Wraecca heads to the bathroom to clean up, and Lillian knocks on his door as she leaves.
In the hallway, Lillian looks quite serious and a tad tired. "Who's catatonic?"
Ellie replies quietly "Ryoden, the child that went missing. You met her briefly with Dworkin and Jurt. As far as we can piece it together, she was witness to a death. I'm sorry to keep you up, Lillian. I really do appreciate this though."
"Has anyone examined her? Whatever passes for police around here, or a medical examiner?
"What do you know about the death? Someone she knew or a stranger?"
Ellie shakes her head "So far the only people who have got close to her are Jurt and I. And we're not sure about the death."
Ellie opens the door to her room, indicating for Andre to take one of the seats by the fire.
Ellie walks over to Jurt "This is Lillian. She's a friend and can help."
Jurt looks up as Lillian takes a moment to stand back and watch Ryoden, who now has her knees huddled up to her chest, her eyes white, but thankfully the rest of her human.
"I think you should leave," she says to Andre quietly. "Unless you know her too." Andre sighs and nods, and turns back to go to the main room.
Ellie whispers to Andre "Find a servant, tell them you're my guest and you'll get a room. Let me know where you are once you do. Alright?"
"If it's all the same to you, I'd rather stick close. I'll just poke around the living room." He leaves, and Lillian turns to Jurt.
"Who well does she know the child-- oh, what's her name-- Ryoden?" she asks quietly, waving to Eleanor.
He shrugs. "They met a few days ago and seem to get on alright. Why?" Lillian chews her lip.
"Ellie, I may have to ask you to leave later if you're impeding things, okay? Please don't take offence."
Ellie shrugs, her face neutral "None taken. I can leave now if that will help any." She adds to Jurt "Dad has your Trump in case he needs to contact me quickly. I should just be next door if anywhere else."
"That's fine," nods Lillian. Jurt chews his lip, then walks over to Ryoden and unclasps her necklace, placing it around his own neck. He tosses Ellie his.
"They aren't like Trumps... They just give emotional state. I'll just want to know if you're in trouble."
Ellie smiles "Thank you. I'll be with Grandfather for a bit. See you later."
She smiles at Lillian and says quietly "Thank you again."
With that, she leaves and quickly heads along to Oberon's room. /Boy, do I have lots of news for him./
Listening for a moment, she then knocks on the door.
He's alone, listening to the bustle with interest.
"Ah. My page. I knew you'd show up. What has happened now?"
Ellie smiles at the term "Lots and lots. First of all, thank you for letting me borrow Jester. He's lovely."
She sits beside him "Well, I brought back another Parisian, Andre Duvallier by name. Clarice had a pain in her chest and screamed. Ryoden disappeared. We found her, but she's now near catatonic. They found a body and now Flora has disappeared. Brand is suspected I think. Wraecca looked like he's been to the wars and back. I'm also under orders from Dad to keep out of the way of people in case I get to be in the wrong place at the wrong time via a search party."
Ellie smiles wickedly "And Jurt's nose was put out of joint by the attention I was paying to Andre. How I am doing so far?"
Oberon looks impressed, then unreadable as he looks out at the dark night. "Florimel... Didn't think he'd go after her... She's always been too smart to get caught in a mess like that." He taps his fingers on the bed sheets.
"Clarice, you say?"
Ellie shrugs "Flora and some others were following tracks as I understand it. I don't know where Clarice fits in to the whole picture though, other than being associated with Wraecca. Uncle Caine seems to be taking an interest in them though."
Ellie looks thoughtful "Would you like a snack? I don't know about you, but I'm usually hungry. I also have another idea we can talk about."
Oberon doesn't seem to hear her words about food as he continues to stare out the window.
"The girl Esta still about?"
Ellie looks puzzled "Which one's Esta? I don't think I've met her. What does she look like?"
"Brown hair, curvy, nice smile on her. She was running around with Math last time I saw her.
"You haven't seen anyone named Justar, have you?"
Ellie recognises the description "I saw her with Thomas. I haven't seen Math since he got knocked out. What does Justar look like? And do you want me to fetch anyone?"
"I haven't seen Justar since he was a babe... but he'd have light hair and blue eyes. Who knows what he looks like now... I had something somewhere that said, but..." He grunts and frowns.
Ellie thinks then answers "We have two new fair haired males in the family. One is Wraecca. The other is Mouse who's in his early teens. Does that ring any bells? There's Random and Martin too who are
blonde. Justar is an Amberite, I take it?"
He nods. "And my third horseman. The shadows never forget.
"How are you getting on with your father?"
Ellie shrugs "It varies. We're either close or arguing. He generally doesn't like my efforts to learn, so I've stopped telling him what I do or where or how."
She looks down at her feet "Or relying on him for anything really, not even protection."
"I'd make your peace with him, and keep your eyes open." He sighs and sits back, looking weary.
"Times being what they are."
Ellie nods "I keep trying to make peace and we make peace sort of. Then he starts on about Jurt..."
She sighs "And my eyes are open. Do you know how I came to Amber? Dad brought me here after interrupting Julian about to really start beating me up. The point being to prove to Dad he can't keep secrets. That was my introduction to Amber. Everything revolves around politics and measures taken to relieve boredom. Anything is permissible if it's something to do. And I keep hearing how Chaos is the enemy. What does that make me?"
She looks at her grandfather "I know I have a lot to learn. While I'm in Amber, would you teach me what I need to know, Grandfather?"
He pats her knee. "My time for that nonsense is over. I grow old.
"Why don't you join the party again? I'm feeling stretched."
Ellie nods and rises, leaning over to kiss her grandfather on the cheek "Try and get some sleep, dear one."
She leaves quietly and heads back to the living room where Andre and Wraecca talk.
As Ellie re-enters the Suite, she sees Andre sitting in a large armchair, mouth agape.
"There was a man! And then he was a dog! He just... _BECAME_ a dog!" He points to the door, and shakes his head.
Ellie nods "That would be shape shifting. It's strange the first time you see it, I agree. Want to go for a walk?"
"Please." He stands. "I don't want to meet anyone. That Wraecca guy was nice enough, but-- geh."
Ellie chuckles "Fair enough. I was thinking of heading up to the roof. There shouldn't be anyone up there, I think. We can grab some food and just sit and talk if you like."
"You know, I'm not all that hungry. Let's just head up." He takes her arm, then peeks out the door. "Don't know how to get up there, though."
Ellie shakes her head "Neither do I. Let's try just heading up."
By trial and error, Ellie and Andre eventually find a roof parapet where they can sit and quietly talk, out of sight and sound from others.
Ellie is quiet for a moment then asks "Do you want to go first?"
"About what? I have so many things to lose my sanity over. Dog people. Dimensions. Ex-lovers being princesses. All sorts of odd things.
"But you're the one who wanted to come up here. Why don't you start?"
Ellie replies softly "I'm sorry for causing you any upset. That honestly wasn't my intention." She looks down "And for what it's worth, most of the time, I'd rather be the person I was back in Paris with the friends I had back there too. Everything here is so... different, complicated. For both of us."
"How so?" The stars are bright and clear, and he studies them with unmasked awe. "What do you have planned for me, your highness?"
Ellie replies softly "I don't have anything planned. I just meant that it's a lot for two people from Earth to take onboard. You can make your fresh start here though, Andre."
He turns his gaze back to her. "Doing what? I have no clue what I'd do here... It's so glittery and ideal... I'm used to the crummy sections of town." He laughs and touches her shoulder. "Not that I don't like it-- But I can't imagine them having a use for one like me. I can't even chop onions with out nicking myself, and everyone's got a sword strapped to their hip." He chuckles.
"How much is your allowance? I might have to go on the dole."
