Categories > Movies > Labyrinth > Labyrinth of Chaos

The Outrageous Bastards Club

by shadowlurker13 0 reviews

in which we explain what the heck has been going on

Category: Labyrinth - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Crossover,Fantasy - Published: 2017-06-06 - 19844 words - Complete

Chapter 16 – The Outrageous Bastards Club


Sarah only became aware of her surroundings very slowly, partly because she wasn’t really ready to wake up yet. She felt as if she were getting over a long illness, as if the fever had broken today. Maybe she could stay home from school, she thought sleepily, and almost rolled over-

When she finally noticed the feeling of something uncomfortable stuck in her left arm, on the inside of the elbow, in her vein…

Sarah pried her eyes open. The view of buttressed greystone ceiling jolted her the rest of the way awake. Looking down, she saw that she was in a small bed covered in white sheets and blankets. Her left arm was hooked up to a clear IV drip, although instead of there being a plastic bag of liquid at the top, there was a clear glass bottle. Wooden cabinets with glass doors, filled with thick compendiums and medical equipment, lined the far wall, and to her right she saw four more pristine white cots, unoccupied. There were no windows, just oil lamps after a fashion, along the walls and hung from the rafters. A curtain farther along mostly hid a chemist’s laboratory. The room was considerably large. Where the heck was she?!

Sarilda! She suddenly remembered – remembered what had happened to them…most of it anyway (the end was kind of a blur), and she shivered at the memory. In spite of everything she had been through recently, she had to uneasily admit that she was personally feeling much better than she had in ages, less anxious, more centered. More…alive.

And that’s when it finally dawned on her precisely what was different, or, more specifically, what was missing: the Logrus! She couldn’t feel Her anymore! The power was gone! Her power… Sarah reeled at the thought! If that…then-

“Take it easy,” she heard a familiar baritone male voice address her. “As far as I can tell, you’re not in any danger for the moment.”

The figure had been shrouded in a thrown shadow, sitting back in a simple wooden chair to the left, not far from her cot. He leaned into the light so she could see him, and when she did Sarah’s eyes lit up in surprised delight.

“Carl! We did it!” she happily exclaimed, sitting up, motioning him over. “Boy, am I ever glad to see you!” she laughed in relief. “How in the worlds did you ever find me? Speaking of which, where are we?” she asked a little self-consciously – and suddenly stopped smiling. “You didn’t see my original in here, did you? Was she here, too? Or…did she…”

‘Carl’ slowly stood up and paced over to her bedside, but he wasn’t really smiling. In fact, he seemed to be studying her a little bemusedly. Sarah noted that he had five o’ clock shadow, that his hair was a bit messier, his clothes a bit dirty. He carried a slight smell of horse, as if he had been riding recently…and in a flash she put two-and-two together and gasped, covering her mouth with her hands, as he stood there towering over her. Slight amusement had come into those impossibly green eyes.

“Ohmygosh, Prince Corwin! I-I mean, your Highness!” Sarah stammered. “Forgive me, I had no idea, I thought-”

But he put up a hand to stop her scared rambling. And quirked a smile for real.

“You just thought I was some ghost-man that you knew?”

She nodded, speechless. He went back and dragged over the chair, sitting down beside her. He reached toward her and gently pulled her hands away from her face – his hands were still gloved in his signature silver leather; he searched her features, her eyes a moment longer, as if committing them to memory.

“So you’re the kid who sprang my double from that dungeon cell back in Chaos,” he let go of her, lightly frowning through his smile as he casually sat back into the chair.

“I had help,” she offered quietly. “You’re not… angry with me, are you?” It had just occurred to her that she could be in awfully big trouble if he was!

Corwin just sort of shrugged. “Not at the moment, anyway,” he folded his hands in his lap, “although you have unintentionally caused me some amount of trouble already. There’s something about finding Chaos-bred assassins breathing down my neck one morning over coffee that I have to dispatch publicly before breakfasting in another shadow that tends to leave me with the impression that it is suddenly common-knowledge in certain circles that I’m on the loose again. Especially when the one of them I left alive long enough to question confirmed my suspicions.” He shook his head, looking away. “I suppose realistically it was bound to happen sooner or later, even if it was just hearsay through the old spy networks.” He looked back to her. “And my ghost probably pleaded his case well; he can be a charming old devil when he wants to,” he gave a teasing lip-smile.

Sarah wasn’t totally sure of just what to say! The truth still seemed her best bet, though. “Actually, he tried to brush me off twice before I pestered him enough that he was willing to listen to me,” she awkwardly admitted. “Guess I didn’t look like much, power-wise. It’s sort of a long story.”

“And one which I’m sure will be worth hearing in its entirety once you’ve had the chance to settle your thoughts and memories and compose it,” he graciously answered her without even a hint of sarcasm, “but I’m afraid I haven’t even the time for the rough version. In fact, it seems I only discovered you here by chance. Whenever there are conspiracies afoot that involve us, the first place to look for fresh evidence, perpetrators, and information is always right at home,” he gave a small, bitter smile. “We’re just like that. Always have been. Sometimes it pays to check out the dispensary, along with a number of other places that can be spied on from within the Castle… but you don’t need to know more than that,” he ended carefully, somehow managing to make it sound diplomatic. “As for your…friend… I am not perfectly certain of where she is at present, but when I arrived in a hidden section of the barracks downstairs, a young lady who looks rather like you was being marched down to the dungeon under heavy guard – that was some time ago, at least a couple of hours hence, maybe longer. It’s a small wonder that the noise from the phalanx did not wake you if she had been taken from in here, although perhaps not; you look like you’ve been through hell,” he poured her a glass of water from a pitcher on the stand by her cot and handed it to her; she nodded thanks.

“Does fresh out of the Logrus and the Pattern one right after the other count?” she acidly joked, taking a careful sip and then another; it almost hurt to swallow just yet, her throat was still a little raw.

Those emerald eyes flashed momentarily. “Now I do wish I had time to hear your tale!”

There was the unmistakable tramp of a pair of thickly-heeled boots echoing from way down the outside hallway, growing closer by the sound. Corwin was instantly on his feet.

“I must go before the others discover my presence,” he rapidly whispered, taking a trump deck out of his side pants pocket, fanning the Unicorn-backed cards, choosing one. “You can do me reparatory service by telling no one you saw me. Did my ghost happen to mention where he planned on going next?”

“Back to your Pattern, but I don’t know what’s happened,” Sarah whispered back. “I left him talking to King Merlin.”

“King… so they nabbed him after all,” he smirked, nodding. He almost looked proud in spite of it. “Well, thanks for the confidence. Good luck with your own adventure, wherever that leads from here. Don’t be afraid to kiss Random’s ass to get out of trouble; it works – I know.”

He was already going chromatically holographic, fazing out. Trumping away. Sarah smiled.

“Safe journey, your Highness,” she bowed where she sat.

“And you,” he raised his free hand; he was only a shimmering outline. “Goodbye… and hello.”

He was gone.

Two seconds later, King Random himself entered the room – via the door.

“So, you’ve finally deigned to join us!” he greeted her sarcastically in English, walking over. “I seem to recall warning you about darkening my doorstep for a second time… although, I suppose doing it to return stolen property of the Crown and saving the worlds might be reasonable instance for one-time clemency,” his tone turned slightly teasing as he seated himself. And suddenly noticed that the chair had already been pulled close. “Who was here before me? You weren’t supposed to be receiving visitors; I stationed a guard just outside the door.”

“I…” she painfully hesitated. Would Corwin find out somehow? Would he come to harm?

“Sarah,” Random tersely exhaled, crossing his arms, “I’m not a patient man, and you literally owe me your life just now – you appeared out of thin air unconscious and dangerously dehydrated at my feet in my private chambers. I was under no obligation to tend to you. And we both know you’re a lousy spy. So spill your guts already.”

Sarah closed her eyes. This was simply too embarrassing a second time around. “No harm will befall him?”

“Can’t and won’t promise that. The name!”

Sarah opened her eyes again, regarding him uneasily. Sorry… “Prince Corwin,” she whispered.

Random’s bright blue eyes widened in disbelief. “Who did you say?”

“I said Prince Corwin,” Sarah irritatedly retorted, crossing her own arms, “although I guess I can’t prove it; you don’t seem to have any security cameras in here.”

“Don’t get sassy with me,” he scolded, “and it is a security issue. You’re positive it was Corwin? You’re that familiar with what he looks like?”

“Well, yeah, I should be – I mean, I was running around with his Pa-” Sarah abruptly stopped, realizing that he had successfully goaded her into heedlessly rambling.

Random seemed obnoxiously amused by the outcome, however. “Go on, finish that thought,” he freely taunted her.

Sarah wouldn’t even look at him. “His Pattern-ghost… before King Merlin was able to reach me, to warn me of the impending catastrophe.”

Random wasn’t smiling anymore; when Sarah glanced back at him again, he was studying the ceiling.

“Then it was him – that sounds about right. Damn! I know he’s gotten very cagey with the others – perhaps justly so, with the issue of his new Pattern as an active point of contention – but I wish he’d at least let me know when he’s going to be here! I’d actually like to help him if I could!” He looked back at Sarah. “He told you not to tell anyone.”

“Yeah,” she sighed.

Random smirked. “Well, I may be his youngest brother, but I still outrank him – you’re safe on that count. If he ever appears to you again out-of-the-blue, tell him from me that I said hi and I need to talk to him soon; we might be able to settle this problem just between the two of us. At least I’d like to take a crack at it before someone else takes it into their head to try and mar the blasted thing – we don’t need to be going through that again.”

“No kidding,” Sarah murmured, looking at the blankets.

Random’s demeanor softened just a hair. “How are you feeling?”

“Probably better than I should,” Sarah laughed a little uneasily. “I’m alive!” She stopped and really considered it, though. “Maybe a little sore and weak still. How long was I out for?” she suddenly thought to ask.

“About six-and-a-half hours from when you arrived if you only woke up recently. I ought to charge you for the night, but I know you have no way of paying me,” he dryly quipped as he carefully removed her IV, wrapping her arm with medical gauze to keep it from bleeding. “Oh well. We’ll get some nourishment into you anyway; your presence is required at your original’s trial – you’re our key witness. The whole proceeding has been on hold, waiting for you to come around.”

The reality, the implications, smacked Sarah upside the head. Of course…

“…what’s happened to Sarilda?” she asked tentatively.

Random stood up. “She’s in the dungeon at present; under the late king Oberon that’s where she’d stay, but I’ve been trying to update our legal process somewhat for certain cases. I’ll order some simple food to be brought up for you, and a serving woman to help you with whatever else you might need to get ready,” he walked back toward the door.

“What… could happen to her?”

He stopped. “I can’t rightly answer that question. There are no special provisions on our law books for minors as there are on your home shadow, if that’s what you’re asking. The charges are serious. Your testimony for or against her will have considerable influence on the outcome, however. Can I count on you not to keep me waiting any longer than absolutely necessary before we commence?”

“Of course, your Majesty.”

“Good,” he glanced over his shoulder with a dangerous little smile. “Then I’ll be seeing you again shortly.”

The thick, polished wooden door opened and closed.

Sarah deflated the moment he was gone. She had definitely not signed up for this! And the gravity that her role in the mess had taken on was just too much. It wasn’t long before there was a knock on the door.

Good gravy, who is it now?! She thought in an odd, overworked state of mind; she wouldn’t have been surprised at all if Sir Lancelot of Camelot had strode on through the door in full armor, wanting to talk complicated politics with her!

