Ellie: Speculations

He nods. "True." His face becomes pensive, and he chews on a knuckle. "You know, they talk about Jurt sometimes..." He looks at her cautiously. "You know, some say he's also my son. I don't know how much credence you give to rumours, but it is something to consider..."

Ellie bites her lip then answers carefully "He's not, Dad. I heard the rumour too and it has been checked out."

He sighs. "I'm scared to ask. How?"

Ellie smiles slightly "Nothing bad, I promise. Benedict took Jurt and I to your Pattern and it rejected Jurt. That's how I know. The conjecture is just that, Dad. Just gossip."

"Benedict? What does he--" He waves his hand. "I can't think about this now. I have too much to worry about right now."

He stands. "I have to worry about Brand-- Is there anything you may have left out of your encounter?"

Ellie shakes her head "I don't think so, Dad. If I do remember anything else though, I'll tell you." She stands and hugs him before drawing out her sketch pad and some pencils. "If you have no objections, I'm going to get some fresh air and sketch for a bit. Unless there's anything else I can do to help?"

He touches her shoulder as he leads her out. "Of course. I still have a lot to think about. Enjoy the day."

He looks out at the blue sky, and the noonday sun.

Ellie says gently "Would you like to do your thinking outside? It might do you some good to get out. I can find Imogen and rope her in too if you like."

"No," he replies softly. "I need solitude right now, and I might need to talk to a few people. I prefer walls when I do that."

Ellie nods "Alright, Dad. You take care and I'll see you later." She curtsies to him, then heads off down through corridors. /How are Jurt and Ryoden going to take this?/

As she turns another corner, she draws out Jurt's trump and concentrates.

Jurt appears, still on the beach, looking tired. Mandor sits beside him. "Okay, what now? Are they raising the gallows?"

Ellie smiles slightly "Not quite. Bring me through please and I'll explain."

He holds out his hand and pulls her onto the beach.

"I hope you possess more diplomacy than my youngest brother?" says Mandor as her foot touches the sand. He watches Ryoden and her new friend play in the surf.

Jurt glares mildly, but does look hopeful.

Ellie smiles "Father is happy enough for Jurt and Ryoden to stay. He's also agreed to Jurt and I being more than just good friends." She adds "Dad has calmed and I was careful not to antagonise him."

"Take notes," mummers Mandor to Jurt, who shoots him a glare.

Mandor rises and watches Ryoden for a bit. "I met one of your cousin's, by the way. A Faetan."

Ellie looks up, interested and remembering the brief glamour and Julian's assumption "I've met Faetan briefly. How was she?"

"She was, to say the least, interesting. I vital young woman, and it seems rather enamoured with the young Martin of your realm." Mandor brushes some sand off of his jacket. "And quite enthusiastic about other things as well. I'm sure our paths will cross again."

Ellie nods, considering his reply and answers with a smile "Especially if you are coming to tonight's ball, Lord Mandor." /What would Faetan be enthused about that would involve Mandor? Interesting indeed.../

"Ahh... she would be here, wouldn't she? I have so many contacts to track down."

"Too many," mutters Jurt.

"Never too many. You should learn more of diplomacy, brother. It might suit you well, since you find yourself suitor to one of theirs."

Ellie carefully says, trying to ease away from what looks like an old argument "Contacts and diplomacy are always good. So is honesty and consideration for one's suitor."

Jurt is quiet a moment, and Mandor decides to join Ryoden and the young Bayle at the shore.

"Sorry," he says finally.

Ellie shrugs then smiles at Jurt "Don't worry about it. All families have their arguments. Your diplomacy or lack of it isn't going to alter how I feel." She opens out her sketch pad and starts sketching the scene, making certain careful omissions "So anyway, Dad said he will teach me about the Pattern after the ball. He just wants me to be careful, that's all." She glances at Jurt "I got the rumour about you being his as well again. I refuted it carefully, don't worry."

She leans across and kisses him on the cheek before continuing sketching "So what do you want to do now?"

"Now?" He grumbles. "Now, I want to find a way to convince Mandor not to come to the ball. But while I'm at it, I might as well take over Amber with a rusty pitchfork and do a few other impossible deeds."

He sighs, and lays back on the sand. "How about you?"

Ellie replies "Finish some sketches, keep a promise, and go to the ball. After that, I'm not sure. I still think going into Shadow is a good idea. I just don't know when would be best." She looks over at him "If you know you can't prevent Mandor from coming to the ball, why stress out over it?" She chuckles "That's good coming from me who worries about things I can't help either. Is there anything I can do to help you though?"

