A soft breeze whispers along the streets of Paris, stirring up fallen leaves into golden and red eddies of colour. It tugs at the hair of a young woman buying bread. Absently, she raises a small hand to tuck a stray curl behind her ear. Smiling, she finishes her transaction and tucking the flowers into a basket, goes on her way. A busker playing a sad violin draws her attention. She listens for a time and then put some money into his hat, smiling her thanks to the old man.
Eleanor pulls her black woollen overcoat a little closer, and hurries along, soon turning indoors and climbing a long series of curving stairs until she reaches the uppermost door. Fishing the keys out of an inside pocket, she opens the door to the garret apartment, a gentle smile on her face.
Closing the door behind her, Eleanor looks around, the smile widening. It isn't much, but it is hers. As her stomach pangs again, she realized how hungry she is. The day has been good though and a few paintings have been sold. There would be money and food again for some time to come.
As she unpacks the groceries, an onlooker might have observed how small and vulnerable she seems, in a small cold apartment full of paintings, some finished, some not, all done with a sure hand, yet in a variety of mediums.
She shivers and goes to the cold fireplace next, setting a small fire. ..
The fire crackles merrily as Ellie pulls up a small wicker chair and sits in it, nursing a mug of coffee and a book. A luxury that she has allowed herself.
As she sips her coffee and gazes into the fire, her memory drifts to sunnier days in Brittany and comfortable evenings spent in her foster-parents cottage. They had been killed in a car accident and then everything had changed. Their cottage it seemed belonged to another who couldn't be traced. With no real option left, Eleanor had decided to come to Paris and at least try to make a living as the artist her foster parents thought she could be...
It has been hard, she reflects, but luck has been with her and she had made enough the
first year to purchase this small bed-sit attic. At least it is a roof. It has helped too that she had a patron of sorts, a black haired woman with blue eyes, a lovely woman. No names had ever been exchanged, but the gallery owner had pointed her out to Eleanor. Then the woman stopped visiting the gallery....
With a start, Ellie comes out of her reverie and pokes the flames back into life. Smiling, she drinks her coffee and opens the small volume of poetry...
Ellie snaps back to the present, as she notices a red mark on the calendar the wall opposite her. She remembers what day it is, and smiles.
Corey, an old family friend, is due to visit. All these years she has known him, and he never bothers to explain the significance of this day. To her knowledge it isn't a holiday, nor his birthday… She has never asked. Corey is very good at distracting her.
But not today. She has questions for him.
A knock sounds on the door, and she feels a smile at the edge of her lips.
Ellie grins and gets up. Whatever else can be said, Corey's visits are invariably interesting. She opens the door and welcomes him, smiling. "Hello, Corey. It's nice to see you again." She moves back into the room, adding "I was just going to make myself some coffee
and sandwiches. Would you like some?"
Corey nods. Ellie notices lines around his eyes and mouth that hadn't been there in years past. Corey has always had a timeless quality to him, but perhaps the years are catching up.
"I'm starving," he says, following her into her apartment. Suddenly, he catches her in a slightly rough hug, then releases her. "It's good to see you." He looks around the room. "What have you been doing? Painting, I hear."
Ellie nods as she puts coffee on to brew and starts slicing bread. She smiles, masking her concern for the moment, and answers "Yes, I even sold some more today. Feel free to look around."
Glancing up as she starts making up the sandwiches, Ellie asks "So how have you been?"
He avoids her gaze by looking through a few of her oils. "Good." He mutters. Without raising his eyes, he responds. "Not too well... I inherited the family business. It's time consuming, stressful as well." He finishes looking, then stands and moves to the fireplace, warming his hands. "It's good that you sell. Painting can be a poor man's business. You're too good for that."
Ellie smiles wryly "It's still a poor man's business. I think the phrase used is 'seasonal', but I get by."
Ellie pours two large mugs of coffee and takes one over to Corey, along with a sandwich. "Here, this will take the edge off." As she continues with the rest of the sandwiches, she asks "This family business, isn't there anyone you can delegate stuff to? You know, give yourself a break."
Finishing up, she takes the heaped plate over and puts it on a small table before hauling up another chair for Corey. Sitting in her chair, she thinks for a moment and then says "You can always escape here if you like. I don't have a phone to be irritated with and you're always welcome."
He smiles. "If I could stay, I would. Trust me. I love Paris, any time of year." He takes a sandwich and begins to eat.
In between bites, he continues speaking. "I think delegation is the problem. I did delegate, and it only made things worse. You've never met my family." He laughs, but there is little humor in it. "You don't want to."
He pauses for a moment, studying the fire. "So where do you sell?"
Ellie answers "A gallery up on the Left Bank mostly. I do some stints up on Montmartre during the summer as well. Sketch the tourists that kind of thing. It can be interesting and it's good steady money." She smiles and adds "There used to be this woman who bought my stuff regularly, but that was a little while back, and then she stopped visiting the gallery I heard."
Ellie hesitates then adds "Is there anything I can do to help?"
He looks at her carefully, and she gets the feeling he's sizing her up. "No," he finally responds. "Not really. It's not a nice business. A bit more cut throat than the portraiture industry."
He shifts and changes the subject. "So you had a fan, huh? That's good... If you can build up a nice enough following, anything is possible. But getting a following... If you find out how to do it, you'll have to tell me."
Ellie looks hard at Corey and answers "Alright, spit it out."
He smiles a bit and motions to the empty plate before him. "Sorry. If you want your sandwich back, you'll have to wait around a bit."
Ellie chuckles "Trust you to come up with an answer like that." She becomes more serious
as she continues "Look, Corey, you're eating yourself up here and I'd like to help. I don't know what the family business is, but I know that I care about you and right now, I'm worried."
He looks at her for a long time and says nothing. Finally, he shakes his head. "It's not your problem. I'm just in over my head. Loyalties are hell. Keep yours under lock and key, kid."
Ellie shakes her head "Loyalties can be good too. If I ask you something, would you give a
straight answer and not try to distract me like you normally do?"
He shrugs. "If you make me another sandwich."
Ellie smiles gently and replies "Sure. Would you like some coffee too?"
He nods. "I would love some. But I think I'd like this sandwich to be a roast beef one. With water cress." Ellie is puzzled-- everyone knows that watercress is impossible to find this time of year. Ellie shakes her head as she goes to make the sandwich "Well, roast beef I can provide, but I didn't get any watercress."
He hides a smile. "Check. You never know."
Ellie nods and checks, not expecting to find anything but humouring Corey. She's shocked to find bowl of watercress in her icebox, just behind some milk. Fresh, still covered in dew... Ellie straightens up instantly and turns to Corey "How did you do that?"
He feigns an innocent look. "Do what? Did you find some?"
She nods "Yes, and I know I didn't buy any, so that leaves you, somehow, especially as you suggested I look."
He pretends to be indignant. "It must be left over from last season. You must tell me where you got your box."
Ellie looks sceptically at him then turns and walks back, taking the watercress out. A few
moments later, she hands Corey his sandwich. "Roast beef and watercress."
He nods. "Thank you. Just hate my sandwiches without any greens." He settles back and
starts eating. "So, did you have a question?"
Ellie nods, looking suddenly hesitant, and asks "This is going to sound odd, I know, but are we related?"
The pause that ensues seems to last forever. He stops mid-chew, then swallows. "Why do you ask?" he asks quietly.
Ellie answers softly "Well, because I've noticed a resemblance between us as I got older.
Most noticeably in the eyes."
He shifts uncomfortably. "How were you treated... as a child, I mean. How was your childhood?"
She smiles "It was nice. I knew my parents were my foster-parents because they told me
not long before the accident, but they were always kind to me. It was a good childhood, I think. Why do you ask?"
He continues, without answering. "Did you have any siblings? Any family? Anyone you loved, or fought perhaps?"
She shakes her head "No, nobody else. Apart from you, nobody ever visited who was a
friend of the family. There were the usual childhood friends, but things change."
He looks Ellie dead in the eye. "Has anyone ever tried to kill you?"
Ellie pauses then says "No. The only time I came close to death was with my foster-parents' accident. I would normally have been in the car with them on that route, but I got a headache and stayed home."
He stands, and begins to pace. "Do you think anyone has reason to kill you?"
Ellie shakes her head "Nobody has any reason to kill me, Corey. Not that I know of anyway."
"Not that you know of..." he echoes. "The simple admission of you being related to me is enough for someone to want to kill you."
Ellie shrugs, unconsciously echoing Corey's earlier movement "I've never said that to
anyone though. Why would I? I don't even know if that's true."
He looks out one of her windows, at the cold winter's day outside. "You don't know anyone
who would care. Trust me. I made sure of that."
Ellie is quiet for a few moments, taking everything onboard, then asks "Why? What is so
bad about knowing you?"
He tenses, then droops. "I've... been through this before. Knowing leads to curiosity... that leads to... All roads lead to Amber, and with the right set of mind you may make it. But not today. You're so... young. Paint your paintings. Enjoy Paris. You can't really get it back."
Ellie gets up and takes Corey's hand, softly saying "It's alright, Corey. Don't worry."
He shakes his head. "No. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything." He pulls away his hand. "I have to go." His face is dark.
Ellie stands her ground and says quietly "I started this conversation, not you. I have an
idea if you're interested."
He takes her but the shoulders. "No. Pursue this no further. Please. I made a mistake." He turns to go. "One day, I promise, I'll explain." He walks out the door.
Ellie stares at the door for a moment, knowing there are now too many unanswered questions just to leave it alone. Where to begin though? Moments pass, until Ellie hears footstep
approach her door, then stop. A knock sounds.
Ellie goes and opens the door, wondering who it is this time. A man stands there... tall, with shoulder length dark hair. He looks at her coldly, then a small smile forms on his lips. It is not a kind smile. "You must be Eleanor."
Corey's warnings run through her mind as she puts a polite smile on her face and answers
"And you are?"
"A relative." He enters the room, brushing her aside. He looks around. "These walls aren't very thick to keep out the cold, are they?"
Ellie briefly entertains the thought of pretending she is someone else then dismisses it and answers "Unless you want to sit here on your own, I would politely suggest leaving again. I was just getting ready to leave and as much as I would like to discuss your claim of
kinship, there are other places I need to be."
He shuts the door behind him and leans against it. "Who says you're leaving?"
Ellie answers honestly "Look, I have never seen you before, have no idea who you are or why you're here."
"That's why I'm here," he responds simply. "To keep it that way." He moves towards Ellie.
Knowing her flat and hoping the stranger doesn't, Ellie darts to the rear window, yanking
it quickly open and jumping out onto the fire escape. She's almost out the window when a hand grabs her around the waist and pulls her back in with inhuman strength. She falls to her floor, and he leans over her. A knock sounds on the door.
Knowing at the least it might distract the man, Ellie yells out and looks around for something to hit him with. As she yells the door opens. Corey standing there, the rages of hell in his eyes. The stranger stands and crosses his arms. "Corwin. How impolite of you not to introduce us earlier. I was taking the initiative."
Ellie says "You were attacking me, you creep." and inches her hand towards the nearest
heavy object. Corey (Corwin?) steps forward and stops her hand.
"Stay away from her, Julian." Julian smirks.
"Then don't keep secrets, brother." With that, Julian leaves the room. Corey watches him leave, them moves himself and Ellie away from any windows.
Ellie nurses her waist where she was hauled back in and flung down "I see what you mean about your relatives."
He nods absently, only appearing to pay half attention to her. "Collect what is precious to you. We're leaving."
Ellie nods and starts to move around. Wincing a little as she lifts a small painting off
the wall, she looks round. The other canvases can be left, all told, just sketches in paint. She straps the small painting to a small wooden case, and puts on her overcoat, tucking the small volume of poetry into a pocket. "May I ask something?"
"As long as you keep moving, yes. Do you need help?" His tone is dark and worried, and his eyes keep moving back to the windows.
She shakes her head "No, I heal fast." With a last look round, she heads out, saying
"Who was that man?"
He stops her as she reaches the door. "Not that way." She's confused as she watches him take out a deck of oversized playing cards and start to shuffle through them. "That man," he continues, "Is your dear Uncle Julian."
Ellie thinks about this, wondering what Corey is doing now, then asks "Why did he call
you Corwin and are you the reason he went after me, as you warned me earlier?"
"Corwin is my name," he replies, "and as for why he's after you... Your very existence is an unknown. Therefore, certain people view it as a threat. My kind are not kind to threats." He regards the card while keeping a grip on her arm. Ellie, curious despite the situation, tries to look at the card that Corwin is regarding so. She notes the visage of a man, a strong muscular man, holding a cup of wine and laughing. Her jaw drops in amazement as the picture begins to move and take shape. "Corwin?" She hears. Ellie unconsciously moves closer to Corwin, astounded by what is happening and wanting to see what happens next at the same time. The face comes alive, and she sees the same man, no longer holding a cup of wine, but standing in a shipyard. "Pull us through," says Corey, and reaches out his hand. Suddenly, with a rush of sensation, Ellie realizes she's no longer in Paris during winter, but a large busy ship yard in the spring. The man before her dwarfs her as he regards her small
Ellie feels like she's a child again, such is the difference in build. Still, it could be much, much worse by now. She smiles and holds out her hand "Hello."
He takes it and studies her in a friendly way. "Corwin. You dog. Back to your old tricks, I see?" He winks at Corey. "She's cute." He looks back at Ellie. "You get tired of him, you come find me, okay?" Corey does not look happy.
Ellie isn't quite sure who the man is, but recognizes the phrase. Shaking her head, she says with a smile "While I appreciate the compliment, I think you have me confused with someone else. Corey's a friend of my family."
Gerard raises an eyebrow. "Sweetie, those are the best kind to bag. You have any sisters?" Corey's lips press together tightly.
Ellie shakes her head "No, sorry. I was an only child."
