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The days passed, and one morning, Martin made it clear we should get back.

"It's too easy to get sidetracked in Shadows. I've spent years off somewhere fast, only to find out that only a week or so had passed at home... hard to get reoriented," he explained.

"Think they've got my dress ready?" I asked, tying a crimson sash around my waist. I'd taken to wearing my original set of clothes...brown pants, black pirate boots, and the chest armor that I was so proud of. It had fond memories for me, even though the original was destroyed. That was half of the appeal. I kept a scimitar buckled at my hip, and my hair was held back with a bright red headband. "Hopefully there will still be time to talk to Dad."

Martin nodded somberly. "Have a lot to discuss with him?" He pulled on a pair of blue jeans and a light sweater. "If my calculations are right, he should still be in bed. That is, if he too Dr. Faetan's orders."

"Quite a bit to discuss, yes. And if he's bed-ridden, he won't be able to escape!" I grinned evilly. I liked the color of his sweater, but I eyed his blue jeans suspiciously for a long moment. "Are those comfortable?" They didn't look comfortable.

"Very." He smiled. "My favorite. I'd wear them to the ball, but Flora would descend on me like a rock star on a bad habit. They're considered 'informal.' I'll dig some up for you."

"Really...they look so stiff, I can't imagine the appeal..." But I nodded my affirmation, willing to give it a shot. Martin had good sense, I couldn't fault him that.

He nodded at the pocket containing the trump of Bleys. "Going to use that? Best way to guarantee a captive audience."

I smiled, pleased that he was allowing me to explore my powers. I withdrew the Trump, holding it expertly between my index and middle finger before turning it over to look at my father's face. I extended my other hand to Martin, and concentrated on Bleys. awake?~

The card stirred and slowly came to life. And there was Dad, _back on the couch!_, a glass in his hand, and a bleary look in his eye. The bruise was still nasty, but didn't seem to be getting any worse. However, because it didn't look better, it made me *angry.*

"I was. Where in the world are you? That doesn't look like Amber."

"It's not," I smirked. Before long, I would master the way of the Amberites...never give out more information than was necessary. Then I frowned at him. "I told you to stay in bed! Why aren't you doing what I told you?!" I demanded.

"Because you forgot to say 'Simon Says,' my dear. Don't you know the rules yet? Ah, I see Martin's with you. Well, at least it's a shadow headboard that gets broken and not mine. I'm fond of it."

"Hmph..." I snorted, not liking how he turned the subject away. That probably meant it was serious.

"Now, are you ready to come home, or are you just looking in to mother me a la trump?"

"I'd rather do it in person." I extended my hand to him. "How much time has passed since we left?"

"A few hours. Not much. Why, have you been gone long?" He reached out his hand and took mine, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Martin wave.

"I'll take the front gate. I'll see you in a bit."

I frowned, but nodded. I was actually relieved once he said it. Bleys would be more open with me without a third party, and I think Martin realized this. "All right." I thought about adding an endearment, but it wasn't the right time or place. Plus I was already being drawn through the Trump.

I stood in Bleys's room again. "See? I breathe yet. You'd think I had a sword put through my gullet, honestly."

"Would you rather I be one of those uncaring brats that didn't give a crap? Honestly..." I settled myself next to him, kneeling on the floor. "Can we talk? Openly?"

He sighed. "Oh, but I like thinly veiled threats and broad generalizations... Don't you?" He studied my serious face, and I made it clear that I wanted nothing of the sort right at this moment. "Very well. What is it? What is bothering you?"

"You mean besides the fact that my father's getting beat up within a day of my arrival? Not that I'm saying the two events are related..." I put a hand gently on his shoulder, watching his face to make sure he wasn't wincing. "I want to know my purpose. The reason for my birth, and upbringing, and being here now. Will you tell me please..."

He didn't wince much to my relief, and even managed a laugh. "Sweetie, if I could reproduce at will, don't you think I'd have a sizable army of Bleys-ettes running about, causing havoc? I'm not a priest, and I'm not young, and yet you're the the only child I have."

