It was perhaps two hours before dawn, when Kaedric groaned, mumbled something, then sat straight up in bed. I opened a bleary eye and checked the Trump signature. It was Claudio. I might have known. I thought any number of dark thoughts and commented to Kaedric on his brother's rather poor timing. He pointed out that the timing could have been much worse. I had to concede his point, there. At least Claudio did not have Killian's timing. Kaedric dressed hastily, and departed. I felt some small amount of curiosity as to what Claudio could have required of Kaedric so early, but investigating would have required more effort than I wanted to give at that moment. Kaedric had not seemed agitated by the call, so I did not think it was anything pressing. He would doubtless be back soon. I awoke again an hour or two later, and realized that Kaedric still had not returned. I thought this was rather odd, given the time. I sleepily reached out and traced the link between our rings, then came wide awake. He was in Amber. I was not sure what he could be doing in Amber before daybreak, but I intended to find out. I dressed quickly and Trumped to Amber, following the link down into the town. There seemed to be a public event of some sort taking place, and the streets were full of people. I shifted my features a bit, this being an unofficial visit, after all, and joined the crowd as it streamed into the arena. I quickly found a seat and glanced around. There were several people standing in the center of the arena, but my eyes were immediately drawn to the two at the far end. One of them was my husband. The other one was Claudio. My eyes traveled to the seven standing opposite them: Archimedes, Vain, Flynn, Random, Ulysses, Caine and Julian. All bore weapons of some sort, most of them blunt. The glances they kept directing towards my husband and brother-in-law made it obvious that one of them was going to suffering a beating before long. I had my own preferences as to who. The men readied their weapons and formed two lines, with a space between them down which the victim was to pass. Claudio and Kaedric exchanged a few words, then Kaedric turned and strode towards the others with an expression that betrayed nothing. Which probably meant he was angry about something. He is right, our reactions are rather similar, at times. He spoke briefly with Archimedes, then took his place in the line, leaving no doubt as to who the victim would be. I decided I was going to enjoy this, and conjured myself some popcorn. It seemed appropriate for watching Claudio get beaten. Others apparently thought likewise, for I was offered money to produce more for them. The thought of Claudio seeing people munching popcorn while he suffered was too appealing to resist, so I was only too willing to comply. I felt almost giddy as I sat there, anonymous among the throng. For the moment, I was not Melanie, Princess of Chaos, nor even Melanie, daughter of Brand. I was just another face in the crowd. It felt rather liberating. The object of the event seemed to be to hurt Claudio, but not kill him. His goal was to pass between the two lines, grab a flag, and pass between the lines again. In the process he was punched, hit with staves, and stabbed. I had to wonder just what Claudio had done to cause this sort of punishment. Kaedric was the first man that Claudio encountered as he began, and the last man he passed when he finished. Kaedric broke Claudio's fingers at the end, which surprised me just a bit. Whatever Claudio said to him, it must have made him very angry indeed. All in all, it was a fine way to start the morning. Once it became obvious that the beating over, the crowd began to disperse. I walked for a bit until the crowd had thinned, then stepped out of sight, allowed my features to return to normal, and Trumped home. Kaedric was already there, having doubtless Trumped directly from the arena. I asked him how his morning went, smirking slightly as I did so. I was certain he knew I had been there, of course, but it was fun to pretend otherwise. He played along for a few minutes, before admitting that he was aware of my presence at the area. I chided him somewhat for not informing me of the event beforehand. He smiled a bit at that, and explained that he was rather trying to ease the animosity between Claudio and I, and inviting me to watch Claudio be beaten seemed rather counter- productive. I assured him that I harbored no feelings of ill-will towards Claudio. Admittedly, if his body were to turn up someday, I would shed no tears for his death, but it was not an event I was actively trying to bring about. Not that I shared this observation with my husband. Kaedric seemed unconvinced of the veracity of my statement, and asked why I would not allow Claudio to be alone with Alora. I sighed, having gone