My job is full of surprises.  Most of them aren't pleasant.

	The next morning Laughter and I returned to Amber from Rebma.  She
had the twins to attend to, and well, I'm sure I had things to do as King. 
Last night was the first time we had really escaped in over a year.  I'd
have to find time to do it more often.

	I was surprised to find that Fiona was my first appointment for
the day.  She said that she had completed her research on Inter-Shadow,
and could now access it through a weak spot; one that Abigail had used
repeatedly.  She said that she would possibly explore it later.  I told
her to be careful and she allayed my fears by mentioning Benedict.  Funny,
in retrospect, how early his name came up that day.

	My son, Flynn, came to visit next.  He didn't look like he had
gotten much sleep at all.  I sympathized with him.  I'm sure I would have
looked the same if I had had the choice of whether I wanted to be the
Crown Prince or not.  As it was, it sort of just landed in my lap.  He
flopped into a chair and I allowed him to speak first.

	He finally did.  "Wouldn't it be better to make someone King that
you had actually raised?"

	I was ready for this question.  "Possibly, but at this point in
time, I have no way of knowing.  Alaric is just a baby.  I have no idea
what he'll be like when he's your age."  I left the implication that I
liked the way he turned out, without my help, unsaid, and continued. 
"Random began the tradition of passing the throne to his eldest son."

	Flynn quickly countered that.  "That would be Vain."

	"And you were here yesterday when he declined.  I didn't have a
choice about my position.  I wanted to give you and Vain that opportunity. 
I will abide by whatever decision you make."

	He again sat in silence for a time.  I truly felt for him.  In his
position, I had no idea what I would have decided.  After a bit, I began
to see some resolution creeping onto his face.

	"Well, I'll see to it that my job as Crown Prince will be to see
that you live forever."  I smiled.  I didn't have the heart to tell him
that I had once tried that as well.  Instead, I sent for Bill Roth, and
then Trumped Flora and Ulysses.  I made a mental note to ask Ulysses about
the giant otter he was sleeping next to, and decided shortly thereafter
that maybe I wouldn't.  Bill brought the proper papers along with him, and
we all affixed our signatures.  I'd announce it officially at the next
family gathering.

	The rest of my morning was free, so I returned to my quarters to
spend some time with my children.  I had been doing that a lot lately,
ever since I thought I had lost them for a hundred and twenty-five years. 
I'm sure Laughter didn't mind.  As it was, I quickly gained another child
to look after, in the form of Nadine.  She arrived via Melanie, who
apparently had other things to do this morning, and had been unable to
convey that to Sandr.  Since I knew what she had to do, I looked to my
wife for approval.  She said it was entirely up to me, as she had things
to do as well.  I sighed and consented.  I had no idea whatsoever of what
to do with a two-and-a-half-year-old.  She solved the conundrum for me,
however, by stating that she wanted blueberry pancakes.  I packed the
children up and took them to the dining hall.  I conjured the pancakes,
based on one of Marie's old recipes, and Nadine seemed to like them as
well as I had.  Laughter tagged along.  Apparently one of the things on
her to-do list was to observe my parenting skills.  I don't think I
disappointed her, as Nadine left the table as clean as she had arrived at

	My step-daughter, Beauty, found me then.  Apparently, she had had
her first attack of shapeshifting, and was seeking Mandor.  This one I
successfully handed to Laughter.  The two of them left to address the

	Caitlin entered shortly after, with I woman I could only assume
was her mother, Aelle.  Caitlin then left suddenly.  Curious.  I welcomed
Aelle to Amber and said I was glad that she had arrived safely.  There was
something in her manner, held in check, but there nonetheless, that made
me want to have Song nearer at hand.  She immediately asked for weapons,
to protect herself against Benedict.  I was surprised to find out she felt
that way.  I gave her directions to the armory, and conjured a sigil ring
for her.  Hopefully the knowledge that she was in Amber under my
protection would give Benedict pause, if it were to come to that.  She
bowed and left right before Caitlin returned.  After an inquiry, Caitlin
followed after her.

	I turned my attention back to the children, but was shortly
interrupted by the arrival of Benedict, Fiona, Corwin, Kaedric, Sky and
Claudio.  They had Eve with them.  I quickly sent Alfred and the children
back to my quarters.  Eve was still alive, and I was informed that she had
been possessed by Delwin.  I made a Trump call to Sand, and she consented
to come through.  She also confirmed that Delwin had indeed been in Eve's
mind, but that he was no longer there.  This changed my plans regarding
Eve quite a bit.  But, since I had no idea what state she'd be in when she
woke up, I had her placed under heavy guard in the dungeons.  I also
placed Pattern manacles on her.  The guards were given specific
instructions to explain to her her situation, if she were to awake, and to
shoot her down, should she try to do anything about it.  I doubted even
her advanced skill with shapeshifting would save her from mecha lasers.

