Kaedric left early, as usual. I lingered in bed a trifle longer,
not especially looking forward to the task ahead of me, but it could only
be delayed so long, and it was with some regret that I rose and prepared
to meet with the King. Alora was not at breakfast, and I soon learned
that she had departed with her father. If I did not know better, I would
suspect that he was trying to keep me from being alone with her. Given
what he had told me previous evening regarding her prior appearance in
Amber, he probably was.
I checked Kaedric's location with my ring before departing, and
was not especially surprised to find that he was in Thelbane. Which
happened to be my destination, as well. I was certain that Kaedric had
already informed Swayvill of Niccolo's death, but it was my duty as the
Chief Ambassador to give him the official word. As I expected, Swayvill
saw me almost immediately, and expressed no surprise at the news of the
timely demise of Lord Vertix. His replacement was to be Lord Mandor, as I
had suspected. Swayvill left to me the task of explaining this to the
man, of course. One of the advantages of being king is that you can
delegate the less pleasant tasks. Although, there was something to be
said for having the power to order Mandor to do something he did not wish
to do. Somehow, I did not think he was going to be any more pleased to
see Fiona than she would be to see him.
It seemed logical to discuss the other ambassadorship with
Swayvill while I was there, even though the meeting we had set to deal
with the matter was not for several days yet. I nominated Sylvester for
the position. Swayvill wanted to know why I had chosen him, of course. I
related the dislike with which House Vertix seemed to regard the idea of
him holding that position, and Swayvill agreed that was a fine reason to
The remainder of the meeting was devoted to discussing Random's
proposal of a separate embassy, and arranging the details of the
ambassadors' departure. Swayvill wished to arrange a party in a week, to
see them off. I found this a bit odd, given the relative lack of
attention given to the last ambassador's departure. Of course, I was
Logrus mad at the time, so perhaps there was some sort of farewell
celebration, but I am certain I would have been informed of it.
I retired to my office after leaving the King's presence, and was
rather dismayed by the amount of paperwork I found waiting for me on my
desk. I sent a message requesting a meeting with Mandor, and began
leafing through the stack with a sigh. Most of it was rather routine
paperwork, which made it no less time consuming. One of the documents
pertained to the appointment of a new ambassador to Amber, and I smiled as
filled in Mandor's name. The most interesting piece of correspondence
came from Random, who seemed quite excited over the idea of a separate
embassy, and wished to go shopping for one at my earliest convenience. He
certainly was not wasting any time. I informed him that I would be
delighted to meet with him after lunch, if he was available.
I had been engaged in these pursuits for perhaps an hour when
Mandor was announced. The conversation was polite, but rather brief. He
had heard of Niccolo's death, and was unsurprised to learn that he would
be filling the late ambassador's shoes. I informed him of the necessary
details, including the King's farewell party, and he departed as soon as
was proper. I sent a messenger requesting a meeting with Sylvester, and
returned to the stack of paper, which unfortunately did not seem any
smaller for all of my efforts, thus far.
My meeting with Sylvester was also quite brief. I had already
told him I would be nominating him, after all, and my office was not a
place where we could speak freely. Besides which, anything he had to say
on the matter had been said already.
Lunch was a welcome relief from all the tedium. I chatted with
Alora about her morning, which apparently consisted of spending time in
the armory with Kaedric, learning what she would need to know in order to
perform inspections and the like. It sounded dreadfully boring, and I
wondered if this was something I was going to need to learn. Kaedric than
asked me of my morning, and I told him of my meeting with the King of
Chaos, and my coming appointment with the King of Amber. One does move in
rarefied circles when one is the wife of the Crown Prince. Kaedric
politely declined my invitation to accompany Random and I on our embassy
hunt, siting prior engagements. I had suspected he would, of course, but
he did thank me for thinking of him. I had to smile at that. It would
have been nice to have had some company.
