I have labored all my life under my siblings' misapprehension that I’m stupid. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am an MD, a many-times decorated Admiral of the Amber navy, and I was dad's choice of a regent when the family went to war with Chaos, among other achievements. Maybe I reach conclusions less speedily than the others because I tend to look at all sides of an issue rather than just my own, or maybe I try to find a path that will do the least damage to all concerned. Or perhaps it simply serves my purposes to be considered slow...
With the new reign of King Random, Amber seemed untroubled for a while. I enjoyed returning to my duties upon the sea once again in the service of my younger brother. I frequented numerous Shadows on diplomatic missions for the Crown. The fleet is maintained by a host of officers that accompany me.
The key officers of the fleet are:
Admiral Briggs (my second in command and emergency stand-in); an old salt whose memories of Amber's Navy stretch back nearly as far as my own. He was my cabin boy when Caine and I were charting the Shadows and laying down the first reliable Paths, has fought in every war, skirmish, or police action Amber has seen since, and has a collection of medals and commendations which, taken altogether, even I would have trouble lifting. He is near retirement and not as fast as he used to be, but his wits are quicker than ever, his experience is unparalleled, and there's not a man in the Fleet I would sooner trust to carry out my orders in my absence.
Rear Admiral Madready (Chief Tactical Coordinator); a student of Benedict, who has been known to accomplish the seemingly impossible when outnumbered, out-gunned, and apparently outmaneuvered. The men call him "Old Seat-Of-His-Pants" because he has a habit of tossing the rule-book overboard when it gets in the way of success. Caine and I have both had it out with him more than once over his unorthodox style and problem with authority; he's been busted a couple of times and, undaunted, climbed right back up the ranks--because, when all's said and done, he's one brilliant son of a bitch.
Commodore Emerson (Fleet Security); as a bit of historical trivia, he's a direct descendant of the renowned Captain Marius Emerson for whom Brinna's ship is named. Nothing gets past this guy--even Caine had trouble keeping secrets from him, if they concerned the Fleet. He is utterly fearless, a fact which has nearly gotten him killed on more than one occasion, but has also earned him a fearful reputation among the ranks. Attempted mutinies, sneak attacks, or hijackings since he took over the position some fifty years ago: 17. Succeeded: One, and it was a sting operation coordinated by Emerson himself to flush out a band of undercover mutineers.
CPO Ian MacDougal (Harbormaster); is a member of Clan MacDougal, a family whose seafaring roots in Amber stretch back to her earliest days--nearly every ship in the Fleet has at least one MacDougal aboard, or if not, then someone who's related to the family. Like his entire Clan, he makes common sense into an art form and has a talent for cutting straight to the heart of a matter. You can always tell when MacDougal has a day off; the normally smooth operations of the Fleet (not to mention the merchant vessels) are thrown into a state of confusion. Needless to say, he doesn't often take a vacation. That's fine with him, though; he's an organizer at heart, and doesn't know what to do with himself if he has no charts, manifests, schedules or inventories to deal with.
Caine’s daughter, Brinna, commands the flagship, Emerson.
I have several kids, the most of any of my siblings, in fact. (An irony, considering how famous Bleys and Corwin and some of the others are for their ways with women...) Drake, who lives in Shadow with his mother; and Odin, who is currently a cabin boy aboard the flagship Unicorn, are both teenagers - good, sturdy, dependable lads who make me proud. And smart, too! Mirima, my daughter, is a Trump artist of some skill and very much a daddy's girl--she's getting to that age where other men are catching her eye more and more frequently, however. And vice versa.
Drake (who, incidentally, had a stillborn identical twin) is the child of a woman I met out in Shadow while out searching for Corwin while he was imprisoned in Shadow Earth. Drake is seventeen, tall and strong (though not to the degree that I am, on either count) and a serious, studious type. He has thick black not-quite-shoulder-length hair, clear gray eyes, and a slow but sincere smile. He knows who he is and where he came from, but thus far, has chosen not to pursue his Amber heritage--with the sole exception of having taken the Pattern, and I suspect (though he won't admit it) that he did that more to please me than because he particularly desired to do so. He does that sort of thing often, trying to win my favor, which, in fact, he has never actually lost--he has felt my absence throughout much of his life, I know, and goes out of his way to make me want to stay when I visit; but he does not blame either me or Ellewen, being a practical and thoughtful young man. There are times when I sense, without knowing quite how or why, that he feels the absence of his dead twin, too; even in a room full of people, he seems oddly alone at times, though he is friendly and has plenty of companions his own age, of both sexes.