But it was just the aforementioned serving woman, bearing a tray with a bowl of bone broth and a small, round loaf of freshly baked wholegrain bread with nuts in it, still warm from the oven and meant to be dunked. Sarah just kind of picked at it at first, but soon the needs of her body overrode her mood and her nerves and she ravenously wolfed most of it down, only leaving a bit of the crust at the end. Once she was quite finished, the woman brought over a low, flat washbasin and a pitcher and proceeded to help her with a fast sponge bath; the experience was a bit embarrassing for Sarah, but the servant obviously thought nothing of it. After fixing Sarah’s hair as best she could – simply but nicely braiding it back – she roughly rinsed the girl’s clothing out on the spot in the same soapy water, then excused herself to dry them on the manual rolling-ringer machine downstairs, leaving Sarah in a thick white robe procured from one of the cabinets, pointing out the ‘facilities’ underneath the foot of the cot; Sarah balked at first, but at length decided it was the servant’s problem, not hers – this was a medieval castle, after all…

She was practically on pins and needles, tentatively pacing, hanging onto the walls and furniture for support, by the time the woman returned with her freshly-pressed Chaos-garments. The pants were obviously not meant to be handled this way – one leg looked far longer than the other – but they strangely evened back out as Sarah put them on, thanking the woman but insisting that she was perfectly capable of dressing herself. The lady left in a slight huff at being shoved off like that, but made no remark, taking the used food tray and dishes with her. Sarah found her carry-all bag in a drawer on the table beside her cot; the overnight clutch was a strangely warped – a ruined relic now – but her journal from Amber actually looked like it had survived that utterly crazy trip in one piece! She donned her trump hollister out of habit; it was pointless now, but she had grown accustomed to the feel of the thing, it was oddly comforting. Not five minutes later, another knock at the door announced another stranger: an armed guard. Sarah fought down a reactionary wave of apprehension – his stance, his actions were far too familiar for comfort – but, to her small relief, she did not recognize him, and he only offered his arm for her to lean on for support as they exited the room together, slowly walking down the hallway to the left. Once at the end of it, they turned left again, following a slightly smaller passage until they came to a very short flight of stairs to the right with two more armed guards standing at the top in front of a closed, ornately-carved polished door that depicted the Unicorn, kneeling, with the Jewel of Judgment hanging from Her Horn. Sarah could only guess at where they were, but she felt she had a pretty good hunch as the guard with her helped her up the stairs (she was physically more spent – and sore – than she had realized) and one of the two at the top opened the door for them, stepping aside to let them pass…

Sarah was surprised; this was no courtroom or even a formal throne room. In fact, if she dared think it, the place almost looked like it could be-

Her train of thought derailed; Sarilda was already there, seated in the middle of a long wooden bench against the far-left wall, her wrists and ankles manacled in a thick, black metal that Sarah had only seen samples of in Mandor’s exotic collection of armor and weapons. Chaos-forged restraints here? Sarah was led over to the bench also, but was allowed to sit wherever she pleased on it, and she took the right end near the corner of the room; her counterpart was very obviously in a foul mood – the girl wouldn’t even look at her as she sat down.

The room was nicely spaced, but not all that big – the ceiling couldn’t have been more than ten feet high – and while the bits of bedroom furniture she had glimpsed through an open doorway as she had come in looked almost modern, the front sitting room definitely had a very medieval vibe to it, with its neutral, warm wool carpeting for insulation and scant hand-carved wooden furniture. A round and a rectangular table were stationed at the inner side of the room with benches, as well as what could’ve passed for an ancient coffee table in front of them, along with two high-backed wooden chairs with arms – one positioned against the near wall, one in the middle of the room, angled to face the others - completing the ensemble. The chair in the center was more ornate, however, featuring a carved representation of what had to be… the Crown of Amber?! These were the King’s apartments! A marble bust of the late Oberon Barimen gazed imperiously from the top of the wooden bookcase on the near wall to Sarah’s right, filling a little of the empty space between them and that chair. And Random paced out of the inner rooms to join them; both Sarah and Sarilda rose in deference, albeit Sarilda had to be forcibly hauled to her feet by the guard stationed at her side. Random seemed to cheerily ignore her petty insubordination.

“You’re looking a bit better, Sarah,” he complimented her shadow – in Thari.

“Thank you, your Majesty,” she managed to reply (it still felt weird curtsying without a skirt). Linguistically switching back-and-forth like this was something that she simply was not used to, either, although it only stood to reason that he would stick to the lingua franca of the realm in the presence of the others. The girls sat back down, but the king remained standing.

“The proceedings will be underway,” he announced formally, “just as soon as the King of Chaos arrives.”

Sarilda looked up at that!

“Oh, yes,” the king continued, walking over to her, “you didn’t think this mess just involved your old, profligate Uncle Random’s jurisdiction, did you?” He forced the girl’s chin up to look her in the eye; she stared back defiantly. “Your rash course of action nearly cost us everything! This case involves us all - both sides.”

The sounds of argument just outside the door caught his attention, distracting him; he turned toward the noise instinctively fast, letting go of her and crossing the room in a breath. The door flew open and in burst…Mandor?! The guards just outside were frozen in their tracks!

“Sarah!” he exclaimed upon seeing her, his eyes filled with concern. “Are you-”

But he was grabbed from behind in that single moment of distraction – with the king’s own dagger at his throat! Sarah had been on her feet to go to him, but the guard near Sarilda blocked her.

“What is the meaning of this intrusion?!” Random roared. “I could have you drawn-and-quartered for forcing your way into my castle and my private apartments like this, relative of the High King of Chaos or not!”

“Force was never any part of my original plan, your Majesty,” Mandor calmly gave answer in spite of his present circumstances, “I intended to appeal to you peacefully on behalf of my ward, if she is to participate in an official judicial hearing: while her command of the Thari language is reasonable for her level of study, her mastery of it is far from complete. I came thus to ask the boon of allowing her a simple translation spell for the duration of the trial, but upon my arrival I found the Throne Room empty and I was prevented from any normal protocol of timely approach.”

Random narrowed his eyes. “I know that only half of the line you’re spinning me is even nominally-”

The door burst open again, this time without interference, and a small red-headed lady in a sumptuous green-and-lavender gown rushed in at full speed, crying, “Mandor, what in Amber possessed you-”

And stopped in her tracks, her bright green eyes wide, seeing the situation in progress; her personal concern for the restrained man was painfully obvious. Random glanced between the two of them as they looked at each other, and audibly groaned, lowering the dagger.

“Fiona,” he addressed his half-sister, massaging the bridge of his nose with his free hand a moment, “you know I really do my best to stay out of your hair, but don’t you think we have enough problems without you openly taking up with Chaosian nobles?”

The princess boldly walked over to them, taking Mandor’s left arm, glaring daggers at the guards; they released him, but kept him under crossbow. “You may be my king, Random, but you are not my father,” she shot back coldly. “If you must blame anyone for our happiness together, blame Merlin; I would have never even been aware of this man’s existence had we not been introduced off in Shadow. And I will personally take full responsibility for his presence in Castle Amber, for he is not only my invited guest, but my fiancé.”

Sarah could not believe what she was seeing and hearing – and it was all she could do to keep from laughing aloud! Foreign ambassador, my foot! It was the princess! Talk about a long-distance relationship, sheesh. And now she got to worry about them, too; Random looked none too pleased.

“I may not be our father, Fi,” he started again, more collectedly, “but I am still your king, and I do have the legal right to forbid your marriage to someone if I deem them politically and personally dangerous both to you and the realm,” he pronounced gravely, “but we will discuss this matter later and in private. And since you have seen fit to impose yourself here in the middle of a legal matter that didn’t concern you at all, I will avail myself of your presence here until I see fit to dismiss either of you. Now,” he turned to Mandor, “if you expect to receive any clemency from my hand at all, Sir Intruder, you will release my men at once.”

“Your wish is my command,” Mandor replied in a courtly tone with a slight nod of deference – and two of his metal spheres flew into the room, landing smartly in his right hand; the men that had been frozen rushed in also, swords drawn, but Random made them stand down.

“It’s all right, the situation is already under control in here,” he reassured them. Then thought better of it, eying the dark metal orbs the Chaosian man was holding; they fairly bristled with a power antithetical to his own. “Disarm him.”

“Wait!” Fiona intervened. “Allow me.” A look of questioning passed between brother and sister, but he relented with a light snort, nodding. “Be quick; we’ve wasted enough time.”

The princess reached into the large side pocket of Mandor’s black, shiny jacket – something he wore to travel, Sarah realized – and withdrew a soft black leather strawstring pouch; she opened it and he deposited the spheres from his hand, where they lightly clicked against the others inside. She also took his black-and-white leather trump pouch from his breastpocket – and his gaze flicked to Sarah as she did so: a small, half-scolding/half-teasing look of acknowledgment. Of remembrance.

“These will be safe,” Fiona quietly reassured him before handing them over to Random. “Won’t they.”

“Pending good behavior for the remaining duration of his stay, along with a signed statement that he will not be returning to our court against without going through proper legal channels; you’re putting me in a very awkward position with this one, Fi.”

“As it pleases his Majesty,” Mandor acceded with a flourish.

Random glanced warily between the pair one more time and finally sighed, looking fatigued. “He can take the chair against the wall,” he addressed the one guard who had remained with him. “Keep him covered.”

“Yes, your Majesty.”

Their small, tense party shifted positions while the king retreated to his inner chambers with the Chaos lord’s arcane possessions; he came back about a minute later.

Sarah’s eyes were practically glued to her old guardian, who was currently keeping his eyes to himself, his legs crossed loosely at the ankles, his hands folded. Fiona stood to his left between his chair and the bookcase, her hand resting on his shoulder. This was simply insane! Didn’t he understand what danger he was putting himself into here?! What in the world…

The king of Amber noted where Sarah’s attention had drifted upon his return and fairly guessed her train-of-thought. “Don’t look so shocked,” he said to her in English with a wry smirk, knowing full well that his high-ranking prisoner only spoke Thari, “he understood the risk perfectly, and counted on the fact that I wouldn’t kill him in the presence of all you girls – he deliberately used you to save himself. I’d venture to guess he’s really here to try and glean some valuable information from being present at the endgame, but he will learn nothing of any use to him.”

The sound of whispering caught his attention and Random spun around to see Fiona whispering in Mandor’s ear; there was a light lip-version of his crooked grin on his face that pulled at Sarah’s heart in spite of herself. Fiona met Random’s accusatory glare with an expression of innocence mixed with insolent challenge. The king walked over to them.

“Your duty, then, Lord Mandor Sawall,” he addressed him in Thari, ignoring his sister completely, “will be to sit quietly in this chair where I can see you and not to interfere any further in the proceedings. If you so much as utter a single word without being directly spoken to first, there’s going to be a crossbow bolt in your heart, regardless of the company, is that perfectly clear?”

Mandor gave a single nod of agreement, almost seeming at his ease, which annoyed Random to no end, but there wasn’t much the king could do about it without going back on his word – and his prisoner knew that, too. Random wasn’t certain what worried him more: the fact that this preternaturally charming, unholy creature had actually won over his smartest sister, or that he wasn’t even a Barimen and he was this good at playing the game!

“I suppose as a matter of form,” the king continued, “I’d better ask if I should be expecting any more people barging into my private quarters unannounced, or are you two it?”

