I slept for three straight days after Sandr's death. I had simply
used up that much energy repairing the Pattern. Actually, far more energy
than I had, allowing for the way I felt upon reaching the center. I more
than likely owed my current existence to that very thing that had been so
annoying of late, the Cult of the King. I lay in bed contemplating that
fact for a bit. I really had to admit to myself that, all things
considered, I truly was happy to be alive, however the means.
I could hear Laughter, her father Mandor, and the children in the
next room. I rose slowly. My muscles seemed unaccustomed to bearing my
weight. I threw a robe on and shuffled in to join them. I greeted them
all with a smile and sat as near my wife as her choice of furniture would
allow. My presence was greeted with a sniff on her part. Apparently,
three days had not cooled her temper at my insistence on repairing the
Pattern. I lowered my eyes and attempted to smile in a disarming way, a
tactic I had developed in dealing with my Aunt Llewella while growing up.
"So, are you still mad at me for saving the Universe?"
Her only answer was yet another sniff, and she picked up Beatrice,
positioning the child like a shield upon her lap. Help arrived in the
unexpected personage of my father-in-law, who snatched Beatrice deftly
from Laughter's lap, added Alaric to his burden and announced that since
we needed to talk, he would allow us an opportunity to do so in an
uninterrupted fashion. My respect for Mandor grows on a daily basis.
For my part, I decided to keep her off guard. I rose, doing my
best to hide the effort involved, and repositioned myself at her feet. I
took one of them in hand and began to gently massage it.
"Fiona says you should be dead, you know." I knew.
I looked up into her violet eyes. "And yet I live." It was a
wall of logic that even she couldn't surmount, and I began to see the
beginnings of defeat creeping into her features. She sighed.
"Bill has a lot of paperwork for you." I decided to take that as
her indication that I was forgiven, at least until she could think of
further argument. I nodded and stood up, kissing her as I went to
camouflage the fact that I needed the chair in which she sat to regain my
feet, and went back to the bedroom to clean up and get dressed.
Ulysses looked more than relieved when I stepped into my office.
He gladly returned the kingdom's reins to me and was out of the office in
about five seconds flat. Bill looked a bit flustered, and in answer to my
questioning look, he admitted that he had been trying to explain to the
Lord High Chancellor why it would be improper for the Chancellor to forge
my signature on certain documents. I hid my amusement over Ulysses'
behavior from Bill, but it did bring up a rather valid point. I relied on
Bill heavily. It would be of considerable advantage were he able to
entirely ignore the persuasions that more than one member of the Family,
that for whatever reason, could use on him.
I decided to discuss the matter with Fiona, and Trumped her. The
speed in which she answered the call, and the details I could see around
her, indicated that she was in the castle, as were Kaedric and Sylvie.
Seeing that she was busy, I asked her to call back at her convenience.
She instead requested that I join them, as she thought what they were
currently discussing would be of interest to me. I told them I would join
them shortly and did so.
When I stepped into the room, I was greeted by a somewhat
transparent image of a closet in which familiar-looking white robes hung.
"The cultists, I presume?" She answered my question with a nod,
and said that Sand had helped them get this far. She then went on to
share what they had gathered thus far. Apparently Oberon had taken a
wife, Ralissa, before Cymnea. This was news to me, as was the fact that
Oberon had a twin sister named Damaris. Ralissa proved to be barren, so
Oberon set her aside. Meanwhile, Damaris had taken it into her head that
she would bear the next king, by Oberon. This was more than likely why
none of the Family had known of Damaris. Anyway, Damaris was successful
in conceiving, thanks to the help of my old friend, absinthe. The union
proved far less than adequate, as their son died in an attempt to walk the
Fire Pattern. Undaunted, Damaris was game for another try. Ralissa
decided to take it upon herself to stop this madness. She formed the Cult
of the King and made sure, by the removal of the monarch's soul, and thus
his fertility, that such a union would not be successful again. This was
an unsavory story at best, and put many thoughts in my head that I would
rather have not had. At least I knew why now. It had been bothering me.
Since they were still in the process of trying to ascertain who
the closet belonged to, I let them have at it, and told them to keep me
posted. I did briefly mention my idea about Bill to Fiona, as perhaps a
future project, before I left.
The majority of the rest of the morning was taken up with the
previously mentioned paperwork, and was interrupted only by a visit from
Caitlin's mother, Aelle. She had unfortunate news to bring to my
attention, which helped a great deal in distracting me from the fact that
her clothing, and her skin, were becoming less and less distant from one
another. Caitlin had disappeared, something I might not have thought odd
had it not seemed to disturb her mother. I Trumped Ulysses to see if he
could reach her. He could not, so I gave Aelle permission to gather those
she wanted and go look for her, and to keep me informed. I finished then
and went to lunch, but the conversation kept nagging at me.
My wife looked rather thoughtful at the meal, and was most adamant
at ignoring my inquiries. I then shared the information that I had gained
that morning. She indicated that she already knew. I sighed. Oh well, I
had a few brief hours in which I thought I had been ahead of her on
something. That would have to do, for now. I asked her about Claudio,
and she said that, while he had removed both shackles and guards, he had
remained under house arrest until Sand had been able to clear him as the
current host for Delwin, which meant that Delwin's spirit was still
floating about somewhere. She continued with saying that Eve had left,
which didn't surprise me, and that a severed head had been found in
Caitlin's room, which did. After that, I decided that my head was weary,
and perhaps I would rest it for awhile, which I did.
I was awoken by a Trump call. It was Damion, a relation of
Benedict's, and he looked rather harried. I offered to pull him through
and he accepted. He said that Avalon had been invaded. He had been
unsuccessful in its defense, and Avalon had fallen. He wished to get in
touch with Benedict, but had been unable to do so. I gave him my Trump of
Benedict, and told him that Benedict would accept a call from that card.
He nodded and began to stare at the card. The shock that he then
experienced nearly made him drop the card. He handed it back to me and
asked that I try it. The scene that appeared before my eyes threw my
emotions back to over a year ago, when Random's blood was oozing through
my fingers on the battlements. Benedict floated cold and still in the
swirling mists of what I could only assume to be the Abyss.
The next card I drew was Kaedric's. I quickly informed him of
what Damion and I had seen. I discovered then that he was part of the
party looking for Caitlin. Since I assumed Benedict's body would still be
there when he was done helping Aelle, I told him it could wait until then.
I then shared the events of the last few weeks with Damion.
The rest of the day I spent as an automaton. I drilled troops, I
poured over geographical maps, I devised reactions to various and sundry
scenarios. I knew myself to be a pale imitation of the man Benedict had
been. The pain of his loss grew as the light of day passed, until
Laughter came to me. It had been a while since we had been with each
other. I lost myself in the now of her for a while. I told her of
Benedict's loss only afterwards. I couldn't ascertain her reaction.
After she drifted off to sleep, I returned to my maps and strategies,
ignoring the inadequacies that gnawed at me.
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