Ellie chuckles "You also have a sharp eye and miss little to nothing. You think that's not useful? You think on your feet. That's good too. Never mind what skills you do or don't have. Just think about what
you'd like to try and I'll find you someone to help teach you."
"I'll think about it." He moves a smidgen closer to her. "What's bothering you? I know those looks."
Ellie half-smiles "Lots of things. I don't know how much longer I may be in Amber though. Dad and Jurt... don't get on. It's a long story."
"So you're running off with him?" He cracks his knuckles and sighs. "Guess I'll be on my own, then. How bad is this 'not getting along?'"
Ellie shrugs "I don't know what I'll be doing next, but you won't be on your own. I'll make sure of that. Dad is jealous of Jurt for taking away his child. Jurt sees Dad as doing nothing to help or protect me and wants to take on the role I guess. Dad wants to keep me here in Amber. Jurt wants me to leave and be with him. They really don't get on. Jurt has all the diplomacy of a charging rhino. Imogen doesn't like Jurt either. Most Amberites don't." She buries her face in her hands "And I may or may not be pregnant and I'm scared."
She feels his arms go around her and rock her gently. He's quiet for a long time, simply resting his head on hers.
"How uncertain are you... about being pregnant?"
Ellie sighs "I may not be. The odds are against it. It's just that..." She looks away "I was pregnant once before and I lost it."
"...Back in Paris?" His tone is grim.
Ellie hesitates then nods "Yes. Lisle got me to hospital before I bled out completely. I'm sorry, Andre."
He looks down. "It was for the best, I guess. I was in jail-- you had no where to go... Subway is a hell of a place to raise a kid." He draws up his knees to his chin and sighs.
Ellie hugs him this time "I'm sorry too. The doctor said that often happens with the first one anyway. I am so glad though that you are alive. And Dad will look after you too once I've had a word with him."
He nods, his arms holding her tight. "Okay... Thanks." Releasing her, he sits back, then stands, a hand held out to her.
"Maybe we should turn in. It's been a long night."
Ellie nods, covering a yawn as she does so. She smiles sleepily at Andre "Good idea."
She rises and they make their way back to the living room.
He looks around, then shrugs and starts to take off his boots, sitting on the couch. He asks a servant (nervously) for some sheets, and the man nods and hurries out, returning several minutes later
with materials to make a bed.
"May not be a bed, but better than a lot of places I've slept." Andre assembles a makeshift bed in a few minutes.
The door to Ellie's room is open, and Eleanor can see that Lillian is gone, and Ryoden sound asleep. Jurt sees her and steps out, tired, thin smile on his face.
Ellie smiles back and steps closer to Jurt "How is she doing? How are you doing?"
"She's better-- we got a little bit out of her before she drifted off.
"She says she saw the boy again and noticed Benedict wasn't paying attention, so she ran off into the gardens. She followed him into the woods, but he vanished...
"Then she saw the woman... Alive. The woman touched Ryo's forehead, then collapsed-- and Ryoden bolted.
"Odd, but not a crime."
Ellie nods, covering another yawn, "I'm sorry. I'm really glad she's better. It's just been a long day. I'm going to turn in now."
He kisses her lightly, then holds her a long time. "Night, Ellie. Staying in Marrek's old room? He's headed down to Chaos already."
Ellie nods "I didn't know that, but yes that's a good idea. I just need to collect some clothes from my room and that will be me."
He nods and leads her in. Ellie finds her robe and nightgown in short order, and on her way out, glimpses the sleeping Ryoden, curled tightly in a ball, hair a mess, but human and breathing evenly and
Ellie smiles and whispers "She's sleeping well. Good." She kisses Jurt lightly then says "Sleep well too, dearest." before quietly going into the other bedroom.
In short order, Ellie too curls up in the bed and sleeps deeply...
Ellie rouses quickly at the delicious aroma and eats her breakfast, thinking on the day ahead and the night before.
Finishing her breakfast, she next washes and changes into a blue- green silk dress, tying her hair loosely behind her.
Taking a deep breath, she opens the door and walks into the living room, greeting whoever she sees there.
Jurt, in flannel pants and t-shirt, talks to Lillian, who wears a robe and slippers. He frowns and shakes his head as she pleads her case.
"I think her going would be a good way for her to find closure on a rough trip..."
"I think it'll be too much on her. She didn't sleep well at all last night."
"Jurt, this isn't something you get a second chance at."
Ellie sits beside Jurt "Going to what, Lillian? Closure sounds a good idea though."
Lillian turns to her. "The funeral. Dworkin is insisting we bury the woman we found last night. The one Ryoden-- came across."
Jurt looks back into his room at the slumbering form of Ryoden. "How could it help though?"
Ellie replies quietly "It could give a sense of this ending and let her move on, heal. And as long as she has her family backing her up, it doesn't need to be traumatic."
Lillian nods. "If all else fails, I'll be here to deal with the fallout. I know this seems awful to you, but I've had to deal with worse.
"Remind me to introduce you to Clarice some time."
Ellie nods "I will do." She turns to Jurt "So what do you think?"
Jurt sighs. "She's the doctor. Let me go get Ryo up." He turns and heads back into his room. Lillian rubs her eyes and looks about.
"And where do you get coffee around here? Most of the servants are off un-decorating."
Ellie grins "I have a pot of coffee through here. I'm sure it has a couple of mugs worth left."
Lillian follows her to her bedroom and pours herself a cup.
"Are you going? Caine left me a note about it on my nightstand." She shivers. "Damned if I know how he got in. Have to install locks."
Ellie nods "I'll be going. Talking of which..." She looks through her dresses and pulls out a black dress /Uncle Benedict did ask about packing black... Just as well I asked the store for a versatile range./ She adds "My uncles are scary people sometimes. So what are you and Wraecca going to be doing now? The reason I ask is Jurt and I should be going on a journey soon. You're welcome to come along if you like."
Lillian sips at her coffee and looks out over the township below.
"I don't really know what we're doing," she replies softly. "We're just beginning in so many ways... We've walked out of hell, and while this isn't heaven, it isn't all that bad.
"I'm not royalty, and we're still not sure how Wraecca fits in. We're in a grey area that I'm not quite sure how to cope with. There are answers here, though."
Ellie pours a mug of coffee and sips it before asking quietly "Anything I can do to help?"
Lillian shakes her head. "There are some things you can only puzzle out on your own. We'll be fine. We've made it this far. And this far is quite a long way, if you think about it." She squints her eyes as she looks out at the sea. "Farther than whole shadows of people can
even dream of getting."
Ellie nods "I know what you mean. I grew up in shadow, knowing nothing about this. It's a long way indeed." She grabs the black dress and disappears briefly into the bathroom to change into it.
She emerges in a few minutes and starts to pull her hair into a neat chignon "You're right. Funerals are needed for closure. I've seen deaths with and deaths without. It's easier with funerals."
Lillian nods sombrely. "It's a shame we can't seem to investigate more. They seem to trust the old man, though." A smile lights her lips. "Given what he is, I don't think they have much of a choice. It's too bad the little girl had to get mixed up in whatever it was, though."
Ellie nods "Yes it is. Ryoden's a good kid and doesn't need this." She smiles "Let's finish the coffee in the living room. And maybe try to scrounge up some more."
Lillian nods and grabs the carafe. She sits on a loveseat and sips at her mug again, a bemused expression on her face as she looks at the entry door.
"I wonder when Wraecca will be about."
Ellie nods and sips her own coffee "I'm sure he'll turn up soon, Lillian." She calls a servant, a thought coming to her. With a polite smile, she asks the servant "Excuse me, but may we have a carafe of coffee and one of hot chocolate, please?"
She adds to Lillian "I thought some hot chocolate might help Ryoden. It's often what we give children in France in the morning."
Lillian chuckles. "Comfort food is universal, I suppose." She draws up her legs under her and lets her robe fall open, revealing an old sports jersey.