So I was an only child...that certainly explained a lot. But I didn't say that, because he'd probably agree heartily.

"Trust me, you were a surprise. I even questioned if I was actually the father, but we answered that, didn't we?"

"Yup." Seeing that he didn't wince, I leaned on his shoulder with a quiet sigh. He was being honest enough, but I knew he was still hiding things from me. But, *because* he was honest, I was going to reward him with a chance to let it drop. My mind was put more at ease...for I didn't think he was quite as insidious as my scheming mind was trying to make him. "And is that all you're going to tell me?"

"There was more? Oh, yes, that's right. The nefarious plotting on my part, right?" He leaned forward, gasping slightly, and filled a glass from a handy decanter. "Well, you were bound to start asking questions. And I wasn't planning on you staying out in shadow forever, you know. Just long enough to get out of the larval stage. Puberty in Amber is no fun."

"Yes...that's what Martin said." I watched him carefully, seeing his reaction to that statement. There was none. So I guessed that Dad didn't have a hard time letting go of the past. Besides, HE hadn't used the knife after all. "You really have no purpose in me being here? None at all? No little assignments to fulfill, or allies to make?"

"You've done a lovely job making your own allies, Fae. Martin? The boy with the blonde hair and a penchant for water? He's a good pick. You have a lucky draw, even if you _did_ have to go through half my deck to get to him."

I smiled as I thought of Martin...and I didn't even sneer or smirk. "That's because the fates like me. And I like him too...he's easy to be around. A good escort to the ball, and not a bad football player." I was quiet for a long time, listening to my father breathe. "Isn't there anything you want me to do for you? Besides stealing the Eye of the Serpent?"

"Stay alive," he said, and patted my cheek, an oddly touching motion...

It's one that caught me off-guard, for I blinked, and my eyes were slightly wider than before. I don't like to be wrong. I hate being wrong. But this time, being wrong felt very, very right.

"And if you dare-- DARE-- do anything to show I'm anything in less than perfect health, I will give you a scar. I swear it."

I looked down at him...blinked again...and then started to laugh. "I hear scars are quite popular!" I winked. I couldn't help but reflect just how much alike we were. It was hard to be made us uncomfortable. But the sentiment was appreciated, he knew it. And I knew it.

"No, don't worry...I'd want the same thing if our positions were reversed. Shall I come and wake you up when the ball starts?"

"Before. I need time to get dressed. I doubt I'll sleep now. I'm not actually that tired. I'll just sulk in the dark and drink until showtime. You do have a dress, do you not?"

"Naturally," I reassured him with a grin, playing with his hair. I'd always admired the brilliant color of it. "Dark red in color,'ll see it soon enough. I haven't seen it either, so I can't give too great a description. Would you rather I stay here and entertain you with stories of the Courts of Chaos? Or shall I leave you to your booze?" I grinned. I felt good now...really good. My dad cared about me. Martin cared about me. And because I was returning the sentiment, everything seemed bright.

"He took you to the Courts?! That little..." He rolled his eyes. "And here I thought it would just be the nickle tour of shadow. No, he has to spoil my presentation for later by ruining the puchline. He's out to get me, you know."

I laughed at him. I doubt I would have had as much fun with Bleys. I mean, it isn't every day you get to toss a crown around like a flying disc, is it?

He pushed aside my hair slightly and raised an eyebrow at my neck. "My. I hope you weren't planning on wearing your hair up..."

"Hmmm?" I blinked, lowering my eyes as though to peer at my neck. Funny thing was, my chin was somewhat in the way. Go figure. I pushed my hands on my knees to rise, padding over to the mirror above the mantle. Everything looked to be in order... "Are you making FUN of my throat?"

He chuckled. "Just trying to get a rise out of you. And get an answer to a curiousity without having to be boring and ask. Now, what did you think of the Courts? Planning to add that to your list of things to conquer?"

