witness this, because should he ever have children, he can expect much the same. I told him I might make him a bit uncomfortable, with teasing, but I would retain enough control not to take things too far. He laughed and then saw that I was being serious. He tried to be mature and assured me he could handle it. Right.

Eidolon was more confused. He thought that Circumstances were difficult to arrange, requiring elaborate planning. Well, yes, it can, depending on the individual Circumstances. But it can also be a surprise. He said he'd be on his guard, then.

I spoke to Dastard about much of the same thing. When I told him what to expect, well, he's smart. He realized that what I was talking about was much like what he went through. Only now, he will witness it on someone else. I hope it will bring home to him that his situation had been out of his control. Perhaps there will be less guilt for him, and for Tremerule when he learns about his own birth.

Dastard did have a few more questions about the whole process. Especially regarding his own Circumstances. I probed a little, trying to find out what he knows of Dalt's conception. He told me of the various rumors, but he discounted them. Actually, what he figured out by himself was the truth. He has no illusions about his mother.

It's funny, but Dastard is showing no signs of wanting to leave. I think he really likes it here. We are certainly getting used to him here. He is concerned about the Fey. He asked me if Tremerule is safe here? I wouldn't lie, so I said not completely. As much as we'd like it, we can't keep them safe all the time. Grimly, he agreed. But, I continued, Tremerule is surrounded by people who would die for him, to keep him from harm. And the weir are capable fighters, more so than many others. That's better than he might find in another Shadow. He seemed to take comfort from that, though I think he was a little startled at the idea that my weir would try that hard to protect his son.

Day 65/31

Xhimena sat down with me with a long list of questions about the baby and the pregnancy. She's taking her job as the Witch very seriously. I asked her if she knew if it was a girl or a boy. She said she thought it was a girl. I asked DeWinter if he wanted to know and he said of course not. Where's the surprise in that? Then, a few moments later, he asked what Xhimena had said. I asked him if he really wanted to know. He thought about it, and then said yes. I said she thought it was a girl. Ah. He didn't precisely sigh, but I could see that a part of him wanted a boy. And, I have to admit, a part of me agrees with him. Well, I could hope for twins, a boy and a girl. Everyone would be happy.

Day 75/31

If I've ever wondered how similar Kai and Xhimena are, I know now. As driven as Kai can be, Xhimena is equally obsessive. She's got a book that she carries around all the time. She writes down everything I eat and regularly measures my stomach. And, every morning she's there in the hallway, waiting for us to come out of our room. The first couple of mornings DeWinter thought nothing of it. he just said good morning and headed out for our morning workout. By the third day he was looking at her oddly. The fourth day, he asked her what she was doing. She said she was watching. He gave me a look that clearly said our children were very odd.

Diana and Cassiopeia are visiting. They thought the new baby was wonderful. They did get me alone to ask me for advice for “stirring” Rinaldo's interest. Apparently, at least one of them wanted to have a child.

This was immensely awkward. While they were extremely open about this, Rinaldo has been very close-mouthed about his relationship with them. A part of me wonders about it. They are very close and don't seem to be bothered by Rinaldo's protracted absence. It's almost as if they were a couple that just regularly included Rinaldo. They all seemed fairly content, outside this particular issue.

I evaded any direct answers, suggesting that since Rinaldo already had a child, he must know something about it. They said he did, but it's…complicated. His Circumstances had something to do with rabbits. I quickly cut off any more details. I really didn't want to know. I said they should discuss this with him. It would be the easiest way. They seemed reluctant to do that which reinforced my notion to stay out of this. I just can't imagine how you could be married and not be able to discuss something like this.

I really didn't have any answers for them.


Day 96/31
Claw and Dastard

Claw came to see me. She was distraught, almost angry. She wanted to know just how much we could trust Dastard. She doesn't trust him. He keeps asking her about the house defenses and she says he lurks outside Rinaldo's room, in the hallway, early in the mornings. Her reactions were odd. If she had a problem with him, she would have come to me earlier. But, he's been here for weeks. Something is wrong.

I went to talk to Dastard. He said he just wanted to make sure everyone was safe. I used empathy and found he was being sincere. As for being in the hallway, I probed until he reluctantly admitted to finding Rinaldo attractive. I told Claw to tell him what he wanted to know. She said it was a mistake, but didn't go so far as to defy my wishes.

I let the matter drop until I had to face it. Later in the day, there was a commotion. I found that Claw had attacked Dastard. We split them up and she was fairly snarling and spitting. He was just confused. I had them put into separate rooms.

