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Cassandra's Diary.7

Day 22/5
The Kiss

The early part of the day was rather quiet. I kept to myself a bit, as did the others. I reasoned we all needed a bit of breathing room, to adjust to what might happen. I learned that DeWinter spent the better part of the day out riding. I wondered if he would return.

He did come back, shortly before dinner. After my inquiry, we were strolling along the top of the battlements with a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside. It was a crisp, clear day, the snow falling softly in tiny flakes. It was just warm enough that there was no accumulation on the ground.

Quietly, I explained the situation as I saw it. I could not make decisions to alter their lives without their consent and knowledge of what might happen. And that was precisely what I was going to say when I encountered Dalt at the estate. Things were muddled in a terrible way and I wanted to know what I could do to help, since it was my interference that precipitated the events.

He looked out over the horizon, the snow had moved in further. He asked if I would take DoBlique to Yule even if he refused to go. I said I would, if he wished it, but would prefer if he would go as well. He mentioned he's killed a lot of Amberite troops and almost killed Bleys with an arrow through the eye. I could only shrug. The fact of the matter is that he had not killed any Amberites and I doubted many of the elders could say that they killed less. I was thinking of Julian with Morgenstern and Benedict with his skills in warfare. You don't get those by sitting near a cozy fireplace. Then there was Corwin and Bleys, both accomplished swordsmen, by Amberite standards. Even the women have a long history, though I don't know much about Deirdre, she was supposed to be skilled with a sword. Even Fiona, though her skills lie in the arcane and mental powers, it makes her no less deadly.

I wonder what I will be like in a few centuries.

But I said none of this. Then he asked why the invitation, after all these centuries. This was the difficult part. I didn't know if he was ready to hear about my feelings for him, or how they would be received. So, I settled by saying that I liked him and that his situation was not fair. He shook his head at the notion of fairness and claimed, once more, that I was crazy. "If you say so," was all I responded.

Then, curiously, he asked if I was a religious type. My mind flashed at the memories of being called a paladin of the Unicorn, by the church and my brief showing as a goddess, not to mention my latest title when we defeated the vampires. Quick utterings from over-wrought people. I wonder what all those people would do if they really came across someone worthy of those titles. "Not really, but it has been attributed to me."

He gave me a look of consternation, muttering something about me spouting sermons. I responded, trying not to laugh at the idea and keeping the conversation light, "No, but I've been known to spout a tail and Unicorn horn."

He looked at me, stunned, and I could not refrain from laughing just a bit.

Then he kissed me.

And the Earth moved.

Let me say that what happened was not the fancies of some over-imaginative, silly-minded youth. There was actual power flowing through us, erasing any thought of the world around us. Any words are paltry compared with the reality, so I won't even try. Afterwards, we were both so overwhelmed; we couldn't stand without effort. I did note that we had moved to one wall, only the crenellations stopped us from falling off the side of the castle.

We looked at each other, not knowing what to say. He broke the silence first. "What was that!' I could only shake my head. I didn't know.

"Could Lilith have done something to us?"

Again I didn't know.

"Damn, I was hoping you'd say 'No way.'"

I told him, "Well, for my part, I was interested in you for a long time before Lilith came alone."

His handsome face brightened at that, and he kissed me again.

I'm not sure how long we were up there. Time had little meaning. The embraces got increasing pleasurable and the power built higher and higher. In fact, I could feel it moving from me to him and back again. We finally separated, though it took effort. I'm not sure, but I think he was caught up in it further than I was.

While it was wonderful, and I wanted to continue indefinitely, we both knew this wasn't natural. At least, not for us. I've only had three romantic liaisons, and though we completed the physical acts, I never felt like this. And we had only kissed and caressed. We knew we had to have some answers.

Now some people are remarkably unable to talk of such matters, and I suspect DeWinter might be one of those types. But, we had to talk of them and I knew Owen was not only near, but also possibly one of the few that would give us what answers we had. I pulled DeWinter to his feet and we went inside.

I must say, he rallied to the situation well, even though he was as confused as I was. Owen for her part, she kept the atmosphere…intellectual, making things easier to speak plainly. She explained that this effect was what the Chaosians called "Circumstances"; that indefinable situation which allows our bloodline to procreate. It is different with each person though there are tendancies that follow in family lines. For myself, it could have been the fact that it was snowing, or we were outside, the battlements, my clothing, or the temperature, which set it off for me. She was very surprised that both of ours had been activated at the same time. The way she spoke, it could have been an innumerable set, which created the moment for us. I could ask Eric's ghost about it, should I speak to him again. Or Evander--- to sort of have a starting point with which to discover what mine were. I suspect DeWinter will have a more difficult time of it, since his side of the family apparently knew nothing of this. I admit to feeling a bit giddy at the thought of prolonged interaction with him to discover what these Circumstances were. I believe he was too overwhelmed to appreciate it much. But Owen did say two important things. This was unlikely to be anything Lilith did and that Oberon never told any of the Elders about it.

Few children had resulted from his own children because of this.

That was odd. Oberon was clearly founding a dynasty. It would be in the interest of the continuation of the line that everyone knew how to maximize the potential for heirs. I suppose Oberon, himself, might not have known about it? It was the only likely reason, but it seemed wrong. But if he told no one, Eric might not have known and the same for Evander. No wonder he stayed away. It could have been both a wonderful and terribly frightening for him, especially if he didn't understand and had no one to consult. Apparently non-amberites, such as Owen's husband, Kent, would feel little or nothing of this reproductive power.

Before coming to Amber, I would have expected children in the near future. But now, with seemingly endless possibilities for my life, I wanted time to explore those possibilities a bit. Besides, it would be a terrible way to start a relationship with DeWinter.

We continued a bit further in our talk when Owen invited DeWinter to speak with Kent about the same issues. It would be easier to speak to another man about such things, I suppose. DeWinter went to find Kent. Owen and I shared a light-hearted hour talking to each other. The potential joy DeWinter and I might find was there, in Owen's voice and eyes, if we chose to seek it. I wonder if the poor man was ready for it.

I went to Amber to speak to Random about Yule. I needed his consent if I was going to bring them to Amber. I didn't care about the amnesty…if he did not consent, then the effort to bring them back to the family would fail. I Trumped him and he fairly jumped at the power of the call. I thought at first it was a remnant of the power I experienced from the Circumstances, but later learned that Owen's castle was in a Trump-rich Shadow. All Trump contacts were easier here.

He was not particularly willing to deal with this, but being King he couldn't really avoid it. My first question was whether there were outstanding warrants against DeWinter and DoBlique. A quick inquiry into some records showed there were, from before Random was King. I asked if there was any possibility of them being commuted. He grew interested at that and inquired why I was pursuing this. I was not ready to talk about my personal reasons, but did talk about my empathizing for their situation. He wasn't really convinced, but did not squash my arguments aside. He finally said he would be willing to consider them arriving in Amber, possibly because I was set on what I was doing. As for the possibility of them walking the Pattern, he flatly refused, to no surprise of mine. His only stipulation was that he wanted to talk with the two of them, to make his own assessment. It was a fair request, which I had to agree to.

This meant I had to collect DoBlique for the meeting. I was halfway to my horse when I realized that we would lose days in my travelling. I doubted Dalt had recovered enough to have returned there, but I didn't want to waste the time. I Trumped to Owen. It was her suggestion that I try and make a Trump sketch, temporary though it was, to talk with DoBlique. After a few hours, and many tries, one was ready. Curiously, it was her crumpled to the floor after Dalt had hit her. Nevertheless, I was proud of myself that it worked. As I activated the Trump, Kent went to get DeWinter.

DoBlique was startled at the contact, but smiled when she realized it was I. I told her what was about and asked to come through. She grew panicked and said no, I couldn't come there nor could she leave. Dalt was there. I grew cold at the thought of her there alone with him. We would have to contact her tomorrow. She should have some excuse for Dalt as to why she was leaving. I had to agree, though I wanted to just pull her through.

The Trump became useless when I broke contact, singed at the edges, with the ink burned as well. There was nothing to do but wait and hope I could make another Trump. Owen contacted Shapir and brought him through--- both as protection for Random, and a lookout should Dalt start hunting.

We spent the evening congenially, a fire crackling in the hearth, brandy in glasses, and the quiet shuffling of cards and light conversation. Even DeWinter relaxed enough to tell an amusing story or two. While he spoke I even tried to make a Trump of him, but ultimately failed. All I could focused on was us on the battlements in each other's arms. Rather than sitting there flushed, I put aside the drawing pad and joined the others. I felt a little better that Owen could not make one of him. Still, I had no way to contact him, should I need to.