"I might not HAVE to conquer...I could probably just bargain with it," I grinned as I remembered Merlin's careless attitude towards his reign, and I returned to sit in front of him again. "Merlin doesn't seem to care for his pretty little crown much. But boring ol' Martin wouldn't let me." I pretended to pout, then grinned. "And yes, we did, and played football too."

"You could use the exercise." He drank deeply as I scowled, and a little color returned to his face. I realized he was pale... @#$* dark room.

"It doesn't surprise me that Merlin's a bit reluctant. He's young to hold that much power."

"Young, you say? How old?" I was intrigued. "How did he get to be in a position of power, if that's the case?"

"Family. It's all about family down there. And being in the right one. And tada! He was." if Bleys would have succeeded, then I would have been the next heir to the throne. But he had NOT succeeded, and I was NOT the heir. Not yet, anyway. Something to think about.

Bleys took a moment to think. "Really, Chaos is what Amber will be, or would have been, if we reproduced faster. I'd like my own little house. Wonder what I'd name it."

"So why DON'T we reproduce faster? Or do you know?" I grinned...then the smile fell as I suddenly thought about the past couple of days I'd spent with Martin. And though our...activities...hadn't taken up a majority of the time, it was still...well...YOU know. "Uh...what about my generation. We're not especially fertile, are we?"

He shrugged. "You tell me. Martin and Merlin seem fairly child free. As a matter of fact, we only have one grandchild that's about to come into being, and that's Luke's.

"Chaos women have an advantage. They can shapeshift to be a bit more fertile. Amberites have always had to play Russian Roulette. Do you ask out of scientific curiosity, or am I about to be a grandfather?" Bleys looked mildly amused.

I, on the other hand, wasn't amused. Not even mildly. But I shrugged. "We weren't gone THAT long, so I can't tell you." I considered his bit about shape-shifting...and thought to myself that I'd have to update myself more on biology and anatomy lessons. The thought of raising a child was entertaining, to say the least, but it wouldn't be fair to the child to have ME for a mother when there was still so much work to be done. "Although I can see you as a've already got the whiskers," I poked his beard with a smirk.

"I'm not that old. I'm barely old enough to be a father." He sniffed and refilled his drink, and for a moment, I disagreed. Under the still unwrinkled skin and hair untouched by white, a tiredness leaked out, and he looked old indeed.

"Now you're getting senile..." I teased, disguising the uncomfortable feeling that was rising, that of being less than immortal. I wondered if Martin was going to meet me back here, or if I should...yeah, I should go get ready and changed. "I'm going to go pick up my dress and come back here." I didn't ask if he minded...if he did, he'd say so. "Be back in a few!"

"You're going to get changed now?" Bleys chuckled. "My, we are _eager_ for a ball. I guess on that ship of yours you didn't get a chance to look too feminine, did you? But really dear, there are hours before the ball. I'm sure you don't need all of them to primp yourself."

I hoped that was a compliment. "Hours?" I blinked, and realized what Martin meant about Shadow lag. "What am I supposed to DO for hours? That's too much time," I frowned.

"I suppose you could go running off with your cousin again, or maybe you could find it in your heart to sit and talk with dear old dad-- But of course there are a multitude of people to conternate and annoy out there." He sipped at his glass again, and pondered.

I mulled over his words. It was a request to stay with him some more, disguised in a joking guilt trip, and surrounded by other options that he knew I wasn't about to take. I knew, because that was how I worked when I was feeling subtle.

"And the next time you see Martin, tell him I'm billing for my cognac too."

I snorted with laughter. "I warned him... All right, we shall talk." I pulled one leg up to my chest, stretching out the other one in front of me as I worked the kinks out of my spine. "Power words and sorcery. I want to learn."

"And Amber quakes. Very well. I can give you a brief sketch now, and fill in the more subtle bits later."

For the next hour, he outlined the basics of power words, even taught me to use some. He started to touch on sorcery when I noticed he kept wincing behind his glass. Then I realized he wasn't drinking, only covering up grimaces.

