I continued watching the battle as it raged, but found no
opportunity to contact Alora, as she quickly moved beyond a sorcerous
barrier.  I swore silently.  I would just have to hope that she would be
all right.  Claudio had moved off ahead, and indeed seemed in danger of
getting himself and his men cut off from the rest of the army, but Graham
remained at Alora's side.  I tried to tell myself that he could guard her
as well as I.  Better than I, actually, given the current state of sorcery
and Trump, and my own exhaustion.  I just hoped that was enough.

	About half an hour later, Finndo's troops began to pull back,
although they did not seem to have suffered nearly enough losses to
warrant such a maneuver.  Admittedly, my knowledge of strategy and tactics
is somewhat limited, so it could have been part of some master plan, but
it seemed an odd coincidence that it happened so soon after Kaedric and I
had returned.  On the other hand, if the whole thing was merely a cover
for the abduction of Kaedric and myself, it all made perfect sense.  They
were Halybards, after all.  At least some of them were.

	Our army pursued Finndo's, of course, but once Finndo's troops
made it around Thelbane, they quickly began retreating into Shadow, and
our people were recalled, since to chase them at that point would be
fruitless.  Alora finally withdrew past the sorcery barrier, and I cast my
communications spell again.  Her eyes widened and she screamed.
	"Mom!  You're alive!"
	I was gratified by her response, of course.  The questions spilled
from her one after another.  Where had we been?  Where was Kaedric?  Were
we all right?  Where was I now?  I told her that we were back in the Ways,
and that her father was resting.  I did not want to let her know just how
badly he had been hurt, yet.  There was nothing she could do about it,
anyway, and she had enough other things to concern her.  As for where we
had been, I told her that it was a long story, one that would be best told
later.  Much later, I hoped.  After I had determined just how much we
wanted to tell her.  I asked after Swayvill, but there had been no sign of
him, yet.  They were going to look for him in Thelbane.  I decided to look
for him via sorcery.  I had to know if this situation was even worse than
I already suspected.  It was.  After a bit of searching, I found Swayvill
lying in state in the main hall.  He was missing his head, and his body
had been nearly split open.  I felt a cold hand on my heart.  There could
be no doubt that Swayvill was dead.  Which meant that Kaedric...  Kaedric
was now king.  I ran through just about every oath I knew.  I was not
ready for this.  I knew it might happen some day, but I had always
expected to have more time to prepare.  A few more decades, at least.  The
man had been alive for centuries.  Why did he have to die now?

	I spotted Alora heading back to the Ways, and decided that it
might be wise to catch a bit of sleep before she returned.  Well, *I* did
not decide, precisely.  My body pretty much commanded that it was going to
sleep, and my mind decided not to fight it any longer.  The next thing I
knew, I was dreaming about Archimedes.  I awoke with a start, then checked
on Kaedric.  He looked much better, at least, although he was still
asleep.  I removed and replaced my shard ring, and caught a flash of
Archimedes in the Pattern room.  I had barely begun to wonder what he was
doing there, when the answer quickly became apparent.  Ian appeared beside
me in a flash of Pattern energy.  I felt a surge of both joy and furious
anger.  For a moment or two they warred within me, while Ian watched me
nervously, until I clasped him in my arms and held him tightly against me
for a few moments.  Then I held him at arms length and demanded to know
what the hell he thought he was doing.  He, of course, insisted that there
had been no danger, and that he had figured it out how to do it, and that
it had been easy.  All I could think was that my 11-year-old son had just
risked getting killed on the Pattern.  Had this day not been bad enough
already?  The fact that Ian thought he was helping us did not make matters
any better.  Where had Archimedes been during all of this?  That was a
question I intended to ask him, when I had the opportunity.

	Kaedric chose this moment to awaken, and I shifted my attention to
him, although I kept a grip on Ian's arm.  Kaedric looked a bit puzzled at
the tableau he saw before him, until I explained Ian's recent adventure in
Amber.  At which point Kaedric asked if he could go back to sleep, only
partly in jest, I suspect.  He asked after Alora, and I assured him that
she was fine.  Then he asked after Chaos.  I sent Ian to fetch his sister,
as an excuse to get him out of the room, then told Kaedric of Swayvill's
death.  He liked the news no better than I had.  There was much that would
have to be done.  But first, we needed to eat.  Kaedric was starving, of
course, which was unsurprising given how he had exhausted his
shapeshifting.  I was ravenous as well, a fact that made me uneasy.  
Surely I had not done enough to warrant this kind of appetite?  Unless...  
I checked again for a mass within myself that I could not shape.  I found
it this time.  Far larger than it should have been if only a day or so had
passed since this disaster began.  And I sincerely doubted that I had
slept for two months since the battle.  So.  I was pregnant.  With the
Serpent's child.  A voice inside of me began screaming again.  I shut it
behind a door, locked it firmly, and threw away the key.  Kaedric appeared
to have done the same, since he claimed to be doing his best not to
remember what had happened with the Serpent.  I wished him luck.

