Imogen with Flora and Ryoden

"Oh please!" says Imogen. "I can do the other tricks ... but I don't know how you do that ... cast."

She grins at Ryoden. "Want to learn together?"

Ryoden nods, and watches eagerly as Flora casts out the cards, explaining the positions and meanings. At some point, Ryoden looks frustrated and stops her.

"But... You're laying them out. Do it the other way."

"What's the other way?" Imogen asks. "Is that what the ... the lady showed you?

"What did she look like?"

Ryoden seems to weigh something for a moment in her head, but then shrugs. "She had blond hair and was kinda skinny, and when she touched the cards, they flew out. Neat. And she did it a whole bunch of times and talked about Ellie and Jurt and Brand... and me. Then poof-- gone. But not really. She just moved away. I heard her still."

Ryoden looks at the cards. "She said her name was Sand."

Flora's eyes widen again, and her hand tenses around the deck.

"Sand," says Imogen gently, aware of Flora's reaction. She's conscious of relief that 'the lady' is clearly not Deirdre - but the calm Flora's response is almost as troubling in its way. She wants to ask the truth of this ... but can't while Ryoden is with them.

"Can you make the cards fly?" she asks Flora. "Let me try ... "

She gives a flick of her wrist ... Most land neatly ... but two shoot off at some distance. The veriest accident. Imogen gives a cry of dismay.

"Oh Ryoden, I'm so sorry!"

As the child goes to retrieve them, Imogen says to Flora in a low voice, "Who's Sand?"

Flora's hand touches Imogen's lightly. /My sister. She's been gone for a few hundred years now, in a snit over the royal line. She took her brother and absconded all our trumps when she left. Apparently she's back in the game.../ Her hand moves, and Ryoden returns to the table.

That, reflects Imogen, is probably as helpful as most of Flora's tales. It raises more intriguing questions than it answers. Her brother? Where did these people come on the complex family tree? and what does Flora mean by 'absconded all our trumps'?

She smiles at Ryoden as she returns.

"I'm sorry," she says again. "Perhaps Flora knows the trick ... "

Flora shakes her head. "No, that's not something I know how to do, though I'm sure a short cantrip would do the trick..."

Ryoden shakes her head. "Nope. I didn't smell magic." Flora looks confused.

So is Imogen.

"You 'smell' magic?" she asks intrigued. "What does it smell like? Nice or nasty? And are there different sorts?"

"It smells musty and electric-- like a library that's been zapped." Ryoden looks proud of herself. "There's only one sort. I don't think Amber magic smells any different. It's everywhere though-- I didn't think you people were sorcerers, from what Merle told me." She looks around, approvingly. "Wish I could bring up Logrus. Bet the spells are neat."

Flora cocks her head to the side. "Well... You learn something new every day. I never knew Chaosites could do that."

"I didn't know anyone could," says Imogen drily. "On Gallbraith ... " She hesitates, and then addresses herself to Ryoden again. "So ... what was the lady telling you about? Or is it a secret?"

Ryoden ponders for a moment. "I think it was supposed to be a secret, because she tried to lay a forgetting on us. But I countered it after she left, so it never set in." She shrugs. "We just talked about magicians and stuff like that. She kept flying the cards out."

"And... where was this, dear? When did you meet her?"

"Oh, a day ago-- in the library here."

Flora touches her fingers to her lips and thinks, a small smile on her face.

Imogen glances at her, struck with a sudden thought. Then she turns back to Ryoden.

"Ryoden, this might sound a silly question ... but can you see people as they really are? Even if they have tried really really hard to hide themselves?"

Ryoden looks surprised at the question. "Um-- I don't think so. I've never tried. How do you do that? Is it an Amber trick? I bet it's useful."

 

Imogen laughs. "I really don't know, Ryoden. I only arrived here a day or so ago, and I'm still finding things out. I just wondered ... if you could smell magic, perhaps you could do that too. See the magic people might put on themselves."

"OH! Glamours! Yes, I can do that... I thought you meant something else."

Flora nods. "That's right-- I guess shapeshifters would have to be able to do that, wouldn't they?"

Imogen draws a breath.