Drake's mother is Ellewen. I met her one bleak gray day out in the middle of Shadow-nowhere, worn-out and discouraged after a long and fruitless hunt for any sign of Corwin. She was gathering herbs, and finding me sitting almost asleep under an oak tree, she promptly gave me a shake and demanded that I move--I was sitting in her favorite patch of kingsfoil! Afterward, though, when I had made amends by giving her a boost up a tree to reach a choice specimen of something-or-other, she took pity on my careworn appearance and invited me to share her meal. She is a strong and proud (though not prideful) lady, dark-haired and gray-eyed, about the only person I've met who isn't at least a little bit scared of me, and in her own words, does not give a fox's tail that I’m a Prince of the Universe. If anything, it's her least favorite thing about me, and the reason she has repeatedly refused my marriage proposals. She doesn't want Drake raised as a royal (odd, since he's supposedly an heir to some lost kingdom on her side, too) and it was only over her protests--the only time I have ever flat-out overruled her, since she is a good and wise mother, and also isn't afraid to give me grief where the boy is concerned--that I took him to walk the Pattern. I did this while acting as Regent in Amber, having brought the two of them in temporarily, out of fear for what might happen to them out in Shadow, when the Pattern was being re-made. He was old enough (just), I thought I might never get a better opportunity to do it without any of my siblings around to "help," and it was the one birthright I felt I had to pass along to him, even if Ellewen couldn't condone it. She forgave me, but not right away, and she still brings it up now and then when the youngster uses it to pull things out of thin air that she'd rather he didn't have (though he'll soon be too old for her to do anything about it.) She nearly died in premature childbirth (it isn't easy on a Shadow person, carrying an Amberite child, particularly one of mine) and though she has never shown the slightest flicker of resentment or accusation, I can't help but wonder if Drake's twin brother would have been born alive, had I been there at the time. (I was working on a job for Dad, and didn't find out until several days afterward what had happened.) Ellewen is her Elven name and Keline is her name in the human tongue. She has ancestors from both.
Mirima and Odin (my youngest) are the children of a lady friend in Amber, Mayra.
Mayra is the mother of Mirima and Odin. She's a resident of the wharf district, a shopkeeper; the one I visit when I've been away from Ellewen too long (or when she's refused to marry me--again. It sometimes gets a little depressing. Mayra helps.). She has a mane of wavy brown hair, a warm smile, an ample figure, and a sympathetic nature, and as far as I can tell, no designs upon me and my title whatsoever. She's no rival in my affections for Ellewen, and she knows it. She just likes me. She also likes kids, which is a good thing, since she has six of them. Mirima is the third, and Odin, the fifth. (The sixth, Kirin, is still a toddler, a caboose baby, and he loves his Uncle Gerry--that's what she calls me, Gerry--above all other people. Even Mama takes a back seat when I’m around.) She's always good for a laugh or a long conversation, and has a way of putting things in perspective that I value a great deal. I've offered to help her out with the bills, but she waves the idea away, saying my patronage at her establishment (she's a brewer, having taken over from her husband when she was widowed--turns out a pretty good ale) brings in plenty of business already.
Mirima is sixteen and tiny, not more than five foot two and slender, which is a puzzlement to Mayra and I (Mayra is dead certain that she's mine, though, and I have no cause to doubt her.) She has the most beautiful head of luxurious chestnut hair I've ever seen, and piles it up in elaborate arrangements every day, her only vanity (she really doesn't need any others; she's one of those people on whom makeup looks overdone no matter how little is used.) She has crystalline blue eyes, a quiet and warm demeanor, and a sweet smile that has won her more concessions from me than I now like to admit to. Despite all this, she's strong as a horse and has a core of hidden steel--I once went charging to her rescue when a young miscreant started getting fresh with her, and wound up saving the miscreant instead! She has a keen artist's eye, and turns out Trumps more quickly than I had been given to believe was possible, as well as painting portraits of anyone and anything which catches her fancy. I have a magnificent rendering of the flagship Unicorn, executed by her, hanging in my sitting room. She drew Trumps of: herself, Thaine, Drake, Odin, Bill Roth, and the Captain of the Castle Guard, Lord Danesh.