"Whoa, whoa," I suddenly interrupted him, and narrowed my eyes. "You're not looking so hot, Dad. Isn't the booze numbing anything?"

He chuckled. "I drink because I like the taste and look of it, not because it does anything. Poison barely affects me. Why should this?" He waved his glass around airly, swirling the dark liquid and coating the sides of the goblet nicely. "Aren't you the mother hen."

"Don't make me smack you," I warned. "And I already learned too late that drugs and such have no effect whatsoever. It sucks," I declared, remembering my failed attempt to seduce Martin with narcotics.

"Is this something you've learned recently, or a past experience?" He shifted slightly. "Yes... No one ever said it was all roses being immortal. That would be one of the lesser downsides."

I ignored his talk of immortality. "I don't mind saying that I don't like the idea of you going to the ball, as injured as you are," I narrowed my eyes. "What if there's an opportunistic assassin there? There's ALWAYS at least one of those at gatherings of royalty." I frowned, considering this. "Isn't there anyone you know of that can use some sort of healing spell?"

He shook his head. "Healing spells are more a shot of adrenaline than anything useful. My god, if they could actually heal... But no, that's for the doctors. And the answer is no! No doctors." He grimaced. "Really. It's not as bad as it looks. I can just let my guard down right now."

"Hmph," I snorted, folding my arms. "I'm going to stick close to you tonight, just in case. Don't fight me on this one, because unless you intend on knocking me unconscious, you won't be able to get rid of me." I paused, deciding to add more to it lest he see me as strictly a sentimental type. "I'm training to be a hemorrhoid."

"Hmph. You act as though you have no idea how to be a pain in someone's @#$... How self-depreciating of you. But won't it be crowded in my bed? You, me, your little guppy..."

I shot him a wry look, which he misinterpreted as ignorance.

"That's a fish, dear," he tacked on.

I knew it was a fish!!! I'm a pirate! But I could tell he was trying to dissuade me again, and I wouldn't have it! I gave him an evil look. "Blah blah blah... Discussion's over, I'm keeping my eye on you at the party tonight. Now...tell me more about sorcery if you can handle it...I still think you need to get some sleep."

He sighed. "Now she's a doctor. I have medical training, dear. I would know if I was about to die. Trust me, I'd be dressed better. One must be clothed correctly for these events."

THAT was a typical Bleys thing to say...but still, I wasn't fully convinced. He was terribly injured, especially for an Amberite, and I was not a happy camper.

"But I am still quite a ways from death, at least from these wounds. Sleep does sound good, though..."

Then, just as I was *finally* making headway and talking since into my father's head, a knock sounded on the door, making the both of us nearly jump out of our skins.

I glanced at the door angrily, then stomped over to it and flung it open with exasperation. "What?!" I demanded even before I looked to see who it was.

The man filled the doorway, and put his hands akimbo, looking down at me and my defiant glare, unimpressed. Impossible! How could anyone NOT be impressed with ME?

From the couch, Bleys caught a glimpse of him and sniffed derisivly. "Go away, Gerard. I have nothing left to bruise!"

GERARD!?!?!? The man who'd beaten up my father?! My shock must have deprived me of my reflexes, because I was too late to stop Gerard from easily moving me aside. "I'm not here to bruise you. Just making sure you're not hemmoraging."

"Oh, you're a saint. Really. I mean that."

I bristled, growling audibly at Gerard. "You're not wanted here! Beat it, scruffy!"

"Oh, she has your charm, Bleys. Great." He bent and touched the bruise on Bleys's face lightly, only to be brushed away.

"I'm fine. You should have more respect for your Elder."

For a moment I thought Bleys was talking to me, but I realized rather that he was speaking to Gerard. My suspicions flared up. Gerard could have been doing any number of things...perhaps he even had a hidden dagger in his sleeve to finish the job! I moved swiftly to interpose myself between Gerard and Bleys. "He's right, you've done enough! GET OUT!" I snarled, and my hair shifted to white.

