This is a jp done retroactively, set during the first and second sessions.

Imogen is sitting at her office desk, reading a slim piece of card, a little frown between her eyes.

Corwin sits in an armchair by a smoldering fire, a peace treaty in his hands, boredem in his face. He looks up. "What's that?"

"An initation," says Imogen, "for a party on Gallbraith. "It was amongst the mail I brought back when I went to the apartment last week. It;'s the retirement of my old Head of Department. Partners - like decorations - will be worn." She puts it aside. "It's this evening anyway. I#'d only have an hour or so to get ready. Besides ... "


Imogen gives an embarrassed little laugh. "Well ... it's a little awkward. People happily accept that I'm working for the private sector, in a major hush-hush contract on the Southern Continent - it explains why I'm looking so sleek and affluent these days, one of my friends told me last time. But my lack of a partner is causing some ... well, questions. Last time I went ... "

Corwin puts aside the treaty, his attention completely on her.

Imogen gives another embarrassed little laugh. "Well, some of my friends tried to set me up with someone. A rather nice solicitor. They thought I'd want someone ... a bit intellectual, they said.

"How little they know you," he chuckles, and he gives her a teasing smile. "You could always take Bill. He loves to travel, and I don't think he'd mind the veil."

"Ermm," sys Imo. "Generally, the veil is considered ... well, a but stuffy and old fashioned at these sorts of gatherings. It's mainly worn in the country too. In fact, at the last party, it seemed more and more women had husbands who worked. Well, clerks. Personal assistants. A few nurses. That sort of thing. Although there were a couple of solicitors and a few doctors."

"I suppose I'll have to leave the crown at home, then, won't I?"

Imogen looks up, startled.


"You want to go, don't you?"

"Well, yes," she admits. "I've always been very fond of Sora Gelan. But ... " Sh regards him dubiously for a moment. "You're not doing this because of the solicitor, are you?"

"Of course not." He grins broadly. "And I swear on the family honor that I won't punch out his lights when I meet him."

"Hmmm," responds Imogen, with a long cool look. "That sort of action would bring you at least a decade of intensive therapy on Gallbraith. And unless you fancy weaving baskets while telling a female psychologist all about your relationship with you father - I really think you should abstain from hitting people.

Or stabbing them. In fact, avoiding anything more physical than the occasional cutting remark."

He chuckles. "I thought men were supposed to be brutish and short-temptered? I'm just playing the part."

"'Were' being the operative tense," says Imogen drily. "Men are supposed to have been tamed some several hundred years back."

She stands and moves closer to him - her blue eyes suddenly a little more intense, her eyes a little ... unfocussed. "I think," she tells him softly, "there must be something of the primitive in me."

He smirks. "You like cavemen. It's in your blood. Admit it."

A delicious little shiver runs through her and her lip part in a wicked smile. "I like cavemen .... Ir's in my blood."

"You know, a few months in Gallbraith, and you may be able to bring the around."

Imogen laughs. "No ... in Gallbraith ... I have always been very correctly Gallbraithan. But ... you ... Your effect ..." She smiles suddenly. "Perhaps I am the one who should be jealous.

"You mean a brute like me could get himself a harem?"

Imogen threw back her head and laughed. "Hardly! But you could find yourself being offered some very interesting shared partnership agreements!"

Her expression grew calculating. "Hmmm ... Perhaps I should get you to sign inclusive partnership papers before we go ..."

He clucks his tounge. "I think one Gallbraithian woman is about all I can handle. A gaggle, using me like a time share? I don't think I need more grey."

Imogen smiles again. "But what a way to absorb all that Amberite energy. You know, perhaps we should inviegel Bleys there for a vacation ... "

"Aren't men supposed to garner all the attention in Gallbraith?"

"Exactly," says Imogen. "Bleys can peacock to his heart's content. While I have renovations made to that disgusting old tavern on the waterfront he won't let me touch. A mazzanine floor and an art gallery upstairs - a glass-sided bistro on the ground ... what could be nicer?"

He laughs. "Bleys enjoys both sides of life, Imogen. That would be where he indulges in the gritty. You'd see your gallery replaced with pin-ups within the week, and the bistro serving absinthe and opium by the end of a fortnight."

