Elaine 19: "All the Empty Places"

        We walked in uncomfortable silence. I did not know how I could reassure Harlan that he had not lost my trust, even if his superiors had withdrawn theirs. The discussion of the previous night echoed in my thoughts, but I could not distrust him on the basis of maybes.
        Unfortunately, I also could not help him trust himself.

        Voices and the light sounds of music caught my attention as I returned to my rooms. I was about to pass by, the the edge of melancholy to the notes fit my mood so well I paused at the music gallery door to listen.
        Brianna leaned against the piano, talking animatedly with Justin, who sat at the keys, idly playing. He reached the end of the piece, and I turned to leave, when he called my name, startling Brianna and I both. "Elaine," he said without even turning my way. "Come join us."
        It seemed I was not, though Brianna did not seem entirely pleased at Justin's warm welcome to me. Or perhaps resigned was a better descriptor.
       Pleasantries were exchanged, and we delved into small talk unil Justin suddenly looked up. "Do you play?"
       I hesitated before replying. The harpischord was not very different from the piano before me, but I had not had the time nor the inclination to play since my father's death.
       I settled onto the bench, and verly slowly began to play. It was a few moments before I felt comfortable with the nuances of the instrument, but soon the sound smoothed, and by habit I found myself performing my father's favorite peace. And then Justin, listening intently, began to add a simple harmony.
        For a long time there was only the music. Brianna made her excuses and left, and Justin and I played on. I felt a bit more at peace when we concluded the duet, comforted by the memories the music evoked, and the reassuring presence of my erstwhile protector.
        "Joaquim is planning to lead a small expedition after Blaine," Justin mentioned as I continued to play on my own.
       "Indeed." growing more sure of my ability, I moved into a complicated piece. "There are times of recent when I think I may find it within myself to do something entirely stupid." The look of dismay on his face at the comment I found both endearing and amusing. "Do not worry. I don't intend to be stupid."
       That seemed to satisfy him, and I queried as to the rest of the intrepid crew making up the expeditionary force. "Well," he said, ticking the names off on his fingers, "There's me, Kant, Gillian and Harlan..."
        I missed the chord, and the piano responded with a decidely sour protest.
        "Harlan's coming and goings concern you?" He asked quietly.
        I recovered, and continued on with the piece. "They do, when he deigns to tell me about them."

        But Harlan did tell me, the next morning, and we parted in a slightly more jovial manner than we had the day before. But he was gone before I had chance to wish him goodbye and goodluck, as events in Amber deteriorated slightly. Family squabbles take on a destructive and deadly air here, and so Jero and I decided to return to Glorethien while things calmed down after Julian and Fiona's explosive feud.
       Unfortunately, Fiona's abrupt exit also meant that I could not replace my stolen Trumps, and with Gillian off on Joaquim's hunt for Blaine, I could not even garner sketches. Kier was able to spare me a trump of the Castle, so I was at least assured of a quick return to Amber.
       I continued my efforts in Glorethien, though I must admit that my heart is little in it anymore. I feel too much like I am playing out a story already written, like an actor in a grand and elaborate play. I had the harpishcord form the house moved into my study at the castle, and spent much of my evenings there, playing. Matthias, my intended, often stopped in, and stayed to listen. A perceptive man, he seemed quite aware that my focus was somewhat skewed, though he said nothing, and continued to appraise me of the matters of business he had overtaken for the Crown. He was also quite useful in my continuing efforts at bringing two traditional enemies to peace, and he questioned not once the circumstances that brought about my claiming of both thrones.
       The explanantion of my claim on the imperial throne of the Danjan being through my mother seemed to be accepted for the moment, though I think that is more out of relief at not having to contemplate the more complex truth of the matter. Indeed, I am sure they all suspect, and I am quite sure Matthias has worked out the details of the truth. But he says nothing, knowing as well as I the fragile balance we stand at. The more I see of him, the more secure I feel in knowing that he and his line will rule Glorethien well, should I decide to leave the destiny of this place to those who rightly deserve it.
       I am torn at the prospect of leaving a blood heir here. For one, I wish not to abandon my children as my mother abandoned me. Second, considering all that has happened, leaving a child in Hadow is tantamount to handing a knife to your most hated enemy, then turning your back upon him. Something else must be done.
       And then there is Jero. Shadow or not, he the one person closest to my heart. Were I to abandon Glorethien to her path, what of him? He has sworn to my side, yet he has also taken on the mantle of the House. It would be a harsh choice to place upon him, and truth be told, I did not wish to lose the constant companionship of my dearest friend.
        I pondered such as I gathered him for our return to Amber, and wound time to a virtual standstill. There was much yet to be done before I would feel comfortable taking my leave permanently, and I wished to have Jero's feelings on the matter, yet this was no time to discuss it.
       Perhaps there never will be.