He shakes his head. "Mandor's as unchangeable as the pattern. No wonder he likes it here."

"When-- that's tricky. Let's see how the ball goes. I have a feeling Corwin's going to spill the beans about Brand then."

Ellie nods "The ball certainly looks as though it's going to be interesting." She is quiet for a moment then says "How are you and Ryoden doing at the moment?"

"As in me and her? Or between me and her?

"We're doing fine. She's on edge, and it's more than the company here, and her freedom being restricted.

"I don't think she feels well."

Ellie frowns slightly, concerned "What do you think is causing it?" She remembers the two apples and says "Poisons would get overcome by shape shifting right?"

"Easily. And we can sense them. We make great food testers."

He looks out over the sea and at the three figures not too far away. "Ryoden... is closer to a creature of Chaos than the rest of us are. I told you once that she doesn't have a human form. Well, most Chaosites have a human form, or at least one remotely human. This means they've been more touched by the shadows cast by Amber. Ryoden, not having that form, is closer to the Chaos side.

"It's pretty complicated. Uncle Suhuy talked to us about it a bit, but most of it is of little consequence. She's still working, so it isn't that bad. It takes a while to really set in, and if demons and such are any example, then she'll be fine once we get her back out to shadow."

He looks over at Ellie. "Don't worry about this, okay? Mandor wouldn't hurt her."

Ellie shakes her head "It's not Mandor I was thinking of. In our initial meeting, before I knew it was Brand, he knocked down an apple from the tree for each of us. It was just a bit of paranoia settling in, that's all. It's silly, I know."

Ellie sets one sketch aside and begins work on a new view. "Anyway, I care about Ryoden so I get to worry about her."

"You're excused. You don't know all the ins and outs of Chaos anatomy. And if you both ate the apples, and they were both poisoned, trust me, you'd drop first.

"Not that I'd want that. You'd just be hard pressed to outlast my sister. She drives us nuts."

Ellie smiles slightly "She's a good kid too." She is quiet for a moment then says "I'm sorry for getting you into any trouble with my father over us dating. It certainly wasn't intended."

He shrugs. "Corwin already had a distaste for me. It got around about Merle and I... Plus, there's always that nagging that I could be..."

He closes his eyes for a moment. "What did he say when you refuted it? That I was his son?"

Ellie replies quietly "He wanted to know how I knew. I replied simply that Benedict had taken us to his Pattern and it had refused you. I didn't elaborate on that. And given his preoccupation with Brand, he didn't pursue it. He was hesitant in bringing it up in the first place, I think."

He nods. "I wouldn't think he would be." Jurt sits up again and looks at Ryoden. "Huh. You'd think he'd come looking after me. Brand, that is. Wonder if he knows he has another one?"

Ellie shrugs "I don't know. Would Dara tell him, do you think? Do you want him to come looking after you?" She thinks for a moment then asks quietly "Does Luke know?"

"Dara wouldn't, but I'm fairly certain that by then, he knew about Merlin and the plan all over. He wasn't a stupid man. Somehow I can't imagine that they had a torrid affair... Most likely it was no more passionate than bugs or guppies... Just another calculated breeding on my mother's part."

He sighs. "And no, Luke doesn't know. And I'm not sure I want him to. My father was Lord Gramble."

Ellie nods, sketching as she listens "What was Lord Gramble like? As a father I mean."

Jurt watches her sketch. "He was... He was one of those stiff guys. Formal. Quiet. He directed our training. I respected him."

Despite the warm sun he shivers. "He changed around the time Ryo was born. I think she softened something up in him. Maybe because he's actually her father. Mom said he pushed for her to have a last child... even if he couldn't raise her."

Ellie nods "I think I can understand that. The need to have something of yourself survive even when you are gone is a strong one. It's just the form that varies. Sometimes a child, sometimes a work of art, sometimes a building. It matters though to leave something or someone behind you."

"Well, technically, he already had one. Mandor. And he never disputed us as his children. It never came up, even if everyone talked.

"It was so odd, watching him with her. He was always so stiff and stern with us. Everything mattered. Her-- she could have blown up Sawallways, and all he would have done was smile and pat her head."

Ellie gazes off into the distance a bit as she answers "Kind of reminds me of how some grandparents react. By the time they get to their grandchild, they're a lot more relaxed. Why do you think he was so different with her?"

He shrugs. "I don't know. Mom thinks it was because he knew he was dying. Mandor thinks it was payback for any grief we caused him, since he wouldn't be around to deal with the repercussions of over- indulging her. Merlin and Despil think it's just because she's a girl.