"So, where are you and Jurt going, if you don't mind me asking?"
Ellie replies quietly "I'm not sure yet. Away from here though most likely. There are just a few things I need to sort out before I go."
Ellie pours coffee for them both "Does he think she was behind the attacks in Chaos too?"
Corwin nods. "Yes... Apparently there were never any attempts after the one. Maybe it was her. Maybe it was someone who got eaten by someone bigger.
"At any rate, they'll be heading home now."
Ellie shrugs "Fair enough." She takes a deep breath and then adds "Would you look after someone for me if I leave Amber?"
He nods sombrely. "Yes, I will. The young man you brought to the ball? He scared the wits out of Imogen last night."
Ellie looks surprised "How so? And his name is Andre Duvallier. I brought him here from Paris. I owe him my life. He looked after me when I was homeless." She adds softly, staring at the fire "He's the only one I know from that time who is still alive. I just found that out yesterday. They're all dead. Antoine, Annette, Martine, Pierre, Jerome and gentle Lisle who got me to hospital when I was bleeding out from a miscarriage. All dead. It's just really hitting home I guess. Everywhere I go, death follows."
He moves to sit next to her, then puts his arm around her.
"It's something about our kind-- it always does. Maybe that's why we always come home... Here, it can't follow.
"That's the price for being what we are. We see the effects of time on the ones we love." He pushes back her hair a bit and kisses her forehead. "Maybe it's best you’re with Jurt. He won't age and fade."
Ellie shrugs "I don't know how he feels though. I'm being silly I know. I just get melancholy at times for no good reason. If I ask you something, would you tell me the truth?"
"Yes, I will... And you and Jurt haven't known each other that long. Give it time."
Ellie hesitates then says "Don't get angry, but would you tell me what you know about my mother, please? How did she die? What was her name, anything. Please."
Corwin stiffens slightly, then sighs.
"I never knew her real name... But the way she fought, I guessed she was a Hendrake. She made herself look like... look like Dee to fool me.
"Then I found out she wasn't Dee... And I came back to the shadow we kept. She had left, so I hellrode after her.
"I found her and we... we fought. And I won. That's when I heard you cry from upstairs. And I put the pieces together."
Ellie nods, her expression sad "I worked out she must have looked like Dee from people's comments. I can see why you would be angry I even existed. Did she die in that fight?"
He nods, looking down at the floor. "Yes, she did-- I thought she had gained information that would compromise Amber... Not you."
Ellie nods "I should be angry and I was for a time. I came to this conclusion, that you had most likely killed her I mean, the first night, just by how you phrased things, but I didn't know for sure. I'm just sad now that I'll never get to know her. From what I've heard of Chaos, it's a terrifying thing to go against the wishes of your House. She was lost either way."
She puts an arm round him and continues "You did what you felt you had to and I don't blame you for that, not any more. You're still my father and I still love you. I just ... need some time away from here I guess. I keep hearing how Chaos is the enemy, so what does that make me, apart from unwelcome? And in Chaos will they say the same of Amber? I don't know, Dad. Something needs to be done though for a lasting peace."
She laughs without humour "Listen to me spouting off. Tell you what, I'll open up a gallery in Amber and visit. Andre can be my agent. How's that?"
He holds her in silence for a moment, then nods. "I think you should... I don't think I can stop you, either.
"Please be careful, Eleanor."
Ellie nods "Only as long as you make the same promise. I love you Dad and I don't want to lose you too. I'm young I know, but I know enough to keep my head down while I learn. You picked good people to raise me, Dad, and they gave me a good and sensible childhood."
She grins up at him "Deal?"
He pets her hair. "Deal. And I'm always careful."
Ellie smiles "Good. Now go be a dear, Dad, and see Imogen. She'll need you this day I think. Funerals are always harrowing."
The sun rises slowly in the eastern sky, and a somberly dressed group of royalty crowds an open grave. Corwin stands at the head, book of the Unicorn in hand. Imogen is at his one side, Eleanor at the other. Jurt and Ryoden are dressed in red, and she partially hides behind him. Lillian stays close, her hand on the young girl's shoulder, Wraecca close by. Thomas stands with Gerard and Esta, sword at his side. Faetan and Martin keep their distance, as does Random. Benedict keeps his eye on the security, as does the absent Julian. Fiona puts in a rare appearance, talking to Bleys at points, but mostly keeping to herself.
The woman is laid to rest in a grove of oaks in the woods, with a simple headstone, plain. A few words from the book of Amber, and the group disperses.
Each of the new cousins is greeted formally by Corwin, and entered into the histories of Amber, then allowed to go about their business.
Five years pass…
Ryoden plays inside on Christmas Eve, in Brittany on Shadow Earth. The snow falls softly outside, and Jurt tends a small fire in the fireplace. He had known about Christmas, as had Ryoden, but neither had experienced it... Chaos' holidays being a bit more sinister and
lacking in glitter, they welcome the change.
Ellie smiles, looking at the snow. A glint of devilry in her eyes, she says to Ryoden "Ryoden, sweet, remind me tomorrow to introduce you to snowballs too."
Ryoden's head pops up from her train... which she seems to have taken some pains to alter. Wheels have been replaced by a multitude of centipede like legs. Jurt sighs. "I guess I'll be staying inside for a few days."
Ellie laughs "Not a chance. There's also the art of making snowmen." She looks out at the snow "Want a short walk?"
Jurt looks out. "Looks dark... Ryo, stay here." She scowls and returns to her train. Jurt stands and grabs a coat for show, then heads out.
Ellie shakes her head "It's alright. I was thinking of going to Christmas Mass. It's a vigil sort of. Both you and Ryoden would be welcome."
Jurt pauses, then nods to Ryoden, who scampers to get her own coat. "Vigil? Of a religious sort?"
Ellie nods, blushing slightly "Yes, I was raised a Catholic. I don't often attend Mass now, but I try to make the effort at Christmas."
Jurt takes her hand as they head out into the winter chill. "I never saw you as the religious type... Odd." He shakes his head. "Not that my family is the most reverent bunch. We tend to make enough of a show to keep out of trouble."
Ellie shrugs "I'm not really, but it was part of my upbringing, Convent School and so on. Anyway, the Christmas Mass in the villages are always lovely. Do you mind?"
"Not at all..." He chuckles. "I suppose I'll owe you a trip to a chapel of the Serpent."
Ellie smiles "I'd be interested in that, thank you." She smiles and whispers "I hope Ryoden will like this too." As they reach the village square, Jurt and Ryoden see it is filled with people of all ages and candle-light torches are being handed out. Ellie smiles "Part of the tradition here. A procession from the square down here in the valley to the church up on the hill."
The square is ablaze with light and decorations of holly and ivy, the candle-light giving an almost magical air to the whole festive atmosphere.
Ryoden stands still a moment, observing, and something seems to trouble her. Jurt says something in the strange tongue they often revert to at sensitive times, and she nods, then moved to join the crowd. Jurt looks at Ellie. "Cross-culture thing. You'll have to see a Chaos funeral one day."
Ellie bites her lip "Here, it's a time of joy. Sorry, I didn't think." absently taking a torch and handing it to Jurt then taking one for herself.
He kisses her on the cheek lightly. "You get that a lot out in shadow, and she's still young." He pauses. "And dad's still a bit fresh for her. Lillian gave me a few insights while we were in Amber."
Ellie nods "Lillian's a good friend." She smiles "Look, here's the next part." Emerging into the crowd is a young girl dressed in white with a circlet of small lights arranged on her head interwoven with ivy. Ellie explains to Jurt "She represents Saint Lucia, bringer of light. This part is probably older than the Christian Mass."
