Kaedric presented the bodyguards to me the following afternoon. There were five women and one man. I raised an eyebrow at this, for I could do math as well as anyone, and five women meant one of them would be guarding Kaedric. Kaedric introduced them all to me, starting with the two that would guard Alora. They were Isleen and Thorda by name, a former Helgram and Hendrake, respectively. My two were called Roxanne and Ola. If Roxanne had a former affiliation, Kaedric did not share it. Ola was another Hendrake. The woman who would be guarding Kaedric was Ardis, yet another Hendrake. I wondered how annoyed the Jezetti were at Kaedric's plundering of their ranks, and what he had needed to do to accomplish this. On second thought, I really did not want to know. Jotham, the male, was a Helgram. Kaedric attempted to justify Ardis' presence by explaining that she was his night guard, and, should it be necessary for her to burst in, I would not be embarrassed by my state of undress. The fact that she would also be seeing his state of undress, as would my own guard, was apparently of no importance. Still, he had found a man to guard him during the day, and I knew that could not have been easy. I decided not to make an issue out of it. Having bodyguards turned out to be rather trying. It is one thing to know you will have someone watching you for every waking hour. It is another thing entirely to experience this. There was no privacy. The only place they did not follow me was the bedchamber and the bathroom, and even there, they entered the room first, to make sure that it was safe. Only in Kaedricways was I spared this behavior. I found this ironic, since it was from Kaedricways that I had been kidnapped. Most disconcerting was just knowing that every word and every action of mine would always be observed. I had always felt closely scrutinized whenever I was in public, due to the nature of my position, but at least before, my home had been my sanctuary. No longer. I found it difficult to talk to Kaedric or Alora, knowing that someone else was listening to words I meant only for them. And I resented this greatly. A week passed in this fashion. My bodyguards said little, and I said little more, doing my best to ignore their presence, despite how much it grated on me. I spent most of my time in my office, fighting the ever-present mountain of paperwork. In the process, I came across one bit of news that brightened my day considerably. Amber had chosen its ambassador to Chaos. It was Ulysses. The irony of the situation was delicious. I had to wonder what Random was thinking, though, given Ulysses' professed hatred of Chaos and its denizens. Maybe he was simply getting revenge on us for inflicting him with Niccolo. Knowing Ulysses, I suspected his term as ambassador would be equally as brief as that of the late Lord Vertix. I did manage to find time to travel to Ivory, to see how Ran was recovering. About three weeks had passed there since the explosion, and Ran seemed to be doing fine, although he still had not yet regained his magical potential. Theo, on the other hand looked quite frazzled. I was struck by how much she reminded me of Kaedric, the way he had been when I returned from talking to Finndo. I mentioned something along these lines to Ran, and we soon fell to discussing our spouses and their tendency to get so upset over every little thing. I found it a rather enjoyable conversation. It was odd to find we had such things in common. Swayvill's party for the departing ambassadors took place as scheduled. It was relatively uneventful, although I was somewhat surprised to find Maron among Mandor's staff. I felt a definite feeling of relief when I laid eyes on him. At least he was not involved with Finndo, this time. I mentioned my concern over his disappearance, and he seemed surprised that I had even noticed that he was gone. I cursed myself for forgetting that he still barely knew me in this time, and excused it as simply being concerned for a close relative. Blood ties, and all that. He seemed to accept that explanation, and I wished him success in his new position. I wondered how Archimedes would react to his presence in Amber? Not well, if the past was any indication. Sylvester spent most of the party standing off to the side a bit, looking a touch paranoid. He had a staff, of course, but it was smaller than Mandor's. I suspected that had more to do with him trusting fewer people than Mandor then it did with his job being less difficult. We talked mostly of inconsequentials, any information pertaining to his position having been exchanged in the week leading up to the party. I had warned him not to mention Claudio, or Sky, or their children to Corwin, nor Claudio and Sky's upcoming wedding. So long as he kept this in mind, I was confident that he would do well. Swayvill took me aside for a moment during the party, and informed me that Corwin had finally announced his ambassador to Chaos. His name was Evan, and he was to be considered a Prince of Corwin's realm, a fact I found rather interesting. What connection did he have to Corwin to justify this title? Another of Corwin's by-blows? Perhaps, but it seemed unlikely that he would send a son of his to Chaos, especially after having lost several of them to Amber, recently. It was the morning after the party that I received a rumor that Halybard had been occupied by Finndo's army. Caitlin's whereabouts were unknown. Nothing official had been heard, of course, but I believed the story to be true. Finndo had mentioned that he would use troops against Halybard, and having admitted this to me, he could not delay overlong before using them, lest I use the information against him. Kaedric took the news with little outward reaction, but I knew he was troubled by this. He left soon afterwards, ostensibly to patrol the lands, but I knew he