My mother drew me into the water, my body reforming under the
rippling bubbles of air that came through from Chaos. I was feeling more
comfortable with the change, although my feelings about it remained
complex. We swam home, speaking of many things, mostly in an effort to
repair our sundered confidence in each other. As we grew more at ease, I
risked two topics of especial concern to me. The first was my identity. I
related to her my reasoning: that I saw no shame in the curse for anyone,
that such a secret would only place power in our enemies' hands, several
other points whose strength lay only in quantity. We stopped during this
time, and she studied me sadly through my speech. Then she smiled
wistfully and agreed to acknowledge me as hers. She said that she only
wanted me to be happy. I cannot express to you how incredible this
statement was to me, how upsetting it was to my world view. I had only
lived these nineteen years to please her. My every action, when I thought
at all, was calculated to avoid disgracing her. For her to say this was
to grant me a power over myself which surpassed that of the Pattern
itself. It was to say that she released me from obligation. It was to
give me up. It must have been insanely difficult. I felt honored,
flattered, and a little embarrassed.
The second matter, coming as it did after that, seemed trivial,
and perhaps this was a reassurance to her that I would not stray far with
my new freedom. It was, however, something which I felt awkward about, as
it directly opposed a course which she had already set for me. I
confessed to her that I had fallen in love. I had finally admitted it to
myself, and now I shared it with her. There was no doubt in my mind that
I could not bear to be separated from Lyss. She was in all respects a
remarkable woman, and I never have met her like. She was currently
trapped within the Jewel of Judgment, being unable to exist without the
Pattern. Mother was happy for me, even though she had arranged for me to
marry Lilith, who was then five years of age. She explained that marriage
was about land and titles. Love was a separate issue entirely. That
settled, we arrived at her manor.
We ate quietly with Caine that night. Rather, I was silent while
they exchanged cryptic remarks which seemed to meet with satisfaction.
There were two reasons for my perhaps uncharacteristic quiet. The first
was that he was being himself. He had always been almost kind to me,
indeed he was the only Amberite I'd met before walking the Pattern, but
his manners were appalling. Worse, he was quite obviously enjoying my
transformation. I had difficulty repressing the urge to go find a shirt;
it would only have amused him. He probably drew a Trump of it later, the
sick fuck. The other cause for my silence had its roots in my earlier
conversation with my mother. In with the gossipy portions, dealing with
Ahab's retrieval of his body, and Julian's fetching new armor, she had
offhandedly remarked that Caine had died fighting a sea monster.
I had no idea what to say under the circumstances. As to what not
to mention, I had plenty of clues. When you and your mother dine with a
man whom she had reported dead not an hour ago, you kind of assume that
his presence was more or less unofficial. It was a relief to go upstairs
to rest, and not just because I had exhausted myself on the raid to
Daraways. As I left their company, I said, "Bacchante." Mother nodded
approvingly. Caine, I am pleased to say, did not catch that particular
current. It's the petty victories that one savors.
I awoke the next morning to find Darby watching me patiently. He
was almost five years old at that time, but his attention span already
exceeded that of either of his parents. I put on a smile and said hello.
"Have you seen my mother?"
"I believe we've been introduced." Yes, I actually said that to a
His mother was Lyss, his father, sadly, not me. I would have
welcomed such a connection, although the two of us had already tried
several in our brief acquaintance. His solemnity damned me. I remembered
his position, and also my resolve to behave as befit a woman of my
station. I laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Your mother is very busy right now, Darby. She's playing a
crucial role in the war with Chaos."
This was somewhat misleading, but better than telling a small
child that his mother no longer existed as a physical entity. At least
not until the Pattern was restored. His lip quivered.
"Nicholas said she was dead."
Damn that boy, and Ahab for the way he raised him. I gathered
Darby into my arms, and hugged and caressed him. I told him that Nicholas
lied, which was at best a partial truth. I told him that everything would
be all right. Eventually, he stopped crying and assumed his resignation
once more. He announced that his father had gone missing, and asked if he
could stay with me. I said sure, and sent him to the hall while I
finished waking up.
A few moments later, that's where I found him, sitting as still as
any fixture. It was pathetic to watch the child. He'd spent all of his
life being forgotten. Lyss used to wail that she was a horrible mother.
