Lorelai finds herself almost nodding over her stew... It was the harvest season, and there was always something else to do, whether it was canning or drying or... There could only be so many ways to preserve food, but her mother knew them all, and a few more.
Her mother is tireless, even after a day like today. She chats over her stew to Lorelai and her older siblings, talking of silly things in town or gossips she heard getting supplies. Adrian doesn't pay attention, but reads, and Alexandria nods vaguely, but spends more time looking anxiously at the door.
Cleaning up the dishes, there's a knock, and Alex nearly trips over herself to answer it. "I'll get it--" The door opens, and even though Lorelai can't see her, she can hear the disappointment in her tone.
"Oh, hi, Da." Alex comes back into the kitchen, her face stormy. "Ma, Da's home." Brenna runs out of the kitchen, smiling.
Lorelai drops her spoon into her stew, eagerly pushing her chair out from the table to greet her father. His homecoming being the most exciting thing to happen to her all day.
"Da!" She exclaims, at the sight of him, her brown eyes lit with renewed energy and her face pulled into a huge smile.
But, as anxious as she was to see him, Lorelai holds back, allowing her mother and father a moment to themselves.
She finds them in the next room, Brenna holding the man who, while he had fathered none of them, had raised all her children.
"Ben, it's good to have you home." He says nothing, but smiles softly, kissing her on her forehead. His gaze moves to Lorelai.
"Welcome home, Daddy." Lorelai moves into the room giving him a hug of her own as she happily shepherds him into "his" chair, which sat big and comfy by the fireplace. Also urging her mother to sit and relax, knowing it was completely against her nature.
"Are you hungry Daddy? There's stew still warming on the stove. Or some coffee maybe?" Without waiting for a decisive answer she disappeared into the kitchen, quickly returning with two steaming mugs of coffee and a heaping bowl of stew.
He almost chuckles as he takes his stew. Brenna has taken a seat next to him, and Alex and Adrian have joined the group to pay their respects. "How long are you home for this time?" asks Adrian. "I was liking being man of the house."
Lorelai makes a face as she sits down on the footstool by father's chair. "Too much, if you ask me! Please say you are staying a while Daddy," Lorelai pleads.
Having her father around would make for a welcome addition to the homestead. What with Alex consumed with her new beau, Adrian his books and Mother always with just one more chore to finish...
"I would like to stay for a while. But I've been asked to leave again. However..."
"Oh," said Lorelai, her disappointment obvious, as the smile fades from her face.
He takes a long sip of coffee, then sat back, his eyes on Lorelai's.
"This time I'd prefer company."
Lorelai looks from her Father to her Mother and back several times; hoping against hope that he meant to take her with him. But, no, she corrects herself, more than likely, he meant Adrian.
"A family trip?" asks Alex dubiously. "But, I didn't really want to... Well, you're gone for months at a go, and there's things to do."
Adrian rolls his eyes. "We've been canning our fingers off for nothing?"
"It is not a family trip." Benedict takes another bite of stew, and Brenna watches him anxiously. "I will only be taking Lorelai."
"Really? Oh!" Lorelai cries joyously, then, quickly reigns in her happiness, for her mother's sake. Her absence from the farm would only mean more work for the others...but oh... how eager she was to get away from the drudgery of the farm! Maybe if she had a beau like
Alex she'd feel more inclined to stay...but the pull of what was beyond the scope of her experience was a heady one.
"Where will we be going?" She asked her father with a mixture of curiosity and excitement..
"A wedding. And we will be leaving tonight... I've already rested on the road, so you can do the same."
Brenna wrings her hands and looks at the sword on Benedict's hip. "She'll be okay, won't she? You aren't taking her anywhere dangerous..." He shakes his head.
"She'll be fine. I'll keep her close."
A Wedding. Lorelai is surprised. She had not expected that. She isn't sure what she'd expected, really.
Her gaze follows her Mother's to her Father's sword and Lorelai flashes her a pleading look; Afraid her concerns would cause her Father to reconsider.
Then she springs from her perch on the footstool. She wouldn't give him time to change his mind!
If they were leaving tonight she'd need to pack. Luckily, Lorelai did not have many belongings. She would not have to waste time deciding which dress to bring, she had only three, and she figured she'd need all of them. She only had two pairs of shoes, her work shoes and her dress shoes. Aside from that there was only her book and the brooch
her Mother had given her for her sixteenth birthday.
In the tiny room she shares with her sister, Lorelai runs her finger admiringly over the black and white cameo. It had always excited her. A horned Goddess with wings, standing ethereally next to a buck. How she'd admired it in her Mother's jewellery box when she was young. Time after time begging to be allowed to wear it and always refused. Lorelai smiled to herself remembering how she'd felt when Ma had finally given it to her. She shoves the brooch in it's tiny velvet box to the bottom of her bag, quickly securing the latches, taking
one last look around.