"And you would have noticed if the lady had done it?" she asks.

Ryoden nods. "Glamours smell too. She wasn't hiding anything. And her skin looked settled, so I don't think it was another form, you know? And since she was so keen on us forgetting her..." She shrugs. "Why bother?"

Flora nods. "Sand in Amber... How interesting. Looks like an old player is back."

Imogen glances at her aunt. "Rather too much of a co-incidence, don't you think?" she said quietly.

Flora nods. "Perhaps. But maybe Sand was getting bored out in shadow and decided to join the merry fray again.

"Maybe she never left..."

Ryoden shrugs again. "Maybe she'll teach me the trick."

"Maybe," she agrees.

Her legs are starting to feel slightly stiff crouching for so long next to Ryoden. She straightens, and glances around the ballroom. Of Ellie and Corwin there is now no sign. Briefly she wonders whether it's considered bad etiquette to ask the King's mistress to dance. She smiles wryly. She's in for a dull night if that's so.

She eventually spies Corwin and Ellie talking quietly in a little side chamber. Not too far off, Jurt sits to the side, massaging his leg and thinking.

Clearly, she thinks, he is waiting for a partner. Well ...

She walks over and smiled at him pleasantly.

"Would you do me the honour of giving me this dance?" she asks politely, in formal Gallbraithan style.

Jurt looks up, clearly surprised. "I-- Sure." He stands and seems to test his foot, then holds out his arm for her.

"Guess both our dates are busy."

I think so," she agrees.

She lets him lead her into the dance, and for a few minutes concentrates on her steps, letting herself ease into the rhythm of the dance and the light pressure of his hands on her.

Eventually she looks up at him, wondering if she could see anything of Brand in his face.

"I know very little of Chaos," she says finally. "Is it very different from Amber?"

"On the surface, it's very different. Not as polished or whimsical. It tends to be a bit edgier. But the longer I'm here, the more I realize they're more alike than I thought."

As he talks, she sees glimpses of what may be Brand in him... Or it just may be traces of Amberite blood. She thinks over the men she's met since arriving, and realizes how alike most of them look... Perhaps his father was a different man. Perhaps even Corwin?

No, she tells herself, Corwin is sure Jurt isn't his.

But an Amberite ... and not just distantly related to Benedict.

She forces herself to smile easily (ah, the joys of being a politician!) and says calmly, "More alike? In what ways?"

"Oh, the politics, the intrigues, and healthy dose of weird stuff popping up now and then." He winces. "Ryo and I chose a bad time to visit."

"Me too," she says wryly, and then laughs. "Are you telling me it isn't always like this?"

"From what I hear, it can be dull sometimes. Not much happened when Merle stayed here for a year or so, but that was right after Patternfall, so I think everyone was recouping. It was the same in Chaos for a while."

He's quiet for a while, his eyes drifting to the room holding Ellie and Corwin. "He doesn't like me, does he?"

"He's worried about Ellie," she says. "He's worried you might hurt her. Just like any father would be."

She lets that hang for a minute, and then asks, "What's your brother like? Is he like Corwin?"

"Merlin? I don't know Corwin all that well, so it's hard to say. Merle is hard-headed as the rest of us, and can get pretty arrogant when it suits him, but most everyone likes him for some reason." He shrugs. "I don't know how much alike they'd be anyway. He was raised by my father."

"Oh?" says Imogen, "you grew up together? That's nice - I had some steps of my own."

She moves easily in the curves of the dance now.

"I like your little sister too. She's sweet. She was showing us some card tricks a lady taught her."

"Let me guess... Sand, right?" He sighs. "I was there. It was a little unsettling.

"Merle and I grew up together... He was a bit older by the time I came around, so we didn't get on all that much. We fought quite a bit. Despil and I get along better... My full brother."

"Oh?" says Imogen politely. Inwardly she is conscious of a sinking sensation. Is this "full brother" another half-Amberite, perhaps another son of Brand's?

"Ellie's a sweet girl," she says, striving for a neutral topic. "I do like her ... we had a long talk earlier ... I'm looking forward to getting to know her better, too." She draws a breath. "Both of you."

