The first picture. A blonde princess-ish looking lady, asleep on
a velvet-covered couch, blood from her finger pooled in her hand. No more
than a teaspoon of it, all told, but nevertheless, her eyes are closed,
and the castle around her is falling asleep, including a little pug dog at
her feet. The picture is old, painted in mossy greens and misty pinks.
The princess wears pink, of course, and she has a very stupid cone-shaped
hat on her head, with filmy pink material trailing down.
The second picture. Everything is covered in dust. The clocks
and people are in the same positions as the first picture, but now there
is a blond prince-looking man kneeling beside the girl, kissing her, and
her eyes are just beginning to open.
I hate this book, but I keep looking through it in morbid
fascination. Some soul, long ago, brought it to Amber from the reaches of
Shadow, and placed it in the library, and there has it moldered and sat,
stewing in its bitter magic.
Open to another page. There is a picture of a blond woman, in a
bell-tower, weeping, hands clasped above her head, while a dark man with a
blue-tinted beard stands close by, angry, sword in hand. "Sister Anne,
Sister Anne! What do you see?" is the caption. I hate this story almost
as much as the other, and I don't even really know why.
I close the book with a snap, and lay it on the window seat, blow
out the candles and go to bed. I heap the pillows high and lean back
against them, my hands on my belly, and try not to think about where
Ulysses might be.
* * *
I think I am coming to terms with my despair, but my mother, on
the other hand, still stomps around looking like a winter storm. I'm used
to her moods and ways, but it worries Oriana. I think I shall move back
to my own quarters before long, and damn the emptiness here or there.
I walked in the garden one morning a week ago, and found the book
of fairy stories, half-soaked in morning dew, and with its pages bent
back. I picked it up and smoothed it out, and placed it into the
still-room to dry. I went back upstairs, and watched Mother dress for
battle. Oriana watched with wide eyes as the Queen of Amber stood, bulky
in mail and plate, before the mirror and looked from her horned, shining
helmet to the huge, polished black orc skull that she had taken the day
"The orc skull will certainly inspire more fear," I said, picking
Oriana up. She hung her head over my shoulder and looked at the
tapestries behind me, with three fingers in her mouth.
"Yes. But the wisdom of wearing an enemy's skull as a helmet into
battle is... dubious. I should probably just stick with the usual."
I amazed myself, then. "No. The orc skull, I think. We wouldn't
want them to think they are going to survive this conflict."
Mother looked over at me, a frown briefly creasing her
blue-painted forehead. The paint only made her eyes seem more purple than
blue, I thought, and I considered then what an unseelie terror she must
have seemed to the na si. It gave me some pleasure, this thought. I
thought how disappointed all my grandmothers would be if they knew my
"The orc skull it is."
I stood on the ramparts that day and watched the battle. Uncle
Jurt seemed to come out of the stonework beside me. Neither of us spoke.
That is all I can remember of that day, and it was only a week ago. I
wonder what is becoming of me. I realize now why my mother is as she is.
It's better to be like her than to sit still and wait, with only your
thoughts to keep you company.
My thoughts are not cheerful. I look at my daughter and realize
how sad and lonely she shall be. I'll be sixteen soon. I wonder if I'll
even realize what's come over me...
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