The room is neat and clean, devoid of clutter, her Mother wouldn't have it any other way. One dresser and a nightstand separating two single beds, made with cheerfully colored quilts pieced together by their own hands. For a moment Lorelai felt a pang of guilt? Hesitation maybe? But, she quickly shakes it off. She could always come back if she felt homesick. Father always did.
Lorelai returns to the main room and pronounces herself, "Ready whenever you are Da!" She had a million questions but they could wait for the road...
He rises, kissing Brenna again. "She'll be fine." He motions her outside, where a study wagon waits, hitched to his usual travelling horse. He takes her satchel and tosses it into the back, against an oak chest. He climbs onto the wagon and takes the reins, motioning for her to join him.
"You will need to rest, later. But for now... what have you been doing these weeks?"
"Ma's been working our fingers to the bone with harvest. We've canned jams, jellies, preserves, meats, tomatoes, fruits, butters, conserves, juices, sauces, catsup, relish, pickles..." Lorelai stops to take a deep breath..."Alex made the yummiest Rhubarb pie!
She has a new beau, you know? I think she was trying to impress him with it. He's...tall. She meet him at the last town social."
Lorelai frowns a little. "I don't think he's very interesting. Ma let him come to supper last week and all he could talk about was the new mill. Oh and old Mindy was ill and we thought we were going to lose her but Ma nursed her through it." She finishes proudly, going quiet for a moment, then asks, "Who's getting married?"
"My nephew," he replies quietly, amused at her rambling. "I'll have to meet Alex's friend for myself when we return."
"You have a nephew? That means you must have a sister...or a brother."
Lorelai settles herself a little more comfortably on the seat, looking at her Father.
"Why didn't you ever mention them before?" She asks him with a mixture of curiosity and concern.
"Because I come from a large complicated family, and I enjoy the simplicity of forgetting them while I'm here.
"I have more siblings than you have fingers and toes, and I'm the eldest. I would like you to meet them. You're old enough, now."
Lorelai giggles at the fingers and toes comment, then looks at him, astonished. "How is that possible!" She blushes a little after asking. Ma had had two husbands, even though she and Da had never had any children together.
Looking down at her lap fretfully, she wonders what sort of an impression she would make on his family. A good one she hopes. She wanted to make her father proud, but, he'd said his family was complicated and that made her nervous.
He looks over and pats her leg. "You'll be fine." For a few minutes they rode in silence, then he looked over his shoulder at the chest.
"The family I'm from is well-to-do... So I brought you a new dress to wear. I wouldn't have you being second-best to anyone."
Lorelai beams at him, looking back and eyeing the chest. She resists the urge to climb over and take a peak while on the road though. Afraid of getting it dirty. It would have to wait until the journey's end.
She sits companionably with him for a while; A dozen questions running through her mind.
"Tell me more about them Da?" She requested.
He smiles and pulls a deck of cards out of his pocket. Turning up the light on their lamp, he hands them to her. "My family. They're portraits."
"As I said, there's quite a few of them, but they're all hard to forget."
The deck is heavy, and oddly cold to the touch, as if they had been sitting outside on a fall night instead of Da's coat pocket. Shuffling through them, Lorelai sees over a dozen portraits of men and women, beautiful and handsome, distant, and yet strangely alive. All of them are obviously related.
He points to the top one. "That one is Corwin. He's the king."
Lorelai takes her time thumbing through them. Drawn by curiosity and the beauty of them. Every one a statement. She could see the resemblances. Mostly in the familiar line of the brow and mouth. So familiar to her. But she only had to look across to her Father to know why. Which she does ...and smiles.
"King." It is almost a sigh. The thought of actually being in the presence of royalty. Her, Lorelai, who'd spent her morning gathering eggs and cleaning a chicken coop! It was ...daunting. As looked the man depicted in the portrait.
"Is your Nephew here? The one who's wedding we are attending?"
Benedict takes the deck and shuffles through, wrapping the reins on his wrist. Finally, he hands two pictures back to her, one of a handsome, if a bit more rugged, young man that appears to be in a military uniform, somewhere out in the wild. The second is a young
woman, her back to a library, smiling, almost laughing, with papers spread out before her and ink on her fingers.
"Wraecca and Lillian. You'll like them. A pleasant couple."
Lorelai inspects the couple's cards for a moment ...then grins over at her Father, flashing her dimples mischievously, "Did they have a very romantic courtship, or the dull kind Ma is subjecting Alex too?"
Looking back down at the cards Lorelai can't help but be interested in all the portraits. Though she hardly wanted to badger her father by asking: Who's this? Who's this?
What she did want to know the answer to more than anything was...why? Why would a person carry around a pack of cards with peoples portraits. Playing cards she could see the use of...but these?