	I was on my way to my office to Trump Melanie, when she found me. 
She asked immediately about Eve.  I'm beginning to think that everyone has
a better information network than I have, my wife included.  I quickly
updated her on Eve's condition.  Then I decided to conduct an impromptu
experiment.  I told her that I would hold my judgment of Eve until Melanie
had a chance to work with her, and then report back to me.  From the look
on her face, she clearly hadn't expected that.  I'm beginning to like that

	Claudio then Trumped me.  He said that Delwin should be located. 
I had known this, but he seemed to think immediate action was required.  I
returned to the dining hall, where plans of action were being bantered
about.  I didn't really notice that Claudio and Corwin were missing.  The
plan that won was having Sand check for Delwin's presence in anyone who
had come close to him.  Benedict was first and was cleared.  Kaedric was
cleared as well.  Then Sandr and Anton were brought through.  After
explanations, Sandr was cleared as well.  Anton, however, had been
Delwin's current host, and he quickly jumped from Anton to Sand, who then
disappeared.  Someone mentioned the Taormin, so I Trumped Ulysses for the
second time that morning.  As we were discussing the next step, Sky
arrived and said that Claudio and Corwin were Hellriding to Delwin.  I
liked that idea not at all, and Trumped Corwin.  I suggested a hasty
return, with the explanation that I didn't think the two of them could
handle Delwin alone.  I could tell Corwin didn't necessarily think that,
but I had little evidence to the contrary that Corwin was any better than
I when it came to arcane situations.  That is to say, he would be hurting
if Delwin were turned at bay.  When he continued to look doubtful, I
suggested that they a least take Kaedric, who knew more about Delwin than
we did.  Kaedric suggested that Ulysses with Taormin, and I with the
Jewel, come along as well.  I was pretty sure that Hellriding through
Shadow was not on my itinerary for the day, but there I was doing it

	We found Sand a short time later.  She was unconscious.  We were
less than eager to try and determine whether or not Sand was still the
host.  Claudio insisted that he felt Delwin was beyond this place in
Shadow, and continued on without us before I had a chance to stop him, so
we collected Sand and followed.  We found him unconscious a short time
later.  He wanted to continue and did so, claiming he was still on leave. 
Leave of his senses was more like it.  Kaedric implied that if we were to
leave him wandering around by himself, Delwin might take complete control
of him.  That was enough for me.  I sent Ulysses after him, then we all
returned to Amber.

	It would have been nice if Delwin was the only thing that troubled
me that day, but that was not to be the case.  As I alluded earlier, the
rest of the day's events circled around Benedict and a tale of woe that
was new to my ears.  All of this information was delivered to me by a
rather exasperated Bill Roth.  Benedict had challenged Sandr to a Ty Dahl. 
I was to discover later that this was an ancient ritual, still on the
books in Amber, that determined the guilt or innocence of the accused, all
by walking the Fire Pattern.  Benedict had accused Sandr of incest and
oathbreaking.  Apparently, Sandr had had a tryst with Caitlin, breaking
his oath to Anton that I had witnessed only a few months before.  I was
already beginning to feel uneasy, when it was further explained by Bill
that Caitlin was now pregnant as a result, and because Aelle was
Benedict's niece, the child Caitlin currently carried would be unable to
walk the Pattern, due to its genetics.

	Sandr Trumped me.  I told him I'd call back when we knew more.

	We retreated to my office to further investigate the ritual.  I
forced myself to Trump Benedict, while Bill inquired as to the whereabouts
of several ancient tomes.  I have never seen Benedict in such a state.  He
explained to me that Osric had cursed him before he died; that everything
Benedict cared about would be lost to him.  This did much to explain his
inaction when Finndo seized the throne.  I then asked him about the Ty
Dahl.  He explained that the accused could claim complete innocence, and
challenge the accuser to walk.  If the accuser survived, then the accused
would have to walk as well.  The accused could claim only partial guilt,
in which case he would walk the Fire Pattern alone.  What happened to the
accused if he claimed complete guilt was execution.  I think we both knew
Sandr wouldn't admit to that.  Somehow, the Fire Pattern could tell the
relative guilt or innocence of the walker.  It would destroy the guilty
ones.  I knew Benedict wouldn't withdraw the challenge, so I didn't ask. 
I also knew that it was within my power to strike the ritual from the
books, but the challenge had already been made, and I wouldn't deny
Benedict something he seemed to want so badly.

	Then he mentioned that he was going away afterwards.  My stomach
twisted.  I protested loudly that Amber would need his swordarm.  He told
me then that I was now Amber's swordarm, and that he had complete
confidence in me.  So, his mind was set on this as well.  He told me that
the challenge would be formally issued on the morrow at three.  I gave him
my consent, and passed my hand over the card.  Benedict had been more of a
father to me in my youth than Random had.  I was going to miss him.  I
felt heavy as Bill and I began to go over the books.

	It was as Benedict had said.  Oberon had created the Fire Pattern
specifically for this purpose.  My uncle Cormac had died on it, for trying
to invade Amber.  I held little hope for Sandr, unless there were
extenuating circumstances.  I wondered how fine a line the Fire Pattern
would draw.  What qualified as complete innocence?  I had broken my oath
to Laughter, but not willingly, or was it?  I wouldn't have broken it, if
not for the absinthe.  Would that count on the Fire Pattern?  I was
interrupted by Melanie.  I allowed her access, and told her what we knew. 
I could tell by the look on her face that she was going to fight it all
the way.  Why?  How long had Sandr been suicidal?  He would now get his
wish.  Perhaps Maron's loss had something to do with it, but she wasn't
going to get any help from me, and I told her so.

	Then Caitlin arrived.  She and Melanie discussed their options,
such as Melanie challenging Benedict herself, and Caitlin admitting full
guilt.  That either of them would sacrifice themselves for Sandr was an
interesting thought.  Could Caitlin actually love him, or was she just
feeling guilty?  I couldn't think of a reason for Melanie, other than
post-traumatic stress syndrome.

	Ah well, as I said, most of the surprises my job hands me aren't
pleasant.  My role in this will be as observer only.  It is Ulysses, as
Lord Chancellor, who will be judge.  I am to see that everyone plays their
part.  I wonder, now, if it would have been more humane to end Sandr's
life when he lay unconscious at my feet, all those many months ago?

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