He groans a bit, but smiles. "Pity." He looks at Corey. "You should feed her more. Plump her up for me. I like 'em a bit more busty."
Ellie blinks once and retorts "Look, I have no idea who you are and you seem nice enough,
but didn't anyone ever tell you it's rude to talk about people in front of their faces. And I really think you have the wrong idea about Corey and I."
Corey adds quietly. "Yes, Gerard. She's not that kind of girl. Neither will she be. Eleanor, meet your uncle, Gerard." Gerard looks startled. He almost asks a question, then a flash of realization hits his face. He backs off a bit, and stands a bit straighter. "Welcome to Amber," he says, but Ellie notices a bit of disappointment when he looks at Corey.
Ellie tucks that away for another question later, maybe Gerard would be more willing to
talk than Corwin, and smiles "Thank you, Uncle Gerard. It's very nice to meet you."
Gerard turns, but as he leaves, says over his shoulder. "Ask him where Bloody Alex's is. You can find me there, if you've got a stomach for poor ale. Oh, and welcome back, your majesty." He disappears into the crowd of sailors and shipmen.
Ellie turns and looks up at Corwin. "Your Majesty?"
"Later," he says, and puts his arm protectively on her shoulder. "Now, we go to Amber."
She looks up at his face, brooding, dark. Ellie nods and smiles, saying quietly "Thank you for coming back. I had tried to get out, but he was too quick and strong." She pauses then adds "I know I have a lot to learn, Corwin. Will you teach me, please? I'll do my best to learn."
He looks down at her. "You have no idea how much you have to learn." He leads her up some wooden stairs."But first, we have to protect you."
As they round a corner, Eleanor's breath is taken away.
Living in France, she had seen castles, but almost all were dingy and grey, dilapidated and cold. Huge cairns for lines long dead, or heading into extinction. Good for the odd painting for romantic tourists, but good for little else.
This castle... she feels its out of a dream, like someone has taken a little bit of every fairy tale she ever heard, and sewed it up into one unbelievable piece of architecture. So white that it hurt her eyes, she knows that it isn't simply whitewashed, but made of something pure. Golden spires touch the perfect sky above it, shining like the sun itself. Everything about it seems unreal, and yet more real than anything she's ever known.
Corey notes her reaction. "Welcome home."
Ellie turns, a wide smile on her face, and replies "It's so beautiful, Corwin. And this is my home now?" She thinks for a moment and adds, more seriously "So what should I be doing next? You know this land. I don't. How did we get here, by the way?"
He continues up the stairs. "Do you believe in magic, Ellie?" His face softens a bit with her smile, but hardens as he seems to remember something. He moves with long graceful strides, almost too graceful for a man of his size.
"And this is your home, for now. If you choose so." He casts a look back. "But don't make any decisions yet. Even beautiful houses can hold horrible things."
Ellie answers "I'm not sure about magic, but I think there are things that I don't know about. Maybe magic is one of them. Just because I haven't seen something doesn't mean it can't exist." She thinks then adds "And I know beautiful can just be a facade. Sometimes, the
reverse is true too. There is a plus side to this you know."
He sighs. "Trust me, there are more negatives." As they climb, he begins to explain. "You are not where you used to be. That much you know. But if you walked for a thousand days in any direction, you would still never hit Paris again. It exists nowhere on this world." He thinks for a moment. "Paris is... it's like a ripple in a lake. One of many." They climb more steps, and the castle looms larger. "And this is the epicentre. This is where the ripples began."
Ellie nods and answers quietly "Alternative worlds. Different. And each ripple is a world. What makes the ripples? Is it like the Big Bang theory in the world where I came from?"
He thinks on it. "In a way. But not really. These ripples, they're completely separate. Normal people stay in one ripple all their lives. But some, the ones that are native to here, are special. They can move around them at will, as can their children, their children's children, and so on."
The castle is still hundreds of feet up, but suddenly Corwin veers off the stairs. "A short-cut," he explains.
Without hesitation, Ellie follows, asking "Why can the people of here move around as they will? What makes the difference?" She smiles ruefully "Feel free to stop me if I'm asking too many questions."
He shakes his head. "You could ask a million questions and never ask enough to understand everything here. So ask away."
He ponders her question as they make their way up a path barely visible in the rock and dirt. "It's not everyone here. The regular townspeople are as stuck as anyone else in the Shadows." He looks back. "What we call the 'ripples.'" He looks back at the path and
continues. "The ones with this ability are children of its founder. There aren't many of us, but it's enough to keep things complicated."
The path seems to end at a natural rock wall. Corwin bends and starts examining the surface with his fingers.
Ellie thinks and then asks "Alright, if it's the children, it's obviously hereditary." She pauses, looks around making sure nobody is around and then quietly asks "Who did I inherit this from?"
He seems to pause, but then continues his search.
"Me," he says without looking back, and at that moment his hand appears to sink through the granite face of the wall.
Behind him, Ellie smiles and says "Good. I wouldn't like to go through all this again and it does make things simpler." She stands beside him and glances up "So what did you find?"
He looks back, his face cautious. "You adapt fast. Good. You'll need it."
Standing, he takes her arm, and casts one last look around. "As for what I've found, it's a back door." And with that, he pulls her through the stone as if it were nothing at all.
On the other side, she's plunged into darkness. As her eyes adjust, she realizes they're in a small hallway, roughly hewn out of the mountain.
She asks softly "Was the stone an illusion or was it something else? And for the record, with everything that has happened, I had you pegged as either a father or an uncle." Quietly, she adds "I'm glad you're my father, Corwin."
"An illusion," he replies. "Amber is riddled with them."
They begin to climb a staircase, and for the first time, Ellie notices his clothes have changed. He now sports a dark cloak, under which his clothes are formal and quite old-fashioned. A sword dangles from his hip. "There are those that won't be glad I have a daughter, as you've already seen." He pauses, listening for a beat, then continues. "Be as cheerful as you want, you are not in a safe place, Eleanor. Most everyone I know will try to use you against me, one way or another." He mutters again, but this time she thinks she hears something like 'uneasy rests the head'...
She softly finishes the statement, her voice low "that wears the crown. Corwin, I know I'm not in a safe place and it was you I was trying to cheer up. You warned me to keep my loyalties under lock and key. Well, I'm loyal to you. Does that count?"
She looks round, taking in details of the route, before she adds "Alright, I'm presuming it won't be long before we meet some of these people you're worried about, so what do I need to know?"
They round a corner. "You need to know that none of them are very fond of me, and so there's a good chance they won't be find of you either, no matter how nice you are. You have my stain upon you, I'm afraid." He sighs. "The kind of loyalty I'm talking about is different. Here, being family doesn't mean a whole hell of a lot."
Ellie replies dryly "If Julian is an example, I've seen that. May I ask what you did that I'm going to judged upon? Or is that something to learn later?" Her voice softens "And how may I best help you?"
The corridor lengthens out into another hallway, which ends in an apparently dead end.
He stops right before the end and leans against the wall. "They'll hate you because I'm the king, and you're my daughter. I've had to do some unpopular things in my time, and this has turned some people against me."
Turning to the wall and searching it, he adds, "And as for what you can do for me, you can be careful, and you can keep away from heroics and being my herald. That will only make you a bigger target."
Ellie nods "Alright, I'll be careful, take your advice and I'll learn. Which people should I be especially wary of?"
He takes a breath and closes his eyes. "It's more a question of who you can trust. There's a few I can name, but they're not family. Advisors and such. But anyone you share blood with, think twice about turning your back on them."
Ellie asks quietly "Whom may I trust then? And I can trust you right? No other family member though."
He smiles a bit. "Define trust. Does trust mean I'll never put you in harms way? If that's the case, then no, you can't trust me, because I'm about to do that right now." He listens for a moment, the takes her arm as they once again walk through the wall.
The room is enormous. Gilded doesn't even begin to describe it. There are gold inlays on marble that alone could take a lifetime to appreciate... But the focal point of the room is a set of stained glass windows. The sun is still high enough in the sky for the light to stream in, showing the faces of over a dozen young and beautiful men and women. As her faces scan them, she realizes some are surrounded by red roses, some black. She immediately recognizes one as Corwin, another as the man Gerard down on the docks... another
looks familiar, a woman with black hair...
Ellie looks at the windows for a moment longer then asks "Who is she? And are all these people your brothers and sisters?" indicating the woman with black hair.
He follows her gaze to the woman in the stained glass. "She is-- was my sister. Deirdre." He walks over and touches a rose by her feet... the same colour as her hair. "And yes, these are all my brothers and sisters. At least those I know about. We set up this room so all the
debate on the line for the throne could be put to rest." He looks around and shakes his head, and walks towards a stairway, heading down.
Ellie turns and follows him, saying quietly "The woman who used to buy all my paintings looked like Deirdre. I never met her though or even knew her name, but she was pointed out to me by the gallery owner." She adds softly "What was Deirdre like to know?"
He stops and looks back in confusion. "How could she have known about you...? No one did." His eyes are filled with worry, but he continues down the stairs. "She was... she was very special. My full-sister. There was a kind of bond there that I don't think I ever fully understood. She was beautiful and tough and... none of the other girls are like her. They're manipulative, or distant, or... they aren't Dee."
Ellie nods "I wish I had known her. I don't know if she and the woman who bought my paintings were one and the same person, but I will always think well of my unknown patron. Her money let me get out of the squat I was living in and buy my bed-sit."
They come to a hallway, with doors lining either side. He chooses one and opens it, revealing a sparsely decorated room. The only things Eleanor notices are a simple bed, a pile of canvases and an easel, and a side table, with a vase and silver rose on it.
Ellie smiles in wonder and she says "A silver rose. How beautiful." She grins up at Corwin "Is that magic too or from one of the other worlds?"
He sits on the bed and takes off his boots (different than the ones in Paris... high and old looking). "It might have been. But one of the problems with shadows you encounter is that you meet quite a few duplicates. I've even met myself once. A brother of mine killed his
duplicate and framed me to throw the house into disarray." He sighs and leans back against the wall. "But there aren't too many ways to know if it was her or not. She's... dead." Eleanor feels the effort it took to say that last word, and cringes a bit inside.
He's silent for a moment, then looks at the rose. "The rose is my symbol. We all have one. It was a present, long ago."
Ellie smiles and replies "It suits you as a symbol." Standing still at the doorway, she looks around "Is this your room? Apart from the rose, it seems a little impersonal and unused." A bashful smile "And I'm probably being too blunt again."
He smiles. "Actually, it's often used. And don't worry about being blunt. It's a refreshing change." He looks around. "It connects to my official chambers, which are much more pleasing to the eyes. But I prefer these. They feel a bit safer."
He gestures, indicating a seat she hadn't noticed before. "Please, have a seat. Is there anything I can get you?"
Ellie takes the seat and quietly replies "Just some tea please. I would really appreciate that. Everything else is fine, thank you. Is there anything you would like to know that I can tell you? Unlikely I agree, but I'm not assuming things."
Corwin laughs. "I thought I was the one supposed to be getting bombarded with questions." He gets up and nods. "Very well. Tea it is. This way." He touches the vase, and a door opens in the wall, revealing an opulent room, decorated in silver and black, with a motif of a unicorn repeating itself in various places.
Ellie chuckles and answers "Think of it as me giving you a chance to get a word in edgeways." She gets up and looks at the room beyond "Why the unicorn motif?"
He touches one for a moment. "She's our patron. More than that, too, as I discovered a few years ago. Apparently she's also our grandmother." He casts a glance over at Ellie to see her reaction, while pulling a cord on the wall.
Ellie looks surprised then thoughtful and asks "Does she have a human form then? A way to be human? Who's our grandfather, or more exactly my great-grandfather I suppose?"
He chuckles. "I've never seen her in a human form, so I'm assuming there isn't one. And seeing as how your great-grandfather is quite human, I've never asked about the mechanics. I have some measure of creativity, and I don't like it to get away from me."
A servant walks in, a scrawny brown-haired teen with the barest of fuzz on his upper lip. "Karl, some tea, please. And if there's anything leftover from last's dinner, I'd like to have some of that too." The lad nods, casting a casual glance at Eleanor, and departs.
Ellie looks around and, seeing a chair, sits down. She is quiet for a moment and then asks "I'm learning, but what's the best way to get used to what I'm finding out about? So that I don't feel like Alice through the looking glass."
He pauses and considers. "I can't say, really. I grew up with this." He waves his arm. "From the time I could walk, I knew about how the universe worked and where our position was in it." He sits in a chair catty-corner to Ellie's and pulls a table closer to them. "The more
you learn, the more secure you'll feel. But never forget. The people you meet have been playing this game for a lot longer than you have, and have made up a million variants on it. I can't imagine anyone of your generation being able to catch up to us, although I can see them trying." He pauses and thinks. "I can't think of many that would belong to that group, your generation. Merlin, of course, but he's of a different vein. Martin. Mathonwyr. And there may be a few out in shadow, but that's just guessing. I don't know of any specifics."
He leans back and undoes the top button of his shirt. "How old do you think I am?"
Ellie looks at him and replies "You look in your thirties, forties maybe, sort of unaging, timeless though more stressed than I've ever seen you before. I don't know how old you are though because you've never really aged as long as I've known you."
The door opens, and the young boy from before enters and lays down a tray laden with fruits, some steamed vegetables, and lots of meat. After searching the tray for a second, Ellie finds where he put her tea among the leftovers.
Corwin dismisses him a nod and starts to make another sandwich. "Would you believe I'm several millennia old?"
Ellie's hand stops midway to her tea and she looks at Corwin "Several millennia?" She takes a deep breath and lifts her cup with only a slight tremble as she adds "Yes, I believe you. I trust you, if not many others. It's just been a lot to take in all at once."
She smiles "Does immortality run in the family too? And who are Merlin, Martin and Mathonwyr?"