"Da, I've never seen anything like these. What are they for?"
"They're a family heirloom... Each of us has one." He reaches over and takes them, securing them in his pocket again.
"You should rest, though... I wouldn't want you tired when we get there. There are blankets in the back."
"Okay Da." says Lorelai, finding the suggestion agreeable. She gives him a quick peck on the cheek and wearily climbs into the back of the wagon. Before long Lorelai is fast asleep on the makeshift bed of blankets.
The ride is strangely comforting... She had never travelled like this, at night, but the lull of the wagon swaying kept her sleep deep.
She wakes, strangely lethargic, to a midmorning sun streaming through an otherworldly forest. Before she can think, a sense of reverence settles over her, a sense of awe.
Benedict looks over his shoulder.
"You're awake. Good. I wanted you to see this."
Lorelai stretches back over the seat, setting herself down lightly next to her father, as she gazes about her surroundings in wonder.
"Oh, Da, " she whispers breathily, afraid of disturbing the quiet.
She is suddenly reminded of Rip Van Winkle who had also woken to a strange new world...
"Welcome to Arden." He looks pleased at her reaction. "The forest surrounding my homeland. It's full of dangerous game, so don't wander in it alone."
The top a rise, and not far off, Lorelai sees a city... Sprawling off the side of a mountain too tall and proud to be true. The roofs gleam, and even from their distance she can make out the clearly paved and cut streets, and shining white walls that the towns back home never seemed to have time or money to maintain.
And behind the city, nestled in the heart of the mountain, a castle, white and sprawling, ageless and timeless. She feels the breath leave her, and Benedict nods nonchalantly to the vision before them.
"Amber. My home of old."
"It's beautiful." Lorelai says ardently, as she gazes in awe in the direction of the castle. It was easily the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. It suddenly strikes her..."I've never seen a real castle before."
It reminds her of the nights she and Alex would lie awake in bed, too tired for real activity, too awake to actually sleep, they would make up stories for each other. Most of the time they were just silly little stories about some of the animals on the farm. Lorelai loved to turn the pigs and chicks into Knights and Princesses and Fairy Godmothers, but Alex would scoff, arguing that real Princesses didn't live in barns.
"How long before we arrive?" she finishes eagerly.
He moves off the cart and begins to unhitch the horse. "We can leave the wagon here... I'll send someone to retrieve it later. On horse back we can make in an hour."
Lorelai has to blink as she watches him... In the night, his clothes have changed from the dusty travelling clothes he favours when abroad, to a suit of silks and velvets. He's dressed in things Lorelai had only heard of in stories about the gentry of the towns...
"Old Eddie should be able to manage the two of us... You're not too heavy."
Daddy," Lorelai cries, her eyes gleaming at the sight of him, "how handsome you look!"
Lorelai strokes Eddies nose lovingly and agrees with her Father to ride the rest of the way.
Truth be told Lorelai is starting to feel a little anxious, suddenly faced with a whole other side of her Father and a world very alien to the simple happiness she is used to on the farm.
He smiles back at her, a rare thing.
"Your aunt calls me a scarecrow. I'm glad you disagree." He lifts her up onto their horse, then joins her, holding her tight. "You'll do fine, girl. I've known some fairly nefarious entrances to Amber, and they would be hard to top."
Lorelai laughs, "Oh I wasn't worried about doing anything like that! I'm just hoping not to trip over my own two feet or say something hopelessly ignorant! I don't suppose you could give me any tips while we ride?"
"Tips? You're a well-mannered girl. Keep to that, and you won't err. But I will warn you about my siblings. They are... not what they seem. Think of it as a fire. Beautiful to watch, fascinating, but keep your distance. They burn as well as delight."
Lorelai sucks in her breath and nods, taking another long gaze up the mountain at the city and castle, "Alright Da, I'll be cautious," she promises.
Lorelai settles into contemplative silence. Though she is eager for new people and new experiences she is beginning to feel more than a little wary.
The forest lulls her into an almost dreamy daze, when she feels something strange... A cold feeling all over her body, like someone is chilling her blood. As she becomes alert, she realizes she can see a man's face in front of her, like a reflection on a pane of glass. She hears her father's voice as his arm tightens around her waist.
*Make it quick, Wraecca.*
Lorelai stares, blinks and shakes her head a little, not quite believing what she's seeing. She straightens up against her father, her head turned slightly towards him but finding herself unable to tear her gaze from the apparition in front of her.
"Da?" She whispers shakily.
"It's alright, Lore. I'll explain in a minute. What is it Wraecca?"
The blonde haired man quickly launches into a tale about a king being kidnapped, and danger in Arden... and warns of Rangers with crossbows trained on them.