Afterwards, we retired. I walked him to his room, asking how he was. He wasn't sure. I must have sounded like a schoolgirl, but I wanted to know what it would be like to kiss him normally. So I asked if I could. He looked uncertain and I realized he hadn't taken everything in. So I withdrew the request and bid him good night. He seemed to be relieved that I wasn't upset.

In my rooms Owen paid a visit. She wanted to make sure she understood why we came to her for information about the Circumstances. She wanted to know if I wanted her to "watch out" for me so that the Circumstances didn't take over. I appreciated the gesture but assured her I would try and be careful. And if the Fates say otherwise, we will deal with it as we must.

Day 23/5

Nothing happened that was remarkable until it was time to Trump DoBlique. I spent the early part of the afternoon drawing until I had a Trump that I was sure would hold. We had a few hours left until we called her, so I invited Owen to spar. We hadn't done this for almost a year and she gleefully accepted. Of course, we invited everyone else to watch. While I know DeWinter was far more experience than I, this was for his benefit. Call it bravado, or simple vanity, or what you will.

We made our way to the practice area and began warming up DeWinter feigned disinterested, but I didn't really believe it. Sure enough, he came out to the balcony overlooking the practice area. Owen and I began sparring. I was pleased that my practice and study had a noticeable affect, for I was somewhat better than Owen. Before, she would have clearly defeated me.

Shapir came down after we were done and while Owen sparred with Kent, I paired up with Shapir. This was a bit daunting because I knew he was better. He fought with a curved sword and a different style. DeWinter paced back and forth, studying and watching, clearly wishing to join in. Shapir and I spent many minutes adjusting to different styles. He had the advantage that I don't fight in any particularly exotic style. His is a circular style; circular blade, circular movements and an economy of motion.

What is illuminating was how each person approached the fighting. Owen has great presence, causing one to immediately doubt the wisdom of taking her on. It's not quite a bluff, for she has skills to back herself up with, but she did confess that on a few occasions, she used that to avoid a fight she was not prepared for. Shapir was intense, clearly enjoying the exercise. For my own, I'm not sure how I am perceived, but I know I am focused intently, which must have some tell-tale effect. Owen mentioned a glitter in my eyes, though she didn't elaborate. Byslamia also remarked upon it once, saying I almost seemed to dare my opponent to try and beat me.

In mid-afternoon, I Trumped DoBlique and she came through. Random Trumped Owen to arrange a time to pull him through. DoBlique asked me to walk with her, for "some air". We passed through the halls and she found a seat for us to sit and talk. She was obviously quite nervous and what ensued was somewhat awkward. With a few words spoken, she took my hand and expressed her feelings toward me.

Oh dear, how was this going to turn out?

Looking back, I could see the signs for what they were now. I quietly told her that I did indeed admire and like her, but that my… "romantic feelings" were more for her brother. Women who prefer women are not uncommon in Mycenea, and I was not offended, but it was not my preference, though I was flattered. Long moments passed as she felt embarrassed at her "gaff." I assured her she should not be embarrassed… my actions did much to mislead her. She thought that her distress at DeWinter meeting Lilith was what led me to confront Lilith--- as if on DoBlique's behalf. We spoke for a long while so she could collect herself. I believe we amicably came to terms with the situation.

I hope.

Day 24/5
Random Meets DeWinter and DoBlique

Random arrived today and introductions were made all around. We sat and things started out in a rocky fashion. Actually, it never really stopped from being rocky. DoBlique started out by claiming that she did not really believe that all this diplomacy was in the interest of "patching up" family relations. Random said good, because she was right. I could have hit him, because that was precisely what I, at least, was trying to do. Random did mention that Yule would be only a first and then there would be a period of observation. DeWinter did not take well to that idea--- I think it rankled.

Though we all know the consequences of what we were doing, Random went over it again-- in the bleakest, most cynical fashion possible. I confess to being horribly depressed after he was done for he allowed no illusions of hope to destroy his view of the situation. Actually, what he was concluding was that coming to Amber really wasn't in anyone's best interest.

He actually warned them that Amber might be somewhat 'addictive'--- a small taste might increase their attraction.

I know he was testing their resolve and motivations, but he continually seemed to provoke both of them into saying or doing something foolish. At one point, Random asked us all to leave while he spoke to DoBlique, whom he addressed as the more "dangerous" of the two (I am in agreement with this assessment). We left and their conversation lasted only for a minute or two. When the door opened again, DoBlique was clearly shaken. I went in to see Random while DoBlique and DeWinter went out to the balcony to talk privately. I hadn't time to say anything to Random when DeWinter shouted "What!" from the balcony. He came in to the door of the room, furious. From the doorway, he pointed a finger at Random. "If you mess with my sister, you will pay."

Random calmly replied, "Any time, big guy."

DeWinter was about to issue a challenge right then when DoBlique pulled him back outside.

I was at a loss of how to deal with the situation when DoBlique came in. She said they would be coming to Yule if they were invited. At that, Random considered for a moment and then issued a formal invitation.

Within a few minutes he was gone having Trumped back to Amber. Owen and Kent went to take a walk and DeWinter looked like he was beginning to seriously brood. I attempted to talk with him but only got surly answers. Really, after all I've gone through to make this work, a civil tone would have been nice. DoBlique and I looked at each other and headed for the door. At his almost-demand about where we were going, I said for a walk, so he could brood and sulk. It did little for his mood and he said, "Fine, get out of here." So we did and had a pleasant walk.

Nevertheless, I was quite down in spirit about the entire day.

Day 25/5
Advance Warnings

I thought long about Yule last night. It became obvious to me that appearing with the two of them without any advanced warning was tantamount to firing cannon at point blank range. The only thing to be done was to approach as many of the Family as possible to clear the road. But how to do this would be the real question. I know Fiona has great expertise in psychology and asked Owen if she might be willing to give me advice. To my surprise, Owen Trumped Fiona, who accepted the task.

I went through and was met by a curious sight. Fiona was wearing a stiff, very concealing dress, buttoned to the neck, and a bonnet. We were travelling on a train, she occupying an entire car to herself. I sat next to her and immediately my armband began to warn me. This is the second time and I realized that Fiona could easily disable it, if she wished. Perhaps it was making a preliminary warning because of this. I outlined the situation and asked who I should approach and how. She asked how I thought I would do this and I stressed the rational reasons. She shot this notion down immediately. The Family, she said had many more rational reasons to dispute my arguments. Therefore, I would immediately lose any ground I might gain with logic.

Instead, she suggested speaking with each one alone, even if they are residing in the same place. This gives everyone equal consideration. Also, the order with which I speak to each one denoted their place within my "framework". She did say that there might be a breach between Julian and I because of this, though it should be temporary. It was what I expected. As for the argument, she suggested I should approach things through my personal feelings rather than rational. It would be difficult to refute my personal opinions. As she spoke, it made such sense, though I was unsure just how revealing I should be to some of the family. The discussion didn't take long and I thanked her for her time before departing. Her last words were, "If this goes as badly as I think it will, I want you to know I won't even think 'I told you so'." That was oddly comforting. She just told me she thought this wasn't a good idea, but I won't have to hear mocking repercussions from at least one quarter.

I immediately Trumped Julian, who brought me through. We were on a huge plain with fields going to distant horizons. There wasn't a town or house in sight. Beautiful.

To say I was nervous about the meeting would be an extreme understatement. He set a fire going as I paced, collecting my thoughts. Quietly and haltingly, I explained what was going on. I told him of empathizing with DeWinter's and DoBlique's situation and undoubtedly I was biased due to the whole notion of Circumstances, but it was something I had to do. His gaze went piercing at the subject of Circumstances. I finished my presentation.

Not much was said for the next half-hour. He was clearly absorbing my statements as he shed his armor prior to dining. I gazed into the fire, waiting for whatever would come. He sat down and we talked.

It was at this time when I realized that Julian had become the father Evander never tried to be for me. We actually spoke about Circumstances; he was surprised that both of us experienced them at the same time. He said it can be the most exalted experience or the most cruel. I said, of the family, his was the only opinion that truly mattered to me which was why I was so nervous. He held out his hand and said to be at ease. Though, in confidence he added if DeWinter is not a gentleman with me, he will feed DeWinter to Morgenstern. A daunting thought, that.

He also said one more thing, in the strictness of confidence. Deela, Dalt's mother, had captured Oberon using sexual Circumstances to hold and torture him. It was the worst defeat Oberon had ever experienced. Thinking about being totally at the mercy of someone in that nature, unable to overcome even with reasoning, was appalling. And clearly a warning of what might be a trap for me. Again, I'm biased, but I cannot believe that was what DeWinter has in mind. Especially since I know as much about his Circumstances and he knows about mine.

