A spring day.  New leaves on the trees, and blood spilled widely
on the ground.  I looked long on this, before turning away, my hand in
Foster's.  I breathed deeply, and felt the stiff brocade of my tunic seem
to grow tighter across my chest.  It was time to feed the child.

	Not too much later, it was as if the execution never happened. 
Haris, Foster and I shared the small moment as if it were something
special.  And it was, of course.  All of them are.  I never know what will
happen next.  And it might not just be Foster's legs, the next time we
fall into misadventure -- it could be my head.  So, feeding my son,
holding Foster's hand, these things are to be cherished.

	With the good luck that made Felix agree to baby-sit, Foster and I
rode to Arden, and thence into Shadow.  At the edge of the forest, there
was a procession, with the banners of houses of Chaos whipping in the
wind.  It was the new brides of Amber, and their Heads of Houses.  And
yes, Chameleon was beneath the banner of Bances, with his sister or
daughter or whoever she is that he's marrying off.  Foster and I pulled
off the road and watched.  I straightened my back, dug my heels into my
stirrups, and did my best to look like an Amberite ought -- which is to
say, arrogant and better-than-Chaosites.  No one saw, and no one was
impressed, but there was a certain satisfaction in it.

	 It felt good to Hellride, amazingly, after being trapped for so
many months.  How long it was in real-time, I no longer remember.  But for
me, I'd lost and gained Foster, and had a child.  It was an easy, strange
Hellride, and at the end, at the chocolatier's, it cost a pretty penny to
gain what I wanted.  But I found it -- the bottomless box of chocolate.  I
don't know what it says about my relationship with my mother, that this
was all I could think of to get her.  Well, it wasn't all I could think
of, but I didn't have time to grow a new strain of rose for her, and I
wouldn't just ride through Shadow for something like that.  We returned to
Amber, where we were inundated by invitations to weddings -- Fiona's,
Flora's, Bleys', Julian's and Eric's.  Why Eric's, I wonder?  I've never
even met the man.  Perhaps it is some connection that Foster has made.

	Ariana and I had a brief chat.  It was not pleasant, for she had
things to tell me about Shard.  I resolved to return to Foil as soon as

	I pulled my Trump of Fiona, watched as it swam before my eyes and
grew into a real vision of the lovely woman that I look nothing like.  She
seemed as sad as I'd ever seen her.  I offered her the vials I took from
Felix's sorceress, the one he'd caught during the war.  And then I gave
her the wedding gift.  She seemed somewhat pleased by it, and pointed out
that maybe there were some genetics in common between us after all.  She
wanted me to stay with her in Helgramways for a bit after the wedding. 
Strange.  I thought of the years -- yes, it was years -- the calm and
almost placid years I spent with her in the cottage at the edge of Arden. 
We'll never have time there again.  I wonder what shall become of that

	We returned to Foil.  Nothing that passed there reassured me much. 
Beauty seemed unhappy in the daylight, seemed unwilling to listen to my
concerns, and seemed on the verge of defiance.  I heard myself saying
things that might have come from Mandor's mouth.  That was unpleasant.
Perhaps I do understand a bit more of his position.  Sadly.  To want to
protect your daughter, and to see that she is not dishonored.  Yes.  Well,
it's not as if I'll be making an apology to Mandor on the subject.  After
all, he'd respect me less if I did.

	I sought Shard next.  He was asleep in a coffin in his room.  Eck. 
I'd rather board up the windows so he can sleep without fear of sunlight,
rather than have a coffin in my house.  He didn't even know that he'd
taken some of Ariana's life force.  I feared even more for my daughter,
that she might have her life sucked away, unbeknownst to her or the
vampire she loves, until too late.  I bade him come to breakfast with me,
on the grounds that if he kept my daughter up too late to greet the sun
happily, I was going to keep him up too late to greet the sunset.  I heard
report from my captains, and then adjourned to a sitting room with Haris
once more.

	After I put him down for a nap, I sat alone for a bit.  I thought
darkling thoughts.  I considered the change that was coming, the change
that was everything and nothing.  I prepared my badges, so I could be
official on the morrow, when I would lose my place in Amber.  Things would
remain constant, yes -- the only thing that would really change would be
certain legalities.  Suhuy would be my father, and I would trade my title
in Amber -- Duchess Laughter -- for a lesser title in Helgram.  Daughter
of Count Suhuy's new wife.  People would bow less low to me.  It doesn't
much matter.  People may bow less low to me, but I know that for the smart
ones, the knowledge of who my parents officially are should make them shit
their pants.

	The day passed in Foil, as the night did in Amber.  I made it to
the fencing lesson with Nicholas in the morning.  He's a strange and
silent child, but when one places him next to a vampire, he is all that
one could hope for in a son-in-law.  I understand a little too well his
bitterness over Beauty, though I'm not sure how I do...

	I returned to Foil to get ready for the wedding.  Foster had
helped me pick out a blue-violet silk dress, not unlike the one that I had
worn to Ariana's wedding, only more so.  This one clung and cinched and
plunged and pushed in all the ways that Foster seemed to enjoy.  We then
went to the Trump-out point designated for the Amberites, me lugging
Haris.  Beauty was with us as well, and I waited quietly, until the
Chaosite came and opened the gate for us.

	Helgramways was nice, what I saw of it.  Lord Suhuy Helgram
impressed me muchly, and when I saw him, a few of my objections to the
marriage dissolved.  When I was told that Suhuy was the Chaos answer to
Dworkin, I imagined a trollish pit-demon type of ancient and craggy
visage, but instead of a Rumpelstilskin, Mother has a rather handsome new
husband.  In addition, Suhuy was all that was polite and kind to us all,
in spite of the fact that Foster was trembling in his boots.  Uhm.  Was
trembling, anyways.  At any rate, my fears were not all allayed.  But some
of them were.