Gerard looked surprised, then almost respectful. But almost isn't good enough for ME! He moved back a step. "You've raised a fierce one, Bleys."

"And you have no idea how much joy that's given me." Bleys reached forward and tugged on the back of my armor. "Dear, he isn't going to pummel me. At least not right now."

My head moved faintly in Bleys' direction to acknowledge that I'd heard him, but I still didn't trust Gerard fully. What choice did I have, though? Why was my father so trusting? Was he a complete fool? I had no choice but to nod and pretend that I was relenting, and knelt protectively next to my father. "Very well. What do you want?"

Gerard returned the suspicious glare and bent down, testing Bleys' side. "What's it look like? I'm checking him out." Bleys sucked in his breath as Gerard hit a tender spot, and Gerard tried his best to look guilty. But I wasn't buying it. He'd come back to see just how good a job he'd done.

I glared. "I hope you're proud of yourself. He didn't do anything," I growled, unwilling to let up. "Do you know how to heal him?" Because if he didn't know how to repair the damage, he shouldn't have done it in the first place!

Gerard looked to Bleys, now less fake-guilty and more angry. "She doesn't know?"

"She's been chumming with Martin. I haven't had a chance to steal her attention since she came to Amber."

"I know enough," I glared, pointing my finger accusingly at both of them. I wasn't some ignorant moron, after all, and I was getting tired of the insinuations! "And you can't punish someone for something they *might* have done! What kind of crappy justice system is THAT?!"

Gerard pulled back, and turned his full gaze on me, stern as a hangman.

"What do you mean, might have done?"

I knew he was trying to intimidate me, and I wasn't about to retreat at this point!

Bleys sighed. "I think I _must_ have a shovel somewhere around here..."

"Martin told me eeeeeeeverything," I waved my hand back, puffing up. "About how he got stabbed and the fight over the throne. And it's over! It's been more than ten friggin' YEARS! You owe him an apology!" I pointed at Gerard.

"An apology?" Gerard grit his teeth. "He-- Because of his stupid ego, your half-wit father helped the universe almost get destroyed! Dad is an invalid because of that war! I lost a sister! Almost lost my nephew! He betrayed Corwin and left him for dead! And I, _I_ owe him an apology because of some stupid bruises?!"

Bleys smiled brightly. "And what wonderful bruises they are. Ow. I'm in pain can't you see? The agony. Now, I'm sure you have something to attend to, dear, forgiving, brother..."

I continued growling, narrowing my eyes. Did he actually expect me to buy that sympathy crap? "This had better not happen again. I don't care HOW strong you are, I won't stand for people beating on my family!"

"And I won't stand for someone racing for the throne because he thinks he'll look good on it!" He clenched a fist, and his face began to redden. Bleys struggled to stand, and Gerard pushed him back down.

Something inside of me snapped, and I was suddenly on my feet. I spat angrily, and my tail appeared lashing. "Don'!!!"

He moved in close to me, probably thinking that his height and size would cow me. "Then you might want to hope your father has more sense these days, or I'll be doing a lot more than slamming that pretty face of his into a wall."

Bleys tried to interject again. "You know, Fae-- Gerard is really quite nice once you get to know him..."

"Pfeh!" I snorted, my eyes still locked on Gerard's angrily. "I won't believe it until you're healed. And you," I narrowed my eyes at Gerard. "I'm not afraid of you!"

"Doesn't make it any harder to beat the @#$* out of you. Might even help," he growled back, and out of the corner of my eye, I could see Bleys shuffling frantically through his trump deck.

What was HIS problem? Gerard probably wouldn't have beaten on him if my father had actually *tried* to let him know that he wasn't about to be smacked around by some ogre! It made my anger all the more intense. "Oooo, you WANT some, do you?!" I snarled, pushing Gerard's shoulder. "Bring it on, scruffy!"

"She's too much like you Bleys," growled Gerard, still keeping his eyes on me. "Doesn't know when to quit." He cracked his knuckles. Good. I wanted to show him who was boss.