Ryoden goes to move her hand, and Jurt snatches it quickly. "I think that would be kind of impolite..." He pulls her close, and after a moment pats her head and says something that makes Ryoden giggle. Jurt looks back to Ellie. "I don't think your celebration needs a
second candle-wearer." He chuckles. "Normally I wouldn't stop her..."
Ellie laughs softly too "Maybe not." The procession moves slowly off and in the darkness, the people sing to Light and its return, echoes of the coast villages' ancient reverence for the forces of nature colouring the voices and lyrics. Without though, Ellie also joins in, her voice pure and clear in a habit engrained in childhood.
Jurt hums softly as they follow, keeping just a half note behind, but picking up the melodies quickly. Ryoden narrows her eyes as she listens... They come to the church.
The church is ablaze with red, green, gold and white. Candles, holly, ivy and Christmas roses are everywhere as is the scent of incense. Ellie gently ushers her guests to a pew.
Ryoden stills herself in the pew, needing no words from Jurt. Something about the church, the essence of tradition in the air... It keeps her still. Jurt mimics those around him as the service progresses
The Mass progresses, the ancient words as much a part of the tradition. The priest again tells the story of the Wise Men, of the Shepherds, of the Angel's promise and finally of the Nativity itself, the Brittany accent lending music to the tale's telling. Ellie sneaks a glance at the two Chaosians.
Ryoden watches, and a few times her eyes fade into the milky butterscotch Ellie has seen before. Jurt remains polite, but doesn't match Ryoden's fascination. A few times he taps her leg, reminding her to mind her eyes.
Finally, the priest calls the congregation forward. Ellie quickly whispers "When you both reach Father Sebastian, cross your arms in front of you. This lets him know that you do not wish communion. If you do, just do what I do."
Ryoden looks confused, and Jurt purses his lips in consideration. "I think we'll pass." They stand, and he takes Ryo's hand as they make their way to the front of the church
Ellie nods and waits patiently, remembering the kind priest from her childhood. Dutifully, she kneels before him and accepts first the Host on her tongue then the chalice from which she sips before returning it and receiving blessing. That done, she makes her way over to Jurt and Ryoden "That's the Mass finished now."
Jurt nods and leads them back out into the cold. His eyes seek out the sky, and the snowfall growing heavy. "Very nice..." Ryoden nods and skips ahead, kicking at the snow drifts.
"So..." She asks after a moment. "How often does yours come about?"
Ellie smiles "Christmas is every year on the 25th of December, but there are fun festivals all the year through."
Ryoden shakes her head. "No. The boy."Jurt catches on.
"Doesn't work that way, here, Ryo."
Ellie looks confused and looks to Jurt for an explanation.
"The Serpent..." he explains. "Our... icons are a bi more solid in Chaos. Amber too. There really is a Unicorn. Serpent, too."
Ellie nods "Ah, I see what you mean. Most people think Jesus was a real person who devoted his life to others, but in general we don't have that kind of solidity to our deities. Most people on Earth just go on faith."
Jurt blinks several times, then smiles wryly. "Faith is in short supply in Chaos. Amber too."
Ellie chuckles "It can be in short supply here too. Christmas is nice though. Most people are willing to give others help. As far as I know, the tradition of families gathering at this time and sharing goodwill is just about as old as man."
Jurt smiles and puts an arm around her slim shoulders. "You have to wonder where those sorts of things trickle out from, don't you... If Amber and Chaos are the only things that are real."
Ellie smiles back "Well, there's kinship in Amber and Chaos too. I don't think everything comes from there though. Shadow can invent stuff too."
Jurt thinks about that for a moment. "I guess that could be true... It's more accepted, though, that it's a trickle down effect. Makes you wonder what would happen if one side just vacated."
Ellie nods "Maybe something else would just move in to fill the vacuum. Looking at what happened to Oberon though, I wouldn't like to see any survivors of whatever side vacated."
He sighs. "Mom was the only one of us that knew him back when he was... all there. She always was fond of him, but from what she said, he was the kind that doted on the girls and was tough on the boys. So maybe it's best I never knew him."
Ellie nods "I'm fond of him too. From what I've seen though, he is tough on his sons. We talk though. I tell him stuff and he tells me lots of things. The impression is that I'm the only one who visits him."
"I can see why. It would be kind of like staring death in the face. Dad didn't get too many visitors towards the end, either."
Ellie is quiet "It can't have been easy for anyone." As they reach the cottage, Ellie moves away "I'll be in shortly. I just want to bring some more wood in. It's not unknown to get briefly snowed in during the night."
Jurt pulls her back and turns her back to the house. "I'll go. I'm better equipped for the cold." Ryoden heads in, taking a last moment to kick at the snow.
Ellie moves in and to the kitchen, making up some hot chocolate. She smiles at Ryoden "You know what comes next?"
Ryoden sits at the counter and puts her chin in her hands. "No..."
Ellie grins "Lots of hot chocolate and mincemeat pies. Despite the name, they're a sweet pastry." She hands Ryoden a mug of hot chocolate as she puts in some mince pies to warm.
Ryoden sips at the cocoa carefully. "This is where you're from?"
Ellie nods "This is where I grew up anyway. I don't know where I was born, apart from somewhere in Shadow. If you like, we can come back here in summer and I can teach you to sail."
Ryoden takes another sip, whispering something into the mug. "Why don't you know that? Was it Amber?"
Ellie shakes her head "My mother was running back to Chaos when I was born. She's dead now." She carefully takes the mince pies out and sets them on a plate. "Here you go. Be careful, sweet. They'll be hot on the inside."
Ryoden looks at the pies, and seems to be puzzling something out in her mind. Just as she's about to say something, Jurt re-enters, snow on his head and shoulders, a bundle of wood in his arms. "This should cover us."
Ellie grins "Thank you, Jurt. There's hot chocolate and mince pies here too." She looks at Ryoden "What is it, Ryoden?"
Ryoden's look is piercing. "Who killed her?" Jurt quickly drops the wood in a pile next to the fire and moves behind Ryoden. "Why don't you take some pie into the dining room, Ry?"
Ellie nods "I'll bring some more hot chocolate through shortly too. Alright, Ryoden?" She smiles "And I also have something special for you to do through there."
Ryoden slowly withdraws, taking her slice of pie and cocoa with her. When she's finally gone, Jurt sighs. "Who was she asking about?"
Ellie replies quietly "My mother."
Jurt sits and the counter. "What happened? I never really got the story back in Amber."
Ellie sips her chocolate "It's not a pretty story. You sure you want to hear it?"
"I think I should. I've got an army of un-pretty stories."
Ellie nods "She and Dad set up house together. She was wearing Deirdre's face at the time. He left for some reason, realised he had been duped and then headed after her, thinking she had been out to get secrets. They fought. She died. And then he heard me cry from the
Jurt looks at his mug of cocoa quietly for the space of several heartbeats. "And what did you say?"
Ellie shrugs "By the time he told me, I'd already worked out possibilities and got past all the anger you saw me feeling. He did what he thought he had to do." She gazes out of the window "I've wanted to kill, been angry enough to do so in my time, so how can I condemn somebody who's loved and protected me as best he can for feeling the same way? I just feel sad I'll never know her."
Jurt shakes his head. "Are you still going to see him, then?"
Ellie nods "Do you think less of me for doing so?"
"I can't judge you... Maybe you're more forgiving than I am. If Dara told me the same... I don't know." He sets down his mug. "Judgement is good for simple times. We're not living in simple times."
Ellie smiles wryly "You got that right." She adds quietly "I've just lost so many people I've loved. I don't want to lose any more if I can avoid it."
Jurt sighs and holds her close. "Wish I could promise that. I really do." He pets her hair. "I know how that is."
Ellie nods "You don't have to promise anything, Jurt. Are you talking about your father Grimble?"
