By the time I got to my room, I had had adequate time to realize
just how exhausted I was. Every step I took made me think I was taking
yet another on the Pattern itself. I opened the door and smiled when I
saw Laughter. Then I paused, and I'm sure my expression must have
startled her. I was happy to see her. Now, this might not strike anyone
as unusual, but for me it was nothing short of miraculous. The delay in
my emotions seemed to have disappeared. Had walking the Pattern reunited
me with my stolen soul? Had the solution been this simple all along?
Then I remembered Finndo and the hole he had ripped in my sternum. My
elation faded in record time. Now was not the time to be able to die
By now, Laughter was impatient for an explanation for the gamut of
emotion that had just played across my features. The last thoughts I had
managed to scrabble forth from my lips. I'm sure I said something about
having my soul back and being able to die again. I have never had much
tact when I'm tired. Then I shuffled to the bedroom and collapsed on the
bed, giving in immediately to the coma that wanted me.
Days later, or at least if felt that way, I was roused by gentle
rapping. It was Laughter. What I had last said to her came back with all
of the subtlety of a sledgehammer, much like I'm sure I had conveyed it to
her. I hid my head under the pillow in shame. She said that there was an
ambassador there to see me, and then asked if she should send him away. I
saw no good reason not to, and offered her my consent. Then I heard what
I assumed to be said ambassador's voice, raised so that it would carry to
the bedchamber. He had rather clearly mentioned the Strangeways. I
grumbled a complaint to Lyr, and hauled myself out of bed. I hung myself
in the doorway and asked him to repeat what he had just said a moment ago.
I was harangued with pleasantries instead. Quite frankly, I wasn't in the
mood, and told him to cut the crap. In the back of my mind, I imagined
the disdainful look such behavior would have earned me from Flora, but
this was hardly a formal situation, as the ambassador was in my private
quarters, and I was in my underwear.
Taking information from the ambassador was kind of like taking
blankets from the United States cavalry. It seemed helpful, but I had to
wonder what price I'd pay for it later, and what the body count might be.
For some reason, the ambassador reminded me of Cameron. I gave the man a
visual representation of the map the Jewel made for me in my mind, then I
asked him why he cared. He offered that a piece of Chaos might be the
next to disappear. Interesting.
Laughter had slipped out while we were talking, so I returned to
Dinner was an interesting affair, to say the least. Random had
magically reappeared, making the arrangements I had made with the
ambassador rather moot. On the plus side, though, I wasn't king. Claudio
arrived with two children, one obviously his, the other Melanie's,
perhaps? I had guessed right, as Claudio tried to present the Princess to
me before Random. I tried to give the little girl a reassuring look. If
she was as sharp as her parents, and somehow I knew she was, I was sure
she would realize that Claudio was having fun at her expense, and that she
would make him pay later. Claudio also pissed Random off by asking if the
ambassador was one of his. I had recognized the similarity, I guess, but
my mind had been unwilling to do anything with the information. Kind of
like the pot calling the kettle black.
Then Laughter took my hand and said psychically that she thought
Ulysses had kissed her mother. Ah, psychic contact, one of my major
weakness at most times, as Laughter was able to snag my first impression
of the incident. I covered quickly by saying that she probably shouldn't
take Ulysses at face value, and would be better off checking the story
with Fiona, not that I thought she'd get a straight answer there, either,
but I think I managed to hide that thought from her. The meal ended with
a good will toast from the ambassador. Interesting.
Afterwards, Random and I exchanged stories. We now had two maps
of the Strangeways, and no Jewel. Random wasn't excited to hear that, but
it wasn't his fanny in the fire, it was mine. So, instead of setting off
to look for him on the morrow, we were to set off for the Jewel, instead.
Benedict, Bleys and Ulysses were to come with me this time, and then
Random suggested Killian as well. That earned him a questioning look from
me. Killian was still wet behind the ears, and seemed more a hindrance
than help in my eyes. Then Random mentioned that Killian seemed to have
an attraction to Laughter, and the green-eyed monster reared its ugly
head. I decided right then to put Killian on point.
That evening I spent apologizing to Laughter in a way I knew she
wouldn't resist. It's probably a very good thing that she loves me so
Pounding at my door in the middle of the night woke me quickly.
It was a guardsman. Two of his fellows had been killed at the stairs to
the Pattern. I threw some pants on and gave Laughter a brief description
of what was going on. I Trumped Benedict on my way to the Pattern room
and filled him in. He was there when I arrived. Killian was walking the
Pattern with a man-sized lump slung over his shoulder. Then I noticed the
wisps of blue hair poking out from the bedding the lump was rolled in, and
my stomach clenched. Just how far was Corwin willing to take this stupid
vendetta, I thought to myself, as Laughter's tale of how Corwin had tried
to dispose of Claudio and Sky in a jealous fit came back to me. Claudio.
I pulled out my Trump of him and used it. He, of course, wanted to come
through immediately after hearing my story. He then stepped onto the
Pattern before I had enough sense to stop him. I called after him. Could
he take Killian in a fight? He didn't think so. Concern for my
granddaughter and Claudio carried my feet to the Pattern before I had
sense enough to stop myself. Hadn't you nearly died doing this yesterday,
smart-boy, I told myself in Ulysses' voice. I promised myself then that
if I made it to the center, I'd hie myself straight back to Laughter.
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