Imogen smiles ruefully. "I know. I haven''t forgotten yet what he did with the little concert hall I set up for chamber music ... "

Corwin smiles slightly. "This is the beginning of reality, Imo. We're the good, the bad, and the ugly, all at once. We may be an archtypical city, but we still have to have some dirt under our finger nails."

"Well," she says, "if we're to go to Gallbraith, we need to get the dirt out from under our finger nails. Shall we get ready?"

He rises. "Certainly. Any suggestions on attire?"

Imogen smiles. "I think I have something suitable in my closet."

As she takes it out of the closet, he looks a tad more than dubious. "Are you certain you don't want to take Bleys?"

Imogen looks at him. "You want my friends to think the best I can do is Bleys?"

"I'd love to see you say that when he's around. Perhaps if the outfit were slightly more-- masculine. Say it's the latest fashion in the South."

Imogen looks at him, slightly bewildered. "What's not masculine about it? Heaven knows, it displays your masculinity fairly ... well blatantly. Oh, by the way, although becoming a little aroused at the sight of a woman is seen as a compliment, it's also seen as a lack of control at a gathering like this. So ... be careful."

"I'm certain I can control myself... Unless, of course, you wear that little back number you have stashed in the back of your armoire."

Imogen smiles. "Just watch out for Sora Silventa. She has something of a reputation for brushing a little close to attractive men. She is rumoured to go if for a little furtive fondling too as she brushes past."

"Is she a looker, by any chance?"

"She a hundred and thirty five and has halitosis," Imogen says cheerfully. "You have been warned."

He cringes, then takes the outfit with a sigh. "You'll owe me, for this. And if her investigations get too personal, I'll have you take Mouse next time."

Imogen kisses him. "Thank you. I'm sure you'll have a lovely time."

Fifteen minutes later she us change. A pairs of long wide trousers, worn with a tunic over that has long slits over the side, but reaches alost to her knees, and a long scarf a lovely mauves and purples worn in a complex folding wround her shoulders.

The tunic and trousers are a pale blue silk, with spectacular embrodiery in white and mauve. The overall effect is elegant and poised - dressing to make a quiet impression, not necessarily to attract.

She notes that some of the ruffles appear to be missing from Corwin's outfit after he returns. The outfit looks stunning on him, but he seems extremely ill at ease. "Tell me we're trumping there."

In reply, she simply holds out a trump of her apartment ofn Gallbraith.

"Shall we?" she asks.

"Before a servant sees me, yes." He takes her hand.

She focues ... and then brings them through to a liand airy apartment. Two women are sitting in the window - talking and sewing. At the entry of Corwin and Imogen, they rise up, startled ... and then both drop hasty curtsies.

This in itself, on democratic Gallbraith, gives a hint as to the provenance of the women - even if Corwiun failed to spot them as two members of Imogen's Guild of Indigent Needlewomen.

Corwin bows slightly, his eyes questioning, perhaps placing them, perhaps not-- he looks up at Imogen. "How do the greetings go here?" he mummers.

"Well Dusie and Crysta are just house-sitting for me and learning about Gallbraith," says Imogen in a low voice, "so they are familiar with Amber. And I think it might throw them if you sauid 'Honoured Sora, with your right hand pressed to your heart then bowed your head and remained like that until they chose to address you. Just ask them if they're enjoying themselves here."

He chuckles and greets the two women, asking them about their postitions, their contentment in Gallbraith. The women, not surprsingly, love the shadow. He turns to Imogen. "Dinner, then?"

Imogen nods.

"Lead on then." He motions to the door. "Should I be suitably humble?"

Imogen looks at him thoughtfully.

"I don't think it's about humility," she says at last. "I mean, do I seem humble to you in Amber? At least, normally.... I hope I do when I am doing it deliberately. But, in my every day life ... do I seem especially humble?"

"Is the sky red? No. I've seen you play at being humble, though, when you need something."

Imogen grins. "It's the same for you here. You don't have to be humble exactly. But you do have to be ... well, deferential I suppose. Listen when others speak to you. Don't initiate conversations with stranges of higher rank - and at the party, virtually everyone will be of higher rank - although they won't show it off."

He cocks an eyebrow. "Interesting. An odd place to be, on the other side of fence." He leans in close to her ear. "You might want to close this place off," he teases, "My borhters would tear it up from it's foundations in an afternoon."

She smiles, a little tightly. "We can all destroy Shadows, Corwin. Attempting to live in them ... that's the tricky one."