We sat for a while, closer than ever even though I know he was disturbed by my future. In an impulse, before I left, I gave him a hug. It was an expression of my respect, admiration and caring I have for him. Words were insufficient.

He suggested I speak with Bleys next, which was precisely what I had planned.

Bleys was charming and friendly, as usual. I told him about training Bellesara, and learning that she had been visiting me for training. Owen had told me Bellesara had been forbidden to learn swordplay, for familial reasons. He admitted that this was indeed the case and she had skirted the rules. He saw it as no problem and laid no blame on me. In the matter of DeWinter and DoBlique, he was much more serious. Still, he asked a few questions, seemed satisfied that Random knew about it. All in all, he took it well and would still attend the Yule.

Next I Trumped Benedict. I felt if anyone understood why I was doing this, it would be him. He thought for a moment, after I pled my case and said he hadn't planned to attend, but now he would.

Mother had little to say, not really knowing the history. She simply said that she expected him to introduce himself to her. She must have read more than I intended, for she only referred to him, not DoBlique.

Flora was convinced I was under some sort of spell, possibly a love potion. I told her Owen had cleared me in that respect, but she was unconvinced. She would attend, of course, but wanted me to take care of myself. She was upset at the thought of the possibly disastrous meeting, but I was feeling more hopeful.

Gerard heard me out and there was a long silence-- at least five minutes. He asked if I had talked with anyone about this. I told him I had taken Owen into my confidence. He was relieved that I had someone to talk to. He accepted what was happening with his usual even temper.

March, on the other hand, immediately Trumped Owen saying I was under someone's mental control. When Owen refuted this, he Trumped Fiona, saying both Owen and I were affected. Actually, Fiona hadn't answered, but Owen made the contact for him. I don't know what Fiona said to him, but he pocketed his Trump and went to get something to eat. March said I was looking poorly. Even Owen remarked upon this. I imagine that with all the stress and worry, with all the Trumping I have done has worn me down. Owen suggested I rest before continuing. With a glass of brandy for fortification, I went to the castle to sleep.

Day 26/5

I resumed my meetings. Kate simply chuckled at the entire affair. I thought of all the Amberites, Kate would have an affinity with DoBlique.

Llewella studied me for a long time. She also hadn't been planning to go, but she also changed her mind. On a personal note, she said that I can't rush into these things, but I also can't wait. She asked if there was something more personal to this. I admitted as much and wondered how transparent I was being. She said I wasn't. If I had said there was nothing personal, she would have believed me. She said such a… relationship was rare for Amberites and it may never happen again. I wonder what she has lost being alone for so long. It seemed impulsive, but she ran her hand along the base of my neck. I think she did something, but felt no danger.

Sebastian was particularly unconcerned, to the point of looking at me why I was making a being deal about the matter. It seems he doesn't know much about that part of Amber history.

I couldn't contact Martin, nor Corwin.

Capella, formally known as Tedra, didn't know about Dalt or that side of the family. I filled her in and she assured me she would make an attempt to have them feel welcome and "give him a chance."

There are 5 days left until Yule. I think I've done as much as possible to smooth the way. I hope that the younger members of the family, who don't have a real history with Deela's line, will not have a great deal of difficulty.

Day 27/5
Gift Exchange

The day began with a light snowfall, making it a beautifully snowy day. Julian and Shapir arrived bearing gifts. It was fortunate that I had mine ready. Despite the future, I felt honored that he still took the time to visit before Yule. From Shapir, I received a boot knife, one that will not cut me even though I have no boot hilt for it. He instructed me to blood it, now it will not hurt me. It was wonderfully balanced and I spent a few minutes admiring and testing it. From Julian I received a scabbard. It was of a white enamel with the Mycenean crest embedded into it. It was obvious that it was meant for the sword he gave me last year. Alas it is gone, but it fits my old sword well. I immediately strapped it on, it was perfectly fitted for me. I gave Shapir an extensive volume of Mycenean magic, with all its rules and procedures. Perhaps he will find something of value in it. For Julian, I had obtained an ancient sword from a legendary heroine.

The legend was that the people of Mycenean once lived peacefully on their island, with no contact with other cultures because a water serpent lived around the island, destroying all who came near, and all who tried to leave. After a time, they grew angry at the imposed exile. Polillo, a woman of enormous strength and prowess with weapons vowed to free her people. She spent a full year fashioning a weapon to slay the serpent while wainwrights and carpenters designed a craft to carry her safely. Armed with sword and transport and a small crew of her sisters, she left the beach. Legends say the battle lasted for five days, as she never let the creature rest or sleep. In the final battle, she dove into the waters to administer the killing blow. It took another full day for the coils of the creature to wash ashore, lifeless, and the entire island feasted well on the serpent. Polillo was never seen again but her sword, caught at the base of the creature's neck was found and brought to the Queen, to be placed, in honor above her throne.

Julian drew the sword, testing its weight and balance. It seemed a fitting gift since he believes it is his destiny to confront, and finish Lilith. No one has ever been able to replicate the sword because the details of its fashioning has long been lost to us.

They only stayed long enough for a brandy and some brief conversation. Then they were off, with other gifts to present.

I Trumped Owen, to go to the Grey Demesne, her castle. First, I gave her my gifts. They were a selection of paints I found in a variety of Shadows. Some, mostly the metallics, were of colors and textures I've not seen in her Trump. Perhaps she would enjoy them.

Owen gave me a pendant, actually seven of them, with one being the "hub". If I gave them to people, I could locate them in Shadow when wearing the master. What a wonderful gift. It will be perfect when I take the Weir home. If I lose any, I would be able to find them. The reverse is also true. They can find me and each other, simply by concentrating. I heartily thanked her and left for the castle.

Once there, I invited both DoBlique and DeWinter to breakfast with my family. Since they have a full day in Amber, there was no reason to waste any moment of it. They agreed and I refrained from warning them about my mother. I wouldn't do any good.

We played cards to while away the evening. It was a game called Black Whisk, and it wasn't too difficult to learn. There were pieces of bone used to keep score and I did fairly well. Actually, by the end of the game I was ahead. This, I think, was due to the fact that when DoBlique determined she wasn't going to win, she did what she could so that DeWinter lost the game as well!

I was surprised that they also had some gifts. DoBlique gave me a beautiful red and black gown made of the same material as the robe she gave me. It would be perfect to wear to Yule, especially since I hadn't given much thought to what I would wear. With an unsubtle glance, she gave DeWinter a signal for his turn. He glared back as if to say he knew what to do and gave me a necklace. It was a simple silver circle, with cross bars, cutting the circle into quarters. DoBlique said it had nothing to do with the unicorn, and confused, I thanked him for the gift. I'm not sure what it was supposed to mean, but it would go nicely with the gown.

Yule Day

It was barely dawn when Byslamia Trumped me to come through. Both DeWinter and DoBlique then Trumped me and came through. I could have passed them through, but I was taking no chances on this day. I introduced them to mother and Byslamia and we settle in for breakfast. It was a far more sedate day than usual. All the children were curiously absent and mother did not press for any embarrassing information. I wanted to kiss her for that, and I did, just before showing them the grounds.

DoBlique was very energetic throughout and found the apple trees fascinating. She ate one as if she'd never had one before. Perhaps she hadn't. Everyone here usually has there own hobbies and interest and since I had nothing for prolonged entertainment, I asked if they wanted to see the city. They agreed and we got horses for the ride. DoBlique spent long minutes touching and smelling the horse, stroking it along the nose. She said it was different from other horses she'd ridden.

The ride was pleasant and DoBlique seemed to try and take every vision in; the sky, the landscape. She was a bit curious that the farmers along the way simply called greeting, not from fear or any order, but because they wanted to. I'd almost say it was an alien concept to her. For his part, DeWinter seemed to grow more and more relaxed as time went on, displaying none of the excitement that DoBlique did. I wonder if he had been here before, but I don't think he had. I think he was focusing on DoBlique, making sure she enjoyed herself, to keep control.

It was in town that I realized that since Amber is Real, DoBlique was experiencing extreme sensations; taste, touch, smells, etc. She was enthralled with the sweet shop and emerged with sticky fingers and wide smile, like a child with an unusual treat. She event tried to feed some to the horse, but DeWinter stopped her. So, I ordered some to be sent to Tiryn for her to take home, and took her to a perfume shop. Then a clothier and fabric store. DeWinter did want to stop at a weaponsmith, but DoBlique would have none of it. They bickered for a few minutes and I relaxed as they began to act more normally with each other. He settled for a visit to a smithy.