I asked him about his father, and heard tales of neglect which I
could quite believe. I'm afraid that in all of the confused action
surrounding the war, the boy's responsible relatives had all overlooked
him. Another black spot on my record with Lyss. Darby looked at me in
"Could you be my father instead?" he asked. After an awkward
moment he added, "Or mother?"
I told him that he was welcome to stay with me, so long as Mother
did not object, while I sorted some things out with his parents. This was
not the answer he'd sought, and it tore my heart, but I couldn't just take
the kid. He had a home, and as bad as it was, it would be wrong to remove
him from it. I told myself this over and again as we ate breakfast.
There are different degrees of rightness, all taking precedence due to
circumstance. By the time we reached his father's place, I knew that I no
longer had any choice in the matter. The only matter of importance was
the happiness of the child.
I stood above Drumman's bed, remembered our years of friendship.
We'd had our times, gotten drunk, gotten ill, gotten discretely into
trouble. We were young yet, with decades to go before we were expected to
behave responsibly. That's all age is, is the recognition of duty. I saw
it in the eyes of an abandoned child, and I aged at least a hundred years.
Drumman was still twenty-three. I held shut his nose and mouth, and he
flailed into consciousness. I was not going to discuss anything; I would
simply tell him how it was.
A leer spread across his face as he saw me. Had I ever been like
him? I recalled a sense of respectful admiration. I clasped at that.
"Forget it," I said. "I know you too well."
This confused him. I concentrated for a short time and fought off
the effects of the spell. It was frustrating work, and I gave in to it
when I'd made my point. He knew who I was.
"Now that's a definite improvement."
"Where is Darby?"
He was momentarily distracted, but quickly returned to touching me
in his mind.
"He says you disappeared."
"He's five. He got bored and wandered off."
He had not the slightest idea of who his son really was. He
didn't even care.
"Well he's with me now. He's no longer your responsibility."
I swear I hit him, but that might just be a nice thought. My
memory is always editing in those things which should have happened.
I told Darby that I would be his father. From the look on his
face, you'd have thought that was good. Llewella seemed more surprised
that I hadn't known when we got home. It's a talent. Apparently Darby'd
been here most of the time since Lyss faded into the Jewel. Now I just
had to find her and tell her everything. I'd never even told her of my
love for her.
Mother loaned me a Trump of Rinaldo, although I no longer remember
why we thought he'd know. I asked him to pull me through, having retained
a caution against spreading information on open channels. I arrived in
Amber, joining Merlin and Shard in the boy's company. Merlin and Rinaldo
were very conscious of my topless state. I swear this discomfort is at
the root of all surface problems.
It turned out that Random had the Jewel of Judgment once more.
That was sort of good news, but I wondered if he'd let it out of his sight
for my purpose. I thought of applying to Vialle for assistance. Those
were my thoughts when I noticed the vampire's penetrating gaze. I did not
meet it, no longer being quite so foolish. He asked if I could find the
vampire Shadow. I suggested that I'd had much on my mind at the time.
Perhaps once the Pattern were restored, he could simply --
"What of your Helgram friends?"
I glanced at Merlin, who shook his head. I addressed the floor,
my conscience being in the other direction.
"I have already imposed upon them rather much. Perhaps once the
war is over and things have settled down..."
I could no longer stand it. I mumbled a thank-you to Rinaldo and
Later that day, as I sat in my room playing with Darby, Merlin
Trumped me and held out his hand. I pulled him through. Darby left the
room instinctively, making me wince.
"Don't kill him." Merlin was talking about Shard, assuming I knew
a damn thing about vampires in the first place. "I think he can resist
"As long as he doesn't return there just now," he added.
I hadn't been overly worried, until then. I agreed to wait and
see, the while already working out how to either block the Shadow, or kill
my cousin again, should that fail. I resolved to ask someone else to
explain vampires thoroughly. Merlin might get suspicious of my
The discussion turned to Darby, since Lyss was kind of Merlin's
niece. He rather uncomfortably volunteered to appear as Lyss to provide
an interview for Darby's benefit. He seemed confident that Random would
loan him the Jewel. I agreed to this, thinking he was acting from some
misguided gratitude for his rescue.
Sometime after he left, the tailor finished my shirt. It was
large and orange, with lots of buttons I wouldn't use. I remember
thinking that this was a relaxing day.
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