Jurt follows her. "What? What was I supposed to do?" He grabs her arm and turns her. "Don't be mad, please?" He lets his hand fall to her and lowers his voice. "Look, we'll think of something to do, okay? But Fiona is a big gun."
Ellie hugs him "I'm not angry with you. I'm angry at Imogen a little and Corwin a lot. For a number of reasons." She bites her lip and says softly "The sooner I'm out of here the better. I'd best start packing."
He kisses the top of her head. "Alright, we'll start walking whenever you want." He lifts his gaze to somewhere behind her and he smiles.
"Hi, Ryo. You have a good night."
He turns Ellie, and the glare in Ryoden's eyes dies as she sees Ellie's face. She looks at her feet.
"I have to talk to Marrek and get him ready," says Jurt. "There's some things he's going to want to know about in Chaos. Why don't you two get some fresh air?" He squeezes Ellie’s hand. "Outside of the castle."
Ryoden nods, and casts a curious glance at Ellie. Jurt gives her a small shake of his head.
Ellie smiles "That would be nice." She smiles a little to Ryoden and holds out her hand. "Want to see the gardens?"
Ryoden takes her hand and waves a goodbye to her brother. She pulls Ellie along, looking back at her. "Where did you guys go? Benedict had to watch me last night cause Marrek just fell asleep once we got back."
Ellie replies "A number of places. Jurt needed to sort some things out mostly then I had some work to do. I am sorry we left you on your own. I got you jeans. They're back in the room." Ellie is quiet for a moment then adds "I know you must miss your home. I do too. When we leave Amber, how would you like an outing?"
"Yes," she smiles, "I'm tired of here. It's so boring. Everything's in the same place always." She pulls Ellie down a flight of stairs. "And the sky's always blue. That's just weird."
They reach the main lobby, and Ryoden makes a beeline for the front gates. "Are we going to Chaos?"
Ellie says "Not yet. Let's visit the beach, Ryoden. I'll tell you about the outing. I'd rather be away from other people, apart from you and Jurt, right now if you don't mind."
Ryoden stops, turns, and looks at Ellie. Her young eyes search her face for a moment. Dissatisfied, she turns and leads Ellie out the door.
"I want apples first. I saw spring trees when we were looking for Faetan. C'mon." She releases Ellie's hand and jumps down the stairs two or three at a time.
Ellie smiles and follows Ryoden to the orchard. As Ryoden gets the apples she wants, Ellie answers sincerely "I wish I could take you to your home right now, Ryoden. I honestly do. Until it's safe for you though, I can only do what I can to keep you safe and happy as possible."
Ryoden looks back to respond, and her eyes fall on something behind Ellie. With a curious look on her face, she steps forward and looks behind Ellie. "Hello..."
Ellie turns, and a man in his thirties leaning against a tree, perhaps, with red hair shining in the sun and set off by the green leaves around him. He wears simple black slacks and a green silk shirt. He watches as Ryoden approaches him and cocks her head.
"You look for apples?" She nods, and he hits the tree behind him with his elbow. On cue, an apple falls into his other waiting hand. He hands it to her.
Ellie steps forward and beside Ryoden. She smiles politely to the man, wondering who he is and how much he heard. "Thank you..." She smiles a little more openly "I'm afraid I don't know your name, sir." She takes Ryoden's hand and gives it a gentle squeeze, hoping she'll pick up on Ellie's caution. Right now, the people Ellie trusts can be counted on one hand.
He nods. "Indeed. You do not." He bows slightly. "Luce. A kings ransom in apologies." Ryoden steps back for Ellie's sake, but Ellie can still feel her curiosity burning.
"And what do two ladies do in the orchard?"
Ellie smiles and drops a neat curtsey. As she straightens, she replies "We were fetching an apple, Luce. There is no need to apologise. And since you have been so kind as to deliver us one, we will trouble you no more. Again, thank you."
He laughs. "You don't trouble me. Sit. So few ladies appreciate a good spring apple."
He looks at Ryoden. "They're over tart, some say." She shakes her head. "Not over tart? Just right?" She nods.
He sits, and bites into one. "Shall you join me?" Ryoden looks at him a long time, then sits, and eats her own apple solemnly, studying him.
Ellie sits too. She hesitates then smiles and says "I'm Ellie. So what do you do here, Luce? Or have you just arrived?"
"I just arrived," he says, tossing her an apple. "And as for what I do, I enjoy vistas." He motions to the sight of village Amber and the sea, sparkling in the early morning light. "Not much else. A ne'er do well, as it were."
Another bite. "And you? Is this your child?"
Ellie smiles at Ryoden, nodding slightly to her."No, though I would be proud to have a daughter such as my young friend here." She bites into the apple, relishing the crispness. After she swallows, she adds "And enjoying vistas isn't that bad. It brings pleasure after all."
He nods. "Ryoden, wasn't it?" She nods. "And Ellie. Are you children of Amber?"
Ryoden shakes her head, still with that odd, searching look on her face. "Not you? Anyone's child?" She touches her amulet. "Ah. The serpent. How unobservant of me. A child of Chaos." He looks to Ellie. "And you?"
Ellie stills at the mention of Ryoden's name. It has not been mentioned during the conversation, only when she was speaking to Ryoden alone or so she had thought. This at least answers one question.
Ellie says quietly "I don't belong to either really. And what of you, Luce?"
"The same could be said for me. A little bit of everything, which adds up to nothing." He bites his apple again. "But I know both. I've been looking for my place."
He looks at Ryoden again, who has drawn up her knees under her chin and stares at him intensely. "And do you have any playmates, here, Ryoden of Chaos?" She shakes her head and squints. "Only guardians, hmm? Pity. Where is your playground, child?" She doesn't answer.
Ellie smiles politely, something about the man's manner niggling at her, and says "This has been most pleasant. However, if you will excuse us, there are things we need to be about. Thank you for your company, Luce."
She rises and holds out her hand for Ryoden to take.
Ryoden doesn't take it for a moment, but then rises and smiles a secret smile. "I know you," she whispers.
"Shall you name me, and keep me as a pet, like your demons, little sorceress?"
She takes Ellie's hand. "When I name you, I'll think about it." She laughs and releases Ellie, and runs back to the path.
Luce watches after her, then looks to Ellie. "Enjoy the day, child. Blue skies only last as long as the sun shines."
Ellie nods and replies "And sometimes not even then. Enjoy the day too, Luce."
She catches up to Ryoden and they walk away. Once out of earshot, Ellie asks Ryoden "So what did you mean when you said you knew him, Ryoden?"
Ryoden laughs gaily. "Not saying. It's a secret." She dances about, stepping on broken flagstones and sings songs in a strange tongue. "It was a game."
She twirls, then looks back to the trees wistfully. "Luce." She sounds the name out and laughs again. "Light. It means light."
Ellie shrugs, then smiles at Ryoden's laughter "Alright. Let's head back up to the rooms now and see how things are going. /Luce, like a light. Light.../ Ellie pauses then shakes her head, worry edging into her mind, but the image of a phoenix in a stained glass window, blazing in light and fire, will not go away.
Ryoden skips down the steps and heads for the beach, eating another of her apples and singing, slightly off tune. Her spirits seem greatly lifted.
She spins and turns to face Ellie, skipping backwards. "Why are we leaving?"
Ellie smiles and shrugs, following Ryo to the beach. Her face grows serious though as she replies "Amber may not be that safe a place for you any more." An echo of pain comes into Ellie's eyes briefly before vanishing again "It may not be the best place for me either. We can leave after the ball." She smiles "I think Flora would have our hides if we left before."
As they reach the beach, Ellie takes in a deep breath of the sea air and grins "So you want to know what the outing is after we leave here?"
Ryoden's face grows serious, and for a moment, a grave intelligence betrays itself. "Is someone trying to blow you up too?"
The moment passes, and the sun shines on her face again. "Where is the outing? Who are we taking?"
Ellie smiles "Well, how would you like to go to the Paris version of Disneyland? A nice modern world. And we'll be taking Jurt and Marrek I think."
Ellie grins as she thinks of something and adds "And if you like, we can pop down to the Mediterranean Sea too. That's lovely to swim in."
She claps. "Oh... I liked Disney World... Merlin took me." She looks out to the sea. "Jurt won't let me swim, though. But I do anyway. He can't swim with his foot. I haven't treated it. It'll rust."
She touches her necklace. "He's been taking his off a lot lately." She glares at the pendant and seems to mull something over, then gives up, and makes a run for the beach, not too far off.
Ellie chuckles and follows her. Keeping one eye on Ryoden to make sure she's safe, she takes out the Trump of Benedict and concentrates. "Uncle Benedict?"
The card stirs, and Benedict's face comes alive. He looks a bit tired, but otherwise fine. He sits in his garden, a young boy at his side, perhaps of 12 years. He nods, and somehow Ellie senses that he's pleased at being called Uncle.
Ellie smiles then becomes serious "Uncle Benedict, what does Brand look like? Ryo and I are at the beach now, but we met a man in the orchard calling himself Luce. And I just got this hunch that it was Brand because the window in my room is all full of fire and light. I'm sorry if this sounds strange. It was a feeling I got about him."
Benedict's stiffens and his face grows dark. "Pull me through," he orders, a hand flying back and grabbing the youth near him up by the collar.
Ellie hears a book drop, and Benedict sticks out his hand.
Ellie immediately holds out her hand to Benedict, pulling her Uncle and his young companion through onto the beach.
The young boy trips as he walks through, and glares up at Benedict. He ignores it, and watches Ryoden on the beach, who Ellie realizes is now watching them.
"Tell me what happened."
Ellie tells him what happened, from the first words of the red-haired man to Ryoden's game and the man's parting comment, his description included. As Ellie speaks, she absently helps the young boy to his feet.
Finally, she is finished and says "So what now, Uncle Benedict?"
Benedict scowls as he watches Ryoden approach, and says nothing. Ryoden glares back at him, and keeps her body tense.
He bends down to her, taking her by the shoulder with his hand. "Why did you talk to him?" She purses her lips and burns holes into her feet with her eyes.
Ellie stands beside Ryoden, putting an arm around her, and says gently "If anyone is responsible for that, I am. I indicated she could talk to him. Only later did I suspect him. Ryoden is not at fault here, Uncle Benedict."
He brushes off Ellie's hand. "No. You did not know what he looked like. _She_ did." Ryoden flinches, and Benedict reaches down and snatches her trump deck, then flings it at Ellie.
Ellie quickly goes through the deck and hands the card of the man they had seen. "That's the man we met."
He takes the card and his face goes red. "You... know who this is. Why did you talk to him?" Ryoden turns her face away, but Benedict forces it back with his other hand, dropping the card. "Why?!"
The young boy backs off, with the sympathetic but helpless look one child gives another when being punished.
Ellie says quietly "Uncle Benedict, he is a bright light and he sought us out, not the other way around. This may be the reaction he seeks, to divide and conquer. To dazzle an innocent like a moth to a flame. To appear a pleasant alternative."
He does not take his eyes off Ryoden as Ellie speaks, but she knows he hears her. When he talks again, his tone is low and severe.
"You... will not talk to him again. Understand?" When she says nothing, his voice grows louder. "Understand?!"
Eleanor sees the change too late... the way Ryoden is holding her hand in a loose fist. All she sees is Ryoden's open hand, with claws shining, strike out and hit Benedict, sending a few drops of red in the air and knocking him off balance.
"Don't yell at me!" she screams and runs off into the trees, and Eleanor now understands how fast a Shapeshifter can run. In seconds, she's gone, and Benedict kneels on the ground, red oozing from between his fingers clenched on his cheek.
Ellie immediately takes off after Ryoden, pulling out Jurt's trump as she goes. Within seconds, she realises Ryoden is far beyond her reach. Moving the short distance back to the beach, she hands Benedict her handkerchief for the blood, in a sort of apology.
She concentrates on Jurt's trump, worrying about how to explain this.
Benedict takes his hand off, and Ellie finches, seeing how deep the wound goes. It wasn't meant to be a glancing blow.
The trump comes to life, and Jurt smiles, then almost as quickly, frowns.
"Oh holy hell. What's happened?" Ellie realizes he can see the bleeding Benedict behind her.
Ellie explains quickly "Ryoden hit Benedict for yelling at her and took off. He was yelling because she spoke to this guy we met who turned out to be Brand."
Jurt takes a second to process all the information, and dimly, Ellie realizes she can feel some of his thought processes as he stares at her dumbly.
/She hit Benedict -- He yelled at her -- Brand is back --/
He says a few words to someone off the card's vista, and steps forward, grasping Ellie's hand.
"Oh god-- where do I even start..."
Ellie says quietly, trying to calm Jurt "First, we find Ryoden. You do that and I'll work on the rest. Alright?" She adds softly "This is bad, but it could have been much worse. We can act. Focus on that."
He passes his hand over his eyes. He touches his amulet. "She's taken it off." He sits on the ground and massages his temples.
"Where would she go... Low-- down-- she always hides when she knows she's in trouble..." He thinks for a minute, then gets up.
"The castle. She's not comfortable in forests. But it's too big for just me to cover."
Benedict flinches as the young boy looks over the wound, his face white. He holds his trump deck carefully, trying not to get blood on it.
Ellie says "Well, she has a map of Amber." An idea strikes her "Jurt, do you still have that Trump that you used the first night we met? The one before Merlin's."
"Used before..." He looks at her blankly. "You mean the Pattern?"
Benedict looks at Jurt questioningly, but doesn't voice anything. "What are you planning on doing?" he asks quietly.
Ellie explains, worry showing in her eyes. "It strikes me that sending guards and so on to look through the castle may be counter-productive. Ryoden doesn't know them and may feel threatened. However, she knows me, and knows the last thing I would do is harm her. So I thought if I walked the Pattern again, I could ask to be sent directly to Ryoden. From there, I can see how she is and trump either of you."
Jurt mulls it over, then nods. Benedict rises and the young boy returns to his side.
"I shall accompany," he mummers, and Ellie notes that his voice is muffled.
Jurt looks uncertain. "You _should_ be getting medical care." Benedict waves him off.
"I've lost an arm."
Jurt hands Ellie the trump.
Ellie nods to Jurt and hands him her Trump of the Castle Gates, adding "Be careful, please." She then concentrates on the Trump of the Pattern, linking arms with Benedict as she does so.
As she passes through, she sees something peculiar-- something-- in the centre of the pattern. She can hear it breathing heavily in the formless chamber.
A woman screams, sometimes at the form, sometimes at the dark figure next to her. Her hair glows in the bluish light, and Lillian can see that she wears clothes slightly reminiscent of the punk from the Parisian subway.
The man in black turns, nearly invisible in the dark chamber, and regards the injured Benedict. Lillian realizes the young man is no longer with them.
"Caine," mummers Benedict.
The woman looks over to the newcomers and swears, forcing a blush to Ellie's cheeks. "Oh, what the hell are _they_ doing here? You going to push them too, asshole?" She takes out a gun and throws it at Caine, who manages to move back.
Ellie replies "I'm here to help someone, no pushing required." She looks at Clarice with interest "My name's Ellie, by the way. Is the person in the middle a friend of yours?"
"Might say that," she replies, glaring at Caine. She looks back out to the Pattern, and the form on it.
"Wraecca? Wraecca! Wake up! Oh, come on! It couldn't have been that bad!" She grits her teeth as he only shifts a little bit.
Benedict looks at the figure, then to Caine. "Who's is he?" Caine points to Clarice. "And who's is she?" A shrug.
Clarice paces like a caged animal, almost snarling.
Ellie remembers how she felt. Wraecca looks to taken it worse again.
Her brow creases a little as she considers the choices. She takes a deep breath and says to Clarice "Don't worry. I'll help him."
With that, she walks to the start of the Pattern and steps forward.
With difficulty Wraecca gets to his knees and pushes himself to a standing position. His eye's gaze out at the bizarre collection of people assembled. "I wouldn't trust this assembled crowd of lunatics to hit the earth from a fall."
His hands clasp his chest and in a trick of the light he holds a glowing gem nearly the size of his fist. Holding it high over his head he whispers, "It's your turn friend. Your desire is mine. Where should we go...?"
It's not as difficult the second time through, although she does taste a small trace of bitterness in her mouth every time her father invades her memories. Over the years, playing with her as a small child, growing, watching from a distance... then that fateful day -- and most recently, how he didn't even recognize her...
When she reaches the centre, she has tears on her face.
Ellie looks around and Wraecca is gone. For a moment, she takes a deep breath, wiping the tears from her face, swallowing the bitterness, knowing full well Benedict will be watching along with Caine and Clarice.
For a moment, Ellie is tempted to ask the Pattern to send her somewhere else, anywhere other than Amber. She thinks then of Ryoden. "Pattern, please send me to Ryoden."
The room disappears, and for a moment, she's disoriented, being hunched over in an odd kind of half light-- she realizes after a moment she's on her knees, under a table.
A young man, blond haired and vaguely familiar-- An old man, sitting cross-legged in a stained smock of sorts, and then, sullen and not really surprised Ryoden.
Ellie quickly scans Ryoden with her eyes, making sure she's alright.
Gently, she asks "Are you okay, Ryoden?"
Dworkin waves it away. "No, no. Keep it. I have more. I'll have Math enter that into the inventory. Must remember your face--" He takes Wraecca's face roughly in his hands and studies it intently.
Meanwhile, Ryoden looks at Ellie, her eyes dark. "No. Dworkin and I were hiding, and it was going really well. But now you know, so Jurt will know, so Ben--"
She looks down. "What did he say?"
