It was a dark turn when they brought my father's head to us, so we
could not see much of the shadowy lump. We did not look too closely, nor
make any movements in our chains; the only noise was the ragged breathing
of Despil, and he could not help himself, for the poison was too deep
inside him. Jurt's eyes met mine, but he did not make a contact.
Corliss laughed at us anyway, though he had gotten no reaction
from us, and turned to leave, but at the door he stopped and turned his
head and smiled right at me.
"Oh, by the by. Your son is dead, Sawall. But we didn't take the
head. We left it right on the body, and gave it away to the Perdyni."
Mine is an ancient face. I saw the fall of Morgana dur Serpent,
and I saw the death of Suhuy, so I showed nothing when I heard of Roland's
death. Perhaps I should not have done so. Perhaps I should have wept and
tore my clothes, for Corliss frowned -- if such an expression can be given
to the same term for the gentle expression Peri used to wear when a spell
would not bind easily -- and walked over to Jurt and said "Consider Sarah
dead, as well, wolf-boy. She marries a Wickling today." He turned on his
heel back and moved back towards the door. As he passed, I could smell
the blood on his breath. He had eaten of Gramble. I let nothing show.
"You think your daughter is safe because she's married to the King
of Amber?" He smiled, and I saw the bits of flesh in his teeth. "Your
daughter and granddaughter are going to grace my hall as dancing girls,
Sawall." He delivered a kick to Gramble's head, and opened the door.
"I think not," Fiona said.
I'm afraid I let an expression show in that moment, but Corliss'
back was turned.
"I think I shall let you live, Corliss, but not before you know
that you will never see an inch of my daughter's flesh --"
I rather wish Fiona never had gone in for the occasional moment of
grandstanding, but alas, she does. The bolt from Job knocked her down,
and freedom was denied us once again.
None of us had believed in it for a moment, anyway. Jurt turned
his head as Job clamped her in the chains so recently occupied by my
father, picked up his son, and left.
They would be back soon enough, and things would not go well.
In the corner, Despil died.
I lowered my head. I summoned no tears.
Dawn in Amber.
The birds sing, and I hear the pages moving about in the corridor.
A baby cries briefly, and the cry breaks off. It is my granddaughter,
Beatrice. I would recognize that cry anywhere. Laughter is up with the
sun as well, to feed her.
I do not dream anymore, but I do have waking moments where the
terror of past memories surrounds me, and I cannot escape them 'til some
outside stimuli breaks the spell. The beam of sunlight (my room faces
east) broke through this time.
I look at the papers on my desk. The plans for Ghostwheel --
please call him Jim -- are there. Merlin is asleep on my couch. The
collected information we have on the machine built by Sandr is there as
well. And the information we have on Abigail, sparse as it is, is also on
Progress is slow. I don't even know if I know the point in
recovering the machines. If they are strong enough to fend off Merlin,
who knows every secret of Ghostwheel, then they are strong enough to fend
off most threats in the universe.
Merlin groans and rolls over -- onto the floor. The boy forgot
where he went to sleep. I turn in my chair.
He nods, and gets to his knees, and then to his feet, slowly.
"And did Ghost appear to you in the bottom of that last glass of
beer, or was that the wrong place to look as well?"
"It was brandy; and I'll have you know, that was the last time. My
farewell to Sky, so to speak."
"You have always overdramatized your problems, Merlin. I'm sure if
you courted her respectably, you'd have a chance."
Merlin doesn't answer for a moment, and seeks water. There is
none but what is in the flower vase. He throws the flowers out the window
and drinks the water.
"That nosegay was from Beauty. You'll want to be replacing it
before she notices they're gone, or I'll refer her to you."
He makes a face at the taste of the water.
"News from Kaedric, yet?"
"News from Laughter?"
"Only what the castle walls tell me," I say, and on cue, Alaric
begins to wail. His cry is soon stifled as well.
"Ah." He sits down. "What are we missing, Mandor?"
He wasn't expecting an answer at all. This one has shocked him
"Well, then. Kaedric's concerns hold some water now, do they?"
"Only in the context of mine." I smile. "If you will excuse me, I
think I'll wait 'til you are in a more agreeable mood, and will in the
meantime occupy myself with the smiling faces of my grandchildren."
He mutters something that sounds suspiciously like "Old fart," as
I walk out of the room, down a length of corridor, and knock at Laughter's
door. She opens up, looking harried, juggling the twins. I take one.
"Archimedes went out into Shadow this morning," she says without
preamble. "And Alfred has the morning off." She is charmingly grumpy in
the morning. I'm not sure where she gets that from. It is not a trait
known to Sawall, and I doubt it is from my mother. Perhaps there are
things about Fiona I've never understood.
Time passes, sunshine floods the room. Laughter's mood improves,
as does mine, and I play the shapeshifting game with Beatrice while
Laughter isn't looking. Fingers longer, fingers shorter. It's good to
teach these things young, as reflex, or you spend a long time coming to
terms with an ability you don't quite understand, as Laughter has done, as
Beauty will do.
The darkness of the cell in Chaos seems far away. This morning I
am simply a white-haired old man with his grandchild on his knee.
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