He nods. "It is much to take in. But it appears to run in the family, for none of us or our progeny have died of natural causes. We seem to age as it seems appropriate. Some of us look older, some younger, although relatively speaking, we're about the age."
He takes out his cards again and leafs through, picking out three. He hands them to her. "Merlin, Martin, Mathonwyr." While letting her study them, he continues. "Mathonwyr and Martin are my nephews. Merlin... is my son."
Ellie nods, seeing the likeness as she studies Merlin's card. She answers softly "He looks like you. What is he like?" Hesitantly, she adds "Who is my mother?"
He raises a hand. "Wait." He stands and crosses the room, looking as though he's staring at a painting on the wall, but talking. He turns back to Ellie, now holding a card. "It looks as though you get to find out exactly what Merlin is like."
Ellie nods, taking a deep breath, and puts her teacup back on the tray. Smoothing her green dress, she stands and waits to see what will happen next.
In Amber, Corwin takes Ellie's hand and concentrates on the card in his hand. "I think you'll like him. I always have."
She watches as the picture on the card takes shape.
In Chaos, Merlin pulls Marrek through wordlessly. Despil rises. "I'll have to excuse myself. I don't think my presence will really be necessary at the meeting, and I'd hate for it to look like a Chaos refugee camp." He hugs Ryoden, then clasps Jurt on the shoulder. "I'll be in touch."
As he leaves, Merlin concentrates, then opens up a gate to room, somewhere in shadow.
The room is warm, and smells of exotic spices and dry heat. Merlin enters and looks around the empty room, waiting. Jurt manages to hobble in, leaning heavily on Mandor. Ryoden and Marrek enter last.
On the other side, the wall shimmers for a second and Corwin and Eleanor appear.
Merlin looks a bit surprised at the extra person, as does Corwin look surprised at the injured Jurt. Merlin motions at the table in the middle of the room. "Shall we?"
In Chaos, Merlin pulls Marrek through wordlessly. Despil rises. "I'll have to excuse myself. I don't think my presence will really be necessary at the meeting, and I'd hate for it to look like a Chaos refugee camp." He hugs Ryoden, then clasps Jurt on the shoulder. "I'll be in touch."
As he leaves, Merlin concentrates, then opens up a gate to room, somewhere in shadow.
The room is warm, and smells of exotic spices and dry heat. Merlin enters and looks around the empty room, waiting. Jurt manages to hobble in, leaning heavily on Mandor. Ryoden and Marrek enter last.
On the other side, the wall shimmers for a second and Corwin and Eleanor appear.
Merlin looks a bit surprised at the extra person, as does Corwin look surprised at the injured Jurt. Merlin motions at the table in the middle of the room. "Shall we?"
Merlin and Corwin clasp hands over the table, both exchanging brief but strained smiles. Corwin starts. "You have something you wanted me to take care of for you?" He looks back at the crowd behind Merlin.
Merlin nods. "We've had troubles the past few days."
Marrek bows to Corwin. "Your Majesty," he greets him in his low voice, before slipping into a chair next to Merlin. Ellie stands just behind and to the side of Corwin, her green eyes watchful and alert. For the moment, she stays quiet.
Corwin nods. "So who are these people with you?"
Merlin steps back and introduces his party. "These three are my siblings. Mandor, I'm sure you know, and I've told you about Jurt. Ryoden is more recent. This is Marrek, newly added to my court."
Corwin smiles politely. He brings Eleanor forward. "This is my daughter, Eleanor."
Merlin looks taken aback, and Ryoden's jaw drops. She looks at Merlin, betrayed. "You have a sister?! I'm still stuck with brothers!" she mutters. "Not fair."
Marrek nods politely to Eleanor. "Your Highness."
Eleanor smiles politely to the group opposite. and says softly, her accent a gentle French one, "Good day. I am pleased to make your acquaintance." Jurt nods. Ryoden glares at her. Mandor smiles a graceful smile.
Merlin takes her hand. "That would make us siblings," he grins. "It's an honor." He turns back to Ryoden. "Hey, I didn't know, okay? Don't get in a snit."
Corwin sits. "Shall we begin? Where does your trouble start? I'm assuming it's a family matter."
Ellie smiles at Merlin and then sits beside Corwin. Marrek leans back, his elbows resting on the arms of his chair and his fingers steepled in front of his chin (a favoured pose, it would seem) and watches Corwin and waits for Merlin to recount the tale.
Merlin takes a deep breath, and begins. "My sister and brother were attacked rather recently in their Ways-- As you can see, Jurt got the brunt of the attack. we believe someone is trying to get to me by getting the less protected members of the family first. I'd..." He sighs. "Amber is the farthest I can get them away from Chaos right now. And I don't know of anyone fool enough to go there in the middle of a crew of elders and stir up trouble."
Mandor throws Marrek a look at the word 'attacked', but says nothing.
Corwin sighs. "Are you sure you've thought this through?"
Marrek notices the look but does not respond. To Corwin he says, "I concur with my king in this matter. Even the most rabid of fanatics won't confront a host of Amberite Elders in their own castle."
Ellie privately wonders if the Elders themselves would present a danger to the two more deadly than that which they are trying to avoid.
Merlin purses his lips. "You have Benedict's trump, right? I trust him, and I'm sure he'd come to Amber to help watch out for two of his relatives. Plus, I've spent quite a time with your family, and they really aren't all that bad."
Corwin frowns and furrows his brow. "You don't know them at all then." Marrek turns and looks at Mandor at that remark.
Ellie looks a little doubtful at Merlin's confidence too, recalling recent events and warnings.
Mandor meets Marrek's gaze. He looks slightly puzzled. Turning to Corwin, "I've met many of them, too. Trust me, I have more years that Merlin, and I don't think your family is any worse than some of our Lords in Chaos. Actually, our bloodbaths are much worse, from what I remember."
Merlin notes Ellie's look. "What? most are actually quite nice, when you know how to appease them."
Ellie replies quietly "I'll take your word for it."
"At any rate, we're getting a bit far afield, here, your majesties." Marrek sits forward in his chair. "The fact is that Ryoden is not safe in Chaos, no matter where we might try to hide her. Her assailant has already proven that he can get into places which we consider heavily guarded by Chaosite standards."
Merlin nods. "However, the only Chaosite who ever penetrated Amber was my mother, and she did so under extenuating circumstances. In peacetime, especially if you can swing Gerard and Benedict nearby, it should be impossible to get to her." He pauses. "She's my sister, dad. I can't think of anything else."
Ellie listens keenly to the conversation, understanding a little of how Merlin feels. She would feel the same way if Ryoden was her sister.
Corwin glowers. "What makes you think Benedict will come?"
Jurt looks at Corwin, surprised. "You have to be kidding! Mom had said she wanted to destroy Amber, helped lead an army against it, and he still came and talked to her, didn't she? He's legendary in the courts."Corwin still looks dark, and mutters something. Only Ellie hears it. "He'd come for her, then he'd come for me."
Marrek nods. "I agree with Jurt. How could he not be persuaded to watch over Ryoden after the way he supported Dara during the troubles she Caused Amber?"
Ellie wonders at Corwin's comment, but keeps quiet about it. Now is not the time to ask him. Maybe later.
He sighs, and pushes away from the table. "She can come, but I've no guarantees about her safety there. Benedict may come. He may not."
Mandor looks puzzled. "Could you just not call him and order him to? You _are_ king."
Corwin looks down. "Benedict... did not swear fealty to me." Mandor, Merlin, and Jurt look shocked. Marrek sits back in his chair. He becomes aware that his mouth is hanging open and shuts it with a sharp "clack" of teeth.
Unsure who Benedict is, Ellie nevertheless sees the effort it takes Corwin to admit this and the reaction.
Corwin lifts his head again. "He's like that. He prefers to stay neutral." his eyes issue a silent challenge. "If you want the girl to come to Amber, then fine. We leave now."
Merlin recovers, and nods. "Agreed." He hugs Ryoden tightly, whispering something in her ear. After a second, he embraces Jurt also. "Take care of her," Ellie hears. Ryoden bites back her tears.
Marrek stands, retrieving the duffle bag from underneath his chair. Grimly, he bows to Merlin. "I'll be in touch, my King."
Merlin nods to Marrek, handing him a trump. "It's of the palace room, if you need it." He looks at Ryoden, who's saying her goodbyes to Mandor. "Make sure she doesn't drive too many people crazy. She has a wild hair."
Marrek turns to Mandor and gives him a slight nod. "I'll keep you updated as well, Brother." Marrek shoulders his bag and prepares to leave.
Mandor nods, clasping Marrek on the shoulder. "Do yourself a favour and circulate up there. There are many who can be useful if you know how... And please, keep the glue off your fingers."
Marrek gives him a crooked smile. "I'll do my best, Mandor, but that's like asking a painter to leave his brushes packed up in a drawer."
Mandor shrugs. "Alright, but if one of them gets snippy and decided to punish you, don't ask for my fast rooms while you re-grow your fingers."
Marrek chuckles. "I'll behave, brother."
Ellie smiles to Ryoden "It's never easy leaving, Ryoden. How about we compare notes? I don't have any sisters either."
Ryoden accepts a kiss from Mandor, then turns to Ellie. "Do you have any other brothers?"
Ellie smiles at Merlin "Just this one as far as I know so far." then turns back to Ryoden "You are luckier than me that way."
Ryoden shakes her head. "No, I'm not. They fight. ALL THE TIME." Jurt smiles, but looks a bit embarrassed.
"C'mon, Ryo, give us some credit. No one's got hurt in a long time, have they?"
Ellie chuckles "I understand that it is normal for brothers to fight, Ryoden." She grins conspiratorially and adds "Sisters are much wiser though."
Ryoden's eyes grow wide. "They are not normal! Jurt has lost an ear, an eye, a finger, and he got a crossbow stuck in his shoulder once when..."
Jurt stops her. "Hey now!"
Merlin looks bemused. "Hadn't heard about that one." He takes up a trump, nods to all, and leaves.
Ellie wonders what exactly she has got herself into then says to Ryoden "Look at it this way, Ryoden. Through Merlin, we're sort of sisters, so you can find out what that's like too."
Ryoden considers it. "I guess. We can be sisters. Maybe someday you can meet Merlin better. He's nice." She stands up straight. "He's a king, you know," she declares proudly.
Ellie smiles and glances at Merlin "I think it would be very nice to meet Merlin again."
Merlin smiles. "Do you like Amber? If so, I think you'd enjoy the courts."
Ellie replies to Merlin "Amber is very new to me so I can't honestly say if I like or dislike it yet."
Merlin looks surprised. "how new are you to Amber?"
Ellie smiles ruefully and says "I've been there about an hour or so."
Merlin smiles. "Then you're about on par with Marrek over there. He joined the court, and hadn't even gotten the chance to see it yet."
Corwin considers Marrek. "So how long have you been in Merlin's courts?"
Jurt looks up at him. "Yeah, I don't remember you."
Marrek's lips quirk up in a smirk. "What time is it?"
Jurt snaps his fingers. "I bet you're replacing that kid that got eaten by a demon. Poor guy. Wasn't much left to throw into the pit." Looking at Corwin, "He's a newbie. This is most likely his hazing ritual."
Marrek looks at Jurt. "Newbie?" he asks mildly.
Jurt replies with a wicked smile. "Like a frat. You know. They make you eat live fish and such. Merle told me about things like that on shadow Earth."
Merlin sighs, clasping Ellie's hand. "I'm sorry. But I should go. I'm not sure how the time differential is here, so I had better get back before my IN box gets overflowed."
Ellie smiles "It has been nice to meet you Merlin. I hope we can do so again." then return's Marrek's smile with one of her own.
Merlin smiles. "Likewise." He bows slightly, and turns. On his way out, he pats Marrek on the shoulder. "Welcome to the club. Don't lose my sister."
Corwin closes his eyes and concentrates. Ellie waits, giving Ryoden a reassuring smile.
Marrek watches Merlin depart, then prepares for the jump to Amber.
Corwin opens his eyes again. He deals out a trump, this one of the throne room at Amber. "Can anyone figure out a way to transport him without carrying him?" he asks, nodding at Jurt.
Marrek looks to Jurt. "With your permission?" he asks.
Jurt looks alarmed. "What, you're going to carry me?"
"Don't be daft. I've got enough to carry."
Jurt scowls, then grins evilly. "Might want to be nicer to me. You're on babysitting duty for a few days. Ryoden can be bribed."
Ryoden smiles at Marrek.
Ellie watches what is going on and holds out her hand to Ryoden as Corwin has done with her so far in these transports. She grins and adds "What do you like to be bribed with, Ryoden?"
Ryoden thinks. "Sweet things. Pretty things. Vacations." She smiles. "My brothers are really good at it."
Ellie smiles "Those are good things to be bribed with indeed."
Ryoden sizes up Ellie. "And what are you bribed with?"
Ellie shrugs "I don't know yet." and chuckles along with Ryoden.
Marrek regards Jurt coolly. With a shrug, he makes a quick gesture and lays a hand upon Jurt's chair. Immediately, the chair lifts a half foot from the ground and floats there, waiting. Jurt grabs the arms just in time to avoid a tumble. Ryoden giggles.
Corwin watches the vaudeville around him, and looks worried. He opens up a gate. "This way..."
Ellie nods and steps through, her expression wary.
Marrek gives Jurt's chair a gentle shove, sending it through the gate. He gestures for Ryoden to step through before him. She follows, her eyes wide as she steps through.
The throne room is empty, and much cooler than where they had been. Surprisingly, while it is obviously tailored and quite costly, the room is simple in its design.
Jurt floats in, and Ryoden looks at his chair. Marrek puts a halting hand on Jurt's chair to keep it from sailing across the room. Slowly, the chair sinks to the ground. Thinking a second, a wheel pops into Ryoden's hand, then another. Tools fly into her hands as she sets to work around a trapped Jurt.