“Only us, your Majesty,” the princess answered imperiously for them, “unless you are counting your nephew the king of Chaos, whom I imagine will appear unexpectedly in abrupt fashion. Will you insist on frisking him for the proper paperwork as well?”

A low growl had started in the back of Random’s throat, but it was cut short; he was suddenly at attention, staring into space at something none of the others could see – definitely a trump call.

Saved by the bell, Sarah let out a breath she hadn’t even realized she was holding.

“You haven’t missed much,” the king addressed the thin air, “but I do have one bone to pick with you, probably nothing you would consider serious, but… yes, come to me, and welcome.”

A holographic, shimmering hand and forearm appeared clasping Random’s right arm as he extended it, quickly followed by a chromatic flux in the shape of a man, which solidified into the king of Chaos, robed and crowned in his humanoid form, standing before him. An aurora of fire danced along the many points of that thin, black diadem. The girls were signaled to stand again; even Mandor was ushered to his feet.

“Your Excellency,” Random hailed his nephew.

“Your Majesty,” Merlin greeted his uncle in turn. And glanced past him, then sighed in annoyance, nodding. “I take it this is the bone in contention?” he eyed his foster-brother, letting go of his opposite number. “What happened?”

“Oh, nothing more than him sneaking into my palace to tryst with your Aunt Fi, apparently, and then freezing a couple of my guards and forcing his way into my apartments. At least that’s all I know about so far,” he turned casually in his prisoner’s direction.

Merlin was livid. “Mandor, while I’m not about to judge your personal affairs, this level of a breach in protocol directly against the functioning head-of-state of our powerful ally under the Concord is an outrage and you know it,” he bit out coldly. “I will not allow you to so casually use both my rank and my sentiment for you as a shield.” He turned back to Random. “I leave this matter entirely in your own hands. Do what you will with him, short of killing him. He knows the law on this point well enough, and willingly breaks it.”

Random almost seemed to enjoy mulling over the possibilities – but he sighed. “As much as I’d like to take you up on that offer, you’re not the only one he’s currently using as a shield,” he glanced at his fiery sister, who was glaring back, arms folded, “and the final result might actually be more trouble than the initial incursion. I’ve ordered him silent for the present time to minimize further interruptions.”

“Not to sound flippant, but the inability to directly influence the outcome here might almost be punishment enough,” Merlin quirked a rueful smirk – that Sarah immediately associated with Corwin now. “As taciturn as he can get at times, it can be almost impossible to keep him from trying to steer events, socially and otherwise. Was this your whole complaint against him?”

“Yes – oh, he had made some feeble excuse about a translation spell for his former captive,” the king gestured toward Sarah, “but I doubt that it’s really necessary. You are understanding us all right?” he inquired.

Sarah nodded. “I’m catching the vast majority of what’s being said, your Majesty, although I do have to admit that every once in a while you’ll say a word I don’t know; Amberite Thari’s a bit different. I can mostly get the meanings from the context, though.”

Merlin just looked at his foster-brother. Mandor was simply too inscrutable to unriddle completely; his intentions and subsequent actions could be so tangled it was usually impossible to tell where altruism, selfish gain, and sabotage began and ended relative to each other. But, whatever his ulterior motives were in risking his life to be in this room, at least this one concern was conceivably legitimate. “Would your Majesty allow me to perform the translation via a neutral third-party power, without bias?” he raised the hand he wore the spikard ring on.

Random considered for only a moment, then nodded consent.

“Sarah, come here,” Merlin motioned her forward. Sarah swallowed her trepidation and walked over to him; it wasn’t the intended spell than made her uneasy.

“Your Excellency,” she greeted him quietly, lowering her eyes. “Sorry I cut you off like that before…but…”

“Save it,” he mouthed quietly – then spotted his calling-card ring, still on her hand!

“It was repurposed,” Random noted with just a little amusement at his nephew’s shifted attention, “you’re not the only people who can pull off imprints like that. I imagine it’ll tolerate one more.”

Merlin took Sarah’s hand and put the amethyst cabochon of her ring to the spikard and concentrated. Sarah experienced a sudden coolness, a mental clarity that simply seemed to enhance her own perceptions – and he let go. “Does that satisfy you, Lord Sawall?”

Mandor nodded once.

“All right, I think you can go sit back down for now,” Merlin dismissed her.

“Won’t you have a seat yourself, your Excellency?” Random generously offered the final chair in the room – the king’s chair.

“As long as you’ll be alright standing this whole time, your Majesty; I would never begrudge one of my elders…” the king of Chaos suddenly quipped good-naturedly.

“If you weren’t a king in your own right, Merlin…” Random saucily fired back with one hand on his hip. His nephew proceeded to seat himself with all the dignity befitting his rank.

“And what does that make me?” Fiona added quietly.

Just watching them all interact, Sarah could well understand the prevailing Chaosian sentiment of just standing back and watching this family self-destruct! Regular distance between members was probably all that was preventing it!

“Then without any further ado, this family tribunal is officially in session,” the king of Amber formally announced, “with me acting for and in the best interests of the Barimen family. No one but the people in this room even know the identity of the perpetrator of the high crime for which we are now convened, and I intend to keep it that way,” he shot a warning glance at Mandor, “especially in the unlikely but possible scenario that she winds up anywhere other than straight back in my dungeon. Do both of you swear never to speak of this matter outside of this place – and that’s never at all in your case,” he addressed Mandor again.

“I so swear,” the Chaos lord gravely replied.

“And I also,” the princess added.

“Then we can commence with the testimonies. If your Excellency would indulge the company with the background history for the case?”

“Certainly.” Merlin summoned up the Logrus; within seconds he had two large, leather-bound black tomes in his hands, and he banished the Sign. Setting the second aside on the small round end-table next to the chair, he opened up the first heavy book in his lap to a marked page and started scanning for a specific section of text.

The book he had placed on the table was a costly-looking volume of the Book of the Serpent! Sarah had never seen one in person – it was oddly absent from Mandor’s library – but she recognized it immediately from description alone: black, reptile-scaled leather (their ‘scriptures’ were literally bound like this by canonical law) with the depiction of the Serpent hanging in the branches of the fabled Tree of Matter, all emblazoned in bright red, the color of fresh blood. She could swear she could feel the thing all the way across the room, and the feel of the Logrus beforehand had been far more sinister than she could ever remember. Of course, she reflected; She now regarded her as an enemy. Sarah hoped she wouldn’t be forced to swear on the thing.

“Here it is,” the king of Chaos announced. “In the Cycle of the Serpent 8529 Swayvil Epoch, Lady Tekla of the House of Aricline was found guilty of heresy and light treason by a convened court of both the Royal Council to his most exalted excellency Swayvil, high king of Chaos, and the ecclesiastical council of his grace Lord Bances of Amblerash, High Priest of the Serpent Which Manifests the Logrus, for the infernal crime of organizing a violent militia cult dedicated not to the natural entropy of the Abyss, but to the active destruction of the Courts of Chaos themselves, as well as the self-inflicted immolation of individual members. All involved parties were sentenced to ignominious death, but a plea of insanity was entered by the venerable Lord Bances, due to mitigating circumstances and an overabundance of true religious fervor with no cultural outlet. Sentence was reduced to maintenance work on the Cathedral and other structures of the Church, augmented with compulsory re-education studies for the cult followers, but Lady Tekla Aricline was henceforth banished from the Courts of Chaos forever, with her name stricken from the Book of the Serpent and her spirit doomed to wander after death reclaims her body.”

Merlin closed the huge book with a resounding thud and put it down on the coffee table, underneath the religious tome. “By our own reckoning of time in the Courts, that all happened just a little over 200 years ago… which would be approximately twelve-and-a-half years go, Amber-reckoning. Mandor here might actually remember it – were you home at the time, or were you still traveling?”

“I was home,” the Chaos lord answered definitively, “and I do remember, although thankfully our House was no further involved than a handful of the servants, as it turned out. She had been deliberately targeting the lower echelons of our society, you see, appealing to people’s private insecurities with the call to a bloody religious revolution and a glorious end to the world they had known, promising things she could not possibly promise. The uprising was put down quickly enough that it did no permanent damage to the Houses or the Church, and aside of that entry that his Excellency has just read aloud for you all, to my own knowledge it has not been spoken of in Chaosian society since that time. It can be rather easy for even the most wary of us to forget the exiles, with the time-difference-”

“That’s enough,” Merlin cut his dissertation short; Mandor only gave a slight nod of acknowledgement and lowered his eyes once more. “He is right,” the king of Chaos conceded. “Culturally, we have a decided habit of discarding embarrassing debacles in our history as a form of saving face. And it is nigh-to-impossible to track the movements of practically an entire civilization that can shadow-pull from point A to point B at will. Our so-called ‘lesser criminals’ can and do often slip through the cracks, so-to-speak, into the outer shadow-worlds, although few ever voluntarily travel out so far as the Dancing Mountains, let alone cross them into Order – great levels of Order are as torturous for most of my people as the Black Road is for those Order-born.” Merlin looked at Mandor for a moment. “In fact, it may not be inopportune that you have an extra Chaosian witness here, your Majesty, for it was he who first brought to my attention the possible lineage of Sarah’s original, what it might portend. We were on the lookout then – I even dispatched a small army of spies – but if I had had any inkling that it was really related to this, I would have taken the risk of informing you immediately myself.”

“That was all?”


“Will the accused please rise?” the king of Amber addressed Sarilda – and Sarilda literally levitated off of the bench! The guard stationed next to her was surprised, but he grabbed her fast enough before she could float away.

“What are you doing?!” Sarah frantically hissed through her teeth.

“You’ve asked me that question too often,” Sarilda whispered back with a little rebellious smile. “It hardly matters at this point – I’m going to be imprisoned for life at best. I’d rather just get shot for being an obnoxious nuisance.”

“Sarilda Aricline-Barimen,” the king of Chaos addressed her warningly by her full name, standing, raising his spikard, “you are in danger of making not only a mockery of this hearing, but of the power you profess to worship! Now, are you going to cooperate with us or not?”

Crestfallen and a bit shaken, Sarilda soberly landed on her feet, unable to meet Merlin’s fiery gaze.

“Then advance, and swear on the Book of the Serpent that the testimony you are about to give on your own behalf will be the truth – to break an oath taken thus is to be devoured on the spot, regardless of where you now stand.”

Sarilda bravely crossed the room to the small table; the dark tome was easily as big as a large phone book. She tentatively placed her left hand on the picture of the Serpent… and oddly seemed to take comfort from it.

“I swear that what I am about to tell this court will be the truth to the best of my ability,” she said quietly but distinctly. She looked askance of the king of Chaos. “Is that good enough… your Excellency?”

“It is,” he nodded, then had an idea, turning to his uncle. “Any objections to using your chair for a witness stand?”

Random gave a laugh. “Go for it.”

Sarilda seated herself as bidden; those black chains she was in were eerily silent.

“It’s fascinating that the Chains of Deliverance still work so far away from the Courts,” Random commented, “I may have to trouble you for at least one more set some time.”

“No problem at all; I can produce them before I leave,” Merlin casually replied. Then looked down at young Sarilda. “But these aren’t really warranted anymore-”

She looked up at him; he was idly fingering his spikard.

“- now are they?”

She vigorously shook her head no, her eyes wide. The heavy shackles on her wrists and ankles spontaneously fell open as if they had never been closed properly in the first place, and her guard removed them, handling them as if they were some strange specimen.

“You may begin,” Random prompted her, pacing in front.

“With what? You want me to tell my whole life story?”

