I had the briefest of moments to catch sight of myself in the
mirror before Lord Ritar hurried me from Dad's study towards my room to
change.  My face was pale and drawn, my eyes hollow and shadowed.

	The expression seemed vaguely familiar, somehow, but I couldn't
place it.

	Lord Ritar waited outside my door while I dressed for the first
time in the armor Dad had commissioned for those ponderous state occasions
that required it.  I hadn't used it yet for any of those occasions.  And
now I was going to wear it into battle.

	This was not how I pictured my first day in charge.

	I came in from a hunt with Graham this morning to try and find Mom
and Dad -- I hadn't seen them since the night before.  They'd been
fighting a bit, and they're hard to find when they're in that kind of
mood.  Not to mention, if you're smart, you don't want to find either of
them.  You can actually see the frost forming on the windowpanes when
Mom's mad at Dad.  And when Dad's mad at Mom -- well, I don't know of any
simple metaphors to explain what THAT's like.

	But, I couldn't find either of them.  Neither responded to Trump. 
Two hours before the Council meeting.

	My first Council meeting.

	It is quite one thing for one's parents to disappear.  It is quite
another for MY parents to disappear.  When people like my parents
disappear, it doesn't mean "Oh, well, maybe they snuck off for a second
honeymoon," or anything like that.  Dad is next in line for being in
charge of all the universe that matters, and he takes it very seriously. 
Mom is obsessively responsible.  Further, we were two hours off from the
biggest moment in my career to date.  From these facts, I knew that
Elspeth's calmly reasonable explanations for my parents' whereabouts were

	It didn't take too long to get the news that Thelbane was under

	The rest of the day passed in a blur.  I learned, quickly, what
it's all about to be the Regent of Chaos in wartime, even before what was
available of the Council confirmed me as such, and sanctioned the raising
of the army.  I learned also a quick lesson about foreign diplomacy.  When
it occurred to me that I wanted Ian as far away from this as possible, I
thought immediately of the Crown Prince of Amber.  Dad trusted him, for
some reason, and though we'd never really discussed it, I couldn't think
of a better place for Ian to be -- in that distant, solid castle.

	Long after I passed Ian through to him, I stared at the Trump
without truly activating it, letting my eyes wander over the curves of the
man's biceps, looking at the play of the light reflecting off the green of
his hair and faintly coloring the sword.  Amazing detail in this Trump. 
Painted by a loving hand.  I frowned a bit, trying to remember who was the
author of this Trump -- it had to be my father or my mother, and I wasn't
sure that I liked the thoughts it provoked coming from either one of them. 
I idly skimmed the surface of the distant mind, and assured myself that
Ian was being the usual bother.

	I found that Uncle Claudio, instead of looking steady and ancient,
actually seemed nervous.  This wasn't reassuring.  His long, straight nose
and high cheekbones -- features carved by the same hand that sculpted my
father's face -- were the only echoes that proclaimed him family -- and
yet, he and Graham were very dear to me.  The only people outside of my
parents and brother that I was allowed to become close to, through my long
childhood.  They were both dressed for war -- looking a thousand times
more comfortable in their armor than I did in mine.  Yes.  Graham's
parents were both warriors; there was no way he could be uncomfortable in
armor.  I was briefly jealous that his education had been more rounded
than mine, for he was also an excellent sorcerer.

	Ritar, Claudio and I had a last moment strategy session, and then
Ritar opened a Trump to one of his trusted seconds.  Claudio, Graham and I
preceded him through -- my bodyguards following.

	I took a deep breath, looking out at the teeming mass of the army
-- my army, until such time that my parents returned.  They *had* to

	I had a sudden memory of who I looked like when I caught sight of
my face in the mirror -- it looked like nothing so much as Mom's face,
after she took the Logrus.

	I had another memory, of my fifth year in Ixaxis, when I was
fretting over a boy whose name I like to pretend I've forgotten -- when in
fact I can etch his face into a Trump- quality image in any medium you

	I had been moping -- there was no better word for it -- when I was
on vacation from my fieldwork during my last phase of Ixaxin training. 
I'd talked it over with Mom earlier that day, but dared not discuss it
with Dad.  I wouldn't speak during dinner because I didn't want him to
guess that I, his daughter and heir, was worried about what a Shadow
sorcerer of no particular merit thought about my looks.

	Of course, the next morning, when I went for a walk in the
orchard, he found me.  He always does.  Dad's never been one to leave well
enough alone...if he thinks you're holding something unhealthy inside, he
harasses you like a Stormhound on the scent of a Manticore until you spill
your guts.  Kind of the "let the pus drain and THEN see how the wound
heals, dearest, never mind how much it HURTS to drain the PUS."

	Well, we had a long, long talk about life, and being the heir, and
being a female, and about being a male, and being responsible and watched,
and so on and so forth...  Stuff he's been talking to me about since I was
born, I guess.

	But he said one thing to me then that I don't think he ever really
brought up before.  "Alora, we named you after my grandmother not only
because we wanted to honor her memory, but because of what the name means. 
In Ixaxin, Alora means 'true blood.' That's because even if you make
mistakes in your life, even if you don't know what to do, something in you
will help you make the right decisions.  The blood will tell."

	I think if I'd been older, and had been through a few philosophy
courses at Oxford, I would have turned to him at that moment and said,
"Dad, you're full of shit."  At the time, at age fifteen, I leaned into
him, and sighed morosely, and just thought it.

	But a mere six years later, dressed in armor that I could barely
stand up in, leading all of Chaos in an attack against an unknown enemy, I
hoped like hell he was right.

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