"And me? Hmph. I don't know. All I know is she was given to me to raise. The only thing the old man ever set aside for just me."

Ellie smiles "For what it's worth, I think he made a good choice." She looks critically at the sketch then sets it aside and begins work on a new view, turning slightly away from the city to the sea.

She grins "One more view and I think that will be enough for now."

He nods, picking up the discarded picture and studying it. "Thanks."

"So what now? Are we still heading out during the ball? Because I think Mandor is going to strive to make this as politically positive as possible."

Ellie glances at Jurt "I thought you wanted to wait and see what happened at the ball?"

Jurt rolls his eyes. "I think I know what's going to happen at the ball now. Mandor hasn't given up getting me some connections up here so that when Ryo's at Court age she can come back here for a few years. There hasn't been a fostering between Amber and Chaos yet, and Mandor is pushing for Ryo to be the first one"

Ellie nods "Alright. And in the meantime, she stays in the Courts or in Shadow, I presume." Ellie pauses then says carefully "I don't know how Mandor is going to work this, but as far as Dad is concerned, I can't walk Shadow, so I still need to be careful." She bites her lip /Oh what a tangled web we weave.../ and focuses on the sea before her as she sketches. "What is Court age by the way?"

"Well, when she looks like she's hit the beginnings of puberty, so a ways off. But she tends to age in bursts. She did that right after dad died. And when Merle became a king and there was a bunch of excitement. I'm sure she's due for another."

Ellie asks curiously "What happens when she ages in bursts like that? How does it affect Ryoden?"

"Her body kind of speeds up to match her mind-- She's advanced. Always has been. But you can see sometimes that her body doesn't fit what she is.

"There's all sorts of ways to grow up. Intellectually, she has anyone her age beat. Emotionally, she's still little Ryo. She needs her family and her brothers and boundaries."

Ellie nods "It can't be easy for her being here away from what she knows. Still, not long to go now if we are leaving during the ball."

Ellie finishes up the last sketch "And that's me done." She puts the sketchbook and pencils to one side, simply enjoying the sun for a moment. "I wonder what will happen when we leave?"

"Wish I knew." Mandor returns and bows slightly.

"I should check back to Chaos. The time, you understand. But I will return for the ball." Jurt doesn't look happy as Mandor smiles coldly.

Ellie smiles politely up at Mandor "And as ever, it will be a pleasure to see you, Lord Mandor. Thank you for your time."

His charm turns on as he looks to Ellie, then he fades softly from sight.

Ryoden watches him leave, then turns back to her new friends, still content to dig in the sand, her face oddly serious.

Ellie watches Ryoden for a moment, wondering what has her so serious. With a sigh, Ellie gathers together her sketches and tucks them into her book along with the pencils. "I'd best get going. I'm in Dad's second bedroom if you want to contact me before the ball." She rises and brushes sand off her skirt.

Jurt nods, and takes a moment to stand and give her a quick kiss. "I'll be around. I think staying at the fringes is a good idea for me right now."

Ellie nods then smiles "Alright, Jurt, but I promise you a dance at the ball anyway. I'll see you later."

With that she turns and takes the walk back up the castle, taking the time to enjoy the day as she goes./Now to keep a promise./

She takes her time going up the main street of Amber village, and up the stairs of Kolvir. The day is mild, and growing closer to noontime. The preparation for the ball is in full swing, with servants and gardeners and other castle help bustling about madly.

Ellie skirts round the edges of the main activity and slips into the Castle. Stopping a servant, she asks "Excuse me, but would you tell me where I may find Oberon, please?"

He politely directs her to the old king's chambers, which are simple and unadorned, only a window looking out to the sea.

Oberon sits in his bed, lightly dozing. His eyes open when Ellie enters, and he looks at her, amused.

Ellie smiles at him and she goes to sit near him, lightly kissing him on the cheek first "Good afternoon, Grandfather. How are you?"

He looks out the window. "Fine. No one spirited me off today. Pity."

He sighs. "Wonder where the Chaosite went. The taller one."

Oberon notices the pictures in her hand. "Are those yours?"

Ellie hands him the pictures "Yes. I thought I'd bring some of the outside in." She thinks back to the dinner and asks "That would be Marrek?"

He nods, studying the pictures intently. "Yes. Him. The tall one with the girl and all the tricks. Neat boy."

He sighs. "They don't work. They never do anymore."

Ellie looks up at him "What doesn't work anymore?" She thinks then adds "Would you like me to take a message to Marrek?"

"The trumps. I'm getting nothing." He motions to the pictures on his bed.