"She is sweet..." His face softens a bit. "Adores Ryoden, and for once Ryo is behaving herself." He moves his gaze about, and lands his eyes on his sister, still immersed in cards with Flora. Flora laughs gaily as Ryoden chats away, hands moving quickly over the cards.

"You seem to be the one usually looking after Ryoden," she says. "I thought paternal care was meant to be less common in patriarchal societies - I'm glad it isn't. On Gallbraith, some women thought caring for children was purely man's work - I suppose I thought the situation would be reversed here ... "

She is silent for a second, thinking of how Corwin assured they are unlikely to have children. Does she mind? It all seems too much to take in, still.

"You're right, but our situation is kind of weird. Women do tend to rear the children around here and in the courts... It may not be the mother, though. Sometimes it's a nanny or sister. But our mom was too busy when Ryo was born, and Ryoden just kind of preferred us over any kind of caretaker. When dad died, he asked me to take over for her."

"That's quite a responsibility to take on," says Imogen softly. "Especially when the child is as strong-willed as Ryoden. But ... perhaps she is nothing unusual in Chaos?"

"She's a bit wilder than most, actually. But that's more due to being raised by brothers and not parents. We were a bit more indulgent than mom or dad would be. She's getting better, though."

Imogen nods. "Most do, as they get older. And she seems ... talented. Again, I'm to inexperienced to truly judge. Perhaps you were like that at her age, smelling out magic and glamours and taking off forgettings.

"It all makes Gallbraith seem rather ... prosaic," she adds with a grin.

"Taking off forget-- Oh, that must be what she meant with Sand..."

He chews his lip. "No, I wasn't that talented. She's gifted, and a bit too free to show it off in my tastes. If we could keep her talents between us, I'd be grateful."

"Certainly," says Imogen obligingly. "Although ... perhaps ... as her host ... Corwin should be aware of it?"

She whirls briefly apart from him in the dance, and then back to him.

"Like I say ... I don't think he has anything against you per se. He's just ... worried for Ellie."

"It's nothing Corwin needs to really be aware of. He has problems keeping his secrets. Fiona and Julian certainly knew where Ellie was when they attacked her, didn't they? If he knew everything about her... Well, she's already in enough hot water.

"If it makes you feel any better, Benedict knows everything."

Imogen allows another pause in the dance to shift her away and back again before saying, "Yes, it does."

Benedict, she thinks, is someone who Corwin trusts with affairs of the state.

"Ellie was attacked?" she asks presently. "By Fiona and Julian? When was this? What did Corwin do?"

Jurt's face becomes dark, and he turns his head back to the room containing Ellie and Corwin. "It was before he brought her here. And by the looks of it, he didn't do a whole hell of a lot. He hasn't even taught her how to defend herself. As soon as Gilva gets up here, I'm going to ask her to give Ellie a few lessons."

"Gilva?" says Imogen politely. "I don't think I've heard the name ... "

"Of Hen-- Chaos. Marrek is heading back to the courts, and she's taking his place. I think Mandor actually wanted he and Ryo to get to know each other a bit, seeing as how they're almost siblings.

"She should be here tonight. Marrek is leaving after the ball."

"I see," says Imogen thoughtfully. Then she adds, a little hesitantly, "I shall be seeking some training myself, you know. It might be rather fun if Ellie and I could train together. And ... not wishing to offend you, Jurt, but I do feel it might make matters easier with Corwin if Ellie was to be trained in self-defence by an Amberite. Benedict, perhaps."

Jurt blinks, as if he hadn't thought of that. "True... Well, Gilva should be busy anyway. Ellie and Benedict seem to get on well enough, even if Ryoden hates his Pattern infused guts."

"Perhaps," Imogen suggests, "if Ryoden were to see him training Ellie and me, she wouldn't think him such a very bad thing. It might give her a new perspective on him."

Now she just has to hope that Benedict won't think it beneath his dignity to train two ... well, what must seem to him like novices.

She smiles at Jurt.

"And if that works, it may well help your standing with Corwin too," she adds.