Ellie replies quietly, honestly, her eyes still a little red from the tears shed during the Walk. "Benedict did not say anything against you. Neither did Jurt. They're just worried about you. Sometimes people get angry when they're really worried about someone they care about. I have done. And if you want, all I need do is let them know that you're well, not where you are."
Ellie glances at Dworkin and the young man and says "I'm Ellie by the way." before turning her gaze back to Ryoden.
Obviously the soulgem had a reason for sending them this way but whatever the reason is, he can't fathom it. Looking into Dworkin's visage, Wraecca replies, "Nice to meet you all, I'm sure."
Feeling somewhat awkward with Dworkin holding his face he ventures, "Do I remind you of somebody? I can tell you for a fact we've never met."
He laughs. "I know you. You were once a dog. A nice big one. And you have a taste for blood, fights, and therapists."
He looks past Wraecca, hands still holding his face firm, and smiles at Ellie. There's something not quite right about that smile...
"And you. You're the little French girl who's having parental problems." He looks back to Wraecca. "And _she_ has a touch of Chaos in her, and a taste for ones of the same blood."
Ryoden rolls her eyes. "Tell me about it."
Ellie smiles a little and replies quietly "They've been nicer to me than most Amberites I've met." She looks at Dworkin "If I may ask, how do you know all of this?"
The fact that the soulgem doesn't screech alarm is the only thing that keeps Wraecca from leaping away from this strange man. "You seem to know my hobbies quite well old man. But who the devil are you?"
"I told you," he titters, an odd sound coming out of such a wrinkled old man. "Dworkin!"
He lets go of Wraecca's face and regards the two young Amberites. "You're Corwin's, I know that dear... I've seen you before you ever came to Amber. But I don't know who's you are. You don't have a familiar feel to you..." He squints. "That isn't your true face, now is it? Looks like it's still recovering from your walk. A bit lopsided."
Ryoden's eyes go wide. "You're a shapeshifter?"
Ellie thinks on his answer, possibilities occurring to her. She hesitates then asks "When was it you saw me? Was it in Chaos?" She bites her lip then "Dworkin, if you know, would you tell me who my mother in Chaos was? Please?"
Wraecca grimaces, "I prefer the term Polymorpher, but yeah I'm physically very flexible. Does anyone have a mirror?"
Almost instantly Dworkin and Ryoden seem to pull mirrors out of nothing, and hand them to Wraecca. A trick of the light? He studies his face... Yes, a bit off. One side seems to be a bit less masculine than it was before, and one of his eyes is caught somewhere between brown and blue. His beard is brown in places, and downy, like fur from when he was a wolf.
Ryoden pounces on him. "You're a shifter?! Who sent you? Did my brother send you? Which House? Are you coming to take me home? Oh, we have to go---" She touches his hand, almost accidentally, then draws back her hand. Her face fills with disappointment.
"Oh, an Amberite." She sits back and pouts.
Dworkin cocks his head and looks at Ellie. "Why, I saw you when you were a wee babe-- then again when you were older, maybe twelve or so -- Saw it in your father's eye." He grins. "I'm not familiar with your mum. I don't think she wore her true face."
Ellie nods "A shape shifter I know. Thanks anyway though, Dworkin." A curious look on her face, she adds "What was the face she wore like?" She then smiles to Ryoden and continues "We will be leaving Amber straight after the ball, I promise."
Studying his face in one of the offered mirrors he works to make his face symmetric. Subtracting wolven and old features and keeping elements that look new. He works quickly, and seems very adept at the process. "What's wrong with being an Amberite? Other then the royal family being a little twisted. The city is nice, foods good, and the people friendly. Did you get pushed onto the pattern too?"
Ryoden looks at Wraecca like he's lost a few marbles. "If you're an Amberite, you're not a Chaosite. So you're not going to take me home."
She looks at her feet. "Dworkin, can't you speed up time? This is your place, isn't it?" Dworkin laughs and pats the girl on her head, but doesn't respond.
He turns his attention to Ellie. "Oh, I'd rather not say. Some might frown. He has odd tastes, that boy."
Ellie answers quietly "I can guess well enough then." She nods to Ryoden "For the record, Ryoden, I don't want to be in Amber either. If we keep busy though, the time will seem to pass more quickly. I hope. And the moment it is safe to get you back to the Courts, you'll get to go home. Now, even if we don't say where you are, let Jurt know that you're alright okay, please?"
Wraecca frowns. /I hate teleporting into the middle of conversations. They never make sense. I wish Lillian were here. She'd figure this scene out. Why can't it ever be just a straight-up knock-down fight? I guess I should be asking questions or saying loopy stuff like the others. What should I say? What should I say?/
"Uh, nice weather we've been having. Don't you think?"
Ryoden scowls at the floor. "He'll yell at me. You call him." She curls up on the floor in a ball. "I don't like Benedict. I want a new grandfather." She hides her face. "I didn't even do anything wrong."
Dworkin looks up at the bottom of the table they all seem to be crowded under. "It's rare that it storms under furniture."
Out of the corner of Wraecca's eye, he sees a fluttering shadow pass over the tablecloth.
Ellie nods and draws out her trump of Jurt, saying "Alright, I'll call.", privately wondering what sort of reception does await Ryoden. Her actions were understandable, as such, given her boredom, if not necessarily wise. She concentrates on Jurt's trump.
Ellie zones out at she trumps Jurt... He appears, still in the orchard, his face worried.
"Ellie? I was beginning to worry-- I didn't know how long it's supposed to take to walk the pattern."
"I looked around, but I didn't see any trace of you-know-who."
"Where did she go?" He catches a bit of her background. "Where are you?"
Ellie smiles "It's a long story. Suffice to say that I'm with Ryoden and she's alright." She looks at Ryoden "You want to go back now?"
"NO," says Ryoden, a tad bit more forcefully than she means. She flinches immediately and curls up even more tightly into her ball.
Dworkin pokes her. "Stop that. You can't get anything done like that, girl."
Ellie says "Well, if the mountain won't come to Mohammed..." She smiles at Dworkin "Sir, would you mind another visitor?"
Turning to Ellie, Wraecca points his thumb at Ryoden and asks, "What's wrong with her?"
He looks around at the now crowded area under the table, and pokes Ryoden again. "Child. We have to move." He crawls out from their hiding place, and for a moment she stoically remains in her ball. However, a grizzled hand shoots back under the cloth and drags her out by the back of her jacket, much to her frustration.
Jurt looks back at Ellie. "I have a friend. Benedict left him. Goes by the name of Mouse." He flinches. "How's Benedict doing, anyway?"
As Ryoden is hauled out, Ellie says to Wraecca "It's a long story, trust me. Basically, her grandfather yelled at her." She thinks then adds "I'm going to bring some people through. If you like, when we head back to Amber, you're welcome to come with us."
"Uh, sure. Sounds great."
Ellie reaches out a hand, and Jurt steps through, dragging the young boy (about 11, dirty blonde hair, modern dress, scrawny) with him.
Wraecca stiffens as the newcomers apparently just appear under the table. The older one hits his head.
"OW! Okay, rule number one about Trump-- don't pull people in when you're sitting under furniture."
Jurt looks about for Ryoden, while Mouse simply looks around.
Ellie nods "Alright. Jurt, this is Wraecca." She then moves out from under the table herself and looks around.
Wraecca smiles and says, "Please to meet you Jurt." He turns and looks at Ryoden curled up in a ball and remarks, "I know an excellent therapist if you feel the need to talk to a professional."
Dworkin stands and looks at the top of the table. A large green and black butterfly sits there, calmly testing it's wings.
"I'm certain that wasn't there before." He scrunches up his face in concentration. "I've seen it...."
Ryoden stays in her ball, but loosens up a bit as Jurt bends by her.
He nods to Wraecca in greeting, but mostly just tries to coax Ryoden to stand up.
"You can't hit them like that, Ryo. They don't heal like us. Now, you should go apologize."
"NO! I hate him!" Jurt sighs heavily.
Ellie watches the butterfly, the colours reminding her of something.
She concentrates on the thought. /Brand's colours./ Quietly, she asks "Is Brand a shapeshifter that you know of?"
As totally boggled as Wraecca is by the Jurt’s and Ryoden's babblings, he feels he may yet contribute semi-intelligibly to the musings of Dworkin and Ellie. "The bugs name is Stan...the incredible fluttering telegram, and Lillian's protector."
Wraecca's eyes go wide as he recalls that he instructed Stan to come to him if Lillian appeared in trouble. "Does anyone know a quick way back to the Amber castle library? I have a friend who may be in trouble."
As the words leave his mouth, footsteps approach from behind.
"Where the hell have you been?" Lillian's voice trembles. "We've been looking all over for you! I've been sitting in the library forever!"
Ryoden looks at Wraecca. "I think you're the one in trouble."
Mouse crawls out from under the table, and Ryoden lets out a squeal of delight. "Mouse! Hello!" She pounces him and gives him a fierce hug, during which he looks to Dworkin with wide pleading eyes.
Dworkin laughs, and Ryoden forces Mouse to sit and listen to her prattle.
Jurt goes to Ellie and takes her hand, quietly speaking in her ear. "Considering today, I think Avalon is out. But I have an idea."
Ellie nods, replying quietly "I tend to agree. What's your idea? She likes the idea of Disneyland by the way."
Jurt rakes his teeth over his lips. "Well, The way I look at it is this: there's obviously someone from Amber interested in her, and someone in Chaos. Benedict has been showing quite a bit of intrigue too, and hinted heavily that we go by his leave. What if we went somewhere that most Amberites couldn't get to, most Chaosites really don't play around in, and even those that can get to it wouldn't think to check it?"
Ellie looks interested "Where would that be? And what would it be like? I certainly agree Shadow seems to be the best bet for us."
He pauses. "To get there, I kind of need a favour from you."
"I need you to walk your father's pattern."
Ellie nods, realising "The Shadows that fall from there? That would work. Alright, I will. So I walk this Pattern and then what? Where do I go to trump both of you to?"
Jurt thinks. "I guess you could trump us to the centre once you're done, and then all of us could go. I'd hate to lose sight of you. I've never messed with Corwin's version."
Ellie nods "Alright, I can't see why that wouldn't work as long as you or Ryoden don't use Logrus. Shall we leave after the ball?"
He nods. "We can get a full night sleep and then leave at dawn. Hellhounds run at night." He looks at Lillian seriously. "And this time, don't tell anyone. Not your father, not Benedict, no one. My brothers won't even know where I am, and they prefer it that way."
Ellie smiles grimly "Trust me, the last person I'll be telling where I'm going is my father. I won't tell anyone else either. Good enough?"
He nods. "Yes." He touches her arm. "What's happened to make you so angry with Corwin? So what if he has a girlfriend?"
Ellie shakes her head "Imogen being patronising or her being Dad's girlfriend is a minor annoyance. What is getting to me is what I've had to live with these last two days."
She takes a deep breath "I need to learn to survive quickly, but Dad never has the time to teach me and won't appoint anyone else to do so. What he has said you could write on the back of an envelope. He doesn't like anyone else teaching me either so whatever I've learned I've had to so in stealth, scraping bits here and bits there. Oh and let's not forget my mother was an evil being according to Corwin."
She slumps a little "I'm just angry and tired of trying to both survive and please my father. I know I'm being unfair. So I'm removing myself from the equation."
Jurt hugs her close, and starts to say something... but then simply remains silent.
"It'll be alright," he mummers, but his voice is somewhat strained.
Ellie says quietly "Sorry, I shouldn't have said anything. I know it will be alright when we leave, or at least better. Or is there something else that I don't know about that's worrying you?"
He shakes his head. "No, there isn't, I can honestly say." He looks down at her, and seems to want to say something, but doesn't.
"How was the pattern this time?" he finally asks.
Ellie shrugs "Easier physically certainly." She looks up at him "What is it you want to say to me? Whatever it is, I'll listen, Jurt."
"Nothing." He kisses her temple. "So, what kind of place are you dreaming up for us?"
She smiles "Hmm, how about somewhere lovely and warm with ever changing skies, nearby amusements parks, clear seas to swim in and beaches to relax on? At least to begin with."
He laughs. "That works. She'd like that. I'd like that. And it sounds like it'd more to the Chaos end of things. If we have to call for reinforcements, then I'd rather be closer to mine than yours."
He looks at Ryoden for a moment, then turns back to Ellie. "Marrek won't be joining us."
Ellie looks faintly surprised "Really? So will it just be the three of us then?"
Puzzled that Lillian recognizes him with his new visage Wraecca disentangles himself from under the table and walks over to her. "Sorry, Clarice was showing me something, uh, very different and then I found myself here." Continuing in a lower voice he adds, "This is a very bizarre place. I'm not sure it it's a castle or an asylum."
She looks around. "Great. I knew there was a reason I got brought along. The fates conspire to prove a psych degree is worth something."
"I don't suppose these people are more family...?"
Dworkin grins an evil looking grin. "Suppose away."
Jurt shakes his head. "Gilva will be replacing Marrek. He's been away long enough, and Gilva has less to leave there."
He looks over at Mouse, sitting sullenly in the clutches of Ryoden. "Maybe we could look into taking him. He'd be a good playmate."
Mouse hears this and gives him a withering look.
Ellie chuckles and replies to Jurt "I like Gilva." She then asks Mouse "Would you like to come with us? I can't guarantee a safe future, but we will look after you. What is it you would like?"
Wraecca points out people to Lillian. "That's Ryoden. Over there's Jurt, and she's Ellie. The old guy is...old. Everyone, this is Lillian."
Dworkin snorts. "Only the creator of the universe. Don't mind me!"
Ryoden giggles and waves at Lillian. Mouse tries to escape while she's distracted, but only manages to get drug back down by one of her tiny, quick hands.
He looks at Ellie. "I think.... I'll pass. Benedict is more my speed."
Ellie nods then steps forward, holding out her hand to Lillian in a handshake gesture and a friendly smile on her face. "Hello, Lillian. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Turning to Ellie, Wraecca says, "Lillian is a therapist and gifted hypnotist, as well as a true friend. Stan is her pet."
Ellie chuckles as she says to Lillian "Boy, do you have a market here." She adds with a smile "Charge them an arm and a leg. They can afford it." To Wraecca, Ellie says with a grin "True friends are worth their weight in gold. You be nice to her."
Ryoden looks at Stan, and Stan decides to get to higher ground, alighting on a bookshelf.
"I can do that," she mummers. "My brother just won't let me. I could have lots of pets."
Lillian, meanwhile, looks at Dworkin. "You know, I've heard people call themselves strange things... But never before did I think they were right. I read about you upstairs." Her face suddenly grows panicked, and she steps back against Wraecca.
Dworkin notes this. "Boy. You wish to be rescued." For a moment, Wraecca wonders if he's addressing him, but then Mouse gets disentangled from the distracted Ryoden (dreaming of an army of blood creatures) and goes to him.
They vanish in a rainbow swirl.
Regarding the diminishing rainbow swirl Wraecca absently scratches his head and remarks, "There’s been a lot of that lately."
Ellie shakes her head, a slight smile on her face. then turns to Lillian "Don't worry, please." She takes out her Trump Deck "Do you wish to return to Amber? It's easy enough for me to take us all there."
She pauses for a moment, then turns to Jurt "My trump of the Gates, please?"
Ryoden laughs. "Where do you think we _are_?" She points to the door. "Main hall's that way. They're busy so I came in here."
Jurt holds out his hand. "Come on." Ryoden stares at him. "You know why." She pouts, and looks close to tears, but takes his hand.
"Be back in a bit," he mummers to Ellie. "Have to go face the music." He leads the upset Ryoden out of the room.
Lillian watches him, her body loose now that Dworkin is gone. "What happened, exactly?"
Ellie says quietly "Ryoden did something she shouldn't have and now has to face the consequences."
She brightens and asks the two "Want to leave here, get some coffee and chat?"
"Coffee? Coffee sounds wonderful." Lillian grabs Wraecca's hand and waves for Stan. "Where? I don't suppose... you live here, do you?"
Ellie nods "I live in the Castle at the moment, yes. We can get coffee here or we can pop down to Amber. I know this place that serves the most delicious chocolate desserts."
"I'm indifferent," says Lillian quickly. "So, are you royalty? By whom? I've been trying to read up."
Ellie says quietly "I guess so and Corwin. Okay, let's go to one of the side-rooms then and collar someone for coffee." She smiles and leads them out of the room.
"Corwin... Corwin... Number... Number five! Okay-- I remember now. He's the king..." Her voice trails off. "Oh. Should I be bowing or something, we're from out of town. I'm not up on protocol. Still working my way through the family tree. I think I'm almost done... I managed to get to Random, and I'm pretty sure he's rather far down on the list."
Ellie laughs "Don't you dare bow or anything like that. I only got here two days ago myself. If you find me in your list, let me know. I'd love a copy when you're done. Maybe I could repay in kind somehow?"
"Hmm... You're new too? How'd you get here then?" She sighs. "You wouldn't happen to know a rather large gentleman by the name of Gerard? I'm sure he's looking for us and Clarice..."
"Speaking of which..." She looks around. "Wonder where she went..."
Ellie rings for a servant and replies to Lillian "My father brought me. And I wouldn't worry about Uncle Gerard. He's a nice guy. As for Clarice, I last saw her with Caine in the Pattern room."
When the servant comes, Ellie smiles at the young woman and says "I'd like some coffee for us and some cheese sandwiches for me." She turns to Lillian and Wraecca "Would you like anything to eat?"
When she turns back, Lillian is pale, her hands shaking slightly, caught in some horrible day-mare. Wraecca shakes her slightly.
"Lillian-- coffee... what do you want in it?"
She shakes herself. "Oh-- um-- sugar, cream..." The fear on her face begins to fade.