Benedict looks at the trees quietly, then nods. *At least 15... And a mile to make it out of range...* He's silent for a moment, then Lorelai feels his hand grab the back of her dress and push her forward. *Catch!*
She lands in the arms of a stocky man, the only she had seen the glassy image of... As she pulls back, she sees she is now in a room, lavishly decorated, with several other people: a petite redhead, a blonde woman looking at cards, a short man smoking something foul
smelling. He looks at her, unsurprised.
"More the merrier. Where'd you come from?"
Lorelai backs away from the man slowly, eyes widened in fear and mouth hanging open in shock. She shakes her head fervently in response to his question. Hoping she doesn't look as crazy as she feels, finally remembering to close her mouth.
He blows a smoke ring. "Neophyte, huh? Calm down, kid. Here." He walks over to a small cabinet, and pulls out a decanter and shot glass. He pours one for her and hands it to her.
"Drink up. Let's start with that name of yours."
"Lorelai," she answers him, gazing nervously at the other people gathered in the room.
"Lorelai. Nice to meet you, Lorelai. Why don't you sit down? It's going to get crowded in a bit, and seats are going to be at a premium." He leads her to a couch. "I'm Random. Now, let's try another question: where did you come from?"
Lorelai looks intently at the man, "Random. It's...nice to meet you too." Only years of Ma's plying good manners allowed Lorelai to return the simple greeting.
"I... was with my Da... in the forest." She answers slowly.
Across the room, Gerard listens and nods. "Hon, you remember what horse he was riding?" Random tops off Lorelai's drink while she talks.
The liquid in the glass is most definitely _not_ water. Its harsh taste makes her eyes water, and the smell reminds her of some of the stronger things her father keeps around the house, for the cold seasons.
Lorelai looks aghast as it dawns on her that the "Ben" they are discussing is her father.
"Yes, I'm his daughter. Is my father in danger?" Lorelai manages to croak out two sentences this time, in spite of feeling a little insulted at being called "simple".
Gerard, a rather large barrel chested man, cocks an eyebrow. "Daughter, huh? Another one for his line. Don't worry about your dad, hon. He might get a few holes put in him, but he's fast, and he's got Esta going to meet him with the best horse in Amber. Well, since Morgenstern left, anyway."
Random urges her to drink the rest of the shot. "It'll calm you down."
Lorelai shakes her head, not having much experience with spirits she is afraid it will go straight to her head,"I don't think I should drink that."
"You'll be fine, doll," replies Random, "Good for the nerves. If you're an Amberite, can't see how it can hurt you."
"We're all in danger - all the time," says Imogen, a little wryly. "Ben's is just a little more ... pointed - at the moment. But, as Gerard says, there's no-one who can deal with such things
She takes a deep breath again - the poor girl is showing all the terror that Imogen is trying to suppress.
"This is Gerard ... your uncle. One of them. And this is Random, another of your Uncles. And that lady ... " She indicates the small auburn-haired woman, "is your Aunt Fiona. I'm your cousin - Imogen."
Lorelai nods a greeting to each person in turn, thankful for the small bit of familiarity, though Imogen's fatalistic speech about danger had done little to quell her paranoia.
She certainly wishes she could handle her predicament with the cool head of her cousin. Unfortunately, the best she could manage was to try not to stare too stupidly around her.
"So," continues Random. "I'm assuming Ben didn't tell you about Trumps, huh? What has he told you?" He looks over at Gerard. "I will _never_ understand this brand of child-rearing." Gerard shrugs.
"Amberite? I don't think..." Lorelai's voice trails off, her confusion and ignorance more than evident.
"Where am *I*?"
"*You* are in Castle Amber. And if you're Ben's kid, you're an Amberite." Random puffs at his cigar a few more times. "Ben's an odd one to keep you in the dark this much.
"Eh, to each his own. Welcome to the family, kid."
Wraecca pockets his trumps. "Somebody else needs to try and reach Ben, I keep having women jump into my arms."
The contact won't come, though he can feel Benedict's mind,
distracted and racing.
Gerard looks at Wraecca as he attempts to reach the swordmaster. "If he's running, he ain't answering. Takes concentration to get a call, and if he's trying to out-dodge a dozen or so crossbows..." He shrugs. "Esta'll be there in a sec to get him. She's fast."
Lorelai looks helplessly from one man to the other, "Trumps?"
Random pulls out a set of cards, ones that look identical to the ones her father had shown her the night before.
"You use them to contact people. That's how you got in, wasn't it? You saw Wraecca over there, and Ben got you through somehow. Damn useful things. Here." He hands her the deck and closes her hands over it. "Keep it. I have spares."
"It's a shock at first," says Imogen kindly. "It was for me. My mother was dead ... so was my father - and I was hidden away in Shadows to grow up. It's pretty common with a lot of us."