“Let’s try and stick to the pertinent information,” Merlin answered, sitting on the near end of the long coffee table in front of her. “Did you know of your duel heritage? Did your mother ever name your father?”

Sarilda almost hesitated. “My mother had many names for my father, but none that I would care to repeat here. All I knew was that he was a Prince of Amber – that title, too, was often used as an insult. Which prince I could only guess. She did make a great fuss over my having Order-blood of the royal line, but…”

“But what?” Merlin gently encouraged her.

Sarilda looked decidedly ill-at-ease. “Sometimes it excited her to the point that it frightened me; other times, she almost seemed to hate it. I think she was jealous. We moved often when I was younger, sometimes not even spending an entire year in a single shadow – she taught me what they were, shadows, how to move between them, how to get what we needed to live. She told me that the Serpent had instructed her to remain as far out in the Order-worlds as she could possibly stand, and many of the environments that we inhabited made her very ill, very weak,” she looked away. “I had to be her mother nearly as much as she was mine; there were long stretches where I had to care for us both.” She wanly smiled, remembering. “Not that we ever needed much; we lived as austerely as priestesses of the Abyss – at least, that was what I was taught. She was my best friend, my tutor, my confidante. I wasn’t to trust anyone else, to talk to anyone else further than basic casual transaction. It was us against the whole multiverse, it seemed. It was not difficult at times to see why she hated the system so – how much varied hurt it gave her, gave others around us, how brief pleasure was, how pointless all the striving in the worlds was when in the end the Dark Lady takes us all again into Her embrace. Those were the times my mother was happiest – when she would teach me her faith, about the Dark Lady, when we would worship together; there were nights that she would even receive oracles directly from the Serpent. Some of them told us where to go next!”

“One night I’ll never forget: we had been praying in front of the small shrine she had made that we always took with us, even if we had to leave all else behind to do it – a couple of our houses were deliberately burned down by scared shadow-people – and suddenly the Voice of the Serpent was physically speaking through her! I had to tell her of it the next day, for she had been entranced at the time, but the message to us was clear and concise with no riddles: she was to take me to the shadow-world of Heerat and there begin my training for our Great Mission, and to not lose heart for She would not abandon such dedicated servants as we! She swooned as soon as it ended and I let her rest where she was, but I roused her at first light to tell her the good news – I don’t think she was ever so happy as she was that morning, defying the Great Star of the Day as it rose, shouting insults that it would be darkened once more, that the whole multiverse would soon belong to Her! She would not even let me pack my few belongings: we closed up the altar and shadow-pulled to Heerat before she would allow me to break my fast!”

Sarilda paused, looking like she was really viewing it all in hindsight clearly for the first time.

“My mother changed after that. The desert climate and location of Heerat in the spectrum of Shadow seemed to better agree with her constitution.”

“When was this?” Random interrupted her.

“Three years ago maybe? I don’t know how to calculate what year it would have been here.”

“Please continue,” Merlin urged her.

“Like I was saying, it was surprisingly easy for us to assimilate, too, for a change – with so many coming and going in a trade-route shadow like that, hardly anybody pays much attention to strangers who keep to themselves and don’t cause trouble. My mother became healthy, strong – I had never seen her so strong. She could shift her entire body into other forms, some monstrous, some wonderful. She began to teach me how to do this as well – not as well as she could, for she was an initiate of the Logrus – but I could manage certain shapes passably for very short periods of time. She even taught me a spell for invisibility. But… she became horribly strict with me. Bedtime and rising were whenever she said they were; sometimes she would rouse me out of deep sleep for further physical training in the desert in the middle of the night. She strengthened my willpower by withholding food and water until I had accomplished certain feats for her. She taught me to swim in a nearby half-shadow, and once I knew enough to keep me from drowning, she left me there for hours in the middle of an ocean! She was never satisfied with anything that I did any longer, even the simple meals that I prepared for us. It was almost as if she was trying to make me feel guilty over my inadequacy as only a part-Chaosian, but it’s just a guess; she would never tell me why. She stopped comforting me altogether when I hurt, when I was sorry for all the ways I seemed to be failing her. And when she was not disciplining me somehow, we were praying constantly by the hour. Just a few months ago, she left one morning without telling me where she was going and did not return for three whole days; when she appeared again, she was half-dead but she had a box of supplies with her, the likes of which I had never seen before. Once she had sufficiently revived, she told me it was a special protective suit for swimming – the odd fabric covered nearly all my skin, and there were finlike extensions for the feet and a hard, protective device for the eyes and nose.”

“It’s called scuba gear,” Random blasely informed her. “Those types of suits are common enough on Shadow Earth.”

“Yes, that’s where she said she’d gotten it.”

Random wasn’t smiling anymore! “Keep it coming…” he made a revolving hand gesture.

“Not much to add,” she shrugged. “I put it all on, she took me out to our ocean and told me I couldn’t have supper until I’d crossed a certain distance of water wearing it. That’s just what my life was like. She was always trying for more oracles then, but they were slow in coming. At length we did learn of… Sarah,” she looked around the king of Chaos, at her elder shadow, still sitting in the middle of the bench where she had moved over, all at attention, just eating up this story, “of how the Logrus had chosen to honor her out of all my shadows by using her as my decoy for our Mission. I was exhausted every day from my training, but it was elating, thinking that we were getting closer! When the time was finally right to begin – when Sarah was sent to Amber – my mother projected a phantom of me into this city in a couple of places, first to get her attention, then to get her captured so that while you were dealing with her, we were at liberty to set the next stage into motion.”

“Where was your base of operations here?” Random demanded, arms crossed.

“South of the city, along the strand; we were encamped in a small cove of rocks – invisibly – within easy reach of the Faiella-bionen. There was no need to physically enter Amber itself.”

“But how did you reach the True World?” Random pressed. “You could not have shadow-pulled yourselves here this close to the original Pattern; even I know that would take far too much power.”

Sarilda genuinely smiled; the expression did not seem mocking.

“Have you ever flown on the back of a winged dragon, your Majesty?” Her green eyes shone with enthusiasm.

“Flying in general is not foreign to either of us,” Merlin replied guardedly, “but I believe we both prefer mechanical means of propulsion.”

A look of sudden comprehension came over the king of Amber, though. “The big light-blue female that was circling over the bay,” he winced his eyes closed.

“Yes,” she laughed.

He stopped in his tracks and looked at her. “And the other?”

“What other?”

“The Chaos-beast that was wreaking havoc at the same time on our outlying farms, that my army had to hunt down and kill. Was that your mother’s idea of a decoy as well?”

“… I don’t know,” Sarilda faltered, “I wasn’t allowed to leave the beach. I guess it could’ve been.”

“It could’ve just followed their shadow-trail in as well,” the king of Chaos spoke up. “We’ll never know for certain until we find the girl’s mother.”

Sarilda perked up. “She’s… still free?”

“Only for the moment,” Merlin sternly replied. “My shadow-scanning device is on her trail right now. Granted, he cannot project and catalog everywhere at once, but neither can she keep shadow-pulling at this speed even using raw Logrus power to do so; it’s a physiological impossibility. She’ll have to stop sometime – she’ll die if she doesn’t.”

“She’ll die if she does,” Sarilda spat out angrily, looking away. “That is what you plan to do.”

“The possibility is definitely on the table at this point,” Merlin continued, “but the decision wouldn’t be mine alone.”

The girl had definitely been trained to be tough; she shed no tears, but remained silent, fuming.

“What did you do next?” Random attempted to revive the interrogation.

She said nothing.


“Can’t you guess?!”

“If you refuse to speak for yourself,” Random warned, “anything I say here on your behalf will be automatically recorded as the truth, whether it is or not – that’s my right as a king of Amber. Are you really willing to risk that? We can wrap this up pretty quickly if you don’t care-”

“Uncle,” Merlin stopped him with a look. “So… you snuck into Rebma, somehow broke into the chamber of the Reversed Pattern and walked it, then willed yourself to the center of the Pattern in Amber,” he filled in her story very matter-of-factly.

Sarilda’s jaw dropped. “How do you even know that?!”

It was Merlin’s turn to smile, although his looked rather smug. “It was the only reason you could’ve had for being so close to the Reflected City and the only way you could’ve broken into Castle Amber without setting off the arcane warning system. And you dripped a ton of saltwater onto the center of the Pattern here – the residue is still there and the room freshly reeks of the sea again. Pretty obvious.”

Sarilda looked more than a little embarrassed; she hadn’t realized she’d left any kind of trail at all. “I suppose you’re going to contact Queen Moire now, too,” she sighed, eying her lap.

“Eventually,” Random replied, which surprised her. “The last time I was there, the room was completely unguarded; she’s the one at fault if there’s a break-in down there – it really wouldn’t be that hard to do.”

“Actually… there were guards.” Sarilda knew she probably shouldn’t be saying this, but she was dying to show off at this point, she was feeling so stupid for that one slip-up. “I was invisible and flattened myself out for just long enough to slide under the door.”

Merlin was neither impressed nor pleased. “And you willed yourself into the safe in the same manner.”

“…yes. It was physically much more difficult for me to compress down so far; I nearly suffocated in there before my mother trumped me back out! But I did get the Left Eye of the Serpent.”

“How was she alerted that you had retrieved it?”

“She wasn’t; we timed the whole operation in practice sessions for a couple of weeks prior to the event, estimating how long it would take by the time I was inside the palace. Once she had ensured that I had safely made it past the guards at the foot of the Faiella-bionen, she left Amber ahead of me.”

“And the idea to return the Eye to Chaos via a remote shadow of the Logrus was your mother’s?”

The girl shook her head with a slow, nigh-triumphant smile. “The Dark Lady orchestrated that part Herself, ridding that shadow-world of its puppet protector and lord long enough for me to run the course unhindered… but perhaps you should be asking your ‘key witness’ about that.”

Mandor’s attention almost involuntarily shot over to Sarah, his pale eyes at once accusatory and filled with questions – but Fiona squeezed his shoulder and he presently remembered himself, careful to remain otherwise motionless. It was hard for him to let it go, though; Sarah actually missed hearing part of what came next because he didn’t relinquish her attention right away.

“…shadow after shadow peeling away around us. And now I shall never go flying again,” Sarilda lamented.

“If you live to see parole, you can take up hang-gliding,” Random acidly remarked, “save the ‘color’ for your autobiography, let’s stick to the facts here. You arrived, you successfully entered, but you only got so far.”

Sarilda openly glared up at him, arms crossed. “You would not be standing there, taunting me and my faith, had I been any stronger,” she boldly asserted. “I was at the very doors of the citadel in the center when I heard a girl screaming at me in a foreign tongue; I turned back out of curiosity and beheld my own shadow-decoy! She ran straight for me – I could feel the Serpent urging me forward, but she was nearly struck by lightning, by the dark power… and…I… I reminded myself of what I was doing; the Logrus had formed a great swirling storm above us – but this strange red bird dropped and attacked me out of nowhere. It was like it was trying to peck the Eye free from the necklace setting!”

“It was,” the king of Amber coolly noted. “I sent it to do that.”

The girl reflexively looked at him, unexpectedly sheepish. “… your creature got caught up in the storm and… just disappeared.” She closed her eyes. “I hate it, but that’s when I started to lose my nerve. The other girl was getting to me, also: I knew what she was – is – but I couldn’t bring myself to abandon a part of me in there, no matter out ephemeral. And…” She had started shaking.

Merlin reached across and put his hand on her arm to steady her. “And?”