Of them all, Odin takes after me most. At fourteen, he's well on his way to matching my height, and has the same heavy frame and ready smile. He also shares my deliberate way of thinking, and my love of all things nautical. Though it's a bit early to tell what his talents will be, one thing's for sure, when he decides what he wants out of life, nobody had better get in his way! Anything that catches his interest, he pursues relentlessly until he literally drops--he has the weirdest sleep schedule I ever heard of; he'll keep going full blast for two or three days at a time, with no sign of slowing down, until bang! Within the span of half an hour, he goes from wide awake to stumbling around in a fog or occasionally just collapsing where he stands, and sleeps fifteen hours straight, dead to the world. I remember doing that sort of thing when I was an intern, but by necessity, not nature. I've checked him out and had him to colleagues in half a dozen Shadows, and there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with him--it's just the way he is. Luckily he knows his own schedule to within a ten-minute tolerance, recognizes when he's about to wind down, and organizes his time accordingly. He's a kind-hearted boy, who inherited Rilga's temper in moderation, and my instinct for protecting those weaker than himself in full measure. Unlike me, however, he has no particular interest in medicine, or football either. He'd rather be working the ships than playing any game, in fact.
I spend most of my free time with my children: on my flagship the Unicorn, with Odin - in Amber with my princess, Mirima and her mother Mayra - and in Shadow, with Drake and his mother Ellewen.
Then I met Thaine…
Thaine takes some--well, okay, a ‘lot’ of explaining. He is what one might call eccentric--no, actually, he's downright weird. He's my oldest, and came about during a rather unruly time in my life which I regret in some ways. It's not that he isn't a good kid. It's just that the Shadow where he grew up, and where I stumbled across him by accident years later on a nostalgic visit, has some rather peculiar properties. He was chosen by the local Powers that Be to be the Incarnation of Death. Through some spectacular magical special effects, he was given the ability to turn into a seven-foot-tall skeleton--scythe, pale horse, the whole nine yards.
I was sitting at the bedside of my friend (a man named Louis with whom I had gone to medical school, who was dying slowly of advanced liver cancer) when he looked up and said cryptically, "I was wondering when you'd show up. I've waited a long time. Let's go..." Realizing he was not speaking to me, I looked around, and there stood Death, large as Life (as it were,) ready to collect my friend and take him away. This did not, let’s say, sit well with me--no physician welcomes the approach of Death, after all, especially when he comes calling on a close friend--and when he refused to be warned off peaceably, I did what came naturally. I tackled him. I was slightly over enthusiastic about it, and the impact put us both through the wall. It was the fact that he didn't crumple like an empty Coke can, but stood up and walked away rather indignantly from the fall (I landed on top of him) that tipped me off that he was something rather special, even as Deaths go. He then dropped the cowl of his cloak, and the skull flowed with a rather Terminator II-ish effect into the features of a young man, one who looked vaguely familiar.
He asked if I was all right, and explained that it was his job to escort the soul of the departing to its final destination--he didn't make the decision, just implemented it. Without his services, Louis would be trapped in a body incapable of supporting life, but unable to release him to the hereafter. I couldn't shake the thought that I had met this guy before, and after some further conversation and returning to Louis (who thanked me for trying to help, but begged me to permit Death to perform his function, which I eventually did) it came out that Thaine was the son of a woman I had known here years before--and I realized why he looked familiar; he bore a resemblance both to that woman, and to my family. I then brought him to Amber for a visit; he brought along his accouterments, which seem to work just fine outside the Shadow.
Thaine stands about five-foot-nine, retains a bit of teenage gawkiness, has unremarkable brown hair, and eyes of an indeterminate color. He is, in fact, rather ordinary-looking, though not exactly plain. He has a wry smile, and a self-deprecating air. He pulls up the hood of his cloak to become (in Terminator II style) the classic Reaper, can stand eyeball-to-eyesocket with me, and seems to change in personality as well as form--he has a wicked sense of black humor, and will take any opportunity to use his startling persona to its best advantage against the unwary. He is, however, a fundamentally gentle person, who is as likely to throw back the hood and pitch in, in the infirmary as to terrify the castle staff, and, on those occasions when you've seen him make "collections," he does so with kindness and respect for his "clients." He has mentioned to me more than once that Death does not kill, and seems to take that stricture very seriously, even now that he has technically retired and passed the position along to a Death-in-training (who got all new accouterments with the position. He's keeping his, which were getting out of date anyway.) He wears a heavy black watch, the Deathwatch, which chimes a funeral dirge when a life nears its end, and carries a razor-sharp switchblade scythe which he wields with grim skill--but only in defense, and as non-lethally as he can contrive. His horse, Mortis, is an engaging personality with the ability to transform into a pale limousine, a bumper sticker which reads "Death is life's way of telling you to slow down" and a horn which sounds the first few bars of Taps. He has installed a tape deck, and when in Shadows where technology works, listens incessantly to "Don't Fear the Reaper." As mentioned, he has a peculiar ability not to be noticed, or to be mistaken for a more ordinary sort of authority figure (the former works on me and my siblings; the latter, I’m not sure.) He can boom out in a startlingly hollow Voice when he chooses, and has that uncanny trick of handling a person's soul--that still gives me the willies, and causes me to wonder uneasily just where Caine's soul would have wound up had he not intervened...
