"Depart not from the path which fate has you assigned."

	I guess Valium isn't as effective on Amberites as I hoped it would
be.  Laughter woke up screaming again.  I asked her what the dreams where
about.  She said they always end with the ones she loves dying at the
hands of Faeries.  Hell, guess that would scare me too, but I have a
feeling it would hit my surface as cold rage.  That's where Laughter and I
are different.

	It was a bad time to tell her that I needed to step out into
Shadow for a bit.  She insisted that I take a guard.  Given the situation,
I couldn't refuse her.  Mok was less than pleased to receive my Trump at
so early an hour.  We arranged for one of his mecha-suited men to guard
Laughter in his absence.

	I grabbed the note I had written to Melanie in the middle of the
night.  Its wording was a bit more flowery than I usually am, but I'm not
exactly a practiced ass-kisser.  In waters uncharted, I usually fall back
on the graces that Llewella tried to instill in me.  I had no idea how
effective it was going to prove, only that it needed to be said.  We had a
bit of a scene a year earlier.  She had unwittingly brought Maron into my
personal quarters, and then blocked the damage I had felt I needed to
deliver onto him.  It was when she demanded an explanation for my actions
that I threw her out -- out of my room and out of Amber.  I still think
that refusing an order from the King of Amber, in his personal quarters,
and in front of Benedict and Fiona, really was in poor taste.  But in her
defense, she couldn't have been in top mental form immediately after
discovering the man she had eyes for wasn't who she thought he was.  I
couldn't think of a more effective way to deliver the message to her,
either.  I didn't want to open myself up to the amount of intimacy a Trump
call would provide, not that she'd take my Trump call anyway.  This way, I
could at least be sure that her chances of hearing me out were

	Just as I was about to pull the Trump for Foil, I received a Trump
call from Claudio.  Thank Lyr he was still alive!  He wanted to speak
privately, or at least not over a Trump, so Mok and I stepped through to
his Shadow, Ixaxis.  He explained that after I had reached the center of
the Pattern and disappeared, he had received a stab of pain and passed
out.  He had woken up some time later in the hands of his personal
nemesis, Abigail.  His ire with me was obvious, but he had such an
eloquent and subservient way of presenting his case, that I must admit I
felt rather small.  Our difference in height had nothing to do with it, I
assure you.  It was decided that from now on, when I planned to experiment
with the Pattern while he was using it, he was to proceed me.

	Then he really pulled the rug out from under me.  He requested a
leave of absence.  Apparently, Melanie's force walls caused him
considerably more aggravation than they had me, and he was determined to
learn the sorcery necessary to break them.  What could I say?  I had
nearly killed him and all but delivered him into Abigail's hands.  I
granted his request, but only on the grounds that it would be temporary.
To this, he agreed.  I also had the presence of mind to ask him who he
thought could replace him in his absence.  Sky or Caitlin was his reply. 
I was afraid he would say something like that.  Sky is my only
granddaughter and Caitlin had yet to prove herself at that point.  I
thanked Claudio, wished him luck, and then Mok and I continued on our way.

	We had just reached Foil and had begun to step a few Shadows out
when I received another Trump call.  Have I ever mentioned that being King
of Amber makes you a real popular guy?  This time it was Ulysses.  He had
that kind of look on his face that I've only ever seen in Shadow; that
kind of expectant grin children get on their faces five seconds before
demolishing the wrapping paper on their Christmas gifts.  I was skeptical,
at best.

	"Ulysses?"  I said, trying to hide the dubious tone I'm sure was
tagging along with the syllables.

	"I've got a present for you," he said.  I can't say that that

	"What is it?" I offered, not sure what I had done to gain his

	"Open it," he said, as he handed the ornate box through the Trump
to me.  I did so, all the while waiting for the spring-loaded snake to
jump out at me.

	Inside the box were twenty-four crossbow quarrels.  What caught my
attention were the intricate designs traced on the heads.

	"Don't touch the tips," he said as I began to.  "Go ahead.  Use
one," he coaxed.