"And you can tell Marrek the food was wonderful, and the fellow with the white hair is a very good cook."

Ellie shakes her head "They are not Trumps. Just sketches I did for you." She thinks /White hair? Chaos? Mandor?/ then asks "The fellow with the white hair. What was his name?"

"You know... I didn't catch it. I was enamoured with his sauces. He talked to me quite a bit though. When I told him my name, he was greatly distressed.

"Maybe that's why I never got his name."

He looks at the pictures. "They're all just sketches nowadays."

Ellie shrugs "I can't do Trumps yet, I'm afraid. Is there anything else you would like me to draw for you?"

He chuckles. "The girl Marrek sent to watch over me. She was a cute one. Moody though. And an odd voice.

"Didn't know they made them like that in Chaos. Usually the girls down there are all prickly."

Ellie leans forward, both amused and interested "What was the girl like? Was she dark haired? Lisping voice? Grandfather, what is Chaos like?"

"No, no-- the girl had a demon voice. All grumbly and dark and edgy.

"Chaos is much more interesting to look at. Much better than water. It's an acquired taste for this bunch, which must by why they don't visit there often." He grumbles something in an odd tongue.

Ellie asks curiously "What is that language? And I'd like to visit Chaos properly. It sounds interesting indeed. What's the differences between Amberites and Chaosians?"

He laughs. "Push a pattern blade through their gullet and see what happens. One bleeds. The other burns. They both get mad."

Ellie chuckles "I think I'll pass on that, thank you. So what's a pattern blade?"

Oberon eyes her curiously. "Aren't you Corwin's girl? He has one. Rather fond of it too. Brand has one too. And Bleys, but his isn't as special. I gave it to him just to keep him quiet."

Ellie is quiet for a moment then says "Yes, I'm Corwin's daughter, but there's a lot we haven't discussed. He's busy."

"Oh, it's hard to miss! It's bright and silver and glowing sometimes. He's more fond of how it looks, you know. Not what it is. Typical Corwinism.

"Bet he feels pretty silly now for wanting the crown all those years."

Ellie shrugs "I don't know how he feels about the crown apart from stressed, I think. How did you feel when you were king?"

"Pft. There wasn't much choice. I had to have the crown. Father was busy being insane. Couldn't leave our little pattern untended. And the older boys were all too sullen to be kings. They sulk too much to be of any use.

"At least Ben started Dara's line. She would have been a good queen. Pity she didn't show up during my visit."

Ellie is quiet for a moment, then says "Grandfather, what would you be willing to tell me about House Hendrake?"

He thinks for a moment. "Hendrake. Nice house, that. Has Hellmaidens. Good fighters. Great breeders. The female descendants are wonderfully fertile. They could birth an army in a few generations if need be.

"That's how we got Dara. You should ask Ben about it. Get a rise out of him."

Ellie blinks /Wonderfully fertile? Nobody told me this. This could be a problem. Does Jurt know about this?../ Biting the bullet, she asks "Grandfather, do I look like anyone in Hendrake? And, um, how fertile would someone be with half-Hendrake blood?"

He looks at her, then shrugs. "You're another cute girl. Cute is cute. The hellmaids were usually tall and fair and with a fury out of hell.

"As for fertility, I think Dara's count is rather high, is it not? She had the boy Merlin and his brothers, and oh yes, his sister, in short order. And she's not a full hellmaid."

"Why do you ask?"

Ellie smiles "Just checking something, that's all, don't worry. And talking of which, there is something else I need to look into." She stands up and gives her grandfather a hug "It's been lovely visiting with you. I'll see you later, Grandfather."

She picks up her sketch pad, leaving the sketches behind and then quietly leaves, wondering what to do next.

/I'm going to strangle him. He must have known about this./ She takes a deep breath /Check this first and then throttle him. No, throttling's too quick.../

Taking a deep breath and calming a little, she thinks /Amber's medieval. I need somewhere modern and out of reach of my father.../

She smiles and takes out her Trump deck, concentrating on Luke's image.

It clears, revealing Luke at a desk, grumbling over some paperwork. "Ah! Eleanor! Is everything okay? Your connection is tense..."

Eleanor smiles "Hi Luke, would you bring me through please? I need to get to a modern shadow fast and using Arden isn't a good idea for me."

He holds out a hand, and draws her through. "Um, okay. May I ask why?

"There isn't a problem is there? I know Amber is kind of hectic right now..."

Ellie says carefully "No, there's no problem with Amber. I just need to check on something and I'd rather do so away from Amber. It's not modern enough for what I need."

Luke looks sceptical. "How modern, exactly? What's the problem? I have a few shortcuts that can save you a walk."