through this once already, and explained that I simply did not trust Claudio. It had nothing to do with ill-will towards him, I simply had no faith in his judgment. And he had proven me correct the one time he had been left to watch Alora alone. Admittedly, the damage was not irreversible, but we might not be so lucky, next time. It was not a risk I was willing to take. Besides which, Claudio would never leave me alone with his children, so I felt no remorse at refusing to leave my only child with him. Kaedric seemed to think he could change Claudio's mind in that regard. I found that highly unlikely, but shifted the conversation to more pleasant topics for the remainder of breakfast. Kaedric ate quite a lot. Apparently beating Claudio had caused him to work up quite an appetite. Kaedric departed soon after breakfast, although not before I brought up the matter of Shandril's mysterious allies with him again. Seeing as how my feelings of animosity towards Caitlin had lessened somewhat, my primary reason for agreeing to the meeting had faded. Still, it would be useful to know for certain who Shandril was working with, although I already was pretty certain of the answer. Kaedric agreed with my line of reasoning, and that the meeting should still take place. He warned me to have a method of escape ready. This pretty much went without saying. There was a time, not so long ago, when I might even have been confident that this would work. My experience with the Serpent had taught me otherwise. If Shandril's ally was Finndo, as I suspected it was, escape would not be an easy matter. I would just have to make certain that it did not come to that. I passed a few hours with Alora, and was just getting ready to go to my office, when I received a Trump call from Shandril. It was time to meet her associates. I stalled for a few moments while I sent Kaedric a signal through our rings. Since Shandril insisted on keeping the link open, it was the only way to warn him. Just in case I did not return. I was rewarded by the opening of a contact that almost felt like Trump, but not quite. Shandril did not appear to notice. I made a mental note to ask Kaedric one day how he did that. My preparations finished, I went through to Shandril, finding myself in what appeared to be an antechamber. Shandril quickly showed me into the study, and I became aware of two things simultaneously: Finndo was sitting behind the desk, and I had lost my connection with Kaedric. All Trump seemed to be blocked, in fact. This would have disturbed me far more were I still a living Trump, but I did not find it particularly reassuring as it was. Trump had been my best chance for escaping. There was still Logrus or shapeshifting through Shadow, but neither method was speedy. And losing the link with Kaedric meant I was on my own. As I had expected I would be. Finndo was all charm and politeness as he greeted me. As was I. Neither of us believed it for a moment. With the meaningless pleasantries out of the way, we quickly got down to the point of this meeting. Which was Caitlin, of course. Finndo wanted her dead, and himself in her positions. The Serpent was unlikely to care who was its Priest/ess, so long as it was a descendant of Cymnea, and Finndo felt confident of his ability to deal with the demon underworld, which left only the Head of House position in question. It was matriarchal by House law, but, with the support of the Crown, such laws could be modified. I allowed that, should something unfortunate happen to Caitlin, I would support whatever ensured the stability of the House and Chaos. As for my husband, he might take a bit of persuading. Finndo did not think his support necessary, and remarked on the likelihood of Swayvill outliving Kaedric, given my husband's lifestyle. I narrowed my eyes a bit at that. It was not exactly a threat, but it was not exactly not a threat, either. Finndo assured me that he was implying nothing. I pretended I believed him. Finndo did want more than I had agreed to, however. Specifically, he wanted my support if he moved on House Halybard. I informed him that my support would depend on the circumstances of his actions. And if he brought troops against the House? I reiterated my desire for stability. If Caitlin were dead, obviously I would do what was necessary to ensure that the transfer of power went smoothly. I meant it, too. I had no desire to see another civil war break out in Chaos. Finndo also wished me to assure the King that he did not desire his throne, only House Halybard. I readily agreed to relay such a message. Finndo studied me then, and I did my best not to show any hint of nervousness. I doubted my mind was strong enough to hide much from him. This had been the primary gamble all along. If he asked of me something which I was unwilling to do, I might not be able