He seems to consider that a moment. "It may. If I can win Benedict over, at least a little bit, Corwin wouldn't have much of a choice, would he? Right now I at least have some protection, being his grandson..."

Imogen smiles. Actually, inside, it's pretty much a grin - but all that appears on the surface is a polite and sympathetic smile.

"Well, I do think Benedict would be an extremely powerful ally to have in your corner," she admits. "Corwin has immense respect for him, I know."

He nods. "There's a lot of respect for him in the Courts, too. It's too bad he doesn't visit. He'd have a lot of instant allies. Most of the Amberites have a cult or two following them."

"Really?" says Imogen, intrigued. "I don't think that's a compliment that's returned here, I'm afraid."

She is silent for a moment, mulling this over. Finally she asks, "What about my Mother? Deirdre? Does she have a cult in Chaos?"

Jurt shrugs. "Amber won. You don't worship the losers of a conflict.

"I have seen a few dedicated to Deirdre. Mostly people who like the tragic hero type. Quite a few Chaosites saw the, uh, end of the battle at the rim. Stories begot more stories. Those begot cults."

"Stories?" says Imogen. "I only know ... facts. And those are not pleasant."

"Well, a woman showing up at a battle in silver armour swinging an axe tends to leave an impression. Then people find out she was second sword in Amber-- We were under the impression all the women up here were the brainy type like Fiona or Flora. She surprised us."

Imogen laughs ruefully. "She's surprising me too."

The dance sweeps her away and then back again.

"Second sword, eh? I wonder if I've inherited any of her abilities. It strikes me that swordplay might be at a higher premium here than in Gallbraith ... "

"You'd better believe it. The Courts have more of your type. Brainy. Political. They call it politics up here, but it looks more like cat-fights to me." He snickers. "We're a bit more experienced at it."

"Including your family?" she says. "Perhaps it is more like Gallbraith - where women play ... a more active role, I believe. But I know very little about Chaos. You have a King, after all. Are his Ministers women, like your mother?"

"It's a mixed bag. The guy in front isn't always the guy with power. You should meet my mother. You'd like her. A real schemer. Politico. She has the same superiority complex. For a while she jerked Merle around by the short hairs, but I guess she pulled too many out, and he kicked her out."

Imogen's brows rise. "Really? Different from Gallbraith in some ways then ... "

She ponders a moment the implications of his other remark ... and wonders if she can see a pattern ... Deirdre ... Dara ... and now herself. The dance positioning them close, she smiles mischievously.

"I don't think I'm in the habit of jerking anyone by the short hairs ... or jerking them by anything at all, actually. I believe that the best things flow ... smoothly .... if you organise the consensus properly."

"Politician then. Mom felt she could be less subtle with her own son. Turns out, she should have been more." He shrugs. "She's learning. I can see her worming her way back in once Merle decides he's had enough fun and he isn't has great as he thought.

"Just out of curiosity, who do you think should be conceding around here?"

"It depends what you want you think should be conceded," replies Imogen at once.

"How about what to do about Brand hanging around again?"

"Your instinct would be to offer him concessions? That's an interesting position."

"Me? Hell no. I'm wondering what you'd do about it, seeing as how most of the Elders around here are skittering around, trying to figure out who's allianced with him.

"It's a tough time for Eleanor to make her entrance into Amber politics, don't you think?"

"Does Ellie have an ambition to get involved in politics?" asks Imogen in surprise. "I would have thought she was only marginally interested in the nuts and bolts of it - she seems to have other interests.

"I think it's a tough time to make an entrance into Amber ... period. But if it weren't ... would there be any need for her to be here at all? It's a tough time for everyone, Jurt, and the Elders think there's safety in number. They have thousands of years experience behind them ... maybe thousands of years of feuding too. But on this point they most certainly agree. We'll be safer here. Together.

"I would certainly hesitate to go against a consensus group formed of such diverse people ... particularly when there's considerable animosity between them in the general run of things.

She smiles at him. "To be honest, Jurt, I don't see it as a concession. Accepting the consensus here seems like common sense."