As they speak, she leads the to the long sleek gornd car that she keeps in the underground garage.

"Get in. I'm driving."

"Aye aye," he chuckles, sliding into the passenger side. "Do I get to complain that you're driving to slow?"

Imogen grins, and puts on shapely foot down ion the accelerator with a firmness that renders an such complaint wholly needless. There's a trick bend just coming out of the garage. The groundcar has hydrofoils - so perhaps it only =feels= as though half the car briefly because airborne.

Corwin calmly seeks through the glove compartment for cigarettes.

"They're outlawed," says Imogen. "There's some q'at in there ... but it stains your teeth red. I have to scrub with salt before I come back to Amber. It's a mild sedative."

He grunts. "Outlawed. Of course." He gives off a grufff laugh. "How in the world did you ever acclimate to Amber?"

Imogen smiles. "I was rather under the impression that Amber is acclimatising to me," she says wickedly.

Then she looks more serious. "I've wondered that myself sometimes. I think the difference is you. Loving you - that's a large part of it. Buut working with you ... Simply because of the way Amber society is structured, there was ... there is ... a lot of work to do - and precisely in the areas were I think Gallbraith is strong.

"I don't mean banning cigarettes ... and silly things like that. But health care, child care .... social provision. Even the treatment of licenced sex therapists.

"We've all been amazed you've gotten this far," admits Corwin quietly. "No queen ever tried before. Most were simply looking down the long line of previous queens, trying to bear Oberon a child and keep his attentions."

"Well," says Imogen, "bearing you a child wasn't exactly on my agenda. And as for keeping your affections ... " She thinks about it. "I suppose, on one level, I have a security that known of Oberon's wives ever had. I am a Princess of Amber - whatever happens to me, I shall always have that. It;'s a security none of those women enjoyed.

And if you tired of me ... as your arm ornament - I think ... I hope we would continue to be close in other ways, simply because of who we are. That's the Gallbraithan way, you know - although it doesn't always work."

"I don't think you can civillize out human nature completely. How far is this party?"

"We here," says Imogen, making a sharp right turn that took them down the ramp of another underground carpark. "One thing I do believe ,,, although it might be the Gallbraithan in me ... "

"That is?"

"That if I had devoted all my time to studying how to please you and keep your affection, I would lose you much sooner than if I try to work with you as a helpmate - and in doing so, build a life of my own."

"Very true..." He goes to get out of the car as she parks. "Very true. Dad did always love a spitfire... I think we inherited that as well."

"Oh?" she says, and the smiles. "When I came to Amber, Corwin, andfell in love with you ... it was your pain and melancholy that touched my heart. And now ... "

She flicks the lock.

"Am I to emotionally balanced for you?" he says, amused smile on his face.

"Oh, I think we manage enough fireworks," she says, but then her face grows more grave as they come into the grey marble atrium of a vast office complex.

The elevators alone look as if they weere modelled on the Temple of Karnak on Shadow Earth.

He follows. "Something wrong," he says softly.

Imogen ppauses and looks over her shoulder at him.

"What?" she returns, equally softly.

"Something wrong?" he repeats. "You look a bit-- solemn."

She shakes her head, and manages a smile. "I'm just wondering ... how you will find this." And she presses the elevator buttton for the penthouse suite.

He chuckles. "I think I've had fare warning of what it'll be like. The question may be will I behave?"

"There are other questions," says Imogen cheerfully. "Such as ... who wiill my paramour take her revenge if I don't."

"You have some ideas about how my paramour will do that?"

"The mights," says Imogen, "geow cold in Amber. Duvet hofgging seems a good place to start. Ah ... we're here."

He tuts. "Malicious. Careful, darling. You'll turn me on.. And in these pants..." He smiles

"Lead on."

The elevator door opens ... and they seem to finding themsleves in a vast formal garden, filled with people strolling about and admiring the fountains, the deeply colouered and scent plants - and, at the edges, the beautiful view.

The woman are mostly dressed in the same tunics, trousers and scarves that Imogen wears - but in an amazing variety of hues. The men are dressed similarly to Corwin although he suspects that - unlike him - some of those have chosen unnatural means to fill out the shoulder of their jackets and the bulge of their trousers.

They too are dressed in a variety of colours - one blonde young man wears a suit of bright red.

Corwin seems slightly more at ese, seeing that at least his outfit isn't the most outrageous (in his eyes). "They do still drink here, don't they?" he says quietly.

