I received a Trump call while under water.  I wasn't interested in
taking it.  I hadn't had a chance to deal with the loss of my family yet,
and I was beginning to feel like I needed to.  I didn't open my mind up
for the contact, and whoever was calling didn't force the issue.  I let
the river carry me to the ocean, and once there sunk further into my own
despair.  How was I to function in this time?  I found myself on the edge
of a trench and I stared into its depth, my mind awhirl with so much loss
that I couldn't begin to sort it out.

	A time later, the exact time I'll never know, I felt Ulysses' mind
reaching out for a Trump contact.  There was simply no denying his call,
nor did I need to speak to him to be understood.  He wanted my help with
something.  I admit, I wasn't paying much attention to him; he being
rather mad of late.  What finally got my attention was the fact that he
wanted me to step through the Trump contact to him.  That cut through.  To
be perfectly honest, I had no intention of ever stepping through a Trump
contact again, and told him so.  The verbal abuse that he then proceeded
to heap upon me did much for restoring a small part of my spirit; at least
he stoked my fire a bit.  Any emotion was better than the one I currently
had.  He actually wound up making me angry enough that I refused to step
through the Trump more on the grounds that it would annoy him, rather than
my original purpose -- that of never being ensnared in a trap again.  I
began to make my way to the surface.  That's when nothing grabbed me
around the waist.

	I can only assume that I had been coiled within a Logrus tentacle,
never having had the experience before.  With no means of fighting, nor
the desire, I soon found myself in the company of Mandor and Ulysses. 
Mandor then presented me with a theory.  He proposed that this was not the
future at all, but another construct of the Inter-Shadow.  The hope that
leapt into my throat was hard to swallow.  They wished to question
Laughter and they wanted me to be there.  I agreed.

	What followed was a detailed interrogation of Laughter at the
hands of her father.  Her failure of the test was almost as spectacular as
the test itself.  In the end, she took a dagger, plunged it into her
stomach, pulled it up to her sternum and showed us that she indeed had no
guts.  I asked aloud how many alarms we had just set off.  Mandor assumed
all of them.  Then followed a perfect demonstration of why I had banished
the Logrus from Amber.  Mandor gathered us all up with it, punched a hole
in the Inter-Shadow itself, and deposited us back in Amber.  So able was
he, that the entire process, from explaining his plan and asking my help,
to our arrival back in Amber, took less time to accomplish than my hair
needed to dry.

	We were, however, deposited in the middle of a battlefield on what
looked to be the wrong side.

	The Song of Inter-Shadow quickly broke in my hands.  Caitlin made
her way over to me and handed me one of her blades.  The weapon was more
than serviceable, and I laid about me, hoping to keep the enemy out of
sword's reach, as I lacked any armament.  Spinning round while flashing
steel was extending my life somewhat, but it was doomed in the long run. 
There were just too many of them and too little of us.  I could feel the
Jewel's power from the battlements and the air crackled with electricity
around us.  I assumed Corwin had found a use in his crippled condition. 
Sandr used what magics he had, while I'm sure Caitlin, Sky and Claudio
gave him the room he needed to work them in.  Ulysses began opening Trump
holes up, but I didn't know we'd make it for sure until Mandor swept us a
path with the Logrus.  We must have been on the edge of the Jewel's power
in Amber, or Mandor was just that good.  I wouldn't have bet against
either of those theories.

	Mandor's maneuver allowed us to gain the hill, a much better
position than the valley we had landed in had been.  What met my eyes once
there were Bleys, and a whole Corwin, and the armies at their command.  I
had time to wonder who, then, was using the Jewel, before I snagged a
horse and helped Corwin's and Bleys' men best use the path that Mandor had
laid for them.

	It must have taken at least a day to really win.  Many things went
through my mind as I killed.  How long had really passed?  This army had
been a week out into Shadow when we had disappeared, and I had given
Benedict specific direction to engage them there;  to not let the invaders
reach Amber.  What had gone wrong there?  Who was currently using the
Jewel if not Corwin?  What greeting awaited me this time?  I was too
paranoid to return Laughter's ring to my left hand.  I blamed it on the
fight, but if I had enough time to observe and watch over Caitlin, I
certainly had enough time to slip a ring onto my finger.  It was that
apprehension that kept me on the field to the very end.  I guess there are
some things even I'm afraid of.