"Ellie is a member of a Royal family. Politics is not an option." He shrugs. "She'll get it eventually. But she'll be learning in hectic times. And with Corwin having some enemies as king, doesn't that make Ellie a great target? She's not powerful, he's left her unprotected for the most part..."

Imogen smiles. "So ... your solution would be?"

"Take Ellie somewhere safe, somewhere that isn't Amber. Somewhere where it would be really hard to hit her. Here, all it takes is a moment of inspiration, and a chance meeting somewhere unwatched."

"And you think that alone in Shadow, she'll be safer? Or are you planning to surround her with Chaosian guards? Her father will adore that, won't he?"

"I don't really care what Corwin thinks. I only want her safe, and he can't trust anyone in Amber. I know people in Chaos who could keep her safe, alive, and probably pretty entertained." He frowns. "What has he done so far but shut her away?"

"He's been trying to protect her in Shadow, Jurt," she says quietly. "And now that's failed, she's here. So ... you want to snatch her away from the real world and stuff her back in Shadow with a few of your friends as rather amusing guards. Forgive me, but I don't see that as much of an improvement. Ellie needs to establish her position here in Amber, not be some half-forgotten Princess lost in Shadow down the centuries.

"And if you 'don't really care what Corwin thinks', I think you are making a mistake."

He looks away and grits his teeth. "She has-- argh, never mind. There's more out there than Amber, you know.

"And let me tell you, I've been the closest to her since she arrived, and I haven't seen him do jack. He has no clue what she does. If he was being oh-so-careful, do you really think Brand would have been able to chat with her? Or my sister? There's another person he's supposed to be protecting.

"And let's not forget I almost got my head blown off by one of your princes."

"Did you?" asks Imogen, surprised. "Ellie didn't tell me that. Well, yes, I can see it must increase your feelings of hostility towards Amber and its denizens."

She looks thoughtfully down around the room. "I would say myself that it comes from putting men in charge, as they seem to prefer confrontation over consensus - and force any women who get involved to make the same choice. But that doesn't seem likely to change in the near future."

She raises her head and looks at him fully again.

"So ... you think you can do a better job looking after Ellie than Corwin, then?

"Tell me ... where is she now? And who's watching her?"

"She's being watched, I'm fairly certain. I saw a guard while we were outside in the gardens. And I'd be better because at least I care enough to try. If it gets too bad I could always call up Mandor or mom to help me, and they're just as nasty as any Elder you're going to find up here." Jurt looks away.

"Even Ellie has complained about Corwin leaving her off on her own. She thinks he doesn't care, and isn't all that eager to stay."

"I see," says Imogen. "And so ... the two of you think running away into Shadow is both Ellie's best protection and the way to build a stronger relationship with her father?

"Well, yes, if the proof that Ellie needs to convince her that her father loves her is to see whether he will let the kingdom go to hell in a hand basket while he risks his life pursuing her through Shadow, then it seems a good idea.

"I suppose you are both working on the assumption that if he fails to chase after her, perhaps because of the crisis in his own kingdom, where thousands, if not millions look to him for guidance and leadership, then he has proved conclusively that he doesn't love Ellie at all?"

"My brother's a king, and even he had time to look after Ryoden's safety. You expect Ellie, a complete novice, to pitch in with digging her father out of his own mess? That's not her job. She should be getting taught how to protect herself. Do you realize how easy a target she is? How she could be used?

"Yes," says Imogen grimly. "The same applies to other people as well, you know ... "

"I don't really care about how she gets along with him. He didn't bother to raise her, and now he expects her to stick by his side and be unerringly loyal.

"And why should she give up everything for him, huh? She has a life she left, you know, and..." He grits his teeth and stops himself. His eyes widen in surprise as he sees Eleanor enter the ballroom again from the main entrance. He looks over to the room she had been in before. "What the--?"

Imogen turns and sees Ellie too. A small smile quirks her lips upwards.

"Perhaps," she suggests, "you're not keeping such a close eye on her as you imagine."

She watches with interest as a strange young man in a tux joins Ellie.

"One of yours, or one of Amber's?" she asks. "Actually - I must say he doesn't particularly look like a guard. He seems a little ... dazed. But he clearly knows Ellie."