"Yes," says Imogen " but ... erm ... did I forget to tell you?"

He growls under his breath. "What?"

"It's recognised that alcohol has a bad effect on the male constitution," she whispers back. "Men have a tendency to becaome rowdy - they can't hold their drink as well as women. At an occasion like this, most men stick to fruit juice."

He glowers, but then smiles a strangely sweet smile. "Whatever you say, dearest."

Imogen looks at him a little warily, but then she moves forward to wear a sistinguished looking older woman in a silvergrey tunic is talking to another woman in marroon. A man, ratheryounger than the woman in grey, is standing besiode her. As Corwin and Imogen approach, he looks up - a swift, appraising, almost challenging look at Corwin, and then an admiring glance at Imogen.

Corwin smiles at him placidly, bowing to the lady, making sure to look her fully in the eyes as he raises, a charming smile on his face.

The woman returns his look, a little surprised, but not hostile.

"Sora Galent," says Imogen, "I'm so happy I'm able to be here! Many, many congratluations, She leans forward and kisses the woman's cheek. "May I present my chosen, Corwin Barimen?"

"Imogen, my dear," returns the woman, actually giving Imogen a little hug. "You know Dyamon, my Chosen, of course? And I'm delighted to meet you, Corwin. That's an unuusual name ... but very attractive. Is it a family name?"

"Very much so," he says. "From my mother's side. It's quite old." Another smile to her.

As she is speaking, her Chosen has turned to Imogen and seized both her hands. "Dear Sora Blaneski ... it has been =so= long since we saw you. And now we know what has kept you in the South Continent so long!"

He smiles warmly at Imogen.

"Indeed you do, in part," says Imogen.

"Tell me, Corwin." says Sora Galent, "How did you and dear Imogen come to meet?"

A spark goes off in Corwin's eye, and part of teh poet in him awakens. He tells a tale, a story of music, soft firelight, strings in the background. A magical night, when Imogen, his angel, crossed his path and stole his heart.

Sora Falent listens, her eyes warm - perhaps with reminescence, perhaps with a little envy. "Ahm" she says softly. "Love."

She looks at Dyamon and smiles - and he returns her gaze warmly.

"Tell me, Corwin," she says, "do you write professionally? You have a wonderful gift with words."

"No, only for my own pleasure. For the most part, I assist Imogen in her day to day duties."

"My dear, you are wasting him," Sora Galent says to Imogen, with gentle reproach. "A man like this shouldn't be toiling in some dreary office on administratibve affairs. He should be set free to explore his poetic gift."

Imogen smiles lovingly at Corwin. "I have often thought the same," she admits. "But my Chosen is very stubborn."

Just then as waiter passes and offers a tray of assorted drinks.

Corwin watches as the waiter hands them out, taking his, and smiling at Imogen, giving her a wink.

Imogen lowers herface to her glass, perhaps to hide an involuntary smile.

He sips his drink as well, looking at it approvingly as he does so. He seems to keep an eye on the other Chosen.

The other Chosen sips his drink, sips again, and seems to approve.

"Imogen!" There's an exclamation from behind them both. Turning, they see a dark-haired woman in lemon, who bears a faint, disquieting resemblance to Deirdre.

Corwin's smile falters as he takes the slightest step back, looking questioningly at Imogen.

"Christina!" says Imogen, holding out her hands. She smiles a little painfully at Corwin. "Christina was my mentor and best friend at College.."

Her hand lifts to her pendant and he hears, *She reminded me of Mother, slightly - I think that was one of the reasons I was drawn to her.*

*I-- can see that.* He forces a smile, and this time, it is not quite so charming, not quite so bright. It is still handsome however, and he bows.

"Sora Christina Polint, this is Corwin Barimen, my Chosen," she says.

He meets her eyes for a moment on the way up, and Imogen feels his fingers lightly touch hers for a moment.

"I am very pleased to meet you, Corwin," says Christina. "I'm so pleased Imogen has found a Chosen at last!"

Imogen's hand is cool, steady . her fingertips brushing lightly across his.

"You see, here she is ... with you as her first Chosen - and me ... I'm on my third!" says Christina with another little laugh.

Corwin nods to Christina, his voice soft. "And I am unspeakably happy to have be found."

Corwin's interest sparks. "First Chosen?"

