Elaine 28: "Roads Not Taken"

        And then, with great relief and sorrow, we had won. But the costs...
       Upon stopping Lanfear's agent in the past, Eve, Justin and Rufus continued back and managed to halt Corwin's attempts to create his own Pattern. But Eve was forced to incarnate as the Unicorn to convince him, and discovered that it was a one-way change. Justin and Rufus returned alone, and the eight of us who had stepped outside the Arc of Time soon discovered that their alteration of the time line had wiped Eve and any thing connected with her from existence. We were all that remembered Eve, or Brianna.
       And Harlan...
        I explained Harlan's disappearance to Joaquim and Random before I left Amber to continue my aborted search. For just over a month, Jero (who had threatened to tie himself to my horse if I didn't allow him along willingly) and I searched through shadow. I knew deep down Harlan was already lost, but the time and distance from Amber allowed me to grieve and let go as I needed. And so Jero and I eventually returned to Amber, just the two of us, as it had begun, what seemed so long ago. I was deeply saddened, but finally at peace with Harlan's death.
        Then, days after our return, I realized I was pregnant.

       Kier and Desire's wedding was somewhat bittersweet for many of us, I think (though it did give me the pleasure of sending Velvet into a tizzy at having to refit my gown to accommodate my expanding form). It was a stark reminder of our losses.

        It had been difficult, emotionally, in the beginning; The thought of raising a child at that stage in my life was not something I had ever deeply considered. And faced with that reality, so soon after losing Harlan, caused me some quandry over staying in Amber to raise my child or removing myself to Shadow. But with my abandonment of Glorethien, Amber had become my home and the thought of leaving its future entirely in the hands of certain of my cousins convinced me to stay and make a place for myself.
        But for the duration of my pregnancy I kept mostly to my own little circle. I came to an understanding with my mother shortly before she left, causing Jero to comment that my condition must have mellowed me. But we continued correspondence by letter, a medium, I think, that gave us the distance we needed to feel comfortable enough in continuing our relationship.
        Jero, of course, was ever at my side, when not being led a merry chase by Celia. He seemed finally content with our place here, though I believe the prospect of having someone new (and ostensibly less argumentative, at least for the first year or so) to watch over had much to do with his contentment. Raphael, too, was always near, though he and I both watched in despair as Rufus drifted ever farther away. My brother was distraught by his father's sudden change, never having known about Eve and what had passed between her and Rufus during the last few months, once the time line had been altered. We saw him little after he left Amber, and my brother was never quite the same for the apparent loss of his father.
        The most eventful occurence during this time was when Blaine appeared at my door near the end of my seventh month. I admit I was rather surprised to see him, but invited him in for tea, which I believe unsettled him as much as his sudden arrival unsettled me. His visits continued at random intervals, and though I was never sure why he continued to be a presence in my life, it became an odd yet comfortable ritual for us.
        And then Andrys Harlan Madaari Barimen was born (with Gillian's sorcerous assistance, making the ordeal much easier for me than him, I presume). I found motherhood far more appealing than I had thought I would, and Andrys immediately became the light of my life. He grew into the image of his father, but without all the dark aspects that had held Harlan back. Besides showing an early propensity for shape-shifting (which drove many of us to complete distraction), he also exhibited his Harlan's mental abilities, though Joaquim and I were able to contain them enough for the three of us to muddle through his training. Joaquim and I continued our restrained fellowship, neither of us fully trusting the other, yet not distrusting, either. But I knew as long as he did not feel either me or my son a threat to Amber, I could count on his assistance with Andrys' education.
       My son was never short of attention and supervision. Jero played the doting uncle to the hilt, and was never far from Andrys' side during his early childhood. And Justin, who had, to my surprise, stayed in Amber, doted on him as well.
        Justin and I eventually came to an understanding, with (only sometimes) subtle encouragement from Merlin, with whom we both became quite close. In the beginning I humored Merlin's matchmaking attempts out of sympathy - it seemed the only thing that lightened his otherwise dark moods. He had become a dear friend, and I hated to see him so unhappy. Eve's displacement, for lack of a better word, had affected him quite deeply, for reasons I was never able to ascertain. And he let on one evening as he and I talked of lost love, that he had some feelings for Desire, though with her marriage, he appeared to have come to terms with it. Better for him, I thought, knowing enough of Desire and her secrets as I did.
        And Justin. Our 'understanding' was not easy. It took years, soul-searching and compromise (something neither of us were particularly adept at). But he loved Andrys, and me, and in the end that was what mattered. Our relationship always had sharp edges, but our personalities would allow no less. Nor, I think, would it have been as much fun, otherwise.

       In the years that followed, I occupied myself with raising my son, and creating a place for us at Court. With Jero's never-failing assistance I expanded my network of eyes and ears in the castle and city, and continued by studies with Gillian. I kept my influences subtle, and watched more than acted. My son grew into a happier version of his father, self-confident and genial, and was ever my pride and joy. And Justin and I managed quite happily not to kill each other.

        I found myself quite content with life. But there were times, when I went through my Trump deck and accidentally brushed across the faint warmth of his trump amongst the chill of the others, that I felt Harlan's loss as sharply and deeply as I did all those years ago, and pangs of regret for the roads not taken.