“…and She manifested, spoke to us as She truly is. I had never been so terrified in all my life; for all the years of devotion, all the oracles of my mother and her powers, I had had no idea that this was what She is really like! She had even appeared to me as I had always imagined Her, as I entered the City only minutes earlier, ready to take me and all the worlds into Her pale, beautiful arms. But what she really wanted was to devour us!” she nearly screamed in agony. “I… I just broke, and my own shadow protected me, supported me – the trial had taken everything out of me, and it seemed that my Goddess had come to collect what was left! She was…” Sarilda was shaking again, badly.

“How did you use the Jewel to escape?” Random prodded.

The girl opened her eyes, as if abruptly awaking from a nightmare. Merlin was still there, calm, supportive. Something made her look at the snowy-haired Chaos lord under guard behind him to the left, though; his light blue eyes held a strange sympathy, as if he knew… Sarah couldn’t fail to see the look of understanding that passed between them.

“Luckily for us, Sarah was carrying an extremely strong external power cache – I never had the chance to ask her why, but she was – and she allowed me to divert the whole magic through the Eye; the object that held her power melted away, but it generated a force field thick enough to endure that storm, long enough for both of us to complete the Red circuit. The Pattern did not want either of us, but She didn’t have much of a choice,” she smirked a little at the memory, looking back to the two kings. “I managed to will us back here before I blacked out from the strain. The rest you know.”

“And that’s everything?” Random pressed.

“Everything that you might care about, probably,” she snottily replied, crossing her arms again. The tome of the Serpent to her left smoked slightly.

“Save the snark for when you’re not under oath,” the king of Chaos reprimanded her – but it seemed more for her own protection. “You can go ahead and take your seat on the bench. Sarah, you’re up next,” he turned and motioned for her. The two girls awkwardly passed each other, avoiding making eye-contact. As Sarah approached the king’s chair and the Book of the Serpent, a terrible foreboding came over her.

“I must swear also?”

“Yes,” the king of Amber chimed in, “and keep in mind that there’s no fifth amendment here as there is in your home country. It’s self-incrimination time.”

Sarah was standing right in front of the little round table, but when she went to place her left hand on the design, she involuntarily pulled away with a gasp of pain – she had never felt anything so angry, so hostile, in her entire life; it had nearly burned her!

The reaction was well-noted, unmistakable. She automatically looked up in surprised shock at Merlin, feeling all too clearly the judgment of what had just been physically demonstrated: the Logrus had completely rejected her. Neither monarch said a word, but Random walked promptly to the bookshelf and removed an equally large and heavy white-bound tome with gold filigree and emerald and amber cabochons on the spine and cover. While the first book was probably valuable as a relic, this one was intrinsically priceless. He set it down on the coffee table, the stamped image of the rearing Unicorn decorating the front, embossed in gold, facing her.

“Use your right hand,” Random instructed with just the slightest note of humor in his voice, “and kneel.”

She had to do it facing Mandor; Sarah couldn’t even look at him, not wanting to see his reaction, his extreme disappointment after all that effort. Whatever connection she’d had to Chaos was officially lost. Getting down on one knee, placing her hand upon the tome, she felt nothing untoward this time, nothing out-of-the-ordinary at all, in fact.

“I also swear to answer truthfully any questions this court has for me, to the best of my ability. As it pertains to the case,” she added, suddenly thinking to safeguard herself.

“Shrewd,” Random observed, “but it will do. Take the stand.”

She got up and sat down accordingly

“The first order of business that is certainly pertinent,” Merlin began, “is how you even knew how to free… Jareth, was it?”

This was definitely going to be painful with Mandor here. Self-incrimination city. She stared at her boots. “Back when I was… at Mandorways,” she started carefully, “I was…well, I half-managed a trace-style trump back to that shadow – I wasn’t trying to run away, honest!” she found herself confessing to her old guardian instead out of habit. “All I wanted to do was to try to talk through some things that were going on at the time with a friend I had met there, but he wasn’t at all where he should’ve been, and Jareth… got me, instead,” she uneasily looked away, but not before seeing a moment’s realization come into Mandor’s eyes before he closed them. “He did his best to get me to mistrust Lord Mandor out of personal spite – it worked, too,” she sighed, “but that plan to escape was entirely Jareth’s, as far as I know. I didn’t trust him at all, didn’t plan to, but he had a confidence to sell and the price was a one-in-a-zillion shot of having to help him in the future, and I bit.” She looked up at Merlin. “It involved the Pattern-ghost of your father, Prince Corwin, of where he was being held prisoner at the time. We freed him first.”

“What?!” Merlin exclaimed.

“Whoa, back it up,” Random intervened, “that’s all good information, Sarah, but he’s going to need a little more context than that. When was this?”

”I found Ghost-Corwin when I was staying at the Ways of Sawall,” she demurred. Then looked back at the king of Chaos. “I had wanted to tell you – I even gave him the chance to talk to you himself – but he… didn’t want for you to feel guilty about the situation, and he insisted strongly that he was fine in spite of it. So I kept his secret.”

Merlin was quiet for a moment, staring off into space. “He was where I had left him, then?”

“I believe so, yes. He’s alright now. In fact, he was driving me home when you were trying to call,” she almost laughed a little; it sounded so weirdly mundane.

Merlin just sat back down on the coffee table edge, dubiously regarding her. “You’ve been busy – didn’t stay at home for long, did you? I kind of suspected that you’d kept on the move because the spies of my esteemed opposite number here found your own decoy, still occupying your house and your life, with you conspicuously absent. When all this is over, I’ll have to memory-wipe her and send her home myself, unless Mandor here would prefer the honors.”

“But you can’t!” she protested.

“Sarah,” the king of Chaos answered her calmly, “this isn’t punishment – I’m not even angry with you – but you need to learn that the choices you make this way do have consequences, some of them so far-reaching that you might have trouble estimating some of the possible outcomes at your age and relative level of inexperience. These things are usually orchestrated the way they are for a reason. Your faculty for such discernment will grow, but for right now you need to play by the rules. Do you understand?”

Sarah almost said something, but she bit her tongue and nodded, looking down. Merlin did smile then.

“I won’t ask how you did it. I will ask where Jareth made off to; we’re going to have to apprehend him, too, if it’s still possible.”

She looked up. “Would you be sending him back there?”

“I tend to doubt it, but it will be hard to know for sure until the situation actually arises.”

“I’m telling you, he was going crazy in there – you could see it in his eyes, it wasn’t just an act for sympathy! He was that desperate to escape. I never even realized that his presence there served any kind of real function; he’d just seemed like a big bully to me, with almost no purpose, and the little I knew of him from my guardian didn’t paint a very impressive picture, either. I thought the place might actually be better off without him; when I went back through again, it was like nobody realized he was gone!”

She hesitated; the real question he had asked remained unanswered. Merlin was obviously waiting. Even Random had stopped pacing and was staring at her, arms crossed.

“We all made for Cor- the Prince’s Pattern,” she corrected herself. “His intention was to attempt to walk it, to become another guardian for it, but I don’t know whether he succeeded or not; Ghost-Corwin wouldn’t let me anywhere near the thing, and we left before he tried it.” The uncomfortable memory of Brand came and went; he had no relevance here. At least she hoped not. “Anyway, he was taking me home when you trumped me, and I… rudely shook you off,” she slightly winced. “I already said I was sorry. I know you were trying to protect me, but it all just came together while you were talking – what was really going on – and I was so scared that it would take too much time to explain it, let alone get you to believe me! Ghost-Corwin hellrode us back there, but we’d just missed Sarilda by seconds; the gates were closing as we rolled up.” She stopped and smirked at her original, who was just staring in disbelief. “You were this close to getting jumped by a big guy with a sword,” she teased her. And suddenly remembered something highly peculiar. “Your Excellency, does time run differently in the Logrus than it does in the shadow-world around it? Outside, I mean.”

“You know, I actually don’t know that one offhand,” the king mused. “The Ghostwheel might. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, I was just reminded of something weird that was said to me in there; Ghost-Corwin couldn’t have detained me for longer than five minutes and I didn’t waste time getting into the stone maze, but this malevolent creature I ran into in there told me Sarilda had been lost in that section for hours, ahead of me!”

“I suppose it’s theoretically possible to experience time fluctuations within the Logrus itself; all other natural laws seem to break down inside the real one. You’re sure it wasn’t just lying?”

Sarah nodded vigorously. “It was having a pretty good laugh at my expense before it tried to kill me! It…” But she cut herself off, shaking her head. “But I’m getting sidetracked. Sorry.”

“We’ve heard Sarilda’s version of the endgame,” Random stated, turning on his heel to face her again, his hands clasped behind his back. “Let’s hear yours. How did your original act toward you? How did she seem?”

“Well,” Sarah thought, eying Sarilda, “she was sort of wobbling on her feet, but she still had some fight left in spite of it – oh, your Excellency, for the record: don’t start supplying your army with those meal-in-a-pill things just yet unless you can figure out how to make them time-released; I don’t ever want to do that again… Anyway, she did sort of taunt me at first and I had to literally tackle her to keep her from getting inside the Castle, and all the while the storm kept getting stronger and stronger – when I first saw those thunderheads forming I was scared she’d made it! But then we had a real reason to be scared: the Logrus showed up – I know it seems weird to say that after walking through the whole darn thing, but that’s… what it was.”

“The Serpent Manifest as the Logrus; conscious presence, not just the magical power,” Merlin helped.

“Yes. Not to sound offensive, but after experiencing that up-close-and-personal I don’t know why you all call it ‘She’; it was really alien, the voice kept crackling, shifting…”

She was getting lost in her own thoughts. “What of Sarilda?” Random broke her reverie.

“Oh! She seemed every bit as scared as I was after a while, after your… familiar got sucked into the whirlwind; the storm was melting away the entire shadow as the funnel started coming down! She finally turned to me and said she didn’t want to die, and practically collapsed in my arms.” She paused. “She wasn’t just scared; she seemed confused, when she had to think it through for herself. I don’t think she’d ever really thought about any of it at all, outside of her mom’s influence, now that I’ve heard her story, too.”

“Who’s idea was it to use the Jewel to escape?”

“Mine, but Sarilda did all the necessary magic to protect us and get us both through that Pattern herself – she had to sort of boost me out of a certain point to keep me going. I was on the verge of losing consciousness when I heard her wish us away to you in Amber, than then I don’t remember any more.”

Random was sporting a secretive little smile; there certainly was more afterward, but he wasn’t under any obligation to divulge it to the present company. “If you were going to judge Sarilda Aricline-Barimen, what would you choose to do with her? I’m merely looking for your impression.”

Yikes! Sarah studied her original, who was currently doing her best to study the ceiling, leaned back in the bench. She really does think she’s screwed, she thought. “Juvenile detention? Community service? I don’t know. It seems to me that your main criminal is still at large. I don’t know what you plan on doing with her, but… she’s just a kid, I mean, she’s almost five years younger than me, for crying out loud! That’s got to count for something! And she’s had such a screwy upbringing; she’s never known anything like a normal life – she’s practically been raised to be a child soldier, just listen to her!” That caught Sarilda’s attention. “Yeah, I said it: your childhood was weird and I think your mom might be more than a little nuts. You would never have done any of this on your own, and you know it. When you were finally confronted with the truth, you didn’t know what to do!”