"I'm talking about a lot of things..." He sighs. "Amberites live forever. They hit a plateau and just keep going... Chaosites don't have that advantage. They last, but... Eventually everything just sort of collapses."
Ellie bites her lip then asks "What about mixed bloods, like us?"
"From what Chaos knows, our mix is strong enough to be more Amber like. There aren't many left, but they seem pretty immortal."
Ellie nods "Alright." She grins up at him "Doesn't really matter. I'll keep loving you anyway." She pulls back, moving to take some more food and hot chocolate through to the dining room, sneaking a look at Jurt as she does so.
Jurt looks sombre at first, but then seems to force his look to brighten a bit. Ryoden has finished her pie in the next room, and is working on her cocoa. She looks at the fire, thoughtful and withdrawn.
Ellie moves to a drawer and withdraws a golden coloured star, handing it to Ryoden with a smile "Here you go. The youngest in the house gets to put the star on top of the tree on Christmas Eve."
Ryoden looks up and studies it. She takes it, fingers twitching. It pops out of her hands and flies up, alighting on the top of the Christmas tree. Jurt laughs. "I think she was looking for a more normal way, Ryo."
Ellie laughs "Whatever way it gets up there is fine by me. It looks lovely. Thank you, Ryoden."
Ryoden looks out at the village, and the lights bringing it to life. "How long does this last?"
Ellie answers "Twelve days in total. The best is yet to come though."
Ryoden nods, then puts down her cocoa quietly and makes for her bedroom, distant look on her face. Jurt watches her, resigned. Since coming back from Amber, Ryoden had developed spells where she became withdrawn... "Guess they have to grow up sometime."
Ellie nods "Don't worry. I did the same thing at her age too."
"She's been stuck at that age for a while now-- We were beginning to worry. I just wish she hadn't had the catalyst she did."
Ellie replies quietly "You and me both. What's done is done though. We just have to help her get through this difficult time as best as we're able. You know I'll do what I can when I'm around." She picks up the plates and empty mugs and heads for the kitchen, putting them
in the dishwasher.
There's a slight pause, then Jurt follows her. "'When' you're around? Not that I have the right to ask but... where are you planning on going?"
Ellie is quiet for a moment then says "I'm not sure yet. There are a few things I need to investigate. It will be later on though." She turns around to face him and smiles "And you have every right to ask."
He shakes his head. "No... You have every right to come and go as you want. You don't have to tell me anything. Can I ask what you want to investigate?"
Ellie answers "My mother for a start. A mysterious patron for another." She is quiet for a moment then adds "What's wrong, Jurt?"
"Nothing," he replies quickly. "I just worry.... Your mother, huh?" He refills his mug, but this time with coffee. "Gilva didn't know... And I didn't hear anything about Hendrake mourning someone lost to Corwin... But they're not very open about that sort of thing."
Ellie pauses "You know, Dad told me that he assumed she was a Hendrake by the way she fought. What if she wasn't?" She shakes her head "I'll find out eventually, I guess." She bites her lip then adds "I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable with what I said earlier."
Jurt stirs some sugar into his coffee, keeping his eyes down. "And that was?"
Ellie looks uncertain, but says "About loving you. You seemed unhappy about it."
"I'm not unhappy about it. Trust me, I'm not." He adds cream and sips. "You're the best thing that's happened in a long time."
Ellie smiles a little then becoming more serious pours herself some coffee and replies "So what is making you unhappy?"
"I was unhappy... a long time ago. I'm not now. But it can come back to haunt you sometimes."
Ellie nods and asks gently "Klasha?"
"...Yeah." He sips. "Her. I'm glad she happened before Ryo."
Ellie tilts her head slightly "Why so if you do not mind me asking?"
"It was a rocky relationship. Well, okay, more like a mountain of TNT... I'm still amazed it lasted as long as it did."
Ellie looks away and asks "How do you feel about Klasha now?"
"I pity her... The mania set in a few months after we nixed it, and now... it's not really her."
Ellie nods "It can be too easy to lose yourself sometimes. There was a time I was just drifting too, not myself."
Jurt nods. "We all have our times. I hope she finds her way back one day." He sighs. "It was one of those things where one day we'd be screaming at each other, the next pouncing on each other... Chaos at it's best."
She nods "Sounds like the relationship I had with Mikael. That was at best stormy."
He smiles slightly. "Guess everyone has one. What was he like?"
Ellie chuckles "Russian sculptor. Very intense about everything, larger than life."
"Klasha was intense, too... She loved life, and hooked up with me because I had Logrus and could get her around. Then it got serious... Mom hated her. So did Mandor. Probably because she hit on him every time she saw him."
Ellie smiles "In my case, I was doing some work as an artists' model when I hooked up with Mikael. I had just really started getting my head together after Andre's disappearance and the mis.... Anyway, it was fun while it lasted. I sincerely hope Dad never sees some of the
Jurt cocks an eyebrow. "Really?"
Ellie blushes slightly "They were all tasteful, just very few had me in clothing. At least in the traditional sense."
Jurt smiles as he raises the mug to his lips again. "Is that so... I'll have to find some of these... Mikael have a last name?"
Ellie laughs "Not saying. You have most of my secrets and I have so few of yours." She grins "That's fair isn't it?"
"Fair enough." He winks. "Of course, that only makes it a bit more difficult.... I don't have many secrets. And the one you have of mine is a biggie."
Ellie nods "True." She puts down her coffee and walks over to hug him "Petrovich. Anything else you want to know about me? I only have little secrets."
He kisses her on the top of her head as he holds her. "I'm sure they'll come out over time. No need to learn them all now."
She smiles "Alright." Nestling in, she adds "This always feels nice. And for the record, I am head over heels in love with you, Jurt. That's the secret I was getting you to guess in the gardens the night of the ball."
He holds her for a long time, not saying anything... Then finally mummers into her hair, "I love you too..."
Ellie stands for a moment, on the edge of Sawallways, thinking about what lies before her. With a deep breath, she shoulders her rucksack and heads off. Her familiar overcoat, now blue-green, flaps about her in the breeze like a strange bird's plumage, ragged and bright at the same time.
The shadows slip around her, almost fluid at Chaos's edge. Strange sites, things, cities of glory and ruin appear and fade around her. She centres her thoughts in on her mother, and eventually the shadows stop spinning, leaving her at a plain house, rugged and rural.
Thoughts fill her head of the tale told by her father. More cautious now than before, she carefully circles the house, looking for any signs of occupation or for a grave.
No grave presents itself, but she does find signs of someone in residence... A chopping block, with a fresh spattering of blood. Worn work gloves. Footprints in the soft earth. Smoke in the chimney. Through a window, she sees a figure move, the shadow of a woman.
She bites her lip. What if Corwin got it wrong? Shrugging, she moves back to the front of the house, admiring its simplicity even as she does so. For a moment, Ellie pauses, suddenly unsure of herself, then steps forward and knocks on the door.
At first there's silence, then the sound of shuffling footsteps as someone approaches the door. It opens, and a large man is revealed, brown haired and broad shouldered, in dirty overalls and flannel. He studies Ellie curiously, and for a moment she's glad that in the dusk
he can't see how she's dressed. "Yes?"
Ellie smiles politely up at the man "Good evening. I'm sorry to disturb you, but I was wondering if you would help me with a matter."
He shrugs. "You lost? The road to town's that way." He nods off to the south.
Ellie shakes her head "Thank you, but I'm looking for someone in particular who used to live in this area as I understand it. Perhaps a previous resident?"
The man leans on the door jam and crosses his arms. "Lived here since I was a kid. We built this place... Who're you looking for?"
Ellie hesitates then on an instinct pushes on "My mother. We got separated. Would there be anyone here who might know of her, do you think?"
"Separated how...?" The man steps back and from somewhere, turns up a lamp, revealing Ellie's modern dress. His eyes widen slightly.
