Perhaps I shouldn't expect my life to settle down, and I should
just adapt to the way it is.
Caitlin found me that afternoon, and told me she was leaving to
find her mother. I had expected as much. When I found out that she was
taking Kaedric with her, I ceased to worry about the matter and wished her
Claudio found me shortly thereafter. His news was more
disconcerting. He showed me a note that stated "All of my Shadows have
been informed, so that they might avenge me," or something like that. Yet
another way Abigail was reaching out from beyond the grave. Claudio
informed me that he, Ulysses, and Melanie were going to take care of it,
which still left me with the problem of who was going to be the Captain of
my guard, as I assumed that Claudio was still on leave.
A short time later, I received an urgent report. Guards had been
killed in the Pattern room, and there was someone walking it, stained as
it currently was. I knew it was possible to survive it, but I didn't know
whether the walker would receive the Pattern's complete effects. I
summoned Ulysses, and we were there moments later. Then I brought
Benedict and Fiona in. The person on the Pattern had gotten too much of a
head start for anyone to possibly catch up, that and it was Sarah,
Ulysses' latest 'daughter.' Guards had been killed because of this. I had
little choice. I conjured a crossbow and aimed to wound. I hoped that
she had enough Chaos blood in her to flame, as I wanted to spare the
Pattern further damage.
The quarrel flew true, neatly bisecting the deltoid of her right
shoulder. Absolutely nothing happened. Well, she did keep walking the
Pattern, but that wasn't exactly the result I'd been shooting for.
Ulysses and I traded glances. He disappeared and then reappeared
moments later, the ornate wooden box in his hands. I carefully loaded one
of enchanted quarrels from within it, while Ulysses explained that instead
of dropping her into the heart of a volcano, he would open a Trump hole
beneath her that would bring her back here to us. I nodded my
understanding as I took aim, picking something a bit more vital this time.
The quarrel flew true once again, and again she continued to walk.
Ulysses had told me when he gave me the quarrels that they would
transport anything living to the center of a live volcano. This gave me a
very bad feeling about who, or what, was currently walking the Pattern.
When she reached the center, she disappeared. Seconds later,
Ulysses Trumped us to my quarters, on Fiona's advice. When we arrived,
Laughter was already under attack. I drew Song. My time of leniency with
this person was done. I swung the sword, aiming for an inch or so above
her shoulders. To my horror, Song bit only halfway through her neck. I
twisted him then, so that his blade was perpendicular to her spine. I
then drew on what strength was at my disposal, and forced the blade down
along the length of her back. Although cleanly boned, she still left the
room under her own power.
By the time I'd recovered from the shock that had imposed upon me,
Fiona had already dispensed of the thing.
"It was like some sort of plastic," she said, an air of disgust
playing on her features. I took Laughter into my arms. She was all
right, and that's what mattered most.
The resolution of this event was that 'Sarah' was none other than
Maron's daughter, Eve. She had decided to make a bid for House Halybard,
and the only way she could accomplish it was to present Laughter's head in
the Demon Underworld. Laughter would gladly give her the title, but it
wouldn't be valid without Laughter's head. Which meant Laughter wasn't
really the head either, as I had killed Cymnea, and her body had been
entirely destroyed on the Pattern. I told Benedict that I wanted Eve
dealt with. He nodded and left. I Trumped Melanie, to let her know as
well. Eve was her niece, and I wanted to give her a chance to deal with
it as well, before I had to.
I returned to my quarters with my family, intent on recovering in
private. It generally takes a lot to shake me, but removing someone's
spine from their back and then watching them walk away, I felt, somehow
qualified. Wherever Eve had decided to spend her childhood, she hadn't
wasted it. She had prepared for both my talent with a blade and for
Ulysses' recent gift of the quarrels. It gave me a standard to shoot for
with my own spy network.