She looks thoughtful, and then suddenly, unexpectedly, smiles.
"I think we ought to call Bleys, perhaps - but knowing his track record, and with what Wraecca seems to be pulling in ... perhaps one of you would like to try it instead?"
She turns to Lorelai. "Bleys is probably the best warrior in Amber - after your father, of course. Ben's in a league of his own."
"Thank you." Lorelai feels hopelessly confused and she is still quite worried over her Father's safety. She also wonders if she should bother to explain that Ben isn't actually her Father.
"He only told me we were going to a wedding and that his family was very large and... complicated." Lorelai explains, as much for her own benefit as their's. "He showed me a portrait of the King and the Groom."
As the words leave her mouth, she realizes the man who caught her is the groom her father showed her.
Random laughs humourlessly. "Yeah, that's Ben. Way with words and all that. 'Large and complicated.' We're complicated on a _good_ day."
Recognizing the Trumps, Lorelai thanks Random again profusely.
"Yes, these are what Da showed me, though I had no idea they were...magic!" Lorelai admits wondrously.
Gerard crosses his arms and looks at the door. "He's on his way. He was getting his ass beat by Esta when I called. He got a pot shot in on her. At least he thanked me for that."
Lorelai looks over at Imogen, and tells her earnestly "I'm so sorry."
Imogen seems to understand, though Lorelai is beginning to feel frustrated over the barrage of one word questions that keep popping into her head.
"Da - a warrior?"
"I'm sorry," She apologizes to the room in general, "I feel as though it's my first day of school and I've never even heard the names of the subjects!"
Random pats her on the back. "Eh, it's okay. Had a bunch of ignorant ones last shindig-- got a little amusing, in a sadistic way. Guess we'll have to find you a room. That's Flor's area. Unless you feel like rooming with your dad."
"Gee...thanks." Lorelai felt so much better at the thought of being the butt of some sadistic joke.
"Oh, a room of my own will be fine."
He touches the cards now in her hands. "To use them, you just concentrate-- but right now would be a bad time to test them out. Everyone's a little on edge."
Lorelai nods understandingly, "I should probably speak with my Da first."
He rests his chin on his hand. "Yeah, I'm sure you'll have some choice words with him. Love to be a bug on the wall... You don't happen to have any siblings, do you?"
Lorelai remembers her Father's warning, agreeing that her Fathers secrecy concerning his family is odd ,to say the least. He _must_ have his reasons for doing so. And until Lorelai is sure what they are...she decides to try to skirt her Uncle's question.
"You say that as if you think I would be angry with my Father." She comments curiously.
"I was forgetting Esta. But she's helping your father now, Lorelai. There won't be many Rangers who could stand up to those two together."
She glances at the Elders.
"We may be well on our way to getting Ben back - and that's good. But what of Corwin? His danger is even greater."
Gerard nods. "We can't get through Arden now, but nothing's keeping us from going around it-- If he's been taken from Arden, we could walk to him, but who knows how heavily he's guarded. If Ben isn't in too bad of shape we could get a force together--
"You said you trumped him?"
Imogen nods. "I got the impression ... he was being 'permitted' to take the call. And he was very cautious in his responses. I think he was probably under careful guard - they know what they're doing. And ... they think they can stay at least a jump ahead of us. Letting him take the trump - that's confidence. At the very least, they think they can hold us off."
Gerard rubs his temples. "You said it was Rangers-- they're a loyal lot, and would have done anything for Julian." He curses and slams his fist onto a desk. "Should have seen this coming.
"Any idea which rangers? I know most the head ones."
Imogen shakes her head. "No ... he didn't say. Gerard ... would Rangers listen to you? Or ... or Caine?"
"Me? Maybe. Caine? Hah. Would _you_ listen to Caine? He's not a military man."
Imogen feels the tingling of a trump in her mind.
She opens her mind, again taking deep, calming breaths. She wants it to be Corwin ... so badly.
She droops slightly as Bleys appears.
"My dear, you have this wonderful meeting, and then you _hide_ it? How am I supposed to make my entrance if I have to look in every conference room in the castle?"
Imogen tries to smile. "We thought we would test your ingenuity, Uncle." But the lines around her eyes betray the anxiety she is feeling.
"Did Gerard tell you? Corwin has been abducted. Ben is under attack."
She holds out her hand towards him.
"Is _that_ why Esta went running off? Hmph. And I thought I might have finally been getting a leg up on her." He takes her hand and pulls himself forward. Imogen notes briefly that he seems to be slightly muddied.
"And she certainly didn't say anything about Corwin." He looks around. "My, my, almost everyone's here, except... Oh, Flora is going to be livid." He half smiles, then lets it drop.
"Imogen, when did this happen? It hasn't been long, has it?"
