At the gentle tap on the door, she looks up and sees Imogen. She smiles "Hello, Imogen. Please, come in."
Imogen advances into the room ... and sees Ellie's possessions laid around. She hopes the talk with Bill has left her looking calmer and less distraught than when Corwin left her.
But she is smiling as she says to Ellie, "So you decided to move in with your father after all. I am glad."
Ellie smiles "Yes, we had a long talk, He's promised not to interfere with Jurt and I, so that's sorted too." Her look is kind as she looks at Imogen "I do appreciate the offer of help though. How are you?"
"A little sad," says Imogen. "Your father and I had a talk about my mother. They were very close and ... "
She breaks off with a shrug, suggesting this is a painful topic.
Ellie bites her lip "I had heard rumours." Ellie rises and gives the taller woman a hug, offering comfort "Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Rumours?" echoes Imogen. "I thought ... everyone knew ... how distraught he was when she was killed. How he tried to die too ... "
She breaks off.
"I'm sorry," she says slowly. "I can't get the image of it out of my mind since Flora told me ... "
Ellie leads Imogen to a chair then sits before her "Imogen, my father loved Deirdre in the past. Of that I'm sure. However, this is the present. Dad loves you, Imogen. I see it in his eyes. And he loves you for who you are, nobody else. You have a chance at happiness. Take it. It's a rare gift here in Amber."
Imogen manages a smile at Ellie. "I know. At least ... I hope I know. These are still very early days for us though. And ... as well as feeling upset about Mother's death - I'm also feeling a little insecure about the future. Especially with Brand about."
Ellie nods "Brand being back has us all on edge, Imogen." She is quiet for a moment, then says "We each just have to do what we can to protect those we love." She smiles "Come, we need a breather. Let's cheer each other up a bit. What colours did you decide on for the ball?"
Imogen's smile deepens, as she appreciates the change of topic.
"Blue ... a pale blue. And the trimmings are in mauve. They're colours I've always loved ...
"What will you be wearing? And do you have any thoughts on how I should wear my hair?" She gestured to the coil of golden hair, neatly pinned in her neck. "I often wear it so for work ... "
Ellie shows her the cream ball gown, simple and elegant. " What do you think, Imogen? And blue and mauve sound lovely." She turns and adds "How about wearing your hair up with some loose curls to soften it? That may be nice. How do you think I should wear my hair? I normally just plait it." indicating the heavy black waist length plait.
"Why don’t we experiment?" suggests Imogen. "There's a full-length looking glass in Corwin's bedroom; if you sit on a chair in front of it, I could experiment - there's a brush and some extra pins that the servants brought for me this morning."
It seems to Imogen that it might give her a chance to talk to Ellie about something that had been troubling her since she learned about Ellie's mother.
Ellie nods and smiles back "That would be nice. Let's." and opens the door for Imogen to precede her.
Imogen indicates the long mirror.
"There. There's a looking glass over this chest of drawers too, that I used to pin my hair up this morning. But we really want to get the full effect."
She retrieves the stool and brings it over to in front of the long mirror.
"Take a seat and I'll get the pins."
She gave a rueful smile. "You know ... I suspect I'm by no means the first woman to have spent the night in this room!"
As Ellie sits on the stool, she shrugs "I'd tend to agree, Imogen. Oberon had a lot of wives apparently."
Imogen laughs. "Did he? I meant Corwin actually, but nothing about the Amberites would surprise me much ... "
She is silent for a moment, unplaiting the beautiful dark hair.
"You know ... the women in Corwin's past don't trouble me unduly," she says at last. "I mean ... it would be far more worrying if he had reached the age he has with no women in his life.
"I don't mean the ones who plotted his downfall," she adds. "I mean ... sweet moments of careless rapture - as we say on Gallbraith. I hope he had lots of those. And I really wouldn't care if I found an ear-ring or a stick of perfume or some other token of their presence here. I know they're the past and I am the future ... if all works out well."
She takes up a brush and begins to brush Ellie's hair rhythmically.
"It's the others that concern me," she says. "Dara ... my mother ... yours."
Ellie is quiet for a moment then asks "Imogen, what did Dad tell you about my mother?"
"Very little," she says. "Bill talked about her some ... that she was from Chaos, and she died. I gather ... but I may be wrong ... that it might have been another attempt on Chaos's part to create the perfect tool to rule Amber - like they did with Dara and Merlin."
Her eyes meet Ellie's in the mirror, and she lays a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
"Look ... even if she was used to trap Corwin, that doesn't mean she was a ... a bad person. She could have loved him very much - and hated what she was being forced to do.
She sighs. "Whatever was between them was probably much kinder and gentler than lay between my mother and Corwin. You spoke of rumours ... I think they hurt each other terribly, over and over again. And Eric too ... "
She shook her head, then spoke resolutely. "You do have lovely hair. Like my mother's actually - I remember it used to be a huge treat to me to be allowed to brush it. Sometimes in an evening I would do that ... and then she would brush mine before I went to bed ...
"Now ... how about we gather it up like this, in soft folds, with some still cascading down? Like a soft waterfall, d'you see?"
Ellie smiles "That is nice, thank you, Imogen." She hesitates then says "I know my mother was from Chaos and that she deceived my father." She says almost in a whisper "That point was made abundantly clear."
She bites her lip then continues "I think the form she took was that of your mother. As to what she really looked like, I don't know though I get the impression I resemble her." She takes a deep breath "I don't think she was that bad a person, but under a lot of pressure. I'll never know for sure though. Dad doesn't want me to have anything to do with Chaos either, but it's half of me that I need to learn about, half of my blood. Yet if I do, I hurt Dad."
Ellie stares straight ahead, not really seeing "Whatever I do, I'll hurt someone."
"Let me try a coronet too, before we makes up our minds," suggests Imogen, brushing Ellie's hair down again and beginning to twist it in an intricate woven pattern.
She is silent for a long moment, then says carefully, "Ellie - have you thought that Chaos might be trying to use you?"
Ellie nods "Of course they are. I'd be surprised if they aren't. I was born as part of a plot. As long as I live, that plot has life. Jurt and I just gives them a new facet to play with. Everyone here or in the Courts plots and schemes." She shrugs "Apparently, it's something to do."
"Yes," says Imogen slowly. "But have you thought about what that plot might be? It wouldn't be anything to help Corwin ... or Amber. They want to destroy both of them."
Ellie answers carefully "As far as I can guess, the plot would be the same as with Merlin. To have someone on the throne of their choosing. May I ask why you're so sure Chaos actually wants to destroy both my father and Amber? Especially now that my brother rules."
Imogen carefully adds a pin to the gleaming black crown of hair Ellie now wears.
"We'd decorate this with flowers," she says, touching it with her hand. "Cream flowers. And a long curl tumbling on your shoulder ... "
Once more her troubled eyes meet Ellie's in the mirror.
"Back on Gallbraith," she says quietly, "I was an administrator. A politician. And when you are defeated ... do you know the best way to regain power?
"You don't attack your triumphant opponent. No ... you attack one who is seen as a common enemy. And you win. You make your triumphant opponent seem weak ... because they couldn't deal with the enemy as well as you can.
"So ... it wouldn't be your brother who'd be looking to defeat Amber. It would be people he'd stepped on in his bid to get to the top."
"Tell me I'm wrong, Ellie. Tell me that Merlin was the people's choice, loved and revered by all. Tell me he didn't put anyone's noses out of joint in his bid for power.
"Because if he did ... Those people are the dangerous ones. Not necessarily to Merlin. But to your father. To Amber. To you, Ellie."
Ellie is quiet then says "Your points are all good ones, Imogen." Her face neutral, she asks "What would you do in my place?"
Imogen thinks before saying carefully, "How close are Jurt and Merlin?"
Ellie smiles a little "It's true to say they have fought, but that was in the past and they get on well enough now. Why do you ask?"
"Then do you think Jurt would tell you honestly who Merlin's enemies or rivals were? People who might want to depose him ... or at the very least get some sort of control over him?"
Ellie considers the question then answers "I don't know, Imogen. I'm not a member of his House and we've only known each other barely three days. I can see where you're going with this, but I don't have the information to give you as much as I wish to help."
Imogen shakes her head.
"It's not me who needs the help, Ellie," she says quietly. "In this, at least.
"Listen Ellie, will you promise me something? If anyone from Chaos asks you to do something that could hurt Corwin ...could damage his position ... please, please will you talk it over with someone before making a decision? If you feel you can't talk to me, or Corwin ... or any of your aunts ... will you talk to Bill Roth? He comes from Shadow Earth ... have you met him?"
Ellie shakes her head "No, I haven't met him. Being blunt, I don't always do what my father wishes me to, but the things that I do are done for good reasons and never to hurt my father or his position. My father told me not to trust any of my aunts or uncles, so how can I talk to them?" Ellie is quiet for a long moment then says softly "What if I just vanished into Shadow? That way I wouldn't be around to be used against my father."
Imogen draws a sharp intake of breath.
"Go into Shadow?" she says appalled. "Ellie .. you couldn't. Not with Brand about. Corwin would go white with worry overnight."
Ellie shrugs "And is Amber any safer? Brand was right out there with Ryoden and I out in the orchard. Nobody stopped him. He could have killed both of us and nobody would have been any the wiser until our bodies were found."
"But Ellie," protests Imogen, "everyone thought he was dead then!"
~Except me~ she silently adds. But that is not significant here.
"Now that we all know, Amber will be defended against him. Shadow ... you'd be all on your own - with Jurt. And that poor little girl perhaps. Oh Ellie, the risk would be appalling!"
Ellie shakes her head "Imogen, I'm young, but I'm not stupid. I'd only move if I thought where I would be going would be safer. And Amber has more than one risk for me. Do you think you're the only one who sees Chaos as the potential enemy? What happens when my mixed blood comes to light? I don't belong here. I don't belong there. You have a place here." Left unspoken is the thought /And I don't./
Ellie shrugs "Don't worry, please, Imogen."
Imogen looks at her in deep concern. All too conscious of the insecurity of her own position, she has a sudden urge to confide in the younger girl.
But to do that would be to betray Corwin.
"I'm just worried that ... oh Ellie, will you promise me one thing? Please? That before you do anything, you'll talk to Bill? I'll introduce you at the Ball tonight. He's a darling - and so very, very sensible. He makes the whole thing seem so straightforward."
Ellie smiles up at Imogen "Let me meet Bill first. Promise to keep this between us until I do?"
Imogen smiles back. "As long as you don't deliberately hide from him!" she says jokingly. "Now ... which way do you prefer for your hair? The crown or the waterfall? Or shall we try something else?"
Ellie smiles "I won't hide, I promise. I think I prefer the waterfall. How about we sort out your hair next?"
"Please," says Imogen, finishing weaving Ellie's hair back into a long simple braid.
Ellie carefully unpins Imogen's hair, brushing it out straight before trying any arrangements. "How are you finding Amber, Imogen?"
"Scary," she says at last. "These people ... have been playing a game with each other ... with countless others ... for millennia. And we are so innocent, Ellie. But we carry the weight of all the penalties they've earned over the years. I don't know if I'll ever have one of them look at me and think 'Imogen' and not ‘Deirdre's daughter'. Or more frequently ... 'that bitch Deirdre's daughter'.
"I’ve met Caine," she adds.
Ellie nods "I know what you mean." Green eyes full of concern meet Imogen's in the mirror. "What was Caine like to you?"
"We spoke of chess," says Imogen. "At least ... we appeared to." She shivers suddenly. "His hatred for my mother was ... terrifying. And I think he sees me as being in her mould."
Ellie stops brushing and hugs Imogen "You're not though. Don't let him spook you, my friend. He'll see you're different. And even if he doesn't, Dad will look after you." She steps back "They never talk directly here."
"Now that will make me feel like I'm at home," responds Imogen with a lurking smile. "Gallbraith held much the same style of speech.
"Although the threats weren't perhaps so mortal," she adds. "Gallbraith is a very civilised place."
She sighs. "I wish I could see it again, sometime."
Ellie smiles "Well, you can if you wish to. If you don't know how to walk Shadow, I'm sure Dad would be willing to teach you." She deftly pulls Imogen's hair into a sleek chignon, then teases out some curls. The look becomes softer, an intriguing blend of polish and whimsical softness. Ellie smiles "What do you think?"
Imogen smiles. "I think ... it's wonderful. And it will look perfect with the dress."
Her hand moves to the little rose pendant at her neck.
"I just wish I could get ride of this."
The pendant stays around her neck, a wish being insufficient. Briefly it grows cold again, and she drops her hand without thinking.
A knock sounds on the door, then it eases open, revealing Corwin. He folds his hands behind his back and nods.
"You both look lovely."
Imogen turns ... a spontaneous movement of sheer pleasure at hearing his voice. But even before she faces him ... she remembers their earlier conversation. The secrets that lie between them.
A tiny check. An infinite void ... deep as the abyss.
By the time she is facing him, she is smiling again ... a smile that lifts her lips ... but not her heart.
"Corwin." She moves towards him, her hands outstretched.
And the smile is on her lips ... but her eyes are begging him for patience, to let her come to terms with all she has learned.
And then ... as always ... The potent physical attraction of him seems overwhelming the closer she gets ... and she doesn't just want him ... she needs him.
And that is more terrifying than any of Caine's sumptuously veiled threats.
"Ellie and I have been practising for the ball," she says, and yields to temptation, letting her lips brush his cheek in a chaste greeting.
Ellie smiles, quietly moving to her own room as she answers, "Yes, it's been a nice breather." She smiles at Imogen "Thank you."
Corwin takes one of Imogen's hands and kisses it lightly, not pressing the issue, and even looking relieved that he got that small sign of affection from her. A touch of hope stirs, and he quickly hides it.
He smiles at Eleanor. "I saw Jurt on my way in. I think he's in Benedict's suites with his sister."
Ellie blinks once then smiles and takes the invitation to leave, quickly heading out of Corwin's chambers.
Left alone with Corwin, Imogen lets her hand rest in his a moment longer before withdrawing it. Then she moves away slightly, her head a little bowed. The back of her neck is quite bare and vulnerable ... except for a stray golden curl.
"I spoke to Bill," she says, "as well as Ellie ... "
She turns and smiles at him, relaxed, a little remote. Only she knows how hard it is to keep from running to him and hugging him fiercely.
But instead she speaks, the practical support she has promised herself she will be.
"Do all your siblings know about Brand now?" she asks.
He shakes his head. "Some are blocking right now, most likely getting ready to head in. But those that should know, do. Everyone else... well, that's what they get when they block Trump calls.
"How are you... doing?"
She tries to smile.
"Not perfect. But not ... bad. Talking to Bill helped ... and Ellie."
She looks at him frankly. "Corwin ... what you told me ... hurt me. Of course. And I will need time ...
But I don't want what happened in the past ... or me as I am now ... to be used against you. Half Amber seems to know about ... about us. Well, let them see me smiling on your arm. Let them see that we are strong together. Not weak. Not tearing each other apart."
She looks at him, a little nervously.
"What do you think?"
He looks away, then nods, pushing some feeling down below the threshold of perception. "That's a good idea. I'm glad you talked to Bill. He's been a good friend to me. And Ellie-- I hope you two keep getting along as well as you are.
"I hope one day it won't be pretend. But I know that's a lot to ask. Too much."
"Corwin," she says ... and there's a little catch in her voice.
"Oh ... Corwin. Not too much. Not to much at all. But ... perhaps ... too soon."
"Then I won't ask." He chances a smile. "Just save a dance for me."
He bows. "You should get dressed."
Closing the door behind her, Ellie shrugs and heads off to Benedict's suites, stopping a servant en route to check directions.
She finds them easily, not being far from Corwin's. She begins to get a feel that the layout is based on age as she wanders.
In Benedict's quarters, there is no Benedict, but there is a very tired Jurt and very angry Ryoden.
"I'm not wearing a dress!"
"That's what you wear to balls."
"I'm a boy. Boys get to wear pants."
"Mom wears pants!"
"....Okay, you have me there."
Ellie steps forward and says gently "How about a combination? A long dress, slit at the sides, so you can also wear pants." She crosses to the desk and quickly sketches out a design, vaguely Asian in appearance and made for comfort, yet stylish too. She hands the sketch to Ryoden. "This way, you get to be comfortable and Flora is kept off your back."
She eyes the sketch, a bit of ire still burning in her eyes. "I guess..." She glares out a window, at the dying sun. "I could take Flora..."
Jurt suppresses a laugh. "Take her where? To Chaos? She'd redecorate. Mandor would have fits." Ryoden is not amused, and sets to conjuring materials.
Ellie smiles "Imagine the debate though. It would be interesting if nothing else. Armani versus Chanel." Ellie becomes more serious as she adds "Depending on how things go, I thought of a way to speed the journey up."