simply wanted time away to think. Not time alone, of course, for Jotham accompanied him, but he seemed to find it sufficient. I kept an eye on him, so to speak, and was surprised to find him receiving a Trump call from Archimedes. I had little time to speculate on the nature of the call, for I soon received one of my own. It was Ulysses. I smiled as I took the call, for I knew why he was calling. As I had expected, he had found a way to squirm out of the job, and was only to hold the ambassadorial position long enough to train Flynn, who was apparently now called Dakota. Ulysses was, of course, in fine form, answering every question with a sarcastic answer, and a scornful look. For some reason, this did not bother me any more. It amused me, in fact. Perhaps it was the knowledge that Ulysses was in Chaos against his will. Or perhaps I had changed more than I knew over the years. Whatever the cause, nothing Ulysses said could rankle me. Once these pleasantries were out of the way, I introduced the new ambassadors to the King. Ulysses proceeded to acquit himself quite admirably, and I began to see, for the first time, some evidence of Flora in him, other than his good looks. I presented he and Dakota with the list I had prepared, warning them where they should not go, and what they should not do, then left them to be shown to their quarters in town. I was surprised to find my Ivoran robes laid out on my bed when I returned home. I inquired after Kaedric's whereabouts, and was informed by Elspeth that he was putting Alora to bed. I hurried off to join him, and after Alora was safely tucked away, I asked why we were going to Ivory. I thought perhaps it had something to do with Ran. I was not expecting to learn that we had been invited there by Archimedes and Laughter. I suspected Laughter had more to do with it than Archimedes, since, as far as I knew, Archimedes had never been to Ivory. Kaedric assured me that he had given Archimedes a tourist tag, since it would not do for the Crown Prince of Amber to die while in a Shadow Kaedric controlled. It did not take Kaedric and I long to dress, and then Kaedric Trumped Archimedes, who pulled us through. And the bodyguards, of course. Always the damn bodyguards. We dined at the Lantern Gardens, Laughter having apparently developed a taste for the place. I must admit, it did bring back a fond memory or two of the evening we spent there, just before my wedding. Still, I had to wonder what the purpose of this dinner was. It was not until the floor show had started that I got an answer. "Bathroom," Laughter said, and it took a moment for me to realize that she was speaking to me. It took another moment to realize that she wished me to accompany her. I quickly ascertained that she was attempting to draw me away so that Kaedric and Archimedes could talk in private, and I suppressed the urge to chuckle as we left. Subtlety has never been Laughter's forte. The urge to laugh quickly fled as I saw Roxanne emerging from the bathroom, and I gritted my teeth a bit. If Laughter noticed this, she made no comment. According to Laughter, this going to the bathroom in groups is a tradition in some Shadows. The point of the tradition was to gossip. All right, I was game. I did not intend to tell her anything that she could not learn from other sources, anyway. I began by informing her of Ulysses' arrival in Chaos, along with Dakota. Judging by the look on her face, I do not think she knew he had been appointed ambassador. Interesting. We both agreed that the appointment was doubtless the work of Random, since no one else would be so clueless. Laughter then mentioned that she had heard rumors about Finndo. After a moment's hesitation, I told her of his takeover of Halybard, and that Caitlin appeared to have escaped. It seemed likely that Caitlin would seek help from her friends in Amber, and I did not see the harm in alerting them to this possibility in advance. So long as Caitlin lived, Finndo would be preoccupied with finding her. And the longer Finndo was preoccupied, the more time Kaedric's assassin would have to work with. Then the conversation took an unexpected turn, as Laughter suddenly asked if Kaedric had been smoking a lot, recently. I frowned. I had gone ten years before discovering Kaedric's smoking habit. How had Laughter come to learn of it? For a moment, old suspicions sprang to mind, but I recalled Kaedric's words to me regarding Laughter and quickly quelled them. Still, I could not stop myself from asking how she knew that he smoked. She told me that she had smelled it on his clothing, and there had been a shower of cigarettes that had appeared over Archimedes via Trump. I tried hard not to laugh, but a bit of a smile escaped. She thought the cigarettes had come from Kaedric. I explained to her the circumstances of the cigarettes' return, and we fell to discussing our husbands' annoying habit, for Laughter thought as little of Archimedes' smoking as I did Kaedric's. I was more fortunate than her, at least, in that Kaedric only smoked when he was upset, while Archimedes apparently made a regular habit of it. Kaedric also tried to avoid smoking in my presence. As Laughter told of making Archimedes leave their quarters when he smoked, I realized that I had never needed to do so with Kaedric. I felt a surge of warmth towards him at that, and I found myself looking at him somewhat differently when we rejoined them. There is nothing to make you appreciate what you have like comparing it with someone else. They appeared to have finished their business, and, as we expected, they both smelled of smoke, although no cigarettes were in evidence. Kaedric caught my expression and protested that he had not had any. After a moment's hesitation over the public nature of the situation, I kissed him thoroughly enough to verify that he spoke true. I had expected no