Sarah looked into angry, hurt eyes that looked eerily like her own, remembered comforting her in the face of certain death. “I think what this kid really needs is a better guardian, someone who will actually care about her and for her, and not just about what they can get out of her like she’s some kind of tool; someone who can give her a healthier outlook on life and a bigger view of the world; someone who will respect what’s left of her faith, but who might be able to introduce her to a less harmful version of it.” Her gaze had drifted over to Mandor as she spoke; he seemed genuinely surprised at where her train-of-thought was going.

Merlin noted their wordless interaction. “While I think I might choose differently in regard to the personage, it’s still an admirable sentiment all the same. But I’m afraid it won’t work.”

Sarah looked back at him.

“Exile from Chaos always applies not just to the criminal sentenced, but to any descendents that they may ever have. Entire families have been forced to leave together because of this law in the past. It is not legally possible for her to come to us, and neither would I knowingly place her with another exile. There is one viable alternative, however,” he in turn looked to Random, who had stopped pacing. “Uncle?”

“I know,” he groaned, “and I know that you’re right. I just wish he were someone else. Do you think your Uncle Gérard would feel up to adopting a troubled youth?”

“I think he would gladly help out her father any way he could, given the chance; they are full-brothers.”

“That’s never counted for much in our family,” Random observed. Merlin was still watching him expectantly. “Damn that giant’s big heart,” the king muttered, extracting his trump deck from the inner lining of his jacket, shuffling through them. Sarah saw that the backs all heraldically portrayed the white Unicorn on a field of green… and that the woman standing next to Mandor was on one of the secret trumps he carried, from the same style of deck! That’s why she’d looked familiar! So much else had happened that it had completely slipped her mind!

“Sarah!” Merlin whispered to get her attention, hurrying her back to the bench, where her pouting original irritatedly made room for her to pass the table – and nearly tripped her on purpose; Sarah avoided the sudden outstretched leg, though. It seemed that she in turn had been presently forgotten by Random.

“No, nothing’s wrong,” the king of Amber stated a little sarcastically at the live trump he now held in his hand, “but I would appreciate your presence here and now if you’re not occupied at the moment…yes, it’s that important.” The king suddenly laughed. “I said important, not stuffy; you can come through as you are.”

Sarah’s heart was in her throat, her pulse racing: she was finally going to see who her original’s Amber-parent was! She could only speculate, thinking of her own father. Granted, there would be a certain level of difference, but how far it went…

A hand sheathed in a delicately-rendered chainmaille glove appeared in Random’s grasp, soon followed by the familiar chromatic shimmer of the transport, resolving into a tall, harshly handsome man with long sable hair and dispassionately cold blue eyes, wearing white-enameled scale-maille armor and a sword! He looked like a dire knight out of legend! And Sarah recognized him, instantly feeling chilled, remembering his name before it was even spoken.

“Julian, glad you could join us,” Random greeted him warmly, pocketing the trump. “Sorry about pulling you away from the troops on such short notice.”

The prince seemed initially confused upon seeing where he was – and Mandor, still under crossbow-cover with Fiona standing beside him, as if to prevent anything from happening; the guard bent his head momentarily in deference.

“What is the meaning of this farce?” Julian carefully enunciated a little slowly. “This man should be in the dungeon. Or did you summon me here to remedy the matter personally?” His reaction was remarkably cool, considering his obvious first impression of the tableau! Sarah couldn’t help but notice that he spoke like he had a light speech impediment, which he had learned to talk around.

“Take it easy, Uncle,” Merlin addressed him – and the man looked even more surprised at seeing his Chaosian nephew behind him! “Everything’s actually under control in here, believe-it-or-not. It’s good to see you again, although I’m sorry it’s only ever under such strange circumstances.”

“Is there any other kind?” Julian quipped dryly, clasping his arm in greeting. And finally noticed the two girls on the bench at the far end of the room, watching him intently. “Random, are you actually allowing outsiders tours of the king’s quarters?”

“Why don’t you take a seat?” Random sighed.

Julian hesitated at his tone. “Given the present company, I prefer to remain standing if it is all the same,” he guardedly eyed his favorite sister, who was wearing a dubious lip-smile that better suited a cat.

“You might need to sit down for this,” Random casually walked over to a carved crystal decanter and some glasses along the sideboard. “Care for a drink? I think I’m about to need one myself.”

“Merlin, what is this really all about?”

“Your daughter,” Random interjected, taking a sip, coming back and sitting down himself in the neglected chair.

The prince openly stared at the two girls in disbelief. “It can’t be. This had better be a prank, your Majesty.”

“I’m afraid it’s not,” Merlin answered. “I ran DNA tests, blood samples, the works – she really is yours.”

Julian couldn’t tear his eyes from them. “She… you are only saying the word singular, as if… why are there two? Which one is it?”

To Merlin’s amusement, both girls spontaneously pointed at each other as the armor-clad figure slowly strode toward them, still searching their faces. “The younger one,” he smiled. “The elder is her shadow-self from Earth.”

Julian glanced at Sarah for only a moment longer, with about the amount of interest one might show for a fly on the wall, before disregarding her completely, turning his full attention to Sarilda. Sarah was nearly relieved that he had chosen to ignore her very existence…

And the truth of her own parentage suddenly hit her with the force of a bomb: Robert Williams was not her biological father! He couldn’t be! The two men couldn’t conceivably be more different from each other! She could see where some of her own features ultimately hailed from: his hair, his facial bone structure, the hard will in his eyes – her own father, her real father, had to have some of these qualities. Sarah’s mother had had many boyfriends before finally settling down with a kind-hearted, quiet-living businessman in the suburbs. Sarah had been born almost precisely nine months after the wedding – not quite, actually – but Linda had been engaged to Robert for nearly a year before they were married, and the child had looked enough like her mother in general respects that the fact was only ever mentioned in good-natured jest, if at all, young impetuous lovers and all that.

But it wasn’t that at all! Who was her father? Another actor in her mother’s troupe? One of Linda’s ardent admirers, a fan? A wealthy backer for one of her shows, perhaps? Sarah thought of Julian. Her mom had done the ‘Shakespeare in Central Park’ performances for many years prior to her marriage, but she hadn’t been in any since then. Ill-met by moonlight after a show? It could literally be anyone. Sarah had never been able to shake the impression that she had absolutely nothing in common with her father – and now that she knew it, she almost wished she didn’t.

“Under what circumstances was she discovered? Julian continued. “If she is a survivor of the broken Gotterdammerung shadow, I will publicly acknowledge her, if that is your wish.”

“Not quite,” Random answered, nursing his drink, “although I wonder if even your late Valkyrie lady-love would have birthed a child with as much of the Barimen nerve as this one’s got, apparently. Figures it would be one of us to finally succeed in making off with the Jewel of Judgment and nearly succeed in destroying the worlds with it.”

Julian’s cool demeanor abruptly turned hot, his sky-blue eyes blazing as he shot a look over his shoulder at the two kings. “You are telling me that this girl…”

“Is our fourth successful Chaos-hybrid,” Merlin supplied. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say the new petty Court game must be to breed you all out of existence within the next two generations.”

The prince turned his back on the bench, closing his eyes, his face pale with anger. “Would that you had never told me of this at all,” he said quietly, with an iciness that frightened Sarah, “but I believe that you were still right in doing so. Very well. None in Amber are above treason charges, least of all our bastards. Do with her what you will; it matters not to me,” he began to walk away.

“I’m glad to have your own verbal consent in this,” Random insolently smirked, resting a booted heel against the edge of the coffee table, “because I’m legally giving her into your custody – to raise.”

Julian stopped in his tracks. “What did you say?”

Random wasn’t smiling now. “I’m saying she needs a parent who isn’t a religious lunatic bent on sacrificing her to the Serpent, along with all of existence as we know it. I wouldn’t be involving you at all if she hadn’t brought the Jewel back of her own free will – her double seated alongside there just had to knock a little sense into her. I say she’s still young enough to deprogram, but it’s going to take someone with a strong will and a cool temperament; you’d be perfect for the job. And I do hold you partially responsible for this fiasco.”

Julian slowly folded his arms, regarding the king of Amber. “How the worm turns,” he observed cynically. “I seem to recall a case of my little brother Random openly dallying with a Rebman princess as if to marry, and subsequently having no interest in or for the resultant child – not even after the suicide of the mother; there were no imposed consequences then. You were such a model father that you feel justified in lecturing me on a hideous mistake I made years ago, that I immediately repented of upon learning the truth? Martin was nothing to you until he became part of the game.”

“And look where that got us!” Random shot to his feet. “He was nearly killed because of my own selfish shortsightedness, nevermind what that blood was used for! Let me tell you, there isn’t a single day that goes by that I don’t regret not being there for him when he was a kid, when he actually needed me! I consider myself lucky that he lets me have any part in his life at all – he didn’t have to, I certainly don’t deserve it! Even at that, I’ve barely gotten to have any time with him; I don’t know where he lives his life anymore, he checks back in less and less frequently. And no wonder! I’m not about to let you make the same terrible mistake, the mindset of our father that our illegitimate seed is of no consequence by dint of illegitimacy. It’s still our genes out there, our powerful Amber blood, near-immortality that we’re still playing with like it’s nothing! We still can’t account for nearly two-dozen of our old man’s by-blows; I’m not about to let this mess continue into our generation if I can help it!”

“So, what are you suggesting? Putting out a multi-shadow royal proclamation that any and all comers who claim to have Barimen bodily fluids on or in them be automatically declared princes and princesses of the realm or otherwise eligible for other compensation? Would you truly give creatures of shadow that much importance?”

“What I’m saying,” Random continued through his teeth, looking like he was having to work hard to keep from screaming at him, “is that we can’t afford to ignore any of our resources. The Houses of Chaos are legion,” he briefly glanced at Mandor, “always have been, always will be. Amber needs all her children, all the help she can get! Think of our own recent history – hell, think of Dalt! I wouldn’t dream of legitimizing that son-of-a-bitch now – he’s too far beyond ‘redemption’, if you’d care to call it that – but he started out very similarly, with a fanatic mother bent on violently spreading her monotheistic religion of a lion-god via army. And now look at him – a hedge-thief leader of a troop of rebels who enjoys being a constant threat to the Golden Circle and a general pain in the ass! A man of his strength and organizational skills could’ve been a general at Patternfall. And he’s just one of the only ones we know about! We have known blood-kin avoiding Amber completely for this reason or that. What I propose to do is to start searching for these people – quietly. Any who would be willing to swear eternal allegiance to the Unicorn and the One True World, as well as to swear to aid us in any way they can if and when the time arises, will be allowed to attempt to walk the reflection of the Pattern in Tir-Na Nog’th at their own peril should they so choose; it isn’t official legitimacy, but it’s still something. Anyone who can render the shadow-worlds they inhabit more permanent by their presence alone is worth keeping tabs on regardless of any other legal or moral concerns.”

“While this course of action is wondrously idealistic of you,” Julian mused, “you seem to overlook the fact that the child you would saddle me with can likely assume any number of formidable physical forms, if not vanish before my very eyes. How do you propose I even keep track of her?”

“I believe I can assist you on that count,” Merlin chimed in, “if his Majesty will allow it? Although I would ask the favor of private conference with yon Chaos lord for a moment,” he nodded toward Mandor with a good-naturedly teasing lip-smile. “He has more practical life-experience with these kinds of arrangements than I do. I have a pretty good idea already of what I’d like to try, but I need to pick his brain to make sure I’m going about this the right way.”

Random studied his nephew a moment, standing akimbo. “You’re implying you have a way of controlling her that won’t end with her hating us all even more than she already does?”

“Just for the time being, until further notice – perfectly reversible, of course, if and when it ever comes to that.”