"What's that?" Jurt looks interested, and as Ellie focuses her attentions on him, she realizes he's dressed formally, although still a little dressed down for a ball. He apparently decided against going local, and wears a tux instead.
Ellie smiles approvingly "Nice. Alright, my idea is to cut out the intermediate stage between Amber and New Avalon. We go via this pattern to the next, though I'll need some time in between to recover. It should still be considerably faster than walking there though. What do you think?"
Jurt looks sceptical. "I'm no expert on Patterns, but I would think walking two in a row is a bad thing. Maybe you-know-who will be so distracted by the crowd of Amberites assembled that we can get away without him noticing."
Ellie nods "Maybe. Anyway, I best get back and get ready. I'll see you both at the ball."
She smiles then heads quickly back to her own room. The barest touch of cosmetics and the simple gold leaf pendant sits well with the simplicity and elegance of the cream ball gown. Finally, she styles her hair into the arrangement Imogen has shown her, the black tresses tumbling down her back.
Ellie takes a deep breath, deciding she's as ready for this as she's going to be.
A knock sounds, and Ellie is surprised as Jurt opens the door, and not Corwin.
"He grumbled something to the effect of letting me collect you." He regards her silently. "You look wonderful."
From the next room, Ellie can hear a rustling, of little legs pacing around in fine materials.
Ellie smiles and takes his arm "Thank you. You do look nice too. Let's go and see what this ball is like."
He lands a light peck on her cheek as they move into the sitting room. Ryoden walks about, still not pleased. "These had better be _good_ sweets..."
She wears an outfit similar to what Ellie drew, through the material is not so stiff around the neck, and the focus is more on the silk pants underneath and a few intricate trimmings, rather than the form. She passes a lamp, and Ellie can see she's chosen green as the main colour, with gold trim. Her hair is still untamed, but Jurt gives Ellie a quick look to discourage her from giving any 'advice.'
Ryoden glances at Ellie and smiles thinly.
Ellie smiles genuinely "You look lovely, Ryoden."
Ryoden smiles a bit more brightly. "Thanks."
Jurt pulls off of Ellie’s arm as she feels him tingle-- getting a trump contact. He remains silent, then puts out a hand with a resigned sigh.
Mandor steps through, trailing another young man powerfully built, dressed formally in black and silver. His form is human, with blond hair and a cane at it's side. Mandor bows at the two ladies, covering a look of surprise at the gussied Ryoden quickly. "Your Highnesses, brother, May I introduce Trennix Dan'Oyle."
Jurt nods, and reclaims Ellie's arm. "Jurt of Sawall. That is Ryoden," nodding at a young girl in hugging the sidelines, eyeing him curiously, "And this is Princess Eleanor of Amber."
Ellie inclines her head slightly, smiling politely as she does so. "Lord Mandor, as ever it is a pleasure. Lord Trennix, welcome to Amber."
Scren nods and smiles friendly. He takes Ellie's hand and brushes his lips to it. "The pleasure is all mine your highness." Then he turns to Ryoden and Jurt in turn, bowing slightly, almost mechanically "Princess, Prince, I'm honoured."
He smiles again and leans slightly on his cane. "Lord Mandor told me he was going to a ball tonight, so naturally I badgered him into taking me with him. He forgot to tell me the occasion though. Can anyone enlighten me in this?"
Ellie smiles "My father is holding this ball to allow myself, my cousins and our guests to meet the family and each other in a suitably pleasant setting. Something akin to a debutantes ball, you might say."
Mandor looks at Scren. "They've had an influx recently. It's been very exciting. Jurt has found a reason to drag me up here every few hours or so."
Jurt glares. "You know, you can go home any time you want."
"I wouldn't miss this for the tea in China," sighs Mandor, and leads the way out, holding the door for the two ladies. Ryoden runs ahead.
Ellie nods her thanks to Mandor, privately wondering what the evening will bring, then moves out after Ryoden.
"Spirited little girl." Scren comments to Jurt, leaving out which girl he means exactly.
Jurt sighs, and looks after Ryoden. "You have no idea... You don't happen to be available for babysitting, do you? You could bill it to the king, or better yet, Mandor."
Mandor tails the group, but does subtly throw a silver ball out. It whizzes after Ryoden’s path.
Scren shakes his head. "I'm sadly otherwise engaged for the coming time. But if I can be of any help tonight, tell me. I'll keep an eye out to see if she is in any trouble at the party."
Taking the free arm of Ellie, he tucks it under his own and pats it in a friendly way. "I'm afraid I've never been to your magnificent castle before, and all I know of your nobility I know from hearsay. Maybe you could help me in a small who-is-who once we arrive at the ball itself?"
Ellie smiles "I'll certainly do my best to help you, Lord Trennix. The ball promises to be a most glittering affair, due in no small part to Aunt Flora's organisational skills."
Jurt looks anxiously after the vanished Ryoden, but Mandor waves at him dismissively. "She's fine. I'm watching her." A beat goes by. "Okay, _now_ you should go look after her." Just curses and releases Ellie, running with a limp down the hall.
Ellie shakes her head in amusement "As you indicated, Lord Trennix, Ryoden is indeed a spirited girl."
Scren chuckles softly and replies "And that is one of our princesses. Oh my." They walk on a little distance and then Scren asks "I gather from Mandor that Jurt is here minding the princess Ryoden, together with Lord Marrek. Is he still around here?"
"Marrek is most likely taking an active role in the redistribution of wealth in castle Amber. He was very dedicated the first few days here, so if he's a bit more lax now... I'll live.
"And, indeed, Jurt has cared for Ryoden since our father died. Dara doesn't have the temperament for her."
Looking back at Mandor, Scren says "I see." Looking back forward he asks in general "But he will be at the ball, I hope?"
Ellie nods "I have every confidence of seeing Lord Marrek at the ball."
Mandor nods. "He will be there, I'm certain. I'll track him down if needs be. I told him what an opportunity this would be to network, and I'd hate for him to miss it."
Ellie nods and smiles "It's a good opportunity for everyone to network." as she moves on to catch up herself with Ryoden.
Ryoden stands near Jurt, Corwin, and Imogen, all of whom seem to be enjoying acting rather cold to each other. Only Ryoden notes Ellie's approach. She sighs and moves away from her brother to join her.
"Jurt won't let me change the ice statue."
Ellie says quietly "I have to agree with Jurt. Flora may not like anything being changed. What did you want to change it to though?" Still listening, she gently draws the young girl with her as she moves to join Jurt, a friendly smile on her face for all present.
Imogen turns slightly and sees her.
"Ellie!" she says warmly. "How nice. And your dress is beautiful." She smiles wickedly. "As is your design for Ryoden."
She is still holding Corwin's arm - at the moment she is grateful for the protection it affords. But as the room is filling with gorgeously dressed guests, she is aware that at some point she is going to be exposed to the comments and innuendos of the other guests.
Trying to delay the moment, she says to Ellie, "Who is that man with the young face and perfectly white hair? Was he the one you were talking to on the beach this morning?"
Ellie smiles politely, keeping her face as neutral as possible despite Imogen's statement in Corwin's presence, and indicates the gentleman in question and the blonde haired gentleman near Ellie "May I introduce Lord Mandor and Lord Trennix Dan'Oyle. Lord Mandor, Lord Trennix, may I introduce his Majesty King Corwin and her Highness Princess Imogen."
Corwin looks at Ellie with a mix of suspicion and curiosity, but quickly covers it with courtly graces. "Eleanor. You look beautiful tonight." Briefly he releases Imogen's arm and takes Eleanor's hand, kissing it.
He steps back and bows slightly at the approaching Lord Mandor. "Ambassador. Always a pleasure." Mandor bows.
Imogen sinks into a graceful curtsey, a polite smile on her lips.
"I was visiting my sister earlier. We have some-- concerns I certainly hope we can find time to discuss later." His smile is polite, and beyond the neutrality of manners, unreadable.
Ellie flinches inwardly at Corwin's look of suspicion, hurt in the green eyes, but covers it with a polite smile, the pain quickly masked. She says quietly "If you will excuse us, your Majesty?" More warmly, she says to Ryoden "Shall we go and look for those sweets that you were promised?"
"I know where Flora was placing some rather fine one," says Imogen. “Let me show you."
She leads them slightly away from the group, taking the opportunity to say in a low voice, "Ellie, who is that man? Ambassador? Of where? Corwin looked ... not overly pleased."
They are now beside a silver urn, filled with fruit sweets that glitter like rock crystals.
Ryoden sifts through the treats, focussing on the red ones, and answers Imogen's question before Ellie can get a word in.
"That's Mandor. My brother. He told me he was up here for a while after patternfall, so I guess he could be an ambassador. There are lots and lots of those back home. Chaos, that is."
Jurt remains near Mandor while they quietly talk to Corwin, most likely arranging a meeting for later. Jurt eventually pulls himself away and spies the gorging Ryoden, goes to correct her, then gives up with a shrug.
Imogen looks at her cousin, and her eyebrows lift in surprise ...while she looks dismayed.
"Ellie, I'm sorry I said ... but do you think it wise ... "
She sees Jurt approaching, and breaks off.
"I'd better get back to Corwin. If I see Bill, I'll introduce you."
She gives Ellie a rather troubled look, and then glides back towards Corwin.
Ellie nods to Imogen as she leaves then smiles genuinely to Jurt as he approaches "How are you?"
He smiles and takes her arm. "You mean besides having to be in a monkey suit? I'm doing great." His voice lowers. "Mandor's pitching Ryoden being sick, and is going to put out feelers about you joining us in shadow for a while."
Ellie smiles back and replies back softly "I hope he's successful." She looks distant for a moment "Even if he's not, I can't see myself staying here much longer." She shrugs "C'est la vie."
He pats her arm and tries to look sympathetic, even though she knows he's happy to have her joining them. "I guess it is. Maybe someday you can come back. Hey, maybe you're even doing your dad a favour... I'm sure it's distracting having the daughter about."
Ryoden sucks on her candies and eyes the decorations critically. Apparently she's been to too many balls to be very impressed by one more.
Ellie flashes a warm smile at Jurt "Thank you. I really do appreciate it." She smiles at Ryoden "So how are the sweets?"
Ryoden shrugs. "'Kay," she mutters through a mouth full of sugar.
Jurt looks around. "So, I suppose I get to spend a night telling people I'm not trying to kill Merle anymore. Great..."
Ellie thinks then suggests "How about we go find Bill Roth? Imogen wants me to meet him and I promised her I would. And by the sound of the man, he may be one person you don't need to tell."
"Hope you know what he looks like, because I sure as hell don't. Merle knows him, but--" He's cut off as a large hand, with the faintest hint of red hair on it's knuckles, lands on Jurt's shoulder. Jurt turns.
"Oh. I was wondering if you'd show at this." Luke beams back at him.
"Free food? Of course."
Ellie grins up at Luke, genuinely pleased to see her red haired cousin "Hi Luke. It's lovely to see you. How's Coral?"
"Miserable. I couldn't get her to leave. She's horribly uncomfortable. Keeps cursing me and my big frame. She swears the baby is going to be forty or so pounds at birth.
"All that, and she still a few weeks away. I'll be glad when this is over."
Jurt chuckles. "You're the sympathetic shoulder, aren't you?"
"I'm not in Kashfa, right now." Luke looks at Ellie. "How are you feeling?"
Ellie smiles "Good, thank you, Luke. A lot calmer. By the way, would you point out Bill Roth to me, please? I promised someone I'd talk to him."
Luke looks around, and Ryoden notices him. For the first time that night, she smiles widely.
"Luke! Luke!" He looks at her.
She leans back on the balls on her feet. "Luke. Guess who _I_ met?" Jurt chokes on a cracker he had been eating.
Ellie says quietly "Ryoden, remember most here don't know yet."
Ryoden looks at Ellie and purses her lips. "I know. But he should..."
Luke looks more concerned. "Um, Fuzzface, mind telling me who you met?"
Ryoden's grin returns, and she moves in close, hopping on a chair as he bends down for her to whisper in his ear.
Ellie is close enough to hear it... "Brand," whispers Ryoden, almost giggling. Luke looks blank.
Ellie catches Luke's eye and nods, her gaze intent "He met Ryoden and I here in Amber."
Luke looks away, but not before a small amount of hurt shows in his eyes. When he looks back, he looks only intrigued.
"Mind telling me what happened?"
Ellie looks around "How about we all grab some food and a table and discuss it without everyone and their auntie passing us by?" She smiles "Let's sample some of this free food."
Luke nods, and without a word, starts filling up a plate. Jurt takes Ryoden by the hand and leads her to an empty table in the far corner of the room, partially hid in shadows.
On the way, Ryoden sees someone and runs off. Jurt moves to stop her, but then stops, and instead takes a seat and watches her from afar.
Luke sits and says nothing, and Jurt doesn't bother to speak either.
Ellie partially fills a plate, more for form than anything else, and sits with the two men.
In a level, soft voice, pitched only for the two men's hearing, she repeats the events and the words of the meeting. She finishes quietly with saying "I didn't know who he was. I had never seen a picture of him before." She looks at the two men "I'm sorry, Luke, but I have to ask. How much trouble are Ryoden and I in?"
Luke gnaws on a turkey leg half-heartedly. "I don't know. Maybe it wasn't Brand. I mean, he would have come to see me first, I'd like to think... I'm his son, after all."
Jurt blinks, and seems to think of something, but keeps his silence.
Ellie nods, her face sympathetic "You asked. I'm just telling you what happened. Maybe I am wrong. May I ask you something now?"
Luke waves his hand. "Ask away. This is probably going to be a night of questions for me."
Ellie asks carefully "If need be, would you be willing to trump myself, Jurt and Ryoden to Kashfa in a hurry?"
He nods, and doesn't seem surprised by the request.
"Click your heels, Dorothy. You could do it all along." He flicks her feather pendant.
Ellie looks surprised then pleased "Thank you, Luke. That makes matters so much simpler. A word of warning though. Dad is unlikely to be happy about this. I don't want to cause you any problems."
Luke raises a hand limply. "You think _you're_ going to cause me problems? Heh. You're peanuts now." He looks at his plate. "I need a drink." He raises and the walks over to the bar.
Ellie turns to Jurt, her voice soft "Well, that's one less potential problem we have. What do you think?"
He doesn't respond to her question as he poses his own.
"Eleanor. Do you think he might have been checking out Ryoden because he thought she might be his grand-daughter?"
Ellie thinks and remembers a question Brand asked. She replies "I'm not sure." She adds hesitantly "He did also ask if Ryoden was my child. So either he had some idea of us somehow and was checking out that possibility, or he may have been checking on the possibility of her being Corwin's grand-child."
Jurt sighs. "_If_ he knew you were Corwin’s. We came in at the same time. Stayed in the same rooms. Maybe he assumed that we were together in a more than haphazard sense.
"Maybe it wasn't Ryo he was looking for."
Ellie nods "Looking for you, you mean. I've been thinking about that too." She pauses "Where we're going, he can't follow right? Or can he?"
Jurt looks uncertain. "I-- I don't think so. Unless he has Logrus and knows the ways in. And practically no one does. Despil. Mandor. Merle. I think you can't get in using pattern.
"I know, a lot of guessing. But no one really knows all that much about them, since there's only two-- well, now three people that can walk in them."
Ellie nods "Would he be able to get in by Trump, do you think?" She shakes her head "For that, one of us would need to let him in though."
Jurt holds up his hands. "I don't know. I just don't know... I've never been. My siblings went long enough to get bored, but that's about it. Mandor says it's fairly close to the shadows from this pattern, so he wasn't very impressed.
"I guess we're going to find out, huh?"
Ellie asks seriously "Jurt, do you think we should wait and do this in stages? You and Ryoden going first then me coming along later? I just don't want to hurt people."
Jurt looks pained. "I don't know-- I don't want to leave you here-- I just get this sick feeling like we split up here, Corwin's going to shut you up and keep you from following. He's already told you to stay away from Ryo.
"I'll do whatever you want. Let's see how good Mandor is first, though."
Ellie nods "Alright. I'm going to go and find this Bill Roth, but when I come back, we dance. Would you like that?"
"Oddly enough, yes, I would. Dance, I mean. I always like you coming back." He pulls her chair close for a moment and kisses her, hand going on her waist.
"Good luck finding him."
Ellie chuckles "I'll need it." Rising, she looks around. /Alright, Imogen said he was kind. Let's look for a kind face anyway and ask for Bill Roth anyway./ Spotting a suitably kind looking man, Ellie optimistically heads towards him. Standing beside the man, she smiles "Excuse me, would you tell me which of these gentlemen is Bill Roth, please?"