The door behind him flew open, and he turned. I would've taken the opportunity to sucker punch him, but I saw who it was and had to stay my hand. Martin grinned at him, a blonde-haired woman beside him, looking at Gerard critically. "Uncle! Hi! I was just looking for you!"

I was upset at being interrupted, just when things were getting interesting. "'re not worth my time," I sniffed, folding my arms and dismissing Gerard arrogantly.

He turned to face me again, but only to be caught by the elbow by the blonde-haired woman. "Gerard. You've made a friend. _Do_ introduce us."

Gerard scowled. "Faetan. Flora. Flora. Faetan."

Flora sniffed. "Did you play hookey when we were taught about party manners, Gerard." She looked to Bleys. "She's yours? She has your aura." I bristled at that...I knew what she REALLY meant.

Martin laughed. "Nope! She's mine!" I normally would have found that remark charming, but I was still seething.

Bleys sighed. "She's my daughter, yes. She wants to match good old dad for injuries at the ball."

"Just making it clear I won't stand for bullies," I growled, continuing to hover over Bleys. But forced myself to nod politely to Flora since she seemed to be on my politely as could be managed through my anger. So this was who Bleys called through his Trump deck! Did he think that I couldn't handle myself?! Just who's side was he on, anyway?! I folded my arms angrily, and I commanded my hair to turn black to give a false semblance of calm.

Martin pulled me to a seat, and I realized I was sitting on his lap, with his arms around my waist. Flora summoned a globe of light, and inspected Bleys's face as she talked to me.

"He isn't going to become a ballerina, dear. He's good at the brute line of work. Now, Gerard, be a dear and find a seat for yourself." She sighed. "I think I can work with this..." she mused, studying Bleys's injuries.

"Have I told you you're my favorite sister?" laughed Bleys.

I turned my head...peering at Martin with a scrutinizing look. He was restraining me, I knew it. ~You're fortunate...I wouldn't tolerate this from anyone else,~ my look communicated as I tightened my mouth. He responded cheekily by pecking me on my pursed lips. Scoundrel. I didn't want to interrupt whatever type of work Flora was doing. Whatever it was, it seemed to be working. Perhaps I would be able to learn a few tips from her...

Across the room Gerard sat and glowered again, but the fake guilt returned. Flora clucked her tounge at Bleys and went to make some pithy remark, but he said something to her quietly, and she kept her comments to herself.

~What what? What's this? Did she say something about me?~ My eyes shifted to Bleys, watching him carefully. ~At least the fool man is finally *finally* letting someone tend to his wounds.~ My hands moved to one of Martin's, and settled there comfortably with a light squeeze as I watched with anticipation. I could feel him draining away my fury, even though I wanted to keep it tightly locked up. My eyes remained on Bleys and Flora, and I held my breath. *Is it bad?* I wanted to ask...but not in front of GERARD. He would just LOVE that.

Flora tossed her hair as she straightened. "Well, you'll live. But you'll have a cold bed for a few days, or you might find yourself rupturing."

Bleys chuckled. "Ahh-- Pity. And we just got a whole new batch of serving girls in, too."

Flora returned a charming smile, then put a hand out to Gerard. "Dear. I have something heavy for you to move. I think it's stuck." He started to protest, and I immediately glared at him. He was not wanted here. I had to make that clear. And he probably wanted another shot at Dad as soon as Flora was gone. He caught my icy stare, sighed, and got up.

"Fine." He left, nodding at Bleys, Martin, and yes, even me. Trying to score favorable points again. Well, he may have won Martin over, but I was not convinced.

I just frowned, even though I returned the nod. ~No kewpie points for YOU.~ I waited until he left, and then growled out loud in frustration. "I don't care how nice you guys say he is, I *still* don't like him!"

Flora rolled her eyes as she followed her brother. "He's really a puppy dog. You just need to know what newspaper to use."

