I readied myself for the day, and found Jero waiting outside my door when I decided it was time to go look for breakfast. Without a word he fell into step at my side.
While breakfast gave me no real clues of individual insight into my cousins, it was a telling lesson in how everyone fits in together. Desiree, Joaquim and Velvet have the easy camraderie of those long aqauinted with each other's idiosyncracies. While not exactly friendly, there is a sense of grudging respect and familiarity in their verbal sparring. They know the territory, each other, and how far they can take their play before it crosses the line.
They are people to watch out for.
Christophe was in much the same situation as I. Newly introduced to the family, he was quiet and watchful. Perhaps he would prove a useful ally in the times ahead. We spoke, but only for a ferw moments befor Joaquim drove both Christophe and Jero from the room not long after the arrival of Prince Benedict and his wife Ysmene. I made my excuses as soon as etiquette allowed, and found Jero in the hall speaking in low tones with Christophe, who excused himself moments later. Jero just gave me one of his normal unfathomable looks, and asked my plans for the day.
"To see the king," was my reply.
My discussion with the king was both enlightening and frustrating. He spoke quite readily of Amber, the possibilities it held, and the powers that went along with claiming my birthright, but he spoke of it from the perspective of someone trying to sell something that might later prove to cause anxiety in an unwary buyer.
Perhaps I give him too little credit. He did make clear some of the dangers associated with life in the family, going so far as to admit my mother left due to a lack of patience with the games played by her siblings. But I have spent my entire life watching the games the nobility plays, and know quite well there is far more to my family here beyond his words.
But he was kind, and seemed truly glad to have discovered my existance, and I would be an idiot not cultivate a strong relationship with him. I know well the benefits of a close familial relationship to a monarch. My ties to King Alberdan in Glorethien have long driven my adversaries to distraction. Given his long friendship with my father, he was always as an uncle to me. Here, I have the even stronger association of true blood ties, given my mother was Random's twin, of all things. Indeed, it is a connection I would be a fool not to take advantage of.
But our conversation did not give me any more real impression of my mother, or why she would have left as she did. She left so long ago, by the time here, and I get the impression few knew her well outside of her twin. So in that regard, I am no closer to any real truths.
I left the King, feeling both exilarated and annoyed, but my musings were quickly distacted when I was found by Eve, who had come to see how I was finding my stay in Amber. She is the one cousin I have met, outside of Harlan, who does not seem to be interested in playing the game. Indeed, her heritage was only discovered in an attempt to help her daughter, to whom she seems utterly devoted. And while her observations and assumptions about the family are limited in scope, her commentary on those relatives she has encountered does seem quite genuine.
She has also offered, most graciously, to introduce me to her other home, Rebma, Amber's counterpart under the ocean. Her easy and open nature is refreshing for what I have seen so far of my cousins, and over time she could prove a very useful source of information and allies, given her contacts with the Rebman Royal family. A friendship I shall make all efforts to cultivate, indeed.
It was shortly after Eve left to have dinner with Martin that I encountered Kier. He was quite chagrined, as it seemed his dinner plans had fallen through. I quickly schooled my expression to one of gracious gratitude as he asked if I would accompany him. I had not the heart to tell him I knew quite well his plans had been derailed, as Eve had told me of his invitation and her subsequent refusal to due her prior engagement with Martin.
So I spent a most informative evening with the Crown Prince, piecing a bit more into my knowledge of how Amber worked on a political level. He of course gave me little more than an overview of the system, but now I have a solid framework into which I can place my own observations. I must admit I genuinely like Kier. He is restrained and evasive without being duplicitous, qualities I quite admire in someone in his position, even though it makes my attempts at elicitation a tad difficult. But he is gallant, and knowledgeable, and an able conversationalist - quite an enjoyable dinner companion.
And I had the dubious honor of meeting the infamous Lady Belia, the woman who has broken Harlan's heart. She is as an insipid and deceitful creature, bent only on her own powermongering and influence-gathering, as any of her ilk I have ever seen. I quite agree with Kier; Harlan, gentle soul that he seems, is far better off without such a noxious woman in his life. Of course, convincing him of this will likely prove difficult.
But I played along with her 'victim' role, expressing my sympathy and concern with her horrid plight. Such as Belia bear close scrutiny as they scramble up the social ladder, and it is far easier to keep track of their movement when they are willing to be so open about their lives because you have offered a sympathetic ear, feigned though it may be. I have no patience or regard for those like Belia, and I should not like to see her continue to bad-mouth Harlan as she did to me, for I think he deserves far better. And if I can keep her from causing him mischief in her prowling ways, then it is the least I can do.
Fortunately, her brother dragged her off, and I was able to return to much more palatable conversation with Kier, before I lost my appetite entirely.
When I returned to the castle, I found Jero, who had himself been busy exploring our new surroundings. He led me about on a tour, whereupon we came across a most intriguing architectural feature.
The ornate door was set as if an afterthought, stuck close between two others. "Page told me not to go in there," Jero commented gruffly. "Has a tendancy to come and go as it pleases." But he grasped the handle and pulled the door open anyway.
I peered inside. What greeted me beyond the door was an extraordinary sight. A long hall of mirrors, extending beyond my vision, lit brightly by crystal chandeliers. "I wonder what it is?"
With that impish grin I've should have long ago learned to fear, Jero said, "They told me not to go in. I'm just common folk. You though, you're royalty..."
I knew one of Jero's veiled dares when I heard one. And as always, I could not let it pass. I countered his grin with a knowing smirk and slipped past him into the looking-glass room.
"Aren't you coming?" I glanced back to where he leaned against the door, propping it open.
He shook his head. "Gotta keep the door open so the room doesn't go away."
With a sigh I continued my way in, and was soon caught in the wonderment of discovery, and found myself walking down the hall until I heard Jero call, "Elaine, are you all right in there?"
I turned slowly, my reflection following the motion in a dozen pieces of glass, and called back something to affirm my well-being. But I wasn't ready to leave quite yet...
One mirror had a flaw that caught my attention. Too regular to be accidental, it was a smooth oval removed from the center. I peered at it, and my attention was caught by carvings on the wall. D.B.B was immediately visible in the empty space left by the missing piece, and I filed the initials away for later thought. But as I looked closer, I saw that the writing continued down below my line of vision. And the mirror, of course, was quite securely fastened to its place on the wall.
Damn. But perhaps not all was lost. I borrowed a scrap of paper from a puzzled Jero, and had him find me a piece of charcoal. He muttered over his singed fingers as he pulled a piece of charred wood from the hall torch, but I ignored his ramblings, too intent in my find.
Slipping the paper in the narrow space between wall and glass, I was grateful for my slight bone structure as I pushed it down over the words I could not see and ran the charcoal across it.
The rubbing revealed only three words: Blood, pool and dreams. Just enough to pique my curiosity.
Perhaps more light... with Jero watching me curiosly, I garnered the torch from the hall and broguht it back to aid my investigation. The dancing flames cast just enough light for me to place those three words in a bit more context.
Drops of Blood in these places. Pool of Dreams, Maze of Fears... This ritual will....
Enough to ponder for one evening.
Back in my room I quickly scribed the words onto clean paper, and burned the scraps from the rubbing. For some time I stared at the freshly copied phrase, mulling it about in my mind, and committing it to memory. I knew not what it meant, for none of these names were known to me, but with some subtle questioning, I should gain more insight. Once I felt I would forget none of it, that paper followed its predecessor into the crackling flames.