Marrek looks at Ryoden, a trifle startled. Ellie looks around, taking it all in, then turns back to the others, watching Ryoden at work. Jurt smiles proudly. "She's very talented."
Rods, pads, and gears appear about her as she works in a flurry of activity. Eventually, Jurt's chair is not longer a regular dining room chair, but a wheel chair. Jurt looks at Marrek. "Gets it from Merlin."
He nods. Corwin sits on his throne, and considers the group before him.
Marrek looks at Ryoden. "It's very well done, your highness, but how will he negotiate the stairs?"
Ryoden gets up, banishing the components she didn't use. She looks at the chair. "Hmm... I guess he'll go really, really fast, and learn to steer."
Jurt rolls his eyes. "I can stay on one floor for now, thanks."
Ellie nods "Stairs have always been a problem. Are there any lifts here?"
Corwin shakes his head. "Electricity doesn't work well here. So nothing really machine like."
Jurt shrugs. "I'll be fine. Won't take me long to figure something out. This is not a totally new experience, you know."
Marrek nods and waits.
Ellie thinks for a moment then says "Crutches will allow you to negotiate stairs perhaps."
Jurt nods. "I'm still in shock, a bit, though. I do need some rest." Suddenly his face begins to droop, and Marrek realizes the second spell Mandor cast probably did more than wake him up.
Corwin calls in a servant. "Are there any preferences to sleeping arrangements?" he asks.
Marrek places a hand on Jurt's shoulder to steady him. "Two connecting rooms and a third would be most suitable to our task, I think, your Majesty."
Ellie replies "Anywhere with a window and light will be fine, thank you."
He closes his eyes and thinks. Then, turning to the servant, "Prepare the rooms near mine. Brand had a set that we've since cleared out that they can use." He pauses. "Put her," nodding to Ellie, "in the one that shares a wall with mine." The servant nods, though he looks surprised, and leaves.
Ellie covers a yawn with a small hand and says "Thank you. It's been a long day."
He nods. "You have a long day ahead of you tomorrow, trust me."
Marrek nods in thanks. "I'd like to get Jurt settled in, if I may, Your Majesty."
He nods at Marrek. "Very well."
Ryoden looks like she wants to say something, but Jurt silences her with a look. Marrek looks between the two, an eyebrow raised, but says nothing.
Ellie nods, smiling at Corwin then turns to Ryoden "We're both new here. It won't be so bad I hope."
Jurt wheels himself out of the room, a disappointed Ryoden trailing behind. A servant appears and leads them to their room. Marrek sketches a quick bow to Corwin and Eleanor before following behind Jurt and Ryoden.
Corwin moves forward and puts an arm around Ellie's shoulder. "You need your rest. I'll keep guards out tonight." He leads her to her room.
Ellie replies "Thanks, Corwin. What do I call you now?"
He smiles. "Whatever you wish."
She smiles sleepily "Preferences? Otherwise you get Father."
He nods. "Father is fine"
Ellie looks round her room. For size, it is neither large nor small. The furniture is of a very good quality and design, none of it very individualistic though. The overall effect lending a pleasing yet impersonal touch to the room.
Ellie's eyes are drawn instead to the window. A stained glass creation of joy and morbidity at the same time. A phoenix rises out of scarlet and yellow flames into a black sun. It reminds her of some of the works of the Surrealists, but this surpasses them all in sheer intensity.
Tearing her gaze away, she deposits her case and canvas, slips off her black overcoat and says "This room is lovely, Father, thank you. Who designed that window?"
He stares at the window blankly for a moment, then grows red with anger. "Who the hell left that there?! Everything! I said everything!" His fists clench in rage and he moves to punch it.
Ellie moves in front of him, holding up her hands and saying quickly "Father, wait, please. It's a beautiful window. Why do you want rid of it?"
Corwin pauses for a moment, his fist still raised. slowly, with effort, he lowers it. "The man... who made that... he was the most evil man alive. He killed..." He breathing becomes labored, and Ellie gets the feeling he's reliving something.
Ellie guides him to a seat, facing away from the window and says gently "I'm sorry. I didn't know." She crouches before him and says "I can't make the past go away, but I can hopefully make the future a bit better for you. Starting with that window. How about this? We can replace that window with a stained glass one of my design. It won't be as good technically, but it will be me and my work, not that man's."
His breathing evens out. "Fine. As long as it's gone." He calms further and lifts his head. "I would like that, Ellie." He stands. "I'm sorry. I know we have much to talk about, but some of it will have to wait. I have duties to attend to."
Ellie nods and replies "Of course. We'll talk later. I think I'll go and see how Ryoden and the others are faring." She smiles "And you were right. I like Merlin."
She frowns as she enters the room. She knows she heard voices, but now no-one seems to be about. Even more curious, one of the walls has a huge picture on it she could swear wasn't there before. something blue and green and white...
The far door opens, and Jurt shambles out, now sporting crutches. "Ryo?" He looks around, then spots Ellie. "Oh. Hello again."
Ellie nods and answers with a smile "Hello, Jurt. It seems that Marrek and Ryoden are no longer around. May I be of any assistance to you?"
He shrugs, tired looking in more way than one. He limps over to a sitting chair. "I guess it's best if she's entertained. She gets dangerous when she's bored, and I don't feel like any international incidents on this trip." He settles down. Ellie's eyes stray to the stump at the end of his leg, but manages to bring her eyes back up.
Ellie sits near him "I can't honestly say I know how you feel, never having had siblings, let alone younger ones, before this." She pauses then adds "I was just going to get a hot drink and a snack. Would you like one or anything to eat?"
He leans back in his chair, propping his injured leg on a coffee table. "She's more than a sibling. When dad died, he left her care to me. So I'm her caretaker these days... have been for about 10 years now. The others, my brothers, I mean, pop in from time to time and
check on us, but for the most part she's mine to raise." He winces and shifts uncomfortably. "The foot-- its beginning to grow back, and it itches horribly."
"Food would be great, though. Body's burning up calories regenerating, so I'll probably be ravenous for a few weeks." He looks over and sees the new decoration. "What the hell is that?"
Ellie looks around and sees a bell pull to summon a servant. Tugging on it, she answers Jurt "No idea. It's new, I know that much though."
She looks at it for a moment, unconsciously her lips curve in a small smile as she sees the world, so much like her own. Softly, she says "I like it though. Reminds me of home."
Still smiling, Ellie turns back and sits down near Jurt, saying "It looks as if you've done a good job then. Ryoden's a lovely young girl." She hesitates then asks "Does everyone regenerate? I'm sorry if that's a silly question, but I'm really new at all this."
Jurt looks confused. "How new are you exactly? I would have thought Corwin would explain shapeshifters." He thinks. "Amberites, from what I hear, do regenerate. I think your dad lost his eyes a while back, but I could be thinking of someone else. Chaosites, that's us,
regenerate much faster. What takes them years takes us months." He pouts a bit. "Still sucks though."
He touches a small pendant at his neck as she mentions Ryoden. "She is a good kid. Too bad mom isn't involved with her. Actually, that might be a good thing. Hate for her to turn out like the battle axe."
He looks at the picture on the wall. "Where you from?"
A servant knocks and enters, bowing slightly. He looks at them expectantly. "Ham on rye, and some coffee," says Jurt. "And you?"
Ellie smiles at the servant "Some cheese and ham sandwiches and coffee would be lovely, thank you."
After the servant departs, Ellie turns back to Jurt and says, her voice soft "To answer your questions, Jurt, I'm from Earth, Paris specifically and Brittany before that. And a couple of hours or so ago, Corwin brought me to Amber. That was the first time I had heard of anything like this. So very new I suppose."
Jurt blinks a few times. "_Hours_? I surprised you're as calm as you are." He shakes his head. "Earth... that means no magic. My god, you didn't even have a precedent for a place like this." He chews on a nail, thinking. Slowly a grin spreads onto his face. "You want to see
Ellie smiles and replies "The simple answer is I'm too busy running to catch up to completely freak out. It is a lot to take in all at once though." She looks thoughtful and answers "Seeing shapeshifting would be good, but please don't hurt or tire yourself on my account."
He shrugs and smiles. "It's not a problem. I won't do much." He holds out his left hand and examines it. Slowly, so slowly that Ellie wonders if she's seeing things, his hand begins to shift-- grey scales sprout like leaves, then flatten against his skin. His nails grow long and hard and black, dangerous looking.
The changes stop. He flexes his new spruced up hand. "Not much, I know. If you want to see something really spectacular, ask Ryo to go to her natural form. What she wears is something she pieced together herself by looking at us. Gets funny sometimes. If she's mad at you, she'll shift your features right out." He smiles, as if remembering. "Mandor made her stop wearing white in her hair, though. I think he likes to be unique."
Ellie smiles in wonder "Not much? I think it's incredible. I've never seen something like this happen before, at least not for real." She looks back at Jurt and says softly "Thank you for showing me this."
He looks a bit surprised by her sudden softness, but manages to get out, "Well, it's not a problem. Anyone from chaos can do it, really..." He looks uncomfortable. "So... did you have any questions?"
Ellie looks at him and asks quietly "Why so uncomfortable, Jurt? Am I asking too many questions?"
Jurt regains his composure. "No, questions are fine. I'm used to them. Ry's got a head full of them and can spit them out rapid-fire if she wants."
Ellie notices his hand float to the pendant again. He touches it, then lowers his hand.
"So, ask away."
Ellie is quiet for a moment, considering his reaction of a few moments before. If not the questions, then the manner perhaps.
She smiles a little before continuing "You seem greatly attached to your pendant." Her smile widens and she asks "Is there a story there?"
He smiles. "It's more an attachment than you think. It's linked to Ryoden's emotions. It's a easy way to see if she's scared or in trouble. Right now she's having a good time bugging Marrek." He looks at her curiously. "You didn't think I'd just let her wander off, did you? Marrek may be Mandor's brother, but that doesn't mean my trust is explicit. I've heard stories."
Ellie slips off her shoes and tucks up her feet into the chair before answering candidly "To be honest, I didn't really consider it. I assumed I suppose that you would have her safety as a priority. I would if she was my sister."
She sips her coffee then smiles ruefully "I make too many assumptions sometimes."
Jurt studies her a moment. "Don't assume anything. There are things worse than death, trust me. Mandor's taken me on a tour of a few. When you play the games at this level, you need caution. As much as you can get. Never assume." He gestures at his non-existent foot. "I
thought I was safe. I was wrong."
Ellie nods, remembering, her green eyes troubled "I was wrong too. I assumed I was safe in my own home. As it happened, that was proven to be a foolish assumption." She takes a sip of her coffee and says quietly "I guess I need to work on being more wary and distrusting."
Jurt's eyebrows furrow. "You were attacked? By who?" He sighs and shakes his head. "Even the ignorant aren't safe."
Ellie smiles humourlessly as she replies "Not if their father is Corwin, it seems. As to the who, it doesn't really matter." She shrugs "I probably did myself more harm trying to escape and resist him than he did to me."
Jurt looks at her seriously. "_Who_ is a very important matter. Ever heard of conspiracy?" He shakes his head. "I know it's custom to stick your kids in nice shadows, but sheesh! Where the hell did Corwin put you? A theme park?" He raises a hand. "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for. You're new at this. But you're going to have to get a bit more aggressive if you don't want to be run through in your sleep."
Ellie replies quietly "I know who the person is, but until I have more information to go on, a single name isn't hugely useful in any conspiracy theory. Suffice to say I did learn who not to trust and why. And yes, I had a good home. Right up to the point my foster parents died and I found myself out on the street. Try sleeping in an abandoned building with a crowd of strangers and you learn to be a real light sleeper."
She falls silent then says softly "Sorry. I know you're trying to help. It's just that right now, I don't know enough to be aggressive towards people who can throw me about without blinking and to whom I'm just another means to score points. I thought maybe keeping my head down and learning what I could may be the best way initially to survive."
He pauses. "Okay, it wasn't a theme park." He shifts and bites his lip. Just as he is about to say something, though, the door opens, and a servant walks in, tray laden.
He places the tray on the coffee table, carefully avoiding Jurt's non-foot, bows, and leaves.
Jurt takes his leg off the table. "Good. I'm starving." He grabs his sandwich and starts to dig in.
Ellie picks up her own sandwich, pouring both Jurt and herself some more coffee first.
After a short time and after the sandwiches have dissipated in number, Ellie takes a break from eating and asks "What should I be asking about?"
He chews. "Well, what do you want? A general lesson in the make-up of the universe? A list of powers? A run-down of the Amber family tree? A tour of chaos, from the abyss to the shadow-fringe? My personal tastes in movies and books? There's a world of stuff to ask about." He takes a sip of coffee.
Ellie smiles at him "So it would seem. Alright, newbie questions aside for now. Tell me about yourself please, Jurt."
He coughs into his coffee, surprised. "Thought you'd pick one of the others." He thinks, and she can tell he's a tad uncomfortable. "I was just joking of course... There's not much to tell. Youngest male of my house, and of my family... I don't do much of anything that isn't
done by a thousand other Chaosites. I fence. Badly. I do magics. I can use logrus. For a few years I tried to kill my brother every few months, but Ryo kind of stopped that. She's been a distraction from day one. Merl and I get along okay now. I'm finally better at something." He waves his hand. "That's it. Wouldn't even make a decent epitaph. And you?"
Ellie smiles "You put yourself down too much. You do things I can never hope to do. You are direct and not afraid to feel emotions. You're honest it seems." She grins and adds "And you are nice to newbies like me. Thank you."
She sips her coffee and continues "Not much to tell for me. Born twenty-two years ago and raised in Brittany on the French coast. Life was good. There was a car accident and my foster-parents were killed. Luckily I wasn't in the car with them at the time. Made my way to
Paris and earned a living, more or less, as an artist."