	I managed not to lose the Trump contact while I loaded the
crossbow.  I took aim on what was convenient.  When the quarrel hit the
rabbit, it and the rabbit disappeared.

	"Where?" I asked, drawing the word out a bit.  It took him but a
moment to get over his excitement.

	"In a volcano," he pointedly answered.

	I thought for a moment how truly amazing it was that he had so
quickly adapted to violence.  He must have led a truly sheltered life in
Amber, before Tianen made her bid for the throne.  Ulysses' zest for
living was legendary by the time I returned, thirty years after Random had
ascended to the throne, as was his belief in the non-violent resolution of
all conflicts.  Two months after my return he was merrily jumping up and
down on Finndo's skull.  Not to say I wouldn't have, but it should have
been me, not him.  I hope he can yet recover something of what he was
before.  The world needs more happy people.

	Needless to say, I thanked him for the gift.

	Shortly thereafter, I found what I had been seeking.  I tied my
message to the bird's leg, knowing that sooner or later its path and
Melanie's would intersect.

	I returned then to my wife and to breakfast.  She had told me the
night before that my son, Flynn, had been working on gathering information
about the Cult of the King -- the kind people who had kidnapped me early
and carried some unknown part of me away with them.  I tried not to
concentrate on the information he conveyed, most of which dealt with
sacrifice of the king in one sort of way or another.  These were, after
all, cults in Shadow; not the one I was specifically interested in.  What
information he had gathered, however, would at least give Ulysses and
Sylvie a better idea of where to look.

	After that, Benedict approached me and asked if I could spare him
a moment.  I had had enough of breakfast by then, and he followed me into
one of the sitting rooms.  What followed next I still have a hard time
believing.  He was worried about his daughter, Caitlin, and the elements
she had been exposed to of late.  I couldn't get many details out of him,
only that he didn't approve of the company she was currently keeping.  He
asked me to keep her in mind if I had any treaties coming up that could
possibly be sealed with a marriage.  I'm sure I looked completely stupid
as I rolled that thought around in my head.  I didn't really need to be
any more unpopular at that point in time than I was.  Surely he was
joking, I thought, until I remembered that this was Benedict and he rarely
ever joked.  I will say, in my defense, that I did offer up other
alternatives, such as the possibility of Caitlin taking Claudio's place. 
This should be more than adequate, I offered, if he simply wished to keep
her busy.  He heavily favored her marriage, however.  I had no idea what
pain this was to cause.  Since it was Benedict; the man who had taught me
both how to fight and how to conjure, I could not reject his request.  I
told him that I would keep it in mind.

	Upon returning to my quarters, I quickly planted my foot squarely
into my mouth.  I had forgotten Laughter's request to explore the cave of
her nightmares, the cave she had led me to before she was stolen from me
and replaced with a doppleganger.  I then proceeded to Trump Ulysses and
pull him through, to see if he would accompany us.  I also thought it
might distract Laughter's irritation with me.  It might have, if she
hadn't been nursing Alaric when Ulysses stepped through, treating him to a
rather new and intimate portrait of his Queen.  He had the grace not to
comment.  Occasionally, my timing is less than adequate.  We proceeded
from that rather awkward moment to discussing who else we where going to
take with us, and who was going to watch the twins in our absence.  Having
small children does tend to take some of the romance out of adventuring. 
Laughter wanted Caitlin to watch them, and since I thought that to be a
rather beneath her, I countered with Fiona.  Since neither of us had the
nerve to make that Trump call, Caitlin was Trumped to watch the children,
and Sky was Trumped to join the quest.  That decided, Ulysses pulled the
image of the cave from Laughter's mind and Trumped us en masse to its

	My first clue that something was wrong should have been the sudden
heightened effect of the cultists' theft.  Ever since they had performed
their rite on me, I had experienced what I can best describe as an
emotional delay.  Whatever emotion that happened to be evoked in me at any
given time tended to be slowed down somewhat; there was a two to three
second delay before I really experienced the feeling.  This practically
doubled a few feet into the mouth of the cave, when I passed through what
almost felt like a film -- similar to entering a still pool, but without
the wet.  I felt almost detached from myself, like I was watching the
whole show on a vid screen.  It wasn't long after that we stumbled into
the middle of someone else's plot.