Ellie bites her lip then reflects on how much Luke has helped so far. Very quietly, she asks "This doesn't go to my father or anyone other than Coral, alright? I may be pregnant and I need to check that out."

Luke looks slightly surprised, but bites back any response. "Ah. I see.

"Well, I'd hate to say it, but you're screwed... no pun intended."

Ellie looks worried "Why? There are tests, right?"

"Uhh- no... It doesn't seem to work with Amberite chemistry. Has something to do with the way our chemicals are wired. You could have a litter bouncing around your midsection. Every test will still turn up negative.

"How-- _worried_ are we at this point? And who's the lucky guy, if you don't mind me asking?"

Ellie replies, starting to pace "I wasn't worried at all until a short time ago when I was talking to Grandfather and he described my particular mix as being 'wonderfully fertile' or at least the female side of it. And then I started worrying, so I thought I'd get a simple test and rule it out. Do you know what happened with Benedict that gave rise to Dara by the way? And the possibly lucky guy is going to get throttled when I get back." She takes a deep breath, calming a little and adds "Thanks for being nice about this, Luke. And it's Jurt. You won't say anything though, please?"

Luke blinks several times. "Information... overload." he shakes his head.

"Okay let's start at square one. Amberites are not fertile. Look at how many cousins you have, and how many aunts and uncles. Nature says there should be more of us. There isn't.

"Square two. You seem to be implying that you aren't fully an Amberite...? Let's work on this bit for a moment."

Ellie looks at him "Um, my mother's from Chaos, or was. She's dead. According to Oberon, from a really, really fertile house. I'd appreciate this staying between us. I just didn't know who else to talk to and you're a nice cousin to me, Luke."

"Oookay. Another half-breed. Great. We're just lousy with those nowadays...

"Sorry. I don't know what to say. I won't tell anyone, trust me. But if I were you, I'd relax. You've still got that half Amber thing going for you.

"I figured it was Jurt, the way he was eyeing you." He goes to say something, but covers it by offering her something to eat.


She takes it and says "Thanks. For listening as well as putting up with a younger cousin." Ellie thinks for a moment, then says "So how are things here?"

He shrugs. "The usual grind. It's fairly stable right now.

"You wouldn't happen to have any other questions, would you?" He motions to his small pile of paperwork. "Maybe you ought to talk to that Jurt of yours. A warning is always nice."

Ellie nods and smiles "I will do. And again, thank you, Luke."

Ellie curtsies then taking out her trump deck, she concentrates on Jurt's card, trying to keep her thoughts and mood as neutral as possible.

Jurt smiles as he reaches forward to pull her back onto the beach. "Just keep coming back, don't you? Ryo's still enamoured with her new friend. I've been having a quiet afternoon for once.

"What have you been up to?"

Ellie answers very quietly and carefully "Visiting my grandfather. That's who the sketches were for. Along with a number of interesting things, he commented on how wonderfully fertile females of Hendrake descent are."

Jurt blinks. "Well-- Hellmaids... But you're not a hellmaid. You're... That's not how that works. It's a shapeshifting thing..."

But Ellie can feel the uncertainty in his words.

Ellie shrugs "Is your mother? Whatever. I may not be and I can't take a test to dismiss it that will work." She looks out to sea and away from him, her back rigid "I guess we just hope that I'm not a shapeshifter after all, right?"

Jurt touches her back lightly. "It'll be okay-- I mean, you're an Amberite, right? And I'm-- Well, we're both directly descended from the most infertile people on earth...

"Think of it this way. I'm not young. I'm no angel. But you don't see a gaggle of kids trailing after me, right?"

Ellie replies very softly, green eyes flashing as she looks at him "And according to Oberon, we're also both descended directly from one of the most fertile houses in Chaos. Of course that will make no difference at all will it? Fifty-fifty chances maybe. Insignificant odds."

He senses the danger, and takes a moment before responding. "Not fifty-fifty. Trust me. I wouldn't have-- well, I would have, but with some precautions, if I thought that there was a big chance of you--"

He chokes on his words helplessly.

Ellie shrugs and looks away, her tone icy "Whatever. Even if I am, it needn't concern you. I'll attend to matters. I take it we're still leaving during the ball?"

His voice grows panicked. "What do you mean it doesn't concern me? And attend to what? What are you implying you'd do?" He turns her to face him and he tries to catch her gaze. "Ellie-- come on. Talk to me, please?"

On the beach, Ryoden hears the raised voice of her brother, and turns her gaze to him, but her companion distracts her again.