Ellie smiles shyly "I told you there wasn't a lot to tell."
Jurt chuckles. "And here we are, the two most boring people in Amber, who fate has decided should share a late snack. Do you realize most everyone else here has more adventures to tell of then us? Even the kitchen steward." He rolls his eyes. "So, where do we go from here?"
Ellie laughs softly "I dispute the boring, but I agree with the rest. Maybe we should meet up every so often to compare new adventures. That could be an impetus to have some."
She looks thoughtful and then asks "Would you mind sitting for me at some point?"
He laughs. "I am sitting." He motions at his chair.
He stares at his coffee, perhaps a trifle too long. "I'd like that," he finally responds, "Meeting, I mean."
Ellie smiles "Good. I would too." She grins "You have no escape now." and rises, padding lightly on bare feet into her room to re-emerge a few moments later with her wooden case, still with the canvas tied to it.
Untying the canvas, she puts it to one side and opens the case, drawing out some paper and pencils. She smiles "Thanks for letting me sketch you."
He smiles. "I'm used to it. Too many damn artists in my family." He nods at the canvas. "Something special?" he asks.
Ellie smiles and replies "Kind of, to me anyway. The view in front of the cottage I grew up in. Feel free to have a look at it if you like."
Taking another sip of coffee, she begins sketching, the pencils working rapidly over the paper.
He reaches over and takes the canvas. He looks at it for a long time. Finally he speaks, oblivious of her sketching. "Have you ever considered studying trump? That's those cards we use to get around and talk to each other."
For a moment he touches the pendant, and smiles. "Oh, yeah, she's giving Marrek a real memorable night."
Ellie chuckles "That sounds ominous for Marrek. As for Trump, I've seen one of the cards used, but I didn't know that's what it was called. Why do you ask?"
He studies the painting for a long last second, then puts it back down. "You'd make a good one. You need some talent before you try, and I'm fairly certain it's the only power that won't get you killed trying to learn it." He motions at the pennant. "I felt curiosity. Always a bad, bad sign."
A thought suddenly occurs to her. "Where are all the other Amberites?"
Ellie smiles "It can be. Surely got me into my fair share of scrapes when I was younger. And I'll certainly think about learning Trump, or finding out more about it anyway. Thanks, Jurt."
She muses for a moment as she draws "I used to do this for tourists. Sketch them, I mean. It was interesting and steady money, nice sitting in the sunshine too."
Ellie looks up for a moment, grins and adds "And I'm rambling. Regretting agreeing to this yet?"
She catches an odd look in his eyes as he studies her. "No," he says. "Not at all."
He shakes off the moment and cranes his neck a bit, trying to see her drawing.
What he sees is a young man, rendered in a strong, sure style. The sketch is already recognisable as his own image, the details flowing into the drawing as she works.
She laughs softly "You're as bad as a tourist. It will be finished soon, I promise."
He sits back and nods. "You are good. I don't know who knows it up here, but I can always take you down to Chaos and you can talk to Merlin or Mandor. Or..." His voice trails off.
Ellie looks up again "Or who? I don't really know Mandor. Merlin seemed nice enough though and he's a brother." She smiles "Thank you. I appreciate the compliment. What is Chaos like?"
He studies her for a moment. "The other 'who' is Ryoden. She knows how to do it, but most likely doesn't have the attention span to teach another. We barely have to teach her ourselves, so I doubt she knows how others learn." He fiddles with his coffee. "Mandor is
alright. He's always been popular with the fairer sex. Despil and I suspect he has some fairly hefty charm spells lying around, but that's the jealousy talking."
He thinks for a moment. "Chaos... chaos is bloody and political and never what it seems. We have demons roaming the streets and a big bottomless pit in our backyard. But hey, it's home."
Ellie looks up "I guess regeneration is pretty necessary there then." She thinks for a moment then adds "Mandor looked the smooth sort if he was the one with white hair. Some people like that, I suppose."
Ellie shrugs "No offence to your brother meant. I just get wary around ultra-smooth people. They remind me of some people I used to meet in the gallery that I wasn't hugely impressed with then or now. All polish and lies. At least the people I met were."
She smiles and carefully hands the sketch to Jurt "All done."
He takes the sketch. "Shapeshift only helps so much. Cutting out someone's heart is still deadly, as is being blown up." He shudders. "If it weren't for this," he motions to the pendant, "and those demon ears of Ry's, I wouldn't be sitting here now."
He appraises the sketch. "Very good... you really should talk to Mandor or one of them." He smiles. "And I'll have you know, Mandor never lies to a lady he fancies. He simply omits truths. And he has more style than the rest of us put together." He smiles ruefully. "We
make him look better by comparison."
Ellie smiles "I never said your brother lied, just what I was reminded of." She tilts her head curiously and asks softly "Do you always depreciate yourself? You are not as bad as you make yourself out to be, Jurt." She grins and adds "Keep the sketch, please."
He shrugs and pockets the sketch, carefully folding it. "You don't have my brothers. The best sorcerer in Chaos, a king, a house head. It's always been a game of catch-up where they're in their final lap, and I've just started." He cracks a knuckle. "I stopped trying to play after a while. It really wasn't getting me anywhere, and if you get too vocal, people notice you and decided to take you out of the running. Not that any of them would do that. But other houses do watch ours."
He looks distant for a moment, but then focuses back on Ellie. "You must have more questions than my own mental health."
Ellie nods "Probably, but it's nice just catching breath for a time. What about you? Do you have any questions, Jurt?" She smiles at him "Ask away. I promise I'll answer. You've patiently answered all my questions."
He shakes his head. "Not really. Well, one..." He looks at her. "Were you planning on taking the pattern?"
Ellie sips her coffee and then replies simply "What's the pattern? I haven't heard about this. And why would I take it?"
Jurt's jaw drops. He recovers and shakes his head, muttering something about 'Amberites' and 'weird.' He sighs.
"The pattern is something very powerful that lets you, among other things, walk in the shadows. You walk it to get its power." He chuckles. "Great way to tell a fake Amberite from a real one. Only a true Amberite can walk it. Anyone else dies in some truly horrid way."
Ellie ties this in with Corwin's earlier statement about Amberites being able to walk among Shadows and stores it away. She asks curiously "Is there something equivalent for Chaos? And you talk about walking the Pattern. What is it that it can be walked?"
"The equivalent in Chaos is the logrus. That's what I have." He smiles. "I'd give you an example, but I've been told it's not a wise idea in the castle." He pauses and thinks. "The pattern, from what I've heard, is just some glowing lines in the floor. When people talk
about 'walking' it, they really mean walking. I don't know much about it, though. Never even seen it. All I know is Merlin has it." He pauses and thinks, then grins a bit evilly. "You want to see it? The pattern?"
Ellie looks at him and grins mischievously "You know I am probably going to get in a whole heap of trouble for this." She hesitates, then smiles "It wouldn't do any harm to look, I suppose."
He smiles and pulls out a card from a pocket in his jacket. He spins it around and she sees a blue line on a black background. "A trump." he looks at it. "Ryoden copied it off of one of Merlin's when he wasn't looking. I was furious when I found it, but decided to keep it
instead of destroying it. And when we want to get back, we just trump Marrek or Ryo and get them to bring us back. No one's any the wiser." He smiles. "Game?"
Ellie takes a deep breath then says "Alright, I'm game." She stands, slipping her shoes back on, asking "Are there any rules I should be aware of for looking at the Pattern?"
He collects his crutches and manages to stand. "Yeah, don't step on it unless you plan on finishing it. Oh, and bleeding on it is bad, I hear." He takes her arm and concentrates on his trump. He moves forward...
The room is huge... completely black, its height and length are impossible to discern. The only features she can pick out is a door, and what must be the pattern... It snakes about the room, swirling, glowing out of the floor, giving off a blue, otherworldly light.
Jurt stares at it silently, his face hard to read in the odd light. "So that's what it looks like..."
Ellie stares at the Pattern for a time without speaking. Finally, she turns to Jurt and says "You said to walk without stopping. Is there anything else I should know? Or anyone else I should talk to first?" She shrugs, her smile rueful "Corwin's busy probably and the only other person I've heard of having Pattern is Merlin."
He stares at her a long time. "You're... going to walk it?" He shakes his head. "I know that it's blue, and big, and stopping is a bad idea. That's it--" He stares at it. "I'm a Chaosite. I know jack about this thing. It's quite literally on the other side of the universe from me." He takes a breath. "Are you sure?"
Ellie smiles hesitantly "Not really." She thinks for a moment, then adds "Merlin has the Pattern you said. Do you think he would be willing to give me any pointers?"
Jurt thinks. "I think it's time for you to learn to use trumps. Between Merlin being mad at Mandor for the shadow faux-pas, Despil for siding with him, and me for, well, trying to kill him a few dozen times, I think you're his new favourite sibling." He digs through his deck and hands her a card of Merlin. "Just concentrate on the card, and think about him. You'll feel it stir, and that means you've made contact."
Ellie takes the card "Alright. Thank you, Jurt." She grins and adds "How long does being a new favourite sibling last for, I wonder."
Ellie concentrates her vision upon the card, thinking about Merlin as she last saw him...
The card shifts in her vision, gaining perspective and life. The picture changes, revealing Merlin, drinking a cup of something hot, looking a bit bleary. "El- Eleanor?" He wakes up quickly. "What's wrong?"
Eleanor immediately replies "Nothing's wrong, Merlin. It's alright. I'm sorry if I've disturbed you. It's just that I need some advice and you seem to be the best person to ask so Jurt loaned me your Trump. If it's a bad time, we may always talk later."
He shakes his head. "No, just waking up. You certainly did that for me. So what's..." He looks somewhere behind her, and Ellie suddenly realizes the possibility that he can see where she is. "Why are you in the pattern room?"
Ellie replies calmly "It seemed like a good idea to actually see what I'd just heard about, Merlin. When I did, I thought I should ask some advice before walking it. Corwin is busy and you're the only other person I'd heard of with pattern. So far, I've been told one should
walk it and not stop. Is there anything else I should do or not do? And thank you for listening to me, Merlin."
Merlin gives her a shocked look, similar to the one Jurt had just given her. In that moment, she sees how closely they resemble each other. Funny, for brothers who seem to have been at odds in the past.
"Well, I suppose it is your heritage... Maybe you should pull me through. This makes me a bit nervous." He puts out his hand.
Ellie copies him and puts out her hand, mimicking Corwin's earlier action, stepping well away from the pattern as she does so, and a short distance away from Jurt.
He comes through, and Ellie feels a giggle rise as she realizes he's in an old flannel bathrobe, holding a cup of coffee. Not very kingly.
He notices Jurt. "How did you get down here?" Jurt raises the trump of the Pattern. "You kept that? I was wondering if it would actually work."
He returns his attention to Ellie. "So what is this all about?"
Ellie smiles up at her brother and replies "I thought it might be an idea to walk this and I don't really know much about it. So what do I need to do, please?" Her look becomes more serious "I don't know why it seems like a good idea. It's just a feeling more than anything else. Does that make any sense?"
He raises an eyebrow. "An idea?" He sighs. "This is not a walk in the park, okay? As pretty as it looks, that thing is powerful. It takes a long time to walk, and you're pretty drained afterwards."
He shrugs. "But if you want to, I can try to talk you through it."
Ellie notices Jurt's face is carefully neutral. She thinks, and realizes that Merlin doesn't know that she's new to all of this, and probably has jumped to the conclusion that she just wanted to get her power sooner than Corwin was available...
Ellie shrugs and replies softly "Merlin, I don't know anything about the pattern. I arrived in Amber about three hours ago, more or less, and that was the first time I had even heard of it. I only heard that this is apparently part of being an Amberite a few minutes ago. Ideas are all I have because I'm learning everything else as I go along."
She looks down as she adds "I would like your help, but if you're not comfortable with it, that's alright."
Merlin shakes his head. "You understand you're asking me to let you drive an airplane after showing you a picture of one?" He looks at Jurt. "Why did you bring her down here?"
"I thought she just wanted to see it," retorts Jurt defensively, "Not walk it."
Merlin looks back at his new sister. "I can't say no. That's really no one's right. It's a part of your heritage, and if you decide to set foot on it, I won't let you die by abandoning you." He motions at the pattern. "It's your choice."
Ellie replies quietly, but clearly "It's not Jurt's responsibility. He's done nothing but be nice to me and answer my questions."
She looks back at Merlin "What will happen to me if I do walk it? And
if I decide not to right now, will you help me when I do?"
Merlin looks back with a raised eyebrow at Jurt when Ellie mentions his gentlemanly behaviour, but Jurt pretends to be engrossed with the glowing pattern.
He looks back. "Once you step on it, the pattern will basically take you apart and put you back together in such a manner that you can traverse its shadows." He pauses. " This isn't the only edition, either. My- our father has one too, and only his descendents can walk
it. This one is limited to Dworkin's descendants-- that's your great grand-father." He pauses. "It doesn't hurt, but it's physically and mentally draining."
Ellie nods, listening attentively to Merlin then asks "Merlin, why did you take the Pattern? If I may ask you that, that is. What difference did it make to you? Did you feel after as if you belonged here and does that work for everyone who walks it?"
He bites his lip for a moment. "I could say that it was needing to fulfill a part of me, or needing to claim my birth-right, or coming to terms with my dual-heritage. But Jurt would just go and tell you the truth later, so why bother?" He takes a deep breath. "It was a bet. My old teacher thought it would kill me, and someone up here thought it wouldn't, and since I sided with them, he dared me to walk it. So I did." he shakes his head. "If you think this is going to be
some great way to put everything you've just learned into perspective, you're dead wrong. Power always complicates."