"Uh, no... He's not Chaos." Jurt studies him, his brow knit, and his hands twitch involuntarily. "That's not the guy who was guarding us, either... There he is-- I recognize the size of the guy." The dance ends, and Jurt pulls away and bows slightly.

"It's been interesting, highness."

"Indeed," says Imogen, dropping a deep curtsey. "Thank you, my Lord, for the dance."

She rises and, with a polite smile, moves away towards the buffet table ... but she is covertly watching Jurt's next move.

Jurt watches as Ellie leads the young man out onto the balcony, and takes a step to follow. He pauses, however, then moves to Ryoden's side and sits with a sigh. Ryoden immediately begins to flood him with lessons in tarot and divining, which he listens to, distracted.

Imogen moves away slightly, but because he attention in divided between Jurt and the buffet table, she finds herself bumping into someone.

"Oh, I am sorry," she says apologetically, looking up to see who it is.

A woman in blue looks startled, and nearly drops her glass. "Oh, that's okay...I wasn't really paying attention." She holds out her hand. "Lillian..."

Imogen considers the hand, and then holds her own out cautiously, not palm first in greeting ... but pointing towards Lillian, and slightly relaxed, as Lillian is doing.

"Imogen," she says, a little warily, waiting to see the light dawning in Lillian's eyes ("Oh you're the one who ... ")

"Imogen..." Lillian furrows her brow as her other hand ticks something off on it's fingers. "Are you an Amberite? If you don't mind me asking, of course. I'm still getting my bearings."

"I am," responds Imogen, rather pleased to discover someone in Amber who doesn't look at her and immediately think, 'the woman in the sheet'. "I'm Deirdre's daughter. What about you?"

"Me? Well, my parents were named Judy and Ralph, but they weren't Amberites. I'm from out in shadow. My date is the Amberite, actually..." She looks around. "The date I seemed to have lost, actually."

"That makes two of us," says Imogen. "Mine's disappeared as well ... And I'm very new to being an Amberite. Until yesterday morning, I was a Junior Governor Second Class in a Shadow called Gallbraith, and doing rather well at the job, I thought. This ... " She waves an arm to indicate not just the spacious ballroom but, she implies, the whole of Amber, "is all rather new to me. And a bit disconcerting."

Lillian chuckles, and Imogen notices that her eyes seem a bit bright, and perhaps slightly red.

"Look like there's been a bunch of new people then. Nearly everyone I've met so far has been some transplant. I'm presuming _some_ of you must have grown up here besides Martin, right?"

"I honestly don't know," says Imogen, a frown wrinkling her alabaster brow. Those I've met seem not to have been ... but I haven't met all my cousins ... "

She considers. "My mother's generation ... they do seem to have grown up here. Perhaps that's why they were so determined we shouldn't be!"

"What about your friend ... the Amberite? Is he a cousin of mine?"

"I, um-- I really don't know, actually. Most likely he is, but so far no one here has claimed him. He's kind of from left field, as far as the norm here goes.

"These people have a really rich history... I'm normally not a buff that way, but my synapses seemed to have made an exception for them." She laughs again. "I could make a mint if I had any writing talent you know, back on my home shadow."

"Mmmmm," says Imogen. "On Gallbraith ... well, it would be seen as very Fourteenth Aeon, I think."

She looks at Lillian thoughtfully. You say your friend is ... from left field? He is a farmer? A very worthy calling."

Lillian stifles a smirk. "Left field. Baseball term, a sport where I came from. Wraecca is _not_ a farmer, though the image of him in some dirty overalls and a flannel shirt is kind of amusing. It means something unexpected.

"What's Fourteenth Aeon?"

"I see," says Imogen. "The Fourteenth Aeon was a period in our history that was noted for its extravagant fictions and even more extravagant fashions. Men were considered so delicate that they were not allowed to walk at all and were carried everywhere in litters slung between the backs of great dogs bred especially for the purpose. Women, being hardier, continued to walk, of course.

