/Soft lips press against mine.  My head cradled in a pillow.  The
covers up under my chin.  I open my eyes to darkness, feeling Foster
hovering over me, feeling Driscoll near./

	There were two days I'll never forget, of course, because life
changed completely in so many ways in those two days.  It was not a
turning point -- nothing so grand.  It was a nexus, where all the turning
and twisting of the days and months leading up to it met here, in these
two days.  Afterwards, for good or ill, we all walked different paths.

	I had awakened from a nightmare to a nightmare.  Driscoll came
back through the door of our rooms, and assured me he was still ours, to
have and to hold.  We talked a bit, and I felt my heart begin to beat
again.  It wasn't much later that Foster came out of the bedroom and said
he was going to see Felix.  He left.  We waited.  Then, a triumphal Trump,
and Foster, with almost desperate happiness, told us that we were invited
to the beach house.  I passed him the kids.  Driscoll and I stayed behind
to pack.

	We arrived out of the darkness of our shadowed room in Amber to
the bright sun and glare of the beach.  Felix and Foster, with happiness
that seemed a bit forced, in some regards, awaited us.  Iseult raced out
of the house and into the ocean, Driscoll in hot pursuit...thankfully
turning the importance of the moment from Driscoll being there to keeping
our daughter from drowning.  It seemed, as we turned towards the house
with sopping, salty Iseult in tow, that the day might work out.  Tamaryn
came from somewhere; Foster hadn't seen her yet, and when she arrived, he
hugged her hard and long.  Strange as it sounds, I don't think I've
understood him so well as right then, looking on as a bystander in that
moment between him and his mother.

	Once more I felt that pulse of anger towards Vetch.  Wondered
again how Ariana could have married such a monster.  How such a monster
could hide beneath that face.

	/I return the kiss eagerly, the desire rises within me.  From
somewhere, Foster takes a blindfold, covers my eyes.  Someone removes the
blankets from my body.  Strong hands, four of them, begin to caress me,
drawing the desire to the surface./

	After I got the kids into swim gear, Foster looked with
disapproval at my outfit, and asked Driscoll to conjure me a bikini.  I
refused.  Beneath my dignity.  Not the thing for an army commander.  I ate
those words later in the day when I Trumped Ariana for just such an
article of clothing, because I wanted to win against Foster and Driscoll
in volleyball.  Felix and I did win.  It was put to good use. 
Unfortunately, I don't think I'll ever be allowed to wear anything modest
again.  Which is a pity, because I think I look simply ridiculous in that
thing, marching around as though I have something to prove with my body. 
Well, I *do* have something to prove with my body.  But only when there's
a sword in hand.

	Ariana told me to keep the bikini.

	It's a conspiracy, I tell you.

	A bit before three, I got into some decent clothing and headed to
my appointment with Eris.  There wasn't a lot to say; we knew it all.  She
seemed contrite.  We soon got onto conversation both of us could bear,
which was, of course, all about cavalry, both aerial and ground, and
tactics.  A comfortable way to begin to get to know each other, I thought. 
I hoped that there could be some ease between us.  It is really quite
strange how when you love a person, you want to love and be loved by
everyone who loves them.  It's rarely possible.

	There was a someone outside the door, and Bart proved to be it. 
He came in, and Eris took the opportunity to leave.  It seemed Bart was
seeking me out.  A strange thing...  He cut to the chase quite
impressively quickly, after saying that he was on a mission from Nicholas,
who was attempting to teach him a lesson...after much consideration, I had
been chosen to be the next diplomat to Faerie.  He could have knocked me
over with a feather.  I made haste to see Nicholas, to attempt to divine
his thinking in this matter, and only really came away with the knowledge
that Auberon and Nicholas both considered me the Known Quantity in the
diplomatic pool.  "Sure she's genocidal, but hey, at least she can be
gulled into holding enormous, memory-eating glamours when the order of the
universe must be preserved.  Now, that's a gal we can count on."

	I returned to the beach house, full of thought.

	/Fingers touch my breasts, fingers slide into the wetness between
my legs...  I arch towards all the fingers, whimpering with pleasure, with
need, with desire./

	I made my small announcement at dinner, watching carefully the
reactions therein.  Tamaryn was the happiest; I wondered, not for the
first nor the last time, what she really thinks of me.  I'm a little
afraid of her, you see.  She's so *good*, so kind, so gentle, so
everything anyone would want in a mom, and I know I don't measure up.  If
that's the standard of womanhood Foster has had as an example from his
early life, I wonder why he wants me?  I'm not even her opposite, which
could be understood.  I'm not hard as nails, completely evil and nasty. 
I'm just...me.  Somewhere in between.

