Ellie smiles and follows Ryoden to the orchard. As Ryoden gets the apples she wants, Ellie answers sincerely "I wish I could take you to your home right now, Ryoden. I honestly do. Until it's safe for you though, I can only do what I can to keep you safe and happy as possible."
Ryoden looks back to respond, and her eyes fall on something behind Ellie. With a curious look on her face, she steps forward and looks behind Ellie. "Hello..."
Ellie turns, and a man in his thirties leaning against a tree, perhaps, with red hair shining in the sun and set off by the green leaves around him. He wears simple black slacks and a green silk shirt. He watches as Ryoden approaches him and cocks her head.
"You look for apples?" She nods, and he hits the tree behind him with his elbow. On cue, an apple falls into his other waiting hand. He hands it to her.
Ellie steps forward and beside Ryoden. She smiles politely to the man, wondering who he is and how much he heard. "Thank you..." She smiles a little more openly "I'm afraid I don't know your name, sir." She takes Ryoden's hand and gives it a gentle squeeze, hoping she'll pick up on Ellie's caution. Right now, the people Ellie trusts can be counted on one hand.
He nods. "Indeed. You do not." He bows slightly. "Luce. A kings ransom in apologies." Ryoden steps back for Ellie's sake, but Ellie can still feel her curiosity burning.
"And what do two ladies do in the orchard?"
Ellie smiles and drops a neat curtsey. As she straightens, she replies "We were fetching an apple, Luce. There is no need to apologise. And since you have been so kind as to deliver us one, we will trouble you no more. Again, thank you."
He laughs. "You don't trouble me. Sit. So few ladies appreciate a good spring apple."
He looks at Ryoden. "They're over tart, some say." She shakes her head. "Not over tart? Just right?" She nods.
He sits, and bites into one. "Shall you join me?" Ryoden looks at him a long time, then sits, and eats her own apple solemnly, studying him.
Ellie sits too. She hesitates then smiles and says "I'm Ellie. So what do you do here, Luce? Or have you just arrived?"
"I just arrived," he says, tossing her an apple. "And as for what I do, I enjoy vistas." He motions to the sight of village Amber and the sea, sparkling in the early morning light. "Not much else. A ne'er do well, as it were."
Another bite. "And you? Is this your child?"
Ellie smiles at Ryoden, nodding slightly to her."No, though I would be proud to have a daughter such as my young friend here." She bites into the apple, relishing the crispness. After she swallows, she adds "And enjoying vistas isn't that bad. It brings pleasure after all."
He nods. "Ryoden, wasn't it?" She nods. "And Ellie. Are you children of Amber?"
Ryoden shakes her head, still with that odd, searching look on her face. "Not you? Anyone's child?" She touches her amulet. "Ah. The serpent. How unobservant of me. A child of Chaos." He looks to Ellie. "And you?"
Ellie stills at the mention of Ryoden's name. It has not been mentioned during the conversation, only when she was speaking to Ryoden alone or so she had thought. This at least answers one question.
Ellie says quietly "I don't belong to either really. And what of you, Luce?"
"The same could be said for me. A little bit of everything, which adds up to nothing." He bites his apple again. "But I know both. I've been looking for my place."
He looks at Ryoden again, who has drawn up her knees under her chin and stares at him intensely. "And do you have any playmates, here, Ryoden of Chaos?" She shakes her head and squints. "Only guardians, hmm? Pity. Where is your playground, child?" She doesn't answer.
Ellie smiles politely, something about the man's manner niggling at her, and says "This has been most pleasant. However, if you will excuse us, there are things we need to be about. Thank you for your company, Luce."
She rises and holds out her hand for Ryoden to take.
Ryoden doesn't take it for a moment, but then rises and smiles a secret smile. "I know you," she whispers.
"Shall you name me, and keep me as a pet, like your demons, little sorceress?"
She takes Ellie's hand. "When I name you, I'll think about it." She laughs and releases Ellie, and runs back to the path.
Luce watches after her, then looks to Ellie. "Enjoy the day, child. Blue skies only last as long as the sun shines."
Ellie nods and replies "And sometimes not even then. Enjoy the day too, Luce."
She catches up to Ryoden and they walk away. Once out of earshot, Ellie asks Ryoden "So what did you mean when you said you knew him, Ryoden?"
Ryoden laughs gaily. "Not saying. It's a secret." She dances about, stepping on broken flagstones and sings songs in a strange tongue. "It was a game."