Imogen glances at him, then pulls out Flora's trump.
Before she activates it, she glances at Bleys. "Not long since I heard. Perhaps five minutes ... perhaps ten."
Then she is focused once more - on Flora.
"Flora? Are you alone?"
In the town, Flora gently disengages her arm from Scren and smiles sweetly. "Trump call. Moment!"
*Alone? No, dear, I'm with Eleanor's manager. Bleys and Esta were beating each other with sticks, so I found my own entertainment.
*Oh, my... You don't look well at _all_. Are you feeling alright?*
"It's women's troubles," Imogen says in a small voice. "I think I may be ... Oh Flora, can you come at once? Quite privately?"
She lets a note of strain creep into her voice.
*Believe me. Or at least - act like you believe me.*
She nods, eyes narrowing. "Of course dear-- Trennix, you don't mind if we part ways here, do you? Imogen's feeling a tad under the weather..." She puts out her hand.
Imogen takes her hand and brings her through. As Flora becomes aware of the gathering, she says briefly, "Sorry - family only. Corwin has been abducted."
She sees Lorelai and adds hastily, "She's Ben's daughter ... "
Gerard looks up, and puts his hand out, wordlessly pulling in Esta, who has Benedict leaning on her. He holds a hand to his shoulder, and seems to be limping as she leads him to a seat.
Lorelai gasps at the sudden entrance of first one then two more people. Realizing that was how she had entered.
Across the room, she sees her father appear, leaning on a tall and lithe woman. He holds his shoulder and limps as she leads him to a chair.
When she sees Ben she jumps to her feet...hurrying to his side.
"Daddy you're hurt!"
He looks up and sees Lorelai, and smiles wryly. "I see you made it safely."
"Yes, I am alright. But, Daddy, you're not!" She looks him over anxiously. "Daddy, what happened to you?" Lorelai looks at those gathered around pleadingly, "He needs a Doctor."
He shrugs and winces. "Don't worry. It's nothing." Random pulls back Benedict's cape, revealing a nasty wound on his shoulder, and anther on his leg. Esta straightens.
"Two arrows got him. I got the out, then pulled us up here. Nothing vital tho-- He'll be running around in a few days." She looks at Lorelai. "Daddy? You done it again, boy?" She punches Ben lightly in the shoulder, and he winces slightly.
"Are you sure he'll be alright?" Lorelai asks sceptically...then...she looks over at Gerard. Hadn't he said something earlier?
"Again?" She asks her Father.
Wraecca stops pacing in the corner and walks over to Random. Indicating his cigar he asks, "You got another one of those?"
Random tosses him one. "Enjoy. Glad you're picking up the worse habits of the family." He begins looking over Benedict's wounds.
"You got any tricks up your sleeves for this, kid?"
Wraecca eyes Benedict's wounds and tells Random. "Yeah, I can patch him up. That will pretty much wipe us both out for the day. On the plus side it's a great way to lose weight." Looking at Benedict's scarecrow figure he adds, "Not like you need to...with your permission?"
"Wait," says Imogen hastily. "We may need your ... tracking skills, Wraecca - and I'd rather have you in erm ... peak condition for that. Ben will heal - any of us can patch him up. But we need to get a party out to Arden as soon as possible to check on that. And you should be part of it. Speed in tracking down what happened in Arden is more urgent."
Benedict thinks. "Random, sew me up. Wraecca-- weren't you in the rangers for a while? Did you ever know of any rogue factions that would do this?"
Random looks at Benedict. "You want me to knock you out for this sewing up biz? You might need it."
Benedict sighs. "This is not the way I wanted to bring you to Amber, Lorelai." He stands, wincing. "The breakfast room. You can tend to me there, Random." He gently touches Lorelai's back, leading her to another room, limping all the way.
Lorelai helps her Father settle back down, trying to make him as comfortable as possible, his well-being foremost on her mind.
"It's alright, Daddy, I understand. Right now the important thing is to get you taken care of."
She looks over in Random's direction. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
Random looks over the wounds carefully, putting out his cigar after a glare from Benedict. "Nah-- these are pretty clean. Guess Esta's good at taking out arrows." He flexes his fingers, and thread and needle appear in them. "Not faint of heart, are you?" He begins to stitch up
the shoulder wound, surprisingly quick and nimble.
Lorelai shakes her head, "No." Though it's quite obvious she feels for what her Father is enduring.
Benedict stays still while Random works. His eyes move to the deck in her hands. "I see someone has gifted you."
"Oh!" Lorelai looks down at the deck as if suddenly remembering. "Yes, Uncle Random gave them to me. Wasn't that nice of him?" She pauses and addresses Random. "Is it alright for me to call you "Uncle"? "
Random shrugs. "All the other kiddos do-- Except Imogen, but she's funny like that."