Random's enthusiasm for a new embassy, far from the castle, might
have been misconstrued, had I not known of the difficulties he had been
having with Niccolo. He obviously had no intention of letting the next
ambassador run around the castle making mischief. We passed most of the
afternoon looking at the five places that were available. Random seemed
most anxious for me to choose the one that was furthest from the castle.
I thought this said rather little for his thoughts about our embassy,
although it was possible that it was who the next ambassador was in
particular that was prompting this urge for distance. We eventually
agreed on a place on the main thoroughfare, not quite as far back as the
place Random favored, but further than I would have liked, so neither of
us were completely happy. Ah, the wonders of diplomacy. Random arranged
an appointment for me to do the actual purchasing on the morrow, and I
returned to Chantille Vale, having decided that my remaining paperwork
could wait until later. It was too much to hope that it might be pitched
into the Abyss.
The next several days were completely uneventful. The purchase of
the embassy went without difficulty, and I arranged for it to be properly
furnished for its new function. Mandor would doubtless add his own
personal touches when he took up residence. Much of the rest of my days
were spent trying to finish dealing with the paperwork on my desk. I
found a large majority of it dated back to before I took the job, the
position having been vacant for over a year. Apparently, the lack of a
person in the role had not stopped the papers from coming. I began to
wish I had taken the position of Royal Trump Artist instead. At least the
amount of paperwork associated with the job would have been less.
The tedium of these days was broken one morning when I learned,
much to my surprise, that I had an appointment with Shandril. This
prompted no small amount of curiosity in me. We had been good friends in
the future, but I had been unable to contact her since Dworkin undid
everything, no doubt because she was in her Labyrinth. I had considered
traveling there to find her, but that could have been rather
time-consuming, and time was something I had had precious little of since
I came to Chaos. Shandril greeted me directly, and for a moment I thought
that perhaps she remembered me. I had never been certain whether she had
survived the final days of Amber. But her next words eliminated that
"I have been told that, sometime in the future, we were good
I nodded and admitted this was true. She continued speaking,
while my mind churned at her words. She had been told? By whom? There
were not many who survived the end of the world, and we had not, as a
general rule, spoken of what we had experienced to those who had not. At
least I had not, and I thought it unlikely that the others would, with a
few rare exceptions.
Shandril's next words began to sink in, and temporarily banished
this speculation from my mind. Although the fact was not stated directly,
of course, she implied that she was in contact with certain people who
desired Caitlin's death. My first thought was that one of the people she
was referring to Finndo. He certainly had no reason to love Caitlin. But
he could not have been the one who told Shandril of our future friendship,
for he had died long before Ragnarok, of that I was quite certain. I was
there when Ulysses stomped Finndo's head in, after all. Maron could also
be one of those Shandril was referring to, since Caitlin had killed his
mother, and I had not been able to contact him since. He also had worked
for Finndo in the past/future, and had been acquainted with Shandril, so
it seemed likely these things might be true now. But he also had died in
the future, destroying his entire universe in order to end his own life.
He could not be the one who had spoken to Shandril of our friendship,
After contemplating these thoughts for a time, I allowed that my
goals and the those of the people she spoke of seemed to be compatible.
She offered to arrange a meeting with them, in that case, or act as an
intermediary between us. Curiosity won out, and I chose the former.
While the latter might have been safer, I would know something more of
these people before I went any further in this. We were contemplating the
possible assassination of a Head of House, after all. Such a thing would
not matter if we succeeded, but if we failed... Well, it was not
something that I could afford to be associated with in my position.
Shandril then passed along a rather interesting bit of news.
Abigail was dead, killed by a Chaosite, apparently as a show of faith by
my potential co-conspirators. While it did not sound as though she
suffered nearly as much this time, simply the fact that she was dead was
enough to make me smile. This appeared to disconcert Shandril, and I
could understand why this might be so. Most people do not react to the
death of a Shadow of themselves in quite so happy a manner. I tried to
explain that Abigail had a personality of her own, and her own set of
enemies, so I did not view her death as an attack against me. Especially
given our less than cordial history with each other. This seemed to help
somewhat, but Shandril still seemed confused. I wished I could explain
more fully, but it was the best I could do, given where we were. There
are far too many ears in Thelbane. We chatted pleasantly for a bit after
that, before she departed. I did not remain long after she had left,
returning to Chantille Vale to think things through.