Ellie nods and thanks the servant who leaves. She then goes over to Lillian "Are you alright? Is there anything I can do to help?"
"She's fine," interjects Wraecca quickly. Lillian nods, and some of the life comes back into her face.
"So, who was the young man and the girl? The ones who left together..."
Ellie smiles "Jurt and Ryoden. Visiting guests of my father's. I count them as my friends. They're brother and sister." Ellie asks curiously "Are you two from an Earth-type Shadow as well?"
"Well..." Lillian looks over at Wraecca. "I'm not sure what you mean by that. I mean, I've got that Shadow thing down pat, but some of the local vernacular wasn't used in the books."
She wrings her hands slightly. "We were in the middle of a war when we met. He..." She suddenly smiles. "Oh, I shouldn't go into that. Confidentiality. But we had more... technology than here. Ill-used to be sure."
Ellie nods "Me too. I came from a technological, modern world. It was kind of a system shock to start with I agree, but this place has its advantages too." Ellie is quiet for a moment "My homeworld didn't exactly always use technology well either." She hesitates "May I offer a suggestion? Concerning therapy here."
"What's that?" She laughs. "The way Clarice and Wraecca talk, I'm considering opening a practice here in the castle." She sobers. "That's a joke."
Ellie smiles "Not such a bad idea." She too sobers "I haven't been here long, but from what I can see, the prime commodity is secrets. There may be some willing to stop at nothing to get them. I just thought you should be aware of that. You're nice from what I can see and I'd hate for you to get hurt. I think my family, myself included, need therapy, but I don't know how safe you would be giving it."
Ellie smiles apologetically "I'm not trying to scare you, just give you a heads-up."
Lillian laughs. "Therapist to the gods? I don't think so. It's a great resume fluffer, but I'm not sure I really need it at this stage in the game."
She looks at Wraecca. "With he and his sociopathic loner mother, I don't think I'm looking for anything to do."
She leans back in her chair and her voice softens a bit. "Two days, and already a tad... bitter? What happened?"
Ellie smiles ruefully "Nothing I won't get over. Just growing up I guess, seeing my father as a human and not a god, getting a new stepmother-figure who happens to be my cousin. You know the sort of thing. I'll cool down in a while and get some distance, I think."
The servant arrives back and puts the heaped plate of sandwiches on a table between them as Ellie pours the coffee. Once the three of them are alone again, Ellie shrugs and adds "I know I'm being unfair and childish. I just tend to feel first and think later. Not a smart trait."
Lillian shrugs. "A human trait. Emotions intellectualised lose all meaning." She looks off for a moment, then slaps her hand to her forehead. "I can't believe I just said that," she mutters.
She looks back to Ellie. "So-- you're father's sleeping with your cousin? His... niece?" She looks vaguely disturbed.
Ellie looks uncomfortable as she replies "Either that or a sheet is the latest fashion statement." She hesitates "It seems to be less of a taboo here than where I came from. Certainly as regards close kin."
Ellie hands Lillian her coffee and then is quiet for a moment as she sips her own coffee "A lot of things are different here, I suppose."
Lillian nods, looking out a window. "I noticed that. It's fascinating, really. All my sociology classes are coming back to me.
A society born out of a seemingly pre-industrialized era, yet everyone seems to have at least a passing knowledge with the most high-tech of things. I shopped for a while, and the locals are fascinating."
She looks back to Ellie. "There were some interesting stories in that library-- most of those books are no more than rag mags covered in leather."
Ellie smiles "That I could believe. Any stories you would care to relate over coffee?"
She sips the coffee, makes a face, then bends over to add cream and sugar. "I don't know. Most of them read like bad jokes. 'Two Amberites walk into a bar...' Some interesting ones about Caine, Random... your dad."
Ellie looks curious "What about Dad?" She grins "Come on, Lillian. You can't throw a line like that and expect me not to bite."
She shrugs. "I wanted to give you an easy out." She sips her coffee.
"His life reads like some romantic novel gone horribly wrong. There's more than one rumour that he slept around with his full sister-- He brought troops to Amber to over throw it, only to save the day. He tried to kill the king another time and got his eyes put out and was imprisoned for a few years. As I said... lots of nasty things."
"But some good. He wrote a few ballads, some songs. He was really appreciated in his day... Lauded even."
Ellie is quiet for a long moment, her face neutral, then she smiles and says honestly "Thanks, Lillian. I didn't know most of this. I appreciate your kindness."
Ellie seems to reach some sort of decision. She rises and smiles "I have something to do. Again, it was lovely to meet you both." She curtsies and then steps out of the room. Drawing a trump of her father, she concentrates on it.
Watching the disappearing rainbows Wraecca remarks, "We need to buy some of those cards. That would be really useful."
The contact comes, and she sees he's waving off an unnotable noble to talk to her.
Ellie smiles hesitantly "Dad, may we talk somewhere privately. Some stuff has happened you really should know about."
He holds up a hand for her to wait, and she sees him walk into a side room... The motion makes it difficult to see where he's gone.
He looks around, then holds his hand out to Ellie and draws her through.
They stand in his chambers, and a cold breakfast sits on a side table, and a discarded sheet lies crumpled on the floor.
Ellie shifts uncomfortably "Don't get at mad at me, alright, Dad. I didn't know who I was talking to." She takes a deep breath and says "Brand sought Ryoden and I out in the orchard and was talking to us. I didn't know it was Brand at the time."
She says quietly "I really didn't know he was, Dad. I'm sorry."
Corwin looks at her stunned... He quickly sits down, his face white.
"Eleanor... you are mistaken. That man... That man is dead. I saw him die. I saw..."
He swallows, hard.
"Who told you...?"
Ellie says "I gave my description of the man to Benedict and he confirmed my hunch that it was Brand. I'm not mistaken, Dad. He even made reference to the window in my room."
She steps closer "I should have come to you first, I know, but I... I was a bit upset."
He nods. "You should have been. This is not something good."
He looks at her. "He focused on you and the Chaosite?" His eyes become distant.
Ellie replies "Ryoden. Her name is Ryoden. And yes, he focussed on both of us. It felt almost as if he was giving advice at one point."
She sighs "And I know it's not good at all, but it wasn't him I was upset with. It doesn't matter now anyway. There are more important things to face. Such as Brand. I take it that you want me out of here even more now?"
He rubs his hands together. "I don't know... I need time to think..." He grits his teeth. "Brand can shift shadows and is damn good at it. So sending you off isn't as appealing now." He slams his hand down on the arm of the chair, cracking it slightly. "Dammit! Why now?"
He broods for a few minutes, then seems to stir out of it a bit. "Ryoden... I'm sorry. My mind is still a bit fuzzy."
Ellie looks a bit guilty and shifts uncomfortably "Yes, Dad, sorry if I overreacted to you not knowing me, but Imogen got snotty and I got antsy back. I'm not angry at her, I promise. It's just a transition I guess at the moment. I'm not a child anymore and you're not only my father any more."
She sighs and says, looking down at her feet "If Brand wanted to hurt me, he could just as easily have killed me or Ryoden in the orchard, or anything else he wanted to do, and nobody would have been any the wiser, at least for a time. I'm not sure, but I think he's after you. He made a comment about the sun only being blue as long as the sun shines and since the king is often associated with the sun, I thought of you. And before you ask, Ryoden is currently with Benedict I think."
"You don't know how Brand operates," whispers Corwin. "I'm not even sure I know. But he's never the rash type. He likes a long, twisting plot that no one understands fully even after it's over."
He looks up at her. "Imogen was worried... she's... I hope you two will get along." He looks down. "It was an odd night. Stormy. Emotional."
Ellie impulsively moves over and hugs her father before sitting beside him "It doesn't really matter, Dad. If she makes you happy, I won't interfere. I want you to be happy. I won't be here anyway."
She smiles wryly up at him "We're too much alike, Dad. We both lash out when we're hurting. That's not good for either of us. I guess too that even though I have some of your features, my mother is obvious in me too. I'm not her, Dad, and I don't think I'm evil, but I also need to understand this side of my heritage. I'd like your blessing on this, but I'll understand if you don't want to help me in this. You've been busy, I know, and my training isn't as important as ruling Amber, so I've taken care of this. You did say I needed to learn as quickly as possible after all. I just need to know that even though I'm growing up, I'm still your daughter and that you still care about me as I care about you."
She smiles ruefully "Childish, huh?"
He waits a moment for responding, digesting her small speech.
"Eleanor. You've been here two days. I trained for pattern and any other powers for _years_ before I took them. Yes, I've been busy, but I'd assumed you'd have more common sense than..."
He takes a deep breath, and Ellie realizes he's trying to fight down a rising anger. "So, what, does this mean you've decided to go off to Chaos?"
Ellie shakes her head "No, Dad, that's not what it means at all. I was trying to be honest with you, to share my feelings with you. I felt hurt and reacted accordingly, even if it wasn't wise. Maybe not according with what you would have done or intended for me, but it worked out anyway. Have you never just reacted on feeling? I have no intention of going to Chaos for some time to come for your interest."
She looks up, his green eyes looking back at him from her face. "I was trying to make peace, Dad, after stomping off earlier and skipping dinner. To give you a heads-up about Brand and to let you know I loved you. That still matters, right?"
He sighs. "I'm sorry. You were talking about the other side of your heritage, and you already took pattern without me knowing, and now you're paired up with that Chaos prince..."
He shakes his head. "I never went back to dinner myself. So how can I be mad? And yes, I have reacted on feeling, and done much worse than leave a family dinner."
Ellie smiles "Jurt is a nice guy and he's been really kind to me." She grins "Anyway, you have no room to talk about being paired up." With a more serious expression, she adds "You do still want me here on the odd occasion though? Even with my tendency to react on feeling."
"I want you here longer than that. I'm not sure..." He shakes his head. "This is just too much. If Brand is truly after you, then sending you out into shadow is like sending a lamb to the slaughter. There's still so much... You don't know the history, the background... Hell, you don't even have a deck-"
His voice breaks off. "How... did you trump me?"
Ellie says "I'll explain. As to history and background and stuff, you know how Benedict walked out at dinner and I followed? Well, he was waiting and we got to talking. Uncle Benedict explained a lot of that and gave me a Trump for Avalon as well as a safe place to go in Shadow, so you don't have to worry, Dad, honestly. As to how I trumped you..."
She smiles ruefully "I hope you don't think this was a stupid idea, but I got to thinking about how it would be a good idea to have a way to contact you in an emergency, so I asked about Trumps and got a deck. I don't know most of the people in it though so I've restricted my use of it and I have been sensible with it."
Ellie looks apologetic and slightly weary "I know you get stressed, Dad, so I was trying to save you work and show you I could look after myself. I know the Elders could squash me like an ant so I've been keeping my head down and learning as I go. It's you I'm worried about anyway. I know this may be a silly question, but why do you think Brand has chosen now to reappear? I don't think he is after me, but he may well have guessed that I'd warn you and so try to get to you through me in this way. What do you think?"
He puts his head in his hands. "I don't know. I've always found him to be unfathomable..." He curses. "So it was all for nothing... The fight at Chaos, losing Dee... The son-of-a-bitch came back..."
"I need to find Benedict." He pulls out his deck and starts to leaf through it.
A thought occurs to Ellie. Hesitantly, she gives him a hug and says "Just because he's back doesn't make the battle any less. Dad, if Brand survived, might Deirdre have too?"
He holds her tightly. "I don't know..." His tone isn't what she would have expected... She would think he would be hopeful, maybe even happy. But he sounds the slightest bit frightened instead...
He pulls back and places Ellie at arm's length, regarding her. "I don't know... I don't even want to think about the possibility."
Ellie shrugs, slight puzzlement showing in her eyes, then she smiles warmly up at him "Alright, Dad. I was just trying to cheer you up a little." She smiles reassuringly "He won't succeed, Dad. I believe in you."
He sighs and stands. Briefly he kisses her on the forehead. "Is there anything else? I need to call a few people." He thinks a moment. "What exactly did Brand say?"
Ellie think then says "He offered apples to eat then I said we didn't know his name. He offered a 'king's ransom' in apologies." She pauses then continues "He also said that he had just arrived and liked seeing the vistas, a ne'er do well. He wanted to know if Ryoden was my child. He then wanted to know if we were children of Amber. He then called Ryoden a child of the Serpent and turned to me. I said I didn't belong to either and he said it was the same for him, 'a little bit of everything that adds up to nothing' but that he knew both and had been looking for his place. He wanted to know where Ryoden's playground was, but she wouldn't tell him. I was getting really uncomfortable. There was something about him that set me on edge. I made our excuses to leave. He teased Ryoden then said to me 'Enjoy the day, child. Blue skies only last as long as the sun shines. 'I made a quick reply to that and then left."
Ellie thinks "I think that's everything he said, Dad." She hesitates "There is something else, Dad. I found something, a tunnel, in my room which I haven't got round to exploring yet, but given Brand is back it may be important. What do you think?"
He waves his hand at the mention of the tunnel. "Secret entrances are nothing new. But thank you for telling me. I would have moved you anyway, but that seals it. All of you should be reassigned."
He paces. "Riddles. Ryoden is a child of the serpent-- that's the patron of Chaos, their local deity, as it were. Like our unicorn. But the girl's playground..." He shakes his head. "Why would he care about some child?"
He paces to a window and looks out. "A little bit of everything..."
Ellie says quietly "Is there anything you want me to do apart from packing up my stuff ready to be moved, Dad? Anything I can do to help?"
He is silent a long time. Finally, without turning, he responds quietly.
"Yes. Stay away from Ryoden."
Ellie bites her lip and turns, leaving quietly to go and start packing. /I can see Dad's point, but.../
She starts methodically packing, leaving out what she will be wearing for the ball and something for the following day. /If we're going to get safely away tomorrow, I just need to sort something for tonight.
I'm not going to abandon Ryoden though.../
She leaves out a sensible travelling outfit and her gown, storing all the rest in a trunk provided by a servant.
Marrek seems to be gone, and Jurt doesn't return. She finds herself alone in the apartments for the first time since she arrived, two days ago.
She heads out and wanders the town for a bit, picking up one of the leftovers from early breakfast at a pastry shop. The beach looms not too far off.
Finishing her pastry, Ellie heads quickly down to the beach. Sitting on the sand, for a moment, she simply stares out to sea, fixing the scene in her mind's eye for later. Watching the white lace of the sea-spray, the colours of the water as bright and rich as lapis lazuli, amethysts and emeralds all mixed up in a kaleidoscope of beauty. And above it, that intensely blue sky.
Smiling, she takes out her Trump deck and prepares to go through it.
One by one, she commits the faces to memory. She knows a few already, like Corwin, Fiona, Julian... others are unknowns, ones not yet in her circle. She wonders how many she will meet this evening. How many oppose her father.
Her hand falls last on the ones Luke added to her deck. His card, and the other two he gave her: a man and a woman, with that cool Elder look, sandy haired and distant.
She looks at them. What had Luke said again? Neutrals. Sand and Delwin. What had made them neutral she wondered. A moment's hesitation. Introductions may be in order especially with what is to come.
She squares away the remainder of her pack and concentrates on Delwin's trump.
At first, she wonders if she's doing something wrong. There's no contact whatsoever... No fuzz, or glimpses of thought, just a haze...
Then it comes alive, and a man regards her coolly, with a trace of amusement.
"I don't believe we've met."
Ellie shakes her head "No, we haven't, Uncle Delwin. I thought it might be polite to introduce myself. I hope I haven't disturbed you. My name is Eleanor, though just about everyone calls me Ellie. Luke gave me your trump." She smiles "It's very nice to meet you."
"Luke? Ah... Rinaldo. Brand's boy. He should have asked first." He holds out his hand.
"I shouldn't keep this open for long. Sand is having fits."
Ellie takes his hand, replying "Luke was trying to help one new to Amber. It was an act of kindness. What are the protocols for Trump usage if I may enquire?"
"Psychic attacks are in bad taste, usually," he replies drily, pulling her in.
The room... They seem to be tucked off in some corner of a library. Some old men dodder about, replacing books, rearranging. They don't seem to pay her any mind.
A woman sits at the table, and Ellie immediately recognizes her as Sand. The woman mutters something as she looks over a layout of cards.
"How do you know Rinaldo?" asks Delwin.
Ellie replies honestly "I met him in the Castle and he, Jurt and I went to lunch. We all got talking and made friends. I guess it helped that he is also friends with my half-brother Merlin. He invited Jurt, I and Ryoden to Kashfa and gave me your Trumps along with his then. He thought it might be a good idea to have a wider network than those my father would provide me with, as I understand it." She smiles "It was an act of kindness to someone completely new to Amber."
Sand looks up. "Corwin's?" She looks back down at her layout. "I thought I saw one of his coming." She touches her deck, and Ellie gasps as the cards fly back into it from the arrangement.
She picks up the deck and quickly reaches across the table, and presses it to her forehead. A shiver runs down Ellie's spine, and Sand retreats again.
She puts down the deck and taps it. The cards fly out once again, and she sinks into her study of them. Delwin watches on with interest.
Ellie looks on, watching what is happening, then asks Delwin "Is this like a Tarot reading, Uncle Delwin? Or something different?"
"It is indeed Tarot," he replies. Sand looks up and meets his gaze.
"The Queen of Cups. I had seen her about lately." She returns to her reading.
"A pastime turned obsession. She's very adept."
Ellie nods, fascinated "What does the reading say?" She thinks back to occasional Tarot readings in Paris by friends. Queen of Cups, acting from the heart first and foremost. That fits only too well.
Sand cocks her head. "The Wheel and the Magician against you... Strength under you... And Corwin behind." She puts her fist on her chin. "You make peculiar friends, girl."
Delwin touches a few cards. "Any ideas?" Sand shakes her head.