"Unsurprisingly, in reaction to that, the Fifteenth Aeon was a time when great sporting prowess was highly prized among men ... and women too. I believe it was customary for women to select their Chosen on the basis of how fast they could run or how high they could climb ... "

As she speaks, her eyes move around the room, looking for the King ... and a little smile quirks her lips as she tries to imagine Corwin lolling in a litter ... or else competing in a race for her attention.

"Things change," she says. "Now we pride ourselves on selecting our Chosen on the basis of intelligence and empathy. If Gallbraith survived another Aeon, our choices might seem as ludicrous as those of long gone Aeons.

"And in Amber ... choices appear different anyway ... "

For a second she is silent, and then she smiles at Lillian.

"So ... did your friend bring you here out of Shadow?"

"Yes... We met during a war in my home shadow. When he started making his way here, he took me with him." She goes to say something else, but then a scream sounds out, echoing in the large ballroom and stopping all idle chatter dead. Lillian spins, and her eyes fall on a woman dressed in leather and jeans with almost white blonde hair who clutches at her chest. Caine tries to support her from behind.

"Clarice?" Lillian starts to make her way over to where a small crowd is forming.

Imogen gathers her skirts and moves swiftly with Lillian, although she would prefer not to approach Caine ...

She wonders what he's done to the woman ...

The woman wrenches out of Caine's grasp as he tries to ease her to the floor. She yells at him and he replies in a quiet, even tone.

Lillian watches, her face filled with concern. Clarice spots her. "Where's Wraecca?" she spits. Lillian holds her hands up helplessly.

Imogen watches Caine suspiciously from the corner of her eye, but moves forward towards the strange woman.

"What's wrong?" she asks, with the quiet authority of one who has dealt with difficult situations for many years. "Can I help?"

Imogen and Corwin

A hand falls on Imogen's shoulder. "What happened?" says someone softly in her ear. She turns, and sees Corwin looking at the confusion before him. "And who is that?" he asks, nodding at
Clarice.

"I don't know," she murmurs. "I was speaking to the woman ... her Chosen is an Amberite, I think, although no-one's claimed him. The other woman ... she seems to know. Oh!"

She winces as Clarice strikes Wraecca and then staggers off.

"They seems awfully violent as a group," she says, conscious this is something of an understatement. "What is this talk of broken Patterns? Are they like the one below?"

He shakes his head. "I've never seen one. They're supposedly like it, but flawed. I've never really messed with them. Soldier poets tend to leave the magic to the magicians."

"A wise call," she says with a shiver. "The real one ... was terrible."

She looks across to Wraecca and Lillian.

"Is ... Is he a cousin too, do you think?" she asks quietly. "Can we find out?"

"I don't know, but right now, anything's possible. He could be Caine's..." He sighs. "Only one way to find out, I suppose." He moves towards Wraecca.

Imogen moves at his side ...

Caine stops him from completing the action of tracking Wraecca down. "He's seen enough tonight. An interrogation is the last thing he needs."

"Imogen says he's an Amberite. Any idea who's?"

Caine nods. "Mine. Leave him alone."

Imogen's breath escapes in a soft hiss. She turns away - the less she has to do with Caine, the happier she is.

She remembers the accounts of Deirdre's death - Brand's accusation ... and Caine's own admitted feelings about Deirdre. Looking down, she realises her hands have clenched into tight fists, without her being aware of it.

~This place is getting to me.~ she thinks ruefully.

Corwin backs off, levelling a glare at Caine as he does so. He takes up Imogen's arm, then seems to notice Jurt running out of the ballroom, Benedict at his heels.

"Oh, by the Unicorn, what now?"

"I get the feeling we should perhaps go too," suggests Imogen, moving swiftly in the same direction.

He mutters something below his breath, and he follows, a hand on his sword. "You know, I haven't had a moment's peace since they showed up."

Jurt exits the castle, making a beeline for the gardens.

Imogen joins Corwin to follow.

Ellie and Corwin - Away from the Ball

Corwin groans. "What, they've never heard of leashes?" Behind him, Ellie sees Imogen approach. Corwin heads off into the garden.

"I'm charging Merlin a mint for what I've had to do to my security."

Ellie waits for Imogen, beckoning Andre to come closer at the same time.

"Ellie, what's happened?" says Imogen immediately. "And who's the young man?"