The gentleman isn't Bill Roth, but after a few bad jokes and an offer of a drink or two, he does lead her the right way.
Bill is middle-aged, hair and beard flecked with silver among the brown. He dresses in earth tones and carries a sword, but doesn't seem to know quite what to do with it like the other nobles. He chats with a green haired woman about his age amicably.
Ellie smiles her thanks at the retreating man and waits patiently for Bill to finish, the green haired woman reminding her of another. A thought occurs to her. /I can find anyone... Maybe later. If nothing else he was a good friend./ Watching Bill, Ellie decides there is indeed something nice and kind about him.
Eventually, the woman moves off to find food, and Bill looks over and notices Ellie. He nods politely, eying her curiously.
Ellie steps forward, a bright smile on her face "Hello. I'm Eleanor, though most know me as Ellie. You're a friend of my father Corwin I believe."
He bows slightly with a smile. "I knew there was something about you-- Yes, I'm Bill. He's told me about you.
"Good to see you in Amber. We need more youth around here."
Ellie looks faintly surprised "My father's talked about me?" She smiles "Anyway, Imogen wanted me to talk to you."
"Really? About what?" Bill looks curious and a bit worried as he motions for Eleanor to come closer.
Ellie steps closer "Imogen's just a bit worried, that's all. I'm not getting on with my father and I thought some time out in Shadow and distance may help." She looks slightly rueful "In some ways, I'm a lot like Dad which doesn't help in arguments. What did Dad tell you about me?"
"He said he had a daughter-- He told me you had been attacked out in shadow, and that's why he was bringing you in here. He also said you're an artist, like him... though I don't think he was very specific. We've been ships passing in the night these past few days."
Ellie nods, trusting the kindly man "Things are kind of tense between Dad and I, to the point that Amber's choking me. I don't want to hurt him or Imogen, but I can't seem to do anything right and when he lays down the law, I find it a tad unfair and go the opposite direction. It's nobody's fault, really." She says quietly "I love my father, Bill, but I'm not a child any more and the woman is being judged by her father's memory of her mother. Does Dad always do this with his kids?"
Bill chuckles. "Wouldn't know. As far as I know, you and Merlin are it." He sighs.
"It can't be easy on you kids. I see you trying to find your places as immortals among the immortals... You're more powerful than any shadow person you'll ever know, and yet-- there's this unruly group up here."
"I've been curious how this generation is going to fit in... Maybe running off isn't the best or worst thing. I think Martin has the right idea. He's been trying to find himself out there somewhere."
Ellie smiles "That's what I'd like to do. Just have some time to come to terms with all this. From Earth to Amber is a big jump." She chuckles "Of course, it doesn't help Dad's mood any that Jurt and I are dating. He's a lot nicer than most people think. Do you know him?"
Bill shakes his head. "I can understand his concern..." He looks uncomfortable for a moment, then grabs a passing wet waiter and manages to get two flutes of champagne. "Here... Why don't we go out to the balcony? It's getting warm in here."
Ellie nods "Alright. Do you mind me calling you Bill, by the way?"
"It's what everyone else calls me. I certainly won't have you aging me by calling me 'Mister Roth.'" He chuckles.
The night descends, and the sky is full of stars... The moon is quite nearly full above them, and below are the fabled gardens of Amber... Lit with it's own tiny stars.
Bill sips his champagne. "Beautiful night. Corwin did a good job."
Ellie turns from her gaze at the sky, her look changing from one of wonder to one of puzzlement "What do you mean, Bill?"
Bill returns her puzzled look. "The Jewel... Ah, he may not have told you about that. Corwin controls the weather around here. Most of the time he lets it work out it's own kinks, but from time to time he asserts his will-- Brings a badly needed rain, uses it against invaders... Or in this case, there's a good chance Flora badgered him into making a perfect night for the ball."
Ellie nods "You're right, Dad hasn't told me about that." She is quiet for a moment then says "May I ask your advice on something, Bill?"
He nods. "I was figuring you would. Go ahead."
Ellie chuckles "I guess so." She becomes more serious "What do you do when you care about two people and they want you to do different things?"
Bill looks out over the starry night and thinks a long time.
"That depends," he starts gently, "On who you're making the choice between. There will always be people with a bigger priority in your life. And sometimes, when you can't reconcile differences between two people, you have to make a choice...
"Now, before you run off, would you mind being a bit more detailed. I promise this won't get back to your father."
Ellie hesitates then looks round. Finally, she says quietly "My mother was from House Hendrake. She's dead now I believe. Dad told me that along with orders not to go anywhere near Chaos. I needed to find out though, to have some idea of the other half of my blood."
She looks down at her feet for a moment then back at Bill "I never lie normally, but any time I mention Chaos to Dad, he gets upset. Jurt was willing to talk to me and we got close as we became friends. I've learned stuff, but I know if I talk to Dad, I'll hurt him. If I lie to him, I hurt him. And if I stay here, I hurt me and Jurt, possibly Ryoden too. I don't doubt that Chaos has a plot for me and Jurt too, but Dad says I can't trust any of my family here either. Jurt at least seems to care for me."
She smiles thinly "Three days isn't very long to get involved with someone I know."
Bill chuckles softly. "Ah, young love... I'd forgotten." He sighs, almost melancholy. "Your father does care. And the way he reacts to Chaos... that's a part of it.
"You know how Chaos used him, right?"
Ellie nods "Kind of, I think. The first introduction I had to this family though was Julian getting ready to beat me up. So from where I'm sitting, there's not much to choose."
Bill is quiet for a long time. "Julian is a bad example. He hasn't been himself lately...
"But surely you've met others... This family is more bark and less bite most of the time.
"Okay, enough defending them... but you can imagine your father's stress... I'm sure he sees history repeating itself."
Ellie nods "I know and stress is the last thing I want to give him. I can't shake the feeling though that whatever I do, when he looks at me, he sees my mother and reacts accordingly." She thinks for a moment then says "Both Benedict and Luke have offered me shelter in Avalon and Kashfa. Maybe the best thing would be to take stock for a bit in one of the Shadows and let tempers cool down a little. What do you think, Bill?"
Bill looks back at Corwin, talking quietly to Imogen. "I think... things are about to get difficult. And it's not your mother he's judging. I'm not sure even he knows how well he really knew her. Every time he talks about her-- it's confusing.
"I think he's seeing you, really. And the danger. I think he's worried Chaos is just trying again with you. And I think your father is going to need you one day, more than you realize."
Ellie smiles "You're a good friend to him, Bill. I'm glad you're around." She says quietly "If I do leave within the next couple of days, would you tell my father not to panic, please. I'll be back with him as soon as possible if it proves to be the case that I do have to travel. And if I do, it will only be because I'm needed to help another. I know things are difficult right now and I don't want to make them any more so. Until then though, would you not say anything? I may not have to leave depending on other things." Her smiles widens "Thank you for listening."
He doesn't return her look, but remains somewhat wary. "May I ask who you're going to be helping... I think I've already guessed, though."
Ellie nods "Jurt and Ryoden. Ryoden's ill and needs to go back into Shadow. So I'd be helping them get settled into a safer shadow then I'd come back to Amber. That shouldn't take long, I think." She says quietly "She's just a young girl, Bill."
He chuckles. "A young girl who's the youngest member of some of the most powerful sorcerers in Chaos... I think she's well taken care of. Especially if Mandor sticks close by.
"That's not why you want to follow, is it?"
Ellie chuckles in turn "Well, not entirely no. Jurt really isn't as bad as people think he is. And I was asked to come with them."
Bill manages a weak smile. "Of course you were. Aside from plots or such, you're a cute girl, and sweet too... And it looks like you've charmed both of the Royal Chaos in a few days.
"And I think Jurt is young, and at a crossroads in his life."
Ellie smiles "Thank you. Ryoden's a good kid. I'm fond of her." She pauses then asks "What sort of crossroads?"
"The crossroads they all seem to come to... Immortals, that is. A time when the people they enjoy out in shadow are getting older. A place where they have to realize what life forever means.
"Jurt has had to raise his sister, and I think he's beginning to get the idea that he won't be doing that forever."
Ellie nods, thinking about Bill's reply "I got the impression too that he's starting to consider other things." She smiles "You are a nice man, Bill. I definitely owe you a dance for this advice, though the first dance has already been booked. Second dance?"
"Of course. I hope you have steel in your toes." He chuckles.
"What do you think he's considering?"
Ellie shakes her head "I'm not sure, just that he is thinking about his future. As you said, at a crossroads." She rises "Would you like to meet him?"
Bill nods. "Perhaps later." He considers Eleanor for a moment.
"I guess you could say you're at a crossroads too."
Ellie nods, letting the truth of that sink in. She smiles at Bill "I appreciate this, Bill." She curtsies to him then heads back to Jurt.
She smiles "Want to dance now or meet some people?"
"Dance." He takes her hand and leads her to the dance area, waltzing her with a surprising grace.
"Your father wrote this, you know?"
Ellie smiles, listening "No, I didn't know that. It's a lovely piece." She pauses then adds softly "You dance very well, Jurt. Looks like the lessons with Mandor paid off."
He chuckles. "Don't tell Mandor that. He'd make me take more. He's hell-bent on turning me into a courtier so I don't embarrass my family too much one day." He glances over at Ryoden, who now has made a small fuzzy thing that walks about and squeaks, and is showing it off to the young Bayle boy.
"She won't be a kid forever."
Ellie nods, remembering Bill's words "What do you think you'll do when she isn't a kid anymore?"
Jurt shrugs. "I'm not cut out for the diplomat arena. Mandor desperately wants one of us to take it on, and since Despil and Merle are busy... In times of peace, a diplomat is a somewhat boring position. He senses a vacuum here... Now I think he's give up on me and is priming Ryo."
Ellie replies gently "Will that work if she becomes ill here? And if it does, what do you want to do with your life?"
"It's not that she's ill-- It's more that she gets headaches and complains that she feels tired. We think it's because of her age. After all, I don't feel it, and neither does Mandor. And he has no Amberite blood.
"Maybe I'll figure out what I want to do then. It'll still be a while. Hell, maybe I'll settle down for a bit. Who knows? What are you planning on doing the rest of your life?"
Ellie shrugs "I don't know. I'm at a crossroads I suppose. I will continue painting though. That's one of the few things I'm fairly sure of right now. Apart from that I'm uncertain where I should be going." She smiles mischievously "Any suggestions?"
He returns the wicked grin. "I can think of a few places..." For a moment he looks uncomfortable, and glances over to where Corwin and Imogen sit. He bristles slightly.
"Your old man doesn't like me. And I don't think your cousin does either."
Ellie replies quietly "He sees history repeating. I don't know if there's anything we could do to change his mind on that. You're also taking away his child. As for Imogen, she's worried about me and the hurt I may do to my father. And of course, there's always the thought of us being part of some plot."
Ellie is quiet for a time then says "Part of the crossroads."
Jurt thinks for a while. "I guess he would see that... And I'm also guessing he wouldn't be thrilled to be a grandfather, would he?" He sighs. "Hope I have enough Amber in me so that I don't burn too badly."
Ellie shakes her head "If he hurts you, he loses me. And no, he wouldn't take it at all well, I would guess. How do you think your family would take it?"
Jurt rolls his eyes. "I don't even want to think about it... Not that they'd react badly. They'd be ecstatic. I knocked up a princess... The ribbing would be deadly. You have no idea how sharp Mandor's wit can be when he puts his mind to it."
Ellie chuckles "Poor you." She is quiet for a moment then says "Anyway, you said it's unlikely."
He nods. "It is.
"I told you, I'm no saint. I've had girlfriends, and I never made a habit of being all that safe. True, I haven't had many since Ryo came about, but before I was like any other young Sawall. Even lived with a girl a few years."
Ellie listens, interested, "I never thought you were a saint. Neither am I. What is her name and what is she like?" She smiles "I'm just curious. If you don't want to talk about it, that's alright."
Jurt pauses as the song ends, then leads her off the floor, grabbing a flute of champagne on the way.
“I showed you her picture. Klasha Minobee.
"She was a great girl. Lively to say the least. Excitable. Emotional. Passionate."
Ellie asks gently "She sounds great. Why did it end?", suppressing the tension she feels within./Everyone has a past./
He sighs. "She-- well, you know how Ryo and I can shapeshift, right?
You've seen me do a little bit, and Ryoden in her full demon form. Well, if we wanted, we could just keep changing... Maybe my hair colour every five minutes, or the shape of my face.
"Some people do that in Chaos. They create and shed forms like clothes. Some take it to extremes. And sometimes, at those extremes, you lose control.
"That's what happened to Klasha."
Ellie answers softly "I'm sorry. Forgive me for asking." She remembers gentle Andre, increasingly lost in hallucinatory trips, the pain of that time a brief echo in green eyes before it is masked again. /Loss of control comes in many forms./
She smiles ruefully "Tell you what. You get to ask the questions now if you wish and I'll answer."
"Oh, I don't know-- Why don't you tell me about this Parisian punk of yours. The one from the subway? That's a fair trade, isn't it?"
Ellie nods "That's fair. Alright. I met Andre when I was sixteen, not long after I became homeless. He was kind to me and didn't push for anything more than I was willing to give."
She smiles slightly, remembering "He was funny and gentle, but passionate too, with a hard edge. I think there was a time when I would have done anything for him."
"And what happened? I'm assuming he didn't get a bad case of manic shapeshift..."
Behind them, the band starts again, a song brighter than the last.
Ellie looks away "He got increasingly hooked on acid, hallucinogens. One day he vanished."
Jurt winces. "Sorry. I shouldn't have pressed. I just thought it was one of those young love things.
"That happens a lot in Chaos, too. Vanishings, I mean."
Ellie shakes her head "No, it's alright. And I did love him, though no longer. So why do people vanish in Chaos?"
Jurt shrugs. "The usual. Assassinations. Politics. Border wars. Demon wars. Failed experiments. Traversing the Logrus. Or, they just wander into shadow and never come back."
Ellie nods "Shadow seems to be a safer alternative in some ways." She smiles "How about we make an agreement? We can both ask questions without worrying that the other will take offence. Fair enough?"
He laughs. "It's pretty hard to offend me. You've bewitched me." Jurt looks out over the cool night, and at the moon.
"Pity we're heading out. I was hoping to see Tir Na Nog'th."
A gleam of mischief lights Ellie's green eyes. "How long do you think it would take to visit?"
Jurt thinks. "Well, you have to visit when the moon is full, and that looks to be tomorrow... It's up all night, as long as there aren't any clouds. Clouds break it up."
Ellie nods "Pity it's not full tonight. Another time maybe." She looks around and says "So what would you like to do now? I promised the second dance to Bill, but we could get some more food, meet some more of our generation or go out on the balcony for a bit. Any preferences?"
"Our generation? Did you have someone in mind?" He watches Ryoden play with cantrips, much to the quiet bemusement of her young friend.
He sighs. "Why do I even bother...?"
As Marrek comes up to them and Jurt moves over to talk to him, Ellie moves away slightly and looks round. With a smile, she walks over to Bill Roth.
Bill is chatting with a well dressed older noble, enjoying a glass of wine. He nods at Ellie as she approaches.
"Your Jurt is busy?"
Ellie smiles "That, and I did promise you the second dance. I have my steel capped shoes on as instructed."
Bill leads her out to the floor, and notices Corwin talking to a green haired woman quietly, Imogen at his side. "Oh good. Llew made it. She's not always fond of the family functions."
Ellie asks curiously "Llew? I'm afraid I haven't met most of the family, Bill. Any guidance on who's who would be much appreciated."
As they dance, Ellie adds smiling "You're a much better dancer than you claim to be, Bill."
He shrugs. "I get dragged to my share of balls. Llewella is the patron Amberite of Rebma... Have you been there yet? That's where Martin hails from too."
Ellie shakes her head "No, I haven't been there yet or met Martin." She hesitates then asks quietly "Bill, would you be willing to introduce me around a little? If it's too much bother, it's not a problem."
"Of course not-- I would have let your father do it, but he seems a bit busy..." Bill looks concerned for a moment, but then shrugs it off. "Who have you met already?"
Ellie replies "Bleys, Faetan, Gerard, Benedict, Celeste, Lillian, Wraecca, Luke and Imogen. Fiona and Julian too. Flora briefly. Oberon. Caine and Clarice as well in passing. Brand. Most of them I met by accident, I admit." She is quiet for a moment then adds "Dad's busy I know. Do you think he would be annoyed by my request?"
Bill is quiet for a moment, and seems to chew something over. "You've been busy, then. Lillian and Wraecca... I met them briefly. Quite a puzzle. I'm still trying to place them and that little Amberite with them, but they're either truly ignorant, or have a reason to hide their parentage.