"I don't have their faces."
Ellie thinks "I don't know if this will help or not, but Jurt and I are kind of involved. Would he be Strength? I don't think Ryoden, his little sister, is all that keen on me at the moment because I took her away from Brand talking to her and me, but we often get on too. It depends on her mood. Does this help any?"
They stare at her a moment, faces blank.
"Brand, you say?" says Sand. She concentrates a moment, and a card appears in her hand, one of the red-haired man. She collects the cards again with a tap and adds her newest to the deck. Another tap, and they fly out.
"That is why... He does show. Opposing again, with the Wheel."
Ellie thinks on this, remembering the implicit warning in her father's words. The Wheel of fortune, ever moving, sometimes bringing happiness. Sometimes sorrow. Just like...
She looks up "Is the Wheel Ryoden? I can draw her face if that will help."
Sand shakes her head. "Think of her and relax..." As Ellie brings Ryoden's face to mind, a coolness slips into her mind, like... like... she's felt that before.
It retracts, and Sand thinks. "Perhaps. I'd need to see the girl."
Ellie thinks quickly "Well, there is to be a ball tonight in Amber and all of us will be there, I think. Ryoden included." She hesitates then adds "Ryoden's a good kid really. She just needs a lot of love and attention. She wouldn't hurt anyone deliberately out of hand."
Sand and Delwin exchange an ironic look. Sand taps her deck and the cards return.
"Eleanor, no one knows we're here. Not even the men in this room. And eventually, not even you. We prefer our privacy. But events," a pointed look a Delwin, "have taken us far from home."
"So sooner would be better."
Ellie nods "Alright, the last time I saw Ryoden, she and Jurt were heading off to see Benedict. That's probably where she is now, I would think."
"Could you bring her? I'm afraid we can't move. My spell settled while I did my readings." Sand taps her cards again, and another set flies out.
"And nothing about us, dear. Ben would only get antsy. He was never comfortable around us."
Ellie is quiet for a moment, considering options "I don't know if I will be able to bring her. If I can, she may not be alone though I'm not including Benedict in that. Does this cause a problem?"
She thinks. "If it is the boy you call Jurt, then fine. But I know Ben's face and have seen it enough in my life."
She looks down at the arrangement. The Wheel and Brand figure again, with Benedict in the future, and a few more of the house minor.
"Except for here. I have rarely seen him here, except for now."
Ellie nods "Very well, Aunt Sand. I'll be as fast as I can." She withdraws Jurt's trump next and concentrates upon it, worried by the readings and Brand's proximity to Ryoden.
The connection seems fuzzy, distracted... She hears voices talking, then one of the voices fade. Jurt's face becomes clear.
"Oh, hello. What's going on? Benedict is getting stitched up, and Ryoden's pouting. She feels bad but won't admit it." He sighs. "Let's just say Benedict is _not_ a big hit as her grandfather. She's already pestered me for a new one, like I can change genetics."
Ellie smiles "Well, there are a couple of people here who would like to meet Ryoden. I think it may be a very good idea for you to come too. If nothing else, it may give Ryoden something new to focus on, Jurt."
Jurt frowns. "Who? Let's say I'm a bit antsy about people who want to meet my sister. The last guy who was interested didn't have the best resume."
Ellie replies quickly "Delwin and Sand. You think I would deliberately put Ryoden in danger?"
"Sand and... What are you doing talking to them?" He looks surprised. "I know you wouldn't do it intentionally, but... Oh, I'll explain it later."
He calls to someone off card, and Ryoden walks up, face dark, eyes brooding. "I'm talking to-"
Ryoden cuts him off. "Ellie. I know." He pauses, shrugs, then takes her arm and steps through.
He looks around. "Where?"
Ellie says quietly "Ryoden, Jurt, this is Delwin and Sand." Ellie steps back from both of them, giving them space. Ryoden's opinion of her was only too evident in her tone. Hardly surprising given that Benedict's turning up had been because of Ellie's call. She smiles politely to her aunt and uncle "Uncle Delwin, Aunt Sand, these are my friends Jurt and Ryoden."
As she turns, the words die in her throat.
Sand and Delwin are gone.
Ryoden looks about, confused, but then turns her head sharply and heads to the table Sand and Delwin were occupying. She vanishes.
"Ah. Invisibility field," says Jurt, and heads over. "Figures."
Ellie follows Ryoden and Jurt into the invisibility field. A useful technique indeed.
Sand and Delwin sit as before, and Jurt takes a seat, his face cautious.
"Why are you in Amber?"
Sand smiles. "Why does your sister toy with the Phoenix?"
Jurt scowls. "She doesn't toy with him. She's seen him once, and that wasn't her doing."
Delwin shrugs and Sand only widens her smile. "Perhaps not now. But their path lies together."
Ryoden doesn't sit, but edges behind Jurt, her eyes wide.
Ellie's concern for Ryoden shows on her face as she adds "Dad thinks Brand is targeting Ryoden. What can we do to keep him from harming her?"
A possibility comes to mind and she asks Sand "If Dad is right, would it be possible to tell how long Brand has been targeting Ryoden."
She turns to Ryoden "Remember what Brand said about knowing Chaos?"
Ryoden bows her head and thinks. "He said lots of things... He said I was a child of Chaos..." She looks up. "But I am that..."
Jurt pulls her from her perch behind him to his lap, and holds her close. He keeps a steely gaze on Sand and Delwin.
Sand touches her cards again, and looks at the result. She tips her head to the side again.
"Brand and the eight of Swords..." she mummers, and touches his card. She draws back her hand.
"It's warm, Delwin..." He touches it too and nods.
Ellie's eyes grow distant as she remembers the eight of swords from a previous reading in a smoky cafe among friends. A blindfolded woman, surrounded by a maze of swords. Brand's trap or the one he sets for another?
Ellie asks quietly "In this context, what does that mean for Ryoden?" She smiles reassuringly at the girl, trying to impart some comfort.
Sand looks up and touches the eight. "Are you so certain it applies to the girl? That wasn't my question when I cast them." She looks down. "I inquired only about my brother."
Ryoden peers over the cards. "I have to learn this..." she whispers.
Jurt looks at Ellie. "Think I'm missing something here..."
Ellie smiles apologetically at Jurt "A friend of mine used to read Tarot. I remember some of the meanings. The eight of swords is a feeling of being trapped or a trap that one can't get out of. Sometimes a vicious circle. That sort of thing."
Sand nods, then looks at Ryoden. They lock eyes for a long time, then after it breaks, she meets Jurt's gaze. He stays still.
Finally Sand breaks that gaze too. "I have them," she says to Delwin, who nods.
She breathes deeply, then glances about. "I've forgotten the smell this place always had... "
"There is time to do so once again."
He takes her hand, and he, she, and cards vanish.
Jurt holds Ryoden tighter. "Okay, what the hell was that?"
Ellie says carefully "Sand was doing a reading of me. People she didn't know turned up. It was a case of putting the faces to the names."
A troubled look comes into her eyes as she remembers the reading. "Sand and Delwin said I may not remember this meeting for much longer, I think, so if you want to ask anything, now is the time if not the place."
With a shake of her head, she looks at Ryoden "Whatever you may think of me, I don't want to see you getting hurt. I know a little of how to read Tarot if you're interested too."
Ryoden smiles, then laughs, looking at the empty chairs.
"You'll remember. Don't worry."
She jumps off of Jurt's lap and skips over to the bookshelves. Jurt watches her and shakes his head.
"I'm just a normal boy from Chaos..."
Ellie sits down in one of the chairs, holding her head in her hands.
Very softly, she says "Dad has asked me not to have anything more to do with Ryoden. Part of a long talk we had. Me pairing off with a Chaosite prince was also mentioned." She looks at the young girl busily examining the bookshelves "Ah well, I never said I agreed with him and soon enough, we'll be out of here anyway."
Jurt curses and kicks the table, splitting one of the legs.
"Because of Brand, right? He figures Ryo's a target, he'll get you out of the way of the missile." More foul language. "He's supposed to be protecting us, dammit."
He paces a few times, calming after a few minutes and a few more kicks. He goes over to her and pulls a chair to be next to her. He pulls her hands away from her head and holds her. "What are you doing, then?"
Ellie's surprise shows on her face "What do you think I'm doing? I'm doing what we planned. I'll get you and Ryoden somewhere as safe and as fun for the both of you as I can make it. It might just need a bit more planning as Dad's moving us into other rooms, though I don't know when."
"Most likely he's doing it as we speak." Jurt bites his lip. "What exactly did he say about you getting involved with a 'Chaosite prince'?"
Ellie thinks back and replies "He was explaining I think about getting angry with me. It was that I had been talking about exploring the Chaos side of my heritage, that I had walked the Pattern without him knowing it and that now I had got involved with that Chaos prince. He brought you up first."
Ellie smiles and continues "I responded by saying that your name was Jurt, that you were nice and had been kind to me and that he had no room to talk about pairing off. After that the subject wasn't brought up again."
She shrugs "I was trying to make some kind of peace before I left." In a quieter voice, her face neutral, she adds "If it will make it any easier or safer for you and Ryoden, once I get you, Ryoden and Gilva to where we've arranged, I'll head off again." She looks down at the table, avoiding his gaze "The ball should be interesting."
Jurt sits back. "Why would you leave...?" He motions to the still frolicking Ryoden. "She's always like this. Moody. Erratic. You leaving wouldn't turn her into an angel."
He puts a hand on her knee. "You are a help. And she does like you. You still having all your appendages is proof positive of that."
Ellie smiles "Ryoden's also sweet and loyal with a big heart. The liking is entirely mutual, believe me."
Her eyes widen "The ball." She turns to Jurt "Will Ryoden be happier making her own outfit or would it be better to get one made? If the latter, we'll need to start moving. Also, how about yourself? Do you need an outfit?"
Jurt grimaces. "Oh, god, I'd almost forgotten about that. Let her make her own. She's terribly picky. As for me..." He sighs. "He ran out of Chaos too fast for me to grab my formals. I should have grabbed some while we were at the Ways--" He stops short, and quickly looks at Ryoden.
She has turned, and stares at Jurt, still processing what he just said. "You went home..."
Ellie moves quickly and faces Ryoden "It was an unforeseen event. If either of us had time to plan, do you think we would have gone there and not taken you along?" She smoothes back the young girl's hair "I truly wish you had been there too. It's not safe yet though. I know what it's like to be away from home too and it's horrible."
She takes a deep breath "Not long ago, both of the people I thought were my parents were killed and I had to leave my home too. I can guess how bad you must be feeling and I wish I could help. I have an idea that might make you feel a little better though if you want to hear it."
Ryoden doesn't answer, but does move her sulky gaze from Jurt to Ellie. Jurt stands, and Ellie senses that he hovers behind her.
"She's right," says Jurt softly. "We didn't have a choice. We weren't there long, though, and all I really did was talk to Despil and mom." A pause. "They say hi."
"Actually, she did."
Ellie nods "Your mum did ask about you. I was there too when she did. She may not show it, but I'm sure she loves you." She smiles "What's not to love about you? Tell you what. You know we'll be going into Shadow soon. Well, you tell me what you'd like in a Shadow. Anything at all, and we'll find it there." Ellie grins "Or I can surprise you. It's your choice. Want to get a sundae and talk about it?"
Ryoden's face darkens. "I know what she thinks," and she touches the amulet. Jurt steps forward and takes her in his arms. He lifts her up and holds her, then looks at Ellie.
"Okay, if you want to torture me by dragging me around to all the shops, then fine. I'm sure the two of you can have a grand time throwing the crap they wear around here on me."
Ellie smiles at them both "Of course we will. I think Ryoden deserves some pleasure for being stuck with a bunch of brothers all this time." She grins at Ryoden "So what do you think we should get him to wear?"
Ryoden pulls back. "I like your spectre form. The green one." Jurt shakes his head.
"We have to be human, Ryo." She looks shocked. "Non-shifters dress up the outside, remember?"
"But that's so _boring_! Just clothes?! I want my wings back!"
Jurt sighs. "That's it. We need to get out more."
Ellie nods "Come on then. Let's get this done." As they walk back to Amber, Ellie asks "So how does shape shifting work?"
Ryoden looks over at Ellie, and starts to explain, but then stops and has to think. Jurt pats her back and answers instead.
"It's had when you've had it all your life to explain it. We're born with it at least partially active down in Chaos, but for some reason Amberites don't have it naturally. Mandor speculates it has something to do with the Pattern. Our power base is about as different as you can get."
"The basic idea has to do with an awareness of your body, and shifting it to accommodate an idea. Some only use it when they need to, others constantly shift from form to form." He smiles and chuckles a bit. "Those are interesting ones. I've known a few."
Ellie nods, listening, then answers "It sounds interesting. I like the idea of shifting shape to accommodate ideas, forms of expression. I guess that could be considered an art in it's own right. So what forms do you both use?"
Jurt has to throw a quick look at Ryoden to keep her from demonstrating hers. He looks back to Ellie.
"We both have our human forms, then our demon forms. She was born with hers. Then there's a million shades in between. Most are just a combination of glamours and shifting for formal affairs. Then there's fighting forms... I'm not quite as accomplished as some, but Ryo's picked it up quickly."
He nods to Ryo. "This isn't a natural form for her, so she gets antsy sometimes."
Ellie nods "Alright, when we do go into Shadow, I'll make sure we go to a place where you can use your natural form, Ryoden. It can't be easy or comfortable for you as is."
Jurt laughs as they make their way out of the castle. "Oh, great. And while we're at it, we'll get you some protective armour." The laughter dies, and he grows slightly more serious. "Her natural form is rather nasty. Lots of claws and sharp teeth. Nasty scales. Her natural form is a fighting one. We keep it reigned in if she's around more delicate people."
Ellie nods "Ah, okay. Point taken." For a time, nothing more is said as the three wander down into Amber. Ellie leads them back to the clothing shop of the day before, saying "This place is really nice to their customers and quick. A great little cafe is not far away either."
Jurt nods and takes Ryoden off his back to look at some finery. Ellie is actually a little surprised that he has fairly good taste, but then she remembers Mandor, with a sense of grace and style that simply oozed off of him.
Ryoden seems to want to touch everything, staring at different fabrics intently one by one.
Ellie watches quietly for a moment then asks Ryoden "What are you thinking of making?"
Ryoden doesn't raise her head. "A dress..." She rubs a cloth on her cheek, her eyes intense. She looks up, and Ellie has to steel herself so she doesn't step back. Ryoden's pupils are completely gone, all of her eye now the colour of butterscotch.
Jurt looks over and sees the change. He reaches out and pulls Ellie back. "She's memorizing. That always seems to happen. Never have figured it out."
Ellie nods and turns to Jurt "How are you getting along? From what I have seen so far, you have very good taste."
He shrugs. "I grew up with a man that could drive Armani to commit suicide. We all have a little of Mandor. Even Merlin, and they aren't related." He pulls out a grey vest and feels it, then puts it back.
"He took a surprising amount of interest in us. His little proteges. I'm still amazed he hasn't decided to have children. He'd have great fun manipulating them."
Ellie shrugs "Maybe he has more fun manipulating other people's children. So what colours are you choosing?"
He continues his search. "Black is pretty common for Chaos, and maybe red--" He chuckles. "Would certainly show my opinion of most of the Amberites I've had to deal with." He looks over at Ellie. "But I'll be good. Hate for you to feel awkward."
He touches a yellow and slate jacket. "I've never actually picked colours. That's more for upper nobles, when they start massing armies and such. As it is, we don't even really have servants."
"And you? You're a princess. Are you going to pick your own colours, or work with your dad's?"
Ellie shakes her head "I never really thought of colours or of being a princess. I already have a ball gown though. I tend to wear blacks and green with some whites normally, but that's just habit. What colours do you think would suit me?"
He laughs. "Anything but your dad's. Don't want to make a morbid poet out of you." He seems to settle on the dark jacket with the bright trim, and moves onto shirts. "Maybe something bright? I haven't seen you in much. The dress from the dinner was nice. When did you get a dress?"
Ryoden seems to find something that really perks her interest as she sits on the floor and runs her hands over something green. She pauses, furrows her brow a moment, then smiles widely as she goes back to her study.
Ellie smiles for a moment, watching Ryoden, then turns back "Last time Ryoden and I went shopping. I got a number of clothes from this store. And I'm definitely not into my father's colours, trust me. I'll think on it. I'm wearing a cream colour to the ball though."
"That should be nice..." He mummers. Ryoden gets up and walks over to him, smiling broadly.
She keeps her grin up. "I can memorize them faster now."
"Logrus works here."
Ellie swallows her surprise and thinks. She asks "How far away are we from the Castle?"
Jurt thinks. "Well, given the stairs and such, I'd say a good mile or so." He thinks too. "Then it can be activated here. I had wondered about that. Mandor warned me that it wouldn't work everywhere, but we didn't have time for him to elaborate."
Ellie looks thoughtful "Can Logrus transport people and if so, how many?"
"Well, yeah, it can. That's how we get around." Jurt looks over at Ryoden, who looks out the door to the store with interest. "And as to how many it can transport, I'd say it can take a bunch. I've taken up to eight or nine people at a time, and I'm not even all that good."
He looks over at Ellie. "I'm not sure if you'd like it, though. The two powers don't get along all that well, and I've heard it can be painful."
Ellie replies quietly "It may be safer for all us though than going through Arden. Alternately, we look at getting passage on a ship."
She watches Ryoden as she says to Jurt "If you're finished up here, I'll sort out the details." She smiles to him "I won't be long."