She gestures to Andre.

Ellie repeats "Ryoden has gone missing and Jurt saw something in the garden so they're searching here first." She smiles to Andre and then adds "And the young man is Andre Duvallier, an old and trusted friend of mine."

Imogen flashes a brief, distracted look and smile at Andre, then says to Ellie, "Would it be worth speaking to Fiona? I'm sure she can organise an unobtrusive search within the Castle."

Ellie shrugs "I don't know. I think Uncle Benedict's men are already searching." She thinks for a moment, remembering the last time then adds "There is a place we can try that she may have gone to."

Imogen nodded.

"Tell Corwin," she says. "I'll go back inside and alert Flora - it can't hurt."

She turns and hurries back into the palace.

Inside the ballroom, in the mass of nobility waltzing, she looks anxiously for her lovely aunt.

Flora stands near the staircase, her eyes out on the populace of the ballroom, assessing the failure or success of her ball. She seems rather pleased.

Imogen sighs inwardly. She knows that feeling from her own political celebrations ... and now she is about to disrupt it.

Quietly, she moves to Flora's side and says quietly, "Aunt Flora, Ryoden has disappeared. Benedict, Corwin, Ellie and Jurt are looking for her in the grounds. Can you alert the servants to watch out for her inside as well?"

Flora sighs. "_Something_ had to go awry, didn't it? Very well." She snaps her fingers, and one of the older staff approaches. She rattles off a description of the young Chaosite and a few warnings.

"Don't try to get her if she's being moody. Just contact one of us."

The servant nods and heads off.

Flora moves to the balcony. "The grounds, you said?" She puts her hands on the railing and closes her eyes. For a moment, she's perfectly still, then she relaxes as she breathes a sigh of relief.

"They found her. In the orchard. She doesn't look to be too happy though."

Imogen nods, then looks curiously at Flora.

"How did you do that? You didn't use a trump or anything!"

"Pattern lens. Another trick of the Patterns. Walking it is terrible, but the end result has some uses." She smiles wryly.

"Wonder what the girl was in such a tizzy about, though."

Imogen's hand reaches up to the rose pendant, her connection with Corwin. "Shall I find out?"

Flora nods. "Certainly. Do you need my deck?"

"Please," says Imogen, deciding it might be best to keep the properties of the pendant between her and Corwin for the moment. She holds out her hand.

Flora flips through her deck and hands Imogen the trump. After a moment of concentrating, his image becomes clear.

"Imogen... We found her. She ran off to the orchard. She's practically catatonic right now, though. We're trying to trace her steps back now."

"We didn't take the route from the ballroom to the orchard, did we?" says Imogen, thinking hard. "I'll explore that ... ballroom to orchard ... because that was probably the route Ryoden took ...If not ... I may be able to see if or where she deviated."

She smiles. "I should have Lorak with me, or close behind."

"Take Flora with you. Anything you find should be witnessed by an Elder. Benedict is covering the main gardens that we open during the ball. You three try the minor gardens and woods.

"And be careful, please."

"I will," she says and, a little reluctantly, breaks the contact. She turns to Flora and relays it. Lorak, she guesses, will be hovering.

"Shall we go?" she says. "If we start in the ballroom ... I think Ryoden might have run from there in panic when that woman screamed. Making to a place where she felt safe ... the orchard?

"Then we can check the area she might have passed ... the minor gardens and woods. If there's nothing there, we can try other minor gardens ... woods ...

"Corwin says to be careful."

"I think that goes without saying." Flora motions to Lorak, still standing on the stairs, and heads out the main door. Standing at the entrance to the main gardens, she spies Benedict.

"Let's see what he's found first."

Imogen nods, and accompanies her aunt over to the warrior Prince.

Benedict talks quietly to a few of his men, not noticing Flora and Imogen at first. Flora coughs lightly, and Benedict looks over.

"They've found her, whole, though highly distressed. She was in the orchard."

Benedict frowns. "We believe she climbed down the trellis to get here, but the rest of the grounds are too trampled to find tracks."

"What shall we do?" Imogen begins, then breaks off as two strangers approach.