"Once upon a time, there was a princess whose christening was
attended by Faeries; and she was given gifts of Faerie magic, such as
unfailing grace, and a lovely singing voice, and charm.  But the greatest
of these gifts was that she was to be the most beautiful woman of her
generation, and for that she was named Beauty.

	"But all the Faeries in attendance at the christening were not
kind, and one of these Faeries cursed her to prick her finger on her
sixteenth birthday and die.  All who heard this were horrified, and they
looked amongst themselves for one whose magics were strong enough to break
this curse.

	"And a swordswoman stepped out from the knot of anxious people, and
stood fast in the face of the curse, and turned it aside.  And she took the
little girl, whose mother had died, and called her daughter.  And Beauty
lived to age sixteen, and past, without mishap."

	Oh, if only.  A simple story with a happy ending.  That's a
rarefied breed in Amber, so rare as to be extinct.  I fear no spindles, of
course, nor needles, to prick my daughter's fingers, but I do fear the
teeth of a vampire.  Lord be with her.

	I am on a boat, Lady knows why.  My kind of sorcerer has many
names, and among them is tree-mage.  And no tree-mage I know enjoys
boating.  It is the mythos of crossing water -- a complete superstition,
of course, but it lingers.  In addition to that, the motions of the boat
will not make this the most pleasant place for a breeding woman to be. 
But all is calm, for now -- my stomach, the sea, and Foster's breathing. 
Though he may be awake.  I cannot tell.

	Today I spent three hours bored out of my skull in a giant ball of
Logrus, trying not to be nauseated.  My brother was the driving force
behind this, while Ariana blew chunks, my love sat in misery, and Ahab,
like me, just sat, letting thought take him where he would.  I guess.  Who
knows about the depths of Ahab's mind, to be honest?  This is a man who
has had the power of controlling us all -- we, the princes of Amber -- and
had not once abused it, until someone took it from him and turned against
him.  And us.

	We were on the trail of Beauty and Caitt, my foster daughter and
foster mother, who had been kidnapped.  By who, I had no guess then -- the
Shadow of Calamus?  Perhaps.  Arthur/Beavis?  Perhaps also.  We stopped
outside of a Shadow guarded by two tall trees of oaken countenance that
steadfastly refused my attempts to communicate.  Impetuous me, I marched
right up between them, and was thrown back ten feet or so by the giant

	Jordan was amused.  As well he might be, for it must reassure him
to no end that all of our father's bad genes were shunted onto me long
before his conception.  He set to disabling the spell, and we waited.  I
dragged Ariana to seek water, and had already wasted two precious disks of
Alka-Seltzer when she pointed out that the water might be poisoned.  It
mattered not, though, since I had dragged her away with the sole purpose
of letting Ahab berate Foster.  I had tried and failed to fight the battle
with Foster too often of late, and Ahab had suggested he lend himself to
the job, being something of a moral task-master.  The talk must have done
some good, for here I am, on a boat in a narrow bunk with Foster,
betrothed to him once again, this time for handfasting.

	Jordan announced the spell broken just as Foster pulled Felix
through a Trump contact.  Jordan opened a doorway for us -- about four
feet up and two feet wide.  Like circus tumblers, we leapt up and through
the opening, and rolled to our feet on the other side ---

	-- horribly alone.  Swirling mists, featureless plane, the whole nine
yards.  Impressive.  More impressive was the shade of Calamus that came
out of the mists and asked for vengeance.  Not one to deny a swordfight
from my favorite mortal enemy, we began.

	This was not Calamus.  This was no ghost of Calamus, though it
could have been a Shadow (I thought then), for no version of MY Calamus
could fight like that.  He drew first blood on me, and drove me back, and
then began the insults.  First, intelligence.  How does that always get in
there?  Second, the false Song at my side.  Third, the breaking of
Sequence.  Fourth, the removal of my left hand.  Fifth, the stupid Inigo
Montoya bit.  Sixth, my performance in bed.

	"I suppose it is too much to ask that you beg for mercy."

	Far too much, you bastard.  And I shall die a better death than
you, who brought twelve faeries with you for protection -- and STILL my
sword took your head from your shoulders.