He nods. "Be careful, though. Don't arouse too much suspicion. Your dad may already have plans for you." He kisses her on the cheek. "I'll go settle up. I'm going to keep Ryo out here for a while. I just feel uncomfortable in the castle."
Ryoden squeals as an apple appears in her hand. She takes a bite and grins.
Ellie smiles "Tell you what. Get Ryoden to show you the cafe we had desserts in the last time we went shopping and I'll meet you both there. Deal?"
"Deal." He squeezes her hand and talks to the shopkeeper for a moment, showing him a ring Ellie hadn't noticed before. He leaves, quietly talking to Ryoden, and glancing once more at Ellie, worried behind a smiling facade.
Ellie waits for a few moments, thinking, then heads out herself. /Alright, Gerard said there were no pleasure boats as such for hire, so let's see what there is. Harbourmaster would be a good place to start./
With this in mind, she heads off towards the port, seeking directions to the harbour master, as quietly as possible.
She finds the harbour, and is immediately ill at ease. Sailors and shipmen mill about, all eying her openly. She notes a few men who seem to be a bit too busy to ogle her. They try to direct the confusion of sweaty bodies lumbering about.
Ellie sees the office she seeks out on the docks. However, getting there may present problems that would draw more attention than she might like.
/Alright, at least I know where it is. I'll come back when it's quieter or with an escort./
With that, she quickly turns and heads back to the cafe where she's arranged to meet the others.
Jurt and Ryo sit at the stools, Ryoden revelling in something dark and sickening, Jurt flipping through his deck almost absent mindedly. He doesn't see her approach, but Ryoden does. She waves her spoon about.
"They had caramel today!"
Ellie grins back "Sounds lovely. Strawberries for me, I think." She takes a stool and, smiling, gives her request to the staff. Glancing at Jurt, she asks "You not having something to eat as well?"
He shakes his head. Perhaps he did hear her approach...
Ryoden watches him thumb through his deck. "Calling someone?"
"No." His face is brooding.
Ellie replies quietly "Well, I saw where we needed to go tomorrow, but I couldn't get there right now without causing more complications. So I came back here, nice and quietly." She glances at the trumps he keeps thumbing through as she asks gently "What's the problem?"
Imogen winds her way down, amused by the quaintness of it all. It's as if she's stepped back into time, back to a simpler time... Somewhere, she laughs at the irony. She smells chocolate as she drifts, and looks over to the sweets shop. At the counter stands two familiar figures. Jurt and Eleanor.
He sits, looking over a pack of cards, and she talks to him. A small girl is nearby, devouring a rather sticky concoction.
Imogen hesitates for a moment.
Then she reflects.
~This is Corwin's daughter - and I hardly got off to the best of starts with her this morning. And the man with her ... he was there too.~
Her cheeks burn at the memory. One thing is clear - she needs to make friends with these people - or at least try to avoid having them regard her with open hostility.
She surveys the groups again. Of the three, the child definitely seems the least threatening.
She moves towards her and smiles.
"Hello. What flavour's that? Do you recommend it?"
Ellie turns round at the sound of Imogen's voice. Quietly, she says "I believe the flavour is caramel." She then turns to Ryoden "This is my cousin Imogen, Ryoden." Ellie looks again at Imogen, her face neutral "Imogen, this is Ryoden."
Ryoden waves, her face and fingers a mess. "Caramel and chocolate and cherry and marshmallow."
Jurt looks up from his cards.
"I see she found clothes," he mutters.
Ryoden proceeds to lick the mess off of her, and Jurt sees this. Sighing, he takes her and leads her to a fountain, grabbing a handful of napkins on the way. She protests, but it falls on deaf ears.
Ellie and Imogen find themselves alone together, amid a crowd of people.
Imogen is still a little flushed by Jurt's remark. But she takes a deep breath.
~This is clearly my morning to grovel to sundry new relatives.~
Outwardly she smiles and extends a hand.
"I'm sorry," she says easily. "It wasn't the best of introductions this morning, was it? Both of us worried about ... about your father. I'm finding it all a little overwhelming, to be frank. Perhaps, being brought up here, you find it easier .... "
Ellie takes her hand in a light handshake "No, it wasn't a good start on either side. My temper can get away from me at times. And I wasn't brought up here. I only discovered Corwin to be my father two, no three days ago now. Before that I was raised elsewhere."
At that point, Ellie's strawberry dessert arrives. She smiles at the young woman serving her and thanks her before turning back to Imogen.
Ellie says quietly "If you wish something less messy, they serve a wide variety of dishes, all of superb quality. Ryoden has a fondness for caramel though I can recommend too the strawberry dishes."
Ellie hesitates then indicates one of the stools "Would you like to join me? The coffee here is very good too."
"I think I might try a coffee ice and combine the two," responds Imogen, signalling to the waitress.
She looks down at the marble of the counter, and nibbles at her lip as she wonders how to frame her next point. Perhaps Ellie's own words give her a clue ...
"And were you as ignorant as I was of Amber, and everything that seems to have happened here?" she asks quietly.
"It must have been strange to meet your father, and discover he was the King ... "
She finds her cheeks growing a little pink as she suddenly becomes aware that she really does want to discuss Corwin ... as if, she thinks ruefully, she really is becoming Flora's romantic fool. She traces a finger over the icy glass placed before her thoughtfully. No matter what she hears of Corwin, she mustn't lose sight of her task, her goal.
To discover the murderer of her father.
Ellie is quiet for a moment then replies "I had known Corwin for all my life. He visited, played with me as child and kept an eye on me as I grew. I thought him a friend of the family and my foster parents to be my parents."
She pauses and says flatly "They're dead now."
Taking a deep breath, she continues "My father brought me here after I was 'forcibly restrained' by an uncle. It was only then I discovered him to be my father. Since then, I have learned from a number of people, if not my father."
Ellie's green eyes, so like her father's, gaze steadily back "And what brings you to Amber?"
"Which uncle?" says Imogen involuntarily.
Damn it, did people know Brand was alive? Surely not - Flora had categorically told her he was dead and unable to harm her further... No, Brand was her secret, she was sure.
Aloud she answered Ellie's question.
"I was summoned by a trump card. A rather nasty compelling if our Aunt Flora is to be believed."
Ellie nods and asks "Why does it matter which uncle was responsible?" She shrugs "The intent was to teach my father a lesson through my injuries."
Imogen gazes at her cousin in horror.
"But ... surely Corwin has the power to prevent such abuses? At least here, in Amber."
And yet she was thinking of the things he had suffered himself, according to what both he and Flora had said. And hadn't she seen his pain for herself when he was attacked?
But surely he had the power to protect his own daughter?
Because if he couldn't do that. what sort of chance did his mistress stand?
"I'm beginning to believe that this is a barbarous place," she says feelingly as she scoops up her coffee ice.
Ellie shrugs "It wasn't in Amber. It was in my home elsewhere. And as for here, it's not so much barbarous as a fairytale with equal measures of light and shadow. This is a dangerous place though, Imogen, and my father has his share of enemies."
"Who?" says Imogen swiftly.
Then she reaches out a hand towards Ellie. "I’m sorry. But if I am to help Cor ... your father, it will help me if I know where to expect danger. If you and I perhaps could work together to help him."
Ellie takes Imogen's own hand "Fiona is the power behind the throne and Julian her henchman. She it was who sent Julian to beat me into a pulp. She has an interest in maintaining the status quo though I think. Chaos is no real danger as my half-brother Merlin, my father's son, rules there. The biggest danger is a ghost come back from the abyss. I believe there is very little he will not do to harm my father, directly or indirectly." Ellie's look grows serious "If you should ever meet a red haired man with green eyes, dressed in green and black, get away from him as fast as you can. He is a liar and loves plots and he will have no compunction about using you to get to my father." Ellie looks apologetic "I'm not trying to scare you, Imogen. My father cares for you and I think you may care for him and bring him happiness. His welfare matters greatly to me, even if we're not always in agreement."
She smiles ruefully "My father and I are too much alike at times for easy living."
~She's seen him,~ Imogen thinks, dazed. ~Either Ellie ... or someone close to her.~
"Does Corwin know this?" she asks urgently, her hand suddenly tightening on Ellie's wrist. "Ellie ... you speak of Brand, don't you?"
She releases her wrist.
"Forgive me. I didn't mean to hurt you. But ... My mother was meant to have died with him in the Abyss.
"But if Brand survived ... then what of her?"
Ellie nods, not mentioning his name again "Of course my father knows he is back. I told Father of this earlier after my encounter with him. His return makes this a whole new ball game." She says quietly "I don't know of your mother's fate, I'm sorry."
Imogen rises to her feet, her expression dazed.
"I must go to him. I must talk to him about ... "
She looks at Ellie - and for a moment her gaze is unfocused, as though she wasn't really seeing her cousin. Then suddenly she moves forward and give her a swift hug.
"I believe you ... that Fiona is the power behind the throne," she murmurs in Ellie's ear. "That's why ... you and I .... must help your father. Protect him." She looks again at her cousin.
"I need to find him," she says. "To find out what he knows about ... about my mother."
She moves swiftly to the door of the cafe and then up the cobbled roadway to the Castle gates.
As she watches Imogen leave, she hears Jurt and Ryoden approach again.
"I decided to hold back while you two talked. Looked a bit more amicable." He sits, and Ryoden finds her seat again, clean and pouting, muttering about wasted caramel.
Ellie nods "It was, decidedly so. So how are things with you?" She smiles at Ryoden "Want something nice to drink now? What would you like?"
Ryoden nods and orders a soda.
Ellie notices that Jurt's put away his trump deck, but still looks distracted. "I'm fine. I just figured out I'm not the only one that's homesick. It didn't hit me how much time had passed down there until I talked to Despil."
He sighs. "It's kind of sickening that I'm missing so much. Everyday, time flies. I was just wondering what a few of the guys down there were up to."
Ellie nods "It can't be easy I agree. Why don't you trump them anyway while we finish up here. If nothing else, it will satisfy your curiosity." She smiles at Ryoden "Do you still have the map you got? It might be an idea for us to plan out a route just in case."
He shakes his head. "They hang out in Lesser Chaos. It's almost impossible to reach anyone there from here. The only reason I can get my family are because of these." He bats his pendant.
Ryoden pats her jacket and finds the map, then proudly hands it to Ellie. "I still have it." She helps lay it out. "Where are we going?"
Ellie replies "Initially just out of Amber. From there, I can move us all on further. The first preference is to go by ship. There may be less problems that way. However, we need to plan an alternate route through Arden too in case there are no ships going the way we want."
Ellie looks apologetically at Jurt "I didn't actually go to the Harbourmaster, though I know where it is. The docks looked kind of risky and I didn't want to unnecessarily draw attention."
He nods. "Good idea." He thinks. "Technically we _can_ logrus out... It won't kill you, but it's hardly pleasant unless you're used to chaos. Arden... I've heard stories. If they're true, I'd rather stay here than chance it."
He thinks. "Know anyone on the outside you happen to have a trump for?"
Ellie shakes her head "Of course. How could I forget that? I have a trump of Luke. That would be better again."
He laughs. "The simplest solutions are usually the best. He'll be mad if we don't say hi anyway. But I don't want to stay, since Corwin already knows that you know him. If he knows that, others might, too."
He pauses. "Wonder where he's holing us up tonight?"
Ellie shrugs "No idea, but I think we can safely assume the rooms won't be anywhere near to each other, given my father's earlier request. So it might be best to arrange someplace to meet tomorrow morning."
He chuckles. "Maybe you and I should practice sneaking... Hate to waste the last night in Amber." He sighs. "Most likely Ryo will be stuck with Benedict, so I won't be far off from there. Your dad is likely to keep you close."
Ryoden glowers. "I am NOT staying with Benedict!"
Ellie replies cautiously "Maybe we should just wait and see where we're all put first. It would be sensible to keep you and Ryoden together I would think though. And anyway, the ball is like to take up a good part of the evening and night I would think."
He nods, and begins to speak, but Ryoden refuses to be ignored.
"I'll get his other cheek! I'm not staying with him!" Jurt sighs.
"Ryoden, you know he's the best to protect you..."
"No he isn't! You are!" He suppresses a smile.
"Well, I'll make sure he doesn't stay in our room then, okay?"
She frowns, but nods.
Ellie nods "Sounds like a good idea." She turns to Ryoden "So where would you like to go next? We don't have to return to the Castle for a while, I think."
She smiles slowly. She traces the map under her fingers for a moment, then points, grinning widely.
Ellie looks down, and Ryoden is once again pointing to the grove of the Unicorn.
Ellie looks at Jurt "What do you think? Would it be safe enough to go there?"
He shrugs. "You're looking at a tourist. I don't have a clue."
He gets off his stool. "Guess it can't hurt." He takes her arm and throws some money on the counter. "I really do want to take you to Chaos one day. I mean really take you."
Ellie smiles "I'd like that." She grins at Ryoden "Alright, shall we go see what this Grove is like then?"
She nods and runs off. Jurt keeps to a safe distance, but seems to prefer to stay back with Ellie.
"You said you dated a punk guy? You'd like lesser Chaos then. Mandor hates it, and I think he'd rather me re-enter the Higher levels... but that's another story. Mandor and his little chicks. But anyway... it's a bit rougher and dark, but it's always fun." He laughs. "Where us irresponsible types hang out."
Ellie chuckles "It certainly sounds interesting. Andre wasn't a punk all the time though. It varied with his mood. Kept the green hair and the tattoos though all the time I knew him. I think you would have liked him."
Ellie grins and adds "So you're the irresponsible type huh? I will admit a curiosity to see what you're like in Chaos."
He shrugs. "I'm the same. I don't really shift all that much... " He chuckles. "Becomes pretty pointless to do that when you meet Klasha." He's silent for a moment, then shakes his head. "She's almost neurotic about that-- always changing. Gets worse if she's agitated."
He looks up at the Castle. "I just don't like it here. There's nowhere to run."
Ellie nods "I know. I just don't really feel all that comfortable here. It's lovely, but it's a cage." She shrugs then smiles "Who's Klasha?" adding "For the record, I like you as you are. Being the same in Chaos is fine by me."
"Klasha's a friend... She's a lower Minobee. So low, her house doesn't offer protection. She's more the experimental type, a bit wild... Flirts shamelessly with my brothers whenever she comes over. Mandor can't stand her." He laughs. "She's too undignified."
Ellie chuckles "She sounds fun. I'd like to meet her. And in return, I'll introduce you to all my friends in Paris. They're an interesting bunch. A bit mad sometimes, but fun."
He manages to suppress a snicker. "Madness is a way of life in the courts, especially the lower. It's not uncommon for someone to never recover walking the Logrus, or for someone who has recovered to have a relapse. People who use Logrus too much tend to be a bit off balance, too..."
He thinks. "But hey, at least you don't have to walk to use it."
Ellie is quiet for a moment, then asks "Do you know if I'll have the same kind of difficulties with Pattern as you and Ryoden do within a mile of the Castle?" She smiles, remembering something and asks "Would you be able to tell me what this necklace does now?"
"You can ask Merlin if there's any complications. I'm sure he's toyed with it." He looks at the delicate feather. "I'd forgotten about that. Let me see..." He touches the feather, and his eyes lose focus for a second. Ellie feels something warm about her, something buzzing, then the feather grows warm...
Jurt grabs his head suddenly and curses, as if in pain. "AHH!" It's over quickly as he shakes his head and steadies himself.
"Power word," he finally manages to say. "And it just used it on me."
Ellie puts an arm round his waist to help steady him. "I am so sorry, Jurt. I never meant for you to get hurt. Is there anything I can do to help?"
He waves her off. "No, it'll fade in a second. It just clamped on my mind... I'm not sure which one it was though. We'll have to ask when we pass through Kashfa."
He shakes his head a final time, clearing it. "I thought it would be some sort of spying device... Hell, maybe it is, and the power word is covering for it."
Ellie nods "As you say, we'll ask Luke." She takes a deep breath "We can't really stay there long though." Sighing, Ellie adds "Dad is less than keen on me going into Shadow now."
Jurt throws up his hands. "I give up! I thought he _wanted_ you in shadow?" He shakes his head. "What did he say?" He grumbles a bit. "Great. All we need is him sending the legions after us..."
Ellie shrugs "He's just stressed about Brand." She shakes her head "He probably won't send anyone after me. Even if he does, we'll be away from everywhere that is easy to check. And in the end, it's my decision how I live my life. Not his."
She looks into the distance "I still love my father, but I'm my own person too."
Jurt shakes his head. "I'm not so sure. He's probably not going to be real pleased, and seeing as how Ryo and I will be gone, and he told you to stay away from her..." He sighs. "I don't see many happy holiday parties ahead."
In the distance, Ryoden cuts sharply to the right as the town ends. She disappears around the side of a building. Jurt curses and rushes forward.
Ellie follows suit, running after Jurt and Ryoden, turning sharply round to the right and following the route taken.
Ellie and Jurt have some difficulty dodging first people, then tree roots, but when they turn the corner, they see she's stopped.
Ryoden sits in the middle of a grove, her back to them. She has her head cocked to the side and stares off into the forest, silent.
Ellie says nothing at first, but simply kneels beside Ryoden, looking out into the forest, letting the green peace soak into her bones for a time. Softly, she asks Ryoden "What do you see?"
Ryoden shudders. "Nothing. Nothing." Oddly, there is no peace in her eyes, only disruption and a bit of fear.
Jurt studies her, then pulls her up off the ground. "C'mon. Let's go."
Ellie rises too, if a bit more reluctantly, and looks with concern at Ryoden before adding "Yes, I suppose we'd best be getting back."
Ryoden turns and makes a dash for the main road again. Jurt watches her go, then turns to the forest.
"She probably saw a hellhound and got spooked. There's tons of them out here." He doesn't look convinced by his own words, though.