"Your third?" says Imogen in dismay. "OOh Cghristina! What happened to Sebbo?"

She shoots him a quick look.

Corwin blinks innocently, and returns his attentions to Christine.

"Oh Sebbo wanted children," says Christiina. And I really didn't want to be bothered. He was far too much fun to be hanging over a crib all day. So he's been chosen by some little mouse who just wants to reprioduce. The brats will probably end up with her looks at Sebbo's brains, just to teach them a lesson."

"And your current one?"

"But Corwin here ... " she smiled at him. "You won't be hanging around a cib all day, will you? Not while life has other ... pleasures to offer?"

"Oh, I think not. My Imogen is too high-mainenance for that." He grins.

Imogen smiles.

"So it;'s an exclusibve partnership?" says Christina. "You'll have everyone here wild with jealousy, Imogen - or booking flights to the Southern Continent!"

Corwin waits for Imogen's response.

"I've found I want to be exclusive," says Imogen, her yes resting on Corwin. "And I thinks it's mutual.

"Of course," he smiles, looking back to Christine. "And you chosen?"

"Oh, it's a standrd five year option," she says. "Exclusibe ... I'm not sure I'll renew."

Corwin chuckels. "If she decides not to, Imo, we should introduce her to my brother. Random would just love her."

Christina's eyes widened. "You have a brother?" she breathed. "If he's like you, perhaps I could break the contract early ... "

Imogen is laughing now. "Chris ... you're incorrigible!"

Corwin's grin widens. "Imo-- I have the family portraits with me-- perhaps she could pcik one?"

"Oh ... I love family pictures!" says Christina.

Inmogen directs a quelling glare at Corwin. "Another time, Christina. I need to introduce Corwin to some more people."

Christina nods. "Be sure to introduce him to Lorraigna. She was so certain that you would want to see her brother again after last time ... " I thibnk he's here too."

Corwin smiles at Imogen sweetly, then at Christine. "I'll make certain to show you next time."

"That will be wonderful," says Christina. "Oh - there's Lorraigna and her brother!"

Corwin nods. "Shall we, Imogen?"

Christina looks at him, slightly surprised, and then laughs.

"My gioodness ... you know what you want, don't you?"

Corwin blinks. "Pardon?"

"Corwin can be a little ... impetuous," says Imogen, a hint of a laugh in her voice. "We'll see you soon," Chris," and she moves away, letting Corwin accompany her.

Corwin follows. "It seems I slipped."

can you send me the last again.

"Yes," said Imogen, a laugh in her voice. "Bu initiatting an action at that point in the concversation, you were in effect saying, 'I'm bored here. Can we talk to someone else?'"

Corwin looks surprised. "Oh. I thought we were being dismissed, to go ogle this brother."

"Yes, agrees Imogen. "But .... " She smiles. "Reverse the positions - and imagine me doing that to you at a party in Amber. Everyone would say you were under my thumb ... and see that as a bad thing. In a formal setting, I would wait for a gesture from you - and then move

"Ah." He smiles. "So I can't set up your friend with a Prince of Amber?"

Imogen smiles. "Do you think you could? Random would probably want to spank her ... "

"And she'd like it. He needs a date, anyway. He's turning into too much of the little mother."

Imogen laughes. "I thought he actually liked quiet, gentle women, not termagents like Christina!"

"Vialle..." his smile softens. "Vialle was soft spoken, not quiet. A strong woman in her own rights."

Imogen rests her hand on his arm. "I wish I had known her," she says quietly.

By now they have come to a small bubbly red-haired woman in turquoise and a tall man with hair the same colour, who is ubnusually good looking, with watchful eyes. He smalls warmly at Imnogen, politely at Corwin.

Corwin nods at the man, and smiles widely at the woman, waiting for Imogen.

"Lorraigna, Berrin, this is my Chosen, Corwin Barimen," Imogen says. Corwin, this is Sora Lorraigna Klinaman, and her brother Berrin."

Corwin sees a flash - of disappointment? Pain? on Berrin's face. But the Gallbrauithan is at once smiling easily.

"I'm pleased to meet you," he says. "You've kept you own name? That's very progressive of yyou both."

Corwin smiles at him, throwing Imogen an adoring look. "She's very progressive. An absolutely wonderful woman."

Across the room, Imogen notes something-- Sora Galent's chosen-- quite flushed... acting uncharacteristicly... silly?

