"We carry in our hearts the true country, and that cannot be stolen.
We follow in the steps of our ancestry, and that cannot be broken."
They were all gathered in the infirmary when Gerard finally lost patience. "I believe the Queen wishes to see you," he commented pointedly to the group at large.
Quinn watched her cousins file out, slipping over next to Merlin, who also made no motions of leaving. She saw Darien duck out the door, then slip back in after Gerard turned his back.
"So, what happened there, anyway?" Merlin whispered.
Quinn gave him the summary version of the incident - finding Martin's body, Brandon's trap, finding Brand, the SerpentT "I'd have been happier if the other two hadn't fallen into the trap with me. As it is, I don't think Jessica's ever gonna forgive Luke..."
"Oops," Merlin chortled, earning a dark look from Gerard. "If you do not have anything better to do," he looked at Darien, Merlin and Quinn in turn, "I suggest you find something better to do."
Merlin turned for the door but Quinn slipped past Gerard and sat at the edge of Corwin's bed. He looked like hell, but he was alive, and safe. "How are you?"
"I've been better." His voice was weak, but there was an edge of dry amusement to his tone. "How about you?"
A bright smile lit her face, and on impulse she hugged him hard. "Better than I've been in a long time, actually." He returned the embrace, though awkwardly, and she couldn't help but wonder what he was thinking right then.
Something about the moment made her suddenly uncomfortable, and she stood quickly. "Now, you listen to Uncle Gerard..."
A tired chuckle echoed. "I've fought with Gerard before. I think I'll behave." There was so much more she wanted to say, but Gerard's stern gaze chased her from the room with a last promise that she'd check on Corwin later.
Darien was nowhere in sight, but Merlin was loitering outside the door, waiting for her. She started down the hall and he fell into step beside her. He still seemed somewhat quiet and reserved around her, and she studied him surrpetitiously as they walked along, wondering what he thought of this entire affair. "By the way, thanks for waiting around."
Her brother harrumped and gave her an odd look, as if she would have expected him to do anything else. "At least you got back. After the first week, we were starting to wonder if we'd have to wait for months or years..."
She left the audience with Vialle as soon as they all were dismissed, and headed straight back to her room.
She had shucked her mail and was waiting for a page to bring up a bath when she noticed the gift. There, on her bed, was a well-dried out rose. With a soft smile, she carefully placed it on her desk, out of harm's way.
She spent the better part of an hour soaking in a tub of hot water before she felt ready to face the world again, and feeling considerably more social, she stopped to visit her favorite neighbor. The door was open and she could see a pile of belongings on Corwin's bed, including an easel and a can of tennis balls, one conspicuously missing.
Subduing an urge to swipe the other two, she knocked.
"Come in," called a muffled voice from the closet.
"Moving?" She stepped inside and leaned against the wall, just watching him.
"Hey!" Luke turned, his arms filled with clothes which he tossed onto the pile on the bed. "Well, former occupant of the place returning and all..."
"Yeah, well." She gave him a small, guilty smile. "Do you know where they're relocating you?"
"Nah. I'll probably just get a place in town." Tossing a last armful of clothes on the bed, he started haphazardly cramming his belongings into a satchel.
"Oh." Quinn tried to keep athe sudden disappointment from her voice. "Well, don't be a stranger."
"I don't plan to," Luke replied with a sly smile. "You'll know me from having previously seen me."
She rolled her eyes. "I guess I should leave you to your packing, then."
"Oh, please do." His face scrunched in distaste. "Like I want to finish this anytime soon."
Chuckling, she started out the door.
When she turned back, Luke was leaning casually against the closet. "Maybe, sometime, when we're both up here at the castle, maybe we could grab something to eat?" His bright green eyes held her there for a moment, and she knew she could no longer deny that he had some feelings for her, especially after all that had just happened. She just wished she knew what to do about it.
"Sure," she said, and was rewarded with a brilliant smile. "You know where to find me. I'm planning to keep my gallivanting across universes to a minimum for the next couple of weeks."
"Sounds like a plan."
She sorted through her Trump deck to make sure it was intact, then pulled out the sketch of Darien Connie had made for her. The contact came after a moment, and she saw Darien sitting in a dimly lit room. "Hi!" He sounded pleased to see it was her.
He shrugged. "Oh, just checking up on things at home."
"Well, I called to thank you."
Darien looked genuinely puzzled. "For what?"
Quinn chuckled. "For watching Merlin's back and waiting around to haul our behinds out of there," she pointed out what she thought was obvious.
"It was nothing needing thanks," Darien gestured as if to wave away her words. "Merlin and I had many interesting conversations."
"Well, I'm thanking you anyway."
"I won't turn it down, then." He looked down for a moment. "I'm with Corwin right now, by the way."
"How is he? I thought I'd wait at least an hour before showing up again, so as not to completely annoy Uncle Gerard." But she held her hand out to Darien, and with a knowing and understanding smile, he pulled her through.
