Elaine 15: "Small Favors"

        The city below was much like the people who inhabited it: tall, graceful and pale. Smooth contours vaulted skyward, ending in elegant spires against a pale blue sky, that cast delicate fingers of shadow across the landscape.
        By coming into the shadow practically at the city gates, I hoped to avoid a scene such as what passed in Lira. I had no desire to see the spires and arched crumbled in a seige battle. I am tied by blood to this city, and perhaps I felt that I owed my true father this little bit of consideration, to make up for Mirelle's manipulations.
        That though, is a sentiment I will have to quickly excise, or I fear I shall spend the rest of my immortal existance making up for my mother's deficiencies.
        Fortunately, my intention seemed sound, for we entered the city with only small ripples of difficulty. The palace and the gates were soon held by blue and silver pennants, and as I stode up the steps of the dias in the Imperial throne room, intent on the black swathed portraits, the silence was almost palpable.
        It was erie, as I had seen this place only once before, and that in the mind's eye of a dying man. And as I reached for the mourning cloth covering the right-hand portrait, I was silently thanked poor Lytos for that bit of intelligence, for it made my actions that much more profound.
        The cloth came away with a soft whisper that echoed loudly in the deep silence, but was quickly overhwelmed by the startled and astounded cries of both the Danjan court, and then by my own troops as I turned back to face them and the startling similarity of my features and those of the woman in the portrait become that much more apparent.
        And so I laid my claim to the Imperial throne and began the task of keeping two kingdoms of bitter enemies from killing each other, or me.
        Three weeks passed in relative calm. I believe they were waiting for me to relax, but as I had not gotten quite that comfortable, I was not taken in immediately b the first assasination attempt, thoug I did not handle it with any extreme intelligence.
        Fortunately, neither Christoph or I were permanently harmed, and Joaquim said little to me upon his arrival beyond a well-intentioned, and well-deserved remark on learning from my mistakes. Harlan and Jero, on the other hand, I was less than pleased with, and I made that quite apparent with my lack of regard for either of them for several days. My anger at them had dissipated within hours, but Jero has long known the results of angering me, and Harlan may as well learn it now.
        To my surprise, Joaquim stayed for a day or so. He seems much changed of recent. Gone are his displays of brillant colors and foppish mannerisms. But the essential Joaquim, the sarcastic and sharp wit, and keen observations, have thankfully remained. While I don't exactly trust my enigmatic cousin, I do respect his abilities and biting honesty, garbed though it may be in courtly drollery. Respect him enough, in fact, that I requested his tutelage in an area of the sorcerous arts I find myself sorely, and perhaps dangerously lacking. Some might think that owing favor to one such as Joaquim foolish, but I have found that even owing favor can be as advantageous as being owed favor, with the right person.
        As things settled enough for me to pause Glorethien and return to Amber, I let Jero and Harlan off the hook, having punished them enough to make my point. And so I went back to my other life in Amber. A period of days passed, in which my status was settled by Kier when he confered upon me the title of Royal Duchess. No more has been said regarding my precarious position in the line for the throne, for which I am grateful. The fewer who realize it, the better for me.
        I was enjoying the quiet week when Christoph requested a favor. I agreed, as much out of curiosity as that fact that I indeed did owe him. It seemed harmless enough; trump him every two hours to make sure he had not fallen to harm in his shadow travels.