to hide it from him. Fortunately, nothing he had suggested was unpalatable to me. While I no longer desired Caitlin's death, I would not mourn her demise overmuch, either. So long as her removal did not precipitate the sort of disaster that had occurred in the previous time-line, upon Cymnea's death. Now that my desire to kill Caitlin at any cost had faded, I was unwilling to cross that line. The idea of Finndo as the Priest of the Serpent was not especially appealing to me, but better that than no Priest at all. I doubted Finndo would have any better success in resisting the Serpent's whims than Caitlin had, despite Finndo's claims to the contrary. Whatever Finndo saw in me, it was enough to convince him to let me leave. I nodded at Shandril as I left, and inquired as to whether she had seen Maron. "I have not met him yet in this time-line," she replied. Once again I wondered who had told her all of this, but that was not a secret she was willing to part with. Yet. Still, whatever the source of her information, if she knew of the previous time-line, it seemed likely that Finndo did too. I found this thought made me rather uneasy. I Trumped back to Kaedricways, my sigh of relief at having survived choking off as acrid smoke filled my lungs. Kaedric was there, pacing the hall and smoking. If his expression was not enough to let me know that he was worried, the cigarette in his hand gave him away. He looked it with an almost guilty expression on his face as I appeared, and I pretended not to notice as he hastily stubbed it out. How was it that I had been married to him for ten years, and had not discovered this habit of his until recently? Perhaps I had simply not troubled him severely enough for it to manifest, until now. In the past, he was usually the one in danger, not I. The Serpent's kidnapping of me had changed all that. It had also removed a sense of security I had not known I felt, until it was gone. Apparently, it had affected Kaedric well. He simply hid it better. Kaedric wanted to know the details of the meeting, of course, and I was more than willing to share them. When I reached the point about moving troops into Halybard, Kaedric brought his fist down. Hard. I jumped a bit at that. I did not like the idea much, either, but I had not been expecting such a vehement reaction from him. Perhaps it was only stress. We both agreed that we did not wish to see a repeat of what happened in the past/future, with Chaos thrown into civil war. At least now we knew that Finndo was not moving against Amber, for the moment. Which was unfortunate, in a sense. I would rather he was Amber's problem to deal with. Kaedric departed soon thereafter, and removed his ring to prevent me from tracing him. I felt rather miffed at that. I was the one who had endured all of the risk to gain this information, after all. I resolved to have a few words on the matter with my husband, when he returned. I occupied myself with gathering up the remaining cigarettes and Trumping them to Archimedes, since I seemed to recall that he also smoked the foul things. I saved one, however, reasoning that it might come in handy if Kaedric's mood had not improved when he returned. Then I settled myself down to wait. Some three hours passed before Kaedric finally returned, his mood as tense as when he left. I handed him the cigarette I had saved and told him to come back when he was done with it. He seemed a bit calmer when he came back, but the fact that he immediately went into his study and poured himself a double shot of bourbon was ample evidence that he was still upset about something. I was somewhat surprised to find that he was upset over almost losing me. None of what had happened was unexpected, after all. Not if Finndo was involved. And while I had been concerned that he might imprison me, I had never been in fear of my life. Then Kaedric told me that he had just put out a contract on Finndo's life, and I tried to hide my surprise. Personally, I thought this was something that should have been done quite some time ago. I never expected that Kaedric would be the one to do it, though. I observed that he must feel pretty strongly about not wishing Finndo to succeed Caitlin. He admitted this was part of it, but he felt strongly about Finndo's activities in general, given the havoc he wrought the last time. I pointed out that he doubtless knew of that last time, given that Shandril knew of it. This had occurred to Kaedric as well, and only led him to suspect Finndo's motives twice as much as he might normally have. We both agreed that Finndo had let me go because of my position. It would serve no purpose to have the Crown angry with him, after all. Given this, I tried to reassure him that I had been in no danger. He acknowledged that rationally, he knew this, but nevertheless, it changed his