Ellie nods and replies "Maybe. Maybe something else." She looks into the forest "She'll tell either you or I though when she's ready."
Ellie smiles and moves after Ryoden, saying to Jurt "Come on dearest, we'd best catch up with her again."
"Dearest?" he laughs. "Haven't been called that before." His gaze shifts to Ryoden. "She might say. She might not." He sighs.
"So where do you want to go? Find out where our new assignments are and how many guards your dad has posted around your door?"
Ellie nods, walking along "I guess so. You know Imogen isn't half as bad as I thought she was. She seems to like me anyway. Wraecca and Lillian are nice too. Wraecca's a shapeshifter too by the way, and they're also from a modern world."
Jurt nods. "Ryoden should be pleased. All these non-shifting people disturb her, somewhere in that head of hers. I think it might be a bit too static for her here." He sighs.
"Mandor will be disappointed. He wanted her to stay at court here a few years when she gets older."
Ellie chuckles "That I just cannot see. At least not as Ryoden is right now." Looking back to Amber Castle, she says "Want to take the long or the short route?"
"Long. Let her walk it off." He kicks a stone about with his feet. "She'll work it out. Forcing her-- well, she's a force unto herself."
"It's customary to spend a few years at Court somewhere far away. Kind of helps cut the apron strings. And Mandor seems to think her strings are so strong she needs to go to the other end of the universe."
He kicks the stone again. "Plus, she's his little protege, but I don't think he knows how to cope with her half the time."
Ellie nods "If I may enquire, how used is Mandor to kids? Especially ones as bright and energetic as Ryoden?"
"He's..." Jurt searches for the words. "He's more responsible for Ryoden's education. He's stern... he doesn't like to be crossed. But he appreciates her abilities. Hell, he adores them. He has a million plans for her." Jurt grins wickedly. "And she's stubborn as hell, and getting worse. She can smell a manipulation a mile away."
Ellie smiles "I've noticed."She is quiet for a moment thinking, a slight frown on her face. /She's still a kid though, even with the abilities, and in need of love too, especially from her mother.../
Ellie shakes her head slightly, the slight frown vanishing, and she says "I best head off. Given Dad's mood the last time I saw him, it might not be the best idea to arrive back together. How about I give you a call when I find out where I'm being put?"
"Three guesses where that is," he replies, kissing her quickly. He lets her go, calling Ryoden back to him and taking her by the hand, back into town.
Ellie smiles slightly, watching them both as they leave. Taking out her trump deck, she draws out the card for the main gates and concentrates. As it becomes real, she steps through.
With a polite smile to the guards, she goes into the Castle and up to the suite.
The suite is empty, devoid of anything that belongs to her or her suitemates. True, no one had all that much...
A servant steps in and nods to Eleanor. "Sorry, miss. Going to have to ask you to leave. We're locking up."
Ellie steps outside and asks the servant as he locks up "Excuse me, but would you tell me where my belongings have been taken please?"
"Either Benedict's or the King's suites." He looks at her. "If you're his daughter, then it's the King’s."
"Your highness." He bows.
Ellie smiles "Thank you. I'll go there now." then she turns off and heads towards the King’s suites. On an impulse, she knocks on the door of her father's chambers.
A long pause, then the door opens, this time revealing a Corwin more properly attired, and more calm. "Ellie. I was just about to go looking for you." He steps back to let her come in.
Ellie looks surprised "You were?" She smiles and adds "I just wanted to tell you I had a lovely talk with Imogen. I like her, Dad. So you don't have to worry about that any more. Also, I've been meeting or seeing my other cousins, so I can tell you a bit about all the new arrivals too. Would that be useful to you?"
He closes the door behind her. "Yes. And you can tell me about your afternoon with Ryoden." His tone is impossible to read.
Ellie takes a deep breath and turns to her father. "Dad, whatever else is going on, she's a kid who's had to leave the only home she's ever known. She's homesick and lonely. I freely admit to being fond of her and she likes me. If I abandon her now, that's cruel to her."
She says softly "Dad, I know you're trying to keep me safe, but my gut instinct is to protect a child and this one especially. I have this hunch that Brand is just looking for us to give him a means to get to Ryoden. If we turn away, won't it do just that? And Merlin trusted her with us. I like Merlin too and I don't want to let him down."
Ellie looks up at him "Dad, you have every right to be angry with me, but please don't punish Ryoden. More than ever, she needs friends. It's not her fault Brand may be targeting her. She needs our help, not our abandonment."
She sighs "And I was helping her and Jurt to get clothing for the ball tonight when we went out this afternoon. I thought Aunt Flora might appreciate less work."
Corwin firmly takes her by the shoulders and sits her down on at one of the chairs at the breakfast table. He takes the other seat, and collects his thoughts. Finally, he finds his tongue.
"You are not her guard. Self-appointed or not, this is beyond your abilities. How can you protect her? You can't wield a sword. You don't know sorcery. You've just acquired pattern. You don't even know how to use it yet. My daughter is not a human shield for someone she met two days ago.
"I have watched over you since you were weeks old. I have tried my best to keep you safe, give you a place where you would be nurtured and happy. Towards the end I couldn't protect you as well as before... But I tried. And I didn't do that just so you could throw your life away over a small girl from the other end of the universe.
"Benedict is shadowing her now. Her brother is watching her. She has guardians enough."
Ellie is quiet for a long moment then says "These are fair points, Dad. I can't be a guardian anyway given my limitations. I know that. What I am though is a friend to both her and her brother as they have befriended me. That's all I'm trying to say really, I guess."
She adds quietly "Dad, I know you have always protected me as best as you can. You've been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Please believe me when I say you still are. I'm not doing this to rebel or be difficult. Initially, I was just getting to know other people. I thought since they weren't family as such, they might be safer to know. So far they have been."
Ellie hesitates then says "I know Jurt's diplomacy is non-existent and he annoys people and takes chances, but he has been kind and nice to me, Dad. He's not feuding with Merlin anymore either. Please just trust me on this."
She smiles slightly "Want to hear what else I've been finding out now?"
He sighs. "Okay. What else have you been finding out?" He seems to shelve any retort he may have had for the time being.
Ellie nods "Well, I only Faetan briefly, but I think Benedict disapproves of her. She and Martin were playing strip-poker in his garden. I also met Wraecca, though I don't know if he's a cousin or not. He does have Pattern though. He seems very nice and quite sensible, very practical. His companion Lillian is also a good person to know. She's a therapist. They're both from an Earth-type world I think. They were with someone called Clarice who was with Caine, but I don't know who Clarice is. Dresses in leather though. Thomas I met briefly. The impression is of the martial type. Imogen is worried about you and asked me stuff so I told her what I've found out so far of Amber. I hope it helps. I like her. You better not hurt her, Dad."
She pauses "Am I missing anyone?"
Corwin looks confused. "Wraecca? Who the hell is Wraecca? And I haven't heard of Clarice... And Caine is in town...? And what is Martin doing with Faetan?"
He grows serious. "Do you know where to find this... Wraecca?"
At the door, Marrek puts his hand over his face and mutters quietly, shaking his head.
Ellie shakes her head "No, I don't. I think it's safe to say though they're as new to this as I am, if not newer. My impression is that if you helped them, you'd have two, new, very useful contacts in Amber. Just an observation."
"Yes -- Or Caine may be planning something by bringing his kin into town and not talking to me... Or even setting them up on the grounds. As far as I know, none of the extra rooms have been used..." He curses. "And he has pattern already. Great. And why would they bring a therapist?"
Ellie says carefully "I may be mistaken, but I don't know if they are Caine's kin. He could be just trying to manipulate them. I don't think there's any love lost there. As for Lillian, she seems to be a friend of Wraecca's more than anything else. Talk to them, Dad. They're good people and potentially loyal to you."
He sighs and rubs his temples. "Do you know where to find them? I think you and I need to take a walk."
Ellie shakes her head "No, I don't. Sorry, Dad. And a walk where?"
His look grows dark, and the paranoia in his eyes makes Ellie slightly queasy. "To find them. You know what they look like, they know you. So finding them should be a small problem."
Ellie hesitates then asks "Will you hear them out first, Dad? You told me once you needed people loyal to you. I've been diplomatic to new people and guests because I know people may judge the King by his daughter. I really think Wraecca and Lillian are no danger to you and could be an asset."
"I'm not going to imprison them," he says carefully. "Just talk to them. find out who's they are, and get them up to the castle, where they should be."
He stands. "Come on."
Ellie nods "Alright, Dad. I think you'll like them though."
Marrek turns and knocks sharply on the door. Oh, why not?"
Corwin turns to the door, muttering, and opens it, to see Marrek's calm countenance.
"Oh. Hello, Marrek. I suppose you need something?"
Ellie rises to stand near her father while Marrek answers.
Marrek sketches a brief bow to Corwin and nods politely to Eleanor. "I don't mean to intrude, Your Majesty," he says, "but I have recently been informed that we are no longer too welcome in Lord Brand's former quarters. Further, I have learned that my belongings were to be moved here into your suites."
He nods. "I'm less than comfortable with all of you there now that he seems to be back in town. I hope these rooms will do."
He pauses. "Why are you not with the Princess Ryoden?" He shakes his head. "Never mind. Settle in. She and her brother are staying with Benedict. Eleanor is staying here."
Ellie nods, her face carefully neutral, as she can guess that Marrek knows of the plan to leave the following day.
Marrek nods. "I appreciate your hospitality under these no-doubt difficult circumstances. I will endeavour to keep from under foot." That said, he steps aside to let the pair past.
Corwin nods and leads Eleanor out, closing the door behind him.
/That girl is going to get into some serious trouble if she can't learn to control her tongue./ With a shake of his head, Marrek turns on his heel and makes his way through the halls of Castle Amber towards Benedict's quarters.
As he approaches Benedict's chambers, his finely tuned ears pick up a rustling and talking therein... A piping voice, cracking occasionally, and another one, rustier and more varied.
They walk down the hallway, and he looks over the Ellie. "You trust too willingly."
He waves any response, and continues. "I trusted once. It almost killed me. As a matter of fact, if it weren't for my captor needing to cover his ass, I would be dead."
He sighs and puts a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry. These aren't easy lessons."
Ellie nods "I know. And I am getting warier if that's any consolation." She pauses then continues "I heard about what happened. I'm glad you're still here. I'd like to hear some of your music and songs at some point." She brightens "Did you ever write anything for the piano?"
He nods. "And ballads too."
They walk a long time, and he says nothing, simply staring at the floor passing under them. Finally he clears his throat.
"What's going on between you and Jurt?"
Ellie is quiet for a long moment then answers "Before I answer that, may I ask what you honestly think of Jurt?"
"I don't think that's a good idea. I'd rather know what's going on. I don't want to end up eating my words later."
Ellie nods "Jurt and I like each other a lot. He looks out for me if he can."
Corwin looks away. "Have you considered the possibility he's using you? Their family is a political machine. They do that sort of thing."
Ellie tucks her arm through her father's "Yes, I have considered it. There are strings to everything. I've seen this. Please don't worry, Dad. So where do you want to try first in Amber? You know it better than I do." She grins "Though I have a better knowledge of sweet shops now."
He stops her and spins her to face him. "I'm losing patience for your attempted distractions, Eleanor." He pulls free of her arm. "This is not a child's game. Have you really thought about if Jurt is using you to get a foothold here? Or get information? Or if he's just keeping you close to distract any of his sister's assailants?
"You've been hit with a number of things, and the unicorn must smile on you, because you've managed to survive. Julian attacking you. Walking the pattern. Meeting Brand. But trust me, her favour can change."
He turns sharply and heads down the road.
Ellie hurries to catch up with him and says quietly "I am well aware that this is not a child's game. And I have thought about possible uses Jurt may have in getting close to me. As for distractions, that's all you've given me before when I tried to ask you about things. And for the record, I'm not relying on luck or anyone's favour. Have you thought why I try all these distractions? Any time I try to get close to you or act for myself, you find fault or tell me what I'm doing wrong. For knowing me as well as you do, you have remarkably little faith in me." She looks away then adds "I'm not my mother, Dad, but sometimes it feels to me that's all you see when you look at me."
He stiffens. "That -- is not what I see. You never even knew her." His eyes grow dark. "I see us when we were younger. Reckless. Impulsive. Over half of us never made it past one hundred because we thought we were being careful.
"If you fully thought of why Jurt may be getting close to you, then you wouldn't be wandering off with him. And you won't be.
"I'm cutting their stay short. Benedict can take them. I'm not having you killed for them."
Ellie falls silent then asks quietly "May I ask when this is to happen?"
His eyes narrow. "Immediately. And I don't want you following, do you understand? They are not you concern." His cheeks are flushed with rage, and his fist clench at his sides. "If you're so determined to throw your life away.... Over nothing... After what I've done to get you..."
Ellie sighs "I have no interest in throwing my life away, Dad." She is quiet for a moment then says "So what do you want me to do in Amber?"
He looks almost surprised at her quick submission, but covers it quickly.
"You're a princess. The ball is coming up, so you should learn of your relatives. I'll also have to teach you to use pattern." He pauses, searching for something to say. Finally he turns to walk away.
"See if you can find this Wraecca or any of his party, and bring them to the castle."
Ellie says "I will. May I ask one request, Dad?"
He turns back and nods sharply.
Ellie takes a deep breath and says "Let Jurt and Ryoden stay for the ball too please. Their departure now will only lead to more talk and Aunt Flora fussing. You have what you want from me anyway. Please grant me this."
He sighs and nods. "I'll grant you that."
Ellie smiles "Thank you."
Just off to the side of the street, Ellie catches a glimpse of Lillian and Wraecca, talking quietly.
She says quickly "I see Lillian and Wraecca, if you want to meet them just now, Dad."
He follow her gaze and nods, heading off towards them.
Lillian is about to respond, when her eyes fall on Corwin. She pauses, thinks. "Number five. Corwin," she whispers, "The king..."
Corwin bows slightly at them, then waits for Eleanor to catch up.
Ellie catches up and says "Your Majesty, this is Wraecca and Lillian." She smiles reassuringly at them "Wraecca, Lillian, this is my father, King Corwin."
Wraecca returns Corwin's slight bow. "Pleasetomeetcha. Nice castle you got up there. The Library was most impressive."
Corwin squints. "You've been to the castle? Then why..."
He shakes off the question. "Would you care for a more formal tour? I have been remiss. No one had brought my attention to your presence until less than an hour ago."
Lillian smiles brightly, but Wraecca can swear he can hear her curse under her breath.
Ellie smiles at them both and adds "It's really a very interesting place, especially with a well-informed guide such as my father. Will you be attending the ball tonight?"
"We would be happy to see the castle, uh -" Wraecca turns to Lillian, "Are you up for another stair climb or do you need to rest my dear?"
Lillian nods eagerly. "Oh... I am feeling a bit tired..."
Corwin nods. "It must be the poor quality of your rooms. You should move into your proper place in the castle. This lower city noise can't be doing you much good."
Ellie adds "The Castle is certainly quieter. Perhaps, the tour could be foregone in favour of letting you rest, Lillian, if everyone is agreeable."
Wraecca turns to Ellie and says, "We do hope to make it to the ball tonight, but that will depend on how Lillian is feeling. The stairs can tire a person so easily."
A look of puzzlement crosses Wraecca's face and he looks to Corwin. "Uh? How is it the castle is our proper place? We paid for the room at the inn. You certainly can't take in every traveller you meet."
"You have pattern," he says patiently. "Therefore you are family. Therefore, your proper place is in the palace, and not in a tavern inn."
"One room or two? And where is the other one you travel with? Clarice?"
Lillian keeps her simple smile on, but the wheels are spinning in her head. "The palace. Why how lovely."
Ellie says "Given how tired Lillian is, may I suggest taking the quick route back to the Castle, your Majesty?"
Turning to Corwin, Wraecca answers, "Clarice comes, goes, and keeps her own counsel. I'm sure she'll turn up soon."
He nods curtly, but doesn't seem pleased. "Do you know where to find her?" Lillian quickly shakes her head.
Corwin takes out a trump and concentrates.
Wraecca leans over towards Corwin to study the card, "Those cards are really cool. Where are they sold? I could use a couple."
Corwin seems a bit confused. "They aren't sold... It's your parent that usually gets you a set."
"Speaking of which..." He gently takes Wraecca’s arm, and nods to Ellie. "I will talk to you later." His face is somewhat calmer, maybe even a bit abashed.
Lillian takes Wraecca's hand instinctively, and the world fades around them, and turns into a very stylish room, decorated in black and silver. Out a window they can see the town, tiny in the distance.
Ellie waits until the three fade away and then takes out her own Trump deck, revised plans running through her head. She takes out Jurt's trump and concentrates.
The contact comes, and she sees Jurt and Ryoden on the beach, her examining a handful of sand.
"Hi, Ellie," smiles Jurt, then he sees her somewhat sombre expression. "What happened?" He holds out his hand for her.
Ellie takes his hand and steps through, looking around to see if anyone else is nearby before she speaks.
Seeing that they appear to be alone, Ellie answers quietly "We may have to step up our plans somewhat. I've asked Dad to let you both stay for the ball, but beyond that I don't know. One thing that has been made abundantly clear is that I am to stay here in Amber." She smiles "Which I have no intention of doing, of course. So you need have no worries about that."
Jurt holds up a hand. "Back up, back up... What happened? What did your father say? You mean he's kicking us out?"
Ryoden looks over, but a shadow falls on her and she looks up. A young boy about her age stands in front of her, hands in his pockets. They start talking and she moves closer to the surf with him.
Ellie frowns slightly and says "I'll tell you what happened in a minute. Have you seen that boy before?"