	Alora returned a short while later, without Ian.  Apparently, he
had locked himself in the basement.  As if that would keep him safe for
long.  I asked her how Ian had managed to gain access to Amber's Pattern,
but apparently Archimedes had not given Alora any details.  Alora
confirmed Swayvill's death to Kaedric, and formally relinquished the
regency to him with no small amount of eagerness.  I knew how she felt.  I
only wished that Kaedric could give the responsibility back to Swayvill. 
But he was king now, and the only way that would ever change was with his
death.  King of all Chaos.  Which made me queen, of course.  I wondered if
Laughter felt like this, when we retrieved Random's body from the Logrus? 
Did she feel the unreasonable anger towards Random for dying and causing
all of this that I now felt towards Swayvill?  I doubted I would ever

	I asked Kaedric for his orders.  He said it was too soon, although
he would like something more to eat.  I conjured something for him, and
watched as he stretched with a rather odd look on his face.  Then I saw
Alora watching him with an even stranger look on hers.  I knew that look. 
She always used to get it when there was something she knew that she did
not want to tell us.  I wondered why Kaedric's action should have prompted
this, and decided I was going to find out.  She may have recently been the
Regent of Chaos, but I was still her mother.  It took some effort on my
part, but eventually I learned that when she had returned to the Ways, she
had been unable to wake either Kaedric or myself.  She had summoned
Kimberly to examine us, since she was the only person resident with any
healing abilities.  I knew then that my pregnancy had been discovered. 
Kimberly, as a midwife, would certainly notice that during an exam.  It
was Alora's last sentence that really caught my attention, though, along
with the look on her face.  Kimberly had examined both Kaedric and I,
and...  She could not finish, but she did not need to.  I took another
look at Kaedric, and suddenly, it all made sense.  The way he had stuck
his stomach out when he had stretched, the hunger, the way Alora had
reacted, the image I had seen in his mind, the slow response of his
shapeshifting, as if its energy was focused elsewhere...  Kaedric was
pregnant as well.  As difficult to believe as that might be.  And
somewhere, behind that door, the scream became a laugh.  I was not alone. 
I was not alone.

	With a bit of effort, I pulled my mind together and asked Alora
who else was aware of Kaedric's pregnancy.  Comforting though it may have
been to me to know that I had a partner in pain, it was not exactly the
kind of news I wanted getting out to the populace at large.  Fortunately,
there was only one other besides Alora and Kimberly who knew the awful
truth.  Unfortunately, that someone was Claudio.  Even worse, Alora had
last seen him heading for the Abyss.  I, not for the first time, decided
that obviously Kaedric had inherited all of the intelligence in that
family, and began scrying the Abyss looking for Claudio.  He was not that
hard to find, given that he was lying unmoving near the edge.  There was
blood on him, so I teleported him back to us.  Alora immediately tried to
heal him, with no success.  The wounds looked suspiciously like two
puncture wounds from a set of fangs.  I wondered why Claudio did not
simply fall on his sword, if he desired death that badly.  The man must
have a death wish.  I asked Kaedric what my wounds had been like when I
had been bitten.  He confirmed that my wounds, and his, for that matter,
took a day to close, and they could not be healed by shapeshifting.  So,
there was little doubt that Claudio had been bitten by the Serpent.  The
question was, what had he done to provoke it?  Ask it if it had
impregnated Kaedric and myself, apparently.  Brilliant.  I wondered how he
had gotten the idea that the Serpent was involved in the first place, then
decided that I probably did not want to know.  Claudio, of course, was
afraid that he might now be pregnant as well, and I did nothing to
discourage the idea.  Perhaps it might make him think more, in the future. 
One could hope.  And given that he was too embarrassed to ask Kimberly to
check, he had no choice but to worry about it, at least for the next 12

	Which brought up the question of just how long these pregnancies
were going to last.  Alora confirmed that Kimberly thought us two months
along, which concurred with my own impression.  At this rate, it would
only be a matter of days before the pregnancies came to term.  I asked if
there was any record of such a thing happening before, to give us some
idea of what to expect.  Unfortunately, there was not, at least not that
any of us could immediately recall.  Kaedric seemed rather distressed that
the matter was being so openly discussed.  He had not had as much time as
I had to get used to the idea, of course.  I had been expecting it ever
since I realized that it was the Serpent who was kissing me.  Kaedric's
pregnancy, I must admit, was an unexpected twist.  But as long as I kept
talking about it like there was nothing unusual taking place, I would not
have to start thinking about it.  Really thinking about it.  And that was
something I would do almost anything to avoid.

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