Imogen glances sharply at Corwin.

Corwin looks at her innocently.

Imogen raises her hand to her throat. *Corwin - it's Sora Galent's retirement party. I don't want Dyamon to embarrass her before her friends and cpolleagues.*

He smiles again. *Of course. Just a little something to loosen him up for her.*

She looks across the room, a little dubioudsly.

*It was only the one drink, Imogen. I swear it. Family honor.*

*Og what?* she asks suspiciously.

*Something fruity.*

Imogen isn't looking at him - she is chatting with Lorraigna and Berrin ... but her regard is like a pulse in his brain.

*Go on ... *

*It's nothing, really. Just a little alcohol, a little endorphine..., a little aphrodisiac...*

*Just Dyamon?*

*....I believe so.*

"I believe the bleeson is in bloom now," says Berrin to Imogen. "Don't you remember? You wanted to see it last time you were here."

"Indeed I did," says Imogen. "Corwin ... "

"Oh don't monopolise all the men, Imogen!" says Lorraigna with a laugh. "Leaveyour Chosen her with me. I'll look after him!"

Corwin smiles at her politely. "I have been known to be badly in need of being watched."

Imogen disappears along one of the walkways with Berrin, who appears to be talking to her earnestly. As he hand has dropped from her pendant, Corwin cannot hear what she's saying.

Lorraigna smiles up at him. "I must say UI'm surprised," she says.

"Is that so? At Imogen, or myself?"

Lorraigna smiles into her drink.

"Well, I wouldn't think you're her type, quite frankly."

"Is that so? And, pray tell, what does she like?"

"I would have seen her with someone younger," says Lorraigna.

Corwin blinks. "Younger? Is that her usual pattern?"

"usual pattern ... " she echoes. "It's hard to tell, really. Imo has always been ... "

Corwin waits.

"reticent," she says finally. "She could have had her pick ... but she's held back. I don't know why."

Corwin grins. "She was waiting for the right factors, obviously. And she's a career g-- woman."

She looks at him thoughtfullly. "Possibily. And one can undoubtedly shee the attraction."

He grins. "Obviously. There's little we're subtle about."

"Really?" Her eyebrows lift. "How very unlike Imogen. You must have a powerful effect on her."

"Cataclysmic," he says, smiling, just the slightest hint of an edge to it.

She is silent for a moment, and then says, "Imogen, of course, is a wealthy woman. Well able to support her Chosen ... in a style many might envy."

"I wouldn't doubt it. She keeps me well appointed." Corwin brushes an imaginary piece of lint off of his jacket.

Lorraigna's eyes narrow. "Not quite what you're used to then, a wealthy, powerful protector?"

He pauses. "My family was well to do. I'm not exactly from poor stock."

"On the South Continent?" she sounds a little surprised. "What were they? Farmers?"

"...Old money that moved to a warmer clime."

"Oh?" says Lorraigna. "One wonders what you and Imogen find to talk about. Such a serious minded woman, our Imogen."

"Well, my studies are more in the area of therepy and physiology... Massage, aromatherepy, Karma Sutra..."

"A spot of angry colour flares in Lorraigna's cheeks.

"There's no need to be offensive!" She says sharply ... and moves away.

He smiles kindly. "It's what my kind study. I had thought you would be more... forward thinking about these things. Are you easily offended?" He bows his head, hiding a widening smile. "I will bring up no such activities in your presence again."

An then her feels a hand, a gnarled hand, fliding over his buttocks.

"And how come a yhandsome boy like you is all alone/" a slightly hoarse voice demands.

Corwin quickly covers a cringe. "I'm hardly alone... I have the company of Lorraignia to keep my mind occupied. The activites of my body, however, are the domain of Imogen." He steps away from the hand, turning and bowing.

"Looraigna and Imogen?" Rjheumy old eyes, set beneath a thatch or wild grey hair, sparkled at him. "I like a nice bold boy."

"It is certainly a pity that I'm completely taken right now. Booked solid, you see. But here..." He graps a drink. "A drink for you. Do you see that lad next to Sora? Why don't you share it with him?"

The old woman looks around. "Which Sora?" she asks vaguely. "Wwe're all Sora's here."

"Galent," he adds quick.

"heh ... her Dyamin getting frisky," she says and wanders away,

"That was clever of you," says a quite coice beside him.

He looks over.

