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

	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

	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, 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

	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
	"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
	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

All text on this page is © 1996-200 by Kris Fazzari.

Last modified on January 5, 2000 by Kris Fazzari.