"What was Brand like?"
Ellie looks uncomfortable for a moment then says "He was nice to Ryoden and I, kind even. I didn't know he was Brand until after."
Bill nods. "I wouldn't have known either. I never met the man. Corwin moved me up here after Patternfall, at first just to show me around as a thanks, and then on a permanent basis after my wife died.
"I needed to get away, and he needed an advisor.
"So don't feel bad. How did you know it was him, eventually?"
Ellie says gently "I'm sorry to hear about your wife, Bill. Grief is always hard. As for Brand, it was the name he used. He called himself Luce, meaning light, and in his room the window shows a lighthouse and a phoenix all alight. That's what gave me the lead."
Bill smiles softly. "It is hard. Cancer. Fortunately, it was quick... I didn't think so at the time, but now... A few years in Amber makes you a bit wiser."
Ellie nods "With my parents, sorry foster-parents, it was a car-crash. It took a while for me to accept that quick was better too."
He takes a moment to think over her statement on Brand. "Do you think he wanted you to know?"
Ellie bites her lip then answers "I think so. His speech was full of riddles, some of which I've figured out and some of which I haven't. It was almost like getting an exercise to do in school, but weirder, if you see what I mean."
He chuckles. "Life gives the best lessons. And from what I know about Amberites, they all resort to riddles when they can. They hate to give information directly. It gets confounding at times. They drop it a bit for my sake... I don't have a few millennia of riddling under my belt to compete."
Ellie chuckles "I see what you mean. I think we're both in that boat, Bill. Are you from Earth too?"
He nods. "New York. Upstate, in the more rural areas. I met Corwin not long after I got out of college. Even godfather to my boys." He chuckles. "They were flabbergasted when they found out what he was. Talk about irony."
"You sound French, if I don't mistake myself."
Ellie smiles "I was raised in Brittany, then lived in Paris for a few years and then I came here. It's very different here. I keep expecting a white rabbit to run by telling me I'm late. I haven't found a mad hatter yet either."
"We have Droppa. That's about as close as it gets." Bill chuckles and stops as the song ends, and he leads Ellie back off of the dance floor. "I had always wondered what your father was, back before I knew about all of this. I thought he was some sort of international spy. He's always had that kind of dark air about him."
Ellie laughs softly "He does have the kind of James Bond look about him, doesn't he?" She smiles "Thank you, Bill. It's lovely to talk to someone else from Earth."
He bows, a small smile on his face. "Just another mortal playing with the gods. Where are you off to now?"
Ellie looks over the buffet and an idea comes to her. She smiles "I'm going to have something to eat I think." She curtsies to Bill "My thanks again."
The food is still plentiful, but less artsy as people have been digging in heartily.
As she moves to the buffet, she sees Marrek approach Jurt, talk for a moment, then is surprised as the two of them dart off into the crowd again, heading towards the far side of the buffet.
Ellie moves to fill a plate. She angles herself so as to also see what Marrek and Jurt are up to, her curiosity wakened.
As the crowd ebbs and flows, she catches glimpses of them talking to a large man, trying to hide in the shadows. She notes that he's even bulkier than Gerard, who's hardly lean.
Her plate fills quickly with chicken, ham, some vegetables, and even some lovely looking sweets.
Deciding, she takes the plate and heads over to Jurt, Marrek and the unknown man. If nothing else, the stranger might appreciate some food.
Marrek moves back to Ryoden's side, and Jurt coaxes the big man down a hallway, talking soothingly, like to a spooked animal. He looks back and notices Ellie.
"Ellie, this is Bel'k."
Ellie smiles reassuringly at Bel'k "Hello, Bel'k. I'm Ellie." To Jurt, she adds "May I help?"
Jurt looks back at Bel'k, who looks frightened like a child.
"She's nice. You'll like her. She watches Ryoden, too." Bel'k looks uncertain, then spies the food in Ellie's hands. He reaches forward, then pulls his hand back.
"Um, Ellie-- did you have plans for that plate?"
Ellie smiles and hands the plate to Bel'k. "This is for you, Bel'k. I can get more food as you need it. What would you like to drink and I'll get that too?"
Bel'k takes the plate and doesn't seem to hear the rest of Ellie's words as he digs in. He takes a turkey leg and bits into it, snapping off the entire end, meat, bone, gristle, and all.
"Did you eat on your way?" asks Jurt. Bel'k shakes his head, and Jurt sighs. "There goes the buffet."
Ellie says quietly "Let's get to a room and order in a full meal for you, Bel'k." She says to Jurt "Your chambers?"
Jurt nods. "Sounds good." Jurt coaxes Bel'k to Benedict's chambers, and Bel'k continues to munch on his food, quickly cleaning it, then moving into simply eating the plate.
Jurt sighs as they settle into Benedict's subtle chambers. "So much for fitting in."
Ellie nods, tugging the cord to summon a servant "Don't worry too much. Just tell me what we need and I'll get it sorted out."
A servant comes after a rather lengthy wait, and Jurt rattles off an order sure to pinch even a well stocked kitchen.
After the servant leaves, Jurt massages his temples. "Bel'k. Does anyone know you are here?" Bel'k shakes his head.
Ellie thinks for a moment, then turns to Jurt "Do you wish anyone else brought here or informed of where you are?"
Jurt shakes his head. "And don't tell Ryoden he's here." Bel'k protests a bit, but then the servant returns with a tray, laden down.
"Where are you off to now?"
Ellie smiles "Off to check on two very nice people I met and then deliver some food. Is there anything I may do to help you before I leave though?"
Jurt shakes his head. "I'll be back down in a minute, okay? Who'd you meet?"
Ellie replies "Wraecca and Lillian. They're both from a modern shadow too. They're sensible. You'd like them."
She smiles and gives Jurt a swift kiss on the cheek before saying "I'll see you soon." then heads out the door and back to the ball, looking for Lillian and Wraecca.
They no longer are at the same table. Wraecca talks to Martin casually, and across the room, Lillian listens to an animated Bleys recount something vividly.
Ellie heads to Martin and Wraecca first "Hi Wraecca, how are you doing?" She turns to Martin with a bright smile "Do excuse me for interrupting. I'm Eleanor. I understand we're cousins."
Martin gives a little wave, pushing a sparkling clean plate away. "Is that so? I guess that means you're one of the new kiddos in town, huh?"
Ellie nods "I am indeed. Dad brought me here. Call me Ellie, everyone does. And you're Martin, right?"
"Is Corwin your dad? Heard the king had a daughter running around, but didn't take the time to get the name."
"I'm called Martin. Or stupid pimp. Just ask Faetan."
Ellie nods "Yes, my father's Corwin. Nice to meet you, Martin." As music starts up again, Ellie smiles "Would you like to join me in a dance?"
Martin goes to get up, and answer in the affirmative. Just as he leaves his chair, he spots something, and an ironic grin covers his face.
"No, I kind of like my appendages where they are, and I bruise easy. My first dance is most likely promised to another."
Ellie chuckles "Fair enough. I promised my first dance to someone too. This is my third though." She grins "What can I say? It's a party."
"Oh, you're one of those dancing chicks... I know the type. I think Faetan's going to make me wait, just to see how long I can go without kicking up my heels.
"Lovely girl. How _do_ I get into these fixes?" He smiles brightly.
Ellie laughs "I daren't ask, but as long as you're happy, that's what counts. And you certainly look happy."
He laughs. "I am. Don't tell anyone else that, but I am. She's interesting, to say the least.
"You're um-- with that Jurt guy, right? By the way, what's with his limp?"
Ellie's smile widens, her green eyes twinkling "Yes, I'm with Jurt. And his limp comes from having been involved in a rather unfortunate incident back in the Courts. He's a really nice guy once you get to know him."
/I should have known./ Scren muses. Slowly, he turns around and heads back into the ballroom itself.
Deciding that he wants to have his share of fun this evening.
Scanning the room, he spots a likely dance partner and approaches the lady slowly as not to immediately disturb her conversation.
"Hello again Ellie."
Ellie smiles and answers "Lord Trennix, what a pleasure to see you again. May I introduce my cousins Martin and Wraecca. Martin, Wraecca, this is Lord Trennix Dan'Oyle."
Martin nods, looking interested. "Lord... of what? Doesn't sound like an Amber name."
Scren smiles broadly and bows with a slight flourish. "Dan'Oyle is a small estate just off the beaten track in chaos. I have some interests there, and the people call me 'Lord'. I accompany Lord Mandor today. He begged me to come and see the splendours of Amber. I could hardly refuse, couldn't I?"
Tapping softly with his cane, his face turns slightly tragic. "My leg got caught in the mandibles of a rather loathsome beast a few years ago. Never been the same." His face then clears. "But the good people of Amber play such lovely and danceable music, I must try once more to see if my rhythm still holds."
He turns to Martin and Wraecca and continues "I hope you forgive me the interruption, but I would like to hijack this lovely lady here and ask her to dance with me."
Ellie smiles "I would be delighted, Lord Trennix. Shall we?"
Scren places his cane against a nearby chair and bows cheerfully for Ellie."We shall!"
Moving into the throng, they start dancing. Hobbling at first, Scren loosens up after a few moments dancing. He grins and leans over to Ellie's ear and whispers "A good tale to get past the dangers of hard work, I find."
Ellie chuckles "A very good tale indeed. So what is it you actually do in the Courts, Lord Trennix? Apart from avoiding the hideous spectre of hard work that is."
Scren's face turns slightly tragic again, but less theatrical than before. "Hard work, actually. I am seeking to be accepted into a newly formed house. It is hard work to lobby, gossip and scheme. Lord Mandor took me here so I could plead my case to young lord Marrek. It's his house I'm trying to woo."
Despite the dropping of the injured leg ruse, Scren seems to be quite rusty in his dancing, forgetting steps here, turning the wrong way there. Luckily, Ellie is quick and light on her feet, and corrects the missteps with grace.
"It has been quite a while ago since I danced." he says apologetically.
Ellie smiles encouragingly "You're doing fine. Before this ball, I hadn't danced in a while either." She pauses then adds "From what I can see, Marrek is open minded and fair. I'm sure he would be willing to listen at least."
Scren frowns. "I hope he does. It isn't a nice place to be, Chaos, if you're not aligned with a house." He pauses and his face turns a tad sadder. "You will not hear of house Dan'Oyle if you come to Chaos though. I am the last survivor of a tragic accident of colliding shadows. The... The rest of my family didn't."
He is silent for a few moments and then shakes his head slightly and smiles. "But that's enough about me, tell me what a wonderful lady like you is doing in a place like... well, this wonderful castle?"
Ellie smiles slightly "Why dancing with visiting Lords of Chaos of course." She adds quietly "I am sorry to hear of your loss. Losing ones you care for is never easy."
Scren shakes his head. "It isn't. It happened some time ago though. I'm trying to survive to keep their memory alive." He pauses his talk as they dance on.
"I haven't met young Marrek yet. You said he would be understanding. I wonder though, what is he like for the rest?" he asks whilst dancing on.
Ellie says carefully "The rest? I'm afraid I couldn't really say, having known Lord Marrek but a short time. So how are you finding Amber?"
Smiling slyly, Scren then looks innocent and says "Oh, I don't know... The company is very nice though." He winks and then turns more serious. "I haven't seen anything of the castle outside of this hall and the room we arrived in. Are there any exciting spots that I should visit?"
Ellie chuckles "I'm afraid you're asking the wrong person. I'm a recent arrival in Amber myself. Let's see. For the castle itself, I can recommend the gardens. They're very nice. Outside of the Castle... What sort of places do you normally like?"
"As a kid I loved little hideouts and places I could observe people without being seen. Tree-houses, secret alleyways. I've still got a liking to them. But quiet balconies and secluded copses work for me too." Scren muses with a wistful smile on his face.
Ellie thinks then answers "The balcony outside this room is nice and quiet. The others I haven't found any examples of yet I fear." She smiles "What was your childhood like?"
At this point, the dance ends. With a smile to Scren, she says "Thank you for the dance, Lord Trennix. Now, if you will excuse me, there is a matter I wish to attend to."
Remembering her earlier decision, Ellie makes her way to the buffet table and fills a heaped plate quickly, also taking a glass of champagne. This done, she heads out of the ballroom, first stopping by Jurt's latest room in Benedict's suite.
As she opens the door, she sees Jurt still talking to Bel'k, looking frustrated. He paces, stepping over a few discarded plates.
Bel'k, on the other hand, looks absolutely rapt. Food, someone paying attention to him... He smiles happily as he eats a pie.
Ellie carefully puts the food to one side and says to Jurt "I'm just on my way to visit Grandfather. Want to join me?"
"Grand-- Oberon?" He looks back at the munching Bel'k and sighs. "Sure. Why not? I'm not getting any farther here, am I?"
Bel'k's only reply is to eye the food Ellie sat down.
Ellie smiles and quickly picks up the plate again and says "We'll be back later, Bel'k, I promise. Is there anything you would like?"
Bel'k sucks in a breath. "Ryoden," he says simply, and Jurt thinks a minute. He utters a few words and flashes out a hand, and Bel'k goes limp.
"Twerp's not the only one with a sleep spell."
Ellie smiles "You were right. I do like him. How long will that sleep spell last for?"
"Few hours, give or take. Hope Ben doesn't mind the mess. I really should get out to shadow real quick and tell Tolan where he is-- after the ball, I guess. Little longer won't do him any harm."
Ellie nods "Alright, but if you do need to nip out quickly, I'll cover for you. Right, now to deliver this and quickly visit Oberon."
She lifts the plate and glass, explaining with a smile "I think Grandfather likes visitors and I promised I'd visit later."
He follows. "It's not urgent. If Bel'k has been gone this long, he's probably been written off as dead."
They make their way through the halls, and finally, Ellie finds the small back room of the former king. Through the door she can hear some voices talking, and the rustling of fabric.
Ellie looks uncertainly at Jurt and whispers "What do you think? We can go ahead or find a quiet space and share this."
He shrugs. "Your call. Never met Oberon, but Ryo sure let me know about him. She was thrilled. I think that's the first grandfather she's had that she likes." He rolls his eyes. "Given that Benedict's another one, I'm not all that surprised."
Ellie nods "Alright." and knocks politely on the door, curious within herself as to who will answer.
A girl answers, red-haired and freckled, looking cross. "Yes?!"
Behind her, a stubborn Oberon sits in his usual bedclothes, glaring at a dewy looking man holding a gilded outfit.
Ellie smiles at the girl, then at Oberon saying "Hello, Grandfather. What seems to be the problem here?"
He brightens a bit, and points at Ellie's plate. "Ha! You can't starve me, Belle. See? My grand-daughter's saved me."
Belle glares at Ellie, then at Oberon. "I give up," she huffs, pulling the timid seamster out behind her.
Ellie shakes her head "Here's your food and champagne, Grandfather." setting the plate on a nearby tray and making sure everything is within reach. She smiles and indicates Jurt "Grandfather, this is Jurt. Jurt, may I introduce my grandfather Oberon."
Jurt bows slightly. "Jurt of Sawall."
Jurt looks a bit surprised. "Dara and Gramble, majesty." Oberon smirks.
Ellie sits near Oberon. "So what was Belle trying to get you to do that was so awful?"
He snorts. "Go to a ball. I'm not leaving. Don't care what they've put together to cart me out of here. I've got a little pride left, you know."
He digs into the meal, obviously pleased.
Ellie smiles then says gently "It's a pity you won't be there. Ryoden for one would love to see you, I'm sure, as Jurt can testify. However, it's as you wish."
He waves a hand. "Bring her here. I'm not going to be put to a corner like a museum piece to watch my spawn look like idiots. I'll stay in here."
He studies Jurt's face to the point of making Jurt uncomfortable, then snickers and goes back to his meal.
Ellie shakes her head and says "I don't blame you. Nobody's really made an idiot of themselves yet. Though the evening is young I agree."
She stands and leans over to kiss him on the cheek "Now, I need to get back before I'm missed, but I'll try and get back later if I can. Is there anything you would like sent up?"
"Irony. Nice and heavy." He chuckles.
"And say hello to your dad for me," chuckles Oberon, looking right at Jurt, who sputters.
Ellie quickly smiles, takes Jurt's arm and leaves. Once they are a distance away, she says quietly "Are you alright?"
"How the hell did he know?" whispers Jurt fiercely. "And if he knows, who else knows?" He curses and paces. "As if Corwin needs another reason to hate me."
Ellie shrugs "I don't know. I never said anything. Maybe he sees a resemblance the rest of us don't." She adds quietly "I don't know who else may know. Grandfather likes winding people up."
She thinks then says softly "How about a walk outside to clear our heads and get a breath? There's bound to be guests outside by now."