She twirls, then looks back to the trees wistfully. "Luce." She sounds the name out and laughs again. "Light. It means light."
Ellie shrugs, then smiles at Ryoden's laughter "Alright. Let's head back up to the rooms now and see how things are going. /Luce, like a light. Light.../ Ellie pauses then shakes her head, worry edging into her mind, but the image of a phoenix in a stained glass window, blazing in light and fire, will not go away.
Nervously, she glances around the room.
She turns in place, as if expecting the beautiful faces in the glass are going to step out of their glass prisons and rend her limb from limb.
Someone behind her chuckles. "Took you long enough..."
She wheels, and the fading light colored by the glass falls on a man, slight and pale, his eyes calm, and his hair bright as sunset... He smiles, and she realizes she knows him... The man the night of the necro...
She takes a deep breath ... then another. Calming. Forcing herself to relax. There is, after all, no need to show this man that he has succeeded in alarming her.
He seems ... as real as the room.
"Who are you?" she asks, cool, with a faint touch of hauteur. "Where have you brought me?"
He laughs. "I'm no one. A servant of the fates. Ex-patriate extrodinaire. And I have brought you home, oh wayward orphan."
He turns his head to look out the stained glass. "I'm sure you have questions, belle dame sans merci..."
"Even servants have names," says Imogen quietly, "and expatriates's certainly do."
She moves towards the window, and looks out at the rich colours of sunset. But there is something wrong, something different. And then she realises.
The colours are the richness of sunset - but this is a young and fierce sun, not the mellow ancient sun of Galbraith that she knows. A sense of loss grips her ... a wild strangeness. Almost instinctively she turned her head, as though half-expecting that her own room will lie behind her. But there is nothing .... no sign at all of the room where she stood so recently. She shivers a little, then turns to the man.
"Why do you call me that?"
And then suddenly ... from out of a past so long pushed away, the question came bubbling up. "Why have you brought me here? Are ... are my parents here?"
"You don't need my name. I'm sure you'll find your way through the jungle without it."
He focuses on a window across the room, and in his silence, she feels compelled to follow his gaze. Her stomach drops as she realizes what she's looking at.
Tall, fair, with a mass of black hair and dark eyes, created in a fusion of metal and glass and light... She knows that face. The face that whispers from memory, the face that held her and cried. Now it looks serene among its black roses.
She scans without thinking for her father, but doesn't find him. The man chuckles at her confusion. "They aren't here... not even in spirit. Killed. Murdered. One for passion, one for the noble cause of being in the wrong place at the worst possible time."
She feels her face trying to twist in a silent howl of pain - but she knows too that he is watching her. She forces her expression to stay unchanged ... unmoved. But she walks slowly forward, and stretches out her right hand to the stained glass window that portrays her mother. Her fingertips connect with the hard, unyielding glass fingertips of the lifeless hand. Then Imogen tilts her hand forward so that it presses, palm to palm with the hand in the glass. A voiceless salute, perhaps, or the only form of connection she can make now.
For a long moment she looks at that proud and lovely face.
"I guessed," she says, allowing her hand to drop away. "They would have come to me if they could. I guessed they were dead, but I didn't know how ... or when ... or where ... or why."
She turns to look at him levelly. "Can you answer those questions?
"Or were you their murderer?"
His smile drops. "Think, child. If I was their murderer would I go to all the effort of planting magic on your person, waiting for you to activate, all to tell you I killed them, and then be done with you. No. I've spent too much time on you..."
He moves nearer to her and points out the two windows preceding her mother. "One of them took your father. Which one, I was never sure, but I was too busy to investigate. Corwin and Eric. Eric is quite dead, but Corwin draws air yet."
He crosses behind her and moves to another window, touching it faintly. "This one took your mother."
"Caine," she repeats quietly, committing the name to memory. "And Corwin."
She gazes at the windows intently, as if learning every feature of the faces, the figures portrayed there.
She turns again to the man who has brought her to this room.
"Tell me how they died," she says, "and what these ... men ... were to my parents."
She looks at him, with a kind of detached irony. "I hardly think you have brought me here as a kindness ... although why you claim to have spent so much time on me appears mysterious still. If you wanted an assassin, you could have acquired one with far less effort - I could give you the names of at least three."
"I hate loose threads," he says, studying his fingernails. "You were one. And I have other things to attend to." He smiles cruelly. "I let you live, and brought you to the place where you could find answers. That's the most I've ever done for anyone."
Without a word he turns and disappears into the wall.
"Wait!" she exclaims, stepping towards him.