She shrugs and smiles ruefully "I've been brought up elsewhere as you can see. I am truly sorry if this should go against your customs, but I've only recently arrived in this land."
The man's face grows grim. "Where are you from? And don't mince words with me."
Ellie nods "I was raised in a place called Shadow Earth, but I don't know where I'm from originally."
The man nods, as if she confirmed something he had already guessed. "You'd better come inside."
Ellie smiles "Thank you. Please lead the way."
He moves inside and closes the door behind her. Ellie can smell something cooking, something made of chicken and root vegetables. Pans clang somewhere off in another room.
"Who's your father?" asks the man.
Ellie hesitates then answers "My father is not universally liked, so you will understand my caution in giving out his name. No offence, sir, but why do you ask?"
"Because I already know him. Corwin, Prince of Amber, by name, and title." He keeps his face plain, though his eyes dart to a window now and then.
Ellie nods "May I ask your name, sir?"
"Frest, second rank house boy of Hendrake, servant bound by Mienne of the same." His eyes move to the window again. "Why are you here?"
Ellie replies quietly "I told you. I'm looking for my mother or any information on her."
He's quiet for a moment. "And why do you want that? Does the Amberite ask?"
Ellie shakes her head "No, Corwin doesn't know about this. It's me who needs to know what I can about my mother. I am both of Amber and Chaos." She runs a hand through her hair "I guess I'm looking for the other side of the story."
The clanging in the other room stops and a woman exits the kitchen. "Frest, did you get the..." Her eyes land on Ellie, and she stops. "Who's this?" The woman isn't tall, but is rather average. Her hair is cut short around her ears, and is a ruddy brown. She wears slacks and a rough hewn shirt, and through the low neck and short sleeves, Ellie can sense strength and control.
Ellie inclines her head "Eleanor Matin, ma'am. I am responsible for delaying Frest here."
The woman nods slowly, but backs away, her eyes narrowing. She looks at Frest, who seems to say nothing but speak volumes to her. He moves away from Ellie's side and to the woman's.
The woman studies her silently. "Anything else to that introduction?"
Ellie smiles wryly then adds "I'm seeking my mother or any information on her. I came here on my own account. What is it you would know, ma'am?"
The woman raises a hand to her mouth, as if willing words to come, but none do. Finally she straightens her shoulders. "Are you hungry?"
Ellie smiles ruefully "Yes, I am. By what name may I call you, ma'am?"
"Mienne." She moves into the kitchen. "You have his eyes. I should have seen that first."
Ellie nods, her own suspicions mostly confirmed, "Yes, though the impression I have is my father sees much of my mother in me."
The woman sits. "Not really. I would have liked it to have been so but... You have that Amberite look." Her jaw is clenched tight, and with much restraint she spoons a stew onto her plate.
Ellie replies quietly "I am an odd creature then, Mother. Neither completely one thing nor another." sitting down too opposite her.
The spoon clangs down to her plate, and Mienne presses a hand to her mouth and looks away. "You said she was _dead_, Frest."
He looks down. "I thought she was, madam."
Ellie looks from one to the other "As I understand it, my father went to great pains to keep me hidden and away from Amber."
Mienne shakes her head slightly. "It wouldn't have mattered... I couldn't have... there was blood in your cradle. We thought he had killed you..."
Ellie shakes her head "He was certainly angry, but that passed and he handed me into the care of others."
Mienne seems to regain her composure, and starts to eat. "What... did he tell you? You must have known something to have found me..."
Ellie bites her lip "I was looking for a grave. As far as I knew, you had both fought and he won. Fatally so. I was looking for anything of my mother."
Mienne shakes her head. "It wasn't fatal. Almost, but he didn't know Frest was near, and didn't have the guts to finish... I was burned... But I could heal." She bites a piece of chicken. "That damn sword cost me my Logrus, though."
Ellie remembers the Pattern Blade mentioned by Oberon and the silvery sword in her father's hand. She nods "Can't you get it back should you wish to?"
Mienne's mouth tightens. "I wouldn't know. I've been locked here since that day."
Ellie shrugs "Well, that's easily sorted at least. I can take you both to the Courts." She smiles "You know, I didn't even know your name. Mienne's nice."
Mienne looks strangely pained. "Eleanor... I can't... I failed. Worse than failed.... Better you had died than raised by the target..."
Ellie shakes her head "He didn't raise me. I was raised by foster parents. Most Amberites consider me a Chaosian. What is the Amberite look by the way?"
"Proud. Strong... There's an air." She raises and moves off to another room. "I'm sorry-- this is too much for one day... I need to rest."
Ellie nods "I understand. Thank you though."
Frest watches Mienne leave, then turns back to Eleanor. "We have rooms, if you want, lady."
Ellie smiles "That would be lovely, thank you Frest. It's been a long journey."
He leads her to a small bedroom and shows her a single bed and washstand. With a bow, he leaves, leaving Ellie alone in the light of a single candle.
Ellie nods with satisfaction. There is enough light to work by if need be. She draws out her trump deck and withdraws Merlin's card. /Let's try to broaden the options.../ Clearing her mind, she concentrates upon her brother's image, a smile unconsciously coming to her lips as she does so.
He appears, and she sees his own background is dark, private almost. "Ellie... hello. I was wondering where you've been off to. Jurt's been moping about."
Ellie chuckles "Hopefully I won't be too much longer. I need to ask you something."
"Yes?" He nods to someone off sight of the card.
Ellie nods "If it's a bad time, you know I can call back later, Merlin."
"No-- This is a better time than say, negotiations. Go ahead."
Ellie grins "Ah. Going that well huh? Alright. Theoretically, would you be willing to offer sanctuary to two houseless Hendrakes?"
He laughs. "Hell, I'm already housing one. But seriously, it would depend on the crime. I haven't heard of two Hendrakes getting kicked out recently, though."
Ellie smiles "They haven't been kicked out. Yet."
Ellie becomes quiet and serious "Hendrake thinks they are both dead. The crime was me being raised other than in Hendrake."
Merlin's eyes widen slightly, then narrow. "I'm guessing one of them is closer related to you than house, right?"
Ellie nods "You guess right. She survived Dad's blade."
Merlin winces. "Ellie, you know I'd like to help you, but you're asking me to house a woman Corwin left for dead, and that you think Hendrake is going to turn on. I saw what happened with Gilva, and she didn't even do anything with Benedict."
Ellie shrugs "Don't worry about it, Merlin. I'll work something out." She smiles "Anything I can do to help you though?"
"I'm fine. It's nothing you want to get mixed up in, trust me."
Ellie nods "Alright, but take care of yourself alright?"
"I will... and don't get hurt out there." His head turns and he nods. "Have to go." The connection breaks
Ellie puts her pack away and thinks, then rubs her eyes /Sleep first. More options will come with clear thinking./ Yawning, she gets ready and climbs into bed. Within moments, she is asleep.
The next morning dawns, and Ellie hears a sound she hasn't heard in a long time... The sound of wood being split into firewood. Downstairs something clangs in the kitchen, the sounds of breakfast being prepared.
She smiles and quickly rises and gets washed and dressed. She heads downstairs to the kitchen.
Frest watches something in a pot stew as he sets out some rough bread. He looks up and sees Ellie and bows.
Ellie shakes her head and smiles "No need, Frest. And please, just call me Ellie. All my friends do. Anything I may do to help?"
"No, it's almost done, madam. How was your rest?"
Ellie answers "I slept very well, thank you. May I ask you something?"
She asks quietly "How long has it been for you and my mother since I disappeared?"
He reckons quietly. "Five, perhaps six years. The locals don't keep time as we do, so it is hard to say."
Ellie is quiet for a moment "For me, it's been about twenty-seven years."