	Fiona looked quite beautiful, in spite of the hideous Chaos
tradition of a red wedding dress.  I was almost glad, in that moment after
the vows were complete, when I took off my badge with the Unicorn and
replaced it with the Helgram symbol, that I was following her into Helgram
and the unknown.  I would not like to leave her truly alone, and if I
ingratiate myself to Suhuy to some degree, perhaps my visits to Fiona,
when I am no longer of the House, will be looked on favorably.

	The receiving line was long.  Suhuy greeted me as daughter.  I was
a little surprised he was taking the formality to such a point, but then
again, perhaps I was not.  I wondered briefly what he thought of me for
having a child out of wedlock.  The handfasting means enough to me, but
neither Chaos nor Amber recognizes it.

	The reception was fairly brief, what with the upcoming ball in
Amber to greet the new brides.  I met with the Sawalls, for a bit. 
Heather was extremely polite again.  Jordan affected to be uninterested in
Beauty, but unless the boy has no optic nerve, he was interested.  Maybe,
just a little bit.  The important thing, however, is that Beauty was truly
uninterested.  In anyone.  And couldn't wait to get back to Foil to see
her vampire.  The life of an Amberite parent is hard indeed.

	In Foil, I changed into a tunic and hose for the ball, much to
Foster's dismay.  His own fault for being a breast man and not a leg man. 
And it wasn't as if I was dressed down.  Silk hose, brocade tunic, fine
lace, suede boots.  The outfit would never retain it's polished effect
beyond three minutes in combat, but I would at least live past that point,
with free and easier access to the sword than a small slit in a dress
would allow.  Perhaps, since Oberon has initiated a time of peace, I do
not need to wear Sequence everywhere, but I think I will have a hard time
of convincing myself that.  Maybe in a few hundred years.

	The ball occurred.  I had only one agenda, actually, and that was
to seek out Chameleon.  I found him in a knot of Chaosites.  Bartholomew
had the misfortune to be standing near, so I used him as a homing beacon,
and thanked him again for his aid on the Disc, and made a bit of small
talk with him.  The band struck up a tango.  Well, that certainly made the
moment all the more twisted.  I turned and placed myself in Chameleon's
path, and he had little choice but to dance with me.

	We conversed.  I made mention of our first meeting, and he pointed
out that he thought I was just a Shadow, and hadn't I done Shadows plenty
of wrong?  The answer to that, is that I had done some of them plenty of
right as well, but the important thing was -- "And I suppose Shadows carry
Trump?"  Chameleon had taken my Trump away (as well as my clothing).  He
asked what I wanted.  I mentioned that the thoughts of his head and/or
testicles on a platter had crossed my mind, but all that I really wanted
was a confession and apology in front of my fathers and grandfathers.  If
he was uncomfortable before, it quadrupled when I brought Gramble and
Oberon into it.  It is not the most honorable path I've taken to
vengeance, but in honesty, I am not asking for more than to make him sweat
a lot and have nightmares.  If Gramble and Oberon decide to execute him,
I'll likely have to intercede.  In some fashion.  Maybe.  But I have to
believe him when he says he didn't know who I was.  It was part of the
reason I have begun wearing the badges of my houses near my collar.  I'd
rather be killed because someone knows who I am, than because someone
doesn't.  Perhaps that is egotism.

	After we finished our dance, I sought Oberon and presented my case
to him.  He seemed quite displeased by the whole thing, and agreed to
contact Gramble soon.  I felt quite in a vicious mood, having revenge at
my fingertips, knowing Chameleon could bleed on the morrow if I asked for
it.  Said mood was not alleviated at all by the vision of Viktoria
standing all the men in the room to attention with her little game.  I
stopped short of doing something I would regret, because Ariana seemed to
think it was entirely out of character for me.  It is.  Out of character
for the person I've been the last few years.  But once I was a genocide,
and once I might have gone through with my plan, if I could have been
bothered to be jealous of someone in that fashion during the Mergence War.

	In any case, I sought Foster, and found that he was dancing with
Eris.  Which only served to remind me that Driscoll was about.  I made my
way to him, and stood politely, yet determinedly in front of him, as the
band struck up a waltz.  I wanted to talk to him about the Chameleon
situation.  I could tell Foster about it, and would, and he would
understand, for the most part, but only Driscoll would be able to say
anything about it.  He seemed a little bit...pleased? that I had chosen
not to take Chameleon's head off.  He offered Ironclaw up as a device for
Chameleon's death if I so desired, but mostly in jest.  I think.  But he's
right.  Breaking the cycle, to some extent, is to be desired.  There's no
need to make any of this more weird than it already is.  Or so I was
thinking to myself, when I mentioned that Oberon didn't seem to think my
tights were the most ladylike of attires.

	That's when I realized Driscoll has a few hang-ups, still.  I
mentioned I didn't like the feeling of being on display that a dress gave. 
He pointed out that the tights afforded a rather intimate view of the
shape of my legs.  I'm afraid I blushed, and ended the dance rather
quickly after that.  Driscoll left the ball entirely after this.  Damn him
for being the leg man, anyways.

	I found Foster, just as the band struck up another tango.  He was
reluctant to participate, but a small taste of the Dance of the Seven
Veils quickly brought him around.  Good thing it was a small taste.  I
don't even know how to do that dance.  Though I'm sure I could fake it
pretty well.  We, and the persons at the ball with a modicum of soul and a
partner, began the tango.

				*   	*	*

	Returning home to feed the child after an interlude or two, I
received the unreassuring Trump call from my mother that suggested I might
have to break out the maternity clothing again.

	I hope it's a girl.

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