I, with Vis, cornered Claw. I occurred to me what the problem was and Vis confirmed it when he stated, baldly, that Dastard was not attracted to her. She just didn't want to hear that. I could see that she was taking it personally. She snarled, “He kept smiling at me!”

I talked to Dastard. There weren't many options here. I wouldn't force him to go against his nature, but neither did I want more attacks. He said they had just been talking to her. She had put a hand on his leg and he had removed it, smiling to lessen and sting in the refusal. That was when she attacked. I said the weir often fight to settle disputes. He thought for a bit and said if he must, he could try it. I thought about it. Claw would not be nice and I have a feeling that he wouldn't know how to deal with an enraged weir woman. He's often remarked that he was never a fighter, primarily, and I have no idea how extensive his training is.

I went back to Claw. She was still pacing and snarling. I said I'd had enough. I took her out back to let out steam. Of course, most of the household followed out to watch.

She was out of control. I took a while, but she finally did not get up. I'd never seen her so wound up. We were both pretty battered and bruised by the time she was finished. I think I broke her nose as well as cracked her collarbone. I helped her up and she smiled, thanking me for the exercise. She was amazingly calm and relaxed now..

Dastard, on the other hand, looked at us like we were seriously disturbed. He said he'd forego any fighting with the weir for a while. I took Claw inside. I passed by DeWinter who was shaking his head. He said he'd been around the weir too long. Even he thought the fighting was hot. I laughed. The girls, who I just noticed, were all wide-eyed. I realized this was the first time they've really seen me fighting weir-style, for real.

I patched Claw up and told her to avoid Dastard for a while. She just laid back and nodded.

Day 99/31
News from Benedict

I came home from work to be told that Benedict was here. I quickly told them to have refreshments set up. No one knew precisely where he was, so I went looking for him. I saw him outside in the garden, talking to Dastard. Perhaps he was here to see him, and not me?

I saw everything set up in the library. I went to see if he was done talking and found him with Xhimena. She was sitting with him on a sofa, showing him her journal of my pregnancy. Oh my, is she going to show that thing to everyone who visits? Wonderful. Not.

I interrupted them, stemming the litany of what I had for breakfast every day. He smiled and came to have some tea.

He had some information for me, which might be of some interest. He'd been looking into the matter of Clarissa and the Loathsome. In fact, he's even spoken to the Loathsome. His sources, which he didn't reveal, suggest to him that the Fey predate even the Courts of Chaos. That stunned me. I hadn't given anything like that much thought. The Chaosians' superior attitude just had me assume they've always been around. It's not impossible that a people predate them, it's just that the idea never occurred to me.

He had a few more shocks to deliver. He said that the Loathsome Prince's exile predates the founding of Amber. Further, he now believes that Faiella had been much older than Oberon when they married. He said that perhaps she did not lie to him about her age, but rather, let him assume she was a Shadow woman. I said that was a very Fey thing to do.

Then came the bombshell. He said that She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed sired the Loathsome Prince. She exiled him when he tried to overthrown her. His exile came after he sired Faiella.

I just sat there. That…person, She was my great-great-great-grandmother? How appalling. I flashed on her appearance, dark hair, pale skin, blue eyes…yes the resemblance was there. I have a lot of work to do if I am to go into denial about this. I'm sure I can manage.

Benedict said that She, herself, might predate the Courts by over 10,000 years. I think my eyes glazed over. I'm not sure since my mind was reeling.

Since She had exiled the Prince, she might not be too happy with what we've done. And, since She had killed the Thorn King, She might be more than a little annoyed with me, now that I have obviously sided with Mal. I just defy her too much.

This will take a lot to absorb. I have no idea what to do with this information. I've never liked the idea that the Loathsome was forced to do what he does. Now it's taking on a personal edge. I'm going to have to guard against that.

He did say that there were a number of people watching the house; some of whom he thought may be hostile. Some were Fey. I knew about them. One lived in a neighboring house. I had him indicate which one. Ah, Director Glorieux's house. I said I thought he was hoping for more weir exercising from the women. I told him what I knew of him.

A while back, Tremerule and Dastard had been attacked by one of the Fey. One of the Sorrowful Hand. The Director had used magic to save them. When they came home and told us what had happened, I immediately went to see him. Both of them and DeWinter decided to accompany me.

It had been rather late. Even though he must have just gotten home, not much earlier that Tremerule and Dastard, the house was dark. I knocked anyway. Eventually, a man answered the door in a nightcap, carrying a blunderbuss. He was a bit put out at the unexpected intrusion, but saw us to a parlor.