Ellie takes a deep, shuddering breath "If you think I'd do anything to endanger the child, if there is one, you really don't know me. I simply meant that I'd look after it. And I was giving you an out, since you seemed so horrified by the thought of it concerning you."

"I'm not horrified!" he exclaims, drawing another curious look from Ryoden. He lowers his voice. "If you are-- and I really don't think you are-- then I'm not going to let you run off to shadow to raise it, okay?"

He's silent for a moment. "This really has you worried, doesn't it? Because this could complicate our plans a bit..."

Ellie looks up "Could it? How?" She sighs "I admit to being panicked initially and then just angry. Now, cooling down." She smiles "You wouldn't be horrified though?"

He starts counting. "It hasn't been long enough for you to actually become pregnant. I think, _think_, it takes a day for everything to get into place. I could be wrong. Despil was the one who was into anatomy, not me.

"I'm fairly certain walking the pattern with you-- well, encumbered, would be a bad idea."

Ellie nods "Then it has be today I walk the Pattern to get us into the other set of Shadows I guess." She looks abashed "I'm sorry for panicking."

He pulls her into a hug. "No, no-- it's okay. I can understand, trust me.

"Well, that just cinches it, then. Unfortunately, if Corwin does decide to run after us, he might have two reasons to beat the Logrus out of me."

Ellie shrugs "Only if he knows. I don't think he's certain how far things have progressed." She sighs "There is no good way to leave him and Imogen, I suppose. Imogen's been really nice to me after the awful start we made. She even suggested I move in to her suite." She smiles up "So how are you doing now?"

"My nerves are fried," he replies frankly. "Mandor's not going to make this easy for me. He wants a more discreet exit, and he'd prefer if we wait and make this as diplomatic as possible..." He pauses and thinks for a moment.

"Please, don't say anything to Mandor until we know for sure, okay?"

Ellie nods "I won't say anything, I promise. What are Mandor's ideas on leaving? Maybe there's some way we can still achieve them within the timescale. Alternately, we do leave more diplomatically and go to New Avalon sooner or later as things work out. What do you think?"

"Well, Mandor can handle Ryo and I, no problem. Her not feeling well is a prime reason to get out and regroup. He could always make up some BS about it being safe now, whatnot-- But you. You, he has no domain over. He's trying to think up an angle that makes it seem beneficial to both sides, without him betraying he knows--"

Jurt looks at the sea. "I had to tell him. He hates surprises."

Ellie asks quietly "About the other side of my heritage or Dara's training? And what did he say?"

"The Hendrake stuff. And he'll keep quiet for now.

"He had a good laugh. Lots of jabs at house Amber for them liking the Hendrake girls. Benedict. Corwin. Corwin again. Brand. He even said he'd look into getting a guest house for the nobles up here to use when they visit Chaos. Oh yeah, he was cheered up by that..." Jurt rolls his eyes.

"Sadistic bastard."

Ellie nods, smiling a little "You know, the reverse could also be said to be true. About Hendrake girls liking Amber nobles that is, going by the mixes so far. Not quite sure how we fit into that." Ellie thinks for a moment then says "How about the excuse of me visiting Merlin? Would that work?"

He chuckles. "That may be true too. There aren't all that many Hendrake males. You know, there's a song, 'Never Wed a Hendrake Lass?' Mom hates it when we hum that around her.

"The excuse of visiting Merlin should work, but I'm not all that eager to go running off to the Courts yet. Once we get a ways out, I can call in the brute squad..." A look of worry crosses his face.

Ellie looks up at him "What's worrying you?"

He gnaws his lip. "Tolan... and the rest of them. I want you to know they're very very good at what they do. And they're loyal to me, and to Ryoden. They would never hurt either of us.

"But they're from a place that would make camping out in the darkest hole in Paris look like a carnival."

Ellie nods, her face sombre "That bad? Okay, thanks for letting me know in advance." She bites her lip then asks "They're loyal to you and Ryoden. How are they likely to react to me though, do you think?"

"You're a part of the package. They'll leave you alone, at the very least.

"I'm warning you because I've never heard you say a bad thing about anyone. And Tolan tends to-- unsettle people. Klasha is simply too hard to get to know. Bel'k... I think you'll like him. The big lug type. A walking bulldozer."

Ellie listens intently then replies "Thanks for letting me know ahead of time. I can guess that Tolan would unsettle people and I'll be wary, alright? You want lunch?"

He nods, and smiles wanly. "Sure. I could use something. Are you going to catch me a fish, or are we going to head back into town." He glances at Ryoden, who talks seriously with the young Bayle. "At least she's distracted."