It would have been pointless to attempt to hide my mood from
Kaedric, so I did not even try. He inquired as to its cause, of course,
and for a moment I thought that perhaps I had finally managed to stumble
upon a bit of news of which he was unaware. This hope was quickly dashed,
however, as it became evident that he had known of Abigail's death for
several days. He claimed that, had he known how happy it would make me,
he would have informed me of it. He should not have been surprised by my
reaction. The things Abigail had done to me, and as me, in the future
were such that I would never rest easy while she lived. Not that there
were not many things which kept me from resting easy... Still, I had
always advocated killing her before she caused us trouble in this time,
like she had in the last. It was good to know that this was finally taken
Kaedric could tell that Abigail's death was not the only thing
affecting my mood, and it did not take him long to determine the other
thing I had learned. He guessed incorrectly as to the messenger, though,
thinking it had been Maron. I told him this was not so, but would not
give him Shandril's identity. I did tell him of my suspicion that Maron
was working with Finndo, though. It seemed logical. They both left Chaos
after Caitlin killed Cymnea, and they had worked together in the previous
time-line. Kaedric then revealed that Abigail had also been working for
Finndo this time around. Apparently she had found another way to power,
lacking the Taormin and Father's aid this time. How had she come to find
Finndo? She should not have had the power to leave Ixaxis. Perhaps
Finndo found her. It was not a topic Kaedric wanted to discuss.
Kaedric obviously did not share my enthusiasm over Abigail's
death, and I studied him for a moment. He had been enamored of her once,
after all. Perhaps he still felt something for her? I did not like this
thought, enough so that I took an approach which I rarely try. I was
direct. It felt very strange.
"Are you upset that she is dead?" I asked, watching his face for
some hint of what he was feeling.
He shook his head. "No."
His face betrayed nothing, damn him. I tried another angle. "It
bothers you that I am happy about her demise, then?"
"That's part of it," he said, "but I have come to expect that from
you." He got the strangest look on his face then, and refused to explain
it, no matter how hard I tried to convince him to do so. It was not an
unhappy look, precisely, nor an angry one, nor happy. It was...odd.
Which only made me the more curious to find out its meaning.
"Are you upset about the...other matter, then?"
"No. But be careful. It's not the sort of business that the
Princess of Chaos should be involved in."
The next several days passed without event. I alternated between
doing paperwork and spending time with Alora. I told myself that the
latter was merely to ensure that Claudio was not coming near her. If
there were other reasons, I chose not to think about them. There was no
more word from Shandril.
As for Kaedric, he continued to be obstinate regarding his odd
reaction to Abigail's death, and I became more and more positive that he
*had* felt something for her. I had always been convinced of it,
actually. Why else would he have married me, after all, unless he still
had feelings for her? I never said this to him directly, of course, but I
did not exactly hide what I was feeling, either. Finally, after several
days, he responded, almost angrily, "Do you really think I am in love
I pointed out my reasoning on the matter. He assured me that he
had not been in love with Abigail since he was fifteen. This made no
sense to me, and I said as much, asking, "Then why are you acting so
strangely when I mention her death?"
"Because I ordered her death, Miranda!" he replied, with a rather
strangled sounding half-laugh.
I was not quite sure how to respond to this news. He had always
been so dead set against my killing Abigail, that I never imagined he
would do so himself. Or hire someone to do it. Especially given Sand's
opinion on the matter. I told him as much, and he looked a bit ashamed at
the mention of Sand's name, but only briefly. Abigail, it turned out, was
working for Finndo. When Kaedric learned that she appeared to be taking
the same path as before, he decided he had enough proof to justify her
death, at least to himself. That is still one of the major differences
between Kaedric and me. I did not need such proof to justify killing her.