Caitlin came calling shortly after I arrived back in my room. I
was surprised to see her back so soon, but time in Shadow can sometimes
work to your advantage. She said that Aelle's trail led to the Courts,
where she and Kaedric had been forced to turn back. She said Kaedric was
working on a Trump for her. She had no answer to my question of how,
other than he could based on what she and Benedict looked like alone. I
stored that away for future use.
Life interrupted my musings, however. I think the twins must be
teething, and I declared it was my turn to deal with them. I did take the
opportunity to ask Laughter, being Fiona's daughter, if she had any ideas
on how to combat my little alcohol 'allergy.' She suggested that Faerie
amethyst was supposed to be proof against strong drink. I almost bit,
until she said she knew of where some graves were. I'd already crawled
into a Dolman once after her. I didn't relish the idea of repeating it.
I spent the rest of the night with my cranky children, and grabbed what
sleep I could when their mother woke up. I didn't sleep long, though, as
I had a lot of things I wanted to get done that day.
I Trumped Bleys and Corwin after I had refreshed myself.
Benedict's absence had left the Patterns untended. The one in the castle
I made Corwin's responsibility, and I gave the Primal Pattern to Bleys.
That done, I broke my fast with the rest of the family.
Apparently I'd missed a bit of gossip in the three weeks I had
been Abigail's guest. The latest seemed to revolve around Kaedric and
Melanie, or so Laughter seemed to indicate with a glance in their
direction, and a psychic tale of a constellation in Foil called the
lovers. I had to give Kaedric some credit; that was certainly smooth. It
was amusing to think that Melanie would fall for something like that.
The meal continued with its comic bent. Good Claudio had not
heard the tale of Dworkin and the Unicorn, and was quite dismayed when it
was retold over the breakfast table. It didn't sit well on his Moorish
upbringing. Neither did the revelation that Sandr had a husband. Since
his appetite had left him, he left the dining room. My turn was coming,
however, in the form of the pleasantries Corwin was continuing to take
with my granddaughter. It wasn't long before I followed in Claudio's
I went to my office, and sent my secretary for Bill Roth. I
wanted to get this over with before I found yet another reason to postpone
it. While I waited, I Trumped Flora, Ulysses, Laughter, and my sons, Vain
and Flynn, and requested their presence. I made sure seating was
available while I waited, and when everyone had arrived, I asked them to
avail themselves of it. I think Flynn had second-guessed me, but Vain
looked honestly bored.
"I suppose you all know why I have gathered you here this morning,"
I began. "I have yet to name an heir." Vain was beginning to get the
clue now. "Chronologically," I continued, "Vain is my firstborn." And he
was beginning to resemble a small, cornered animal. "But, since I have
two grown sons, I am offering you a choice; Vain will be named my heir,
unless he declines. If so, it will fall next to Flynn. Flynn, if you
decide to decline as well, it will pass instead to Alaric." I turned my
gaze on my eldest. "What say you?"
It took him about five seconds to decline, and he looked entirely
relieved when I turned my gaze on his brother. I could tell immediately
that Flynn was going to agonize over this, and I knew he would be a good
king because of it.
"May I have time to think about it?" he said after a few moments.
"Yes." I looked to Bill then. "Draw up the appropriate papers for
it." Bill nodded. I thanked everyone for their time, and gave the rest
of the morning back to them.
I Trumped Melanie. It didn't take her long to shoot down the wild
plan I was thinking about, but I'll remember the look on her face in
response to my saying, "May I have a sample of your blood?" for a very
long time. She got that melancholy look in her eyes afterwards, and
informed me that she had hung a spell at Ygg. If Eve passed by there,
Melanie would notice. She also told me that Maron was indeed dead; that
she had found his suicide note, and that he had allowed himself to be
destroyed with his world. I tried very hard not to let any expression
register on my face, other than perhaps some small amount of sympathy for
her. She said that Maron had apologized in his note for any stress he
might have caused me. In the end, he simply couldn't live without his
wife. Thanks to Abigail, I nearly understood that motivation.