“And this would just affect her Chaos-powers? Not her will or her personality?”


Random’s eyebrows raised, but he gave a single nod of consent. “Try not to be all day formulating it; your uncle needs to get back to his post.”

“And what do you expect me to tell my men?” Julian asked Random incredulously as Merlin crossed the short distance between him and his foster-brother, creating a faintly glowing Silence Curtain with the Spikard; behind it, the two men were obviously speaking at normal volume, but it gave Sarah the impression of watching a TV show on mute.

“Tell them anything you like,” the king shrugged. “I’m ordering you to take care of her, not forcing you to acknowledge her. I leave this point entirely up to your own discretion.”

But there was a more pressing issue at hand as far as the prince was concerned; Fiona had politely distanced herself from the serious-looking Chaosian meeting-of-the-minds in progress to her right, and Julian practically shoved the king of Amber aside to get to her!

“Fiona,” he took her hands in his own upon reaching her – then narrowed his eyes at Mandor behind her – “tell me that this is not what it appears to be.”

“Oh, Julian,” the princess sighed, reaching up to touch his cheek, “my dearest brother,” she gave him a little bittersweet smile; he looked pained upon her emphasis of the word, closing his eyes momentarily. “You know this cannot be,” she whispered gently; he looked down at her again, an unusual tenderness in his statue-like features. Fiona glanced over her shoulder at the openly arguing white-haired Chaos lord, and that secretive, knowing smile touched her lips again. “I have moved on.” She looked back up at Julian, earnestly. “So must you, for your own sake. Take Sarilda, raise her, for us- for the family,” she amended, although what the princess had truly meant wasn’t lost on anyone within hearing range; it was all Sarah could do not to gawk.

Man, was Merlin ever serious about that soap opera thing!

Fiona turned to the girl in question, who was looking slightly petulant over being talked about this freely in her own presence! “There are so few sorceresses of any accomplishment at all in Amber, and she already shows great promise; she will require proper tutoring in her arts as she matures.”

“And where will you be?” Julian asked Fiona, his voice sounding hollow, hopeless. “On the edge of hell?”

“Within reach,” she answered firmly, looking back up at him, “when she finally needs me.”

The prince’s expression was far too readable, though: ‘But I need you. I can’t do this alone…’

But the conference to their left had just ended; the privacy shield retreated back into the spikard and Merlin rejoined the company looking satisfied. “I think we’ve worked out a variant of the spell that Sarilda should tolerate well, even on a personal level. It directly utilizes the Logrus in Her Serpent aspect: it will constrict her attempts to perform arcane feats until it is removed; under normal circumstances it won’t harm her in the least, she should barely even notice Her presence.” He looked to Sarah. “This will be only a very minute fraction of what you experienced uncomplainingly for all those long months; after a relatively short period of time, she won’t notice Her anymore than we do.” His attention shifted to Sarilda. “You can consider this your official punishment from Chaos, child, but it is as much a test as it is a judgment: once you have learned to live life as a Patterner – which you are doubly at this point – you may be allowed to learn to function limitedly as a Chaosian, but only time will tell how far. Your imprinting by the Pattern will negate the effects of walking any of the lesser Logri, and you may not approach the true one in the Courts. There is, however, a certain degree of magic to be gained from the Pattern, although it is not the same caliber as that of the Logrus and the methods of operation are almost entirely different.”

“I have already volunteered to aid in this,” Fiona interjected, “when we are ready to cross that bridge.”

“Thanks, Auntie,” Merlin quirked a smile. “Will that be satisfactory, your Majesty?” he addressed Random.

“It might do at that,” the king concurred, nodding. “All right. Will the accused stand for pronouncement of judgment?”

Sarilda rolled her eyes, heaving a great sigh, but came to her feet as ordered.

The king of Amber looked every bit as seriously imposing as the bust on his bookshelf. “Sarilda Aricline-Barimen, you are hereby charged with light treason, lessened to royal grand theft by mitigating circumstances. I am giving your biological father complete legal custody of you until you are twenty-one years of age – that’s five years beyond adulthood in our society. For that duration, you will be receiving private tutoring as well as performing community service for Amber by assisting your father in patrolling and caring for the Arden forest preserve.”

Julian looked floored at this!

“Her mother put her through a style of boot camp even our soldiers don’t have to endure,” Random informed him. “I seriously doubt that there’s anything in this situation that she couldn’t handle readily enough once you’ve shown her the ropes. And you do need to teach her why this is important – that’s the point, really.” Turning back to Sarilda, “To this, I am adding the curse of the king of Chaos, to be lifted at the proscribed age or when I say so, whichever comes first. And should you attempt to escape – and believe you me, without your magic you won’t get far; the palace is swarming with guards and servants, and even in peacetime your father commands a force of several hundred men – you will be spending the remaining duration of that time in the dungeon with continued schoolwork. Do you acknowledge the sentence and accept the judgment as pronounced? I’ll warn you, if you don’t you’re going straight back to the dungeon for twice that long – this is the extreme height of leniency I’m offering here,” he crossed his arms.

Sarilda hesitated, looking at all the adults in the room in turn, lingering over Lord Mandor – the one her shadow had thought could take good care of her; he sternly met her questioning gaze and pointedly glanced back at Random. Her gaze fell to the carpeted floor.

“Yes,” she finally answered, quietly.

“Then approach,” Merlin beckoned.

The girl bravely crossed the room, with her guard just a step behind her to her left; once she reached the gathered company, the king of Chaos summoned up the Logrus, and Sarilda closed her eyes and bowed her head both in trained reverence and so as not to see what he was about to do to her. The spell-weaving quickly came together, and soon one of the black tendrils became fluidly sinuous rather than jerky and angular, and the coils of the Serpent wrapped around Sarilda from her waist to her chest like a boa constrictor – and vanished from view, the rest of the Logrus banished.

“There,” Merlin pronounced – and Sarilda cautiously opened her eyes again, looking down at herself, unable to discern what had just happened. “You carry Her with you even now; She will not leave you, as She promised,” he remarked wryly. “But you must learn to respect Order also – we are children of both powers, you and I,” he added almost conspiratorially. “If there is to be any unity or peace between them, it will be through the likes of us.” He turned to Julian. “Well, she’s all yours, Uncle. A thought, though: perhaps you could arrange for a standing rotation schedule of a small handful of men whose honor you would trust implicitly, to take turns acting as her body guard when she is with your camp in the Arden…”

He didn’t have to finish the thought; Julian nodded at once without a word. The prince came and stood right in front of his daughter; he reached out and carefully tilted her chin up, seeing his own strong, defiant spark in her green eyes, unable to get over the likeness. But the rest of her…

“I dare say, you look enough like your mother, in her humanoid form,” he quietly admitted, letting her go. And turned once more to the seated Chaos lord, advancing on him. “Lord… Mandor, is it?”

“Prince Julian,” he acknowledged him.

Julian’s demeanor went icy again. “All I can say is that you had better protect my sister out there. If you ever hurt her – if harm is allowed to come to her in any way, shape, or form – I will personally ride to Chaos with my hounds and hunt you down in your Ways like the demon you are.”

Mandor seemed to take the threat rather in the stride, every bit as cool-headed as the prince but after his own fashion. “Should you ever choose to visit me thus under more amicable circumstances, we could go zhind hunting together in the Black Zone – they’re terrible eating, but parts of the corpses can make for some fascinating conversation-piece trophies; the princess has told me you collect rare specimens.” He stopped to look up at Fiona, who had dutifully returned to his side. “Your sister is not the sort of woman who will lightly suffer any man’s protection,” he faintly smiled. Then looked back, seriously. “But I fully intend to do my best. I understand,” he added quietly; Fiona took Mandor’s left hand, interlacing her own small, delicate fingers between his long, pale ones.

The prince viewed them thus for only a moment longer, then abruptly turned away from then, holding out his right hand to Sarilda. “Time to depart,” he announced, producing a single trump from behind the chest piece of his scalemaille tunic.

Sarilda blinked. “Leave for where? How?” she asked, tentatively taking his mailled glove, which wrapped carefully but securely about her hand.

Julian gave her one of his rare smiles; it looked more than a little mocking. “For my base of operations in the Arden Forest, of course. By magic. I trust you already know how to ride a horse?” his concentration turned to the trump.

“I never needed to,” Sarilda answered proudly. “My mother taught me how to float through-”

“Well, nevermind what that witch, your mother, taught you,” Julian rudely cut her off; the contact was live. “You will learn to ride properly, as befits a scion of Amber, and the forest will be your true school – the necessary balance between prey and predator, between man and wild nature,” he began to lecture as he stepped forward into the trump; Sarilda rolled her eyes, following him. A second later, they were gone.

“I’ll have a room on the third floor here prepared for her use, whenever he deigns to bring her back,” Random remarked, rubbing the back of his neck a moment. “I just hope we did the right thing here.”

“I think you did,” Merlin smiled. “That actually went really well.”

“I know,” Random eyed his nephew, “that’s what worries me.”

“What? My judgment in the matter, or a later catastrophe?”


Merlin gave a laugh. “Well, they’ll probably be at each other’s throats some – he’s obviously the one she takes after – but it means they’ll really understand each other, too. Besides, having someone else to care about other than himself for a change will be good for him. It might even help take his mind off…” His attention drifted to the still-seated…pair; Fiona had taken up residence on Mandor’s lap, totally ignoring the guard!


“Yes, Merlin?” she smiled up at him.

The king of Chaos just looked back and forth between the two of them for a second, then walked away toward the back bench, shaking his head. “Just go easy on him.”

The princess laughed.

“Oh, lower it already, at ease,” Random irritatedly relieved the guard with the crossbow, turning to his sister, “not that you wouldn’t deserve getting yourself shot for this level of stupidity.” He looked hard at Mandor. “Offhand, I’d say that was your official ‘paternal’ threatening that you received a minute ago – Julian has the most right of any of us on this count – but if I hear about any Chaosians making off with Prince Bleys I’m going to start getting suspicious. I was serious about the truth of this situation never leaving this room; if you desire any goodwill on my part, you will hold your tongue on this matter or lose it, is that clear?”

“Perfectly, your Majesty, but, if I remember correctly, what you stated before was that the information was not to leave the family – and it hasn’t; we are distantly related already through your nephew the king of Chaos. Although your concerns over a closer union are certainly understandable.” He looked to Fiona, putting his arms around her waist. “I love your sister dearly – have for years – and I am prepared to care for her beautifully,” he looked back to Random, “that is, if we can obtain your consent to marry.”

“And you actually want this man for himself, Fi?” Random asked her a little incredulously. “You’re all right with what he really is, with his other forms? No offense, Merle, but this can be a deal-breaker turnoff for straight-up Patterners.”

“I have seen everything,” the princess coyly answered, stroking Mandor’s shoulder-length hair, “and I want all of him.”

And that’s way more than I ever needed to know, Sarah covered her eyes, her cheeks flushing again… and felt a hand on her left shoulder – it was Merlin, sitting beside her.

“Still doing okay?” he asked her quietly.

“Until just then, yes,” she murmured back, laughing a little with nervous embarrassment. “I just can’t get used to…”

“I’ll admit that one’s a little kinky, even by our standards,” the king ruefully smirked, glancing at them across the room momentarily. “I think we can afford to ignore my clinically insane relations for the time being, though. How are you physically holding up, Sarah? You’re feeling stronger now than when you came to, I hope?”

