I was more amazed than angry when I realized that Eve had stolen my trump to Ygg. Well, I was a little angry, too. Before I had time to react further, the rainbow distortion of the air faded ahead of us.
Eve was gone.
I looked at my brother. Christoph had his stoic face on. "Hellriding is going to get us nowhere," he said, pointing his horse's nose North, to Amber.
I agreed silently, and rode after him. "I can use a trump to get us closer... soon," I said, after a moment of study. "Shift for a more golden sun."
I knew he heard me, because immediately the air took on a different hue. We entered a shining forest of trees with wooly green leaves... and then, as we pelted through a clearing, I heard a whistling sound just before pain lanced my leg. I shouted; Christoph turned back in his saddle to look at me, bewildered. The shot had come from my right; I threw my weight to the left and half rolled out of the saddle. Someone is trying to kill me.
It was all too familiar. Another arrow plunked into the side of my horse, and I hit the ground hard, rolling away from the flailing hooves of my mount. Christoph swung his horse around quickly and rode past me, holding his hand towards me as he went. I grabbed on, and he pulled me up behind him. He rode like the wind out of there; there were no more arrows. I considered it probable that the horse would die immediately, and with no pain.
Back in Amber, with the silver arrow now in my desk drawer next to seven other silver arrows I'd collected centuries ago, my eye was caught by the calendar. Of course.
Christoph had decided to rest for a day and then attempt the Pattern-- a wise decision... and I agreed to spot for him. I had time to go down to a certain cobbler I knew and get boots made. He rushed the job for me, and I was pleased with the effort.
My new boots and I went to breakfast. I was a little surprised that Justin, of all people, noticed my boots. It's not that he's poorly dressed or anything, but I wouldn't consider my sartorial concerns a main interest of anyone's, let alone the son of Caine. But, Caine-- and apparently his kin-- is known for lateral thinking. Justin approached me about the boots after the meal, and when I asked why he asked, he produced another silver-tipped arrow, with a broken shaft.
How interesting. I wondered if he'd really been attacked, or if this was some deep, Caine-like game. After all, Caine had shot silver-tipped arrows at Patternfall. And though I knew that there had been no recent tangles betwixt Caine and my father (and that there would never be anymore...), that didn't mean that Caine didn't have his reasons. And it would be so clever of him to disguise his vendetta by only shooting on the anniversary of Brand's dive into the Abyss.
Well, there is no way but to play it straight when you have as little information as I do. I told him about the other times, and said I didn't know who the would-be assassin was. And left it at that.
Christoph's walk yielded nothing. I cursed and went back to the dining room, where I found breakfast and Elaine's bright eyes focused all too intently on me. Curiouser and curiouser. "Can I do something for you, Elaine?" I asked courteously. She smiled... and not much later, I found myself signed on to take a journey into shadow with her and her cohort.
Well, since I was headed that way myself... Really, it made sense, since we would likely be out towards Eve's way, assuming the worst had not happened and she'd been eaten by Lanfear. I refrained from punching the table at that thought. I felt horribly guilty, for some reason, and though I was pretty sure it was an emotion that came with fatherhood (or grandfatherhood, as is more likely in this case), I still felt... obligated. And I wasn't alone. Christoph's brotherly instinct seems as strong.
I lost myself in thought as I worked my way through a pleasantly spiced peach cobbler. I heard someone ask, off to my right, "Where's Desiré?" and then Velvet's snottily airy answer, "Oh, you know... how a fiancé has a way of... engaging one's time."
I put down my spoon, leaving a quarter of a cobbler behind me, having lost my taste for it. I pushed back my chair. My boot was rubbing a blister, and without thought, I shapeshifted my heel slightly. My time would be better spent preparing for the journey, I told myself, than sitting here and listening to this prattle.
I went up to my room and began packing. It was needless, really, since we'd be able to find everything we wanted, but I always felt better if I had a few items of real origin with me. I did tuck an extra trump in my boot, next to my extra dagger. You never know. Altogether, packing took only ten minutes. I slung my pack over my shoulder and went to pick out a mount. I could waste at least an hour on that, if I tried hard enough.