The day passed quickly and it was apparent that DoBlique was rapidly becoming overloaded with her surroundings. We began to head back with a quick stop to take in the ocean. She was particularly taken by the smell of the salt air. Then she began to cry. She had this day, but tomorrow she had to leave. She was inconsolable about this and we used the ride back to get her back in good spirits. She regained some of her former cheer when I told her horses loved apples. The poor beast couldn't eat as fast as she tried to feed him.

We abandoned DeWinter while the rest of us got ready. Mother, Byslamia and I gathered her into my rooms as we chatted while doing our hair (I always need help with that anyway) and cosmetics. Mother loved my new gown and DoBlique kindly offered to arrange to get one for her. When we were ready, we descended to the parlor. DeWinter was there, dressed in such a fashion as I would never have envisioned. He was wearing black and white robes with runic symbols traced along the edges. Soft black boots rose past the hem. He still looked quite handsome and I complimented him on it. Actually, it would take quite a bit for him to look bad in anything he wore, though I am biased on this point. DoBlique, on the other hand, was not so pleased and she pulled him aside to have a few words.

I Trumped to the Castle steps. It was a pleasant surprise to see Martin there, carrying gifts from a flatbed wagon. I greeted him warmly. He seemed well and wondered how long he had been away, from his perspective. I brought everyone through. Before I could introduce anyone, DoBlique asked him, in a kindly tone clearly meant for a servant, if it was a good idea for him to park his wagon there, since family members would need to space. Sigh. Martin, tipped an imaginary hat, and said in an odd accent, "Why, ma'am, I'll be moving it along right quick." Before she said anything more, I stepped in and introduced Prince Martin to her. I give her one point, she didn't faint at the gaff to the Crown Prince. She paled and weakly said hello. I introduced DeWinter and Martin was surprised. He hadn't been warned of the visitors, but he took it in stride after a moment of evaluating him. Martin flirted with DoBlique, who did look quite fetching in a gown of the same material as mine. She blushed furiously and made for the door.

Martin turned toward DeWinter and asked if he wanted to help carry gifts inside. DeWinter said no and also headed in. Sigh. I shook my head at them and went to help him myself. The night was off and running.

When DoBlique saw me and Byslamia carrying packages, she hissed something at DeWinter and he came back out for an armload. While out there, Benedict arrived and without being asked, took a few packages as well. DeWinter brought himself up, standing a tall as he could, mustering every ounce of control and dignity he possessed. He said, to Benedict, that it was an honor to meet him and Benedict replied he was glad of the opportunity to meet him face to face.

Inside, Martin began to hand out gifts. True to form, none of the gifts had labels. It was a tradition, almost a game, that you could keep what you got, or pass it on to another, or the one it was intended for.

Before I received mine, I took the whole group to meet Vialle. To DoBlique surprise, Vialle hugged her, exclaiming on the fabric. I took her hand and she hugged me, using the opportunity to tell me how happy she was at what I was doing. I think she was truly pleased to have them at the holiday. She spoke to DoBlique who could only stammer in reply. This only served to make her more nervous which compounded the problem. Owen stepped in a rescued DoBlique, taking her aside to calm down. I told Vialle that she was nervous, and she understood, only asking that DoBlique stop by later for a chat.

She turned to DeWinter and they spoke. He did a nice turn of some phrases and looked at me as if to say, 'See I can do it.' I could only smile. Julian, Vivant and Shapir entered the room. I remarked upon it, for Vialle's sake. He was headed somewhere else, but immediately changed course when Vialle called for him. She spoke with him for a minute and said that she hoped he would give a toast later in the evening.

Behind us, Sebastian and a very young woman I supposed was Simone, approached. He handed me a card, his gift for the year. It read: One free "Get-Rid-Of" Sebastian Card. I smiled broadly and tucked it away for safekeeping. We moved on so others could talk with Vialle. I led DeWinter around the room, to meet the family individually. Owen and DoBlique were talking to Flora. Of the younger crowd, DeWinter got some serious interest. Mostly due to his good looks. I was a bit peevish, since he returned all compliments while he had made no such consideration to me. In fact, he had said little over the course of the day. We continued to walk.

I didn't get far before Owen came over and told me that I had to meet Flora in the Ladies Room. That translated into the second floor bathing room, the third being dedicated to the men. I excused myself and went. I found Flora and DoBlique talking. From the look on DoBlique's face I though something had gone horribly wrong. It turns out that the gowns were made from magical creatures. The spells that shape and hold it together would not last long here. In fact, they could go transparent and fall apart if they didn't set the spell more securely. DoBlique had to sit down before she fainted at the thought of her clothes falling apart at this event.

Flora called Carmella who spent a few minutes "fixing" the spell. We would have the majority of the evening in safety. I was loathe to change because it was a lovely gown, so I decided to take my chances. I had nothing DoBlique could wear. DoBlique was so distraught at the potential blunder, she surged toward one of the chamber pots and relieved herself of the food she had during the day. Flora held her and I fetched a damp cloth. We reassured her that nothing had actually gone wrong, she couldn't have known about it, and everything was now fine. I went downstairs and got her some food and brandy for fortify her with. When we were ready, we returned.

We encountered Martin, who presented me with a small box. Inside was some lovely perfume. I did like it, but it was clear from his expression, I was not it's intended recipient. With a little coaxing, he said it was for Melinda. I tucked it away, to give to her later, when she arrived.

DoBlique and I found DeWinter with Owen and Shapir. Owen asked if everything was all right and we said yes. The matter would have been dropped at that, to DoBlique's relief, but a naughty impulse took over. To DoBlique's mortification, I explained that the gowns were magical and might be affected along the course of the evening. Then asked them to keep an eye out, for the gowns might go transparent or some such thing. Inwardly I laughed as that bit of information riveted DeWinter's attention completely. It was a dirty trick, I admit, but it was fun. Shapir took it in stride, the gentleman he always is, and turned the subject into a safer avenue.

After a bit, I decided to get the worst of the evening past us. I presented DeWinter to Julian. This was the meeting most important to me and I was nervous. Honestly, it was like present a beau to your father. This would establish their relationship for a while.

Julian set his drink down and smiled. My heart fell when I saw it was not friendly, no matter how you tried to see it. He remarked on DeWinter's clothing. DeWinter said he had left the church. Church? What church, I wondered? Julian asked if that was so, why did he decided to wear the vestments here. I had a sinking suspicion that DeWinter's robes were from the Church dedicated to destroying the Unicorn. I kept my eyes on a fixed point between them, to avoid glaring. DeWinter replied he had removed all the insignia, and it was the best outfit he had. Julian regarded him for a moment and said he could believe that.

Just then Benedict appeared at Julian's side. I could only wonder if DeWinter felt outnumbered just then. Certainly he would feel defensive. This was not going well. Benedict casually remarked that there was now a price on DeWinter's head for leaving the Church. He even offered DeWinter some intelligence reports on the matter, should he be interested in reading them. It shored up DeWinter's claim but I was not happy that there was another group we might have to deal with. DeWinter seemed surprised at the information and agreed to view anything Benedict might offer. He said that technically, no one could leave the church. At this, Julian said that perhaps the only good saint is a dead one. Benedict cast a very disapproving look toward Julian and said that he only thought to give DeWinter the information because "I do not condone any assassination of a member of this Family."

Both DeWinter and I were stunned at the declaration, but for different reasons. Was Julian planning to kill DeWinter? Was that a warning to Julian? DeWinter was shaken that Benedict, the eldest of the Family, just declared that he and DoBlique were Family. I said "of course, wasn't that what I've been trying to tell him all this time?" Perhaps he needed a higher authority than mine to believe it. Benedict and Julian excused themselves and we took the opportunity to take some much-needed brandy.

In the center of the room, Julian was talking with DoBlique. Oh, my. I made ready to rescue her. Julian was back to being his charming self and DoBlique was unaware of any tension. In fact, she was blushing heavily at the compliments Julian paid her. In retrospect, DeWinter might feel a bit honored. Julian paid him the courtesy, in a backhanded sort of way, of being honest with DeWinter. He could have masked his feelings, as if dealing with a child. Instead, he was treating DeWinter like an adult who could handle it. I don't know if DeWinter understood that.

Owen stopped by, to see how things were going. I was good of her to pay such attention. I know that she had guests of her own, so her support and presence was appreciated. We saw in the corner, Random's drums and we knew there would be dancing later on. Martin was going to get his saxophone. We all sort of realized at the same time that neither DoBlique nor DeWinter would know how to dance to jazz, which we assumed would be played. We took them outside for some private moments to teach them a few steps. Owen remarked that Simone might also benefit from them and I went back inside to fetch her.

Simone was talking to Fiona. Something about poisons. It was an avid discussion and I waited until there was a break. I asked if I could borrow Simone for a few minutes and Fiona did not seem to be put out. I led Simone away and explained what we were doing outside. She smiled and heartily agreed it was a good idea.