While we waited, I wandered around the room. It was an old house. On the outside, it was a bit dark and brooding, sitting as it was on top of the hill. But the room was comfortable and cozy. The butler got a fire going and went to announce our presence.

In a corner was a piano, well used but beautiful. On it, and on the nearby wall, were pictures of the Director with various famous people. In one, he stood with the Kaiser.

I got seated just as Glorieux entered. He was pleasant, not disturbed by our late night visit. We did thank him for his timely aid, though we learned precious little about him. He said he was not a Druid; rather he was “independent”. Tremerule even ventured to ask if he would consider training him. Dastard looked uncomfortable with the idea. Glorieux smiled, but declined, though he said he would think about it, after Tremerule pressed him a tiny bit. I'm not sure about this. Just what we need, another mystery. We didn't stay long. He was good at evading direct questions, which made me more suspicious.

I gave all that to Benedict as compactly as possible.

Benedict listened and then said he had to be going. He just thought I should know what he had found out. He said if I wanted to talk about this further, I may contact him. I thanked him. I hope I wasn't too absent about it, but implications and complications were still reeling through my mind.


Day 102/31
Visit with Kai-Revere

I went out into Shadow and came back in to Libya. I had to tell Kai what was going on. And, it was a good excuse to see him. I knew he couldn't get away for a while, so I went to him.

I found myself in the middle of a jungle. I knew generally where he was, through the tattoo, so I crept in close. Soon, I began to hear shots. Oh, this wasn't simple maneuvers. I got as close as I could and got myself high into a tree. There was enough moonlight filtering in through the canopy that I could see what was going on. They were facing off some people. I have no idea who they were. The problem was, the Legion soldiers were being very European. That means they wore uniforms that were very visible even in the dark. Their opponents were not so hampered. As I watched, I saw a small group break off and begin to flank the Legionnaires. I know they were not being seen. I waited some more. Finally, I took a branch and threw it, in between the flanking attackers and the Legion. It was just enough sound to alert them to the danger, without giving away my presence. Within a short time, the attackers were subdued into surrendering and rounded up.

I waited for a few hours, long enough for everyone to calm down. The moon was high, giving me just enough light to see by. I Trumped Kai. He answered and I told him I was near. He said they were supposed to only move around in pairs, but he'd think of something. I watched as he moved around the camp. He'd ask one person where another person was. They'd gestured elsewhere and he'd go ask another person about yet a third. I saw what he was doing. If someone noticed him absent, they'd ask someone where Kai was. They'd tell him who he was looking for. Eventually, it would just get confusing, and no one would know what was going on. When he was ready, he managed to slip out.

I climbed down and met him. I gave him a hug and complimented him on their success. I knew he didn't have a lot of time, so I quickly filled him in on what was going on. He listened. He said he'd Trump me when he had a day leave to get away and have me use the hypnosis on him to ward his sleep. In the meantime, he'd be on guard.

He was shocked at the idea of another brother and sister. He said from what DeWinter told him of what he went through the previous times that this was usually a very complicated thing to arrange. I swiftly knocked that notion out of his head. Sometimes, it is very easy. Especially if you don't know what to avoid. He said he'd be doubly careful, then.

He stood there thinking. There was something on his mind. I stood waiting. Eventually, he vaguely conveyed that his relations with women weren't going so well. Oh, it was okay, but nothing more. I think he's starting to think there was something wrong with him. And I don't know how to fix that. To increase the danger level, hoping to stir things up, he even gave one girl a gun.

That was more than a little alarming. I suggested that might not be the best idea. If she was going to use it, he could be dead, because even he can't move faster than a bullet. And if he didn't think she'd use it, or if he didn't felt threatened, it was a pointless gesture. He sighed.

I told him to talk with his father. DeWinter has remarked that he was much the same way when he was the same age. I don't know if it will help, but it might make Kai feel better. We had to cut things short, since his comrades were now calling for him. I didn't want to get him into more trouble. I gave him a hug and kiss and he promised to Trump as soon as he got a day's leave. He went back to camp and I went home.


Day 103/31

I keep thinking that I have to go find answers. Things are in such a tangle; I'm not sure what to do. I have this feeling that going to Tir might be a good idea. Xhimena heard me talking about the idea. When I said I'd have to time my visit to Amber, she said I could go anytime. I asked her how. Now that she was thinking about it, she didn't really know. But, she could find out. That idea was really intriguing.