A dark haired man who looks to be in his late thrities is watching him with an expression of interest.

"You aren't accustomed to this, are you?" he asks, in the same quiet voice.

"Not especially," he says, eyeing the amn curiously. "Corwin Barimen. Yourself?"

"My name is Piotr Palmenko," he says. He gives a suddden laugh. "That name means nothing to you, do it?"

"Nothing," he agrees. "Should it?"

"If you followed politics it might," the man says. "I'm the biggest enemy most of these good women habve - or so they like to think. Founder of the Nasculinist Independence Party. Any bells ringing now?"

"Oh, we're isolated in the south... Not many politics. Not many restraints, as well. But do tell more."

"Odd," says the man looking at him. "I was thinking you were the Chosen of a Prgressive. Tell me, has Sora Blentisky lapsed into conservatism in the Deep South - or do you simply not have time to take to each other?"

"We have more time than we know what to do with... but the south is hardly a place to launch a political campaign. Our own life is reformed." He shrugs.

"And yet you feel no wish to help your fellow men?" asks the other, almost intently. There is a power and conviction about him - a sense of mission that is oddly attractive.

Corwin leans on a wall. "Go on."

The other man smiles. "This is hardly the place to start discussing political campaigning. But you strike me as someone who, if you put yourself into a cause, could do great things. And, unless she has changed a great deal, I suspect Sora Blentisky is not the kind to hinder her Chosen. " He reached inside his short jacket. "Here's my card. Contact me ... perhaps we could meet and talk."

He takes the card, studies it, and thanks him, a strange glint in his eye.

"You're welcome," says the other. "There's some quality about you ... I can't put my finger on it. Most of the women in this room would see it as animal magnetism. Sexual pulling power. But it isbn't that, is it?

"It's power - pure and simple. And Casaubon knows how you ended up with so much of it here on Gallbraith."

He gives him a halfsmile. "There's many roads to power. Some find it, and thrive, others, crushed by it, wasted away to dust."

The man's eyebrows raise. "You've stuudied it then?"

"Power? Oh yes."

"Not a usual course of study for a powerless male," returns Piotr with a little smile. "But then Imo has always had unusual ttatses."

"She does indeed. Just curious-- who is your most prominent opponent?"

The man laughs. "I would say the vast majority of female voters - and quite a number of mailes - who consider me a dangerous radical, intent on upsetting the fruit wagon."

"A name."

"I suppose Clivvard Durant is as bad as any. A snivelling fool who thinks the male position in relation to women is flat on his back waving hands and legs in the air. Many women see him as the most compelling reason we have for not giving me more power."

"Hmm... Is he here?" He looks around. "And how about political rival?"

Piotr gave a short laugh. "Cwertainly not here! What - our vrtuous, upright Clivvard in a dangerous next of radiccals like this gathering?"

He looked with interest at Corwin. "You a bizarre mixture of ignorannce and potential, you know. Where did Imo find you?"

Corwin grins. "At the meeting for setting up a ball, in the middle of the family estate."

"How very prosaic," returned the other with a grin. "But that always was Imo. A woman who should be seen by moonlight and firelight, but who instead is usually seen with a pile of papers to work through meticulously."

"It try to give her as much moonlight as possible. You knew Imogen before she went to the South?"

Piotr regards him with something like amusement. "You could say that."

Corwin looks intrigued. "Lovers?"

Piotr smiles. "I'm not the kind to kiss and tell. Why don't you ask your Chooser?"

"I think I may have to do that." He pauses. "I do want to help you, though. A favor. The name of any female politician you would love to see topple."

"That ols witch Taran Bloggen I omagibne. There's be bonfires lit in the streets if she could be removed.

Corwin smiles widely. "I hope you've loaded up on matches." He holds out his hand. "I should be finding my Imogen."

Piotr looked at him for a moment, then stretched out his own. "Strange customs you have in the South," he said. "Be good to 'your' Imogen."

"I will. I always am." He turns, looking for Imogen, Pattern bright in his mind.

It takes a few minutes, but finally she sees Imogen, still with Berrin. They are standing before a tall, graceful plantt, with spiky orange leaves and purple bell flowers.

He approaches quietly, concetrating on the locale insects... things with stingers... that like stuffy soclicitors...

One hits...

Berrin jumps and curses, one hand to his bleeding neck.

"Berrin?" says Imogen. "Are you all right?"