reaction not a whit. I found it father touching that he had worried about me, despite knowing that Finndo was unlikely to harm me. It was then that I received my second shock of the conversation. Kaedric intended me to have a bodyguard from now on. I argued that this was not necessary, since I was perfectly capable of protecting myself. But he pointed out that he would have one as well, which made it difficult to pose any further objections. And, I had to admit, I did not mind the idea of Alora having one. But I still doubted it would do me any good. A bodyguard would not have been allowed in the room with Finndo, I was certain. Nor did I think one would have stopped Caitlin. Kaedric was unconvinced, however, even when I pointed out that the sudden appearance of bodyguards would surely lead Finndo to suspect that I had told Kaedric of our meeting. He wanted Finndo to realize what a grave misstep he took in involving me, you see, and his expression told me it would be pointless to argue with him. I warned him to be careful, then. "Finndo mentioned that Swayvill was likely to rule for quite a while, so the crown would probably pass straight from him to Alora, your...lifestyle making it unlikely that you will live that long." Kaedric's frown deepened at that, and he stared down at the blotter on his desk. "My lifestyle?" "I believe that is the word he used. He may have been making reference to how you...died before." This seemed likely, for if Finndo remembered the past, he would know of Kaedric's death. At the thought of losing him again, I felt a sharp stab of pain go through me. I could not endure such again, I was certain, and I said as much to him. He pulled me down to him then, and buried his head in my shoulder. Whether he was comforting me, or drawing comfort from me, I was not certain, but it felt safe there in his arms, and we remained thus for a long while. It was Kaedric who stirred first, unburying his face and kissing my temple before remarking lightly that we could not sit there all day. I admitted this was true, while wondering to myself why I felt more nervous now than I had when he had first returned. I turned the topic to the bodyguards he intended to hire, informing him that I expected our bodyguards to be of the same sex as the person they were guarding. I was not going to have strange men following Alora and I around, after all, nor would I accept a woman guarding Kaedric. Kaedric seemed unsurprised by this, but claimed it would be more difficult to find a male than a female. Apparently, disaffected Hellmaids are easier to hire. I maintained confidence in his ability to find someone suitable, despite the difficulty. The matter of Laughter came up then, and Kaedric's relationship with her. I had not meant to bring it up, but it slipped out when I was protesting the idea of Kaedric having a female bodyguard. Kaedric was quiet for a bit, before explaining how Laughter reminded him of what his mother might have been like, had her life been easier. And how Laughter was the first and only person to offer him friendship when he first came to Amber, after Chaos fell to Wickling. While he admitted that she was attractive, he felt no particular desire for her, something he attributed to the fact that she looked very much like him. I privately disagreed with this assessment, for I had never thought they looked much alike at all, but I thought better of mentioning this to him. If he wished to believe it so, I so no harm in letting him continue. The conversation turned to the future, and the entente Kaedric hoped to establish between Amber and Chaos. At the very least, when he and Archimedes took the thrones, he did not think it likely that they would make war on each other. Well, he would not if Archimedes did not. Somehow, I did not think this would sit well with the Serpent. It had called Archimedes "Adversary" at my wedding, after all. I remembered the words it had said to me on that occasion, and I shivered slightly. Given what had happened to me since, I doubted that Kaedric would fare any better at thwarting its desires than I had. I could only hope that it was finally done with me. Even if I did not believe that to be the case. I found it ironic that Kaedric was so unconcerned about the Serpent, but Finndo had upset him greatly, whereas with me, it was the other way around. I mentioned this to Kaedric. His explanation gave me pause for a moment. "Perhaps it is because the Serpent is a god, and gods are beyond my power. Perhaps because I don't think that the Serpent wants our deaths." I shivered again, and reminded him, "There are some things worse than death, you know." "Yes, my lady, I know."
"Ghosts and Shadows"
Melanie's Page | Melanie's Diaries
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Last modified on January 5, 2000 by Kris Fazzari.