I asked her what she knew of Tir. She said that the Moon girls called it the City of Youth. It is an entrance into the Dreamlands. Most Fey could go there anytime. That was disturbing. If Clarissa learned too much, would she be able to enlist the help of She? Would She go along with a deal? That must not happen. It could put her much closer to Amber and make her much more dangerous.

Day 105/31

I decided to do a bit of painting. I thought a nice gift for Julian, for his help in finding Kai, and saving a lot of lives in this Shadow. I didn't want anything banal, or ordinary. I'm thinking of painting Arden, but in the cubist style that Pablo had perfected. I've drawn a preliminary sketch. It would have lots of Shadow where things could be hidden; an eye here, a tail there, hint of various creatures. It was one of the most complicated pieces I've ever tried. I'm pleased with the design. I hope Julian's pleased with its execution.

Day 117/31

Xhimena had learned how to get to Tir. She said I had to make something, it had to draw upon a happy memory. This was the key for entering the City of Youths. Once it was done, I would be able to dream of it. She said I would go to that place and look for clues associated with Tir. I had to make sure I didn't wake up before I left Tir. That would be “Bad.”

I'm not so sure I like this idea. I'm thinking I'd rather just face Tir. This method would make me vulnerable to Clarissa, perhaps. And if I got into trouble, no one would know I needed to wake up, because I'm supposed to stay asleep. Xhimena said she would go with me, but I forbade that.

Just in case, though, I painted the beach house DeWinter and I went on our honeymoon. Even if I don't use it, I still have a nice painting.

Day 131/31

Mal has been a little grumpy lately. When I finally cornered her, she admitted that she was thinking she ought to be keeping her part of the bargain with Random. Ah, she wants to start another child. But, that's not possible now that I'm pregnant. I said there were other people. Perhaps she should talk with Xhimena. She didn't even argue with that, she just went to find her.


Day 133/31

Xhimena came to find me. She said she had an “icky” problem. All right. She said that for Mal to become pregnant, she has to do it the Thorn way. I waited. This means she'd have to attack. Remembering the damage I took, well, few could withstand that. Hm.

I talked to DeWinter about it. I told him, again, about my first time. I didn't mince any words. He seemed to think he could handle it and volunteered.

Day 135/31
Mal's pregnancy

Mal, DeWinter, Xhimena and I were discussing something. I just can't remember what it was about, now. I only recall that DeWinter said something and Mal got really annoyed. The two started to bicker and Xhimena leaned towards me, saying this was a good time. I shrugged and said, all right. Xhimena used her power to “flip the switch” and fled the room. I took her cue and ran right out after her. The two of them paused, watching us run. I heard Mal say, “That little bitch…”

DeWinter got angry. “What did you call my daughter?” Mal repeated herself, clearly and loudly.

I stopped a few corridors away. Xhimena kept going. In fact, she was calling for all the weir to leave the house. What the hell? She could have clued me in a bit more.

I could hear furniture breaking. For a very long while. Then came a small boom, like a little explosion. Exactly like a little explosion. Mal was going incendiary.

Now bigger furniture was being broken. I didn't think there was that much in the room. Ah, no, they had moved to another room. After one particularly loud crash, I heard DeWinter yell, “That tears it.” Now it got really loud. Then the fighting became…rhythmic. Hm.

I leaned against the corner of the wall. Actually, I was holding onto it. Waiting. All seemed to be going okay, until I heard DeWinter give a bloodcurdling scream. Then there was silence.

I went in. He was standing facing a wall. Mal was between him and the wall. Neither was moving. Her legs were wrapped around him and he had a hold on her head, hands over her eyes. Things were oh so not right. For one thing, I could see that Mal was unconscious, probably since I could tell that DeWinter had been hitting her head against the wall. Various spots in the room were on fire. Remembering Mal's penchant for fiery eyes, I suspect that was why he had his hands over hers. I got a rug and began beating out the fires. They still hadn't moved. Neither seemed aware of me at all.

Hesitantly, gently, I called DeWinter's name. Quietly, he said he needed some help. “She's got me.” I went over to them. Oh, Lady. Mal hadn't reverted to her true form, but the Thorns had still manifested. They were locked together and blood ran down his legs. He was losing a lot of blood. I got out my Trump for Vis. I told him to get in here with Bison. Everyone else stay outside.

I tried to talk to Mal, but she was unresponsive. Unfortunately, that also meant she wouldn't relax. DeWinter said he was worried about passing out. He was straining to not move a muscle. Bison and Vis arrived. I told them to hold DeWinter up. They took one look at the blood and grabbed a hold of DeWinter.