	At the end, I turned my horse's head to the castle and spurred it
forward.  This had been my first battle as King.  I had survived it, and
Amber had survived it.  I reached out to the Jewel upon arriving in the
Great Hall, querying its location.  I was surprised to find it had been
returned to its vault.  I stopped at the library on the way to my
quarters.  I'd lost two decks in about as many days, and was bent on
rectifying that.  My Lord Chancellor, Ulysses, has the key to the case in
the library, but I'm a master thief, as well as a conjurer.  I was about
to pocket the cards, when on impulse I pulled Laughter's card from the
deck.  I couldn't resist the urge to animate the card, though I'd spent
the entire day avoiding our reunion.  The card animated quickly, and I
knew instantly that this was my Laughter.  I held my hand out so that she
could come to me, and found myself in her arms instead.  So much for

	She seemed content to let me hold her for awhile.  I, of course,
then had to explain all that had happened.  She noticed I was not wearing
the ring.  I pulled it from my pocket and replaced it on my hand.  She
forgave me when I explained why I had removed it.  She then admitted
rather sheepishly that she had been the one wielding the Jewel from the
battlements.  I don't know why she thought I'd be mad, but her expression
was truly adorable.  She also said that Melanie was back in Amber.  The
look on her face was even better when I said that I knew, having sent her
a note shortly before being snared by Abigail.  She said that the armies
had reached Amber because they had Pattern, Trump and Logrus at their
disposal.  She changed tack then, mumbling something about Ulysses' being
too overprotective.  I can only assume that he hadn't let her join the
battle on the ground.  She continued that he was supposed to do what the
King said.  I interrupted that he was.  She looks positively delicious
when she's indignant.  I couldn't help but take a taste.  Then I let her
know how much I loved her, and how glad I was to be back.

	Afterwards, as I held her in my arms, I couldn't help but remember
how I had felt when I'd thought I lost her.  Her words from earlier that
afternoon came back to me then.  "I would raise the children," she had
said.  "And then I would tree myself."  How had I come to earn the
devotion of this lovely creature?  She would rather remove herself from
time than spend it without me?  Whatever I had done, I vowed from that
time on to be worthy of that devotion.  I held her close as I drifted to
sleep, the pain and frustration washing away from me with each breath that
she took.

	I don't think I'd slept long when I was awakened by a knock at the
door.  I grabbed a robe and answered it.  The page announced that Ulysses
required our presence at the Pattern room at eight.  The page could give
me no more information than that.  I retrieved my new cards and Trumped my
Lord Chancellor.  Cryptic was beginning to be his favorite adjective.  He
did, however, say it was a surprise I would like.  I then Trumped Mok to
have his men allow access to the Pattern room.

	Quite a few of us were gathered at the appointed time.  Ulysses
had somehow managed to capture Abigail, the source of all our recent pain. 
When all of us were assembled, he asked her if she wanted to be real.  Her
eyes darted to the Pattern.  She had to know what he was thinking if she
hadn't before.  He pushed her onto the Pattern.  My family is usually good
at hiding their emotions.  A few of them didn't seem to think it was
necessary at that point in time.  Abigail hardly took a step before she
screamed in agony and burst into a pillar of flame.  I hoped Ulysses could
be cleansed by those flames.  Killing is my parcel in life, not his.  I
need him for something else.  Melanie's eyes sparked nearly as bright as
the flames themselves.  She had the right, Abigail having been her Shadow. 
Sandr was as wrapped in the moment as he was in any.  How he would react
to it later would be anyone's guess.  Laughter turned away shortly after
the flames started, losing what dinner she must have taken earlier.  I had
no idea what she was thinking.  Abigail had caused her to lose me for less
than a fortnight, the pain Abigail had put the rest of us through was
nearly indescribable.

	Sandr made some sort of comment then.  I missed it, but it angered
Laughter.  She snapped at him, saying that would be enough.  She left.  I
followed.  We walked in silence for a while.  I asked if she was all
right.  She answered by saying that she just didn't see the sense in
killing someone who was prepared to die.  I asked if it would have been
better had Ulysses dragged her screaming and kicking to toss her on the
Pattern.  She admitted that it would.  "She died well," I said.  Laughter
asked to go to the battlements.  I asked if she wanted company, and she
said yes.

	I continued to think about Abigail on the way up.  Whatever her
motivations, she had truly believed in them.  She died well, and in doing
so, spit in our eyes for one last time.

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