[Cecily] Five: "Family Matters"

June 18, 2189, approximately 3:00 a.m.

       I was carefully loading a salvo of peas onto my spoon, intended for the side of my brother's head, when a stern cough interrupted my plot. I immediately downed the peas as if that had been my intention all along, though I'm pretty sure the disgusted grimace on my face told the true story.
       Harry, realizing he had just been saved by the closest thing he had to divine intervention, stuck his tongue out at me and promptly got a dinner roll bounced off his nose. Strong arms caught me as I tried to slip under the table, and sweet and gentle voice caught between laughter and severity admonished my actions. "Cecily, if you don't behave at the dinner table, we'll have to feed you and your dinner to the demons."
       I looked up to see Hakthla standing at the head of the table, three malevolent eyes blinking at me in glee.

       I awoke with a start, breathing in ragged gasps, my heart pounding wildly. With a groan, I flopped back down. Stupid dream. I don't think it was a memory, really. Harry's story had detailed enough for my ever-active imagination to work with, and I doubt that it would have been enough to trigger memories I had obviously repressed that deeply.
       I mulled over the events of the evening, which were weird even for me. I had finally gotten the truth out of my brother, but frankly, didn't feel any better for it. Part of that was due to the circumstances under which Harry and I had been orphaned. The other part was how much of the current events seemed to be disturbingly interlinked.
       I thought back to the image on the card, the one Harry said was our mother. There is a small resemblance - around the eyes, and maybe the nose, but she seemed so tiny and fragile-looking. I guess I must take after our father in more than choice of career.
       It's odd, actually, suddenly having parents after so many years of wondering if we'd been hatched or cloned, at least in my more cynical moments. Having them, but not having them. They're only sort of dim constructions in my mind - one of an old picture, and the other only starting to grow out of my imaginings.
       I sighed, well aware that sleep was now a lost cause, and headed downstairs in search of some hot chocolate. The library door was ajar, and the soft light of Harry's desk lamp spilled into the hall.
       I crept into the room. Harry was at his desk, engrossed in the spellbook we'd brought back from Grayson's. He didn't notice me until I was standing next to him, and when he did he started about a foot off the chair. "Blast it, Cecily, do you have to do that?"
       "Do what?" I asked innocently, and was rewarded with a glare. "Sorry."
       He picked up the pen he'd dropped on the floor and went back to his note-taking. "Did you come down here at this ungodly hour just to harass me?"
       "Nope." I pulled the lopsided armchair over next to him and curled up on the worn velveteen, pillowing my head on his shoulder as I used to do years ago. "I just wanted to say thank you."
       He harrumphed slightly, but he stroked my hair as he used to do years ago. "For what, 'silly?"
       "Don't make me spell it out, Harry. I have limits on my sentimentality." I made a face at him.
       He chuckled. "And that's part of your charm, little sister."
       A companionable silence fell, and I indulged in the moments of nostalgic comfort. "Do you miss them?" I asked after a while, and the soft scratching of the pen stopped.
       "I do," he said softly, after a moment's pause. "I do."
       "It must have been hard... you know. Being stuck with me like that."
       He smiled wryly. "True, you are not the easiest person in the world with whom to deal, Cecily. And yes, it was hard. But, no, I never regretted it," he finished, answering my unspoken question.
       "I'm glad," I said, quite sincerely, though I couldn't entirely help but tease. "Cause without me, you'd be a total geek."
       "Or perhaps I am just a glutton for punishment," he muttered, I think mostly to himself.
       I gave my brother a big hug. "I could have told you that..."

June 20, 2189

       After two days on the road my rear was starting to become reaccustomed to the saddle again. I'd done a two year stint in the cavalry division, but that had been almost thirty years ago. It was an uneventful trip, and I found myself relaxing a tiny bit.
       Poor Grayson, on the other hand, seemed to get increasingly less relaxed the farther we went. He seemed to think that most of us were somehow related, and in that manner related to this Amber place, but his memory is even less cohesive than a piece of swiss cheese. After the incident where staring at the card seemed to suck out even more, I think all of us were somewhat hesitant to ask him any more.
       We eventually came into familiar looking countryside. Well, familiar only in the manner that it reminded me of the certain areas of the Low Territories. Green fields with woolly dots of sheep and some stands of hardwoods spread out before us. And it was all so vivid. The colors almost made my eyes hurt, especially the blue of the sky. It was the sort of bluer than blue they mention, but never can adequately describe in faery-tales.
       There was a substantial stone fortification upon a distant hill; I guess you might call it a castle, but it gave the more forboding aura of a keep, as in 'keep away'. The well-armed band of riders that I spied approaching didn't lessen that perception at all. They carried medieval sorts of arms, and looked like they were quite capable of using them. There were only six, and I figured that if needed, Fletcher and I could take out most at a distance. But while their manner was blunt, they seemed pretty impressed, or at least curious, when Grayson announced that he was Prince Random, here to see his brother.