DoBlique learned the steps the most easily. Simone was aghast at how we were dancing. Apparently they don't do such things in the Courts. DeWinter, well, dancing didn't seem to come easily, though he wouldn't be the worst dancer in the known worlds. In all fairness, though, we were practicing to no music but Kent's humming and it was a very unfamiliar style for the others.

As we came in, I met Melinda. I gave her her gift. She had not received one yet and insisted on getting one soon, to keep in the spirit of Martin's tradition. She returned within a few minutes with a medium-sized box. I opened it up to find a lovely leather-tooled book. The pages were gilt-edges and excellent quality. Then I scanned the pages to find them filled with limericks. I closed the book quickly. They were ribald in the extreme. Somehow I doubt this was intended for me. One person stood out amongst all others. I excused myself and sought out March. I said I thought this was of more interest to him. He said he kind of liked his gift, but maybe curiosity caught him because he agreed to exchange gifts. He opened the book, read a few lines and said "Cool!" He pointed to behind a couch as he kept reading. Shaking my head, amused to no end, I discovered a lovely black leather riding saddle. I much preferred my new gift. Everyone was happy.

Random and Martin began to play. DeWinter and I made our way to the dance floor. The actuality of dancing was much different than the practicing and I had to help him find the rhythm in the music. We were doing find when Owen cut in for a dance. I did ask Shapir if he would ask DoBlique to dance. I didn't want her to be left to the side. He agreed and I then noticed that Julian was dancing with DoBlique, who seemed to be enjoying herself immensely. While I watched, Benedict approached and asked me to dance. I caught some astonished glances at this, but he did well and I enjoyed it, as I would have expected.

Poor DeWinter was being barraged. Now I saw that Flora had gotten a dance with him and I think he was feeling overwhelmed at all the attention. Owen approached and asked where my mother was. She had a gift that was intended for Eidolon, so I took her over to where she was seated. Owen gave her a beautiful silver rattle. Owen said she played with it for a little while, since she never had one of her own (how could she remember?) but though Eidolon would get better use out of it. Mother agreed and gave Owen the pair of seashell earrings she had received. I would have thought the earrings were for Llewella, but they did match the sea-green gown Owen was wearing.

As they began to chat, I went and rescued DeWinter for a dance. His look said to 'never do that to him again'. As if I had a choice. We danced some more and then it began; the energy buildup we experience at Grey Demesne. On impulse, I led him outside, where we could be alone. We were interrupted by Owen on the way out. This time it was not particularly welcomed. She just wanted a moment of my time. I reluctantly gave in and we stepped off to the side. Apparently DoBlique's dress had "broken down". Sebastian had inadvertently (isn't that always the case?) drawn the magic out of it as they were dancing. He saw what had happened, the dress having gone transparent in the front, and guided her to the ladies room before anyone could notice, including DoBlique. He had Trumped Owen and she had seen that DoBlique got a change of clothing. Between Sebastian and Owen's accounting, DoBlique thought the dress had dissolved while in the ladies room. It was nicely done by Sebastian. He is learning. Still, Owen warned me not to dance with Sebastian. I assured her I wouldn't and got outside.

I went toward the gardens and was taken aback at the sight of DeWinter doing push-ups on the lawn. I was perplexed and could only remark that that wasn't precisely what I had in mind. He stood, brushing himself off, and I kissed him. Again, the power surge. It was becoming frustrating. According to Owen, this should only be infrequent. What could it be that has been present every time I was with DeWinter. We continued, breaking apart when things almost seemed to get out of control. I know we can't continue like this.

It was about an hour later when we returned to the party. It was time to collect everyone for the ride home. It was just after midnight and by the time we got to Tiryns it would be dawn and time for them to leave. DoBlique's face fell but she came along. She had been watching Sebastian dance, quite intent. Actually, she seemed interested in him and I don't think it had anything to do with her dress. Owen offered me her card for the Grey Demesne, with the instructions to return it immediately as it is the only one she had of the Shadow.

My new carriage was waiting, the gifts and saddle loaded on top. There was just enough room for all of us to sit comfortably inside. Still, it was a long ride back. We chatted on the evening and bits of gossip we each heard. As we pulled into Tiryn, everyone was fairly silent. Mother and Byslamia were very tired and DoBlique and DeWinter knew they had to leave. I truly hope there will be a time when they can stay as long as they wish. Alas, tonight was not the night.

The three of us Trumped to the Grey Demesne. DoBlique thanked me for the wonderful evening and retired. I was a bit wound up and on impulse, expecting to be rebutted, asked DeWinter if he wanted to take a ride. To my surprise, he agreed. We got some horses and rode out. I was quite clear in my intentions. I wanted to find some place where we could become more… familiar with each other, without enacting Circumstances. He said to lead on. I think he was as eager as I was.

It was a most frustrating trip. I tried an inn— no good. Then a deserted island. Nope. DeWinter even went so far as to suggest it was the lack of people that mattered. Though I was not enthralled with the idea, I found a modern sporting arena holding some Olympics. It did not work. By now we were becoming very confused. What could all these places have in common, that would enact our Circumstances each time? I had to laugh when, on some broad plains, he removed his clothing. He thought that was our Circumstances. It didn't work, but it did well to illustrate his own frustration. I thought it might be my armband and I removed it. No luck. I even found a highly technological Shadow, not unlike Martin's, but it was no good. Though this did illustrate to DeWinter that the range of Shadows one could visit is only limited by one's imagination.

Still, I had had enough. I concentrated on a Shadow where there would be sufficient contraceptives. We came to an inn. Inside, it was fairly nondescript. The only unusual thing was a computer in the bathroom. It explained, in detail, the seven different choices we had. I was unsure of which would be appropriate, and the effect it would have if we tried more than one. DeWinter had little patience. He took all seven! Laughing I followed suit.

I find it difficult, no impossible to write of that night. Suffice it to say, it was wonderful, though I'm glad I had sufficient funds to reimburse the owner for all damages to the room. I will say, I am pleasantly surprised at an Amberite's endurance, which we both displayed with abundance. I'll not forget those ten hours.

Afterwards, as we both relaxed, we spoke for a while. We were not at all tired, though I wonder how much of that is because of the energy gained from Circumstances. DeWinter, attempting to be offhand, asked if I thought this was all some devious plot of Lilith's. I said I didn't know, but since she was too powerful to do anything about, I wasn't going to worry about it. I can only live my life as I can. Otherwise, I would be hiding in a cave somewhere, hoping to avoid anything adverse. He said I was stubborn. I reminded him that I was also crazy according to him. He gave a nod in acknowledgement and then asked if I had given any thought to her idea about marriage or do I think we should wait.

DeWinter is fairly rough about some social forms and I think that was his way of proposing. I said I thought we should wait. He nodded and we began to prepare to leave. I had some misgivings about marriage right now. Not necessarily about him, but whether his feelings were real. In the last few weeks, he's had a terrible encounter with a mad brother, been caught up in this whole Circumstances thing, been introduced to Amber and most of the family, welcomed by some, and had a wonderful night of lovemaking. Wouldn't anyone want it to continue? I was worried he was caught up in the situation as opposed to me.

I have been told I no longer need to marry for political reasons. I believe it, but now find myself wanting to do so for all the reasons I thought were superfluous. This may be silly and romantic, but it's how I feel. I just want to know he was proposing because of me and not in the afterglow of all that has happened.

Thinking he might be feeling rebuffed, I tried to explain some of my insecurities. DeWinter seemed to spend long moments concentrating on his breathing. I would almost say he was trying not to laugh. Still, he repeated what I said back to me. It sounded… hollow. So, I admitted that I was more than a little certain that I was in love with him. Even as it came out, it sounded terrible. So much for a rousing declaration of affection. I think he understood but I noticed he didn't return the sentiment. I was right to wait. If neither of us can express ourselves to each other, we were not ready to even contemplate marriage. I did tell him of my planned expedition with the Weir. I thought it would give us some time to get to know one another. He agreed to Trump me in a week or so, all things perspective, to join us.

We headed back to the Grey Demesne. It was a "bumpier" ride, more taxing. It could tell it had something to do with DeWinter. I hadn't noticed when we were moving outward, but then I was pretty focused on our destinations.

We arrived in time for dinner. We were told that DoBlique was expecting us. We ate and talked. DeWinter was in a supremely good mood, not taking the bait with any comment DoBlique sent his way. She was perplexed, but neither of us was inclined to tell her about our trip. She talked about Yule, it was still on her mind. DeWinter told her about what Benedict said. She said Random thought it would be a good idea to establish some sort of communication. DeWinter said he would wait for Benedict to contact him. I remarked that it would probably be best to make the effort himself, to show what it meant to him. He agreed to seek him out. He wrote out a brief letter for me to leave for Benedict, letting him know DeWinter would try and contact him. I'd have to ask Random what was to happen next.