less, but it was still fun to test it. I reflected that talking with Laughter had made me a bit whimsical. Perhaps it was fortunate that we did not speak too often. The rest of the meal passed agreeably, and we parted company soon thereafter. Kaedric and I returned home, and went to bed, if not to sleep, the floor show having provoked its usual response. At some point, I became aware that Archimedes was Trumping Kaedric. I was a trifle distracted, so it is not surprising that I failed to notice until the effort was repeated. I ignored it and hoped it would go away. Kaedric did the same. Alas, we were not to be so fortunate. Eventually, Kaedric gave up with a groan and took the call. Then he frowned and began to get dressed. I sat up and shot him an inquiring look. He informed me that Claudio was missing, and that he was going to look for him. I began to dress immediately. Kaedric raised an eyebrow at this. "What do you think you're doing?" "I am coming with you." Kaedric objected to this idea, as I expected. He honestly seemed to expect that I was just going to roll back over and go to sleep. I informed him that I was hardly going to let him go without me. Admittedly, I cared little for Claudio, but, for all we knew, Finndo had taken Claudio as bait to lure Kaedric into a trap. Kaedric still insisted that I must stay behind, because of Alora. I set my shoulders stubbornly. Kaedric made to go through to Archimedes, then, at which point I informed him that I would track him through Shadow, if I must. Kaedric told Archimedes that he would call him back, and I felt a small bit of satisfaction. There was no way he was leaving without me. Kaedric tried to assure me that he would not be doing anything dangerous, and therefore, I need not go. I countered that if it was not dangerous, then there was no risk to my accompanying him. He changed tactics then, having no way to counter that argument without rendering his own invalid. Instead, he informed me that he wanted me to stay behind because of our future children. My mind went blank at that. The idea was ridiculous. How could I have children if he was dead? Kaedric proceeded to explain that my shapeshifting had advanced enough that, should he die, I could use the results of the night's...activity to conceive. I almost smacked him. That was supposed to be comforting, the thought that not only would he be dead, but I would be raising another child alone? Hell, no! Kaedric sighed then, and sat down on the bed. "Very well. You can go. I will stay here." I narrowed my eyes at him as I tried to figure out what he was up to. Send me to find Claudio? He could not be serious. I said as much. He told me he trusted me. And he would not leave Alora alone. I began to feel the icy grip of defeat, and I wanted to scream. "Perhaps we could leave Alora with Laughter?" I suggested, knowing even as I said this that it would not work. "And if we both died?" he said quietly. "You would leave our only child, the heir to the throne of Chaos, to be raised in Amber?" My shoulders slumped. There seemed no way around it. It was foolishness itself for me to try and find Claudio. Even if I succeeded, his distrust for me was so strong, that he would never accept my help. Kaedric had to be the one to go. "I'll keep the link between our rings open," Kaedric assured me, seeing my decision in my eyes. "Were you able to track me when Finndo had me?" I asked, already knowing the answer. "No." "Go," I said, and turned away, lest I change my mind. "I never should have had children," I muttered. Then he was gone. Kaedric left the link open, as he had promised, and I was able to trace him to Amber, and sense the Trump contact he traced from Claudio's room. It had come from Corwin. I relaxed, ever so slightly. Corwin's presence made it rather unlikely that Finndo was involved. Kaedric then traveled to a place near Ygg, where Claudio and Corwin lay somewhat the worse for wear. Kaedric healed them, then brought them back to Amber. And just like that, it was over. Sensing that Kaedric was ready to return, I hastily went to the bookshelf and pulled a book at random from the shelves, then climbed into bed with it and affected unconcern. It was not a rational response, by any means, but I suddenly did not want to look like I had spent a moment worrying since he had departed. I barely had time to realize which book I had grabbed before Kaedric appeared. It was Byron's book of poems. I suppose it made sense that my hand should find it without even thinking, given the number of times I had perused it. Kaedric perceived which book I held mere moments after I did, and seemed to relax a bit. I do not suppose I presented the proper air of an angry wife, not with the meaning we both attached to that book. I sighed a bit exasperatedly as Kaedric lay his head on my shoulder, and asked how Claudio was faring. Well enough. He would wake up next to Corwin, however. I choked off a snort of laughter at that. "You do realize that whichever one of them wakes up first, will kill the other one." "Seeing as how they are in Amber, that's Archimedes' problem." I was a bit surprised that he was being so cavalier about it, but then I reasoned that Archimedes would hardly allow them to kill each other, having just stopped them from dying. I sighed. "We shall have to find a guardian for Alora, you know." I had no intention of going through another night like this one again. He nodded. "Or we can pass enough time such that a guardian is no longer necessary." I considered this with some surprise. Given everything that had happened recently with the Serpent and Finndo, the idea was rather appealing. We could ensure that Alora finished growing up safely. But would we be doing her any favors by allowing her to mature outside of the Courts? Kaedric said we could discuss it in the morning. Alora would need to be