Ellie smiles "Well, I was thinking of the four of us having lunch in town, but if you want to have lunch here either with me or just with the two kids, that's fine too." She says quietly "I'm sorry for worrying you."

"You don't have to get lunch. I'll send out. What do you want?"

Ellie smiles "Have you ever tried crepes for lunch? You can get them filled with all sorts of stuff, sweet or savoury. A ham and cheese one for me, please."

She adds softly "Don't worry. Things will be okay."

His lips quirk into a smile. "Define okay. It's always one thing or another. Welcome to immortality."

He concentrates, and looks out over the sea. After a moment, a plate full of crepes, still hot, appear in his hand. He curses and quickly kneels, putting the plate on the sand and sucking at his fingers.

"Always forget that..."

Another concentration, and a blanket appears in his hands, and a bottle of wine. "Ryo always makes her own stuff. She's picky that way."

Ellie grins at the lunch and sits down on the sand "Sensible. She's a kid too though and kids can be picky. I used to drive Mum up the wall when I was a child with that." She smiles "My foster-mother I mean. What were you like as a child?"

"I was the youngest. Always screaming for attention. Fighting with Merlin because mom spent more time on him than Despil or I. It wasn't easy-- Our house isn't all that big, so it wasn't like there were a ton of other kids to play with. And dad was old when we were young, and mom busy...

"Mandor has said it to me. I'm getting my just desserts."

Ellie chuckles "I can see his point. I like Ryoden though. I was an only child and always wanted some siblings." She is quiet for a moment then says "Fairly normal upbringing for a little girl in Brittany. School, music and dance lessons, that kind of thing."

She adds quietly "So didn't you get to play with kids outside of your house? I appreciate you haven't had an easy time of it."

"Normally houses don't set up play groups. Too much inner conflict later. House first, self second. So I played with demons. We had a few loyal ones in the house that weren't named."

Ellie takes one of the crepes, and asks curiously "How do you mean not named? How does that work?" She then takes a bite of the crepe and smiles her approval of the taste.

"Oh, named is how you capture a demon. You speak a trapping incantation, then their true name, and they're forced to do your bidding until the entrapments fade. But you can get them other ways. Normally if you trap a demon, they're either too small to worry about, or you're just getting their attention so you can offer something better.

"So Gryll and Kergma and the other servants were unnamed, in that they weren't captive in any way."

Ellie nods, swallowing the food, then asks "What are demons like? And what does this have to do with the demon-form you spoke of earlier?" She grins "Thanks for answering all my questions, Jurt. It's really helping."

"Demons are all sorts of things. It's like asking what shadow people are like. Some are huge and terrible and good for killing and not much else. Some are cerebral. There's a million of them, and no two are alike."

"Demon forms are harder forms that Chaosites keep. Makes us look like demons. They're usually for fighting and such, or formal affairs."

A memory niggles at Ellie and she bites her lip then says "That's one of the things Brand said to Ryoden. Would she name him and keep him as her pet? It's just as we were talking about demons now that I remembered. What does that mean though?"

Jurt blinks at Ellie. "Name him...?" Woodenly, he puts his crepe down. "Beats me. But to name and keep a demon as a pet implies summoning an imp, and befriending it. It's a kid's game..." His face is perfectly blank.

Ellie shakes her head "I don't know how Brand works, but I have an idea. How about after lunch, we go and find my father then tell him about this? It may mean something to Dad or the Elders that it doesn't to us. How does the kid's game work?"

"It-- well, you make a circle and do the incantations, and call up an imp. Then you barter to get his name. Imps are rather easy. You can pretty much feed them and get them to stay.

"It's used as practice, like cantrips and glamours. Ryo's never shown any interest in them though..."

Ellie is quiet then says "What if Brand is trying to get Ryoden to see him as someone to play with? He was talking about where her playmates were too."

"Playmate...?" He looks at the boy and Ryoden, talking by the surf, collecting shells. He swallows hard.

Ellie nods, taking his hand "You checked the Bayle kid out. We'll keep her safe somehow, especially when we leave. And Brand has at least two major disadvantages with this possibility. Ryoden's neither cruel nor a fool."

"I know but-- she's a kid. And she's not all light and good intentions. She has Sawall in her blood."

He pauses. "Do you think anyone's talked to Rinaldo?"

Ellie shrugs "I don't know. I spoke briefly to him, but forgot to tell him. How do you think he'll take it?" She is quiet for a moment then adds "I know Ryoden isn't all light and goodness, but she doesn't strike me as malicious."

