"The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost."
As poorly as the day started, I'm surprised it ended well. Of
course, I could be suffering from a case of optimism.
Claudio's Trump call earlier in the day left me badly shaken.
"Laughter and Caitlin are gone," he said, not trying to hide his shame.
Claudio is the captain of my Royal Guard; it is his job to see to the
safety of the Royal Family. Laughter is my wife.
I nodded, my mind settling into a now familiar numbness as I
placed the Jewel about my neck and strapped Song to my side. After all,
it wasn't the first time my wife had been kidnapped. It was beginning to
settle into an unsettling routine.
"Pull me through," I said to Claudio when I was ready. He quickly
obliged, his eyes avoiding mine. I had him show me from where they had
disappeared. The way was blocked by a cave-in. I drew Song and tested
the depth of the debris. It was to my liking and I used the sword to
begin hacking my way through. I suppose I could have conjured something a
bit more useful, but at the time venting built-up frustration seemed to be
the best course of action. Claudio watched me silently, lending aid where
Beyond the boulders there was nothing, no bodies, no trace of a
struggle. I stood staring down the tunnel numbly. Claudio had the
presence of mind to Trump Sand. She was quick to respond but could only
offer that, yes, a Trump gate had been used. (I already knew that, or had
at least assumed). She was also unable to trace it as it cut through the
Badlands. I wandered a bit further down the hall, Song hanging limply in
my hand, my mind at a loss. Benedict arrived from somewhere. He
suggested that if I were to continue wandering, I would only meet those
advancing armies that he, Laughter, Caitlin and Claudio had been sent to
investigate. We returned to Amber via the Great Hall Trump. I seemed to
vaguely remember seeing Claudio heading off towards the dining hall. What
became of the others I know not, as a page held my immediate attention
shortly after my arrival.
"This came for you while you were gone, Your Majesty," the boy said
as he bowed and handed me a note. I unfolded it. A chill danced across
my arms and legs. I was beginning to develop a phobia around
hand-delivered notes. As I read the first paragraph, I felt my temper
begin to ignite, the chill being replaced with a rapidly growing heat.
"To King Archimedes of Amber," it began. "Hail! To ensure your
cooperation in this matter, several of those near and dear to you and your
subjects will be staying with us for a time. They shall not be harmed if
you proceed with the following exactly:" My eyes quickly scanned the rest
of the page. "- bring your Jewel of Judgment to the tree known as Ygg.
Our operatives there will return to you your son and daughter." This was
a shocking new agony. I knew only of Laughter's absence. Somehow they
had gotten to my children as well. "- do not attempt anything foolish,
such as following our operatives, replacing the Jewel with a fake, etc.
We will return the Jewel to you when we have finished with it. At that
time, you will also receive your Queen and Lord Chancellor." They had
taken Ulysses as well. Why? "- after this, please send Benedict of Amber
to the edge of the Abyss, where we shall return his daughter. Your
immediate and full cooperation in his matter is necessary if you wish to
see your family members again. Signed, The Jezetti Duranta."
And just like that I had a plan. I refolded the note, my mind
turning the plan over a few times. Any chance is worth taking when your
children are involved. My mind made up, I dashed toward the Pattern room,
overtaking Claudio in the process. In the Pattern room I showed him the
note and told him of my plan. He had been thinking of taking a similar
route, but he lacked the Jewel of Judgment and a certain degree of control
over Shadow. I told him to follow along behind me, thinking it would be
easier for him to follow in my wake. A poor decision in hindsight.
I took the Pattern, striving for the center as quickly as I could
and trying to ignore the memories it evoked in me. I hate walking the
Pattern. With every step I pulled energy from it and forced it into the
Jewel. I had no idea how much power I needed, but I wasn't going to take
any chances, not when my family's lives depended on it. When I gained the
center, I teleported to the Primal Pattern, thinking that Claudio would be
well on his own way by now. At the center of the Primal Pattern, I
gathered yet more power. The Jewel hummed where it hung at my chest. I
hoped my mind would hold together during the power surge, not wanting my
brains to become part of the local scenery.
I took a deep breath.
Then I focused all of the power I had been building. I thought of
my children, hoping Laughter would be somewhere near them, then I thought
of the place where they were at, and more importantly, that wherever they
were, Pattern would be functional. That is the task that I then forced
upon the Jewel and the Pattern. A moment later I was standing before
Laughter and Sandr holding a twin apiece. I wanted to laugh and shout out
loud. It had actually worked! But I had little time to enjoy my victory,
finding shortly thereafter that Laughter and Sandr stood amongst the
I can't say I'm proud of what happened next. I can only hope that
if others were put in my position, that of having their family torn from
them, their lives held against imposed actions; that they would have
reacted in a similar fashion.
To my knowledge, there are no Jezetti left alive. My actions, I'm
sure, can be described as barbaric, but there are precious few ways to
kill a shapeshifter with any certainty. I don't know what made all of the
Jezetti stand still there at the end, but it made beheading them a lot
I'll be carrying the look that Caitlin had on her face at the end
of the slaughter around with me for a while, I think. At the end there
was one Jezetti left; Caitlin's aunt apparently. Caitlin wanted her to be
spared. It was a request I could understand but not honor. How could I
explain to Caitlin, barely in Amber for a year, having missed all of the
recent wars, that it just doesn't pay to let your enemies live? Learning
that lesson cost me my father. It's not one I'm ever going to forget.
Ulysses gathered us all up at the end. I learned then that he had
sent Laughter, Sandr and the children back to Amber as soon as I had
restored Pattern to their prison. The man truly is a wonder. He took us
all back to the Great Hall using the tremendous amount of Trump energy he
had been endowed with. As I arrived, and took Beatrice from Sandr's arms,
I began to forgive myself. I had done my best to ensure the safety of the
tiny creature I now held in my arms. I gathered my family about me then
and retreated to the Royal Quarters. I was beginning to feel the effects
of my prior experiment with the Jewel and longed for the oblivion that
sleep would bring me.
I have a feeling that I hadn't slept long before Caitlin Trumped
me. I remember thinking to myself, good, at least she's still talking to
you. I hoped she hadn't caught that through the Trump contact.
"Your Majesty," she said. "There is someone at the front gate who
greatly resembles Ulysses." There was something either in her tone or
expression that made me nervous, but at the same time I felt it wasn't
directed at me.
"Thank you for the information," I replied. "I'll see to it."
That involved giving my austere Lord Chancellor a Trump call. I passed
the tidbit on to him, not holding the contact longer than I had to. I
didn't want him to catch me laughing at him. You see, Ulysses and I had a
small game going. My goal was to see that he had as many children as I
had, which was four at that time, and his goal was to see that he didn't.
The tally now stood at Archimedes four, Ulysses three.
I was about to drift back off to sleep, when a look from my wife
reminded me that, for her, it had been ten days since she had seen me.
Even I can take a hint. Did I ever mention how much I love her?
It was shortly after that when I remembered that I hadn't seen
Claudio in a really long time.
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