Jurt takes her hand. "I think I could use air right now." He leads her through the throng of people, finally making his way to the main doors and out to the gardens.
The flowers are colourless in a moonlight glow... Even the small globes of light don't give them hue. Jurt makes his way through the monochrome garden and finds a secluded spot, taking off his jacket and spreading it on the soft grass. He sits and watches a few nobles talk in the cool spring air.
Ellie sits beside him and says gently "I don't know what I can say to make things better." She pauses, thinking, then says "Whatever happens, I'll stay with you if you wish me to, wherever we are. I still trust you."
"Of course I want you to." He takes her hand and pulls her close, warding off the chill as his body grows warmer. "And thank you for trusting me. The list of people that do grows a bit shorter every day."
Ellie answers quietly "Me too, I think. All I've heard of Chaosians from Amberites, Benedict and Grandfather excluded, is how they can't be trusted. Even Dad looks at me with suspicion at times." She shakes her head "I guess the people that still do trust us are ones we can trust too. Maybe." She grins "Besides, I'm a sucker for a guy who's a walking heat source." and then adds softly "Thank you for everything, Jurt."
"My pleasure, believe me. And in this world, no one trusts anyone completely. Even my brothers give me a hairy eyeball now and then.
"It could be he's looking at you suspiciously because of me."
Ellie nods and answers "Certainly part of it I think. It's also because I'm not following his orders." She is quiet for a moment then asks "Would it help to have a friendly Amberite along in addition to me?"
"Might. Depends on who it is." Jurt looks curious. "It's not like we're running off to plot the end of the world. And I don't have enough state secrets to be all that valuable for pumping. Might make your dad back off."
Ellie smiles "I was thinking Wraecca and Lillian. I don't trust most of the Elders."
Jurt furrows his brow. "You're wise not to... Refresh my memory. Who do Wraecca and Lillian belong to? You may have told me, but there's been so much these past few days."
Ellie answers "Remember the couple we met when we were all with Dworkin? I don't know who Wraecca belongs to, though he has a connection to Clarice. Lillian's his companion I think. They're both from a modern world too. Wraecca is a soldier of some sort I think. Lillian's a therapist. They're both good people though."
Jurt blinks. "And I thought I had been monopolizing you. You've been busy. Who's this Clarice? I don't remember any Elders by that name."
Ellie shrugs "I don't know. She looks as if she can easily handle herself though." She grins "That's what Bill said too, about me being busy I mean. He asked who I had met. Anyway, you're still the one I most like spending time with." She leans over and kisses him briefly "See?"
"So I see." He holds her a bit tighter and sighs contentedly. "I'm enjoying monopolizing you."
He's quiet for a moment, and his voice lowers to a whisper. "Ellie-- that guardsman by the front. Has he been there the whole time?"
Ellie whispers back "I don't know. We haven't said anything incriminating though." She thinks for a moment then continues to whisper "I have a thought. With this pendant, I can trump to Kashfa. So if we are split up by my father, I'll meet you there. What do you think?"
He nods. "Good plan. I just noticed the guy a minute ago. I saw him inside a few times and didn't think much of it... But now I think we're being watched."
Ellie is quiet for a moment then says "Do you think it's just us or anyone else as well?"
Jurt studies the man under hooded lids for a moment. "What with the scare, it could be everyone. If Corwin didn't trust me this much, I think I'd be kicked halfway to Chaos by now. I'm not a match for your old man."
Ellie replies quietly "Let's hope it doesn't come to that. If he hurts you, he loses me. It's that simple."
"He doesn't know that. Who knows. Maybe he thinks I'm some fly by night guy, or fling... Or maybe you're playing your own game, and I'm your pawn.
"If I am, I have to say I'm enjoying it. Hell of a lot nicer than being mom's." He winks.
Ellie laughs "You would make a very cute pawn I agree, but that's not why I'm sticking with you."
"And why are you sticking with me? I know. It's the kid sister, right? Chicks dig kids."
Ellie chuckles "No, that's not it either though I am fond of Ryoden I admit. She's a great kid. Why are you sticking with me?"
He smiles warmly. "I am, for all intents and purposes, a single parent of an unruly and somewhat wild child. Most anyone who would be interested in me is pretty much scared off by her. She's territorial to an extreme, and I am part of her territory. However, she's taken a liking to you...
"Only helps that I liked you from the start."
Ellie smiles "I like you too. I'm still not telling you though. Let's see. You gave me three guesses once. You've used one, so you still have two left. And no tickling allowed to get the answer like you did last time."
He lays back and closes his eyes. "You are with me because... I do the dishes, right? Even if I just Logrus them away, it's still doing the dishes."
Ellie chuckles softly "Good point, but not the answer. One guess left, my dear."
He smiles wickedly. "I'd say it, but some of these prissy nobles might be listening in, and be traumatized."
Ellie laughs "Possibly, but it's still the wrong answer." She grins "Looks like I get to keep my secret for the time being."
Jurt smiles. "Then I'll have to stick around long enough to get it. Oh well. Poor me." He studies the stars and sighs. "I may not like too many of the occupants, but this is a beautiful place... The company makes it fairer."
Ellie smiles and answers softly "Thank you. The feeling is entirely mutual believe me." Looking up at the sky, she says softly "This place is beautiful. It's like the moment when you see the picture in your head, even before you've started painting it. In that moment, everything feels balanced, clear and real, as if you could just reach out and touch the picture in your head."
She smiles, her face abashed and says quietly "Of course that doesn't last and I'm rambling again. Is Gilva still coming with us?"
Jurt nods. "She'll have to get out into shadow a bit before she can trump one of us. As I said, only people in the thick of Chaos I can get to are wearing one of these." He touches his necklace, and smiles.
"She's entertained. I glad I didn't have to go run the ponies around her."
Ellie nods "I agree." She looks up at the stars once more then sighs and says "I suppose we should be going back in soon. Anything you would like to do?"
Jurt sighs and kisses her on the neck, the shoulder... "I want this night to be over, and to be in a nice soft bed with you...
"Are you staying in your dad's quarters _all_ night?"
Ellie smiles "That depends on what happens. If you and Ryoden are in Kashfa, I may not be staying any of the night in my Dad's quarters."
Jurt looks at the guard. "True. If we can get away. Do you want to plan that now?
"These damn guards are everywhere. Do you know what exactly the feather trumps?"
Ellie shakes her head "Not exactly, but to Kashfa I think. Where in Kashfa though I don't know. I doubt the guard would follow me into my own room, so if need be I could go there, you and Ryoden to your rooms and I could trump you then we could all move to Kashfa in one fell swoop. It would probably be a good idea to test the pendant first though."
He nods. "Go for it. Just because you use it doesn't mean you have to go."
Ellie nods "Alright. Feel free to look in too if you wish." then takes hold of the golden feather, concentrating as she would for a trump.
The contact comes, and instead of a place, she sees Luke before her, an eyebrow cocked.
/Wondered when you'd try my toy out./
Jurt curses next to her and takes his hand off of her arm. "Shit. Guess we can't get out unless he goes home." He sits up and curses a few more times.
Ellie smiles at Luke /Hi Luke. Do you have a spare trump of Kashfa I might borrow please? Or any location that I might walk from?/
/Uh, it's hardly private here... Someone's bound to see me hand it over. Let me get a breath of fresh air and head on over, okay? I think I know where you are./ His grin grows wider. /And I expect to know all the juicy reasons why you want it./
Ellie smiles /I'll see you shortly./ and then removes her hand from the pendant. With the link once again closed, she turns to Jurt "Luke is on his way over with a trump that will get us out. He will want to know why though."
"How much do we tell him?" Jurt looks serious. "What does he know already." His tone is urgent, and he keeps his eyes scanning for Luke's large form.
Ellie replies quickly and quietly "Of us going into Shadow, just that we are. That's obvious from my request for a Trump of anywhere I can walk from. I haven't told anyone of where we're planning to go though." She takes a deep breath then says "How about a partial version of the truth? That Ryo needs to be away from Amber and my father wants to split us up?"
Jurt furrows his brow. "That may cause digging, though. The Ryo part is fine, but I can see him not wanting to get too far on Corwin's bad side. He can't just run off to shadow while he cools down."
Ellie nods "I wouldn't want to get him into Dad's bad books either. Alright, let's stick with the Ryo part. Is it possible to trace where someone has trumped to, do you know?"
Jurt thinks. "Possibly... But I think you'd have to be right there, and work quickly. I've never tried it, and it's not a part of basic teachings. If anyone would know, Mandor would."
Ellie nods "If we ask him though, he'll have a good idea too of what we're planning. Alright, in that case the best time would be when most people aren't going to check for a while. Probably when they're sleeping. It may be safer for you to have the trump. That way, if we are split up, I can still trump you and we can then leave."
Jurt nods, but doesn't respond as Luke's large form, outlined in moonlight, approaches. He flips through a deck. He crouches near Ellie and Jurt, his voice quiet.
"So, what's the mystery?"
Ellie replies quietly "Ryoden needs to leave Amber as do I, Luke. For her, she is having headaches and the like in Amber."
Luke looks concerned. "Why's that? Merle never said he got that."
Jurt looks uncomfortable. "It's her age... and being a Chaosite. It's a bad combination."
Ellie nods "It's not needful she stay here and endure it. Will you help us, Luke? Please?"
Luke nods. "Sure-- but I'll warn you, I may not be a political haven right now, all things considered. I'm trying to play this neutral, but it isn't easy. These people are suspicious of _themselves_."
Jurt frowns. "So, in other words, you'll help us, as long as we know you wouldn't really be helping us. Great."
Ellie says quietly and warmly "This offer, Luke, is appreciated. Thank you. And with all things considered, I can understand your stance. Nowhere is easy right now."
Luke rocks on his heels a bit, looking up at the starry night.
"You don't mind if I ask what happened, do you...?"
Ellie shakes her head "I don't mind, no." She settles back into Jurt's hold a little then continues to speak, her voice soft and quiet.
"Ryoden and I were going to the beach. Ryoden wanted apples first so we went to the orchard. I had just spoken to Ryoden when she spied someone behind me. She said hello then I turned to see who it was."
"It was a man who looked to be in his thirties. He wore black slacks and a green shirt. He was leaning against a tree. The green leaves made a very good frame for his red hair."
"Ryoden watched him curiously. He asked us if we were looking for apples. Ryoden nodded and he hit the tree behind him with his elbow. An apple then fell into his other hand. He duly gave her the apple. I didn't know who he was so I politely said I didn't know his name and took Ryoden's hand, signalling caution as I did so."
"He nodded and replied indeed we did not. He bowed slightly then said 'Luce. A kings ransom in apologies.' Ryoden stepped back for my sake I think. He then wanted to know what two ladies were doing in the orchard."
"I smiled, curtsied and told him we were fetching an apple, there was no need to apologise and since he had been so kind as to deliver us one, we would be on our way and again, he had my thanks."
"He laughed and answered 'You don't trouble me. Sit. So few ladies appreciate a good spring apple.' He then looked at Ryoden and said 'They're over tart, some say.' She shook her head. He continued 'Not over tart? Just right?' Ryoden nodded."
"He then sat and bit into an apple too, asking if we would join him. Ryoden studied him for a time then sat too and ate her apple, still watching him. I sat beside Ryoden and told him my name and asked what he did here or had he just arrived. He tossed me an apple too and told me he had just arrived and that he enjoyed vistas, indicating Amber and the sea. He added that he didn't do much else, calling himself a ne'er do well as it were."
"He took another bite of the apple then said 'And you? Is this your child?' I smiled at Ryoden and nodded slightly to her saying 'No, though I would be proud to have a daughter such as my young friend here.' I then ate some of the apple and added 'And enjoying vistas isn't that bad. It brings pleasure after all.' He nodded then confirmed our names, asking if we were children of Amber."
"Ryoden shook her head. He replied 'Not you? Anyone's child?' She touched her amulet and he continued. 'Ah. The serpent. How unobservant of me. A child of Chaos.' He then looked at me and said 'And you?. "
"I replied that I didn't belong to either really and asked him the same question. He answered 'The same could be said for me. A little bit of everything, which adds up to nothing.' He bit his apple again and said 'But I know both. I've been looking for my place.' He then looked at Ryoden again, who had drawn up her knees under her chin and was staring at him intensely. He asked 'And do you have any playmates, here, Ryoden of Chaos?' She shook her head and squinted. He continued. 'Only guardians, hmm? Pity. Where is your playground, child?' She didn't answer."
"Something felt wrong so I smiled and made our excuses. thanking him for his company. I rose and holds out my hand for Ryoden to take. Ryoden didn't take it for a moment, but then she too rose and smiled one of her secret smiles, whispering. 'I know you,' He replied 'Shall you name me, and keep me as a pet, like your demons, little sorceress?' She took my hand and answered. 'When I name you, I'll think about it.' She laughed, let go and ran back to the path."
"He watched after her then looked at me and said 'Enjoy the day, child. Blue skies only last as long as the sun shines.' I nodded and replied 'And sometimes not even then. Enjoy the day too, Luce.' I then joined Ryoden."
Ellie takes a moment then adds "That's all there is, Luke. If I have forgotten anything, it's not deliberate. You've helped me in the past and I am grateful for it."
Luke and Jurt both blink a few times. "Nothing wrong with her memory..." mutters Luke, the falls silent, deep in thought. After a few minutes he shakes his head. "No. I have no clue. Why would he care about Ryo?" He sighs.
"I wish I could help. I really do. I wish I knew why he was back. Or even if it was him.
"Sounded like him though. Like on the good days."
Ellie hesitates then replies "He appeared kind to Ryoden and I both, whoever he is." She thinks of something else, but says nothing of it in Luke's presence, though she squeezes Jurt's hand slightly. "Luke, would you give Jurt the trump please?"
Luke nods and hands Jurt a card, depicting a fairly non-descript alleyway. "The palace is a stone's throw from there. Dress is like this area, if you'd care not to stand out." Jurt nods.
"I figured. A bit close in for tech."
Luke looks back to Ellie, and goes to say something, then decides not to, and instead rises. "I'd better get back to the party."
Ellie smiles up at him, her smile genuine and warm "Thank you again, Luke. This really does help."
His returning smile is thin as he turns and heads back in.
Jurt runs a hand through his hair. "Okay, we at least have a way out. Now I want to know how good Mandor has been doing on getting us out without Corwin chasing us down."
Ellie nods absently "And I would be best getting back to the ball, I think. I hope we haven't annoyed Luke with this request. He's a good friend."
She kisses him softly then rises to her feet. "I'll see you in a little while, Jurt. Take care, dearest."
He returns the kiss. "Okay. I'd better see where Ryo is. And Mandor, for that matter."
He makes his way back to the main entry, and they part ways.
Ellie thinks for a moment, then makes her way over to Corwin and Imogen, near Flora. /Time to build some bridges./ She smiles and says "Good evening, Father, Imogen, Flora." Her smile widens as she adds "This is a lovely ball, Aunt Flora. Thank you."
Ellie thinks ahead /After the ball should still be before most people sleep./ and nods "Alright, Dad." She asks gently "Were you really worried I would judge you?"
"I'm worried you will. Now, where have you been all this time?" He tries to lighten his tone.
Ellie smiles "Dancing and talking and some other stuff. Possibly getting on Flora's bad side again." She chuckles and relates the tale "I get on well with Grandfather for the most part so I took him up a snack from the buffet. As far as I know, someone called Belle and a tailor were trying to fit him into this gilded outfit and using the lure of food to tempt him down. Of course, when I arrived with the food, they were unhappy and Grandfather was exultant. They left and I stayed with him for a bit."
Corwin chuckles, but a hint of sadness leaks through. "I think I like the old codger better now than I did growing up-- He was always a gruff man. He left us to be raised by our mothers and siblings." A slight wince.
"The most any of us got growing up was silence or beratement."
Ellie reaches over and takes her father's hand, gently squeezing it. "I'm sorry, Dad." She smiles "I never knew him before, but I like him now. I visit him and we talk." Quiet for a moment, Ellie then adds "You have Imogen and I now though." She grins wickedly, her eyes mischievous "Imogen to keep you happy and me to keep you on your toes and keep life interesting."
"Of course. And you do make me happy, Eleanor. It surprises me sometimes." He releases her hand. "You should get back to the party. I want to check on security."
Ellie nods, uncertainty briefly showing in her eyes, and stands, giving Corwin a quick hug. She then smiles at her father "Alright, Dad. Is there anything I can do to help you at the ball?"
"Enjoy yourself. That's all." He kisses her on the forehead, then leaves the small side room.
Ellie slips out of the room quietly, hoping to stay unnoticed. Grabbing some more food and a bottle of wine, she makes her way back to Oberon's room, knocking politely on the door first.