	In any case, *she* was the happy one, the rest seemed to have
reservations...which was all right, I had them too.

	It wasn't much after this that Felix got a Trump call.  Gerard
wanted us all to return to the castle, immediately.  I thought:  "No, not
possible, Zane can't be attacking already."  We went.  Gerard, grim-faced,
told us that the Queen had been assassinated.

	Kimdyl.  Nicholas' mother.  Dead.

	Beannacht Deleat, my queen.

	I waited no longer, and went to find my daughter.  Beauty was
weeping in our quarters, afraid, lonely, unable to talk to Nicholas
through his stony grief.  I comforted her as best I could, until she
looked pained and clutched her belly.  "A twinge.  Kind of like a cramp."

	I have lost friends -- I have lost more than friends, I have lost
my king, and my god, in battle.  I have lost more men under my command
than I can number.  I have killed more times than I can count, and I have
even killed that which I have loved.  I understand death.  I know him, I
know his approach, and it is a rare day that I fear the raven.  But I was
not there when the sister of my heart died in childbirth with Beauty, and
all I know of it was that there was too much blood.  I fear death only as
it walks close to birth, because that is where my greatest friend was
taken from me, and even if I had been there, I would have had no way to
stay his hand.

	Fear knotted my stomach, hard and suddenly, and I wasted no time
in Trumping Ariana, who was acting as Beauty's midwife.  She came through,
calm, efficient, and ran the diagnostic.  She told me Beauty's placenta
was separating -- I knew enough only to know this was bad.  She couldn't
fix it.  It wasn't a wound.  Vetch...  Vetch could fix it, I knew, and I
felt tangled, for a moment, caught between hatred for him and desperate
need for him.

	Ariana told me he was with Nicholas, that they had been in
conference for some time.  Not a conference that was going favorably for
Vetch, either.  Who cared?  Politics, that's all it could be.  Maybe Vetch
had assassinated someone.  Except that he'd retired.  And he couldn't kill
the Queen, who was the only one dead recently, could he?  She was once of
his house.  I didn't care.  I went forth, I knocked once, politely, and
went through the door.  The guards didn't stop me.  I didn't even think
about the guards not stopping me until much later.  I wonder what I looked
like, then.  "Beauty's in fetal distress.  I need him."  I pointed at
Vetch.  Nicholas released him.  "Go!"

	We went.

	Vetch saved her then, as he was to save her later.  Nicholas was
pacing outside the door, looking like a brooding hawk.  Poor boy.  Man, I
guess.  He's lost so much so quickly, and he almost lost Beauty and the
baby, too.  That would have been too much.  There would have been no
Nicholas left after that.

	Nicholas came in to hold her hand, and I made my suggestion then,
that he take her into Shadow, bear the child somewhere safe and away from
the pressures.  He left to arrange it.  I held my little girl, and
smoothed back her hair, and told her I loved her.  I reminded her that we
were there to protect her, and we would, forever.  Empty promises to
mirror the empty spot where Elizabeth used to live in my heart.  There was
nothing I could do to save her, except keep a master of shapeshifting
around.  It had to be enough.

	Fiona approved the Rath, and locked us in, the lot of us, for
Beauty's lying-in.

	/Strong hands unlocked my legs.  From off to the side, I heard
Foster's quiet murmur, and knew from that and the feeling, that it must be
Driscoll entering me so carefully.  He began to move, and I with him./

	It was an interesting five months.  Iseult had found an admirer of
sorts in Vincent.  The kids all got along.  Beauty took the down time with
remarkable good grace, but we had an almost round-the-clock watch on
keeping her entertained and happy.  We worked some on the Takaran problem. 
I missed my contacts in Bances -- taken from me before I ever got to use
them.  Ariana and Jalana and Hary and I gardened together, and life, for a
while, was good enough.  Marred only by Nicholas' brooding, and the
various tensions revolving around Vetch.