	As my senses slowly returned to me, I began to get bits and pieces
of the events that had occurred before I had lost them.  It had happened
shortly after we had passed the film.  A wall had slammed down, separating
Sky from the rest of us while the wall opposite began to glow with an
almost electric light.  I think that maybe Ulysses was pushed through it,
but that happened so near to my own loss of consciousness that I couldn't
remember for sure.  I do remember Laughter saying, "Oh, hi!"  right before
everything lost its color.

	The room I opened my eyes to wasn't entirely awful; I had
certainly seen worse.  Somehow I knew that both the Jewel and Song would
no longer be in my possession.  I wasn't disappointed.  My eyes followed
the dappled pattern the sun made on the floor, and I guessed that the one
thing I was still in possession of was my emotional lag.  After the sun, I
noticed that I was dressed entirely in green, I was lying on a bed in what
appeared to be a guest house, I had a chip in my jack, and I still had my
wedding ring; in more or less that order.  The ring told me that Laughter
was in the next room, but upon arriving there, all I found was her ring. 
I slipped it into a vest pocket.  Seeing myself in a mirror there, I also
happened to notice that I had been given pointed ears.  They felt real,
too.  Great.  Lacking anyone at hand to thrash, I wandered out of the
guest house.  A keep and a town where laid out before me.  I decided that
I'd certainly get more answers there.  It looked like the populace was in
preparation for festivities of some sort.  If I had been emotionally
labile at the time, I might have realized that for the omen it was.

	About then I noticed that the chip in my jack was an info chip and
seemed to be chock full of information about this place.  Awful
convenient, don't you think?  But who was I to pass up an opportunity?  I
began pursuing the files as I meandered down into the gathering crowd.  I
wasn't in an especial hurry to discover the role I had to play here, I
must admit.  According to the files, I was what they called a changeling;
half-human and half-Faerie, recognizable by both my short stature and code
of dress.  A side effect of this was that apparently I belonged to the
servant class.  Somebody out there had a real sense of humor.  The chip
also told me that today's festivities were in celebration of a wedding. 
Again, I missed the significance.

	Looking to my right and left in the crowd, I chose the child that
stood on my right as opposed to the arrogant-looking bastard on my left. I
wanted to get a more personal opinion of the Shadow.  I quickly discovered
on trying to converse with the child, that I somehow lacked the ability. 
Once I got over the initial wave of panic, I realized that no, unlike
Ulysses' apocalyptic vision of the future, in which I had somehow lost
possession of my tongue, my current difficulties were due to a more
magical nature.  Foiled in that arena, I turned my attention back to the
chip.  It told me that the King had recently died.  This was also
confirmable by the black arm band I currently sported.  He had had four
children.  They were named Lavender, Rosemary, Elwood and Aubrey. 
Lavender?  It was only then that I felt my stomach begin to churn. 
Laughter's given name is Lavender, and she did have a sister named
Rosemary.  My sinking feeling bottomed out when I caught site of
"Lavender" and the gentleman she was supposed to marry; he bore an uncanny
resemblance to Ulysses.  I wish that would stop happening.

	I stood by helplessly as the wedding began.  When the priest began
the part about objections, a small plan began to form in my mind.  I was
positive it would get me killed, but my ego just wouldn't submit to a
marriage between Laughter and Ulysses.  The fact that it was just a Shadow
of Ulysses didn't help.  Lacking a voice with which to raise a complaint,
I delivered my objection in the form of a solid lead ball to the back of
the priest's head.  Pitiful, I know, but you aren't me and you weren't

	That gained me an immediate audience with the princess "Lavender." 
She, of course, wanted an explanation.  I, of course, couldn't give her
one; not until she removed the spell that bound my tongue, which she then
preceded to do.  Given the opportunity, I then launched into further
desperation.  I explained that she was my wife and I was King in Amber. 
She looked rather unimpressed.  I then tried to force the issue.  I asked
to see her hand for a moment.  She consented, as by then the place had
more than its fair share of guards about.  Once I had her hand in my
possession, I placed her wedding ring back onto her finger and tried to
reach her psychically.  No dice.  I was beginning to prepare myself for
the punishment I knew was to come, when I heard Ulysses' voice over the
hushed crowd.  I'll be damned if I ever figure out how he accomplishes
half of what he does.