The end of the evening was a bit awkward. DoBlique retired and I asked DeWinter what he planned for the evening. I didn't want to presume anything. He said that what he had in mind was completely ungentlemanly. Happily I agreed to his unspoken suggestion.

Circumstances were still enacted and I hoped the medications would be sufficient, though by now if they did not work, so be it. I've been thinking about all I want to do, forgetting that I might have centuries to do them. 20-30 years in raising a child would be nothing to that. We took special care with Owens's furniture.

Two hours, to my annoyance, I got a Trump call. I blocked it, not wanting anyone to intrude on our night. We didn't sleep, the energy levels were too high for that. I got another Trump call, which I also blocked.

Day 30/5

At dawn, we made ready to leave-- at least I tried. DeWinter left the room three times before I could prepare for the day.

I went to breakfast to find no one there. I waited for perhaps a quarter of an hour before DeWinter and DoBlique arrived. We sat down and ate. Perhaps it was the time we've spent together, or the concentration, but I could feel the energy between DeWinter and myself. He could, too, because he gave me a look as if to say, "stop it." I returned my own saying I wasn't doing anything. I'm wondering if we aren't causing some problems for ourselves. I would have to inquire.

Afterwards, they gathered their belongings and we parted. I wasn't sure I wanted to start anything in front of DoBlique, so I simply bid DeWinter goodbye. They rode off, discussing what they will do when Dalt learns of what they were doing. Poor DeWinter… it was not a wonderful subject to have after a wonderful few days.

I warmly thanked Owens's staff for their hospitality and Trumped to Castle Amber. I found a few messages. One was from Benedict saying how he couldn't stay, but the gift in my room was his. There was another, in a code. In was in Mycenean, and quickly deciphered. It was from Lt. Ericson saying that the gift on my pillow is his. Shaking my head, I went upstairs. At the second floor landing, Random called down to me. He asked if DeWinter was dead yet, or still running around Shadow. I replied that nothing I did killed him, so I supposed he was still out and about. He said to wait a moment. I heard his steps retreat and then return a few minutes late. He came down the stairs dragging an enormous box, at least 8 feet long. It was my Yule gift. He placed it at my feet and went back to his rooms.

I carried the box, actually I had to drag it, it was so unwieldy, to my room. I started with the gift on my pillow.

It was a silver clock. I instinctively threw it back on my pillow. He would have to remind me of my last adventure with the clock. I couldn't help but glance around to see if any Chaosian hounds appeared. Once I realized it was a normal clock, actually quite intricate with a variety of settings, I cautiously placed in on my mantel. I did not wind it up.

I went for Random's next, since I was so intrigued. What would he have to fit in such a large box. I pried open one side and inside was a robe. It was absolutely huge, made to fit Gerard more than myself. It was of white terrycloth and emblazoned on one side was "Hotel Royale." I really had no idea what to make of the gift. I wouldn't even fit DeWinter, though it would be more suited for him. Was this an oblique nod?

Again shaking my head, I opened Benedict's. Another robe. Perhaps one's second Yule is marked by giving robes. This one, however, was beautiful. It was white silk. On the back, were white clouds. It was cool to the touch, not unlike how a Trump is cool. Since the incident with DoBlique's dress, I doubt I will be wearing her robe much. This, I will definitely wear. I penned a thank you to Benedict, saying that it was very thoughtful though I considered it a gift that he graced this Yule with his presence and gentility. I also wrote a thank you to Random, though it's hard to write one when you have little idea of the gift's intention.

I Trumped Gerard and asked him if it would be possible to speak with Lt. Ericson for a few hours. He said he'd Trump me back when he had an answer. It was time for a father/daughter talk. Then, I Trumped Owen for a private talk. First, she confirmed that I was not pregnant. She even took a blood sample to see how effective the medications would be. I explained our difficulty with Circumstances being enacted all the time. She was interested in the phenomenon and understood why I wanted to solve this particular problem. She had two suggestions. First, to find someone to take to one of the locations. If we can re-create one of the situations, then I know it is myself that is causing some of it. She had taken note when I said that nothing had remained the same except for ourselves. She murmured something about changing hair color, but it might only work with one of us. Her second idea was hypnosis. It would help to focus on each place and time, trying to isolate what was causing it. I thought the second idea was best and set a meeting for the next day.

I got a horse and rode to see Julian. A purely social visit, which I don't do often enough. I wanted to see if anything had changed between us. On the way there, I received a Trump, a very powerful one. Cautiously, I took it. It was Sebastian. When did he acquire such power?

He asked to come through, so I pulled him through. He was full on energy, he avoided all pleasantries and said he liked DeWinter and thought DoBlique was outstanding. That took me a bit by surprised. Then he inquired if she was "available." Oh, this ought to make Random joyous. Not!

I said that I didn't think she had an understanding with anyone. Which Sebastian didn't understand. So, I made it plain for him. No, I don't think she was seeing anyone. I did not want to embarrass her about our relationship, but I did state that I did not know where her "inclinations" ran, in terms of intimate relationships. He said, "not again!" at my raised eyebrow, he explained that Carmella and Flora were a couple. I refrain to comment that that was plain when I had first met them, but it was equally obvious that it was not commented on. I hope Sebastian would keep any comments to himself.

I also told him that should he pursue anything with DoBlique, that he was not to hurt her. I know how badly he handled his engagement with Jenny and I didn't want him to do the same with DoBlique. He said he understood, but I don't think he does. I truly like DoBlique, but I know that if Sebastian were to treat DoBlique like he did with Jenny (stand her up at the alter twice, for instance), DoBlique would be in a better position and inclination to seek retribution… and not be kind about it. Not that Sebastian wouldn't deserve it, but still… I made my warning clear.

It was odd. Sebastian gave me the same look he sometimes gives Julian and hastily said he wouldn't. I did take the opportunity to discuss Circumstances with him. Remembering what Julian told me about what Deela did to Oberon, and the fact that House Merquier somehow engineered that Simone be conceived, it is possible someone has a terrible way of controlling him. I couldn't tell him about Oberon, so he didn't really take the warning to heart as I wished him to. Instead, he focused on why I was preoccupied with the subject. I could see he made the connection between DeWinter and myself, but I wished he'd focus on the matter on hand instead of smirking at me. I think at that moment I understood best why he exasperated so many others.

He then shifted off the subject by… shifting. He wanted to show me his new trick. It was startling. One moment he was standing there, the next he was completely armored. It was veritably instantaneous. I wonder what he will encounter now that he knows that trick. He does have the tendency to be a bit overconfident.

Eventually he asked where I was going. I said to visit Julian, would he like to join me? He hastily declined (as I knew he would) and Trumped back to the castle. I continued my ride and ended up having a pleasant afternoon with Julian, Vivant and Rhiannon. I found that Rhiannon loves being tossed in the air, which I happily accommodated her. We had dinner and a bit of music before I took my leave. Julian expressed that he thought Yule went well, which I agreed. It seems that perhaps there is no breach between us. It's hard to tell, he can be so polite, but I think it is well between us.

I rode home. Mother was still there, which I was happy to see. She said she approved of my "handsome DeWinter." She even went so far as to say that she would recommend to Random that he and DoBlique receive sanctuary. She thought he was a bit rough around the edges, like many fighting men are, but he had potential. I would love to be able to see Random deal with Mother when she has something on her mind. I told her of my intended visit to Aes. She declined to join us, but agreed to my suggestion that I Trump her and bring her through to meet Tatasha.

Before I retired Owen Trumped me with the test results. The medications did work with Amberite physiology and there were no ill effects in combining them, nor with any prolonged use. However, though they were designed to work for a month, at best, I'd have four days left. My metabolism was too strong for sustained protection. The upside is that wherever I traveled, they would still work; they were not Shadow-dependent.

That night I dreamed of DeWinter, and the details are best left unwritten.

Day 31/5
Preparing for an Exodus

I sent word ahead to Julian about the planned trip. I didn't want him or the Rangers to misconstrue the reasons for the numbers going through Arden. It seemed to be a prudent and polite thing to do.

Gerard did get back to me, saying that I should stop by the castle around lunch-time. Lt. Ericson would have a few hours off and I could meet him there. I had to leave immediately, in order to not miss the meeting.

I found Father in the rear courtyard. When he saw me, he began moving into the formal gardens, so we would not be overheard or seen. We spoke for a few minutes, going through the pleasantries.

