Feeling a calm resignation, I returned to Amber to attend a few
loose ends. There was an assured confidence about me that day, and during
the frequent, lengthy periods of waiting, I considered that I might have
been acclimatizing to my new body. It seemed that taking another form
could lead eventually to a fresh perspective. I shared the thought with
Ariel so that she might remind me of it, as I hoped to increase my control
over the shape of my body. That's when the tide ripped out.
"I liked your other form better," she stated, so simply that I
could ascertain no hint of its true connotation. Still, it worried me
enough to question her further on the topic, but she would reveal to me
nothing more than the fact that she could indeed discern a difference in
me and that she was against it. It is very probable that she merely keyed
into my mode of thinking, and that she naturally preferred that naive
excitability which had created her. Then again, I had made her to be
truly alive, and I had formed her into an image from my desires.
I resolved to look into it later, when I would have gained the
experience and wisdom with which to handle the answers.
In the meantime, I gained an audience with my cousin, the Lady
Vetch. I did not at that time realize the strain which she must have been
under, nor did it occur to me then to be concerned. As I was distanced
from myself, what did it matter that someone else had neither word on the
fate of her husband, nor means of retrieving her children? Our converse
was brief, and I believe both of us doubted its relevance. There seemed a
confusion as to purpose, although I conveyed my concern lest Ahab kill his
brother, and she did not disagree. I felt that she could dissuade him.
She preferred I speak with Corwin, but relented and wished me luck.
Our paths diverged again, and I wondered why I'd made them cross.
I made no habit of bothering my cousins, since offending most of them at
some time. Further, she was right in suggesting that our elders should
have been the rightly consulted. I pondered this as I awaited dusk, but
no answer presented itself, and I was too set on my course to spare energy
in tracking one down. Instead, I fell into a reverie in which I was a
dolphin gliding through the city on a gentle breeze. There were no
people, only other creatures, of land as well as sea. Their forms were
indistinct and often shadowed, although a sourceless light filled every
lifeless space. It seems that I was content, in the sense that this was
right for me to be doing. Then there may have been a terrible calamity,
but its memory was forever replaced by the abrupt summons from a castle
This youth led me to the remains of my formerly deceased cousin
Shard, then wisely vanished. The vampire was pale and bloodless, a hunger
in his look the only body language he still employed. I got to the point
and apologized for my earlier evasiveness, but the fact was that no one
wanted him to receive any training in the arts of the undead. He seemed
to understand, though his fatalism rivaled my own. I said more words, but
we had finished, and so I left him for the night.
Presently, I released the teleport which I had prepared, and was
careful to back away from the alleyway which then stretched before me. I
had no wish to enter the passage, knowing full well what happened to its
last two travelers. Instead, I went to a bar nearby and ordered a water.
Then I waited. Death must have hung about me in a haze, for I was not
even once approached, until Arthur at last entered the establishment some
hours later. He was nervous as hell, and I couldn't blame him. I did,
however, marvel that I hadn't prepared any Xenos, in case he became overly
dismayed. Confidence, it would seem, is anathema to healthy paranoia. I
introduced myself as Bacchante, since I was, and he did not seem to
connect me with his cousin. I saw this as his problem. I began to play
on his worry, telling him his plans and pals had gone to hell, and it was
time to salvage and survive. He bought that, but wondered how I could
help. I told him. He revealed that he liked hanging out places where
spells didn't work, even if they would protect him from Ahab, his chiefest
concern. Then he wondered why I'd help him. I fed him the line, thinking
that he asked a lot of questions for someone who would likely wind up
dead. I figured maybe he was just in the mood for answers.
Eventually, he let it slip that he sort of wanted to come home and
give up on the whole conquest thing. My mouth dried, and my thirst was
suddenly stronger than mere water could quench. I begged his pardon, and
he repeated himself instead. In all of my visions of how I could get him
to return peaceably, it had never occurred to me that all I would need to
do was ask.
I returned to Amber and sought Random on the battlements. He was
then observing the battle which raged below, and I wondered when exactly
that had happened. Eventually, he withdrew to hear me, and I revealed to
him my dealings with Arthur, while he looked smug because he'd finally
figured out who in the hell I really had been. Having no wish to again
offend the Rebman Queen, he readily agreed to accept her son's surrender,
so long as Fiona certified that he was indeed now sane, as he had claimed.
So I got to watch Fiona work for a long while, reflecting the
entire time that she scared me in several interesting ways. I focused on
the most frightening of these in the hopes that this would quench my
rising libido. Strange, really. This was the only time that I really had
much of an interest in some healthy foreplay since becoming Bacchante.