Oberon seems to bark for her to enter, but his gruffness disappears when he sees her (or is it the wine? Hard to say.)
"You came back. Belle won't talk to me for a week." He smiles.
Ellie laughs "Is that a good thing? And yes, I came back, bringing more food and a bottle of wine this time." She sets the food and wine down within easy reach of them both and hauls a chair close to Oberon. "So how are you feeling now, Grandfather?"
"The same. Don't worry about Belle. She's a feisty one. I'dve liked her more in my younger days.
"So, are you bored with the ball yet? It's so dull when they try to go behind everyone else's back."
Ellie shakes her head "Not yet, but I've been in and out of the ball." She pours them both some wine and hands Oberon his glass. "Grandfather, may I ask you some stuff?"
He quaffs it quickly, and motions for her to sit. "Of course. More interesting than talking to myself."
Ellie sits down and sips at her wine before speaking "I need to ask about the Pattern. How dangerous is it for an Amberite who may possibly be pregnant to walk it?"
Oberon finishes off his wine and chuckles. "Ahh... Am I going to be a great-grandfather? I don't know. Never been pregnant, you see. I'd ask one of the girls. Maybe that's their own birth-control of sorts."
Ellie shrugs "I don't know yet. What are the odds for two people both of Amber and Hendrake blood, do you think?"
He shrugs. "That depends. Either of them know tricks to up the chances? There aren't a whole lot of that combo, and I know Chaos was thirsting for more during my wandering days."
Ellie blushes "I don't know any such tricks no. All I really know of my Chaos side is that my mother was a Hendrake, that she's not Dara, and that she's dead." She pauses then adds "I think you can guess who the potential father is." She bites her lip then says "Dad doesn't know about this, Grandfather, so I'd appreciate this being between us for now."
He waves his hand as he helps himself to some of the food Ellie procured. "He never talks to me anyway. Does your friend know any of the tricks? He may be trying to get you... in a way." His grin is wicked.
Ellie answers honestly, a smile on her own lips "If he has, I think Dad will want to beat him to a pulp. They really don't get on at all. Dad wants me to stay here and Jurt wants me to be with him. Talking of which, I may be going away for a bit. I didn't want you to think I'd forgotten to visit you." She looks uncertain "Is it a bad thing to be half-Chaosian, Grandfather?"
Oberon shrugs. "Seems to work out fine for Merlin. Seems like you'd have an advantage, wouldn't you?" He pours another glass of wine. "Which one are you pitching for? That Jurt seemed nice enough, but it's quite a pickle you'd be getting into."
Ellie nods "I've chosen Jurt. He's kind and nice to me and okay with my mix whereas most of the Amberites I'm close to keep reminding me that Chaos is the enemy. And I care a lot for Jurt. That's why I'm going away. Dad wants us to break up ideally and I'm... resisting the idea. Any suggestions for minimising the trouble?"
He shrugs, tearing the meat off of a chicken leg. "A dead man can't complain. Slip something nasty into his wine. Beyond that, he's going to hellride after you, and probably do something rash and stupid. He's well known for that, you know."
Ellie sighs "I won't poison him, so I'll need to try another route. Well, he wants to have a chat with me after the ball anyway, so maybe then." She smiles "I like talking with you, Grandfather."
He leans forward and pats her knee. "And I like you stopping by. Too bad you're so set on running off. But you're better off without these spoiled brats I reared. Your generation has churned out some real neat ones."
Ellie nods "I don't know too many of my generation yet, but they certainly seem nice enough." She thinks then says "If I learn Trump, would you like me to trump you to wherever I am?"
He smiles wanly. "Not possible, dear. Those things don't work on me anymore. Security." He spits with disgust at a corner of the room.
"They should have just banged me over the head with a shovel and been done with it."
Ellie thinks "There will be a way round it, don't worry. I just need to stay alive long enough to learn everything I need to. Did you know that Brand is back?"
Oberon shrugs. "Figured he'd make his way back some day. It's a pity, really. He was a bright child. They were a useful lot, Clarissa's.
"Let me guess... They're running about like their heads have been cut off, right?" He sighs.
Ellie shakes her head "Not quite, but I'm not sure what is happening apart from guards being set to keep an eye on my generation. Ryoden and I met him in the orchard you see. Do you think Deirdre is alive too?"
He shrugs. "Who knows? That would make a nice mess, wouldn't it? Good thing Eric's dead, or the two of them would start trying to run each other through again. Good riddance." He spits again, and throws off a chicken bone.
"At least Flora had sense enough to stay away from the gene pool."
Ellie asks quietly "Second cousins are alright though, aren't they? Uncle Benedict made sure Jurt and I weren't more closely related." She shifts uncomfortably "I'm not comfortable with the issue of incest, I will admit, never mind the whole thing with my father liking Deirdre."
Oberon shrugs. "Second cousins should be okay, but be careful about letting Jurt's line get out. They're likely to be on edge.
"My only rule was about sibling marriage. I'm still horrified I even had to make a rule."
Ellie nods "I haven't told anyone about Jurt's line. Benedict is the only Elder that knows for sure I think, though maybe Brand does too. Where I come from, France, that close a relationship is against the law too. Here though, it seems to be almost accepted. Yet, from what Dad and others have said, my mother took Deirdre's form, so do I have any right to object or be uncomfortable?" She sighs "Is there any way do you think to find out who my mother was other than just a nameless Hendrake?"
He chuckles. "Ask the man who bedded her. Corwin. He should know. Or spend a few years in Hendrake gathering secrets.
"Or walk to her."
Ellie replies quietly "Dad says she's dead and gets angry when I want to know about Chaos or my mother. I could walk to a grave though, couldn't I?"
He helps himself to some more wine. "Should. Or maybe Corwin's lying. He's not the most honest of men. You could find all sorts of things out in shadow, you know."
Ellie looks uncertain "Well, Imogen says she's dead too. What sort of things, Grandfather?"
He laughs. "Anything. You'd be shocked the things I found out there. You kids just need a good shot of creativity."
Ellie grins "I have some ideas as to what I'd like to look for. How slow does this place run in comparison to my home, Earth, Grandfather?"
"Earth? It's half, I believe. Four here is eight there. Not as impressive as some I've been to, but not shabby.
"Why, planning a visit?"
Ellie nods "There are a couple of people there I need to check on, that I owe. I'd like to make sure they're alright. One of them anyway would be handy to have around."
Oberon nods, and pulls something out of his pocket. A handkerchief, white, with the smallest embroidered unicorn on one corner. "Take this, and take a fast horse. Jester. White Arabian with some grey speckling.
"Not like I need it anymore."
Ellie takes the handkerchief and kisses her grandfather on the cheek "Thank you so much, Grandfather. Does this do anything I should know about?"
"You've been around horses, right? Gives you my smell. He'll let you on that way." He finishes off his plate. "Don't worry. I won't tell anyone where you went."
Ellie smiles "You are a lovely grandfather. When I get back, I'll let you know how it went. Would you like more food or wine before I go?"
"Nah. Enjoy yourself." He waves her off. "I'll bug Belle if I need anything."
Ellie smiles and leaves, thinking about how best to do this. She moves quietly along to her room, planning the route ahead in her mind. Letting Jurt know she isn't around might be a good idea though although it may cause more suspicion if he insists on coming with her. A small frown creases her forehead and she takes out her trumps, dealing the one of Avalon to the top. From there, she and Jester can move into Shadow. Decided, she moves into her room and changes quickly into something better suited for riding, black breeches and a blue-green silk blouse and the familiar black overcoat.
Keeping well out of the way of the ball, Ellie then hurries to the stables and follows Oberon's instructions. Holding Jester's reins, she activates the trump of Avalon and takes herself and Jester there...
Avalon is at high noon, in the summer, and it takes Ellie a moment to readjust. She sits high on a hill, overlooking a grey and simple medieval castle, English in style, surrounded by a number of smaller cottages. She spies a few farmsteads in the distance.
There is no one nearby, and a warm breeze blows through her hair.
Ellie takes a deep breath then gets up on Jester, the handkerchief safely in a pocket. She thinks of Andre and all the times he helped her. A moment's pause then she and Jester ride into Shadow.
This time, she focuses on finding Andre and shadow shifts as she rides onwards to Earth.
The shadows drift by, becoming increasingly more modern. The sun sinks in the sky, and suddenly she's rather self-conscious, being on a horse in the middle of Paris.
The section she's in she remembers well. A cheaper side of town, for all the blue collar workers. Not crime ridden, but not exactly high-rent. A few people walk by in the mist, casting her an odd look, but she's left alone for the most part.
Ellie thinks /Alright, I was shifting to Andre, so he must be round here or close by. He may or may not have the green hair. Let's ask around./
She looks around. The area is mostly apartments, with the odd diner. /Nothing ventured, nothing gained./ She dismounts and loops Jester's reins around a nearby railing.
She decides to check the apartments she arrived outside first. Ellie walks up to the door then quickly scans the intercoms to the various separate apartments, looking for anything familiar before pressing a button, just in case.
Her hand traces down the buttons, and she shivers, having forgotten how cold Paris can be in the dead of winter. Finally, her hand lands on something smeared with weather and time, barely legible. She makes out a D... perhaps Duvallier?
She hesitates for a moment. /Duvallier is Andre's surname./ Taking a deep breath, she presses the button and waits for a response.
She waits for a minute, then the speaker lights up again. "Hello?" She can't tell through the static if it's Andre, but it is male.
Ellie replies as clearly as she can "Hello. I'm looking for Andre Duvallier. Is he there please?"
"Uhh... who's looking? This is Andre."
Out of the corner of her eye, Ellie sees a figure move in the darkness among the cars and burnt out lamp lights.
Keeping the figure in her peripheral vision, Ellie says back quietly "Ellie Matin. If it's not safe, would you suggest a place to meet?"
"ELLIE?! I'll be down! Don't go anywhere!" The connection breaks.
The dark figure sits on a nearby car hood, setting his feet on a fire hydrant, watching her.
As casually as she can, she unties Jester's reins and readies herself for a hasty exit if need be. She then faces the figure "May I ask what interests you so much?"
"You, your highness. You should put the horse somewhere safe. Oberon's horse knows how to heel. Out here, he may be collected, and people would get hurt.
"I've seen his horse at war, and the local officials would be hard pressed to subdue him."
Ellie smiles politely "I don't intend to be here much longer, thank you. Since you know who I am, may I know to whom I'm speaking?"
"Bull. One of Benedict's men. He asked me to watch you. Good thing I could keep up to you. That would have been an embarrassing call to make to the boss." He moves out into the light, a man of average height, dark hair, and a fringe beard. He wears the formal wear of Amber.
"I hope you can take care of this if we go somewhere public. It's my job not to stand out." He touches his vest.
Ellie grins "Don't worry, I can, Bull. I really won't be here long though, I think. In the meantime..." She looks around "How about we move Jester to the alley there? That way, you can keep an eye on me and you'll both be out of plain sight."
He nods, and allows her to lead the horse into the darkness. "If you want more time, go somewhere well lit and public. I can follow, but don't forget my clothes, and money. I'll keep my distance." He bows and moves to the darkness.
Ellie smiles and replies "Thank you, Bull. I'll remember." Jester and Bull safely hidden, she goes back to the steps of the apartment to wait for Andre.
He steps out almost at the same time she returns to the step. In the pale light of the entryway lamp, he looks at her, almost as if not believing what he's seeing.
His hair is blond again, green completely gone. He's clean-shaven, and his eyes seem clear. Gone are the punk cut pants and ripped jacket, replaced by a pair of khakis and heavy down coat.
"Ellie... How...? I thought...?"
She grins "Hello, Andre. You're looking better than the last time I saw you. So how what? And what was it you thought?"
"How did you find me? I just moved in a few days ago. And I thought... I thought you were dead. I was sure. I saw the police report..." He moves closer to her.
"I think... you must have quite a story to tell, huh?"
Ellie looks puzzled "What police report? And how did you come to see it?"
"I called in favours. I was looking for you, and my trail ended when your landlord reported you missing. She said she saw two men enter your apartment, staggered, heard some sort of struggle, and when the police got there, one of the windows was open and you were missing. No one saw you leave, or either of the other men. I--" He moves to hug her.
"I really thought you were dead."
She replies quietly "I thought the same thing about you." She bites her lip "I can't stay long. Want to come to a party and we can talk on the way?"
"What kind of party? I try to be pretty straight these days." He pulls her close and holds her tight for a long time.
"What happened? Who were those two guys? Are you in danger?"
Ellie nods "Yes. As for the rest, it's a long story. And the party is actually a ball. It's straight. How about we go somewhere else to talk? If you don't like what you hear, I'll bring you back here. If not, we carry on to the ball. Deal?"
He pulls back. "Deal." His voice softens. "I'm sorry, Ellie. For a lot of things. I wish I could have come back for you.
"There's an all nighter around the corner. Hope you have a stomach for cheap greasy food."
Ellie grins "I think I can provide a more interesting venue. Is there anything you need to get from your apartment before we go?"
"Uhh... how long are we planning on being gone? I have my wallet..."
He touches Ellie's cloak, and for the first time realizes it's rich material, so unlike what he knew in the subways...
"A ball? How'd you get hooked up with that crowd?"
She smiles up at him "I'll explain everything, I promise, Andre. If you decide to come with me, it may be a day or more before we can return here, so bring what's really important to you as long as it's not electronic."
"Not ele-- What are you talking about?" Andre begins to look nervous. "What are you caught up in? That cloak you have on must cost a week's paycheck for me... And balls? No electronic stuff? And why would we be gone a few days?
"Please... explain first. We can go upstairs."
Ellie thinks /A diner should be well lit and public./ She nods "Alright, the diner it is." She takes his arm and says "Which way, Andre?"
"This way." He takes her arm and leads her down a few ill-lit streets, and finally into a small diner, filled with later night movie goers, or people preparing to go on the night shift. A few kids horse around in the smoking section. Andre takes a seat in non-smoking and ignores the menus laid before him.
Ellie knows Bull will be around, having manipulated Shadow slightly as she walked to give him the appropriate clothes and money. So she now focuses on Andre.
"Coffee, please," he orders.
Ellie smiles slightly "From when do I begin? Perhaps it would be easier if you told me what you already know. And why you were looking for me. Please, Andre?" Her smile widens "I am glad to see that you're alive."
He smiles, still looking nervous. "Trust me, I feel the same way.
"I've been looking for you since I got out of lockup. I begged just about anyone I could get a hold of to find you, and make sure you were okay, but the list was pretty damn short, so I never found out where you went.
"Lisle and Gerome died a few months before I got out, and that was the last mutual contact I had for you. The next time I found your name was the police report. One of the guards remembered me... he remembered me asking about him looking you up on the system. He didn't do it then, but the name rung a bell, and he tracked me down.
I got the whole story out of him after a while...
"Two men enter. No one leaves. What happened?"
Ellie looks surprised "You were in prison? I went to the police and reported you as a missing person. They never said anything."
Quietly, she continues "I'm sorry to hear about Lisle and Gerome. Alright, one of the men is my father. Remember how I told you my parents had said they were fostering me for someone, but not who? Well, my father turned up. The other man was an uncle. It's all political, but I was attacked and had to leave France for a while."
She looks slightly rueful as she continues "This is going to sound mad, but it's true, Andre, I promise. It seems I'm part of a very old and powerful family in another land. My father's the ruling head of that family. As to the departure, it was just done by some rather unorthodox means that's all. So what happened with you?"
"I, uh... Family? You mean like a mafia or something?
"Okay, okay, back to me... The reason you couldn't find me was because Duvallier isn't my real last name. It's my mother's maiden name. I hated my father... still do, but it's pretty pointless to hate the dead. After I got out I changed it officially.
"I got busted on dealing. I was trying to work up some higher clients, and I'll be damned if one wasn't a cop. I behaved myself in jail, though, and turned my act around, so I can't say I'm bitter about it.
"The only thing I regret is leaving you behind. I was frantic. I thought you'd be hurt out there." He looks down at his napkin, a twisted mess in his hands. "Looks like I was right."
Behind him, Ellie sees Bull enter, in slacks and sweater like she ordered. He wears a heavy trench coat and doesn't remove it as he sits. He orders coffee and sits and sips, only looking her way once and nodding faintly.
Ellie shakes her head "Don't worry, Andre. It could have been a lot worse. As far as I'm concerned, I owe you my life. Anyway, for the last six years, I've prospered for the most part. Got a gallery showing my work and everything. How long ago did you get out and what are you doing now?"
"About a year. I've been working in a social work office, shuffling papers. It's what they found me. Not much for an ex-con out there. At least I didn't have violence on my record.
