Given that Brand has no residences in Amber, Ariana Trumps him a bit
reluctantly. It's still pretty ingrained that Trumping Brand is a bad
He answers after a bit. "Hello, Ariana," he says, giving her a
Which makes her feel a bit self-conscious. "Um, do you have a moment?
I have some news you should hear."
He shifts his eyes away. "Certainly."
She hesitates for a moment. "May I join you? I'm not very
comfortable talking over Trump."
Since he is in the marketplace, he extends his hand. "Of course." He
is wearing gloves.
A fact which definitely relieves her on some levels. She takes his
hand and steps through, releasing it as soon as she can politely manage
His hands disappear beneath the folds of his cloak.
She's a bit surprised that he's wearing one, given that it's summer,
but doesn't comment. She looks uncertain for a moment. "I suppose you're
wondering what this is about."
"A little, yes."
"Well, I'm not even certain you care about such things, but I thought
you should know, well, you have four new grandchildren."
He coughs. "F-four? Grayson?"
A wry smile escapes her at that. "Yes. You can imagine my surprise.
I hardly expected him to take after me in that regard."
He smiles. "And since Amber hardly allows harems... Where are the
women now? Are their children being looked after?"
"I've taken them all in. The boys are healthy and all seem quite
happy. I must confess, I'm still getting used to the idea of having
grandchildren. I wasn't really expecting it so soon."
"One of the side effects of being immortal, I'm afraid. Thank you for
taking care of them."
"It's no trouble, believe me. I'm rather fond of babies." She looks
He makes no comment. That's dangerous territory for him, after
She is silent for a little while, then shakes her head slightly, as if
trying to shake off the mood. "If you want to see them, I'm sure I could
arrange it. It's not commonly known that you're Grayson's father, but the
girls probably wouldn't mind showing their sons off to an interested
He is quiet for a bit as well, then, "No, given my reputation, I think
it would be best if I stayed far away from them. It wouldn't do for the
connection to be made. I do thank you for the offer, though."
She nods, somewhat relieved that she won't have to come up with a
plausible reason for him to be there. "I felt I had to at least give you
"And I thank you for that. Four? At once?"
She nods. "The Pattern's work, I suspect. It must love my
She is quiet again for a few minutes before asking, "Why do you stay
in Amber? If you don't mind my asking. It can't be easy for you."
"I don't really stay in Amber. It's more like frequent visiting. And
I like to remind myself, lest past mistakes be forgotten. And the Keep
can get downright lonely."
She looks genuinely sympathetic. "I suppose it must. You are the
only one there, then? There's no local population?"
"The plane has no intelligent populations, no."
"How do you stand it? I think I'd go crazy."
"I've already been there," he says quietly.
She looks horribly embarrassed and turns her head away. "I'm sorry,
that was thoughtless of me."
"That's quite all right. You are incapable of doing me wrong."
"You feel that way, even though you can't even remember what you
"While I may not 'remember,' I do know."
She nods. "I guess that makes talking to me rather awkward."
He smiles. "I am growing used to the fact that I was a monster.
Feeling awkward is a necessary part of the process."
She shakes her head. "I suppose. It must be disquieting, to know
yourself responsible for actions you can't recall."
"It's a blessing, really. How much worse would I feel if I could
"Horribly guilty would be my guess," she says, recalling how Lucien
"On the other hand, it can leave you not even knowing who to
"I was told about all that I did that the Feyans knew about, which was
quite a lot."
"Why didn't they warn us about some of it? The things that were still
in motion even after you were...stopped."
"Maybe they didn't know about them. Or...Ona often said that some of
the things I did, while evil, were beneficial in the long run. The vision
of the Feyans went much farther than ours, I'm afraid."
"Not that it helped them much, in the end." She shakes her head. "I
fail to see how all of those deaths at the ball were beneficial to anyone,
"That seemed like something outside of my grand scheme. I doubt they
were aware of that. And being gifted with visions doesn't necessarily
mean you have the capability of understanding them all of the time."
"You make it sound like an Oracle."
"From what I knew of it in the short time I was there, it was
something quite similar, yes."