	Foster's reactions to Vetch were rather that of a pack-member
approaching the alpha male.  Subservient.  Quiet.  Not himself.  I once
left the room after witnessing such an exchange, and went to find
Driscoll, where I threw quite the temper tantrum, and kicked the wall
pretty hard, because Foster still has this reaction to Vetch, and we
didn't know why.  I must respect his privacy, because it is part of my
personal code...but I can't bear it any longer.  Can't bear not being
trusted enough to keep loving him if I find out the worst.

	Driscoll said we should go talk to him, so we did.  First us, and
later, probably Felix, too.  Foster did agree that it was a kind of
distrust.  How to remedy it?  "Don't do it anymore."  This solution should
have been fairly obvious, I thought.  But maybe not.  He did the kicked
puppy look.  I hate that.  But somehow, Driscoll said the right thing,
then, and Foster began to talk.  It was...not an easy thing.

	Ariana and I renewed our friendship somewhat over the interim. 
Renewed from my end, at least; to her, I'd hardly been away.  I told her
all about that awful dream.  And the ambassadorship to Faerie, about which
she did not seem pleased.  And we spent a long time talking about Ahab's
death.  And she told me about the assassin Vetch had caught -- the
assassin that had killed Kimdyl.  A red-headed weyr-fox.  As usual in
these cases (e.g., Arthur), Ariana pursued the stance that the perpetrator
had an extenuating circumstance, so she shouldn't be executed.  She was
being used, you see.  By Brand.  And she's a family member, of a
heretofore unknown branch.

	Which makes her innocent?

	I thought long and hard about it for a while.  Killing the Queen
cannot be forgiven.  In either Brand or the vixen.  Ahab and I had a
conversation about the power of the king, once.  I was telling him that he
needed to have a coronation, because that would say that he was *king* --
do not challenge him.  He seemed to opine that just killing the first
person who challenged his authority would suffice, but I pointed out that
drawing the line in the sand is the only way to tell if someone has
stepped over it -- you have to say, "I am the King," before you can expect
people to realize it.  He laughed at me then, and asked me if my middle
name was "pragmatic."  But he had the point -- anything that challenges
your rule so early must be quashed.  Immediately.  When you are secure in
your power, when your hand is felt in every part of your kingdom, then you
can be lenient.  Sometimes.  When it truly suits your purposes.

	It was an interesting five months that we had, that night.

	/Driscoll thrust into me, deeper, harder, and I rose to meet
him...he held himself far above me.  I could not feel his body, only his
sex meeting mine.  I cried out to him, in pleasure./

	The pregnancies:  Ariana's seemed to progress nicely.  Beauty had
a few more incidents where the placenta tried to separate.  But we tried
to keep it low-stress and pleasant.

	Ariana went into labor a bit early, and had an easy enough time
with Ana.  I thought it boded well for Beauty's upcoming birth.  It did
not, though.  It was a long labor, before Beauty and Nicholas' son was
born, and in the end, something tore inside of her, and the blood started
to flow, just like the witnesses to Elizabeth's death had told me.  I sat
and held my daughter's hand, thinking what a gift of joy she had been to
me in the darkest hours of the war...how I could not bear to lose her, not
as I lost Elizabeth.  They saved her, though, Ariana and Vetch, and when
it was done, and she slept, and Nicholas held the boy they named Corbin, I
went quite to pieces.  With terror released, with joy rediscovered, with
relief -- I cried a tempest.

	She lived.

	We went back to Amber three weeks later, in time for breakfast. 
Nicholas announced to the gathered family that the Queen had been killed. 
He barely looked at Corbin and Beauty.  I sorrowed for that.  The children
were unaffected by the somber announcement -- they'd been living with the
knowledge for half a year, and none of them knew Kimdyl at all.

	I went over to Beauty then, to see how she felt, being back in
Amber.  Fine, fine...she didn't seem to think Nicholas was ever going to
marry her, though.  Shocked, I was.  Shocked enough to storm into his
office and speak very candidly about his intentions towards my daughter. 
I said a lot in that moment.  I may have said too much.  I know I said too
much when I brought up why he hadn't taken the Pattern.  I told him to try
Vetch and Fiona in tandem for help on this.