Jurt looks over. "No. Looks like a local kid. I'm not from around here, remember?"
Ryoden giggles at something the boy says, and he smiles widely at her. The surf hits their toes and she asks him something, to which he shakes his head.
Ellie nods, still looking uncertain "Sorry, I'm just a bit jumpy at anyone new around Ryoden at the moment with Brand around. Alright, Dad asked me how my afternoon with Ryoden had gone. I tried truth, then throwing lots of info at my cousins about him, then distraction. He also wanted to know what was going on between us. I told him we liked each other a lot and that you looked out for me. After a time, we got into another argument then and he said he was sending you two away immediately with Benedict and that I was not to throw my life away. I lied and let him think he'd won and that I was staying in Amber. With that, he was amenable to my request to let you both stay for the ball." She shrugs "I was buying time, that's all."
Ellie pauses "So, I was thinking, during the ball might be the best time to leave. Before and he'll notice straight off. After, I don't know. What do you think?"
Jurt takes her hand and kisses it, then looks around quickly and puts it back down. He sits for a moment, then curses. "I'm not doing anything wrong. WE aren't doing anything wrong. You're a grown woman..."
He shakes his head and laughs ironically. "And she's not going to go to Benedict's. Unless Corwin's trying to send her in there so she can slash at the guy a few more times. Something about him just rubs her wrong."
Ellie smiles "I've noticed. It's just that Corwin still sees me as his child, not as a woman in my own right. And she won't have to go to Benedict's. We just need to decide when is the best time to leave and get ready to do so." Ellie glances over at Ryoden "I want her to be as happy as I can arrange for her to be."
He nods and pulls her close, watching Ryoden. "We'll have to wait and see at the ball. An opportunity might have to present itself. I have no idea how Amber balls are run, or if your father's going to have anyone watching you.
"I'm sure we'll have the chance. Your father isn't used to dealing with shapeshifters. There are holes in any security."
Ellie nods "Alright, I have my stuff packed and ready to go anyway." She chuckles "Well, my paints and stuff never actually got unpacked, so not much difference really. And I'm in one of my father's rooms, though I don't know which one yet. If need be, I can leave my stuff behind though." She settles back into his hug, as they sit on the sand watching Ryoden and her new friend "We'll all get away from here somehow."
Ellie grins "I've been thinking more about our destination. This is going to be fun." Her expression grows more serious "Would you teach me more about fighting and shapeshifting and stuff if you have the time, please."
He laughs. "Shapeshifting, I can try. Fighting... well, as long as it doesn't involve anything sharp. I'm more the grappling type. And spell type. Swords aren't really a staple in my family, so we only got the most basic of lessons when we were kids."
Up the beach, Ryoden's head snaps to her companion suddenly, and she says something that is masked by the surf. He replies, and after a moment, she relaxes.
Ellie nods absently, tensing a little as she watches Ryoden. "Jurt, let's take Ryoden to the Pit. I'm not sure I trust the boy."
Jurt studies the boy less absently for a moment, then gets up, releasing Ellie. He makes his way over, appearing casual, and sits down behind Ryoden and her friend quietly, joining their conversation.
Ellie stays where she is, keeping an eye on all, but not wanting to crowd the three. Instead, she takes out her trump deck and carefully sorts it so that Luke's trump is second to uppermost, ready for later, and cutting out one more delay. Uppermost goes Jurt's trump, again just in case. She squares her trumps away and thinks about what is to come, her gaze growing distant as she considers possibilities.
Her concern about the boy reminding her only too well of her father's attitude. She smiles wryly to herself. Truly her father's daughter. And what of after? He will be angry at the very least.
Ellie sighs and stares out to sea. Either way somebody is going to get hurt.
Jurt eventually returns to her side, shrugging. "Just another kid. Didn't strike me as odd. One of the Bayles, apparently. They make wine around here."
He stares out at the sea. "Penny for your thoughts."
Ellie answers "Just thinking about what is to come. Possibilities. Sorrow for the hurt I'm going to cause." She blinks "I'm glad he's just a kid. Ryoden needs friends her own age. Must remember to add that in." She looks at Jurt, a smile on her lips "And I'm glad too to be leaving here. What are you thinking?"
He thinks. "I'm thinking about her. And you. And Corwin coming after me and sticking that pattern blade of his in my gut." He laughs without humor. "My life just gets more complicated every day, doesn't it? I think this universe has a sick sense of humor. Here's a great girl, but oh, by the way, her father is the king of the universe and hates you."
Ellie says quietly "I don't think he'll kill you. There would be too much fallout from your family, I think." She is silent for a moment then continues "If it will make it any easier, I can get you and Ryoden to safety then head off elsewhere. My father won't come after you if I'm not there."
He shakes his head. "I may be giving danger a gold-gilt invitation, but I don't want to be separated. He may just come after me anyway and take me out...
"And that leaves Ryo alone."
He takes out his deck. "Wherever we go, want a few travelling companions? I think we need Chaos right now."
Ellie nods "A few travelling companions definitely would help. Who are you thinking of?"
He nods. "Some people who won't be missed. I'll pull them in once we get away. Tolan. Bel'k. Klasha." He hands her the cards. "They won't work here, at least not well."
"And I don't want to loose them on Amber, no matter how much I dislike it."
Ellie nods "That's appreciated. I have friends here too." and then she looks at the cards, taking care not to make contact. "Your friends from lesser Chaos, I take it."
He nods. "You haven't really met Chaos yet. Ryo is reigned in because of her station, and I'm old enough to know how to behave. These are closer to our roots, though."
The cards show three individuals: a man, thin and pale, with a sharp smile and the slightest hint of-- fangs?; then a young woman, half her face blue, the other green, with yellow pale eyes; the last is a broad faced individual, almost a caricature of a strong man. His hair is cropped short and his jaw is over large.
"They're not the most subtle bunch. Klasha's card won't work. I haven't updated it in a while."
Ellie nods and hands back the cards "Any customs or do's and don'ts I should know about? I don't want to inadvertently cause offence to your friends."
"Oh, them, they're probably going to break a million of your rules before you ever break one of theirs. They're an irreverent bunch. Hence, they're in lower Chaos.
"Tolan's the only one who might be able to climb up, but... Well, he broke a few taboos."
Ellie asks curiously "Which taboos? Come to think of it, what are the rules in Chaos? I'm curious." She grins "You know, I'm really looking forward to going to Chaos. I'm not sure why, but last time I was there it felt really restful. It's odd. This place is more like Earth, but it feels stifling." She smiles "Does that make any sense?"
He looks at Tolan's card. "Tolan has kept... some interesting company. He had a wild hair, and took warnings as dares. He's a bit calmer now, but still, what he's done haunts him.
"As for rules in Chaos, there aren't any, really. You move more on instinct. Sure, there's etiquette and the like, but you wouldn't have to abide by those. They change from house to house.
"And I think this place is stifling because of the residents, not the actual location."
Ellie nods "Yes, it's like a rose that's lovely, perfect even, on the outside. However when you look at the centre, it's rotten and slowly decaying."
She is quiet for a moment then adds "Paris is like that too. It's a lovely city, but it has a nasty underbelly to it. It both creates and destroys, kills people at the same time as it inspires others."
Shaking her head as if to rid herself of a memory, Ellie asks "Is Tolan a vampire or does he just look like one?"
Jurt touches his nose. "Give the lady a cigar. I wouldn't mention it around him, though. He's touchy about it. Most vampires aren't the nicest of people, and tend to be social pariahs. He's not exactly like them, though I can see where he fit in with them.
"That's what's kept him down. No one likes dealing with a neck-sucker."
Ellie nods, understanding, then asks "Does he need to kill to survive? And if so, what does he feed on?" She shrugs "I'd hate to take him to a Shadow where he would starve if he comes to help us."
"You know something? I never asked. It's not something he's very open about. Not that he has a choice. Being... the way he is limits his shapeshift.
"He's only given us enough details so we don't put him in danger. Like, he can walk around in the sun. He just doesn't like it. And holy things don't seem to affect him."
Ellie nods "Alright, I'll figure that into the Shadow. Longish twilights should help. Bel'k and Klasha. Are there any particular things they might enjoy in a Shadow?"
He laughs. "If they want something, they'll import it. Trust me." He sits again and enjoys the sun. "Bel'k has logrus, shocking as that was to us, and Klasha-- well, she changes too much for me to say. She's very adaptable."
He stares at the card of Klasha for a moment, then adds it back into his deck and puts it away again.
"Ryo knows them. Well, as a matter of fact. They're in a nameless ways, and every now and then a chaos storm will tear it up, and they're homeless while repairs are done. They've crashed at Sawallways more than a few times.
"Mother was thrilled."
Ellie smiles "I can imagine." She looks at him "And you, Jurt, what would you like in the Shadow? I know you've agreed with what I'm putting in for Ryoden, but is there anything specific you'd like to be in there for yourself?"
He chuckles. "You," he says simply, then sighs and takes out his deck.
"I don't think Merlin's going to be happy about the latest bit of news from the front."
Ellie nods, her smile at his compliment changing to a look of concern "What do you think he will do?"
"Too late to disown me..." he replies. "Shit. Blocking. I was hoping I could get him." He sighs and takes out Mandor's card. "Oh well."
He concentrates again, talks, then pulls Mandor through, who looks quite annoyed.
"Please tell me at least a _day_ has gone by here."
Ellie nods "I believe so, Lord Mandor." Smiling apologetically up at him, Ellie adds "I do regret any inconvenience caused. Events just seems to be happening in rather quick succession here at the moment"
He nods to Ellie, then turns to Jurt. "Well?"
Jurt looks uncomfortable. "It appears that Ryoden and I will no longer be welcome in Amber very soon. Corwin seems to-- dislike me."
Mandor looks confused, and is about to ask why, when he looks over at Eleanor. "Ah --" Understanding floods his face. "The jealous father."
"Basically. I was going to find a new place to stay anyway, but as you can see, this complicates things." Mandor nods, and moves away from the two, deep in though. Jurt looks to Ellie.
"He took that better than I thought."
Ellie replies quietly "Maybe it's not just your mother who thinks us getting together is a good idea. Politics I guess."
"I wouldn't doubt it. I just wish Corwin saw it that way." He pauses. "Politics are interesting. When you've aligned your interests with someone powerful's, you can do anything. I'd wager he's trying to figure out a win-win situation right now."
Ellie nods "I hope so too." Musing, she says "Do you think Mandor would be willing to teach about politics at some point? I take it it's Merlin's interests you've aligned yourself with?" She sighs "Dad's too emotional about this right now to see things clearly. He just sees someone taking his child away from him. The fact that you're from Chaos just makes it worse for him. Maybe he'll be more reasonable when he cools down."
"We can hope," says Jurt darkly, but from his tone, Ellie realizes that's the last thing he's about to do.
"I'm sure Mandor will be more than happy to give you a primer on politics and Chaos. And I wouldn't say it's Merlin's interests this aligns with. More like my houses. Politics in Chaos are individual and house-based all at once. You don't act on one without thinking of the other."
Ellie nods "So in Chaos, the family is as important as the self. I like that, but I can see it would cause conflict when the two interests don't agree. What happens then?" She takes his hand and says gently "Hope is nice, but I prefer practical steps to get away and not to rely on my father's good humour. Fair enough?"
"You hope they never do conflict. Family is not a warm and fuzzy thing down there. If you turn against your house... well, at best, you end up houseless, and that means depending on the kindness of strangers."
Ellie remembers the meeting at New Avalon and says quietly "Like Gilva said she was houseless? I see what you mean. The houses sound more like the families of Renaissance Italy." Looking up at the Castle, she continues "Time is getting on. I should be getting back."
He nods, but stops her as Mandor approaches again. He looks pensive.
"How badly have things deteriorated with your father, Eleanor?"
Ellie answers "At one point he was red with rage, but he calmed somewhat when I appeared to give in. He is determined though to keep me separate from Jurt and Ryoden and was going to send them away with Benedict immediately until I backed down. After that, he was willing to let them stay for the ball." She looks down as she adds "Father wants me nowhere near Chaos, or Chaosites and may see my actions as betrayal. I don't know though how he will react to that."
Mandor taps his lips with his fingers. "Unacceptable... Do what you can to get your father back in your graces. And Jurt. Please behave yourself at this ball."
Jurt frowns. "We're still leaving."
Mandor nods. "Yes, yes, I know. But I don't want this to be a complete political catastrophe."
Ellie nods "I best get back then and begin. Thank you for the advice, Lord Mandor." With that, she stands, curtsies quickly to both men and heads off towards the castle.
Mandor calls after her with a chuckle. "See you at the ball..." He stops Jurt from following her.
"Your paramour later. We have to talk..."
As she walks, Ellie wonders how best to smooth things over with her father. Ideally without causing more hurt later. Looking up, she sees Imogen in the near distance. With a smile, Ellie heads over, calling out "Hello, Imogen."
Imogen starts as she hears her name and then turns to see Ellie, moving towards her. She smiles - and looks beyond her to the figures on the beach. Jurt, she guesses, and the smaller figure near at hand must be Ryoden ... with a friend. Briefly she wonders who the other is, but pushes the thought aside as she holds out her hands to Corwin's daughter.
As Ellie comes up to her, she risks a swift glance over her shoulder at the person who seems to be watching her.
The figure is still there, but partially obscured in the greys of morning. Dark-- with dark hair. No, he's too large to be Brand. But something about him seems to strike a chord.
Ellie sees the swift glance as she comes over and takes Imogen's outstretched hands. As she does so, she steps slightly to the side to see what or who Imogen is looking at, saying softly "Is everything alright, Imogen?"
Suddenly, without knowing quite why, she feels cold. Her hand reaches to the little pendant around her neck and she clutches it tightly.
"Ellie," she says quietly, "who is that man?"
Ellie sees the place where the man was, now empty. She thinks over her cards... Dark hair, but not Corwin. Maybe Caine? She had only seen him by the blue light of the Pattern, but the way he carried himself seemed familiar.
Ellie hesitates then replies "I think it was Caine. His carriage seems familiar anyway."
She looks up at Imogen, concern clear in her eyes "Are you okay, Imogen? You seem anxious."
Imogen draws a deep breath.
"I'm all right. I know ... I shall have to meet him sooner or later. It was just ... he was watching me so intently."
She tries to smile at Ellie.
"I've just had ... quite a few shocks today. Perhaps we could find somewhere to sit down for a few minutes."
She searches for a neutral topic of conversation. "Did you know that your father slept with my mother, his sister?" hardly seems the thing to get easy conversation going - even if it is one of the topics uppermost in her mind. "I'm trying to find out if your father murdered mine," also seems something of a non-starter. And she isn't even prepared to go into, "How do you feel about your father and me being lovers?"
She went for something that seemed a little safer.
"Was that Jurt on the beach? Is he your ... " she hesitates over the word 'chosen'. What was the one Bill had recommended instead? Ah, yes.
"Your paramour?" she finishes, pleased with her command of the new vocabulary.
Ellie looks away briefly, then back, green eyes troubled, an echo of pain in them "My father has forbidden that possibility to me." She draws out her trump deck and asks gently "How about we find a nice sitting room in the Castle where we can have tea and just talk?"
"Forbidden?" echoes Imogen, her tone surprised. "But haven't you discussed it with your ... "
She breaks off.
"Yes," she says. "I think tea would be a good idea. Then you can tell me how one is meant to go about choosing here. Because I think I too may have over-stepped the rules!"
She slips her arm through Ellie's.
"Do you really think there's going to be one sitting room in this place that Flora hasn't commandeered? Or shall we go to our own rooms?"
Ellie chuckles "You may have a point. I don't know where my room is to be though, apart from being one of Father's. So your rooms?"
With that, Ellie draws out her trump of the Castle gates, saying "Let's take the quick route back." as she concentrates upon the trump.
Imogen, the memory of her arrival in Amber still vivid in her mind, shrinks back.
"What are you doing?" she says almost sharply.
Ellie looks up "Using a trump to get us back quickly. What's wrong, Imogen?"
"It ... it was one of those that brought me here," she says slowly. "A nasty little compelling thing - that's what Flora called it. She wouldn't touch it with her naked hand."
She looks up at Ellie. "Are you sure it's safe?" she asks.
Ellie nods, filing the information away, and says "I'm sure it's safe, Imogen. I wouldn't endanger either of us, I promise."
"I know," says Imogen quietly. At least, she hopes she does. What if Ellie, in league with her Chaosian paramour, is planning to dispose of the king's new mistress?
~That was how Mother might have thought,~ she tells herself dismally. ~And much good it did her.~
She holds out a hand to Ellie that shakes only a very little.
Ellie takes Imogen's hand and concentrates on the trump. In moments, they stand before the castle gates. Ellie smiles up at Imogen "Alright, your turn now. Please, lead us on to your rooms, Imogen."
She squeezes her hand gently "I promised I wouldn't hurt you. I like you, Imogen. Please don't worry."
Imogen smiles faintly.
"That's asking rather too much, I fear. But ... I will trust you, Ellie."
She looks around. "Erm ... this way I think."
She leads Ellie to the suite of rooms assigned to Deirdre (and they only mistake the way once). As they arrive, Imogen wonders, her colour a little raised, if Ellie notices how close the suite is to Corwin's.
She pushes open the door of the sitting room.
"Here we are. It's a little grand," she says almost apologetically, and they enter the rich splendour that was Deirdre's apartment.
"Now ... "
She walks to the fireplace and tugs on the bell-push. When a footman arrives, she looks enquiringly at Ellie.
"What would you like?"
Ellie smiles "Some tea would be lovely please, Imogen." She smiles and waits patiently while Imogen orders the refreshments. Inwardly, she wonders where this conversation will go.