And out walked Flora from my life. At least for the next hour or so. I wanted to visit her later and discuss her healing techniques.

Bleys got up as Martin lessened his hold on me. Ah-ha, I *knew* it! He WAS restraining me! "See, dear? I'll live, if you can call an empty bed living," Bleys said to me.

"Oh, I'm sure you'll get through it." Martin looked at me. "And please, don't alienate Gerard. Now that he feels bad about what he's done, he won't do it again. At least over this."

Bleeding rat eyes! Gerard had really suckered him in! Didn't he SEE through that pathetic display of false concern?! If Gerard was really so caring and loving, he wouldn't have laid into Dad in the first place.

But Martin continued his gushing fountain of praise. "He's the most loyal, straightforward guy you'll ever find. Really. You can yell at him until your face turns blue, but if you ever call him in a pinch, he'll be there."

"Hmph," I snorted, rising to my feet at the hint. I was released, and I wanted to pace. He would be there all grind your face into the ground. I knew enough about Amberites to know that they were sneaky and conniving. And Gerard had it practiced to a fine art. Be there in a pinch? HA! I'd believe it when I saw it. "Speaking of calling people...FATHER...I want a Trump deck still. Cough one up, won't you?" He was feeling better now, so he couldn't excuse himself any longer!

"Her memory is elephantine, Martin. I'm giving you due warning. She can be distracted, but once she remembers, she remembers in triplicate." He made his way to the desk Martin used to write his imfamous note, and pulled out a deck-sized wooden box, inlaid with a sword and polestaff on it. He looked at it for a moment, amused with some memory, then passed it to me. "Mind Benedict doesn't see it. May dredge up a few bad memories. That deck has history."

Now that I had something I wanted, Gerard was quickly forgotten. I was beaming happily as I took the box and opened it up to thumb through the cards. I hummed to myself, and was glad to see Martin's face in there. And there was Dad's as well...Amber...yes, I had all the necessities. I glared and made a face at Gerard's, and turned it face over so I wouldn't have to look at the infuriating man. He was copying Dad's pose anyhow, with that wineglass in his hand.

"I like history...what's the story?" I asked, placing the cards back in the box and sealing it. I withdrew Martin's Bleys card from a hidden compartment in my armor and passed it back to him. "Thanks for the loan."

Bleys touched the box. "It's the deck Corwin threw me as I fell off of Kolvir. Benedict has always felt a bit the fool for not being there that day to decide the fate of Amber. It was a beautiful battle, dear. You would have loved it. Lots of blood and gore and your dad making a good show of it. Almost made it to the top, too, but I tripped.... ah well. Life."

I became *immensely* interested at once. So my father was a warrior too? I figured he might have been, but it was hard to tell if that sword of his was for battle or for show. Now, I knew. "Battle? Gore? I want to hear it! How much time do we have left?" I cast a sidelong glance at Martin.

Martin rolled his eyes. "If anyone else tells it, it only takes twenty minutes or so. If Bleys tells it... Well, we'll need rations. He looooves this one."

Bleys looked mildly insulted. "I think my tale is quite riveting. Don't tell me you weren't listening last time."

I rubbed my hands eagerly. "Tomorrow morning, Father, you and I have a date! We'll sip wine, banter, and you tell me all about it. I want DETAILS. Looooots and loooooots of details!" This undoubtedly was a tale about his attempt to conquer Amber. And if I was going to do the same some the distant future, of course...I needed to know everything that I could.

He laughed. "So many details you will bleed. Rest assured, I will not leave one vanquished foe out."

"But for now," interjected Martin, pulling on my arm, "Daddykins needs more rest. Or he's going to get prodded some more, by some old cranky doctor who isn't nearly as easy on the eyes as Flora."

"Oh very well, I get the hint," I relented with a grin, and stuffed the deck into a pouch at my hip. "Take care, Dad." I kissed Bleys' cheek and ruffled my favorite patch of red hair, where it was parted to the right, then turned back to Martin. "Let's go see how my dress turned out."