He nods and places the pot on the table, and Ellie notes he doesn't use any kid of pot holders. "What happened after he took you?"
She answers quietly "I was placed with foster-parents."
He sits and motions for her to join him. "You must have pattern or logrus, and I think I smell pattern on you. You've been to Amber, then?"
Ellie sits down too "Yes, I went to Amber about five years ago. A few days later, I moved to Chaos."
He looks pleased at this, and spoons some of the stew into his bowl. "With who?"
She replies "I've been under the protection of House Sawall for the last five years."
"Sawall? They survived?"
Ellie thinks "Ah, I think I need to fill you and Mother in on some history."
He nods. "Did we win the war?" he asks, but doesn't look hopeful.
Ellie shakes her head "No, both sides lost their kings and gained new ones too."
"The king is.... Who reigns on both ends?"
"Merlin in Chaos and Corwin in Amber."
Frest looks stunned, and behind her, Ellie hears Mienne enter and set down a load of firewood. Frest looks at her. "My lady, you succeeded."
Ellie looks from one to the other, waiting for the moment and watching reactions.
Mienne stands, dusting herself off. "At what, Frest?"
"Corwin reigns." Mienne looks as surprised as he did.
Ellie nods then asks Frest "You know who Merlin is right?"
Frest nods. "It would seem Sawall succeeded too."
Ellie nods "Yes, they did. I get on really well with Merlin too."
Mienne sits down, ignoring the stew. "Has he named you heir? Corwin, that is.... Does he have any other children?"
Ellie replies "No, and I don't expect to be. Things are a little odd in Amber. If Dad dies, I'd be more sensible running for cover. He has Merlin who rules Chaos. Dad's fond of me though and has openly acknowledged me as his. The Sawalls are looking after me too."
Mienne tears the end off of her bread and looks down. "Then it would seem I didn't succeed, Frest." She sighs and takes a large bite out of her piece, chewing thoughtfully.
Ellie asks "Well, what was it exactly Hendrake wanted from you? What's your side of the story?"
"They wanted an heir from Corwin's side, since he was proving to be one of the forerunners for the throne, and Oberon was abdicating... I was assigned to him. Later on we found out about Merlin, but he was being positioned more for Chaos... You were supposed to turn up later in Corwin's reign, be accepted, then named heir."
Ellie nods "Well, I've been accepted. Dad hasn't named any heir yet. He may not have any more children. His mistress is Imogen, my cousin, so children may be scarce." She thinks for a moment then adds "I also get on well with Uncle Benedict and Uncle Gerard, but most especially with my grandfather Oberon. Would that help your case any? I have more allies on both sides too."
Mienne smiles sadly. "Not really. I step foot in Chaos, and they'll want to know what happened to the child. If I tell them that you were taken and raised by Corwin, my life and Frest's would be forfeit. And in Amber..." She sighs. "All you could do would be to lead me to
logrus again, and let me lose myself in shadow."
Ellie shakes her head "Corwin didn't raise me though. I was raised by foster-parents. Corwin just visited. And the people who have trained me have all been from Chaos. Merlin got me through the Pattern. Mandor's trained me in shape shifting and politics. Dara showed me
how to use Pattern. Gilva has showed me how to use a sword."
"Gilva... How does she fare?" Mienne's face softens. "She was a babe when I left."
Ellie grins "Gilva is under Merlin's protection and doing well. She's houseless though."
"House-- Why? What happened?"
Ellie pauses then answers "She was assigned to Benedict and it didn't happen."
Mienne nods. "She's sensible, then. Good. Only pain seems to come from these... projects." Mienne spoons some stew into her bowl. "What have you done then, in your life?"
Ellie smiles "Well, I'm an artist, a trump artist too now. I have a gallery in Amber which is doing well and am looking at opening one in Chaos. What kind of things would you like to know?"
Mienne idly moves the stew around her bowl. "I'm not sure. I'm glad... he didn't kill you. Glad isn't the right word, but words are failing me now. But the fact that he won is still playing in my mind, and that in spite of everything, the plan still both worked and utterly failed."
Ellie nods "Dad was angry and if I read him right, is guilty about it now. Look, even if he and Imogen have children they may not be accepted by the rest of the family. Imogen is Deirdre's daughter, you see. That leaves only me. And Grandfather favours me I think. It may not have worked the way Hendrake would wish, but what they asked for, they have got."
Mienne looks up. "Would you... would you get him to make you an heir?"
Ellie shifts uncomfortably "I would have to explain why. He knows I have little love for Amber. There is another reason I'm staying in Chaos."
Ellie blushes slightly "Jurt Sawall."
"Jurt? Ah... he must be grown, also." She studies Ellie's blush, then nods. "Grown indeed. Is there anything official?"
Ellie shakes her head "No. Currently, we're both looking after Ryoden, his younger sister. She needs a lot of attention."
"Is she sick?" Mienne taps the table top with her fingers as she stares out the window. "Sawall must be thrilled to claim two of his progeny."
Ellie shakes her head "No, she's just... well, she's at a difficult age. Okay, let me sound Dad out and see what options we have. Alright?"
She nods. "I would... appreciate that."
Ellie grins "No problem." She looks round then goes to stand so her background is fairly neutral. Withdrawing her deck, she quickly singles out a couple of cards. She hands one to her mother "My gallery. Just in case you need somewhere to go. The person there is Andre. He's an ally." She then focuses on her father's Trump.
It takes a moment, but the connection finally comes, with Corwin standing at the shipyard in Amber. "Eleanor." He looks surprise. "Hello."
Ellie grins "Hi Dad. Do you have time to talk?"
"Sure. I was just looking over the new ships in port." He holds out his hand.
Ellie replies "Give me a moment, Dad." and quickly leaves the room and moves into her bedroom of the night before. She then extends her hand.
He takes it and pulls her into Amber. The day is warm, and the shipyard in full swing. He embraces her briefly. "You'll probably be too warm in that."
Ellie nods and takes her coat off. She looks round "How are things going?"
"Fine. We've been busy. What have you been up to?"
Ellie smiles "Learning lots of things. Been busy too. I can make trumps now."
"Is that so?" He smiles. "I'll have to commission you."
Ellie withdraws her pack and hands it to him "What do you think?"
He studies it. "I like your style. Until too long ago, I hadn't known any besides Dworkin’s."
She smiles "Well, now I can be more useful to you."
He puts an arm around her shoulder and starts to lead her back to the castle. "So, why are you back in Amber?"
Ellie smiles "Can't I just be visiting?"
"You can." He smiles. "You've been away some time. We'd begun to wonder."
Ellie looks surprised "Have I been? Sorry, still getting used to timing I guess. I'm looking at opening up a gallery in Chaos too."
He nods. "Yours up here has been doing a brisk business. I don't see why another can't survive. It must keep you busy."
Ellie nods "It does, but I've also been out in Shadow a fair bit. Gilva has been teaching me about swordplay too. And I can shapeshift now and have been learning politics too."
"Shapeshift?" Corwin looks intrigued. "And politics... are you planning on getting your feet wet?"
Ellie smiles "I already have been. I don't think you can live in Chaos without doing so."
"I was talking about more than survival." He smiles slightly. "Think you'd care to try up here?"
Ellie pauses then answers "So was I. And possibly. I'm currently trying to broker a deal for two friends though."
"Really? Like what?"
Ellie pauses "Trying to find a way for them to stay alive."
Corwin looks concerned. "What have you gotten wrapped up in? What did they do? Harbouring criminals is hardly a way to get into a court's good graces."
Ellie hugs him "Thanks for caring, Dad. It's more what they didn't do that their House would punish them for."
"And that is?" He looks down at her. "Are you looking at moving them here?"
Ellie answers quietly "They didn't raise me."