Imogen decides simple conversation would be best while they wait for the tea.
"You spoke as though you have a new room," she says. "Is yours being commandeered for the ball? Is that's why you're staying with Corwin?"
Ellie answers quietly "No, Dad had put me in Brand's rooms, but with his recent reappearance, Dad thought it safer for me to be elsewhere. I don't really have rooms of my own, at least not yet anyway." She smiles "The ball should be fun though."
"Indeed," agrees Imogen. Then, struck with a sudden thought, she leans forward.
"Ellie ... I've explored here a little and I have at least three huge rooms. Why don't you move in here with me? I should think you might find it a bit restricting to suddenly find yourself under your father's roof ... But sharing with me might be ... "
She breaks off. "Ah good," she says. "Here's the tea."
Ellie stays quiet until the servant departs then says with a smile "That does sound like a nice idea, Imogen. You should know though that Brand's reappearance is not the only reason for me being in my father's rooms."
She blushes slightly as she adds "Dad wants to keep Jurt and I definitely apart."
Imogen pours the tea for them both, her face thoughtful.
"He was treated very badly by the Chaosians," she says quietly. "Particularly Jurt's mother. I can see that he wouldn't want to ... lose you to that family."
She pushes the tea cup in Ellie's direction.
"How does one gain a chosen ... I mean a paramour in Amber?" she asks, then smiles wryly. "Not, I imagine, the way I did it - which would be frowned upon as fast in Galbraith. But what is the convention here? How is the Discussion Group composed?"
Ellie looks genuinely puzzled "Discussion Group? What's that?" She thinks and adds "From what I've seen, gaining or choosing a paramour seems to be a matter of personal choice."
She smiles wryly "Unless you happen to have Corwin as a father." More softly, she adds "That family also contains my half-brother Merlin. Jurt isn't to blame for the sins of his mother. No child is responsible for what their parents did or didn't do." Ellie smiles "Jurt is blunt with no diplomacy and can be abrupt, abrasive even. He can also be kind and thoughtful, loyal and caring. Nobody sees that though. They just look at him and see a Chaosite or the person he was a while back before he got Ryoden to look after."
Ellie blushes "I was initially annoyed with you, Imogen. It was a bad start on both sides. Jurt was abrupt with you I know, but he was just backing me." She shrugs "It doesn't matter, anyway. Corwin is sending him and Ryoden away."
She smiles apologetically "Sorry, I'm rambling."
"Sending him away sounds like a very bad idea," says Imogen. "Particularly if there hasn't been a discussion group."
She hesitates, sipping her tea, and then explains:
"On Galbraith, when a woman meets one she wishes to become her chosen, a discussion group is formed. It usually consists of the girl, her mother, perhaps some older female relatives, perhaps a friend of the girl. And then the merits and the demerits of the young man are discussed, until a consensus is reached. The usual outcome is either that the girl approaches the young man, or representatives on her behalf, in more old fashioned communities. Or else she agrees to find someone else. Or occasionally, where no clear consensus arises, there may be a period of trial courtship, followed by another Discussion Group."
"For you and Corwin not to have reached consensus seems very strange to me," she admits. "Of course ... he is a man. They are not usually part of the Group - although right-thinking women would consult them, of course. The mother of a girl would consult her chosen - the girl's father. And she would decide how much weight to give his words."
She sips her tea again. "This does seem very strange to me," she admits. "I should imagine you're very angry. Failure to reach consensus must be ... frustrating."
Ellie listens fascinated "Things sound very different on Galbraith. Back home on Earth, we had something much less formal, usually just chats between mother and daughter or between two female friends about boyfriends, paramours, or prospective ones."
Ellie is quiet "I can also see why my father's acting as he is. He wants to protect me and still sees me as his child and only as his child. He also rules here."
Ellie hesitates "Imogen, how do you feel about my father?"
Imogen looks at Ellie over the rim of her tea cup. Then she sets it down.
"I don't know," she says frankly. "I find him attractive, exciting. To me he can be tender and gently considerate. When I make him smile my heart lightens. When I make him laugh ... it's as though I've won first prize in a fantastically difficult competition.
"I also feel gripped by pity for him ... sometimes so hard it hurts my guts. Ellie - he has had such a terrible life. In all of it ... I'm not sure if there was one truly happy, uncomplicated love ... that didn't end in pain and guilt and grief. If there was ... he hasn't told me of it."
She shakes her head slightly. "At the same time ... that fills me with an awesome responsibility. Several people - not just you, Ellie, have said to me, 'Perhaps you can make him happy.' But for me ... set against so much appalling, appalling pain ... I feel like a blade of grass, uprooted in the middle of a storm. How can the grass bring back the sun?"
She looks at Ellie before her.
"And I also fear him. His power is immense - he has warned me of his cruelty. He has warned me ... "
She shakes her head.
"Yours is not a simple question, Ellie. There's no simple answer."
Ellie nods "My father is dangerous, but I don't think he would be knowingly cruel. Imogen, above all else, he needs someone to believe in him. A single blade of grass may not bring back the sun, but one person's belief in another can redeem. I thought I could help him, but he wouldn't let me in to help. He will let you. I have no right to ask you to help him, I know, but I love my father and hate seeing him in pain. You care about him. Maybe with him, you can find both find happiness."
Imogen looks at her sharply.
"Ellie, why are you giving up on helping him so soon? Don't you think ... you and I could work together to help him, and to come to let him see both how you want to help him ... and also how much you need Jurt."
Ellie looks down at her feet "There are ... differences of opinion between my father and I about a lot of things, even just down to basic things like learning about Amber. Mixed up with that is a lot of pain. We're too much like each other in some regards."
"All the more reason for you to move in her with me. And as for sending Jurt and Ryoden away ... "
"Something Corwin said ... Ellie, why did they come here in the first place?"
Ellie replies carefully "What have you been told of why they came? What did my father say, Imogen?"
"Corwin said that she was in some danger ... that she's been attacked. And that he was protecting her as a favour to his son, Merlin ... oh!"
Ellie nods "The situation is not looking good. I was helping to look after Ryoden too. The child doesn't even have any friends here in Amber apart from me, Jurt and Marrek. Now, Dad wants to send her away." She shrugs "And I disagreed with that."
"Of course you did," agrees Imogen. "Any decision making process would arrive at the same ... oh, let me think ... let me think!"
The last is clearly addressed to herself. She rises to her feet and paces the length of the room. Occasionally she seems to be speaking to herself. Ellie catches, "What did Bill say?" and later "awful woman!" Finally, she turns, smiling, to Ellie.
"Now," she says, "I think I can resolve it. Or certainly have a good try. I don't really want to burst in on Corwin though ... the timing needs to be right. On the other hand, I don't want him to have informed Jurt that he has to leave ... because then he would have to backtrack ... and that would appear like vacillation and weakness."
She looks a little anxiously at Ellie.
"He hasn't spoken to Jurt yet, I hope?"
Ellie replies "I don't know if my father has spoken to Jurt or not yet about this. Sorry, Imogen."
"Hmmm ... " says Imogen. "Well, you need to ask Jurt. Or," she adds, reluctantly, remembering the Chaosian's attitude to her in the ice cream parlour, "I will.”
"Better you though," she adds hastily.
"You see ... I have a plan."
Ellie nods "I'll ask. What's your plan, Imogen?"
"I think Corwin is seeing this in terms of his love for you ... and his concern," says Imogen. "But I know he loves Merlin too ... and I think he's lost sight of the fact that he's doing this for Merlin. I want to remind him of that. Gently."
She looks at Ellie anxiously.
"The downside of this is that you and Jurt may have to take things slowly for a while. My next idea is that we pull together a discussion group after the ball. I know you've lost your mother ... but we could have Flora, Fiona and me. Then, when we have reached consensus, we could present a united front to your father. He would find it very difficult to go against the four of us, I think."
She looks at the younger woman consideringly.
"But you must understand, Ellie, that you must enter the discussion group prepared to consider all the issues in order to reach consensus. If you are determined to have Jurt as your chosen no matter what the group decides, then there is no point in even trying."
Ellie almost chokes on her tea "Fiona? Imogen, no offence, but I have no inclination to have anything to do with Fiona except under emergencies. She's not some one I can trust. Would you trust someone who tried to have you beaten up?" She pauses "What do you know of my mother, Imogen?"
Imogen refrains from pointing out that it was to Fiona that Ellie turned when she needed help that morning.
Instead she says quietly, "Very little. Just that she was from Chaos ... and that she's dead."
Ellie nods "Yes, my mother was from Chaos. And that is part of the problem between my father and I. Let's just say the event of my birth was not hugely welcome I think, by Corwin anyway. I never realised that until Corwin told me, though he was glad enough later apparently. Anyway, the fact that my mother was from Chaos is not something that's widely known here. How could we go into an open discussion with Flora and Fiona and keep my father's secrets?"
Imogen flinches. The very word suggests to her those secrets that Ellie - she imagines - has little or no idea of. Flora and Fiona might actually be better informed, she thinks, remembering Flora's comments about Deirdre. How much, she wonders, does Ellie know of that bitter triangle?
And then she reflects ... here she is, planning to help Ellie with her father when she doesn't even know herself how she will respond when she sees Corwin again.
Her lover. Her mother's brother. Her mother's lover.
She shakes her head. And this was the man who everyone seemed to think she could make happy?
Ellie watches quietly then says "I'll listen and not judge, Imogen. Think of this as a very small discussion group. What is really troubling you?"
"Your father." says Imogen softly. "And what I feel for him. Or ... what I could feel for him. It terrifies me, Ellie."
Ellie says softly "Talk, Imogen. You've listened to me. I'll listen to you. Why are you so afraid of what you feel?"
Imogen smiles, a twisted, sad little smile.
"Oh Ellie, any woman not afraid of feeling deeply for your father would be a bubble headed fool."
The smiles deepens. "Perhaps that's what he's been lacking alone these years. A sweet little simpleton to hang on his arm and tell him he's utterly wonderful. Rather than screwing himself up with Dara and your mother and my ... my word, who knows how many others?"
Ellie smiles a little "Imogen, I've heard a lot of rumours about my father. I don't think a simpleton is the answer either. Love is terrifying, but it can be worth it too. Quick question. Can you see yourself without him?"
"Without him?" she replies. "I ... "
There is a sharp knock at the door. When she calls out for them to enter, a small sharp-faced man appears.
"Your gown, modom, is ready for your fitting."
"Of course," says Imogen, almost, but not quite, hiding her relief. "Ellie ... if you would excuse me. This is my gown for the ball."
She smiles at her cousin. "Think over what I said about sharing this suite. And find out from Jurt how far matters have progress. I'll give you all the help I can."
Ellie nods "Alright, I'll see you later." and slips out of Imogen's quarters. She hesitates then goes to knock on her father's door.
For once he doesn't answer, but only yells for her to come in.
As she enters, he looks up from his pile of scrolls, and rises immediately.
"I'd like to apologize..."
Ellie blinks and answers "That's what I came to do." She moves over and hugs her father "I never meant to get you so upset. I still love you, Dad. You know that, right?"
He hugs her tightly. "Yes, I know."
Corwin pulls back and sits down, clearing off his table a bit. "I was-- too quick to judge with Jurt and Ryoden. I'm sorry. It was a gut reaction. To get them away from you."
Ellie sits down and says "And I reacted on gut instinct to defend and rebel I guess without thinking through what you were feeling. I'm sorry too. So what now, Dad?"
He sighs. "They can stay, Eleanor. And I won't -- won't interfere with you and Jurt. But I do want you to remain wary. For your own sake. I don't want you getting hurt."
Ellie nods, her expression serious "Thank you, Dad. I will be wary. There is one other thing. Imogen has invited me to share her rooms. We're getting on really well, you see. Would this be alright with you?"
He pauses, and almost seems ready to say no, but then nods. "Alright. I'm glad you're getting along." He pauses. "What do you think of her?"
Ellie smiles "I like her, Dad. She's a nice woman, very sensible."
His face softens. "So do I, Ellie. So do I." He shuffles the papers away, and Ellie notices that they are old and faded, and full of diagrams... Funny. She thought they were trade papers or
"And how do you feel for Jurt?" he asks softly, putting the papers away.
Ellie's expression of curiosity fades as she smiles, her look softening. She then hesitates looking at Corwin and says equally softly "I like him, Dad. A lot. I also don't want to hurt you."
"If you get hurt, that will hurt me. And eventually, if Jurt is using you, it will hurt him. I don't like mine being toyed with."
The papers are away and he sits. "I'm sorry if that sounds harsh..."
Ellie shakes her head "No, Dad, that sounds like a protective father. Jurt isn't using me. I know he has all the diplomacy of a charging rhino, but he's been really nice to me, kind. Okay, a lot of this may come from the amount of time we've spent together, but I have a good instinct about this. And if he is using me, you won't be the only one hurting him."
She is quiet for a moment then adds "I know it can't be easy for you seeing me change from the child you've always looked after."
He nods. "You've had to grown up a lot these past few days, haven't you? And it's only going to get worse... You aren't really an Amberite yet. You may have the blood, but not the mindset. A year from now, maybe."
He sighs. "No sightings of Brand again?"
Ellie shakes her head "Not as far as I know. Dad, would you mind if I had my own room? It may be easier all round. And what were the papers? I'm just curious."
She looks thoughtful "Dad, what would you say is the Amberite mindset?"
"Suspicious. Busy. Always running off all burners. That sort of thing." He looks over the drawer with the scrolls. "They're some things Dworkin wrote about the abyss, but there's mostly theory. I want know how he got back. Brand, that is."
He pauses. "A room-- might be a long time coming. I was going to give you Brand's, but... well, you can see how that's complicated now."
Ellie shrugs "Don't worry about it then. Would you show me where I am staying though please, Dad. And is there any way I can help with the theory stuff? Maybe even just a fresh perspective?"
He laughs. "I'm sorry- I've studied with Dworkin a bit, but I can't make heads or tails of them. I'm tempted to call him personally, but he's the type you don't call until you have to."
"You'll be staying in the second bedroom, and it looks like Marrek has opted to stay up here too. I guess he's had enough of babysitting for a time."
Ellie nods "Ryoden can be a handful. There are ways to handle her to some extent and she's a really nice kid under it all." She smiles "Would you like a break and see how I've been spending your money?"
He rises. "Sure... Merlin warned me about her a bit. That's she's a little wild. I think I have to have a talk with him about understatement. Not everyone gets the chance to try to tear Benedict's cheek off."
He's quiet for a moment. "You are careful around her, right?"
Ellie nods "Yes. It also helps in that she likes me. Even so, when she's peeved I don't go anywhere near her and Jurt handles her then." Opening the door to the second bedroom, Ellie is relieved to see that it also has a door to allow access without going through the King's chamber.
She holds up the cream ball gown, simple and elegant "What do you think, Dad?"
He smiles distantly. "You'll look wonderful El. It's going to be an interesting ball."
He stares at her a long moment, then looks at her other purchases. "You've been busy."
Ellie shakes her head "Just one shopping trip. The time when you gave me your ring. I packed a lot into it though." She looks worried "Did I buy too much?"
"No, no, no... You would have had a problem buying too much. I'm still the king here." He sits. "We can get whatever we want out there. So if anyone makes too much of a fuss I send a runner out."
He sits. "You don't mind staying here, do you?"
Ellie sits beside him "In this room? No. In Amber... Well, I'm always going to come back here, so you don't need to worry about that. I would like however to have the option to go back and forth. Even if it's just to visit some old friends in Paris. I appreciate you're busy too though."
"After the ball, okay? I promise... I'm trying to work out how to tell my siblings that Brand is back in town. And I'm trying to figure out how I feel about the implications of that." He sighs. "I really didn't expect you to come back now. My plan was to take you somewhere fast and teach you for a few months... but now I can't be spared."
Ellie nods "Alright, Dad." She thinks for a moment then adds "I can't help with how you feel about him coming back, but would he have any reason to see my generation gathered in? It just strikes me as too coincidental that he turns up when we're all gathered. And if you point that out to my aunts and uncles, that might get a better reaction and make them to easier to handle from your point of view. From what I've seen, all of you tend to protect your kids if not your siblings. What do you think, Dad?"
He sighs. "I don't know. I thought it was Fiona, and but now I'm beginning to question that. I mean, she did know about most of you, but I don't know why she would bring you all here.
"And then our mystery guests... I have no idea what to do with them. Happy allies or not, they're still a wild card."
Ellie answers carefully "Well, from talking to them, I think they're from a modern world like me. Probably with no magic though I could be wrong on that, so giving them some time to acclimatise would help. Maybe just get to know them and then see where they would be useful or where they would be happiest."
"But doesn't it seem a bit too convenient? Them coming _now_ of all times? There's too many unknowns. Them. Brand. What's chasing Ryoden."
He sits. "Want a crown?"
Ellie hugs him "Not right this moment, thank you. I'd much rather help you to wear it without it killing you." She thinks for a moment "Alright, suppose all these things _are_ linked. That helps because then we're looking at something with a number of facets rather than many disparate elements. We just need to find the common links somehow."
He sits back after hugging her back. "The link... It might be Amber blood, if you discount Ryoden. The invitations I've tried to trace, but to no avail. And no one's stepping forward. The invites didn't bother me as much as Wraecca showing up-- and what do you know about his Clarice?"
Ellie shakes her head "Nothing really, I'm afraid. Lillian and Wraecca are the ones I've been speaking to. You know, if the link is Amber blood, Ryoden might be getting threatened to draw in Merlin." She shrugs "That's the only other connection I can think of from her to Amber apart from being of Benedict's line. Merlin is the only one not here though."