	He removed my other hand when I made one last assault on him.  But
my death curse -- "I curse you to a thousand hells!" -- was weak.  I shall
have to have an array of those ready from now on.  Blood spurting from the
stumps where my hands used to be... I fainted before he took my head....

	...and woke to a Trump contact during which Ariana called me back to
life.  With Song and Sequence at my waist, intact.  And hands and face
fine as well.

	Ariana and Jordan, we found, once reassembled, had survived the
swirling mists with no interactions with any unsavory characters.  Ahab
had fought his mother, and Felix had faced the Serpent, and had apparently
Trumped away afterwards, and refused to rejoin our party.  Foster, pale as
death (I thought then), would not speak.

	Jordan sent the mists packing, and we stood in a bright meadow in
the middle of a faerie forest -- tiny sprites.  Hate those little
snitches.  Ariana let one nest in her hair for a while.  Hope she gets
mites.  Filthy habit, letting sprites into your hair.

	Our passage through the woods seemed relatively safe, for all that
we were being led by the nose.  I dropped back to talk to Foster, and
asked him what he had fought.  Dragons, of course.  I explained how I got
over that, and then explained my own confrontation, and, of course, asked
if there was any truth to one of those insults.

	In no uncertain terms, he informed me that it was not a criticism
to be concerned about.

	We progressed through the sprite-thick forest.  And then we came
upon her.

	My daughter, Beauty, a woman grown, picking flowers in a meadow,
and oblivious to us.  I knew it was she.  I called her name, and she
turned, and saw me.  A pause.  Recognition.  She turned and flew to me,
weeping. I almost couldn't bear it, but for me, she had only been gone for
two days, and I couldn't yet take it in.  For her, it had been five years. 
She held onto me, through the chainmail, as if I were the key to

	I actually shed a few tears now, thinking about it.  If I were the
one who spent five years, waiting and watching, not daring to hope...
could I bear it?  Any of it?  They are strong women indeed.

	And she has grown so beautiful.  The faerie gift came through in
her, and she will only grow more beautiful with time, and she will
overshadow us all.  This I can bear.  But can I bear Foster's eyes on her?

	Jordan retrieved Caitt, refusing to walk into the trap, bless him
and his Mandor-ness.  Caitt is older, slower.  These years were not easy
for her.  What can I say, thinking of my sadness and my joy in that
moment?  She is my mother, in all regards but one.  I see in her feelings
towards me what I see in Felix towards Foster and Gerard to Felix.  We
three must be the luckiest of Amberites, in truth.  It is necessary to
know one is loved, above all else.

	About then, all hell broke loose.  Song awakened, nudged by some
outside force, and we played catching games.  I screamed for Jordan to
hold it, and he did, with Logrus.  Ariana and I grabbed onto Jordan's
ankles as it lifted him into the air.  Song chose this moment to come back
down and attack Jordan, dropping him to the ground.  I caught him, and a
force wall prevented the immediate impaling of my brother.

	Ariana finally grabbed it as it streaked past, just as I was
grabbed around the throat by a Logrus tendril from mine enemy, and dragged
across Shadows.  Treeing myself did not work.  Pattern failed me.  The
next logical step, as Jordan grasped my ankle with a tendril of his own,
was to not black out in the ensuing tug of war.

	Finally, something gave, and it wasn't me.  Jordan let go, and I
scrambled for a Trump.  The first one on top was Mandor's, thanks to the
happy accident of not having had Jordan's Trump, and having to borrow it
from him, mid-venture.

	Having always had the ability to ignore major problems and focus
my attention on trivialities and minutia, I made it through to Mandor, and
gurgled appropriately at him.  He made it stop -- both the choking and the
dragging.  He's a good dad, sometimes.

	About then, Jordan's spell cage caught up with me, and barriered
me against further attack.  Moments later, Ahab and Jordan showed up and
the comedy of errors followed as I tried to Trump Foster through the cage,
and had the dismaying, heart-stopping moment of seeing Beauty in Foster's
arms.  I lost the contact.  Jordan destroyed the cage, and I tried again,
this time it worked.

	Back in the clearing, we wasted no time in Trumping back to Amber
before more harm could befall us.  There Shard sat, truly as pale as
death.  I watched them -- Shard's eyes seeing Beauty, and her eyes on him. 
A small fear hit me.  Ariana was also watching, and she turned to him,
wearing an utterly blank expression:  "You have no psychic presence."  And
she went to him and took him away.