"I want to know more about this family of yours. And a ball? What's this family do for money?"
Ellie smiles mischievously "Come to the ball and find out." A more serious look shows on her face "If you want, I'm sure it would be okay for you to stay with us and employment shouldn't be a problem either. The area plays merry hell with electronics though for some reason. That's why I made that comment back at the apartment. As for money, well, I'll explain on the way. Money's not a problem though and they're not criminals or the Mafia either."
She smiles "I'm sorry. I'm chattering away at nineteen to the dozen here. What would you like to do, Andre?"
"Well, I have to admit, my curiosity is getting the better of me. Um... I'm not exactly 'ball' material. I have some jeans that don't have too many places where they've worn thin, though." He grins ironically. "No tux's though. The work I do doesn't call for them much.
"So, if they're not organized criminals, then what are they? And why did they let you live in the subway with the likes of me?"
Ellie shrugs "They didn't know. And clothes for the ball I can arrange. And you're a nice guy to me. You always have been. I have a friend Bill who can probably explain my family better than I can. I've only been with them a few days."
She finishes her coffee and grins "Shall we go?"
Andre tightens his grip on his own mug for a second, flinching at the words 'nice guy.' He gets up, throwing a few crumpled ones on the table top.
"Sure, let's go."
Ellie smiles ruefully at him as he rises "Sorry if I said anything that hurt you. I really didn't mean to." Her face grows sombre "Trust me though, compared to some I've met lately, you are definitely on the side of the angels."
She adds quietly "I'll wait for you outside your apartment alright?"
He nods. "Okay." He reaches out and squeezes her hand. "Second thought stay here, okay? No sense in you getting cold." He grabs his coat and swallows the rest of his coffee. "I'll be back in a minute, okay?" He turns and leaves the diner.
Ellie waits, hoping that she's doing the right thing. On a thought, she borrows a pen from a waitress and pens a quick note to Bull.
That done, she returns the pen and sticks the note under a salt pot,
Andre is gone for about a quarter of an hour, then returns, a backpack on his back, and sunglasses hanging at his throat.
Bull keeps his distance while Ellie is alone, but does eye Andre briefly before returning his attention to his cooling coffee.
Ellie walks back towards the alley and carefully brings out Jester. She smiles at Andre "Trust me?", one hand on Jester's reins, her other extended towards him.
Andre steps back. "Uh--" Bull passes him from behind soundlessly, nearly making Andre scream.
Bull retrieves his horse from further down the ally. "Whenever you are ready, High-- Eleanor."
Ellie takes Andre's hand and says gently "The gentleman is here to keep me safe, Andre." Slowly, she leads both horse and man further down the street. She then shifts them to a nearby shadow, only small details changing, like adding a tux suit to the contents of the backpack.
She pauses and says "This is where I show you the unorthodox means of exit." She briefly releases Jester's reins to withdraw a trump of the Main Gates, before retaking the reins.
She smiles warmly up at Andre "You looked after me once. Let me help you now."
Andre studies the card from where he stands. "Wow... nice piece of work. Doesn't look like yours though." He pauses, then looks a bit green in the moonlight. "I'm assuming that has something to do with the unorthodox exit, right?"
Bull looks at the card also. "Ma'am. If I may? I'd rather go into a secured position."
Ellie nods "Certainly, Bull. Please go ahead." She looks up at Andre "Are you feeling alright?"
Andre nods. "I think so. This just doesn't feel real.
"Where are we going, exactly?"
Ellie replies "Amber." Activating, the trump, she waits as Bull goes through first. She says quietly "This place does change your life though, so if you do want to change your mind now and go back to your apartment, I will understand."
Andre looks at the castle before him, alive in a magic glow set off by cantrips and the moon looming large. His jaw drops, and his arm begins to shake.
"Ellie-- what is going on...? I've been clean... This shouldn't be happening..."
Ellie replies quietly "You're not hallucinating, Andre. It's real. More real than any place we've lived in. And my family rules this land."
"I'd-- I'd really like to talk about this first." Bull stands on the ground of Amber and shakes his head with a sigh.
"Madam, it's not a good idea to keep a connection open long. Bring him through."
Ellie nods and steps through, bringing Jester and Andre with her. She nods "Alright, we'll talk. My room, alright? And if you don't like what you hear, I'll get you home again, I promise." She adds quietly "It's just that it's really not safe for me to stay outside Amber too long right now."
With a nod to Bull, he takes both his horse and Jester back to the stables as Ellie takes Andre's hand and quickly makes her way back to her room.
Andre waits outside the room briefly while Ellie changes back into her ball gown then she brings him back in. She smiles and pulls two chairs up. "Alright, ask away. Would you like some tea or coffee or anything?"
"Uh, coffee." He takes a chair and wrings his hands. "Ellie, what is this place? Everyone's dressed like a-- I don't know, some sort of living history book. And the Queen of England would cream herself to get some of the things I saw lying around on the way in."
Ellie nods "Give me a moment and I'll explain." She summons a servant and orders some coffee for them both. After the servant leaves, she sits opposite Andre. "Alright, this is as far as I understand it. Remember some of the science fiction we used to talk about, with various dimensions? Well, it turns out that's real after all. Only they call them Shadows here. There are two places which tend to be more permanent though. One is the Courts of Chaos. The other is Amber, this place. It doesn't have a huge lot of technology, but it has other stuff. And it's ruled by the Amberites, my family. A bunch of very dangerous people. Some of whom I get on with. Others I don't."
She bites her lip then adds "When I came here, I felt like Alice through the looking glass. I still do sometimes. It is worth it though if you can make it through. And I think you can. Think of it as a fresh start if you like."
Andre stares at her-- then stares at her some more.
"I have this urge to ask you to start at the beginning, but I don't think that would make it make any more sense.
"Ellie, what you're saying is insanity. It _can't_ be real."
As the servant returns with some coffee, Ellie quickly pens a note and asks the servant to discretely deliver it to Bill Roth. After the servant leaves, she pours them both some coffee "I know it sounds mad. Put it this way, though. Do you believe that I'm real?"
"I don't know..." He runs his hands through his hair, tugging the strands slightly as he does so. "This doesn't feel like a flash... And it's been so long." He reaches out and touches her hand, then holds it fast.
"You're solid... But this is too far away from some trash filled subway to even begin to put the two together."
Ellie nods "I know. It seems like an eternity ago." She squeezes his hand "I'm real and I'm alive, Andre. So are you and where there's life, there's hope. That's what you always told me."
She thinks then says "How about we fill in some of the details? That might help. You first this time. What happened after you go out? During? Anything you want to share will be fine, or you can ask me stuff."
He passes a hand over his face. "Okay... there's not much to tell. Jail was pretty much as bad as you think it would be. And I've been trying to get my life back together since getting out. I had this vision-- " He laughs harshly. "This vision that I was going to get out and put my life together and find you and carve out some new beginning somewhere."
Ellie smiles "Well, you did put your life back together. And I found you. The rest remains to be determined. This is a good place to start over though." She adds quietly "I wish I'd known where you were though. I would have visited." She hesitates then goes on "I waited. We all looked for you, then we all thought you were dead. I..." She swallows and looks away for a moment "I kind of lost it at that point. Grief, you know. I drifted for a while, then I started getting my life back together too."
"I can see that," he says softly. "This is definitely a step up.
"It was stupid of me not to tell you my real last name. It wasn't because I was trying to lie to you... Just, I hated that man, and didn't want anything to do with him. Even his name.
"So what now?"
She shakes her head "I don't know. I only found out I belonged to this family and all of this a few days ago. I think though I could get you training in just about anything you want." She smiles slightly "Dad's the King. It has to have some advantages."
"King? That makes you a... princess?" He laughs, perhaps a touch too high pitched. "I have slept with Royalty. Boys at the office would have fits over that, you know?" He puts his head in his hands and laughs again. "The irony... I'm not exactly a white night."
Ellie moves her chair to sit beside him and puts an arm round him, trying to reassure "Andre, the princes and princesses here are anything but noble. I'm included in that. You want to know who attacked me? One of my uncles, a prince of this land, and for no other reason than to prove to Dad he can't keep secrets. That's how my family works. Vendettas, politics, secrets and games. I know you're not a white knight, but you've always been my friend. You're still my friend and that's worth more to me than I can say. Here, true friends are rare and I count you as one."
Andre smiles softly. "It sounds like you need an ally or two here, Ellie. Some family you have. You were better off with the street urchins in Paris, by the sounds of it." He goes to say something, but the door opens, and Bull steps in, holding a note.
He hands it to Ellie then stands off a bit. "Are you returning to the ball, madam?"
Ellie smiles at Bull "Yes, I will be. Thank you, Bull." She then adds "Andre, you'll find a tux suit in your backpack. I'd appreciate it if you join me at the ball after you've changed, please." She smiles and leaves the room, reading the note as she does so.
Bill's writing is neat and simple, and almost looks funny on the archaic parchment penned with a quill.
"Eleanor-- I'm afraid I won't be able to come up. I'm helping with some of the security downstairs, since Gerard's a bit short tonight.
I'll be available after if you still need me.
The ball seems to be warming up as the hours have waned, with more people dancing, drinking, talking loudly. Flora seems to have calmed down somewhat and is enjoying a drink while talking to Ryoden. On the dance floor, Ellie spies Imogen and Jurt sharing a dance.
She smiles warmly to Jurt, catching his eye for a moment, then looks round while keeping an eye out for Andre. /This could be a difficult meeting./ She looks too to see what changes have occurred in her absence.
Jurt's head jerks as he notices her, and he looks over at the room where she had been talking to Corwin.
Benedict still seems to be keeping watch from the sidelines, his eyes on Ryoden. He sees Eleanor and nods.
Wraecca is nowhere to be seen, but Lillian is standing by the buffet, absently rubbing her arm and staring off into space. Occasionally she sips at her drink.
Mandor talks quietly with a young woman dressed in a black pantsuit, who Ellie recognizes to be Gilva. He seems to be briefing her, as she nods formally and keeps her stance stiff.
Andre enters behind her a handful of minutes later, dressed in the tux, but looking a tad uncomfortable. His hair has refused to be tamed, despite a liberal helping of water and a comb. He walks up next to Ellie.
"Looks like you have hit it big," he says, his voice awed.
Nodding back to Benedict with a smile, Ellie says quietly "Yes, I guess so. The tall man over there is Benedict, one of my uncles, but a good guy. The couple on the dance floor are Imogen, a cousin and good friend, and Jurt, a prince from Chaos and someone who's been really nice to me. The lady by the buffet is Lillian, a very nice lady. Want to dance or talk?"
"I'm not much on dancing... Or at least what they're doing over there. I was always more the club type when it came to steps. But you know that...
"So I guess it's talk. Um, Ellie, what are they going to think about you bringing me here? I mean, I wasn't on the guest list, obviously."
Ellie smiles "Lots of new people have been arriving. Don't worry." She takes a deep breath "Alright, talk. Let's go out on the balcony. It's quieter and cooler there."
She takes his arm and leads him out "It's a nice night anyway."
He allows her to lead him out to the balcony. A few nobles mill about, making small talk, sipping or snacking. Andre looks out at the garden before hopping up onto the ledge, facing her.
"It is nice here. Better than Paris right now, especially where I was. The heating was non-existent."
Ellie smiles and replies "Amber can be a great place to live." She bites her lip then says quietly "Andre, you can make a new life here if you wish and I'll help you with that. You're my friend and you mean so much to me. You know that. I've... I've gotten involved with someone else though."
She hangs her head "I'm sorry, Andre. I thought you were dead."
Andre sighs and looks away. "It was stupid to hope you'd keep a flame for me anyway, after all this time. Don't apologise.
"So... who is he?"
Ellie replies quietly "Jurt, the guy you saw dancing with Imogen. And it wasn't stupid, Andre."
"Yeah, it was... It had been years since you saw me last, and you were a kid... I was a kid..." He hops off the ledge and stands again. "How serious are you guys? Is he good to you?"
Ellie nods "Yes, Jurt is good to me. He's helped me since I got here. As to how serious it is... I'm not sure. Serious enough I guess." She looks off into the distance "So what now?"
"I don't know. I mean, this is your territory, right? What kind of life could I build here? I don't have money, position, or hell, even talent. I'm a scummy excon from France."
Ellie shakes her head "That's the past. Fresh start remember? What do you like doing? I can talk to various people on your behalf."
"I don't think you'd want me to use my talents again. I stopped that road a long time ago." He shrugs. "I've been running on my survival instinct since I was 15, so there wasn't much room to develop anything that might be of use. I'm good at surviving."
Ellie thinks for a moment then grins "I know who you should talk to." She smiles "Shall we go back inside? I have someone I'd like you to meet."
"Who's that? The parole officer around here?" He coughs and laughs. "I bet I'm out of my precinct, huh?"
Ellie chuckles "Trust me, you're way out of your precinct. No, I'd like you to meet my Uncle Benedict. He's a good man and fair. Or would you like to sample the buffet first?"
"Fair? I'm being tried for something? Or is there a hazing ritual?" He looks around, most notably at the servants and sighs. "Well, I was a waiter for a week or so, until they caught me stealing from the till. I could always do that."
Ellie rolls her eyes "Ever the optimist." She grins "No hazing or trial. It's just a description of him. And don't worry about a job right now. You're my guest after all. Take some time to settle in. Meet Bill later. Come on, let's get some food. I'm hungry after travelling to Paris."
He follows her to the buffet and absently puts together a sparse plate. Ellie realizes this is the first male she's been around in days that doesn't carry a voracious appetite with him.
"So you really want me to stick around, huh?" He looks around the room, and his eyes land on Jurt, who meets his quiet appraisal, then returns to talking to his sister.
"That's him, huh? Who's the kid?"
Ellie smiles "Ryoden, his little sister. And yes, I want you to stick around Amber." Pausing, she adds quietly "Let me talk to Jurt first, alright? He's justifiably wary of people he doesn't know right now."
"Why's that? He the jealous type?" Andre tries to keep his tone light, but a bit of ice leaks in.
"Thanks for wanting me around, El. What is it you do around here?"
Ellie chuckles "I don't know if Jurt's the jealous type or not. It's never come up before. He's just wary. Dad doesn't exactly like him. As for me, I still paint and I'm finding my feet. No fixed duties as yet."
"Oh. I thought there might be some princess duties or something. Come to think of it, I can't think what those princesses in England did all the time, so maybe it makes sense you're left on your own.
"Whatcha painted lately? Bet the supplies here are great."
Ellie shrugs "I don't know. I haven't bought any here yet. And seascapes mostly. At least so far that's what I've painted here." She fills her own plate and says "Okay, that should do. If you grab a seat, please, I'll be right back." She flashes him a warm smile then heads over to Jurt, her expression open and affectionate.
Ellie stops short as a scream fills the ballroom. Jurt stands and immediately shields Ryoden, looking for the source. Ellie spins and sees a woman, before unnoticed in the shadows, clutching at her chest and being held up by a dark man she recognizes as Caine.
Ellie calls over "Lillian, you're with me." as she hurries over "Uncle Caine, what do you need to help Clarice? Is there any way I can help?"
Caine tries to ease her to the ground, but Clarice pulls away with a string of curses. She spots Lillian.
"Where's Wraecca?" she shoots out, and Lillian puts up her hands helplessly. Clarice scans the room then bends and grabs her fallen glasses.
Caine puts a hand on her shoulder. "You should--" She pulls away and heads for the balcony. Lillian watches, but doesn't follow.
Ellie looks at Clarice, worry clear in her eyes, then quickly takes her cue from Caine and Lillian. She heads back to Jurt, saying quietly as she reaches him "I don't think there's anything we can do right now for Clarice."
From the corner of her eye she sees Clarice and Caine beginning to argue heatedly, and behind Jurt, on the other side of the room, Wraecca enters, his clothes torn and bloodied.
Jurt watches Clarice. "Ryo, do you remember everything you've eaten tonight?"
She nods. "Nothing funny."
Ellie adds quietly "If the food was suspect, I suspect I'd be out before Clarice. And Wraecca has just turned up, so that may add a new dimension to things. I don't think we're in any danger."
She pauses then says "Jurt, would you mind if we had a quiet talk?"
Jurt looks over his shoulder at the bedraggled Wraecca, then back at Ellie.
"Um, sure, okay..." He looks sick. "Ryo, stick to Benedict, okay?" She goes to protest, but he manages a stern look, and she glares as she gets up and moves to somewhere closer to her grandfather.
"Okay, what did you want to talk about?"
Ellie moves close to Jurt, keeping her voice soft and low "I wanted to explain where I've been and who the guy is I brought back."
"Been? Where-- Okay, explain. I was going to ask about him later, but I figured when we were alone would be a better time."
