But her voice remains most vivid to me; reading to me, scolding me after Jero and Randy and I had gotten into that day's muddy adventure... telling me she would always love me right before she died.
And now this Harlan tells me my mother was named Mirelle, and was the full blood sister of a King in a far land called Amber.
And that he does not believe she is dead.
But, I am getting ahead of myself, I fear. The above note, while interesting, becomes even more so, and more puzzling, when placed in its proper place in the sequence of events that has marked my life for the last four days...
Unable to tell me more than the would-be assassin had cast a silence spell near my room so I could not be heard, Acrost left his apprentice Raj as a bodyguard. That didn't go over well with Jero, but as neither I nor any of my people have any sort of talent with sorcery, it seemed prudent to have someone with that knowledge about. I spoke with Raj at length, though I fear I was not the best comany. I was tired, but too edgy to sleep, and my arm hurt, which made more than a little cranky.
In the morning, determined to not let this incident disrupt my life, I went into town, Raj at my side. My intent was to conduct business as usual so the gossip might not run too far out of hand over the fate of Madaari's head of house. We ended up at the Council House, which was, most fortunately quiet. No sign of Teilith Haauviel or Beradon, thank the Lady. I was starting to think I might get away with as few explanations as possible when I rounded a corner and there was Randy, coming the other way down the hall. He jumped, then blushed, as he saw me. Raj watched his reaction with some amusement.
"Elaine," Randy greeted me, his eyes flitting to Raj, then giving me a searching look.
I flushed slightly as well. "Hello, Randy," I replied softly. "Um, Randy, I'd like you to meet Raj. Raj, this is Erandel Cigorwen."
"A pleasure," Randy nodded to the apprentice, sounding almost sounds like he meant it. Of course, anyone who looked as tortured as Randy couldn't...
Raj nodded his head to Randy. "Greeting to you Erandel Cigorwen, Lady Elaine has been nice enough to give me a tour of the city."
I decided to fess up, just to keep Randy from looking like someone had punched him in the stomach. "He's a bodyguard, Randy."
Raj nodded in helpful agreement with my words. "I'm just here to give the Lady a helping hand."
I looked up at Randy, hoping to smooth things over. "It's been an... eventful day."
"I... see. Well, I'm sure my father is wondering where I have gotten too. Nice meeting you, Raj. I'll see you around, Elaine." He bowed slightly, and headed down another hall, quickly.
The rest of the that day passed without event, though the incident with Randy had darkened my mood considerably. I kept to myself the rest of the day, as I wasn't exactly the best company. This whole situation had shaken me up more than I cared to let on, even to Jero.
That night I was awoken by a pounding upon the front door. Pulling my dressing gown around me, I padded out to see Jero and Raj already down the stairs.
I huddled near the top, as I had done when I was young and spied on my father's late night meetings. Jero opened the door, and through it I could see a tall figure silhoutted by moonlight, cloak flaring about him like a dark shroud in the chill wind. And I felt a small shudder run down my back, a thrill of fear and curiosity. Maybe even a premonition of great change.
Jero was brusque, but the man insisted he was looking for his aunt, and had been sent here to find her. I watched the exchange for a few more moments before I drew my wrap close about me and descended the staircase to see this mysterious stranger for myself. Jero looked up as I made my way down the last few steps and scowled.
The man's eyes widened as he saw me, the light of recognition in them. I should have realized then this did not bode well.
He introduced himself as Harlan, my cousin, who had been sent by my uncle to find my mother. I was exceedingly skeptical of his story, even after he showed me a small portrait of my mother that he carried. I could not deny that it was her image, but this fairy-tale talk of my being a daughter of a lost princess from a great kingdom in what was effectively another universe, and most absurd, that my mother could not be dead...
But Harlan was kind, and paitient, and a gentleman, so I was willing to hear him out, and even, under the watchful eye of Jero, take from him another of those card-sized pictures, this one of Harlan himself. He called it a 'Trump' and said if I concentrated upon it until it grew cold, I could use it to contact him, should I have need.
I was somewhat bothered by his obvious disappoint ment at my less than enthusiastic reception of his tale, but as I told him, an attempt on one's life has a tendancy to cause rampant suspicion of starngers who appear at one's door in the middle of a dark and stormy night.
There are times of recent I wish I was even more suspicious than I have become. Perhaps I can lay the blame for my distraction and lack of foresight upon the doorstep of the recent events, but that will change nothing that this day brought. Best I just count it as a harsh lesson learned at a cost too dear.
And save the passion of my anger for my vengance.
Raj requested a tour of the Madaari lands, and feeling restless, I was more than happy to oblige. We rode for a few hours, out to the very edge of the lands I hold here, when the sky began to darken. The vents that passed with the storm left me feeling fidgety and vaguely ill. Earthquakes, frog-like creatures pourng from the sky with the rain... Unsettling events were making their mark upon my formerly quiet life, and I was not in the least pleased. I almost used the odd card Harlan had given me, but held back when Raj warned my of the sorceries bound upon it.
I really must learn to choose my sorcerors more wisely.
I handed the card to Raj in a moment of blinding stupidity. Now I've well-learned to trust only those whose hearts I know. I wish I had shown such restraint with Raj as I had with the mysterious Harlan.