There is something profound about it surfacing at the worst possible time,
but I forget what that was exactly, since I decided against sharing the
thought with Ariel in light of our earlier, disturbing discussion.
At some point, I realized that Bleys had taken her place and that
she now stood before me. I rose and greeted her. We were about the same
height, which I'm sure she did not hold against me. Actually, the things
are many which she's never held against me, causing me to occasionally
wonder if she might not be secretly flattered by my interest in her.
Still, I made my case quickly. She assented readily, having a keen
fondness for poking through helpless minds. We settled upon our
conditions -- choosing his turf for my part, and she dictating a point in
time after the battle had ended -- readily, and there stretched before me
another time of waiting.
I returned to Rebma and tried not to appear anxious to leave. I
did not sleep well, being too full of energy to lie still, and in the
morning I'm afraid that I paced and sculled compulsively. I'm certain
that I was not the most relieved when the news came that the siege had
broken; those who endured my distraction were now to be released as well.
I surfaced once more, and walked up Kolvir, to be greeted by the oddest
and longest luncheon I had ever encountered.
I had been fussing at the meal, the usual greasy assortment of
thick blandness, thinly masked by a crust of sharp spices, when Fiona
arrived and sat beside me. Being particularly astute, she knew of my
feelings, and the embarrassment of my recognition that of course she did.
She reminded me that she was my aunt, which should have prevented my
thoughts from venturing near her, but since I could not control my
inexplicable emotion, this only increased my shame.
Fortunately, a diversion arrived in the form of Ariana, who sat on
my other side and asked how it went with Arthur. I explained, and thus
started a lengthy and rambling discussion, which served for some time to
prevent my dwelling on the woman to my first side. Other purposes were
accomplished, and much was revealed. For some reason, the stresses that
we both were under worked on us to bring about a sharing and an
understanding. I would not violate that benign force by chronicling our
discussion; much of it was personal and of little interest to others, and
besides, it had that certain fluid quality that defines a discussion for
the sake of talking, a mode of discourse which is difficult to remember
afterward with any more specifics than a sense that it somehow bared
souls. The only thing that I will mention is her observation that it
would not bring shame to Lilith if a better marriage were arranged for
her. I dwelt on this much in days to come, although I had not the time at
Eventually, of course, Fiona was mentioned, and our discourse
wound down quickly at that point, as I recalled that she must have heard
all of it. When it was time to leave, I followed my aunt meekly. We met
up with Arthur in that same bar, and Fiona looked into his mind. I wasn't
really focusing on any of what happened, in part because I might again
take undue notice of my aunt's form, but mostly from an odd yearning to be
my old self once more. I thought, and it made a certain sense; what I
missed desperately were the extremes of emotion which had formed so much
of my character. There had been an uncertainty and an instability that
had made my life rich and exultant, even in tragedy, for I could always
expect the next upthrusting of joy. Along with confidence, this new form
had brought me a calm which dimmed the force of my responses. I kept an
even keel now, rather than being swept by waves and eddies.
I noticed that Fiona had taken rather long, and I feared that
satisfied set to her mouth. In conformation of my suspicion, Fiona
declared that she believed he was sane, now that she had tinkered with his
brain. Arthur claimed that he was all right with it, considering the
outcome, yet still I thought of Shard at the feet of the Vampire Queen.
This was of tremendous assistance to me in my efforts to think of my aunt
in a more approved fashion.
Arthur set things moving once more in Kalevala, and asked that I
accompany him, lest Martin and Lord Vetch complete their mission. I
consented, allowing my body to regain its original state so that they
might recognize me. I tried to ignore how good it felt to be Bartholomew
again, tersely reminding myself that I remained the same lovable chap no
matter my biology. That damn voice that lurked on the fringes of my mind
recited the evidence to the contrary, while the rest of me entered
Kalevala. Our friends were easily recovered and, at the mention of
Fiona's hand in it, were convinced that it was over.
That evening, Martin and I were granted an audience with Queen
Moire. She was relieved that her son yet lived, and bestowed upon me the
gratitude of the Crown for my part in his retrieval. We dwelt not upon
the fact of his imprisonment. Afterward, Martin seemed to have adjusted
to the loss of his precedence, although shaken by my belief that it was
better this way. It made him thoughtful, a happenstance long in coming.
For myself, I felt uncomfortable. The audience had meant a return to the
water, and the gender locked into it. Being female on the surface had
been a matter of choice, but lately the sundry restrictions placed upon me
had grown intolerable. I prepared to surface, to bring about my
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