Jurt returns to eating his crepe, hunger overruling worry. "I have no idea. I don't even know what he thinks about his father. We've never really talked much. Merlin probably doesn't even know, and he knows him best of all."

His voice lowers. "And I know she isn't malicious."

Ellie pours some wine for them both and replies softly "I know. Ryoden means a lot to me too, even though I haven't known her for very long. She's special."

"More than you know," he replies. "You wouldn't believe the plans I've heard Mandor and mom talk about involving her."

Ellie asks gently "Anything you want to talk about? I'm quite happy to listen."

"Difference between want to and should." He sighs. "She's a talented little one. Beyond what's rationally possible. Mom's hinted that by the time she's old enough, Suhuy'd be ready to retire..." He stops. "I should most likely stop there."

Ellie nods "I don't want to get you into trouble with your mother or Mandor, certainly." She adds softly "Know though that I will be here for you whatever you wish to talk about, or not talk as the case may be." She smiles "Fair warning. My temper may flare up, but it cools just as quickly." She eats quietly for a moment, then swallows and asks "What do you think makes Ryoden so talented?"

"I have no idea. She's always been that way. And it's always been when we least expected it that it would come out.

"Once, before Dad died, Merlin and I were fighting again. I don't remember about what, but most likely it was stupid. Mandor and Despil were trying to break it up in their own ways... Staying back and watching for anything mortal. We didn't see Ryo in the room...

"She set off a force bomb in the centre of us to stop the fighting. We went flying, slamming into walls and such. In Mandor's case, through. Landed us all in traction for a few days. We didn't have any shielding up... Dara screamed at us for a half-hour, trying to figure out who had taught her sorcery..."

Ellie answers "I see what you mean. How did Ryoden react to what happened?"

"Made us stop fighting, and got her a lot of attention, so she was like the cat that got the canary. Didn't have a real grip on death back then. Too young. And Dad didn't let her in to see us. I think he thought she would just get upset and not put cause and effect together.

"Now, she's more mature. She knows there's consequences for throwing out a fully charged force spell. She understands death and pain..."

Ellie nods "It's never easy for any child to learn that, even if it's necessary." She hesitates then says "Is there anything I can do to help Ryoden, to make her happier?"

"She is happy. I mean, she's not overly pleased about not being home, and she's not feeling up to snuff, but, in general, she's happy. She's no more moody than the rest of us, so she probably won't be any worse than the rest of us."

Ellie stretches back, lifting her face to the warmth of the sun "Alright. The offer stands though. Whatever I can do to help." She grins over at Jurt "Of course, that offer also extends to her brother of whom I'm quite fond. Even if I am tempted to throttle him on the odd occasion. How long do we have to go the ball now, do you think?"

"Don't think this will be the last occasion," he chuckles. "Ball gatherings usually start around sunset. I'd say it's just past noon. So we have a while. I'll take Ryo back before too long so we can argue about what she's going to wear... In Chaos you'd just shift something fancy. Clothing is an odd idea for her."

Ellie laughs softly "Not wearing clothing is an odd idea to me. I think she has an idea for a dress though."

"What's that?" He looks out to his splashing sister. "Well, you are technically wearing clothing, but you don't see it under the shifting and glamours. Most likely, you're wearing armour, even Ryo. Parties are just too good a chance for assassination attempts."

Ellie looks at Ryoden "I don't know what the idea is, but she definitely has one from examining all the fabrics in the shop."

She stretches then rises "I'll see you both later. There are a couple of things I need to do before the ball."

He nods and kisses her, holding her tight. "Be careful, okay? Brand's still running around, okay?"

Ellie nods "I will. You be careful too, alright? You matter to me." She kisses him back, then pulls gently away to begin the walk back to the castle.

The day grows warm, and the town streets have a sudden surge of workers getting their noonday meal. She gets a few hollers and shouts from the dock that makes her cheeks colour, but once she hits the mid district, the crowd grows more civil.

In the castle things are reaching a fever pitch, but none of her familiar faces appear.

Ellie reaches her room and puts away her sketchbook and pencils. Drawing out her journal and something to write with, she settles into a chair and gathers her thoughts. She bites her lip, thinking of the last day, and begins to write...

A time later, she closes the journal, feeling calmer. Putting the journal back, she begins unpacking her clothes again. If Corwin checks the room, it may arouse less suspicion if it looks like she's planning to be there for a time. She sighs. On the other hand this is her father. He's likely to see through it. She thinks /Ah well, I'll still need some place to come back to. And it keeps me busy./ and continues to unpack and put things away.

She hears to door to the main suite open and shut, and someone enter.