She found herself next to Corwin's bed in the infirmary, and she took a seat opposite Darien. Almost immediately, Corwin reached out and grabbed her hand. "Quinn?"
"Right here, Dad." She grasped his hand tightly in both of hers.
He sighed contentedly. "Just making sure." And then Corwin took Darien's hand. "I'm glad all of my children have finally come together."
It took a moment for the significance of Corwin's words to sink in, but one look at Darien's expression confirmed it. She had another sibling.
Darien looked so pained that Quinn swallowed her delighted laugh and reached over to pat his shoulder. "I had my suspicions."
It didn't help.
Corwin fell off to sleep a moments later, and Quinn motioned to Darien that they should leave. She pulled the door shut quietly and then turned to her brother. "Why didn't you tell me?"
He shrugged, looking a bit sheepish. "Well, when you first came to Amber, I had no reason to believe your story that you were Corwin's daughter." He started down the hall, heading back upstairs.
"Seems to be a trend," Quinn sighed in mild exasperation. "Merlin didn't believe me either."
Darien laughed at her miffed expression. "I just decided to let things run their course..."
"And do I pass muster to be your sister?"
"I don't know yet." The sly grin faded abruptly when she elbowed him in the side.
Quinn smiled her own sly smile as he rubbed his bruised ribs. Though there was one thing she was still curious about... "Does Merlin know?"
Darien shook his head. "No. He's not quite so,"and he grinned wryly, "perceptive as you. And he didn't have Corwin just blurt it out."
"Do you want to continue to keep it secret?" She inquired.
There was a long pause before he answered, and with none of his normal sly taunting, he said, "I'll leave it to your judgement." Then the teasing tone returned as quickly as it had vanished. "So, what do you want to know? My dark secrets, my alternate identities?"
Quinn snorted. "I think I'll stick with Darien of Rebma, for the moment."
So, as they walked through the halls of the castle, and up the main staircase to the family quarters, Darien talked quietly about himself and why he kept up the flamboyant facade that annoyed so many. For her part, she just listened intently, letting him say as much as he wished. He had been quiet for a moment or two when she finally tossed in an observation. "You don't trust people easily, do you?"
Darien looked over at her, meeting her eyes. "To be honest, no."
They reached his door before she could press him further on that. He watched her face for a moment. "Now that all is said," and he smiled warmly, "if you ever need anything, feel free to come to me." And much to her surprise, he pulled her into a rough embrace. He pulled back, and kissed her lightly on both cheeks before vanishing though his door.
That's when she turned and saw a stunned Luke watching from down the hall.
Looking resigned and forlorn, he plodded along. "Look, I can see when I've lost. I won't bother you anymore." They'd been arguing this same line since they'd left the castle, and she was starting to remember why she'd so studiously avoided romantic entanglements for the last few years.
"What the hell do I have to say to convince you that there is nothing going on between Darien and I?" she pleaded with an edge of desperation. They'd had so little time that she wasn't quite sure where her feelings for Luke went, but she sure as hell would like a chance to find out.
"Really, I can take the hint..." Luke scuffed along the road.
He wasn't listening to a word she said, and she just barely refrained from bashing him over the head in frustration. "Look, is that offer of dinner still open?"
He stopped a few feet ahead of her. "Sure..."
At least he was listening now. "Good."
He turned, finally looking at her. "But what about..." he gestured back toward the castle.
"What about who?" Her eyes narrowed at him in warning against starting that line of discussion again.
"What about... where to eat?"
Quinn sighed. "You pick. You know Amber better than I."
"Well, okay!" The morose look faded from Luke's eyes and he flashed her a bright smile.
The confessional was cool and dark. "I haven't been to confession in some time, Father," she commented wryly.
"Oh, really?" The sudden interest in the answering voice threw her for a moment, but it definitely wasn't Elistan. "What do you have to confess?"
"What are you doing?" She hissed. "And where's Elistan?"
The small grate between the booths slid open to reveal an impish smile on her great-grandfather's face. "He's fine and someplace he'll enjoy himself."
"What do you want, Grandfather?" She sighed, with a bit more annoyance than she had intended. "And if you ask me anything about destroying Patterns, forget it!"
"That." And his smile faded somewhat. "I'm sorry I had to put you through that, but it was necessary." He looked down, and his face brightened again. "But I have a gift for you, to make up for it." He thrust something through the aperature.
She took the glass globe from his hands and peered at it. It was hard to make out in the dim light, but an image that looked awfully like the spires of the Cathedral at Jagonnath sparkled there...
"I rescued it before the shadow was destroyed," he said, confirming her suspicion. "Plant it somewhere," he told her. "It may grow in strange climes."
She looked up at the old man. "I... thank you."
"Bah," he waved away her words. "Oh, and your great-grandmother says hello." And the old man vanished.
"Who against hope believed in hope."
Romans iv. 18. Old Testament