Corwin moves in, smile on his face. "You might want to get that looked at... Bearer, wasn't it?"

Imogen shoots him a Look. "Berrin," she says drily.

"Berrin," he nods. "A balm will keep the swelling down."

"Balm?" says Berrin, and then chuckles. "I know the Southern Continent is meant to be uuncivilised ... but ... "

"We have hypnos," Imogen says hastily. "And I'm sure there'll be some around here too ... "

Corwin nods. "Inside, correct?" He looks back at Berrin. "Are you allergic?"

Berrin shakes his head. "I'm pretty thick-skinned," he says drily. "Sora Blentisky, if you'll excuse me?"

"Of cos=rse," says Imogen. "I'll see you later."

Berrin smiles, bows and is gone.

Corwin smiles at Imogen. "Upset?"

"Him - or me?" she asks.


Imogen, smiling, shakes her head. "I thiought he was going to prose on for ever. He could certainly bore for Gallbraith. I was on the point of begging you to come to my rescue. Was Lorraigna her usual poisonous self?"

"I think there may be some talk about you-- but I met an interesting fellow..."

"Oh?" she says, amused. "I didn't think you'd find Gallbraithan males particualrly interesting."

"This one was interesting. We must have similar tastes."

"You and a Gallbraithan with similar ... " Her face suddenly wears an arrested expression. "Did he give a name?"

"Piotr Palmenko ring a bell?"

Her eyes open bvery wide. "Piotr? Here? Mixing with the swells? Oh ... well done, Piotr! How was he? Did he seem happy? Content? Was he wiith a Chooser? Was she pretty?"

"He seemed rather alone, as a matter of fact."

"Oh," says Imogen, a little blankly. "Oh ... dear."

He leans on a tree, lightly. "Seemed rather fond of you. Talk of moonlight and rescuing you from paperwork, and such."

Imogen's smile is a little forced. "He ... he was always trying to be that. Back when ... when we were ... were ... "

"Chosing each other?"

"It was an option," shae admits. "But ... for both of us ... the time wasn't right."

"Ah." He pauses. "I helped him, a bit, with his causes, if that's any consolation."

"That was ... kind," she says slowly. "I was ... I am very fond of him. Once, long ago, I thought I loved him."

"But the time wasn't right for that?"

"The time wa right in some ways," she says quietly. "We were lovers. But we descided to wait a while before Choosing. We were talking of a lifematch."

He moves forward, taking her in his arms. "Can I be frank, and say I'm glad it didn't work out?"

She smiles at him as she moves into his arms.

"I'm glad too."

He holds her a few minutes. "How long do we want to be respectful?"

"We can leave now if you like," she says.

He smiles. "Checks in the mail anyway. We can go when you're ready."

"Although I would like to see Piotr."

He nods. "Without me, I'm guessing."

"No," she says. "If Piotr has spoken to you ... he would have known who you were. It was his way of telling me ... he accepts what has happened."

He begins to lead her in. "And you hope he'll find another princess?"

Imogen smiles. "He didn't know I was a princess."

"Yes he did. Just not a royal one."

"There he is," she says quietly and moves across the him where he stands, speaking to a woman dressed in deep forest browns and greens,

Corwin follow, offering Pioter a small smile as they approach.

Pitor turns, sees Imogen, gravely and politely ends hiis coverstion and then moves to his ex lover, hands estended. Shetakes jhis hand and leans foward to kiss his cheeks.

"Darling Imo," he says as she strightens. "Love agrees with you."

"Love?" she says, smiling.

"Would you Choose for any lesswer reason?" he returns, reproachfully.

"Besides, even I can see this is a man wiorthy of you ... and your love."

Corwin smiles at him. "Trust me. I treat her like a queen."

Piotr mods gravely. "Of course. She deserves no less."

Corwin nods in return, stepping back, allowing Imogen to do her goodbyes.

It takes a good twenty minutes before they are back in the elevatiior. Imogen seems preoccupied with her thoughts.

He pulls her close. "Penny for your thoughts?"

"I was wondering about you, actually," she says. "How did you find it?"

Corwin smiles slowly. "Good old Pioter is going to have an easier time with his campaign."

"Oh?" says Imogen, curious.

"Yes. I put a few things in the mail."

"Such as?" asks Imogen, suspiciously.

"A few documents that should topple some of the roadblocks he has."