Ellie smiles wryly "Perspective? No. And a bet is as good a reason as anything else to do something. Dares have gotten me in trouble as well. Ignorance seems to be causing complications in multitudes too."
She turns away to look again at the pattern. After a moment, she straightens a little more, turns back and says "Alright, I don't stop walking, it's draining and punishing. What else do I need to know to walk it?"
She grins up at Merlin "And thank you. You're a nice big brother to me."
Merlin sighs. "Don't stop walking. The rest I can walk you through once you're on it."
Jurt's mask cracks a bit, and Ellie sees a moment of worry on his face.
Ellie smiles as reassuringly as she can to Jurt, not thinking to hide the gesture from Merlin or even seeing a reason to.
She walks round the edge of the pattern until she finds its beginning. Taking a deep breath, she begins walking the glowing blue line...
She cringes as she expects pain, but instead all she feels is a current running through her body. Another step, and she's completely on it.
Merlin moves to her side. "The pattern is going to play tricks on your mind. You're going to remember things, feel things. Don't let them distract you."
She starts to move, and she realizes he's right-- she remembers Brittany-- summer cottage-- a smiling stranger visiting. God, how could she have not seen him not aging?!
She realizes sparks are rising from her feet, and somewhere in the back of her mind, she hears Merlin telling her not to worry, they can't hurt her...
She walks on, and the sparks grow. She remembers childhood friends, sweet young faces... days of playing under the sun, her foster parents nearby.
Something powerful hits her, and she hears Merlin say something about a veil...
The resistance passes, and she walks a bit faster. Concentrate on the line... She feels the power of the pattern, the ages... for a moment, she sees the millennia it has been there on this floor-- just shining, waiting.
The resistance builds up again, and she realizes the sparks are up to her thighs. She wonders how her dress doesn't catch fire...
A young woman and her first kiss in the schoolyard... First loves and first heartaches-- the moments are so real she almost cries out for an innocence lost, but squelches it in time.
The resistance-- the last one, Merlin promises-- she recalls her parents' deaths-- the tears, the pain-- her cold and shivering on a mat in a squat-- the gallery-- the woman-- a man with a cold smile looming above her--
And she sits at the middle of the Pattern.
"Congrats," says Merlin. "Now wish yourself over here."
Ellie sees them standing at the edge and wishes to be there, beside Jurt and Merlin. With no seeming transition, she is there. Only then does she realise that she is trembling, the emotional and physical toll taking its due.
She smiles though up at Merlin and says "Thank you, Merlin."
He catches her elbow as her knees go weak. "Not a problem. Hate to teach and run, but I'd like to finish my coffee before running my side of the universe into the ground."
Ellie gets a bit of her strength back, and he gives her a quick hug. With a nod to Jurt, he trumps out.
Jurt pulls out his own card, showing Marrek. "Shall we? You'll need your rest."
Ellie nods and replies "That's a good idea. And Jurt," She pauses and smiles at him "Thanks for caring and being worried."
He nods. "Thanks for actually being Corwin's kid. There's always that worry..." He concentrates on the trump, shuffling his crutches around and linking his arm with Ellie's. "Marrek?"
In front of him, Marrek sees Jurt and Eleanor, Jurt look a bit tired, but Eleanor looking absolutely exhausted. He reaches forward a hand to be pulled through.
They step in, and Ryoden looks back. Seeing Ellie's dishevelled state, she goes bright red, then buries a cascade of giggles into her comic. Jurt looks at Ryoden, then Marrek questioningly as he makes his way to a chair.
"Never mind, long story." Marrek scrutinizes the pair from head to toe. "You two look like you could use a drink..."
Ellie makes her way to another chair and sinks into it, a puzzled look on her face as Ryoden giggles. Suddenly, she realises her dishevelled state and realises what it could look like. Chuckling herself, Ellie says quietly "Wrong answer, Ryoden."
She smiles at Marrek "Thank you, but no. For me, sleep is probably better right now." Getting up, she adds "Good night, everyone." and heads through into her own room, closing the door quietly behind her...
"Sounds like a plan." Marrek looks at Jurt. "I'm turning in, too. I'm thinking tomorrow will likely be a busy day." *What with Benedict dropping by and all. Joy*
Marrek walks into his room, closing his door behind him. Dumping the dufflebag off of the bed and onto the floor, he flops down on the bed and promptly falls asleep.
She sighs and climbs into bed. In the next room, conversation goes on for a while, a piping tiny voice, and another more mellow one. Jurt and Ryoden. Finally, those, too, stop, and she hears them move off to bed.
In the quiet of the night, Ellie notes how deathly still a castle is. Her former exhaustion fades, replaced by a buzzing energy. She feels something churning inside her, and she feels hyper for the first time in years.
As she tosses restlessly, she hears the door next door open and shut, and someone moving about. Corwin is back, and she feels his restlessness too.
For a moment, Ellie hesitates, then gets up and slips a robe on. Quietly, on bare feet, she leaves the suite of rooms and taps lightly on the door of Corwin's chambers.
The cold seeps into her feet, and she half expects someone to discover her in the hallway. In his room, she hears his pacing stop, and she wonders after a moment if he's going to answer. She goes to knock again just as the door opens.
Corwin stands there, clad in a dressing robe, holding a decanter of something red and strong. His eyes are tired, and not in a way that sleep will cure. He looks at Ellie wordlessly for several moments before leading her by the shoulder into his suite.
He has a fire going, and a small meal sits on a table before it. He collapses into a heavy armchair and gestures to the other. "I thought you'd be asleep."
He has a fire going, and a small meal sits on a table before it. He collapses into a heavy armchair and gestures to the other. "I thought you'd be asleep."
Ellie smiles, sitting in the other chair and tucking her feet up under her, and replies "I thought so too, but I couldn't get to sleep and then everything got really quiet. I heard you moving about so I thought you might like some company."
He nods. "I could. Otherwise I'd just keep running the past hour through my head, over and over."
He sighs and shakes his head.
Ellie asks quietly "What happened, Father?"
He takes a small sip from the decanter, and watches the fire. Wordlessly he passes her a trump. "This is Benedict. He happens to be the only man in this universe that I both respect and fear. He's quiet, indifferent, and we play our games at his pleasure. If he wanted, he could walk in and take the throne tomorrow. Before he has stayed out of Amber. But now... I've displeased him."
Ellie looks at the trump, seeing the long face, the grim cast. She hands it back and asks "How? Why is he displeased?"
He smiles humourlessly. "Ryoden happens to be his grand-daughter, and I had no intention of calling him and telling him about it. To his knowledge, he didn't even know she existed. Apparently she broke into his apartments and set off some of his alarms. She and her warder are very lucky Benedict is not a rash man."
Ellie nods, understanding and answers "And Benedict thinks you should have called him?"
He nods back. "Protocol demanded it. He saw right through me from the start, and I wonder at all the conjectures he's pulling out now trying to figure out what I'm up to." He glances in the direction of the other room. "I'm not planning on using her politically. I don't need Chaos up in arms right now, and from what Merlin has told me, she's something of a sweetheart down there."
Ellie nods, then says "Alright, so you made a mistake . It doesn't alter the fact that you're still trying to do your best. And if he's that good at tactics, surely he'll see you would have no reason to use Ryoden politically. After all, why would you want to start a war with Merlin? That's silly."
He looks somewhere off in the distance. "Because he might think I was trying to keep her a secret from him. And if there's anything he doesn't appreciate, its withholding information."
Ellie thinks for a moment then says "You can blame me if you like. That might help."
He laughs. "How could I blame you? You weren't a part of the party that brought her. I just had you room with them-- I figured they would have the least reason to have anything to do with you."
Ellie nods "Yes, but just before they arrived, you had barely got back with me and that after a scary situation, for me anyway. So you didn't have a lot of time to deal with me and calm down before they arrived."
He shakes his head. "All in a normal day's work for an Amberite. We normally have all our burners going at once." He sighs and sits back. "I think I heard more out of that man's mouth tonight than I've heard in the last ten years together. He's normally a quiet one..."
Ellie nods, her thoughts obviously on how to help her father then says quietly "I'm not sure what else to suggest, Father. Sorry."
He shrugs. "It's alright. It's my mess to clean up. Looks like I'll have the chance too. He's staying down the hall."
He grabs a bit of his meal and eats unenthusiastically. "So what have you done today?"
Ellie smiles "Well, to begin with, while Ryoden and Marrek were out exploring, I had a lovely chat with Jurt and sketched him."
Corwin looks a bit surprised. "A nice talk? I had heard he was something of a brat?"
Ellie now looks surprised "Jurt? Oh I suppose that must have been when he was trying to compete with his brothers. He told me all about that."
He shrugs. "Must be. Merlin told me all about their bouts a while ago. I'm surprised he didn't have Jurt imprisoned when he got the crown."
Ellie shrugs "Well, they seem to get on alright now. I was learning about Chaos too. Jurt invited me to visit."
Corwin gnaws absently on a piece of bread, as if pondering the consequences of that. "Chaos... is very different. And there's no love lost between his mother and I. I can't say the clime would be pleasant."
Ellie nods and asks curiously "Is that the woman Jurt calls the battleaxe?"
Corwin snickers. "That's her. Fitting. I fathered Merlin with her after she fed me a web of lies and deceits. I didn't meet Merl until he was a grown man."
Ellie says quietly "I'm sorry to hear that. On the plus side, Merlin is a nice guy. I had a chat with him too. "
Corwin looks confused. "When? Did he come back?"
Ellie shifts a little uncomfortably "Not initially. We talked over Trump first after Jurt showed me how to use Trump."
Corwin looks a bit dark. "He should leave your training to me."
Ellie looks abashed "You said you were busy and I didn't want to disturb you."
He nods. "Alright. But there's many things I don't want you messing with until the time is right."
Ellie looks distinctly uncomfortable "What would these things be?"
He steeples his fingers and looks at her seriously. "There is a thing called the pattern... it gives you power to walk in the shadows, but it should not be taken without proper training.
Ellie looks up, biting her lip, then smiles hesitantly "I guessed as much. That's why I called Merlin."
Corwin is quiet for a long time. "Why did you call Merlin?" he asks quietly.
Ellie looks at him and says quietly "I'm in a lot of trouble aren't I?"
Corwin's voice remains low. "That depends on what you did."
Ellie looks at the fire, gathering her thoughts. After a few moments, she turns back and answers Corwin, her face open and honest "I heard about something called the pattern and I was curious. I went to look at it." She pauses, remembering "This isn't going to make much sense, but I felt like... it doesn't matter I guess how I felt. I thought it would be a good idea to walk it, though I wasn't sure why, not really. It was then Jurt got very anxious and I thought it would be sensible to ask questions of someone who had walked the pattern. I only know of you and Merlin who have, so Jurt showed me how to call Merlin. I talked to him and then he asked why I wanted to know. Then he asked to come through. He didn't like the idea, but he said that he wasn't going to leave me to die either. So I walked round the pattern and he guided me. It hurt emotionally more than physically and I didn't think I was always going to make it, but I kept going and I did make it to the centre. I wished myself back to Merlin as he
said to. I thanked him, he gave me a hug and then he went back to Chaos."
Corwin watches her closely during her retelling, his features harder and harder to read. Finally, after several seconds of silence: "You should have called me. I have more experience with the thing... Did he tell you why he wanted you to wish yourself over to him?"
Ellie shakes her head "No, I assumed it was so that Jurt could trump us back to the rooms." She sighs "I know, assuming is a bad habit. Jurt warned me about making assumptions." She looks up "I know now I should have called you. Will you forgive me? Please."
He takes a deep breath. "I've been betrayed worse than this. I'll live." He turns over the decanter, studying the way it looks by fire. "That wish-- the one that sent you to be at Merlin's side-- could have sent you anywhere. As specific or vague as you wanted, you would go. And since you don't know how to use pattern, you would be stuck."
Ellie nods, her voice quiet and soft "I didn't mean to betray you, Father. If I had thought that I was, I wouldn't have done this. I hope you know this."
He nods. "Betray is perhaps too strong a word. This has been a long night. My sister..." He stops, and she watches as small cracks form where he clutches the decanter.
Ellie says quietly, trying to ease his mood a little "Dad, you're breaking the bottle. If you don't like the beverage, just don't drink it."
He sets it down. "My anger got away with me. I think it was my sister who sent Julian after you."
Ellie looks puzzled "What sister and why?"
He collects himself, stowing away his anger for the moment. "My sister Fiona. My advisor. She did it... I think to prove I can't keep secrets from her. Julian would not have killed you I now believe, but you would not have been better after the situation. Your quick healing would have been imperative."
Ellie thinks back, remembering what Corwin has previously told her. She answers softly "I can think of another reason."
He looks at her questioningly.
Ellie replies "Well, you mentioned when you came to see me that you had delegated and that caused the problem. You also seemed pretty depressed about nobody believing in you. Well, I do. If Fiona guessed that, she could also guess that you might feel better about yourself
with me around and that might make you rely less on her." Ellie hesitates "Alright, a lot of guesswork I admit."
He smiles. "You may have a point, but it's not something that caused the attack. However, it may be a problem in the future." He shrugs. "You kids have no clue how out-classed you are."
Ellie shakes her head "No, we don't. All we can do is learn."
He nods. "And get a few millennia behind you. That always helps." He thinks. "What did you think of the pattern?"
Ellie remembers and replies "It was hard. Merlin really helped though. I saw things I'd forgotten, good and bad. Felt things too. The last part was the hardest."
He nods. "The final veil. It always is. I've walked the pattern a handful of times, even made my own..." His voice drifts off, as if considering something.
Ellie nods "Merlin said. What makes it different from this pattern?"
He thinks. "It looks a bit different-- and the shadows that fall from it are separate from these. And only my progeny can walk it."
She is quiet for a moment, thinking . "May I ask you something, please, Father?"