Corwin stops dead in the street, his face paling. He takes out his deck and pulls out a card, concentrates, then pulls Ellie and himself into his chambers. "Who did you find, Eleanor?"
Eleanor takes a deep breath "I found my mother. She survived just and has been in hiding ever since. She hates what she was forced to do. As I read it, the only good thing she sees coming out of it was me."
He sits. "And you want me to hide her?"
She shakes her head "No, I'm trying to work out a way for Hendrake if not to accept her, at least not kill her."
Corwin covers his mouth with his hand and thinks. "Hendrake is not known for being a forgiving house with it's own kind. The best you could hope for is a protecting marriage for her."
Ellie nods "Good thought. There may be another way though." She stops "I'm sorry, Dad. I didn't mean to upset you. How do you feel?"
"I'm stunned. I thought for sure she was..." He shakes his head. "What's your idea?"
Ellie hesitates "I don't know if it will work. Would you like to meet her again?"
He pauses, then shakes his head. "Unless it has something to do with what you want to do with her, I'd prefer not to."
Ellie nods "Alright. I thought I'd give you the option though."
"And your plan is?"
She shifts uncomfortably "My plan is to give Hendrake more pluses than minuses. Maybe get them to overlook the matter of who actually raised me. What do you think, Dad?"
"How do you plan on doing that?" He looks sceptical.
Ellie bites her lip "Give them what they were aiming for. They wanted an heir to the Amber throne. You could name me that and then when Imogen has a child, name them heir. I wouldn't mind, Dad." She sits and then looks at her father, her green eyes large and worried "If you hate me for asking this, I don't blame you."
He looks at her, his face blank. "If I name you an heir, that means if something did happen to me, you would be queen. Are you sure you want that to happen?"
Ellie is quiet for a time then says "Honestly I wouldn't want to be Queen because that would mean something had happened to you and I love you. However, if I was, I'd do my best, even if it meant running for cover initially." She smiles thinly "I have few illusions about my chances versus your siblings."
He nods grimly. "I know. Let's compromise. I'll let it be known I'm considering it... if you stay in Amber more."
Ellie smiles with relief "Thanks, Dad. You still love me, right?"
"Of course I do. How could you ask that?" He touches her cheek. "I have more cause to ask you that."
Ellie shakes her head "Don't worry, Dad. And I worried because I didn't want to alienate you. If I have a problem with you, I'll talk to you about it." She grins "You know me."
"I do. I'd like to know you better. Will you move closer to Amber?"
Ellie nods "Alright, though I'll be travelling between both probably. How do you keep track of time when you're travelling through Shadow, Dad? Also, how did you get round police reports?"
"Police reports? what _have_ you been up to?" He looks amused. "Time is always hard to keep track of. We tend to figure out what the ratios are of out favourite places, then stick to there."
Ellie nods "Alright, that I can do. And there were police reports after I disappeared from my flat. I talked my way out of that one when I collected my unfinished canvases from Jean. I was just curious if there was a way to avoid them in the first place."
"Being careful. That's a good lesson to learn. You can still be tracked through shadow if you aren't careful."
Ellie nods "Alright. I tend to have deeds and paperwork and stuff prepared when I go into a Shadow for a bit. Out of the way places are good too, I find." She starts sketching as she grins wickedly "I think Dara will miss me being more in Amber though. Want to know why?"
Ellie looks innocent as she replies "Ryoden has hit puberty."
Corwin raises an eyebrow. "That must be interesting. I asked Benedict what she was like, and he said 'wilful' and left it at that."
Ellie chuckles "You have no idea. She's fond of me though and comes to me for friendly female advice."
"That's good." He winces. "Hopefully that stage will be over before she comes back."
Ellie shrugs "I don't know, Dad. Despil's been nice to me too."
"Good. I'm glad they're treating you well... I assume Jurt and you are still together?"
She nods "We are. Merlin and Despil think this is a good thing. Apparently, Jurt isn't so moody when I'm around."
Corwin goes to say something, but reigns it back in. "That's-- good. Mandor was talking about Ryoden becoming a courtier up here when she gets a few more years on her."
She smiles "I'm teasing, Dad. Jurt is happy when I'm around and his brothers like that."
"I can imagine they do. But I'm not sure if Mandor is going to insist on Ryoden having a keeper up here, or letting her go on her own... And I know what Jurt feels about Amber."
Ellie replies quietly "You may be surprised. He's mellowed considerably towards Amber in the last few years."
Corwin nods. "I guess he would have to. Eleanor, I have something to ask, and I want an honest answer."
Ellie nods "Ask away, Dad."
"Who is his father?"
Ellie replies quietly "I gave my word I wouldn't tell, Dad."
"I gave you the truth about your mother, and you know I had no reason to think you'd ever find it out on your own."
Ellie nods, thinking "I know, but I promised Jurt. How about if you learn in a roundabout way? Would that be alright?"
"What way would that be?"
Ellie replies quietly "I told you once I talked about a lot of things with Grandfather."
Ellie continues "Well, if he had guessed something accurately, I couldn't stop you from learning that could I? If the father is who I'm guessing you think it is, bear in mind Jurt never knew him."
Corwin nods. "If I guess, will you tell me?" He sighs. "Not too many princes went to Chaos, so it wouldn't be hard to guess."
Ellie nods "You know then. As far as Jurt is concerned though, his father is Duke Grimble. That's the man who raised him and who Jurt respects as his father."
"Jurt reminds me of my brother, though-- not that I think he's dangerous. He doesn't have the same intensity for that."
Ellie sighs "I don't know your brother. Jurt can be moody and sulky. He can also be gentle and considerate and unquestioningly loyal." She hesitates then adds "He loves me, Dad."
"He'd better." Corwin sighs. "Brand was the same when he was younger. I wish some days--" He shakes his head. "Maybe your generation will get it right."
She hugs her father "Maybe we will. War has to end someday, Dad. If there are enough people like me and Jurt and Merlin with ties to both courts, peace can come."
He nods. "Maybe. But Jurt won't claim his heritage, Merlin is with the Courts, and you..." He sighs.
Ellie asks softly "How do you see me, Dad?"
"You date-- well, more than date at this point-- a Chaosite. You stay in Chaos. You join that court. You gain shapeshifting... It certainly sounds like you want little to do with Amber."
Ellie shifts uncomfortably "When I came to Amber, Dad, few welcomed me and I felt uncomfortable. Chaos on the other hand offered me much. Can you really blame me?"
"Not really. But you should beware the giver that's too willing. And Amber-- we take a while to warm up to people. And your entrance, and everyone else's, was somewhat unorthodox. Wraecca seems to be doing well here. Esta and Mouse also."
Ellie nods "I know it's in Chaos' best interests to win me to their side. I don't know if I have a place anywhere though, Dad. Amberites see me a Chaosite. Chaosites see me as an Amberite. Everyone is part of a plot and is used accordingly. I recognise that. I am also of
both lands. Where should I be?"
Corwin touches her shoulder. "Where you want to be, and are wanted... Where it's best for you. Are you planning to join Sawall in a more... formal way?"
Ellie shrugs "We haven't talked about it."
"But would you? If Jurt asked?"
Ellie hesitates "I don't know. I love him, but it's a huge step."
"In more ways than one." He seems to relax. "Please give Amber another try. Perhaps not today. But in time. Before you decide anything. A few days is not much to judge off of."
Ellie nods and gently kisses him on the forehead as she stands "I will, Dad. I promise. Now, I better get back and see what sort of a deal I can pull together."
He nods. "Very well." He stands and holds her close, then moves apart from her.
Ellie smiles "How about this? Let me get things sorted out down in the Courts and then you'll have to put up with me for a while."
"I'd like that." He smiles. "I should get back to kinging." He leans down and pecks her on he cheek, then turns and leaves.
Ellie smiles then activates her trump sketch "Hi Mother."