consulted as well, after all. I laid my book aside and we simply held each other for a while. I was not aware of falling asleep. It seemed as though one minute it was night, and the next there was light streaming through the diamond panes that Kaedric was so fond of. Kaedric joined me in awareness a few minutes later, and I broached the question of how serious he had been the previous night. As it turns out, as far as Alora was concerned, he was quite serious. He wanted Alora to be able to take her place in the politics of Chaos soon. Her ultimate position would give her quite a lot of weight on the Council, and Kaedric felt that this weight would be needed now. With all that Finndo had done recently, I had to agree. If Finndo tried to claim a place on the Council while Caitlin still lived, she would have the right to challenge that claim. It certainly would not hurt to have as much power in place as possible when this happened. And now that Alora had had a few weeks in which to see Chaos for herself, rather than rely on our impressions, Kaedric was confident that she had gained enough of a perspective to leave again, for a time. We would not be returning to Chantille Vale, though, on that he and I both agreed. It was far too isolated a place for Alora. She needed a peer group. But if not Chantille Vale, then where? I thought immediately of Mayfair, of course. I had always enjoyed that Shadow, ever since Kaedric first brought me there on our honeymoon, and Alora seemed happy on the occasions we visited it. Kaedric admitted that was a possibility, then made his own suggestion: Ixaxis. I cannot say I exactly leapt for joy at the thought of spending the next several years in Ixaxis. I had spent nearly a month there, getting over Maron's death. It had not been a particularly pleasant time, the icy weather outside matching the coldness I felt in my soul, and I felt no great desire to return there. But Kaedric pointed out that Alora could acquire an excellent sorcerous education there, and at least Sand would not be present. I had always felt like she viewed me as some sort of intruder when I was there, and her absence would make the place easier to bear. It would only be six years before Alora was likely to be ready to pass the ordeals. I decided I could bear the place for that span of time. Kaedric would, at least, be happy to be home for a while. It would not be the only Shadow we stayed in, of course, for Ixaxis alone would not provide enough of an overall education for Alora. Kaedric offered to show me his favorite prospects in the afternoon. It was while we were dressing for breakfast that I finally asked if he had been serious about wanting me to have a child if he died. He considered this for a bit, before admitting that had been his plan, although he acknowledged that it was unnecessary. If he died with no heir to the House, I could take up that place, or Alora and I could abolish the House and form a new one in her name. I did not see how this could work, if the heir had to be male. Kaedric admitted that he was considering changing the rules. The current rules had apparently been established at Swayvill's suggestion, the King not wanting to duplicate in any way the circumstances of his own rise to power. Apparently, when he took over the throne, his mother was the Head of his house, not him. His mother attempted a coup against him, to either put herself on the throne, or one of his siblings who would be loyal to her, even as King. Swayvill destroyed his house to keep his throne, either executing for treason those who did not flee or renounce the house, or defeating them in single combat. Apparently, he hoped that by not duplicating the circumstances under which he took the throne, Chaos would avoid a similar bloodbath. I decided that Swayvill was a very superstitious man. Given this, it seemed unlikely that he would be happy if Kaedric chose to change the rules of inheritance for his house. Kaedric admitted that this was so, and that he might not do it. It all depended on what our next child turned out to be. "If we have the next one properly, as opposed to after you are dead, then I imagine you will have some control over that," I pointed out with a bit of a smile. "We could arrange it to be done properly, you know." I still do not know what made me consider this seriously. Maybe it was something in the tone of his voice. Maybe it was the fear of him dying, as Finndo had implied that he would. I had always taken some comfort in the fact that I had 20 years before I had to provide Kaedric with another child. But what if Kaedric was not around in 20 years? Would it bother me that we had never had another child together? That the only child we had had been an accident? I realized, much to my surprise, that it would. I loved Alora no less because of the circumstances of her conception, but... The fact remained that Kaedric and I had not intended to have a child, then. Kaedric did not even remember the night in question. What would it be like to have a child deliberately, to know from the beginning that would be the outcome? There was a time when such a thought would have been abhorrent to me. Now...I wanted to know. Still feeling somewhat cautious, I admitted that, given how we would be passing another stretch of years in Shadow, it seemed a logical time to have another child. When I saw the way Kaedric's eyes lit up at my words, I knew I had made the right choice. And as he went on promising that we would do it right, this time, I had to wonder what Alora would think of having a baby brother. That, I decided, was a topic that could wait until after we had dealt with moving once again. You can imagine the rest. And if you cannot, I am not going to enlighten you.
"Ghosts and Shadows"
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Last modified on January 5, 2000 by Kris Fazzari.