I left Melanie and went to my lab. Melanie had reminded me that
Eve was a Halybard as well, and the poison that was used on Laugher would
work equally well on Eve. I spent the rest of the morning making the
poison and its antidote. I made sure that Song was well coated with it.
I Trumped Fiona then, to let her know of Melanie's spell. It was
rather easy to see that, as far as she was concerned, it wouldn't be
necessary. Eve was in the Badlands, and Benedict was very close to her,
thanks to Fiona's help. It seemed that tragedy and Melanie would continue
to be partners for a while yet.
Ulysses called. He said the Chaosites wished to meet with me.
Apparently they were concerned about their access to the Jewel of
Judgment, if we were to draw them new Patterns. I mused that it would be
a short meeting indeed, as I wasn't planning on allowing them any. You
can call me selfish if you like, but paranoid would be a better
description. I didn't tell Ulysses that; only to arrange the damned
As soon as he left, Caitlin entered. Using Kaedric's Trump, she
had been able to reach her mother. She was a servant in House Wickling.
Caitlin asked for asylum for her, and I granted it. Aelle could certainly
tell me more of House Wickling than anyone I currently had at my disposal.
Later that afternoon, I once again returned to my lab. I wanted
to test the supposition that I couldn't die without a soul. If that were
true, I wouldn't have to worry about the renegade Patterns; I could redraw
our Pattern without worrying about it killing me. I took one of the metal
bowls off the shelf, and cleared a place on the table for it. Then I
conjured a simple dagger with a very sharp edge. I bared my left wrist
and placed it over the bowl. As I drew the blade across the naked skin, I
became immediately aware that, unlike Ulysses, I wasn't invulnerable, and
I could still feel pain rather well. The blood began dripping
rhythmically into the bowl. The wound had no indication of closing
spontaneously, either. The more I watched the blood pool, the more I
disbelieved what Abigail's version of Alaric had told me about the side
effects of losing one's soul, even though Laughter had already confirmed
the sterility part.
I wrapped my wrist up when I started to feel dizzy. I was
satisfied with my own mortality. When I recovered sufficiently, I went
looking for my wife. I found her in the fencing room, destroying dummies.
I'm sure that making plans for my eventual demise had contributed a lot to
her current mood. Because of this, I turned her attention from the dummy
to me, by telling her what she was doing wrong. She hates that, and I'd
gotten too close to her. She kicked my feet out from under me, and I
landed with what, I'm sure she thought, was a satisfying thud. It is
sometimes hard to remember that she is physically my match in unarmed
combat. So, I decided to trick her into using Sequence. I conjured a
wooden pole and kept her at the far end of it. Her violet eyes flashed at
me. She quickly drew her sword, and my pole began to be decreased in
length by about fifteen-inch increments. She began to display a superior
air, until I drew Song. Then she knew that she had been tricked. She
somersaulted out of my reach for a time, but I didn't have any problem
backing her into a corner. I then found myself unable to pass up the
bribe she offered me.
"If you don't make me look too bad, I'll reward you with a treat
later." I couldn't get her to be any more specific, but I took my
chances. I let her win in a grand style, and she didn't disappoint me.
She handed me a card of a room in Rebma. I gave her an inquiring look.
"I'll meet you there," she said.
I stepped through, and enjoyed the sensation of the cool water
filling my lungs. When she didn't follow me in a few moments, I got nosy.
I used the ring to find her, but she quickly put the lights out. I let
her go, and passed some time gathering my hair up and tying it back.
Perhaps it was time to let Laughter cut it.
There was a knock at the door. The servant standing there had a
single glass of champagne. I let him bring it in, and tipped him for his
trouble, after all, I wasn't king here. After he left, Laughter dropped
the spell she had used to sneak in after him. She stood before me dressed
like a proper Rebman lady, which is to say, only from the waist down. It
almost hurt to look at her; she was so beautiful. I gathered her into my
arms and, well, what happened after is nobody's business but my own.
I did muse later, however, that I just might possibly be able to
adapt to this life, after all.
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