We parted company then Raj returning to the Guildhouse to investigate Harlan's gift, and I to Madaari. I spent a quiet time grooming Tyrant, then went into the house. I has stepped no farther than past the door when a loud noise deafened me, and I felt myself hit something.
But then all faded to black, and I remembered no more.
I awoke to the walls of a strange room, my head pounding in intense pain. After a quickly aborted attempt to rise and explore my surroundings, I lay quiet for an indeterminate amount of time until the door opened and Jero, a bandage about his brow, slipped in. Seeing me awake, he came and gingerly sat on the edge of my bed.
"Elaine," he gripped my hand fiercely, and the look in his eyes sent a chill of cold fear down my spine. "My Lady, House Madaari will always survive as long as you live... but the house itself..."
"Jero," my voice was barely above a whisper. "What happened?"
He looked down, hand still wrapped about mine. "It's gone, Elaine. The house has been destroyed."
The physcial structure of the House has stood for almost a 1000 years, and the thought of that, gone in one short span of violence almost broike my heart. But even worse...
"Most didn't make it..."
Since the passing of my parents, my staff and retainers have been become to me as family. Their loyalty, love and care made it possible for a terrified and grief stricken child (for at 17, I was very much a child) to take on a task most fail at even with years of experience and wisdom. I could not ever have imagined a time without Darven's quiet guidance and counsel, Fadien's efficient and bustling energy, Grilbard's deep, aggrieved sighs, or Geasean's wry grin.
I felt the tears well, but I held them back with a grim determination I had not felt in some years. I had never let my grief show in front of my people, not even when my father died. I would not start now. Even with Jero. "Please leave me, Jero. I... must think on what to do now."
"It's as much my future, too, Elaine," I winced slightly at the accusatory edge to his voice. "Please, Jero, I wish to be alone." My voice broke just slightly on the last word. I desperately wished not to be alone, but I would not let him see me cry.
He sighed, and I knew then that despite the dry eyes and calm countenance I always bore in times such as these, he knew well the depth of my grief, and why I did this to myself.
And he left me to my tears.
The future was in a most uncertain state, and the more Jero and I discussed our possibilities, the more dismayed I came, especially after he revealed that Acrost and Raj were long gone, and the culprits behind my home's destruction. I can only give thanks that the Lady did not take Jero from me, for he has become an unexpected source of strength, and a balm for my wounded heart.
Even were I to sell off all of Madaari's outer holdings, and pull in the considerable I favors have in check, I might, maybe, be able to rebuild the house and the assests lost with it. But that would give me nothing on which to recereate Madaari's powerbase within the Council except my reputation. And formidable as that might be, it will not be enough to save anything from the vultures such as Teilith Haauviel.
Indeed, said vulture showed up on the second day on my convalescence, to ascertain his chances under the guise of noble concern. I only wish I was in better mettle to have insulted him with more flair than I was able to muster.
At my father's death, Teilith thought to easly sweep in and gain the favor if not control of Madaari by so generously offering me a marraige to his heir, to ally the Houses so as he put it, ' to assist me in my time of need, so that I need not worry about the petty details of the House and associated politics.'
He seemed almost flabbergasted when I said, quite shortly, no.
My father had raised me as his true heir, to take the House when the time came, and not just to hand it over, through marraige, to someone else. I could play the game as well as any of them, little did they know at the time. But no one in Madaari knew that revelation would come so soon.
And despite my precarious position now, I turned Teilith down again. For there was no way in all the hells I would ever give Haauviel any say in Madaari's affairs. I'd find another way.
It would turn out I didn't have to look far.
Randy appeared not long after Teilith left, and with a very similar proposal. "My father wants to help, Elaine, but he also wants the money to remain in the family..." When he saw that I understood the implication, he rushed on. "It wouldn't be a bad match at all, Elaine, and I'd never stick my nose in your business..."
He looked so pained, to be offering me an assistance that would be what he wanted, and yet not. I could see in his eyes he expected me to say no, but realistically I had to keep this as a viable option, as painful as the situation could become. A match between Cirgorwen and Madaari would not pain my father' memory, or my House's position, nor disgust me personally, as would one with Haauviel.
But marrying Randy, after all that had come to light in the past week... Our friendship had already been damaged, perhaps irrepairably, due to the circumstances under which his true feelings for me were revealed. I had always known any marraige match I made would never be for love, only politics, but to do that to Randy, knowing I would likely never love him as he loves me...
"Maybe you should try that Harlan character." Jero made the grudging suggestion when I later told him of both Haauviel's and Randy's proposals. It was such an uncharacteristic thought for Jero that I hated to greet it with the facts of the matter. I sighed. "Unfortunately I no longer have the means. I gave the damned card to Raj."
A sly smile crossed his face. "Well, Raj didn't get away without some difficulty."
I held the retrieved card in my hand, examining it closely. As I did, I could feel it chill in my hands, and much to my surpsrise, the still face of Harlan slowly turned to face me...
As I made sure the window in my room was locked, and crawled into my bed that night, mind muddling over the days events and tidbits, I felt a morbid spark of devlish joy. They play the game here, too, and with far more seriousness, I think, than in my home.
Perhaps I should plan for my turn...