        It was unusual enough to see Desire standing at my door, but it was her companion that soured the entire day for me.
       "Mirelle." What might have been a faint hope of reconciliation in her eyes died a cold death at the chill in my voice.
       The meeting was a study in artful disdain. Mirelle and Desire ascertained that my Pattern Imprint had been tampered with, likely the cause of my previous nagging urge to wander south. eventually, though, business was concluded, and Mirelle asked to speak to me in private.
       If I were to give my mother any good word, it would be that she is extremely talented at playing the martyred and tortured soul. "If you wish to exact some form of vengeance upon me," she said with great dignity and self-sacrifice, "now would be the best time to do so."
       I took in her martyred air, her log-suffering tone, and shook my head. "To be quite honest, I'd rather not waste the time. There are other targets more worthy of my retribution."
        She did not react, per say, but I could see that the words had been as a sharp slap. I turned away, a sickening feeling of smug satifaction warming me. "Now, if you will excuse me..."
        She swept from the room, everything about her proclaiming her pain, and I sighed. I did have an unfair advantage, for she means much less to me than I obviously mean to her, but I have little patience for such scenes as she had just enacted, especially from the woman who gave me birth.

        Fortunately, I found Rufus before she did.
        "Mirelle will be coming to find you soon," I said as soon as I walked in the door, and felt saddened to see his bright smile vanish so quickly. "I thought you should know, so you wouldn't be taken by surprise."
       "Thank you," he muttered darkly, though I knew his ire was not for me. Rufus was the kindest of souls, and did not deserve the injustice Mirelle had done him. I wished I could keep her from visiting more upon him, but I realized he may well welcome the opportunity to bring her to task for the danger in which she had placed his son. And as I watched his face, I thought perhpas he was the best to do so.
        "I'll let Raphael know I said as I turned to leave, but he caught my arm, and hugged me. I returned the gesture, for that one moment feeling content and secure in the knowledge that he also wished to call her to task for endangering me, too.

       I left Joaquim's room in a daze, his curt explanantion of events still echoing in my ears. "Griselda and Mica are dead. And Harlan has gone after Blaine..."

        The older woman, whose hair had likely once been as red as her son's, greeted me with warm, bright smile of welcome. "Rufus has told me of you, Elaine. And since you are Raphael's sister, that would make you my granddaughter by default..."

       I thought of my brother and his father, merrily getting drunk in town after their respective encounters with Mirelle, and was filled with despair. Griselda had been so much to them both...
       I went off in search of Gerard.
        I have had little contact with my quiet uncle to date, but I could see much of where Rufus had come by his silent and compassionate strength. I related to him their whereabouts, and their current state, though I did not mention the reason for it.
       He looked down at me for a long moment. "If you could have one of the sitting rooms prepared, with a quantity of black coffee..."
        The following few hours have little detail in my mind. I stayed with them for some time, but eventually I could not shake the feeling that I was intruding. Besides, there was much I felt needed to be done.
        An exhausted Justin was able to give me little more than Joaquim had, though he fleshed out the details of the incident. He felt that Joaquim had not told the whole story, but as to what that might be... I left him to his sleep, neither of us knowing what to say under the circumstances.
       I found myself in the music room, and at at the piano, staring at the silent keys for some time.
       It was agony to see my newfound 'family' torn apart so. Both Rufus and Griselda's immediate embrace of me into their close-knit clan had warmed me in ways I cannot describe. And now, not only did her loss ache my heart deeply, but seeing the deep pain it caused to Rufus and to my brother tore at me as well.
       And Harlan...
        The soft sounds of footsteps echoed just outside the door, and I struggled to maintain my composure as Jero entered, and sat beside me.
       "Though you have always hidden it, kept up the front of stoic silence in the face of grief," he began, "and never letting in those who loved you, we knew."
       I knew not how to respond and so said nothing
       He took my chin gently, and turned my head so he could see my face. "I have always looked upon you as the family both of us lost, as my sister in all ways. Know that you can count upon me for anything. I will go where you go." He pulled me into his arms, and I buried my face in his shoulder.
        He pulled away after a long while, and kissing my forehead, left. I stayed there for some time yet, quietly playing Pappa's favorite piece over and over. All I could see were all the empty places in my heart, once filled with the love and life of people who died in in Blaine and Emma's gods-cursed vendetta against my mother, and the pain caused to so many others.
        I let the final notes fade into the silent walls, and closed the cover over the keyboard.
       Rufus had been right. It was time that certain people were called to answer for their actions.

        I rapped on the door, and for the third time in 14 years, the second that day, I was face to face with my mother.
        She took in my countenance, and ushered me in without a word. "What do you know of the events that have passed this evening?" I asked she closed the door behind me.
       "I have been in my rooms all evening," she said as way of explaning she knew nothing of what had transpired.
        So I told her, from the details of the Emerald City in Shadow, to Joaquim and Justin's representation of the attack by Raj. "Harlan is gone," I said at last. "And I want to find him."
       We stood in silence for a long, long moment, each of us contemplating the consequences of the outcome of this meeting. It was the last thing I wished to do, but for Rapahel, and Rufus, and Harlan...
        "I need your help."

        Dawn found me already awake, both rested and restless. I wanted to be away on this venture, before someone anticipated my plans or just stumbled across them. Joaquim would no doubt disagree with my actions, if not my intentions. I was more than aware that I was placing my life in my mother's hands, not knowing where her true loyalties or designs lay.
       But guilt is a powerful weapon, especially in the hands of someone who has no qualms about using it.
       I knew Jero would be at my door momentarily, and there was one last detail I needed to complete.I pondered the text and the recipient of the note for only a moment.


I decided to be stupid...

Forgive me.


And please let Jero out of my closet, if you would...

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