I knew she would follow the same path. She was, after all, a Shadow of
me. And I do not change easily.
I am not sure what prompted me to ask the question I did, when I
had been avoiding it for so many years. It probably had to do with
knowing that I had been wrong about his feelings for Abigail. If he felt
nothing for her, why had he continued to pursue me after our original
encounter? I had always assumed this was due to him figuring that if he
could not have Abigail, I was the next closest thing. But if he truly did
not love Abigail, why did he not just let me go?
"I liked you better than I thought I would," he replied. "I liked
you, in fact, in spite of your resemblance to her. And...well..."
He stopped then, much to my dismay. I urged him to continue.
"Well," he said slowly. "You were what I had dreamed of since I
was fifteen -- the face and the dimensions of that which seemed the
perfect woman to me -- and does again."
He touched my cheek then, and I could feel his fingers on my skin
even after he took his hand away again. I waited for him to go on, with
the oddest feeling inside of me. There was fear there, certainly, but
also...hope? Perhaps. I had never felt such before, whatever it was.
"But more than that," Kaedric continued, "there was a soul that
could be touched behind that facade, and needed to be touched. I had
never met anyone whose pain, or at least reactions to pain, so closely
mirrored my own from my youth. It was like rescuing myself, in some ways,
but better, because no matter how much you hated me, you didn't hate me as
much as I hated myself, so long ago."
I was so stunned that I could not speak a word. Not because he
was wrong, but because of the overwhelming rightness of it. What he had
said spoke to me on a level I did not even think existed inside of me.
And I did not know how to respond to that.
I eventually said something, but even now I cannot recall what it
was. I could not believe that he actually loved me, not my resemblance to
Abigail. Back when I first realized that I felt something for him,
something I could not stop, I had reassured myself with the thought that
one day, he would realize that he loved the resemblance and not me, and
then he would leave me. And then I would be able to end my feelings for
him. I thought it would happen quickly, for the more time he spent with
me, the more he would realize that he was wrong about me. But then, as
the days turned into weeks, then months, then years, I realized that I
truly did love him, and the thought that he would eventually leave me was
no longer reassuring. It never occurred to me that he might not.
Everyone I ever cared about has always left me, after all. And no one
could really love me. There was a time when I thought that my parents
did, but then I had my own child, and I watched Kaedric with her, and I
knew that whatever Mother and Father felt for me, it was not love. How
could anyone love a woman whose own parents could not love her?
Kaedric listened to me, then took me in his arms, and for the
first time shared a psychic contact with me in which nothing was hidden.
He shared his love for me, and the depth of it reduced me to tears. I had
never experienced such an emotion directed at me before, except, perhaps,
from Alora. And in her case, I had always told myself that she did not
know any better. All children love their parents, at least at first. But
what Kaedric shared went beyond that kind of simple, childlike love. He
saw all of my imperfections and flaws, but they did not matter, for he saw
through them as well. I felt...unworthy of it, somehow. Which is
something else I had never felt before. So I reacted like the cold,
passionless person I had been taught to be - I buried my head in his
shoulder and cried.
It was a long time afterwards that I looked up again and
apologized for reacting so horribly. I was not certain how people were
supposed to react to such a declaration of love, but I was reasonably sure
that they did not cry. Kaedric did not seem upset by my reaction,
however, and tried to reassure me. He told me I was doubtless feeling
rather relieved, and such a response was to be expected. As he spoke
these words, I realized that I did feel relieved. To know that he was not
going to leave me...it felt like a great weight had been lifted from me.
I had heard the expression before, but now I finally knew what it meant.
I felt freed, somehow. Different. Something inside of me had changed. I
was not certain what, exactly, nor how much, but that I had changed was
undeniable. I wondered if it showed. For once, I did not care.
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