But he is gone ... leaving her alone in a strange place.
She comes to rest in the centre again, and her mind drifts back to a cool spring morning, in a storybook glade...
She stands, holding the hand of a man, once named Luce. He studies her dispassionately.
She smiles then curtsies politely "Thank you for seeing me.", studying his face in turn as she rises.
"It was a bold move. Those can land you where you want, or in a grave. You appear to have been lucky this time. Was there a reason you've decided to seek me out?"
Ellie nods "Yes. I wished to know what it is you intend for Ryoden and why you sought her out." She takes a deep breath then adds "I know you could kill me without blinking, but Jurt and Ryoden matter to me."
"They must. But this matter might be a bit over your head... I have not laid out Ryoden's path at all." He moves over to a long table, and motions for her to sit.
She moves over to sit as indicated and smiles ruefully "I know one thing for sure. That's there's an awful lot out there I don't know yet, but I'm trying to learn."
"I'm not your teacher. I've been allocated already." He smiles blandly and waves his hand, a chess board appearing between them. "Coal or ice?"
She replies "Coal. And I never asked for you to be my teacher. I take my lessons wherever I can find them."
"That's wise. Teachers shape... They point their students like so many loaded guns and a crowd..." He waits for her to make a move.
Ellie looks at the board then cautiously moves a pawn forward. "How did you go about learning?"
"Dworkin. And then the shadows. Boundaries are illusions... as are any sense of safety or security one might have. But it's a trade. You trade certainty for answers."
Ellie nods "I'd agree with that. Sometimes it's as if the clearest answers come from the paintings I do when I'm in turmoil and uncertain. If that makes sense. So why did you seek Ryoden out?"
"Because I had to. Because she needed it."
Ellie asks curiously "You sound as if you had little choice in the matter."
"I do, don't I?" He shifts his pieces around with little thought, countering Ellie's moves. She finds that there's more play than strategy on the board between them. Corner, retreat, corner,
She sighs "Chess has never been my game. So how did you get back from the Abyss? Did anyone else?"
He shrugs. "I was called... When one is needed, a way is found. As for others... That isn't in my scope."
Ellie nods and asks quietly "What is in your scope? How do you feel?"
"How I feel is for me, not for publication. As is my scope. You won't buy all the secrets of the universe with curiosity as your currency, but brava, my dear, for trying."
Ellie smiles "Thank you. I liked the window by the way."
"Did you? Corwin seemed less than pleased."
Ellie shrugs then asks, colouring a little, "Were you watching all the time in that room?"
"Perhaps. But I'm hardly a voyeur. My interest is academic, and there are some things I do not need to be taught."
Ellie shakes her head, amused despite herself "No, I didn't think that would be the case somehow. So what is your conclusion about Jurt? And about our association?"
"I am nearly indifferent. The boy didn't turn out as planned, but Dara is not quite the grand puppet master she makes herself out to be."
Ellie replies quietly "Jurt is a good man and the better man of many who would consider themselves greater than he. However, 'nearly indifferent' does tend to indicate you have something other than indifference." She shrugs "Everyone else seems to have an opinion on
him and us, but we are neither of us our parents' children."
"Very true. Dara only wanted the certificate on her pedigree, not my fathering skills. I was barely even a father to the son I did acknowledge." He shrugs, and moves another piece.
Ellie moves a piece and replies "Luke is also a good man." She pauses then asks "Would you be interested in helping Luke?"
"If I could, do you think I would be here? Rissa is not as sick as you think."
Ellie smiles "I'm glad to hear that. I like that family." A thought strikes her and she asks "You said you were called. Was this something Ryoden alone can do or any Amberite or Chaosian?"
"Did I say Ryoden did it?"
Ellie pauses "No, you didn't. Point taken."
His hand moves to his rook, and he looks at Eleanor. "Checkmate in three. You might want to ask your questions now."
Ellie nods "What do you intend to do next? What is it you want from your life now?"
"Eleanor. You don't read your history. I'm dead, remember?"
Ellie stops then looks at him "I thought you were alive again." She cups her chin in her hands and looks at him "Uncle, please don't take offence and know that I am grateful for your time, but what are you then?"
"I am many things. Time will show you that. We are all large, in our own way."
Ellie nods "Maybe my next question should be is there anything you wish to ask me?"
"If it is, then the answer is easy; no. I have other routes to my enlightenment." He moves his rook. "Checkmate, Eleanor." Her vision dims, and next she knows, she is under the oak tree again, then coming to in the middle of the Pattern.