Thaine's mom, Claire, was (unfortunately, she died some years ago) a fellow student at the University of Alabama. (I later transferred to Notre Dame.) She was a pretty and vivacious young woman, with curly golden hair and sparkling green eyes, but sadly, not very well suited to me; about the only thing we had in common was sex, which, while great, was not the basis for a very stable relationship. (I made some poor choices back in those days.) The last time I saw her was the day before leaving for Notre Dame, which might very well have been the day Thaine was conceived. I got a couple of letters from her afterward, but after that, lost touch. Why she didn't mention the baby I don't know, unless it was because she wasn't sure if he was mine--she kept company with a lot of young men. Thaine mentioned, almost matter-of-factly, that it had fallen to him to collect her when she died (of natural causes; he's older than he looks)--I can't imagine what that must have done to him, and he was "in uniform" when it came up, so I couldn't read his expression.
My children seem to get along fine, though Drake is a bit wary of Thaine. His Shadow has a similar theological personification of Death, whereas Amber, of course, does not--the other two find him more amusing than anything else. Thaine seems to have a special place in his heart for his "kid" brother, Odin, and looks out for him to some degree. None of them have any particular problems with other family members.
So far, only the elder two have walked the Pattern. Odin hasn't yet reached the optimum age, and Mirima has chosen to wait--she isn't sure if she actually wants to go through with it, though she can't (or won't) say exactly why. I saw Thaine and Drake through it, and neither seems to have had any undue difficulty. Drake hasn't done much with it so far; he's rather a homebody, and not much interested in the doings of Amber. Thaine, on the other hand, has added it to his repertoire and has a bit of a flare for it--that scythe is a pretty impressive weapon in its own right, but charged with Pattern energy, it's downright chilling. (I fancy he could sever the flagship's mainmast with one good swipe, not that I'd care to see him try...)
When I am alone in Amber, my quarters provide all the comfort I need.
My chambers reflect my physical orientation. On entry, one’s attention is focused immediately on the green dragon's head that hangs stuffed and mounted on the far wall. It was a beast I killed years ago, now it confronts visitors when they walk in; maybe Thaine came by his sense of humor honestly. With its gold and green scales, and its huge, polished teeth, the dragon has been captured in a pose of attack. Seen at night, the thing is terrifying.
The rest of the sitting room is unremarkable. The bookshelf contains no books, only mementos from hunts and battles. And some peculiar items are in the trophy case, an Alabama Crimson Tide and a Notre Dame Fighting Irish football jerseys and sweaters, along with all my trophies. A leather couch is by the door. A reading chair and end table is in the far corner of the room on a circular rug.
There are pictures of all the kids and their mothers, scattered throughout the place. One whole wall is taken up by my collection of drinking steins, horns, etc. The painting of the flagship Unicorn of Mirima's is hanging in the sitting room.
I keep my sword by my bed. A dresser, chest, night stand, and a heavy wooden table are the only furniture in the bedroom. A throw rug is by the bed. There is a fencing visor on the dresser and a collection of lances mounted on the walls around the room.
None of my siblings (with the possible exception of Benedict, who misses nothing) have actually seen Thaine; when cloaked and hooded, he has a habit of not being noticed, even by Amberites--which effect he explains away by saying that nobody wants to see Death coming. And he was a bit nervous of meeting the family, so I let him just tag along for a bit, unobtrusively observing, planning to introduce him around when he'd had a chance to scope the place. It was almost funny, in a bizarre way, to watch him hanging around my oblivious relatives--when I could keep track of him; I kept forgetting he was there. Which is why he was unintentionally included in that disastrous delegation to the Golden Circle...
The shot rang out. Caine, standing next to me, jerked suddenly forward, an expression of dumbfounded surprise on his face. Then he fell, and I saw the black stain spreading across the emerald green of his coat. There wasn't a blasted thing I could do except pick him up and watch the light fade from his eyes, still wide with astonishment..
But then, as the onlookers stood frozen in horror, I--and I alone, it seemed--heard a sudden electronic "BEEP" from somewhere nearby. Looking around, I saw Thaine standing at my shoulder, looking at his watch and shaking his skull. Without a word, he leaned down, reached ‘into’ my brother's form--as though his solid mass were just an illusion, a hologram--and pulled out...something. It was filmy, a mottled conglomeration of white, black, and gray, and it had a peculiar sheen to it. A subtle change came over Caine's body as he did this, the final, lingering tension seeping away as though he had just been released.