He nods. "You always can."
Ellie smiles warmly at him "Thank you. What should I be learning next?"
He takes out a deck of cards. "You should learn the family."
She nods "Alright." and moves over to kneel beside him so he can point out the cards more easily.
The first card he shows is one of a petite red-headed woman. "This is Fiona. She's the quickest mind I've ever met, or ever will meet. She's useful, which is why I made her an advisor. She had a lot to do with convincing me to take the throne. But never trust her. I'm sure you already don't."
Ellie's face shows her agreement with that idea.
He holds up another card. "Julian. Another familiar face. He's not as fast as some of us, or as strong, and he's sure as hell not as bright. But he's Fiona's lap dog, and the forest around the castle is his domain. Stay out of his way."
Ellie replies "Will do. If I have to leave here, I go by sea."
He nods. "If you do, you do so by his man's leave." He holds up another. "Gerard. The sea is his. He's a good man, but if he thinks you're being shifty or stupid, he'll tell you and give you a few bruises to emphasize the point."
Ellie grins "I like Gerard. He was very sweet when we met him. He seemed disappointed though that I wasn't your girlfriend. Why was that?"
Corwin sighs. "There was a time when Gerard and I were closer. And a time when I was notorious for-- well, I'm sure you can guess. He misses those times, and has told me so in no soft words."
Ellie looks thoughtful and asks "Who is my mother?"
Corwin's face grows dark. "A woman-- who I knew briefly. But long enough to guess that you would eventually exist."
Ellie shrugs "Is she still alive?"
He shakes his head. "No."
Ellie's green eyes cloud briefly and then she replies cheerfully, smiling up at Corwin "Well, I still have one more parent than I thought I would ever know, so that's all to the good."
He nods. "Indeed. But to continue." The next card is another red-head, a man this time. "Bleys. We've crossed paths in the past. He's charismatic, enigmatic, and deadly with a smile or a sword. I have no doubt you'll meet him before long. Fi and he are full brother and
Ellie replies quickly "Not to be trusted then."
"None of them are."
Ellie nods "I know, you told me. Trusted even less than the rest then."
He considers the card for a moment. "I don't know. He isn't to be trusted but he's not without his resources."
Ellie looks uncertain then asks "Who's next?"
He shuffles through a few cards, which he lays aside. Finally he picks one. "Flora. She's in the castle. At least she should be. She's a bit daft, and tends to get thrown around when the power plays start."
Ellie asks "Daft in what way?"
He shrugs. "She always ends up being used and forgotten. Eric did it. I do it. She concentrates more on men than on politics."
Ellie says quietly "Why not remember her instead of forgetting her?"
"I've never found a use for her. Right now she watches over Random. Not something I assigned her, but she does it anyway. I don't think she likes to be idle. I've little love for the woman. She was my warden for a long time."
His daughter nods "I guess that would hardly endear her. Who is Random and why does he need watched over?"
Corwin is silent for a long time, and Ellie wonders for a moment if her heard her or not. But finally he speaks. "Random... there's the man he was, and the man he is. He was a brash younger brother, scrawny, always getting picked on, but not too bad a person because of it."
He grows silent again.
Ellie looks at Corwin "What happened to him?"
He shows her two cards this time. One is a think young man with a broad smile and slight frame. The other is a distant looking woman, with auburn hair and a peaceful, other-worldly aura to her.
"This is Random and his wife. His wife... died. In childbirth. It broke him."
Ellie understands. Softly, she asks "Did the child survive?"
He shakes his head. "They're buried on Mt. Kolvir. He died that day. We just haven't buried him yet. Flora and Gerard keep this silly idea that he'll get better one day. I'm too much the cynic."
Ellie makes some mental notes of things to do and says "Nothing's impossible."
He grumbles something. She catches the word 'youth.' "Amberites feel things very intensely. You're still young, so it hasn't fully opened up in you. But when I say he loved his wife, I mean it was a force, not just an emotion. Realities felt its impact. Do you have any idea how strong that grief is?"
Ellie looks away "I have some idea what grief feels like yes."
There's a long pause. "You do. Multiply that. Once you see Random, you'll understand. His grief destroyed shadows."
Ellie nods, her eyes still hooded and downcast, compassion for Random mingling with her own grief, too recently awakened by the pattern.
He puts a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry you lost them. I did what I could to ensure you a happy life, and gave them the luck I could. But sometimes--" He sighs. "Our control is not complete."
Ellie sighs "I know you did, but it was a combination of things. They died and then it seemed the cottage belonged to this woman nobody could find, so I was put out on the street. So I lost my home too. I took what money I had and went to Paris. It was a little while before
I found anywhere I could afford to live. All this came back when I walked the pattern."
The look of pain on Corwin's face is only half-hid by the dancing firelight. "I'm sorry-- If I'd have known... I did not want you to suffer."
Ellie looks up and replies gently "It's alright, Father. Honestly. I learned from that time, got a little warier, believe it or not. And I got there. I survived."
He nods. "We all do, somehow." He shuffles through the cards. "The rest-- some are dead, some missing, some have taken themselves out of the game by choice. I have more brothers and sisters than I care to count-- Although no full ones anymore." His face grows melancholy.
Ellie says gently "I am sorry for that. You have Merlin though and me now, and we love you. I know it's not the same. Still, you have us."
He nods. "Its only Dee I miss. Eric can rot in his grave for all I care. But he was a brother. It was difficult to bury him."
Ellie nods "I'm sure it was. Family matters, even when you're fighting or can't stand each other."
He shrugs. "When you have a boatload of half-brothers and sisters, the full ones are more special, and not always in a good way. Dee was... I felt close to her. Eric and I fought with fury I've not had for anything else."
Ellie nods, listening, then she asks "My only sibling is Merlin right?"
There's a long pause... Corwin looks distant, but finally shakes his head. "That I know of, no."
Ellie nods "Well, Merlin and I get on so far." She remembers something and colours slightly "Oh yes, Dad, if you hear an rumour about Jurt and I, it's not true."
Corwin stiffens, and she feels him search her face. "Rumour about what?"
Ellie shrugs "Jurt helped me back to the quarters after I walked the pattern. I was a bit dishevelled, I admit, and with Jurt being on crutches and me exhausted, we were more or less supporting each other. When we trumped back, Ryoden and Marrek were there. Ryoden got the wrong idea I think, went red and started giggling into her comic. I told her she had it wrong. I just thought you would appreciate hearing the truth from me first."
Corwin taps his chair a few times. "What do you think of this... Jurt?"
Ellie thinks for a moment "He's been very nice and helpful to me. I like him. He seems like a friend."
Another pause. "Eleanor. You are not dealing with insignificant people. Jurt may look just like a surrogate father for Ryoden, but he is still a member of the Royal house of Chaos. He pretends to be outside of it, but his recent misadventure has proven he is very involved."
Ellie looks up at Corwin "You know, Father, I am not entirely without intelligence and I was there at the meeting. "
He nods. "I know. But you've a chance to actually talk with some players. It is possible to forget who you are dealing with. Merlin isn't without his devious side, and Mandor wallows in it. Even if Jurt remains innocent, it would be easy for them to use you through him, or for another house to get him to do things by using you."
Ellie nods "Another thing for you then. Jurt suggested I should approach Mandor or Merlin for tuition in Trump. I don't like Mandor though. He looks too smooth by half."
Corwin nods. "He is. And I'm fairly certain that if you knew him too long you'd end up another conquest. Unless he decides to leave you to Jurt." He pauses. "I think you should take trump from an Amberite. Chaos is not the place for you."
Ellie nods "Maybe later then if you don't mind. I think I'm going to have my plate full as it is."
His face becomes hidden in shadows. "I do mind."
Ellie asks curiously "Alright. May I ask why?"
He sighs. "You look too much like some people down there."
Ellie blinks "I was just talking about learning Trump later, Father. That's all. Why would I look like some people in Chaos?"
He glowers at the floor. "Your relations go far."
Ellie is quiet for a moment then says "Father, do you want to tell me exactly what or who I should be wary of in Chaos or why I shouldn't go there? It's not going to alter how much I care for you."
He stares at the fire a long time. Finally he says, "Hendrake. House Hendrake."
Ellie looks blank "Who are House Hendrake?"
"A house in chaos. One of war, and one of thwarted ambition. You were part of a plot."
Ellie blinks "Me? How? I mean, I'm just me. I don't even like fighting."
Corwin nods. "That's why I put you in France. They don't like to fight either. And as far as that house is concerned, you're dead, cruelly slain."
Realisation fills her green eyes "Ah, I see. Oh, won't Mandor, Merlin and Jurt see the similarity too?"
He shakes his head. "They would have had to have known your mother, and I know they did not. The girl was kept away from the public eye."
Ellie is quiet for a moment then asks "What was she like?"
Corwin glares at the fire. "Deceitful. She took a shape pleasing to me and... you were the result."
Ellie looks at the fire "Ironic then that I find it so hard to lie. Were you happy at all that I was born?"
He leans his head back, remembering. "I was too angry at the time. I left you with your foster parents so I could stop seeing red. After a while I calmed, and then... then I was happy to have an heir I knew about before she was too old."
Ellie nods "I can see why you would be angry. I'm glad you came back though."
He nods. "I had no intention of abandoning you. Outside of emotional reasons, it would just be silly to leave a potentially powerful ally out in shadows to rot."
Ellie chuckles softly, almost self-deprecatingly "True. What were your emotional reasons, Father? How did you feel?"
He puts a finger to his lips. "When you're a parent, you'll understand. Even if you only see the child once a year."
She smiles "Well, I always looked forward to your visits. You were different from people I knew, larger than life."
He appraises her silently. "You will be too, one day."
Corwin settles into a contemplative reverie, and Ellie begins to feel comfortable next to the fire. She thinks of this man who is her father, and how little and how much she seems to know him.
He takes another sip from the cracked decanter (which Ellie notes is no longer cracked) and sighs. "I hope to live long enough to see you to greatness..."
Just as she's about to respond, a bloodcurdling scream erupts from next door.
Ellie is on her feet and running towards that sound before she even thinks what she may be running into. She keeps running though, out of Corwin's chamber and into Brand's room, seeking the source of the scream...
Corwin manages to get in front of her, and grabs a sword that seems to glitter all on its own as he leaves.
They run into Brand's room, and Ellie almost runs back. In the middle of the sitting room, lit by firelight, a demon sits, howling and screaming. Its body is covered in coarse fur that stands on end, and its eyes are a milky white. Leathery wings stretch out behind it, and
cruel talons rake through the air.
Corwin looks calm. "Ryoden. Calm yourself."
Ellie is still reeling when another figure enters the room-- she knows him from the picture. He carries a saber, and his face is as grim as death. Benedict.
Ellie thinks quickly and then says quietly to Corwin and Benedict "I'm going to see where the others are. Jurt probably has the best chance to calm Ryoden."
With that, she begins to edge round the room, keeping out of range of the cruel talons until she reaches the doors to their chambers.
In Jurt's room, Jurt lies on the floor, clutching his injured leg-- in a second, Ellie can see what happened. He jumped out of bed... right onto his bad leg. His mouth is open in a yell, but nothing comes out...
Ellie calls over her shoulder "There seems to be something in here that's blocking sound. I'll be out shortly."
She hurries over to Jurt, helping him up as gently and quickly as she can.
As she gets him to his feet, she notices that she can no longer hear Ryoden screaming or Corwin talking. The silence is deafening-- she can't even hear her own breathing.
Jurt manages to grab his crutches and a hobble out into the sitting room. As she follows, she finds she can hear again.
"Ryo-- stop-- What happened?" Ryoden cries and points to her room.
"On my bed-- On my BED!" Benedict and Corwin run to her room.
Ellie says to Jurt "I'll get Marrek. Who knows? Maybe he heard or saw something." and quickly goes to Marrek's room, knocking first then entering, given the situation.
Marrek lies sleeping, blissfully unaware of anything going on in the next room. He smiles in his sleep, dreaming of statuettes and the possibilities of a town with no electrical burglary alarms...
Ellie shakes him awake, finally. Once again, she can hear nothing.
Marrek's eyes snap open, his left hand whipping across his body to snag the hand that is shaking him. In an instant, he takes in the worried expression upon Eleanor's face and releases her. "What's going on?" he starts to say, but his mouth snaps shut as he realizes
he can't hear his own voice. His eyes go wide and he leaps out of bed, streaking past Eleanor and into the sitting room, snatching his long coat and wrapping it around himself as he goes.
Ellie resorts to sign language. She points to the door, saying a word to get the message of the silence across quickly, then heads out of the room, letting Marrek follow as he will.
Out in the sitting room, Jurt has managed to coax Ryoden into a more verbal state. He looks at Marrek. "She says she woke up, and a person was sitting at the end of her bed. I would normally chalk it up to bad dreams, but dreams don't cast silence."
Benedict returns, his arms full of blankets. Corwin follows, looking sombre. Ryoden watches him with curiosity. "What-- what are you doing?" Benedict silently puts the sheets on the couch and starts setting up a bed. "Are you sleeping here?" she asks, this time reaching out and touching him on the shoulder. He stands and sits in an armchair. "No," he says. "You sleep there. I'm staying here." He eyes Marrek and Jurt. "If you have protection or warding spells, lay them now."
Ellie smiles reassuringly at Ryoden, worried for the young girl, then looks at Corwin and Benedict and asks "May I be of any assistance? Whatever I can do to help I will."
Marrek looks briefly at Eleanor and Ryoden, then his eyes go to a point in the ceiling, his brows knitting into a frown. He stands thus for a few moments before nodding, as if he's come to a decision. He holds out his right hand, palm upwards and mutters a few words under his breath, his hand making a lifting motion. Silently, he raises into the air to a point where he can reach up and lay both hands against the ceiling, which he does. Closing his eyes he concentrates, drawing images together in his mind's eye and forming them into one cohesive idea. His hands, pressed up against the ceiling, glow with an eerie darkness and Marrek begins to sweat profusely.