“…yes,” she said at length, seriously considering how she felt, “I can tell I’m definitely better than when I was helped into this room. I was just really weak, kinda beat up.”

“It was mostly physical stress and fatigue,” Merlin nodded, “although extended esoteric work can take a chunk out of your reserves that way, too. From what I’m seeing, you’ll be fine – you’re young and healthy enough to bounce back fast from something like this.” He shook his head again, thinking. “Sarilda has got to be one hell of a kid, but I guess I can’t say I’m surprised, considering her cousins; we’re all sort of Olympic-level athletes physically, but it’s just the genes. She’s going to be a natural out there, once her father gives her the chance.”

A crazy nonsequitor of an idea suddenly hit Sarah and she nearly spluttered, biting her lip to keep from laughing aloud.


“It’s ‘Take Your Daughter to Work Day’,” she whispered, silently giggling in spite of herself – it was simply too absurd! Merlin chuckled at the thought, too, but a little louder – and it caught Random’s attention.

“All right, what’s so funny in the back there?” he turned to them with a growing smirk.

Sarah just looked at Merlin. Busted!

“Nothing of any true importance, Uncle,” Merlin answered, “just observing the echo of a rather mundane modern Shadow Earth custom, meant to encourage gender equality in the workplace. And how easily Sarilda will probably adapt to her new environment.”

“There won’t be women in Amber’s armies anytime soon; we’re not quite that progressive,” the king wryly remarked, “but I can well imagine Julian having a little Amazon on his hands if he’s not careful – I can just see her now, running with the deer he’s trying to hunt, baiting the stray manticora that wander into his preserves…”

Manticora…the manticore! “Ohmygosh!” Sarah gasped, wide-eyed, covering her mouth with her hands. Merlin immediately registered the instant change.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

“It’s not over!” she whispered, on her feet in a heartbeat, dashing to her old guardian’s side. “Forgive the interruption, your Majesty,” she apologized to Random, who was staring at her, “but this is really important! M- Lord Mandor,” she just barely remembered to say his title, “you recall the… incident, when you first ferried me to Chaos? How we never discovered the perpetrator afterwards?”

Mandor seemed to catch her sense of urgency; Fiona got up off of him. “Something else has happened?”

“He spoke to me, in the forest of the Labyrinth! I literally just remembered it right now! So much else happened inbetween!”

Merlin was on his feet, too. “Are you sure it was the same person? Did he appear to you?”

“No, but he spoke through Lord Suhuy’s trump card – it was blacked out, but the guy on the other end knew way too much about the first attack! It has to be the same wizard!”

“I can verify that odd contact,” Merlin added direly, “because I experienced something similar with Lord Suhuy’s trump just yesterday when I tried to contact him: there was a man’s laughter, but not his. Amazing what you can forget when the world’s about to end.”

“What did he say to you?” Mandor pressed. “You must remember!”

“There was just something crazy-sounding about him playing some sort of a game with Lord Suhuy; it didn’t make any sense! It was over so fast!”

“Okay, that’s enough,” Random intervened, “if you’re going to start bringing up insular problems from the Courts, you can take it outside; I’ve had enough structural damage to my palace because of these sorts of arguments, as well you should know,” he looked accusingly at Mandor.

“Your Majesty mistakes,” the Chaos lord countered, “our unknown assailant is a champion of the Pattern, we’re certain of that much. Did you at least learn his name?” he turned back to Sarah.

“I tried to, but he wouldn’t tell me anything! He said if I… won this ‘round’, for Amber-”

“-that I would introduce myself in person.” An ancient-looking bent-over little old man with long white hair and an even longer white beard, using a small cane and robed like a caricature of Father Time sans sickle, shuffled into the room straight through the solid stone wall beside the bookcase! Mandor’s eyes were proverbially as big as dinner plates and he was nearly shaking; Sarah had never seen him scared like this – he looked as if he were beholding the devil! But Fiona rushed over and embraced the stranger.

“Grandfather!” she exclaimed happily, bending and kissing his wrinkled cheek.

“It is good to see you also, child,” he greeted her in turn gently, giving her a half-hug with his free arm, “but this is no mere social call,” he turned to the rest of the astonished group, his unnervingly bright grey eyes alighting on Sarah as he stepped forward. “Well played, well played indeed, little rook of my old adversary and best friend,” he chuckled under his breath. “I have seen you discarded from our board – you held a very precarious perch for some time on the second level, but I have claimed the blackened piece, and here you stand, hale and whole. And as a man of my word, I am here also. I am Dworkin Barimen, former high priest of the Logrus of the order of Lord Suhuy Swayvil, consort of the Unicorn, founder of the Pattern, of Order, of Amber, and – in a very oblique, indirect-nigh-accidental evolutionary fashion – you.” His grin was as sharp and unsettling as his eyes; he laughed again at Sarah’s dumbfounded expression. “So now you know. You’re welcome,” he added cheekily before briefly regarding Mandor, who had mostly recollected his wits by now. “Surely you recall our last meeting in this place,” he chided the Chaos lord’s initial reaction. “I gave you no reason to fear me then, nor since. Your piece is securely in Suhuy’s possession for the moment – he guards it well in many of his moves, perhaps planning something grand to do with you later; what, I know not. You’ll have to take the matter up with him. If you dare,” he smirked. “And it took you almost too long to figure out such a simple trick; I’d expected better from a bishop.”

“Dworkin,” Merlin boldly addressed the dwarfed, hunchbacked figure, “is there a reason that you’re playing some esoteric/cosmic form of chess with all of us, or is it just an incomprehensible Promethean whim, out of a desire to have a continued hand in your creation?”

“Yes,” Dworkin answered positively – to both inquiries, it would seem – turning to address him, “and you have no right to judge any of my actions, young Merlin, especially when they are for the mutual benefit of our entire family.”

“Are you saying…” Random began.

“What I am saying, grandson, is that I have just saved the both of you a great deal of trouble in the near future by allowing you to experience a little trouble right now,” he slyly looked between the two kings. “While I had held out great hopes for the advancement and improvement of Order during and after Patternfall, it seems that the Logrus has become so fixated upon Corwin’s second Pattern that the shift in attention has thrown a wrench into our usual business. I had to open a line of distraction, a tempting gambit that would occupy my rival’s energy, far from the true game, for many years, in order to buy you both time to cement the peace treaty. But with this round over, that time is running short once again. One way or another, the second Pattern must be dealt with, and I would rather leave this task to my offspring than to the powers.”

“But what of the permanent Pattern-ghosts there?” Merlin anxiously blurted out. “My cousin’s, my dad’s?!”

“You know perfectly well what they truly are,” Dworkin replied calmly, “but we cannot afford to lose this opportunity, not when we are finally established at both poles of existence. Of course there is risk involved; that is part of the game. I take no pleasure in losing any of you,” his piercing gaze softened for a moment as he took in their faces – but it hardened again like a diamond. “Which is why I am warning you this time. There is too much at stake for all of us,” he pointedly looked to Mandor again – then Fiona, and shuffled back over; Sarah could scarcely breathe! “You see, I am not unmindful of you all in my long absences,” he smiled again a bit deviously, “although, to be honest, the prospect is getting to be a bit of a nuisance; I have little time to devote thought elsewhere at present. And I have certainly not forgotten my favorite granddaughter,” he took Fiona’s right hand… and placed it over Mandor’s, which was resting on the arm of the chair, clasping them together! Both parties looked varying shades of astonished. “You have been gifted with too probing a mind to ever be truly happy and satisfied with a husband from Order,” he continued knowingly with an indulgent twinkle in his eyes, “and while I cannot guarantee how long your current happiness will last in the upcoming climate, I can foresee a certain length of peace ahead for both of you.” He glanced sideways at Mandor with narrowed eyes and a secretive little lip-smile. “And you thought you’d met her by chance.”

Mandor Sawall’s mind was spinning at the implications: all that time, all those events, being carefully orchestrated by the eccentric little old madman standing in front of him! For once in his life, he found himself at a loss for words. “If I hadn’t…if we…” he faltered; Dworkin was grinning.

“I think what he’s trying to say,” Sarah screwed up her nerve, “ is that sometimes it can be difficult to see the board for the pieces – isn’t that right, Lord Mandor?”

Mandor looked up at her in surprise, and a slow crooked smile took his features as he began to genuinely laugh, closing his eyes.

“Very amusing, very appropriate,” Dworkin nodded, turning to her, “the dancer and the dance. Try not to enter the dance again of your own accord,” he pointed at her in warning, “you will find the steps becoming far too tricky for a novice. Well,” he addressed the group, “I must be getting back; it’s nearly midnight in the Dancing Mountains and my opponent will be waiting to hear how it all turned out, though I think he will not appreciate my tipping his hand this far in telling you of him. Still, know that I would not acknowledge his use as the Logrus’ agent if I did not like and respect him, and vice-versa, I imagine. Goodbye!”

And without any ado, he simply shuffled back through the wall!

“I think I’ll take you up on that offer for a drink if it’s still standing,” Merlin practically collapsed into the king’s chair, burying his face in his hands. “Why can’t our problems ever be nice and straightforward? If this means what I think it does, it’ll just devastate Dad – if I can reach him without delving that third multiverse; Ghost hasn’t even started cataloging it yet!”

“I’d say take your complaint straight to the source,” Random recrossed the room to the sideboard, pouring another drink, “but he just left.”

“And what do you intend to do about us?” Fiona pointedly asked. “Surely you wouldn’t dare stand against a union our own grandfather has devised?”

Random came back with the glass, nudging Merlin, who took it, nodding thanks as he sat back up. “Dworkin has always had his own private reasons for everything he plots - sometimes I still wonder just how sane he really is – but I think it’s safe to say that he isn’t concerned with the extreme socio-political difficulties posed by such a marriage. Complicated statesman-shit is my least favorite part of this job.”

“Hear, hear,” Merlin toasted the sentiment, taking another sip. “Oh – Sarah, while we’ve got a minute I’d better undo that translation spell; it wasn’t crafted to last and I’m not sure how it’ll break down in that ring, especially with what else it’s carrying,” he beckoned to her, taking the hand it was on, placing the stone to the spikard again.

“What exactly is imprinted in there?” she inquired a bit warily; there had been certain effects, but they weren’t overpowering and far from adverse, as far as she could tell.

Merlin took a moment longer to analyze the other contents, probing it with a single strand of energy from his own power ring; Sarah noticed the extra force immediately and marveled that the king of Chaos could stand to wear such a thing all the time!

“Maturity, basically,” he looked a little surprised, letting go of her, “and drive. Not a bad combination, actually.”

Meanwhile, Random had been giving his sister and her fiancé permission to withdraw – but not from the palace.

“…we’re going to have to review your individual assets apart from your inherited dukedom, against the event that your Council may see fit to strip you of your title for this, as well as the necessary security clearances and trying to analyze what-in-the-worlds blood-type you have for physical compatibility concerns for children – all the fun stuff,” the king of Amber gave a bitter lip-smile; standing, Mandor towered over him. “I’m not letting you leave until we’ve begun straightening some of this out, and then it will be necessary for you to start making the proper contacts on your end aware of your future intentions with us. We will adjourn downstairs to the sitting room adjacent to the Yellow Room in half-an-hour.

“Yes, your Majesty,” Mandor executed a courtly bow worthy of him.

“And Fi?”


“Keep a better eye on him till then.”

The princess smiled brightly at him, dropping a slight curtsey, then pulled Mandor out of the now-open door, past the guards and down the hall; Sarah found herself quietly following the two kings out of the room.
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