Elaine 7: "Kings and Vagabonds"

I was weary in more than body by the time I had gathered Harlan, Jero and Christoph for our return to Amber, but breakfast helped wake me up somewhat, and when Harlan made as many excuses as possible to avoid me afterwards, I let the matter drop and went to discuss things with Keir.

Keir gestured me to sit, and I asked after the King. "He hasn't gotten any worse, but he hasn't gotten better, either." Keir looked faintly haggard, and I felt a sympathetic connection with him. I had been through this, and I know just how hard it was.

"Actually," he said as he unrolled a scroll. "There is something I need to discuss with you."

I leaned forward, and was greeted by the sight of a geaneological chart. Keir tapped it, following a few lines with the tip of his finger. "You, right now, are third in line for the throne, after Joaquim."

I sighed to myself. As if the difficulty of creating an empire in shadow weren't enough...

"Be warned," Keir continued, " that as soon as people figure this out, you will likely be approached. And those who would will see you as no more than a puppet to be used to their advantage. If you wish to try for the throne, I wish you luck."

"I am not unaware of that fact, cousin," I replied. "Glorethien may be only shadow, but politics are the same everywhere. And I have no desire for the throne here. I'm going to budy enough with Glorethien." Perhaps more deadly in Amber, but considering the last three attempts on my life in my shadow, I wasn't so sure.

Keir gave me a long look, and nodded. "Then be careful, Elaine. Watch your back. For there are some that may now look upon you as a threat."

I took my leave of him, after offering my assistance and having been granted the task of working with Harlan to find Mica. As I searched out Desire (who was also intent on finding our missing cousin), I muddled this most recent revelation about in my head. It was something I must consider most seriously in regards to how I went about making my place here in Amber. I had no doubts that if Random did not survive, things here would become less than hospitable to any who might be perceived as a threat to those who might want to take advantage of the transition.

The others already seemed to assume that much of my attention was caught up in my shadow home, so perhaps it would be best to encourage that assumption. I would appear less of an open threat to anyone, allowing me to keep a quiet eye on events here without the hassle of being played as a pawn...

Our search for Mica was vaguely successful, in that we discovered how Mica had eluded our grasp. Harlan continued to avoid the subject of us or anything related to it. It wasn't until later that afternoon, after the ruckus with the Pattern and the swords that I managed to corner him and drag out of him his discomfort with my upcoming marraige in Shadow and what that may mean to our fledgling romance.

I remember the pained look on his face, at the Council meeting last eve, when he suggested I marry as soon as possible. I tried to gently remind him that my marraige to *** was no more than a politically convenient match, and I had known from an early age that was most likely how I would be married, and had no useless moral qualms about a relationship outside of such a marraige. But given his recent experience with Belia, I'm not sure how well that went over, and so I thought perhaps I would let it set a while longer before broaching the subject again, or let him bring it up on his own.

Home again, I threw myself into the business of settling my kingdom. A three day mourning period, followed by Uncle Alberdan's funeral, then the coronation, and within the week, the wedding.

My choice of husband was quite agreeable about the entire affair. I could see he quite understood exactly the marraige no more than a political match. His skills in the areas of finance would prove more than useful in my upcoming plans for Glorethien and Danjani, and his quick tinking mind could be easily trained in any other areas I could need his assistance.

Not too long after Jero found me, looking somewhat unsettled. "Elaine, I think you should come to the House. The workers found something...."

Something indeed. With Harlan looking intently over my shoulder, I unwrapped the bundle to reveal the hilt of a blade. My father's sword, the assumed, but I honestly did not remember if it might be true. The sword was elegant in make. with a delicate filigree down the length of the blade.

Harlan breathed in deeply, and I heard the slight hiss as he drew his sword and compared it to mine. Not identical, but the filigree on the blade was tell-tale enough to identify it. It seems we had discovered yet another Pattern sword.

A folded piece of paper was placed into my hand by Jero. "This was wrapped about the blade..." It was dated a few years back, and I immediately recognized my mother's elegant and delicate script.

I was somewhat surprised at Keir's request that I accompany him and Desire to Rebma for the funeral of Queen Moire, but not in the least displeased. Given my 'status', I had decided that while it would be prudent that others think my attentions elsewhere, I needed to become as covertly involved in Amber's political affairs as I could. Should things come to pass that the succession made it as far as me, I wanted to make quite sure that anyone who tried would find me a less than cooperative and pliable puppet.

But any thoughts I may have had about not getting involved in Amber's current situation were washed away by the waters of the Pool.

Asleep, yet awake. My closed eyes saw every detail of the darkened room, as if I were dreaming reality. The curtains fluttered in the late summer breeze, pale patches of moonlight dancing upon the floor. The candle at my side flickered out, smoke rising in lazy spirals from the dying glow of the wick. The book, title lettered in gold, that I had read in those long nights after my father's death, when sleep would not come.

And in the waking dream, I saw her slip in the door, wrapped in the anonymity of night. But somehow, even though the dark obscured her like a shroud, I knew. As she stood over my still form, watching for a small eternity, I saw it in her eyes. I felt her lips upon my brow, as she had done every night until she had died

And as she stepped away I saw the blade in her hand, the filigree glimmering in the snatches of moonlight...

I bit my lip to hold back the tears that threatened as the vision faded, and took the proffered cup again.

She sat at a wooden table, blonde head bowed as she gazed with deep intent upon her work, a large design etched into the wood. It was perhaps a compass, perhaps a flower, with nine points radiating from its center. Her focus was on one, at which she etched in her elegant hand a name...


But it was the last glimpse of truth and dream offered that made my decision. I memorized every detail of the dark-haired woman's face, she who stood with gleeful scorn in the midst of the blood of my people. For perhaps they were only shadows, but they were those who had called me friend, and family.

Someone was going to pay.

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