Benedict turns his head slightly to where Random stands behind him. "Thank you, for being kind to her." He looks back at Lorelai. "I will have to show you how to use them-- They are not toys, and some don't care to be intruded upon, at least until you've been introduced more formally.
"That will be soon, after this is settled."
"He has been very nice to me, Da, everyone has, especially considering the circumstances."
Lorelai pulls herself up a little straighter, and says defensively, "Of course I wouldn't treat them as a toy, Da. I wouldn't dream of it."
Lorelai thinks she is handling things fairly well... considering. Why Alex probably would have fainted flat on the floor over being pulled through some deck of cards. And that trick with the needle and thread...
"Do you think you will have to fight again, Da?"
He sighs. "One day, but not today. A limping soldier is not a good soldier. I would rather it was me at the front of this thing, but..." Another sigh. "Who told you I've fought in the past?"
Lorelai looks startled..."Well, a couple of people mentioned that as a warrior, you were in a "class of your own". A person doesn't get to be in a class of his own overnight. But, that wasn't really what I was referring to. "I thought since you'd been wounded you must have
been fighting someone."
"No, no. I was not fighting. I was running. There were over 30 crossbows trained on me. I would have had a few more holes in me if Esta hadn't been so quick on Jester."
Lorelai's eyes widen in alarm.
Random bites a thread to break it. "Thank Gerard for that. He set her off to get you."
"Does this sort of thing happen here often?" Lorelai asks the two men, remembering Imogen's warning of constant danger.
"Amber has been quiet of late, but yes, it can be like this from time to time." Benedict fixes his cape after Random finishes with his shoulder, then moves to check the wound on his thigh. "Amber can be very dangerous. That is why I hesitated to bring you here."
Lorelai can't help but smile self-consciously, "Yes I can see why. But, Da, what made you decide to bring *me*?"
Benedict looks slightly uncomfortable, and it's hard to tell whether it's due to the needle moving in and out of his leg wound, or something else.
Random stands after finishing off his stitches, and eyes Ben for a moment. "I leave you to digging your own grave, okay?" He smiles at Lorelai and bows.
"Lovely to meet you. I'm sure I'll see you at dinner, huh kid?" He leaves, leaving Lorelai alone with her father once more.
Lorelai's smile fades a little, but doesn't disappear completely, as she bids her newly found uncle farewell, "I hope so."
"He seems to think I'm going to be upset about your explanation," Lorelai observes as Random leaves.
Once he is gone she turns her attention back to her Father, "Are you sure you are comfortable Da? Is there anything I can do for you?"
"I'll be fine. I've had worse.
"I imagine you'll be very upset with my explanation. But understand, anything I did, I did to protect you." He motions for her to sit.
Lorelai sits as bid, a feeling of dread slowly welling up inside her. What could Da possibly need to protect her from?
"Alright, I'm listening."
He sighs and leans forward, looking at the floor.
"I took you instead of your siblings because they aren't your siblings at all... in any sense that you share blood with them. You're special, Lore."
"But?" Lorelai closes her eyes, shakes her head slowly and takes a deep breath. Hoping to cleanse her mind of the confusion she is feeling. "I don't understand."
"You've read about magic, at least in some of the fairy tale books Brenna kept about. There, magic was used for trickery or simple conceits or other petty things. In the books, magic was only an idea, a flight of fantasy.
"Here, it is very real. Do you follow?"
"Yes, I've experienced it first hand a couple of times today," She raises an eyebrow at her Father and smiles, "Catch? - But what does this magic have to do with my brother and sister - not being my brother and sister?" Her smile fades at the thought, no matter how much she
quarrelled with her siblings, she still loved them and the thought of losing that - hurt.
"...There is magic that can make someone _believe_ something is true, no matter how false it is. Some kinds of magic can create whole histories in someone's mind..."
"That's some awfully powerful magic." Lorelai whispers, afraid to meet her Father's eyes. "Are you saying that my life, everything I've known, hasn't been - real?"
"If belief makes something real, then it's real enough. She raised you, loved you, and mothered you, even if you don't share blood. And your siblings will always be precious in spite of your heritage. Nothing can change your past, and your history with them, Lore."
"Now I really don't understand," Lorelai says with a shake of her head, then starts, "Ma!" she sobs, "You mean she's not my Mother?"
He reaches out and takes her hand. "Calm down, Lore. She was mother enough for you, and had you been raised by your birth mother... your life would have been less than tranquil, and most likely would have been quite short."
Lorelai takes a moment to regain her temper, then squeezing her Fathers hand tightly, she asks, "Why is that? Who is she?"
He seems to hesitate. "That will have to wait. But I can tell you this: she was a good woman who got caught up in something dark, and was wise in putting you into my care."