Feeling altogether moody, I wandered down to the stables. I passed no one of any rank or interest on the way, least of all the redhead I'd spied a few days earlier. Too bad. A redhead would be perfect right now. Specifically, a short, buxom, feisty redhead, who doesn't think much of Pattern power or any power... if such a thing exists, which I doubt. But that would be perfect. If you can't have what you want, the best cure is the opposite of what you want. At least, in regards to women. Of course, I've never had any luck with this cure, but an old college buddy used to swear by it.
In the stables, I was first given a high-strung silvery Arabian mare, and that, I think, is when I decided the universe is laughing at me. I ran her through her paces, and she had a beautiful stride, so I kept her. And then, only thirty minutes had passed by.
I went to a bar until it was time to go.
It was actually a fun journey at the beginning. Elaine's sense of purpose was dogged but not grim, and she and Justin mocked each other often in a manner which I found rather entertaining... especially since it was reflected in Celia and Jero's interactions. Christoph and I (intelligently) stayed out of most of this.
However high our spirits initially, they could not stand up to certain facts and events. The facts were that Elaine is very much in love with Harlan, and Harlan is very much an absent party. And Justin is very much jealous of Harlan. And Eve was still out there, very much in danger.
The events were not so simple.
First, we were pulled off our path as Christoph was led to a shadow of destiny. That's a story for Christoph to tell-- or Elaine, as I saw that Elaine was listening. And as for myself-- I'm too old to spy on these things anymore. Other people's sex lives are simply not very interesting to me. Most of the time. Ok, maybe just not my brother's.
Then, we had several false trails. When we found Harlan's shadow empty and desolate, Elaine became rather... resolved. We resumed travel, a more subdued group. We followed Harlan's trail on into shadow, ultimately finding proof of Harlan's existence.
We found a place to rest in a religious hostel. We had already seen several icons of Harlan around the place, deifying him as the great liberator of the land. I'd seen stranger things in shadow, but it's still pretty funny when it's someone you know. Justin found it even more hilarious.
"Rub his belly for luck," he suggested, handing an icon to me. I did so. Justin laughed. Elaine frowned, and continued making her bed. I pursed my lips, holding in a laugh, and looking at Justin.
It probably would have ended there, but that Jero walked in, holding a little Harlan icon carved from white soapstone triumphantly over his head. "Hey, everybody! Look what I found! They sell them in the commissary." He set the statuette reverently down on a table.
Elaine stood up, and threw her pillow on the bed, eyes piercing Jero. Jero's smile faded instantly, and he carefully turned the Harlan statue away from Elaine so it faced the wall.
Justin and I left the room before Elaine could injure us-- we were laughing too hard.
We walked around the monastery gardens no less than 72 times before we thought we had it finally under control enough to go back to the hostel and sleep. It was one of those situations where the other person can set you back off laughing just by stuttering a word. I hadn't laughed that hard since the old days with Luke, and maybe not even then. It had been at least as long as that for Justin, too.
And if anyone needed it... Justin is never going to have Elaine, and he knows it. I don't know why he sticks around her, since it's wearing on him like acid on a stone. Just beat feet, man, that's what he should be doing in this situation. But you can't tell him that. And I suppose he's not wrong in still hoping... it's not like she's engaged to be married or anything. It's not like Harlan's attentive, either.
We regretted it the next morning, when we realized that our behavior had led Elaine to go out without us. That's when the demons got her.
And what could we do but ride for her? We were going, and fast, in just a few moments. We were off towards Chaos, I could tell. We rode in determined silence-- all of us slightly guilty, and very angry. Justin's face was a study.
It was me that she trumped, a little to my surprise. I whoa'd us up, and there she was, looking healthy and resolved. I brought her through to us, pressing her hand in silent sympathy. She'd seen Harlan... but she'd not brought him with her. I looked around at Justin-- and looked away. It was a little embarrassing, to be witness to such raw emotion. I set Elaine gently on the ground, and backed my mount off, patting her withers gently as she snorted and pawed the air, sensing the tension.
I turned my horse away as Justin and Elaine exchanged biting remarks. Jero caught my eye slightly and shrugged helplessly. "Back to Amber," I said briefly.
The rest followed me, and we rode off to Trump range of Amber. We hadn't found Eve. We hadn't really accomplished anything.
Sometimes... sometimes I think I'd rather be stuck in the palace of starlight with my ethereal Dreamer again. In spite of the frustrations, it was a great deal more pleasant, on the whole.