	The rest of us, standing there, didn't do anything for a moment. 
I paid my thanks to Ahab, told Jordan to make himself at home, and guided
my daughter and mother up the stairs -- making sure to elbow Foster in the
ribs on the way.  First off, Beauty is still my daughter, so it is my task
to make sure no one takes liberties of her.  Second, Foster is my lover,
and he'd better not be taking any liberties, period.

	On the way up the stairs, Beauty paused, hearing Shard's voice in
the sitting room, and then Ariana's answering.  Ariana was saying, "I have
never seen anything like this."  I pulled her along, and reminded her that
eavesdropping is not polite.  It was then that I had the sudden vision of
how it must have been, living with only Caitt for society when Beauty
should have been in the heart of London, growing to maturity near the
stage that is her home.  I settled them in, and contacted Ariana, who told
me that Shard has become a vampire, and that I am to keep Beauty far from
him.  I Trumped Senlin and brought him through to keep Caitt occupied
while I talked to Beauty alone about Shard -- reminding her that she is an
adult now, and free to make her own decisions.  And then telling her what
Shard has become.

	I went down to see Shard next.  I assured him that he was still
our friend, and told him what Beauty had asked of me a few weeks ago...to
arrange a marriage for her with Shard when she was grown.  And, of course,
revealed my concerns as to how this all would be affected by his present
state.  He is beaten down and weary, and being dead doesn't help.  Worse,
his captor was a Shadow of Beauty.  And so, of course, he is attracted to
my daughter even more because of this.  (Whatever Foster says about me and
Driscoll, I don't think that's more twisted than Beauty and Shard by a
long shot.)  I stood up to leave about then, not knowing what else to say
to a man who isn't even alive.  He took my hand to kiss it...and that was
wrong.  Very, very wrong to be so sensual.  I backed away quickly, and
went to find Foster.

	And Foster was on a boat.  I sat down and spilled my guts.  Beauty
is an adult.  I was supposed to have five more years with her.  Foster
seemed shocked that Beauty was of age at 13 -- more shocked that I had
left home then as well, and told me that in Chaos, women don't come of age
'til 40.


	I'm well below the age of consent, aren't I?  No wonder Dad threw
such a hissy.

	Anyhow, I pointed out that Beauty, as an adult, has every right to
make her own choice about Shard.  Which is hard, because she probably
doesn't know how bad vampires are.  Not that I know, either, but I have
seen a movie or two.  Foster got very serious at that point, and told me
just how bad vampires are, and how to kill them.  I pointed out that it
would be hard, between Beauty's crush, Shard's attraction...  Beauty is,
after all, the most beautiful of her generation (and probably mine too). 
Foster seemed intrigued by this, and I had to ask, then and there, about
that.  He assured me it was just a superficial attraction, and that every
man would be prone to it.

	Yah, right, whatever.

	We discussed mine enemy.  Foster's theory is that it's a fellow by
the name of Chameleon (accented all nice and non-Thari like).  And who is
that, exactly?  Well, you know how Amberites have reflections in Chaos? 
Uhm...no.  Well, they do.  I do, too?  Uhm, no, we as half-breeds are our
own reflections.  Whew. So, who's Chameleon a reflection of?

	Pause.  Who do you think, Laughter?

	I don't want to say it, and I sure don't want Foster to say it,
but he does.  Driscoll.

	And that's when he does it, sits right in front of me and tells me
he's suspected every thought I have had about Driscoll these past few
months...and years, to be honest.  I can't keep from blushing.  It's
horrible, it's humiliating, it's not anything I like to admit.  This is
not the kind of woman I had hoped to grow up to be.

	"I've always thought I would lose you to another man."

	Criminy.  No wonder he seems so distraught that we are not to be
bound by the laws of Chaos into marriage.

	At least he talked to me.  At least he confronted me, and didn't
just sit in hurt silence and let me think everything in the world with no
clue as to how he actually feels.

	He asked me if we were friends again, and when I agreed, crammed a
pillow into my face.

	I gave as good as I got.

	Afterwards, he accepted my proposal to handfast.  About time.  So,
what does the future hold?  For the first time in a while, I feel that I
may be able to count on something other than the birth of this child.  And
that's a good feeling.

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