Unfortunately, we had little time to waste, for I did not know how much time we had, to speak. So, with little preamble, I told him about Circumstances. He wasn't understanding much about them, saying he never really noticed anything unusual when he was with my mother.

Actually, the talk was much simpler than I expected. He didn't shun the topic, say ridiculous euphemisms, or become evasive. It made it so much easier to try and pin down some information.

We started by trying to isolate some of the places we were in, when Circumstances were activated, trying to eliminate the Elements involved. I was conceived in Mother's Throne Room (oh, the look on some of the council's faces if they ever learned that!) and Eidolan was conceived in Amber's dungeon. Not much similarity there. The only things present were stone walls/building and food and wine.

When I asked about those times being special, he said none were more special than any other. I thought he was trying to be polite to Mother, but soon realized he was being truthful. He was even able to tell me how often he and Mother coupled— 33 times. The first was when I was conceived, the others while she was pregnant. Strange, I always thought he'd been in Mycenea far longer. The last time was here in Amber. What was equally surprising, was that he'd not had experience in intimacy before or since Mother. I refrained from speaking about Ire.

In the end, we didn't really establish much, but he was definitely interested in the topic, especially about why I was interested in it. He asked if this had anything to do with "that DeWinter guy," and was exasperated when I said it was so. He thought I could do better than an "outlaw and a brigand." This from the man serving a 140-year sentence for attacking the throne!

I said I was going to talk with Owen and invited him along, if Owen was agreeable. She was. We Trumped through and had some tea, trying to isolate more information. Father was very formal, calling Owen "Princess Owen." She had to order him to call her just Owen because he didn't want to incur any penalties. She called him Evander and he corrected her, saying he was Lt. Ericson. Owen did chat with him about the possibility of his learning Trump artistry at some point. She mentioned that when we both came through, there was an inordinate increase in energy between us. He was surprised and extremely pleased that I was currently learning it. She performed a simple test and said he could learn it if he were to apply himself.

We discussed the entire matter and Owen was of the opinion that both of our Circumstances were probably not physical objects, but perceptual. Father says he's always thought Mother was superior to any other woman he's met (despite his words to the contrary, when we first met). Oberon's Circumstance was that he had to be with a woman who had other primary commitments, aside from himself. For example, Deela was committed to destroying Amber. When she learned his Circumstances (I wonder how) she used her own commitments to entrap him and use his Circumstances against him. For his part, Father thought that our Circumstances were a sign that we were the natural line for the throne. Will he never give this idea up?

We decided this would be a good time to try hypnosis. Father had to be told what that was but, once told, thought it should be useful. I did say before hand that I'd some physical contact with DeWinter before and had no such effects. I mentioned taking him to Glantri and such. I thought perhaps that someone, maybe Llewella had magically enhanced the situation (I remembered the odd gesture at the back of my neck, once). But, there was no magic about me.

We started the hypnosis. It was quite easy to accomplish, really. She isolated the incidents, trying to find some common Element. Since DeWinter and I had tried so hard to turn them off, eliminating as many possibilities as we could, it was easy to see that there was, indeed, no physical Element involved.

We came out of the session with that bit of information and one other. It was possible that DeWinter's Circumstances were also perceptual in that he perceived some sort of connection between myself and the Unicorn.

Owen asked to try again, trying to narrow down some information. I agreed and she had me go back to when we first met. We'd met in Glantri and I did not see him again, almost a year later, when Dalt tried to kidnap Eidolon and I went to tell him what I thought of this. Between those two meetings, I had spoken to Julian and was warned that he was not one to be associated with. I had taken his advice and thought I had dismissed DeWinter from my mind. But as the session continued, I realized that I thought about him from time to time, my thoughts jogged by a passing reference or reminder.

Looking back, I realized that I was much more interested in him, and far earlier, than I had realized. Owen then focused on questions designed to determine if I had a predilection for "bad boys." She wanted me to admit to myself why I was denying what he was.

This second session was increasingly frustrating. To the point, that I was becoming angry at the entire affair. I do not deny what I know DeWinter has done. My opinion or perception of him is inclusive, not excluding. I also saw a man who is more than anyone let him be, or become. It almost seemed as if she, too, were simply at him with eyes that only saw… a reflection of Dalt and he was much more than that. At least, to me.

I'm not sure what Owen's final conclusions were, but I am convinced I am not pursuing a relationship with DeWinter because he is "inappropriate." Owen did acknowledge the possibility that I could run my life in "two separate tracks." I admit I'm not sure what she means by that.

Father was still convinced that DeWinter was an "uncouth, outlaw bastard." But, when I mentioned that DeWinter had saved my life twice, his opinion, outwardly, at least, changed dramatically. I neglected to mention that I had done the same for DeWinter. Perhaps I could have a conversation with Eric's ghost. If I could learn his Circumstances, there might be more to learn.

I couldn't resist teasing Father just a bit, that he and DeWinter were fairly alike. He played along as we illustrated some similarities; both did actions against the Crown, both thought of as dangerous and outlaws. He refused any such arguments and settled down when the conversation shifted.

Actually, we did not stay long after that. There was little left to discuss and Father had duties to return to. So did I. He elected to walk back to the Castle, to avoid anyone seeing him Trump through. It would raise too many questions. I Trumped back to the Castle after thanking Owen for her time.

I was on the second floor, heading from my rooms when I received a Trump call. It was Sebastian, who was rather frantic and almost incomprehensible. In fact, he looked horrible. He looked half his weight and what was visible to me was badly charred. He was babbling about being trapped (again) and needing help. He was in Castle Black (excuse, me?) and Dalt was there. I told him to just give me the information psionically. He didn't know how to do this, but allowed me to copy the information from his surface thoughts.

The mental story went like this. He'd been out flying and saw a large creature flying over Arden. This was somewhat usual, so he decided to investigate. No, he did not let anyone know what he saw or where he was going. He followed the creature to Castle Black, where he gained entrance through a window with the help of DoBlique. What followed was a brief (compared to my recent experiences) physical liaison between the two. It wasn't until much later that I could think about this, though it is interesting to have the male perspective on such things. This could come in handy with DeWinter. On the other hand, it is difficult to know DoBlique as intimately as I now do, especially when I am not so inclined. Sebastian's perceptions were intense.

Afterwards, when Sebastian tried to leave, he couldn't shift Shadow. DoBlique was able to determine that someone now had control over her Shadow. To say she was incensed would be an understatement. They isolated the person involved and went to confront him. It was apparent to me that this was an ambush, designed to entrap Sebastian, but it didn't occur to him until much later.

The person involved referred to himself as 'Magister'. This implies a legal function. Has Sebastian done something to justify such actions? Eminently possible. They squared off and the two of them lost. Sebastian tried to use his glove, which was full of magical energy, but the Magister used it to take control of his body. Later, the Magister admitted that an ancestor of his create the glove. Why does Sebastian always get into these things?

The plan for Sebastian was to use him to kill both Random and Martin, setting Sebastian up as a puppet King, entirely within their control. Their? Yes, he was working with an ally, though he declined to name him. While the Magister was making his soliloquy, Sebastian turned his attention to getting free. I understand the need to do this, but would have liked to learn more of what this man was planning. Sebastian began examining the magic inside his body. He "went down to the blood level". Indeed, he did. It was odd, seeing the blood flow and seeing the magical particles flowing along inside him. I'll have to remember to try that some time.

When he became aware of his surroundings, the Magister was gone. Sebastian then freed his hand from the outward influences and shifted his hand into a blade. Then he cut off his right arm. That was not a pleasant memory! Immediately, the world went dark.

He awoke on DoBlique's bed, inside the castle. Pain was all he was aware of for a while, until he could make out voices. His body was frantically trying to repair itself. He was badly burned, most of his skin charred through to the bone. He heard DoBlique talking to Dalt! Sebastian elected to "play dead" rather than make this confrontation. Then the Magister appeared, blowing the doors off the bedroom entrance. He entered with a simulacrum of Sebastian that followed his every move.

Dalt and DoBlique had a minor argument. Dalt wanted to learn more of the proposed plot and DoBlique was having none of it. As the Magister pled his case, DoBlique surreptitiously sent sigils to Dalt. It is my thinking she was communicating with Dalt. This was proved correct, later. When DoBlique refused to allow them to continue, Dalt hit her again and she was unconscious. The false Sebastian and Dalt moved to place her in a room so she would not hamper them. When all was set, DoBlique rose and fought against Sebastian while Dalt handled the Magister. The Magister has some sort of protective barrier around him, so Dalt simply grabbed the barrier and began twisting. Very unpleasant sounds came from the Magister. DoBlique easily took out Sebastian, breaking his neck. It wasn't very efficient, though she was decidedly trained, and Dalt came over to show her how it should be done. With a sharp move, he ripped Sebastian's head off and tossed it aside. DoBlique was more than a little disgusted at the mess.