She looks startled. "They had an Oracle? Who?"
"A few of them had the gift, actually. There wasn't just one
"Oh. Poor Ona. She must feel terribly lonely, now."
"She is as she wants to be."
Ariana looks confused. "Meaning what, exactly?"
"That if she is lonely, she doesn't let on, I guess."
"Oh. Do you still speak with her occasionally?"
Ariana frowns slightly. "May I ask why not?"
"She is no longer reachable."
"Oh. Because of the mists?"
"I hadn't realized the mists could keep you out, being an Avatar and
"I am honoring her wishes in leaving her be."
She nods. "Does Nicholas know about what happened there? I seem to
recall he didn't leave you time to tell him during your first
"I have talked to him since. He knows."
That seems to surprise her. "The way he acted the last time, I'm
surprised he spoke to you at all."
"While Nicholas does have a temper, he is not an irrational man."
Ariana snorts. "I suppose that all depends on your perspective."
He gives her a quizzical look.
She clenches a fist. "Let's just say I suspect him of doing something
to me that is...well, not quite on a level to what you and Jack managed,
but close to it."
He nods once, but says nothing.
She looks off into the distance and says quietly, "In some ways, it
almost hurts more. There was no trust betrayed in your case, but this...
I would have expected it from my worst enemy, not someone I'm supposed to
give my loyalty to."
"Nicholas is forever looking to the future. He will stop at nothing
to secure it."
She shakes her head. "I fear his ruthlessness may wind up bringing
about a future I want no part of."
"Perhaps. It's hard to say from this end of it."
"I suppose. I can't imagine anything good coming of this."
"I think Nicholas will be good for Amber. He combines the best
qualities of Oberon and Random. He needs to finish mourning Beauty before
he can really shine as King, though."
She raises an eyebrow. "You see aspects of Random in him? All I see
is Oberon, and not always his better qualities, at that."
He nods. "I doubt you ever saw the real Oberon, Ariana. Some of your
aunts and uncles did."
"I've heard stories about the things he did. They don't paint a very
"Which is why I said the best qualities of Oberon. If you think
Nicholas is bad, you would not have survived Oberon. At the same time, a
king needs a certain amount of Oberon's strength to survive."
"I understand that. It's why I've never had any desire to rule. But
one can go too far under the guise of 'strength.' Some would argue that
Zane was a strong ruler, after all."
"Zane suffered from the same insanity that I once did. Nicholas does
"How very reassuring. At least I can take solace in the fact that
he's aware of what he's done. He just doesn't care." There's a certain
bitterness in her tone.
He watches her closely for a moment, then looks away.
She walks silently for several minutes, then shakes her head. "I'm
sorry, this isn't your problem. I just get so angry thinking about it,
"What do you think he's done?"
She hesitates for a moment, then says flatly, "He's altered my genetic
makeup such that I can no longer conceive a child. Half of the necessary
material is missing."
He thinks for a moment before the light bulb goes off. "Of course,"
he mumbles to himself. "The bloodline."
"I beg your pardon?"
He looks guilty. "What do you and Nicholas have in common?"
"I slept with his father," she says, a bit flippantly.
He frowns. "It's really not my place to say."
She pauses and considers his question seriously. "Well, I'm related
to him on both sides..." Her voice trails off.
Brand stares off into the distance.
"Oh," she says, very faintly, her face losing all color. "That
cold-hearted, unfeeling bastard! I thought I was being punished for
helping you when you came back to Amber. That was bad enough. But
this..." Her voice trails off again. She looks a combination of furious
and deeply, deeply hurt.
"If you would take advice from me, I would council that you keep those
emotions in check and hidden. It would have made far more sense to kill
you and all of your children. Lesser rulers would have done just
She shakes her head. "I realize that, but it's a rather cold comfort
right now. It still feels like a betrayal of all my loyalty, everything I
did for him." Her voice is shaking now, but it's still very quiet.
"It could have been so much worse, Ariana. And few would have moved
Her eyes flash a bit at that. "It can always be worse. I lost my
child, but hey, it could have been worse, he could have died. I was
raped, but hey, it could have been worse, I could have been maimed, or
killed, or programmed to do something horrible. Is that supposed to make
what did happen somehow OK?"