Stung by the explanation, Lorelai looks at her Father in disbelief, "You're not going to tell me?"
"I will, but... not today. There's more than likely more than one person interested in your lineage, and if it gets out, that could harm an innocent woman.
"This is not how I planned this, but you cannot predict Amber."
Lorelai calms over the assurance that she would be told about her Mother when the time was right. Becoming over-emotional would hardly help her make sense of any of this. She simply had to trust that Da knew what he was doing. If Brenna wasn't her Mother and her birth mother had entrusted her into Da's care then who...
"What about my Father?"
"Your father sits before you. I wouldn't have you be an orphan, and sometimes in plain site is the best place to hide something treasured."
Lorelai smiles brightly at Benedict, impulsively leaning forward and hugging him. Everything else aside she was glad for this one thing. "I wish I had known." she tells him wistfully.
"You know now. And that's enough. Your ignorance was the cover I needed." He pulls her back. "I ask one more thing: please, don't tell Brenna. It would do no good for her to know."
Lorelai's smile fades. Enough? She guesses it would have to be. Though she isn't completely sure she agrees.
"I won't, Da, " She promises him, "I don't know that I fully understand enough to explain it."
"Why was it so important that I be hidden?"
"The woman who bore you... was caught up in many politics of her home. Had she kept you, she would have either had to surrender you to those plots, or run, and face death. She could not leave her home, so she hid your birth and handed you over to me.
"I know this doesn't make sense right now. It will."
Lorelai's frown deepens. "She is still in danger then? Will my presence here compromise her?"
"I don't believe so. She's made a safe place for herself, under my nephew's protection. Her house would have a hard time touching her there.
"Her safety is not absolute, but it's the most people such as her or I can manage."
"People such as you? You mean because you are a warrior or because of something else?"
Lorelai sighs heavily, wondering if she will ever make sense enough of what she's learned.
"Because I'm a prince, though being a swordsman makes it no easier. And because my life is not as simple as I would wish it to be. Even simple joys are tainted.
"If I could have, I would have left you to a happy uncomplicated life back home. Come. I have something to show you." He stands, and holds out his hand.
Of course, Da was a Prince. She'd forgotten that. This was going to take some getting used to.
Lorelai takes his hand, eager to see what he wants to show her. Hoping it will somehow give her a steadier grasp of the situation.
He leads her out through another door, away from the sounds of his collected family.
"Do you feel ready for a walk? It's quite a ways down."
"Yes, I feel up to it. But Da, what about your injuries? Are you sure you are up to it? And what about your family? Don't they need you now?"
"I've had worse, Lore. And as for my family..." He looks back down the hallway. "They have coped without me before. If I voice an opinion, there are those that would take it as paramount to law."
He shakes his head, and Lorelai notices that while he walks with a limp, he seems mostly uninjured.
"Alright then, if you're sure." Lorelai follows her Father obediently. Beginning to sense that her Father was not comfortable with his position within his family, maybe even to the point of
He leads her through a castle that surpasses the tales of old her mother used to tell her at bedtime... Even the smallest and most hidden of trinkets is rich enough to buy their tiny farm back home. Benedict doesn't seem to note it, but walks slowly enough to allow Lorelai to take it all in.
People mill about in silks and satins, hair tied up intricately, and fine perfumes trailing after them. Benedict leads her down a hallway, coming to a large oaken door. Opening it reveals a bored guard, who straightens at her father's appearance, then bows.
Lore's hand briefly touches her own hair and dress. She'd never been particularly vain, nor had she ever really wanted to be rich; But really, what could Da possibly think was so great about raising chickens, planting and picking until your hands were calloused and living
in a draughty old house? She wonders if she could ever truly feel at home in a place like this. She doubts it.
As her nose picks up some of the scents she thinks how much Alex would love all of this. Maybe she convince Da to at least bring her back a bottle of perfume.
"Who are all these people ,Da? Do they live here at the Castle?"
Stepping timidly into the room, Lorelai looks the guard over with the same interest she applied to everyone else she had seen along the way.
"Most of them are courtiers, nobles, dignitaries, the like. Some do keep residence in the castle, but most prefer a house in the village."
At first, she thinks the room is only dark... Then she realizes that they aren't in a room at all, but an unlit stairwell. Benedict picks up a lantern and lights it, then motions for Lorelai to follow him down.
"How are you doing, so far?"
"Fine, Da. How's your leg?" Lorelai frowns into the darkness. Where is he taking her? As her eyes adjust to the dim light she decides she would ask. "Where are we going?"
"We're going to see something magically." He chuckles. "Though it's peculiar to call a major construct simply 'magic,' it is a good enough place to start."
"My leg is well enough. I heal quickly."
Lorelai peers down into the darkness hoping to catch a glimpse of this magical construct.
"What does it do? Does it have a name?"