	I went looking for a sparring match, and found nothing except a
party of people heading out of the practice room to go look at the
dragons.  Unfortunately, even though I wanted to know who the new guy in
the kilt was, and wanted to show Eris that I could bear her company, I
refused to go...  I did not need to add that little thrill of fear to the
day.  Instead, I went looking for sparring of a different nature, and
visited with Bart for a while.  It was an odd conversation.  I missed
having a confessor in the Church of the Unicorn, and I don't think Bart
even understood why I brought it up with him.  At the end, he asked how
open my marriage was.  I told him he'd find out when he found an engraved
invitation in the mail, and left it at that.

	/Far away...too far away to be touching me...I heard Foster's low
voice murmur something...and Driscoll's voice chuckled an answer.  I
froze...who was with me?  He plunged deeper, allowing me no rest, no time
to think, the pleasure grew within me...and then the pain began./

	I went upstairs to see if Iseult and anyone else wanted a fencing
lesson.  Haris looked torn between that and his grandpa Felix, who was
visiting.  I invited Felix too, and then a merry family band trooped down
to the practice rooms.

	The day continued, slowly, it seemed...  I went to see Beauty and
Corbin, and we talked a while, and I instilled in her the need I had to
know that she wasn't going to die like her mother.  She agreed, finally,
to the birth control measures that Ariana and I had urged on her.  Then
she said, dejectedly, that she didn't think Nicholas would ever marry her.

	I knew his thinking on this matter -- to some extent.  His line
had been that she would be safer if they weren't married, and the boy
wasn't declared his heir.  The heir part is true.  Somewhat.  But enemies
will still come after Beauty regardless of her legal status in Amber.  I
know this.  Nicholas is a fool if he denies it.  Declaring an
heir...shouldn't wait, but it can.  The line of succession is secure, it's
simply not clear.

	It would all be for the best if no one else died for a long time.

	Beauty still despaired over the marriage, however, and since
there's no *real* reason they shouldn't get married, if that's what they
both want, I told her so.  I asked her if she's told Nicholas that's what
she wants, or even if she's told him that she loves him.  "Should I have?"
I think she said.  For the...fifth time? since the sun had risen in Amber
the day before, I could have been knocked over with a feather.

	How can she not have told him?  How can she expect him to think
she wants to marry him?  I told her this, and she looked startled.  It
hadn't even occurred to her.  I told her that if she can trust Nicholas,
and teach him to trust her, they'd have a start.

	Corbin began to fuss, so I changed him for her.  She watched me,
as though taking mental notes, and we had a long discussion about learning
how to become a good parent.  I pointed out that I was bumbling and
graceless in parenting my first child.  She said she'd never noticed.  And
I pointed at Corbin and said "neither will he."  Sometimes I surprise

	/...the blindfold slips down, over my eyes.  And then I see what
has been making love to me...it is my sword./

	I talked over something of the situation of my new position in the
world with the men.  Unfortunately, Driscoll feels duty-bound to stay with
his army (which I knew would happen), but visits will be made.  I
wondered, briefly, where it is our senses of duty come from.  It seems
some family members have it to a staggering degree, and others none at
all.  I thought maybe it was how I was raised -- Caitt was a staunch
royalist during my childhood (well, and after -- just that being a
royalist meant being loyal to her daughter).  Maybe.  What provokes
Benedict-like neutral, self-less service?  What provokes monomaniacal
destructiveness like Brand and Sand?

	Night fell.  We put the children to bed, and went
ourselves...after a bit, we fell asleep.

	/Foster and Driscoll are in the corner, talking, watching,
laughing, enjoying the scene...the sword cuts deeper and deeper, and I
begin to scream in pain and horror, and scream, and scream and scream/

	I screamed, sharply, shrilly, voicelessly, and ran to the bathroom
and began to vomit.  They were with me almost immediately, wanting to know
what was wrong, and I told them...  Almost unwillingly, perhaps, but I did
so.  Foster checked me out to some extent, then went to place wards on the

	Driscoll, looking thoughtful, watched me clean up.  "I have a
nasty and suspicious mind," he told me.  "Could this be done with faerie

	I shrugged miserably, thought maybe so, but couldn't know. 
Something numb and cold that I thought had died within me began to grow
again, just a little, as I wondered at what he said.  Could it be?  Could
this peace I feel towards them just be a respite?  Must we always be
destined to war?

	My heart was cold and lonely, then, as I made my way slowly back
to bed.  I think back on that night, which was merely the beginning of the
long road that followed, and I think there is a small piece of cold iron
in my soul because of it.  All because of past history and suspicious
minds.  I did not know.

	/and screamed.../

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