"Not okay, no. But bearable. And if you act out on your feelings, it
can, and most probably will, get worse."
"I am aware of that. That's what makes it hurt more. I'm tired of
being hurt by people who I can't touch. What's the point of even trying,
"What is there if you don't?"
"Apparently not much less than there is if I do." She shakes her
head. "All I've ever really wanted was children. Not power, not money,
not Nicholas' cursed throne. And now he's taken that away from me. And
for what? Not for anything I've done, but because maybe someday I might
do something. But I never would have, at least not until he did this."
"I would think he sees your children as more of a threat than you.
You he knows, or did once. He doesn't know them at all."
"He knew them once, at least the older ones. He grew up with them,
until Ahab took him to that Shadow. I just don't understand. What good
does it do him to stop me from having more children? Or is he going to
sterilize all of my children, too?"
"I would think so, yes."
She clenches a fist. "For someone who apparently is trying hard to
prevent a future conflict, he seems to be going out of his way to create
one. What good will it do him to prevent future generations if he makes
enemies out of the existing ones?"
"This feels like a test to me. Fail it, and he'll kill you."
She doesn't look surprised. "I wouldn't call it a test, precisely.
More, let me abuse you however I feel like, or I'll kill you. Some
"He is the Emperor. He is within his rights. And he is a cautious
man. He'd rather stop something before it happens, than take a chance on
letting it happen. And Amber has seen its fair share of squabbling over
"I...don't...want his damn throne! As far as I'm concerned, the thing
is cursed. And if any of my children ever did decide they wanted it, I'd
do my best to discourage them precisely for what it's done to Nicholas.
But I fail to see how sterilizing them is going to make them *not*
inclined to work against him, if removing him is the only way to undo what
"That's a risk he can handle. They're young and easily dealt with, if
they show any of the above inclinations. I don't think you have the right
mindset to understand this, Ariana. I'm not saying that it's right, but
it is understandable to anyone in a seat of high power."
"Not this. What he did to Maris, yes, I can understand that. It was
despicable, but at least he didn't kill someone who was innocent of any
crime, just someone who was innocent of the crime he accused her of. But
I haven't done anything wrong. I've committed no crime. I've made no
threat against his power. Gods, I even went against Eric to bring him
back from Chaos in the first place! Emperor or no, he has no right to do
this...rape before any threat has even materialized."
"As I said, you will probably never understand. But others do.
Either deal with this, Ariana, or leave Amber."
"And go where, exactly? Nicholas rules both Amber and Chaos. Avalon
is gone. And I doubt Nicholas would return my ability to bear children if
I simply promised to raise them in Shadow and never bother him again."
She clenches her fist again. "I can't do anything. I can't run. I can't
remove the threat that Nicholas perceives because I can't change who my
parents were. And I can't even remove the monster who is doing this to
me, and worse yet, my children, even if I had that power, because if I did
I'd start a scramble for the throne on both sides of reality. I can't do
"Then I suggest you deal with it. Nicholas believes he is doing what
is best for both realities. The needs of the few will never outweigh the
needs of the many, in his mind."
"There is no need of the many, in this case. There is no threat.
Other than what comes from him." She laughs bitterly. "I should be
getting used to this, by now. What's one more pit to skirt around, after
all? Avatars, Emperors, I certainly know how to pick my enemies."
"You need to calm down and deal with it. In the state you are in, no
one will be able to help you."
That prompts another bitter laugh. "No one can help me anyway, so
what difference does it make?"
He shakes his head. "I think it's time for me to go then."
She nods. "I think I need to be alone right now. But thank you for
your help. Who knows how long I might have gone on believing I was being
punished for something I actually did, otherwise?"
Brand disappears in a rainbow shimmer.
Ariana spends quite a long time just walking along deserted stretches
of the shoreline after he leaves.
All text on this page is © 1999 by Kris Fazzari and Wendi Strang-Frost.
Last modified on March 3, 1999 by Kris Fazzari.