Onlookers begin to see the wispy shadow of an image within the ceiling. As they watch, the image resolves itself into a giant, winding serpentine creature seeming to flow within the very stones of the ceiling. In evidence are scales of the deepest obsidian, seeming to absorb the very light itself. Opening its mouth, it reveals rows upon rows of long, razor sharp teeth, built to rend and tear through materials harder than steel. Eyes of frightening intelligence peer
down upon the onlookers, displaying a desire far beyond hunger.
Marrek opens his eyes and looks deeply into those of the serpent. It seems to look at Ryoden then back to Marrek and duck its head in a nod before fading slowly from sight.
His task finished, Marrek lowers himself to the ground. His feet have barely touched the floor, however, before he drops to the ground in a heap.
Ryoden looks at the collapsed heap of Marrek, then up to the serpent. "Wow..." she whispers, as Jurt leads her to her makeshift bed.
Corwin grabs the collapsed Chaosite and lifts him easily. "Jurt, I assume this is normal...?" Jurt nods, tucking in Ryoden. Ryoden looks up.
"Over-exertion. He'll be okay." She smiles at the unconscious Marrek. "He made something really cool, I bet."
Benedict looks at Eleanor. "Get some sleep."
Corwin nods. "I think I'd be more comfortable with you in one of my rooms tonight."
Jurt kisses Ryoden on the forehead and goes to sit in an armchair. Benedict stops him. "You sleep too. In a bed." Jurt glares, but Benedict stares back at him coolly. Finally, he rises and hobbles back to his room. "Good night all." He looks at Benedict. "Keep her safe." Looks at the serpent. "You too."
Corwin returns from depositing Marrek in his bed and walks over to Ellie. "Ready?"
Ellie nods "Ready." She smiles at Ryoden "You sleep too, alright." then turns back to Corwin, saying quietly "After you."
The night passes quietly, Marrek regaining strength, Ryoden quietly dreaming on the couch, and Benedict watching her, barely blinking.
The dawn arrives much too soon, and Ellie is roused by Corwin who brings her back to Brand's room. There, a breakfast has been laid out, with enough juice, pastries, fruit, and eggs to feed an army (or a handful of male Amberites). Ryoden bounces off to Marrek's room to wake the slumbering but recovered Chaosite.
Corwin sits, grabbing a bagel. "Any ideas on what happened last night?"
Bleary-eyed, Marrek walks--well, stumbles, anyway--into the room, brightening slightly at the sight of breakfast. Helping himself to a plate liberally piled with food, he collapses into a chair and digs in.
"Don't know," he says after a large swallow. "I came in too late to notice anything and...left...again fairly rapidly. Did I miss anything after I fell into my nap?"
Ellie replies "I don't know that much about magic, but one thing that strikes me is wouldn't have the magic that stopped sound or let the person get in shown up to any defences the Castle has?"
Benedict and Corwin exchange a brief glance. Corwin takes the lead. "There are wards and alarms in the castle, but it seems the person who got in did so without destroying them-- As for spells, the spells weren't aggressive in nature, so nothing that has the ability to sense danger could feel them."
Benedict studies his cup of tea. "The person who entered did not want to hurt her." Corwin nods.
"Or they had a damn good way of hiding it."
Ryoden hoards several Danishes and cheerfully starts munching. She doesn't stray far from Jurt, however.
Ellie thinks then asks "What did the person look like, Ryoden? Would you describe what you may remember, please?"
Marrek washes down a slice of toast with a tall glass of ice cold milk, giving a sigh of contentment. Without opening his eyes, he says, "So, what, our would-be assailant was just stopping by to say 'Hello'? I find that difficult to believe."
Corwin shrugs. "May have been a scout. Maybe they want her alive, whoever it is. I don't know... yet."
Ryoden puts down her Danish and looks at Eleanor. "She was very pale-- and she sat on the end of the bed looking at me. And I got scared."
Benedict and Corwin look at her, surprised (Corwin showing it more than his brother). "She?" asks Benedict softly. Ryoden nods.
Corwin shakes his head. "You guys figure this out. I'm off. Apparently kings are supposed to bathe daily." He stands and bows briefly, then walks out, casting a slight wink to Eleanor.
Ellie smiles back, with a nod to Corwin.
Jurt sighs. "Does anyone else think this should be reported to my brothers?"
Marrek nods, chewing another mouthful. "Absolutely, just wanted to get some breakfast down."
Marrek draws his Trumps out of his pocket and flips through them. Eventually, he locates the one he wants, Merlin's, and holds it in front of him, attempting to make contact.
Ellie looks a little worried, then thoughtful. She moves over to sit beside Benedict. She says quietly, her smile abashed "Excuse me, this may be a really silly question, but does Amber have ghosts?"
Jurt looks up alarmed, then at the room. "Oh, F- me..."
Benedict manages a wane smile. "If it were the ghost of Brand, then it would have not been female." Turning to Ellie. "I've never heard of ghosts in the castle. Especially not those with magic."
Marrek concentrates on the trump but bets nothing... his mind fogs over and his head grows heavy. Distantly he feels a hand on his shoulder, and someone leading him back to his room...
Ryoden watches Benedict lead Marrek back to bed, and looks appreciatively at the serpent again.
Jurt takes out his trump deck and starts thumbing through it. "Mandor, I think..."
Ellie says to Ryoden "Would you draw the woman you saw, Ryoden?" then asks Jurt "I take it you don't like the thought of ghosts."
Ryoden nods, and suddenly a piece of paper and a pen appear in her hands. Benedict looks somewhat surprised, and looks at Jurt, but Jurt is busy responding to Ellie.
"Ghosts, I don't mind. Ghosts of Brand, I do. You don't know who Brand is, do you?"
Ellie shakes her head "Not really. I heard he killed someone and designed the window in my room, but I don't know any more than that. Who is Brand, Jurt?"
Jurt thinks. "I never met him, but you hear tons of stories about him. He still has some fans in Chaos, but they're more the fanatical bent-- From what I hear he tried to get the throne of Amber, destroy the pattern, stuck a knife in a few people, had it out with your dad, and eventually got killed at the rim-- that's a place in Chaos. Like a big hole. He dragged in Corwin's sister when he went." He shrugs. "Some think he was mad, some think he was a visionary... me, I think it came down to power-hungry."
Benedict leans over Ryoden as she sketches. She turns and hands the finished picture to him. He regards it for a moment, and looks at her. "You draw well." She smiles. Jurt shifts uncomfortably.
"It's a family thing," he adds quickly, "Do you know the person?"
Benedict shakes his head. "No, but someone might. Do you have a trump of yourself?" Jurt nods and hands him one. "I'll be in touch." With that, he leaves.
Jurt sighs and looks at Ryoden. "You really need to be a bit less flashy."
Ellie sits quietly, various pieces of a puzzle falling together. The sister of Corwin killed by Brand. Corwin's rage and grief. Unconsciously, her face pales as she remembers her father's face at seeing the window and her own defence of it.
Absently, she says "Thanks, Jurt. That has helped."
Jurt looks up, confused. "What helped?"
Ryoden pouts. "I'm not flashy. It wasn't a trump or anything. And I never carry paper, so what else was I supposed to draw on?"
Jurt turns his attention back to Ryoden. "Just because we're not in Chaos anymore, doesn't mean that you can show off. These people are more careful than Chaosites. I'm sure you've given Marrek plenty to think about."
Ellie nods "Jurt is right, Ryoden. The people here, I'm finding, are very careful and wouldn't hesitate to hurt you if it benefited them. You need to be careful too, just as careful as in Chaos. None of us want to see anyone hurt." She smiles at Ryoden "I just got a little
sister after all. That means a lot to me and I don't want you to risk yourself."
Ellie looks at Jurt "Thanks for telling me about Brand. It cleared up some things I was wondering about. I asked Father about the Trump tuition by the way that you suggested. He's going to have me taught here as he doesn't want me going to Chaos."
Ryoden pouts. "They never let me do anything, you know." She sighs and looks at Marrek's room. "I guess I'm not going out today."
Jurt shakes his head. "Afraid not." He looks at Ellie. "Why won't he let you go to Chaos? It's not all that bad. I know we get a bad rap for being bloody, but that's only to people stupid enough to get in line. Everyone else is relatively safe."
Ellie answers "There is a reason, trust me." She smiles "I guess we'll just have to meet somewhere else. If you still want to, that is."
He rolls his eyes. "In Amber less than a day, and she already has a secret." He looks back at her, a carefully neutral look on his face. "Shadow is fine. I can set something up. What do you like?"
Ellie looks at him, a puzzled expression on her face "Why the mask? I just thought Shadow would be a good midway point for us to meet after you go back to Chaos." She smiles "Anyway, I can hardly go to Chaos when I don't know how to walk Shadow, now can I? As to anything else, Father's just being protective." Laughing softly, Ellie adds "He's heard of Mandor's reputation too."
He goes to say something but nods. "Yes, that is a good idea. I don't know how long it'll be before we go back. And Mandor is-" He cuts off, then looks at the card in his hand. "Oh, that's right." He appears to struggle with something for a moment, then sighs and concentrates on the trump. A moment later Mandor steps through.
He bows his head to his brother, then turns to Ellie. "Lady Eleanor. Again, a pleasure." He kisses the back of her hand.
Ryoden rushes over and hugs Mandor about the waist. He pats her head, and sends her back to some project she's working on under a side table.
Ellie smiles politely to Mandor, saying "Lord Mandor, likewise a pleasure." She gently withdraws her hand, stepping a fraction closer to Jurt as she does so, and says "Marrek is asleep currently, having worked tirelessly to ensure Ryoden's protection along with Jurt."
smiling more warmly at Jurt as she mentions him.
He nods politely. "Is there a reason you called me?"
Ryoden looks up from her project before Jurt or Ellie can respond. "Yeah! Someone was in my ROOM!" She looks angry. "Sat on my bed and everything. Benedict has a picture of her. He's going to find her." She looks up at the snake again, smiles, then goes back to her
conjured objects, which include a number of small metal rods.
Mandor looks back at Jurt, obviously disturbed. Jurt grimaces. "Whatever it was, it has a way to get past wards and danger sense-- and it can cast a pretty strong silence spell. My
amulet woke me, but I couldn't hear anything. Same with Marrek." He sighs. "It even has Benedict puzzled."
Mandor sits and pours himself some coffee. He sits and thinks for several moments. "Ryoden, come over here. It's time we had a talk."
Ellie quietly says "If you will excuse me." then lifts her canvas and case and retreats into her room, discreetly leaving the brothers to talk with Ryoden.
Closing the door behind her, she cautiously looks round the room realising it is the only room that has not been checked after last night's events.
The room is as it ever was, the stained glass filtering the light a bit. The piece isn't sinister, like she'd expect a work by a potential madman to be.
She searches to room, but turns up nothing. But something is out of place--
She realizes her bed is made. She knows she didn't make it, and she hadn't seen any servants enter...
Through the door she can hear the muffled tones of Mandor and Jurt talking, and occasionally a protest by Ryoden.
Ellie shakes her head. Poor Ryoden. Whatever is being said doesn't sound to her liking. Ellie looks round, remembering some places in Paris. Older houses generally where doors were fashioned to look like the walls, a fashion in the Sun-King's court. With this in mind, Ellie begins checking the walls, looking for any irregularities, her curiosity aroused.
She feels the walls with her fingers, tapping and listening. At first, she gets nothing... back and forth along them searching...
Then she notices something odd. There's one place in the floor that seems to sound different. She had been concentrating on the walls she didn't notice it at first-- she only heard it because she walked over it.
A knock sounds on the door. "Lady Eleanor? Our discussion is done, if you would care to join us."
Eleanor notes the place on the floor, and pulls a small rug over it as a further mark, intending to come back and explore further. She then walks over and opens the door, moving out to join the others.
Ryoden has moved back to her project, although she seems to be distracted by the fact that she can't decide who she wants to glare at more: Jurt or Mandor. They take her evil eye stoically.
Mandor leads her back in, then takes a seat once more. "This has been some exciting times for you. I hear you recently acquired pattern?"
Ellie sits down, saying quietly "Yes, a rather impulsive move on my part. Luckily, I had good friends to advise me."
"And a bit of luck," he replies.
Ryoden walks over to Jurt and climbs on the arm of his chair, her animosity gone. "I need to do something," she says.
He smiles. "That is?"
"This." Her hand flashes out, and Jurt's eyes go wide. They then close as his body goes limp. Mandor chuckles.
"Very deceptive, Ryoden. Maybe you are my sister after all. Is there a reason for it?" She nods.
"I need measurements. I'm making him a foot. And they won't feel good." Mandor nods.
"M'lady, you may not want to watch this."
Ellie nods and rises, saying softly "Thank you for your consideration, Lord Mandor." She smiles at Ryoden "I'll see you in a short time."
Heading back through to her room, closing the door behind her, Ellie pulls away the rug and begins to examine the floor in more detail.
She soon finds the edges of the door down-- it appears to be a small door, wide enough for a medium sized person to go down. Try though she might, she can't seem to find a latch or any kind of opening mechanism on it.
Ellie sits back from the door, thinking. It is likely that this door was here originally. It may open from the other side only, or it could have an opening mechanism removed from the door itself.
Musing on this, she looks round at the permanent features, the ones that are unlikely to have been removed along with any other trace of Brand. She shakes her head, amused at her own ramblings, and searches anyway.
The walls, already searched, reveal nothing once again. The only thing left is the stained glass window.
Ellie goes over and looks at it, the phoenix moving upwards into the black sun. Upwards. On an impulse, she traces the edge of the black sun, looking for any difference in level to the surrounding glass.