The day finally came for us to return to Chaos, and we transported
our belongings back to Kaedricways. Ian's basement project alone occupied
seven boxes. I decided I really did not want to know what was inside of
them. The luggage was left with the servants to unpack, while Kaedric
took Alora to see Swayvill. Thankfully, Alora was no longer wearing the
skirts she had grown so fond of while at Oxford. It certainly would have
made for an interesting audience with the King.
After an hour or so, Kaedric came back for Ian, and I volunteered
to go with him. I am sure he could handle himself just fine without me,
and it is not as if I could go in with him, anyway, but I went with Alora
on her first introduction to Swayvill, and I would go with Ian, as well.
Swayvill's expression when they emerged was subtly different from what I
remember it being after he first met Alora. Then, he had worn a pleased
expression. Now, his expression was mostly unreadable, but I would swear
he looked almost...stymied. I smiled inwardly. I expected no less from
As after Alora's first audience, I asked Ian how the conversation
had gone. Unlike Alora, I only received two short sentences in response.
To be perfectly honest, it was one more sentence than I had been
expecting. He must have really enjoyed the conversation with Swayvill. I
asked him if he wanted to go home, but he wished to explore Thelbane,
instead, as I had expected. As I began the tour, I decided to swing by my
office, just to make sure nothing urgent had come up while I was gone. I
was a bit surprised to find Dakota waiting there. Apparently Ulysses'
idea of training him was to give him the list of do's and do not's and
then take off. Naturally, Dakota had a few questions. Unfortunately, I
was not willing to let Ian continue exploring Thelbane on his own,
although he was more than willing to do so. Intelligent he might be, but
there were too many places in Thelbane that were not for the unwary, and I
had no intention of leaving my son alone until he knew his way around.
Thankfully, Dakota expressed an interest in being shown more of Thelbane
as well, so he joined us and we continued on our way.
We had been walking for perhaps an hour, with Ian noting
everything carefully and Dakota beginning to look rather lost, when we
came across Kaedric and Alora. I made introductions, and Alora, after
taking a good look at Dakota, proceeded to be coy and pay him no attention
whatsoever. I did my best to hide my amusement. It must be the green
hair. Not that I ever behaved quite so obviously around Archimedes, of
course. At any rate, Dakota was certainly a far more acceptable interest
than Arundel had been. Fortunately, Ian seemed oblivious of Alora's
interest in Dakota, so he was spared prolonged exposure to Ian's glacial
glare. Alora, on the other hand, was on the receiving end of this for a
while, although she pretended not to notice. I finally had to nudge Ian
and point out psychically that he was being rude, at which point he denied
that he was staring and attempted to distract me by asking about a local
landmark. He did stop staring, however.
The tour ended without further incident, and I arranged to finish
going over Dakota's concerns on the morrow. Which is when Alora piped in
and invited him to breakfast. I merely raised an eyebrow, not needing to
state the inappropriateness of inviting a man she had just met to
breakfast. Fortunately, Dakota mentioned that he was in the habit of
breaking his fast with herbal teas, which gave me the opening to invite
him to a more proper tea, instead.
It was not until we had bid Dakota goodbye and returned to
Kaedricways that I questioned Alora about her breakfast invitation. Alora
tried to pretend that she was merely thinking of Dakota, inviting him to
an informal meal since he seemed uncomfortable with formality. I did not
bother pointing out that she would not be doing Amber's ambassador any
favors by helping him to avoid formality, since it was a fact which I knew
she was well aware of. Kaedric must have sensed the amusement I was
trying my best to hide, for he took my arm and commented psychically,
"Wait until she meets the rest of the family." It would certainly be
interesting to see her reaction to Archimedes.
Ian asked for a workshop, to take the place of the one he had had
in our basement in Oxford. Kaedric arranged this, and I saw no more of my
demon-child until dinner. I passed most of the afternoon refamiliarizing
myself with Chaos once again, and dealing with the mound of paperwork that
had accumulated. Shortly before dinner, I Trumped Sylvester and invited
him to breakfast, to become reacquainted with the family. I suppose I
could have chosen dinner, or lunch, but I thought it would make a rather
subtle point to Alora.
All in all, it was a rather exhausting day, as I suppose returning
home after a long absence often is. But the day was not quite over.
There was still the matter of when we would bring the family to Amber.
Kaedric broached the subject as we prepared for bed that night. I had to
admit that we might as well get it out of the way, joking that if we did
not, Claudio was bound to do it for us. It would have to be dinner,
though, what with Sylvester coming by for breakfast, and Dakota having
been invited to tea. At least this time, the presentation would be done
Sylvester was already seated at the table when Alora came down to
breakfast. She shot me a look, which I pretended not to notice. She soon
had her revenge, however, when she revealed that she wanted to take the
bite of the Serpent. As soon as possible. Today, even. I felt my
fingers go cold and nerveless, and the knife I was holding slipped from
them and landed on my plate with what seemed an unnaturally loud clatter.
I forced my hand to operate again, and picked up the knife once more.
Alora's words continued to echo in my head, however. The bite of the
Serpent. The thought of Alora getting near that creature...it terrified
me as nothing else had for a very long time. I began spreading jam on my
toast rather mechanically. Part of me was aware that Alora was smiling.
In a voice that was not mine, I heard myself point out that if she took
the Serpent's bite today, she would miss the tea with Dakota. I saw the
two conflicting desires war within her for a few moments: power, or
physical attraction. As my daughter, I knew what her answer would be.
Power. I felt a measure of relief wash through me as Kaedric denied her
request for this day, and the near future. I was not sure what I would
have done, otherwise. I was unprepared for Alora's request. Kaedric, on
the other hand, had obviously been aware of it for some time. Something I
intended to discuss with him, once breakfast was over.
I spent most of the rest of the meal watching Sylvester interact
with the children. He and Alora still got along famously, of course. He
and Ian, on the other hand...well, it was too soon to really tell, but
they did not seem to mesh very well. Sylvester hinted as much afterwards,
although we both acknowledged that more time was needed. At least Ian had
not spent the meal glaring at him. Dakota was in for an interesting tea,
I was certain. Sylvester had little new to tell me of his assignment in
Corwin's realm, having passed only a week or so there. He confirmed that
Evan was definitely one of Corwin's sons, however, and there were two or
three others, as well. Corwin would seem to rival Archimedes and Ulysses
in his ability to produce offspring.
I waited until after I had bid Sylvester goodbye before asking
Kaedric about Alora's request. Apparently she had approached him on the
subject several years ago, but Kaedric had not seen any point in telling
me of this, since he had no intention of letting her take the Serpent's
bite while she was under age, and once she was of age, it was no longer my
concern. As if my concern for my daughter ceased whenever Kaedric
declared her old enough! It did not matter that he was not going to allow
her to do it yet, I still should have been told that she was considering
it. I was not going to stop her, after all. What kind of a fool did
Kaedric think I was? As the Heir, it was something Alora was going to
have to do. I understood that. But I had a right to know, damn him. I
found myself angrier at him than I had been for a very long time.
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