	I whistled to get his attention, and he appeared a moment later,
cold iron in hand.  Laughter promptly passed out.  I guess she had
invested more in the illusion than I had.  I let her land on my shoulder
and Ulysses removed us from harm's way.  The return to Amber was
interrupted only by waking Laughter up, retrieving our missing swords,
(Ulysses had grabbed the crossbow bolts from me when I passed out; it
would have had been better if he had grabbed the Jewel instead, I was to
find out), and removing the glamour that had been placed on the both of

	Compared to the morning in Shadow, the afternoon in Amber was far

	While we were gone, someone had attuned themselves to the Jewel of
Judgment.  This explained the fleeting contact I had with it earlier,
while I was still in Shadow.  The individual was not successful, thanks to
Caitlin, and she returned the Jewel to me upon my arrival.  Unfortunately,
she had to dispossess him of his soul while on the Pattern itself.  That,
of course, meant that the blood of an Amberite had been spilled on the
Pattern and yet another black road now pushed its way out from Amber.  No
one understood the ramifications of that better than I.

	The rest of the afternoon passed in what seemed, to me, to be in
slow motion.  I talked briefly with Merlin and Sky; something about Ghost
finding a friend and becoming inaccessible.  I strongly suggested that
Merlin make peace with the computer.

	Eventually, I found myself talking with Ulysses, as I often do.  I
outlined to him my problems as I saw them.  We had an army on the way to
Amber, a black road pointing straight to Chaos, a broken Pattern and
person or persons unknown who continually tried to kidnap my wife.  He
offered up a sympathetic look and began to say something I knew I didn't
want to hear.

	"The primary concern of the King of Amber is the safety of the
Patterns.  They are the only vestibule of order in the world.  Without
them, the world returns to Chaos."

	His words echoed loud in my head as I absorbed them.  I felt as
though I were standing at the top of a precipice, the ocean far below.  I
had to dive into those dark waters and somehow time the jump with the
crashing waves so as not to smash myself against the rocks below.  What I
really had to do was redraw the Pattern.  Ulysses must have sensed the
growing tide of hopelessness within me, because he continued.

	"I have a plan," he said.  And so he did.  He wanted me to work
with Perseus, Lord Atherton, and also his father, to draw a new Pattern
for House Atherton; a Pattern drawn with the Jewel would be a Pattern of
order, as opposed to the Pattern of Chaos that Atherton now had.  He
cautioned me, though.  I was not allowed to put any of myself into the
Atherton Pattern.  I was, in effect, to be Perseus' pencil.  Not something
I was entirely looking forward to, but I needed any chance at that point. 
Fiona had mentioned that if even one of the Chaos Patterns were destroyed,
my chances of redrawing the Pattern, and surviving, would increase.  I had
to take that chance for Laughter and the twins.

	Ulysses continued.  After the Pattern was drawn, he said, he would
need both a Logrus Master and a Master of Form.  They would introduce
Primal Chaos into Perseus' mind, so that he could survive the destruction
of the Pattern he had himself created.  This apparently was how Corwin had
survived the destruction of the Rose.  I asked him if he had his masters. 
He said not yet.; that was the next step of the plan.  He then suggested
that perhaps we needed to address the problem of the kidnapping first, as
he wouldn't want me to be in the middle of helping Perseus and then run
off after my missing wife.  The comment surprised me.  I had thought he
knew me better than that.

	"Ulysses," I said.  "As much as I love Laughter, I would chose the
Pattern over her.  If not, I might gain my wife, but lose the world my
children need to grow up in."

	Those words haunt me to this day.

	From the look on his face, I knew that I had Ulysses' sympathy for
the position I found myself in.  He left to find his masters.  I left to
explain things to Laughter.

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