I went into Mal's head. I called to her, told her to relax, to sleep. I couldn't get past her wards, but I could feel her responding to my voice. I kept urging her to sleep, to relax. Slowly, she unclenched. I kept a leg under her, so she wouldn't inflict more damage to DeWinter as she slid down. Finally, we separated them. Mal was unconscious, in a deep sleep. She was completely unharmed. I had Vis and Bison take her to her room. I picked DeWinter up carefully and got him to our room.

All I could do was apply pressure bandages. The rest of him bore bruises and lacerations, but nothing life threatening. The damage was severe enough; I suspected he would require surgery. I Trumped Blythe, who came at once. She was shocked at what she found. She set up a sedative, which DeWinter took gratefully. Once he was out, she began. It took several hours, but I think Blythe was proud of her handiwork. It'd taken 70 stitches in all. We made sure he was comfortable. She thought he would sleep for several hours. She'd stay here for a post-recovery assessment.

In the meantime, while she went to get some food and drink, I called everyone back in the house. I found Xhimena in the corridor, holding onto the corner of a wall as if she'd never let go. I told her her father would be fine. She relaxed.

I took her to sit down. She reminded me that she said it was “icky.” Next time I'll have her be more specific. The problem was, she couldn't predict just how it was going to go.

I had to wonder, though. This seems rather counter-productive for procreation. Certainly, there would be children, but unless both were Fey, and particularly tough, the child would only replace an adult. It didn't bode well for expanding a line.

Xhimena said that the Thorns were experts at killing, at making themselves into weapons. Hm. Well, she did do that.

I did have to tell Mal what happened. She woke and was very sated and happy. I let the matter go for several hours. It served no purpose to ruin her mood. She'll do it herself as soon as she learned what happened. When she was mostly back to normal, I told her.
At first, she didn't understand.

I had to put this delicately. This wasn't her true form. So, sex, such as we have it, is not “natural.” When she lost control, I think a part of her thought of everything as an attack. Rather than revert into her normal state, her thorns manifested…inside. She got it immediately. And was thoroughly horrified.

She jumped up and ran to see DeWinter. Well, he wasn't going anywhere, not for a while. She ran into the room. Xhimena was there, helping DeWinter to eat. Ah, Mal wasn't the only one feeling guilty. Blythe was near, tending to DeWinter's other wounds. All Mal could do was apologize over and over. DeWinter, well, in no way did he take advantage of the situation. He waved his hands in dismissal and said it was no problem. Neither believed him, but Mal was looking at him with new eyes, I think. Mal put her hands over her face and said that no one will ever want anything to do with me ever again. Xhimena piped up, “Not if they know.”

That forced a laugh from DeWinter.

Mal looked at her, “Xhimena, you're so honest, it's painful.”

To get their minds off of the situation, I sat them down to recount what Benedict had told me. Mal wondered what her father could have done to create the enmity of so many Fey, that they would want the entire line extinguished. And, she continued, if they were expert killers, how did they succeed?

Xhimena said that the Zhan Zhi were expert fighters. Something clicked and I thought I knew what happened. Someone, long ago, tried to kill a Thorn. Instead, they got killed. Someone tried to avenge the death, and got killed. A vendetta started escalating until everyone was fighting the Thorns, until they were eradicated.

So, to avoid the enmity of the Thorns, leave them alone. I wonder if having Mal here was serving as a deterrent?

I told Blythe that Mal is pregnant again. She checked and yes, she was. When I told her I was too, she checked again. Yes. She said I was very pregnant. I told her Xhimena was keeping a log, just in case there was anything she wanted to know. Xhimena said she'd be happy to show it to her. Blythe noted that she'll be very busy here in the next few months. I had to agree.

Day 136/31

DeWinter is resting comfortably. The girls go in and read to him, or talk with him, telling him what they are doing. Despite how he got there, a part of him was enjoying their company. It's taken most of the day for him to convince Xhimena he wasn't angry with her. I think he mostly succeeded.

Owen did come by and give me a bit more information. She and Kent had met with the Loathsome. He met them halfway. He talked for a while about Dastard. He had a wax tablet on which he wrote what he was not saying. He couldn't talk long. He was writing to say that Clarissa can hear him, but he didn't think she could see. He told Owen he was concerned that if Clarissa got deeper, she would learn things that would put my family in danger.

I clarified things a bit. My family? Xhimena, Kai, the children? Yes. She couldn't tell me how or what he knows about my family, which was more worrisome. There has to be some way to break Clarissa's hold on him. I just wished I knew what it was.


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