Ellie nods "Probably, but I thought I should explain before any introductions were made. I made a quick trip to Shadow Earth. Answering questions if you like and repaying a debt. That's Andre Duvallier. The punk I spoke of. Amber seems to be a great place to be if you're a Shadow person, so I brought him here. I'm returning a favour." She bites her lip "I let him down as gently as I could, explaining I was with you now. That's why we were talking on the balcony. He's taking it well so far. He's still a good friend, potentially to both of us. You keep telling me to think more about allies and stuff after all." She smiles "Oh yes, I found out my guard's name. He can keep up with me, but he's one of Benedict's men. So that's better than I feared."
Jurt lets out a sigh. "Well, at least you were followed. Things being what they are, please tell me if you're going to be running off... My nerves are shot as they are."
He looks over at Andre. "Guy looks a little lost right now. It's almost cruelly amusing to watch shadow people adjust. Merle was right." He smiles lopsidedly. "I should rescue Ryo, if you want to bring him over." He looks about for his sister.
Ellie nods and moves over to Andre "Hi, want to come and meet Jurt and Ryoden?"
"Sure, where are they?" He looks around and spots Jurt, who scans the ball room, eyebrows furrowed, and a hint of concern beginning to show. Ryoden is no where to be seen.
Quietly, she says "Andre, can you spot Ryoden anywhere?" even as she too scans the room, looking for the familiar small figure.
Between nobles and servants, and guards now at a higher state of alert, Ellie can't seem to locate Ryoden in the mess around her. Andre turns and searches too, but he looks over at Ellie helplessly.
Jurt approaches Benedict and asks him something. Benedict turns sharply, then snaps a few orders to nearby guards.
Ellie curses under her breath then says to Andre "Come on with me." She approaches Jurt "Anything from the pendant?"
Jurt shakes his head as his breathing quickens and his movements become jerky. His voice cracks as he says, "No. It's blank."
Benedict puts a firm hold on his arm. "Panicking won't help anything, Jurt."
Ellie thinks for a moment then draws out her trump deck and says "Alright, Andre, please stay here with Jurt and Benedict. Uncle Benedict, if it will help matters, I can do what I did last time she went missing."
Benedict shakes his head. "You've traversed it how many times since you arrived? It would tax you too much. And if something dire has happened, it would be too late by the time you completed anyway." Jurt pales.
Andre backs off, thinking.
Ellie nods then steps back and whispers to Andre "What are you thinking of?"
"What's the deal with the girl, El? They don't think she's just run off, do they?" He eyes exits and entrances.
Ellie shakes her head "She's been attacked once already. A very nasty piece of work also approached her and I out in the orchard. We're worried about his interest in her."
He nods and moves off some more, studying the ballroom. His eyes fall on the balcony, and he moves forward, looking over the edge.
Ellie moves forward with him, looking in the same direction and trusting Andre's instincts.
Ellie can see most of the garden lights are out. Benedict leans over the rail and touches a piece of broken lattice.
"Someone's been this way."
Jurt climbs up on the ledge and looks out at the garden, his eyes glowing. "There's something out there..." He jumps back down and breaks into a run towards the main entranceway, Benedict at his
Andre swallows hard as he looks at Ellie. "You'll have to explain the eye thing later."
Ellie nods and quickly takes out her trump of the main gates. Taking Andre's arm, she activates the Trump and takes them both through then looks around quickly determining both the quickest way to the gardens and who is nearby.
The gardens are off to her left, and are lightless and empty, most of the guests having moved inside as the air grew more chill.
Entering, she can see Jurt and Benedict searching the brush as Jurt calls out the Ryoden and occasionally touching his necklace. Andre moves to enter the fray, but Benedict rises and stops him.
"You should keep your distance."
Ellie nods agreement and adds "Is there anything I can do to help, Uncle Benedict?"
He motions back to Corwin, now standing at the entryway to the garden, his blade burning bright in his hand. "Explain to him." He turns and resumes his search.
Ellie nods and heads over to Corwin "Hi, Dad. Uncle Benedict asked me to explain. Ryoden has gone missing and Jurt saw something in the garden so they're searching here first."
Corwin groans. "What, they've never heard of leashes?" Behind him, Ellie sees Imogen approach. Corwin heads off into the garden.
"I'm charging Merlin a mint for what I've had to do to my security."
Ellie waits for Imogen, beckoning Andre to come closer at the same time.
"Ellie, what's happened?" says Imogen immediately. "And who's the young man?"
She gestures to Andre.
Ellie repeats "Ryoden has gone missing and Jurt saw something in the garden so they're searching here first." She smiles to Andre and then adds "And the young man is Andre Duvallier, an old and trusted friend of mine."
Imogen flashes a brief, distracted look and smile at Andre, then says to Ellie, "Would it be worth speaking to Fiona? I'm sure she can organise an unobtrusive search within the Castle."
Ellie shrugs "I don't know. I think Uncle Benedict's men are already searching." She thinks for a moment, remembering the last time then adds "There is a place we can try that she may have gone to."
"Tell Corwin," she says. "I'll go back inside and alert Flora - it can't hurt."
She turns and hurries back into the palace.
Inside the ballroom, in the mass of nobility waltzing, she looks anxiously for her lovely aunt.
Outside, Ellie walks over to her father "Dad, I think there's a place or two she may be possibly. I can check them out quickly if you like."
He stops her, his face serious. "Where? I'll go with you. If she was taken, I don't want you to be hurt by her captor."
Ellie nods "Alright, Dad. This way first then." leading the way to the orchard. As she walks, she explains "I thought maybe the orchard might be one place. There's also a little room off the main hall and Benedict's suite. She might be with Dworkin too. I think she likes him. He's really weird, Dad. I don't know anywhere else though, sorry."
Corwin almost laughs as he follows her out to the orchard. "I didn't know they were acquainted. But it seems fitting. He's always liked kids."
He moves to pull out his sword in the moonlit night, but thinks better of it. He eyes the ground for tracks, and the brush for signs of someone passing.
Ellie nods, adding her own eyesight to the search, scanning for any sign of movement or disturbance.
As her eyes move over the ground, straining to find the signs Corwin seems to see with ease, she hears him move from her side about 20 feet, then stop dead.
Ellie stops in her tracks, then carefully looks round at her father to see why he has stopped.
He stares at a low bush, forgotten by the landskeepers. He crawls up in a crouch, his hand off his sword, and moves a bit of the bramble aside.
Ellie crouches down too, trying to see what he does, but without moving forward or getting in his way.
A small form sits in the shadows, still, pale, milky eyes visible in the night. Corwin reaches forward. "Ryoden?" he whispers.
Ellie whispers "Father, wait please." Carefully, she pulls out Jurt's trump and activates it, sending a silent message if he accepts the call /She's here, with Father and I, in either demon form or with logrus up./
He puts out his hand and grasps hers, stepping through. Corwin motions to the brush, and Jurt steps forward. In the quiet night, Ellie can hear fabric tear as he assumes his demon form.
Bending low, all Ellie can see in the night is his now bulkier form leaning in and trying unsuccessfully to coax Ryoden out.
Ellie thinks for a moment then slips off her ring from her father and hands it to Jurt, remembering Ryoden's liking for jewellery.
As she moves closer to Jurt's side to give him the jewellery, she hears Ryoden finally respond to one of Jurt's quiet questions.
"What's wrong, Ryo? What has you upset? Come out..."
Ryoden tries to hide her face in her trembling hands. "--n't breathing..." she whispers.
Ellie remembers the scene outside Brand's rooms after the incident with Mathonwyr and says softly, gently "Ryoden, you know I won't get angry with you. Do you want to show me where this happened?"
"I didn't do it..." Her voice quavers. Corwin moves back, tugging at Ellie to move back a ways.
"You act like you know what may have happened," he whispers in her ear. "Do you?"
Ellie whispers back in his ear "I think Ryo may have witnessed something fatal or found something of the sort. She's terrified."
She then moves forward and says gently to Ryoden "I believe you, Ryoden. How about if you tell Jurt where to look and we go somewhere else to wait?"
Flora stands near the staircase, her eyes out on the populace of the ballroom, assessing the failure or success of her ball. She seems rather pleased.
Imogen sighs inwardly. She knows that feeling from her own political celebrations ... and now she is about to disrupt it.
Quietly, she moves to Flora's side and says quietly, "Aunt Flora, Ryoden has disappeared. Benedict, Corwin, Ellie and Jurt are looking for her in the grounds. Can you alert the servants to watch out for her inside as well?"
Flora sighs. "_Something_ had to go awry, didn't it? Very well." She snaps her fingers, and one of the older staff approaches. She rattles off a description of the young Chaosite and a few warnings.
"Don't try to get her if she's being moody. Just contact one of us."
The servant nods and heads off.
Flora moves to the balcony. "The grounds, you said?" She puts her hands on the railing and closes her eyes. For a moment, she's perfectly still, then she relaxes as she breathes a sigh of relief.
"They found her. In the orchard. She doesn't look to be too happy though."
Imogen nods, then looks curiously at Flora.
"How did you do that? You didn't use a trump or anything!"
"Pattern lens. Another trick of the Patterns. Walking it is terrible, but the end result has some uses." She smiles wryly.
"Wonder what the girl was in such a tizzy about, though."
"No!" Ryoden begins to sob and cry out to Jurt in a strange language, guttural and harsh.
Corwin listens for a moment. "That may be some Chaos dialect." He lowers his eyes to the ground again. "I'd better find where she came from, then."
Imogen's hand reaches up to the rose pendant, her connection with Corwin. "Shall I find out?"
Flora nods. "Certainly. Do you need my deck?"
"Please," says Imogen, deciding it might be best to keep the properties of the pendant between her and Corwin for the moment. She holds out her hand.
Flora flips through her deck and hands Imogen the trump. After a moment of concentrating, his image becomes clear.
"Imogen... We found her. She ran off to the orchard. She's practically catatonic right now, though. We're trying to trace her steps back now."
"We didn't take the route from the ballroom to the orchard, did we?" says Imogen, thinking hard. "I'll explore that ... ballroom to orchard ... because that was probably the route Ryoden took ...If not ... I may be able to see if or where she deviated."
She smiles. "I should have Lorak with me, or close behind."
"Take Flora with you. Anything you find should be witnessed by an Elder. Benedict is covering the main gardens that we open during the ball. You three try the minor gardens and woods.
"And be careful, please."
"I will," she says and, a little reluctantly, breaks the contact. She turns to Flora and relays it. Lorak, she guesses, will be hovering.
"Shall we go?" she says. "If we start in the ballroom ... I think Ryoden might have run from there in panic when that woman screamed. Making to a place where she felt safe ... the orchard?
"Then we can check the area she might have passed ... the minor gardens and woods. If there's nothing there, we can try other minor gardens ... woods ...
"Corwin says to be careful."
"I think that goes without saying." Flora motions to Lorak, still standing on the stairs, and heads out the main door. Standing at the entrance to the main gardens, she spies Benedict.
"Let's see what he's found first."
Imogen nods, and accompanies her aunt over to the warrior Prince.
Benedict talks quietly to a few of his men, not noticing Flora and Imogen at first. Flora coughs lightly, and Benedict looks over.
"They've found her, whole, though highly distressed. She was in the orchard."
Benedict frowns. "We believe she climbed down the trellis to get here, but the rest of the grounds are too trampled to find tracks."
"What shall we do?" Imogen begins, then breaks off as two strangers approach.
He stops suddenly, and puts up a hand. He talks to someone quietly through a contact, his face growing grimmer by the second. He turns to Ellie.
"They've found a body. I have to go check it out." He disappears in a rainbow swirl.
Ellie turns back to Jurt and Ryoden, crouching beside them. "May I suggest my grandfather's rooms? I think they're shielded from Trump and should be safe."
Jurt looks to where Corwin stood. "Where'd your father go?"
He looks back to his sister, who has finally emerged from the brush, and takes her into his arms. "Let's go to Corwin's rooms instead. She's in quite a state. I don't want her around too many people like this."
Ellie nods and answers "My room's probably the quietest then." Quietly, she leads them back to her room, using the hallways away from the ball that she discovered on her way out to the stables.
Jurt slowly resumes his human form as Ryoden relaxes. By the time they meet other party-goers, they're both fully human. His clothes are ripped nearly everywhere, and he gets quite a number of curious looks as he passes.
In Ellie's room, he lays Ryoden down on the bed and strokes her hair. Her eyes remain pupilless as she chews at her nails.
Ellie thinks for a moment then draws the bedcovers over Ryoden and draws her trump of Jurt to keep the communication silent and not further disturb Ryoden.
/Jurt? My father disappeared because they found a body./
He immediately reaches up and takes his necklace off, laying it on the bed.
/Just in case.
/Where? What do you know?/
Ellie moves to sit within easy reach of Jurt. /That's all I know so far. I'll trump Dad and see what else is known or if we can get a look at the body, so feel free to link in./
She cuts the link and then takes out the trump of her father, concentrating upon it.
Jurt's hand lands on her arm as the connection comes.
"Ellie... Good, I'm glad you got her back to the castle.
"There was indeed a body. Gilva just brought it back. A young woman, no signs of injury or trauma, recently deceased. Gilva says she was even still warm when they found her.
"There were two sets of tracks heading away from the body, both belonging to children. Flora and a Chaos lord are investigating."
Ellie nods /The young Bayle boy was around Ryoden earlier if that helps. Would it be possible for us to see the body? There is always the slim chance she may be someone we know or that Jurt knows./
/Bayle... boy? Are you sure about that?/ Corwin's brow furrows. /I know the Bayles. The only have one child in their ranks right now, and that's a girl of about thirteen./
Jurt's grip on Ellie's arm tightens sharply.
Ellie nods, trying to suppress an immediate suspicion. /Yes, that's the name the boy gave us. Benedict saw him too. Ryoden was playing with him earlier./
/Find a Bayle, and quickly. If I'm right, then we have something else to worry about and a possible trail. If not, then another child is missing.
His face goes pale. /The other trail.../ It breaks off abruptly.
Ellie rises and says as quietly as she can "I'll be back as soon as I can. What was the boy's name, Jurt?"
"Shaun," he replies. He moves back to Ryoden's side, trying to coax her to talk.
Ellie nods and leaves the room, heading back to the ball. She taps the shoulder of the nearest noble "Excuse me please, but would you direct me to the nearest member of the Bayle family?"
The servant leads her to an older man, possibly in his forties, standing in a tight circle gossiping with a number of other nobles. The servant pulls him aside. He looks at Eleanor, confused. "Yes? Is there a problem?"
Ellie smiles "I regret disturbing you, but would you tell me if there is a Shaun Bayle in your family? Or a young boy even in your family if not by that specific name?"
The man looks confused. "No... There's a young girl, my granddaughter, but she's just three. We haven't had a boy since Colvin, and he's in his twenties. May I ask why?"
Ellie smiles "A case of mistaken identity which my father wished me to ascertain the truth of. Thank you very much for your assistance, my lord."
She smiles politely and retreats, deciding to walk to her father and pass on the news and see if she can spot Andre on the way. She bites her lip, worry about her old friend edging its way to the surface.
She passes Gilva on the way, who runs lightly through the halls towards Corwin's suite. Out in the garden, Benedict and her father stand together, Imogen nearby. Corwin spots her and approaches.
Ellie nods "I asked the Bayles and there is no young boy in their family younger than twenty. How are things at your end? I have an idea for getting Ryoden to calm down and talk too if that helps."
"We have a bigger problem. Flora followed one of the trails leaving the body. That trail, and her trail, abruptly end about 200 feet into the forest. She's not responding to Trump.
"Gerard will be joining us shortly. We're organizing a search." His face is not hopeful.
Ellie is quiet for a moment, her face grim, then asks "How do you want me to help, Dad?"
He leans in close. "Try to be scarce when they start ordering search parties. I know I'm being selfish. I don't care. The last thing I want is my daughter on his hit-list. If Flora is a lost cause right now, then it's because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Ellie nods "Understood. I just need to collect a couple of people and we'll be hiding out in your chambers, Dad. Watch your back, alright?"
She passes him a trump of Jurt "In case you need to get in contact with me quickly. I should be with Ryoden."
She gives him a quick hug then moves away, looking first for Andre then for Lillian or directions to her chambers.
Andre she finds sitting on a step, looking confused and forlorn. Servants scurry about him. He seems relieved to see Eleanor, and stands at her approach.
"Looks like I picked the wrong day to visit, huh?"
Ellie smiles wryly "You and me both.", taking his arm and leading him away with her.
Lillian she finds pacing in one of the unoccupied Elder's rooms. She looks out from the balcony and curses, pacing. "Where the hell can he be...?"