DoBlique got Dalt to take the Magister away, so he could be interrogated later. He did inquire about her relationship with Sebastian, which the Magister had implied. She said she was simply "playing along." I could see that Dalt wasn't convinced. But, they were expecting the aforementioned ally to arrive and there was no time for arguments. He left. This gave DoBlique time to see to the real Sebastian, who could just barely move and talk. He needed the simulacrum in order to regain what he lost, namely the arm. It was "infected" and his body would not reabsorb it. DoBlique went to hide the glove so it did not fall into Dalt or the ally's hands. While she was gone, the ally Trumped in.

He looked around and said "Damn." He picked up the simulacrum's head, "Stupid, Magister!" He walked around for a minute, took the body and Trumped out. Sebastian couldn't do much, but he did get a good view of him.

That was when DoBlique returned and used my card to contact me. While they were trying to get rid of Dalt and all, I was getting myself to Random's rooms. I told DoBlique she ought to come through and told her I would see she had safe passage. I filled in Random on the current affairs and he agreed I could promise her safe passage. While I waited, I drew out the ally's face, hoping to get an accurate rendering for indentification. When she Trumped, DoBlique wouldn't come through. She wanted to get Sebastian to safety. She could say the ally took the body. We both knew that Dalt knew that Sebastian was really alive and on the bed.

Random came over and joined in the Trump. He asked her to come through and again she declined. He asked her if she was refusing a direct invitation from the King? She was taken aback and said no, but she had to see to her people, she is responsible for them. There was also the fact that Dalt would expect her to be there. They did agree to meet in a neutral place to exchange information. It was a Shadow that had some place called the Vulgar Unicorn. Random said he'd gotten thrown out of there often. They would meet in a week, her time. She examined the drawing and said it was no one that she knew. With that, Sebastian came through and DoBlique cut the connection.

Random was very interested in this possible new enemy. He even asked me to transfer the information directly, just like I got it from Sebastian. I was pleased he trusted me to do this. He had no idea who it was, though he agreed with me that it could have been Dastard; none of us has ever seen him and DoBlique was gone from the room. It would explain how they got a Trump of DoBlique's bedroom.

Since Benedict knew of DeWinter's history and standing, it occurred to me that he might know who this was. I Trumped him and he answered. Random was a little put out about this. I guess that Benedict doesn't answer too many Trump calls. I showed him the picture and he said that it looked like Borel Hendrake, but he was dead. He thought it might be a Shadow person with Trump abilities that simply looks like him. I thanked him for the information and relayed it to Random.
Random said that the Hendrake House was from the Courts but not particularly talented with Trump. It seems a bit of a coincidence that someone who is attacking the King also looks a lot like someone from a major House of Chaos.

We didn't have much information to go on. I was due to leave soon, but I didn't want to go if I would be better useful here. Random said I would be better out in Shadow. If DoBlique needed to get out, it would be better if she didn't end up in Amber. Especially if Dalt was watching. I agreed and went to Tiryns to prepare.

All in all, I have 50 Weir to transport home. I gave five of them one pendant each, from Owen's gift. I gave one to Claw, Bison, Cutwind and two others. Vis elected to stay in Amber with Mother and Eidolon, with two others. When I got to Aes, I would Trump Mother and bring them all through.

We had already done most of the preparations, so we were able to leave by early afternoon. We spent the rest of the day moving through Arden far enough so as to shift Shadow in the morning.

Day 32/5

I began shifting Shadow today, without any incident. Actually, it was far easier than I imagined. Rather than have everyone focus on me, I focused on keeping them. I could almost feel my mind "embrace" them and carry them along. I even got so daring as to have a way station available when we stopped for the night.

Day 38/5

I could feel we are close to Aes. I've been worried that DoBlique hasn't contacted me. I hope she's well.

This afternoon, I was told someone was approaching. We waited and to my relief, DeWinter rode in, his mount almost falling in its exhaustion. I quickly got him to dismount and we saw to the poor beast. I welcomed DeWinter and reacquainted him with Byslamia and the Weir. Claw mentioned to him that she was happy he wasn't a vampire. DeWinter was a little put off and could only reply his thanks. I hid my smile as best I could.

After a while, I led him away so we could walk and talk about things. I really didn't want to tell him about what happened at Castle Black and managed to avoid it, for a while, with lovemaking. Not that he resisted, mind you.

Later, laying on the soft forest floor, I told him a bit about what I learned while at Owen's. I had given this some thought. If I knew what my Circumstances were, then he should have that same right. Otherwise, I'd be playing the same game as his mother. I also told him that I do not believe that I have any special connection with the Unicorn. He asked about the marks and I relayed the story of my UnderShadow adventure. I said that any Amberite in such a position, desperate and without any recourse, would have been helped by the Unicorn. He listened and nodded, remaining attentive and solemn.

Then he told me he wasn't buying it.

I'm not sure how much to push this. I admit I'm a bit worried that he might cease all interest if he thought I was playing with him, playing a part. I am now sure of my feelings.

Strangely, I'm more afraid.

Day 39/5

We made our way back to camp just before dawn. We sat for breakfast and I told him about Castle Black. I showed him the sketch and he said he didn't know who it was. He winced a bit at the idea of her with Sebastian. I reminded him that it might not be serious, but an after-effect of her day in Amber. Regardless, she's strong enough to handle the situation. DeWinter agreed, saying she was both the most talented and the most attractive of them. I took the bait and easily contradicted him on the last part, all business aside. He said I should wait until I meet Dastard. I said it wouldn't matter, I know who I'd prefer. He shook his head and said I was too stubborn. Perhaps, but he enjoyed the compliment.

I was still worried about DoBlique. So, I got my drawing kit out and tried for another Trump sketch of DoBlique. Maybe it was the calmness of the dawn, or the quietness, but I was successful. One would think I'd be able to do a permanent one by now.

This picture was of her standing against the Magister, angry. Her arms are thrown ahead of her as she's casting a spell. Crimson bats are flying from her hands. I realized that the card is so strong because of Sebastian's perspective, now in my memories.

It worked. DoBlique was walking outside. She was happy that I contacted her—Dalt had found my Trump along with her things and had taken it. Could Dalt be so stupid, that she could walk this fine line without him do anything? I do not believe so.

She came through and we sat down. In the end, we Trumped Random to let him know she was safe. He was glad to hear it and no, he doesn't think either of them are behind this plot. It would be too simple and Sebastian, if nothing else, does not find simple problems. In regards to them being of the House of Hendrake, Random believes, at best, it is a rogue. Hendrake has waged war on Amber, but is also honorable. They see the Treaty as valid and would not go against it. On the other hand, the House has thousands of members and someone might have decided to go their own path. I remarked that it was odd for our opponents to have a Trump of DoBlique's bedroom. He asked if I could bring her into the contact and she complied with the request.

Random, being his usual diplomatic self, asked her how many Trump artists she's had in her bedroom. DoBlique blinked a few times and said "One…Princess Owen of Amber." Random raised an eyebrow. I almost "saw" what the King was thinking. I couldn't resist… I said I was there as well, knowing Random couldn't pass up the opportunity. He waggled his eyebrows and DoBlique, cocking her head sideways, say that we shouldn't forget that Gerard had joined us as well. Random shook his head and said he didn't want to think about That.

Joking aside, I thought that we may not be looking for one individual. Perhaps this ally gained the help from a Trump artist. Or, he got the image from one of her people. One captain escorted me to her rooms and another brought breakfast or tea. Could one be a spy… or, at best, not even realize they have had that information taken from them. Random thought it was a good idea and DoBlique seemed happy to have something to do. She would begin questioning whether any of them have gaps in their memories, or a sense of missing time.

Both Random and I reassured her that losing my Trump wasn't as horrible an event as she believed. I just wished I had one to replace it with. Random told her when he lost some Trumps, when he was younger and I told her how I lost an entire deck to a House in the Courts. She was relieved. To top off the morning, Random gave her a Trump of himself. She tried to refuse, but he was persuasive. In the end, she took it. It was a wonderful gesture for him to make.

We cut the contact and DoBlique joined us to break fast. I did ask her one thing. When the Magister and she battled, at one point she hissed at him, with large fangs showing. I asked her what that meant. She said that it was part of a spell. If she could bite him, it would allow her to drain off the magic from his racked spells. She said most mages don't expect that. Interesting.

Afterwards, she said she had to be getting back home. To my pleasure, DeWinter opted to remain with us as we travel to Aes.

Now he gets to meet my grandmother. I wonder if I should warn him or not….

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