"Boy, he's sure a mess," my strange son murmured, taking out a small velvet sack. He folded the thing up, with an air of grave respect, and put it into the bag. "Where should I deliver this, dad?"
I hadn't the faintest idea. I was still stuck on the fact that someone had just shot my brother. The implications of the situation took a long time to sink in. Caine was physically dead, but if my son was to be believed, his soul was safe and sound in the little black velvet sack.
There's nothing in the Book of the Unicorn to cover a situation like this, that's for certain...
Right now, Caine is staying at my son's home, the Mausoleum in Shadow Purgatory. It's the only place he can go and maintain a semblance of solidity. The two of them are cooking up some kind of plot to get Caine back to normal—I’m not sure I want to know, especially if it involves grave-robbing. I hesitate telling Brinna about Caine’s fate, hoping things will resolve themselves soon.
Caine's daughter, Brinna, is a wild, striking young woman--she's a handful all by herself, too much her father's child, blessed or cursed with his temper, his piercing stare, and his habit of coming straight to the point. Always a bit cynical, she was devoted to her father and has become downright harsh since his death. I've hesitated to tell her of his fate, though, not knowing how it would all turn out. She rarely visits the castle, preferring to remain on the ships--she commands one herself, the Emerson, and does a fine job of it.
Brinna is as close a match for Caine as any female could ever be. Black hair, eyes so brown as to be nearly black, heavy brows, a deep tan, and a stare like a stab--that's your niece. She's also the only person I've ever met who even comes close to being as stubborn as my not-quite-departed brother. Actually, she takes after her grandmother a lot, but without Rilga's iron restraint--no petticoats or corsets, polite small talk or regal airs for this one; she'd sooner challenge someone to a drinking contest or a race up the rigging than discuss the niceties of court life. Chances are she'd win, too. It's only under duress that she can be got into a skirt at all, and she generally trips on them at the most inopportune times (I'd swear she does it on purpose, just so she'll have an excuse to swear.) She's been known to hamstring a man for making unwanted advances at her, and, really, I can't blame her. It's the only instance where she shows no tolerance at all, gives no quarter.
Caine did her no great favor by raising her out in the Fleet, where women are as scarce as hens' teeth--she's been teaching one miserable sod after another to keep his eyes and his hands to himself since the age of eleven. My brother vowed long ago he'd never inflict her upon some unfortunate bastard against her will, because he wouldn't try to kill someone he felt was worthy of his daughter's hand--so if she ever marries at all, it'll be someone of her own choosing. That ought to be a memorable choice, based as much on alcohol capacity as compatibility, you fear. For all of that, though, she can show an unexpectedly gentle side, usually when she thinks nobody's looking--there is a young woman under all of that protective armor, one who has a heart as well as a mind of her own. She is probably the only person in the family who hates the games the others play more than I do, and I've been something of a second father to her throughout the years. It took her a long time to forgive Caine for his first, false disappearance, and I worry what she'll do when she finds out the truth this time around, though it was scarcely a premeditated deception on anyone's part. Her mother was a now-deceased woman of Rebma, that's all anyone outside of Caine knows; thus it falls to me to look out for her in her father's absence.
It was Rinaldo of Kashfa, who shot Caine. He is also known as Lucas (Luke) Raynard of Shadow Earth, a friend of Merlin. Julian, Merlin, and Vialle also knew about it. Random told me, as Caine's full brother, and he told Brinna too--and warned her in no uncertain terms that she was not to take action against Luke (at least while the Queen's protection was in effect.) He decided to do this because the girl would have gone and found out on her own otherwise, and all Hell would have broken loose--Caine meant everything to her, and she's not known for her restraint when it comes to people she loves getting hurt. However, she's a smart lass, and despite her temper, capable of great patience when necessary. She also--grudgingly--admits that she would probably have gone after Brand had the situation been reversed, so there's something to build on toward an understanding there, though it'll take a lot of time.
I doubt that she'll defy the Queen, but if Luke falls out of favor any time soon, I wouldn't want to be him. (Yeah, me, big scary strong-as-an-ox Gérard, who could break the girl in two with no effort at all. She has that same relentless way of boring through people with her eyes that her Dad is so famous for, and it can be unnerving, even if only because it reminds me so much of him. She might spook Rinaldo to death without so much as touching him.) And I do worry about what kind of scene she'll make if she ever runs into Luke in a formal setting--it would probably be beyond her capability to be civil to him, at least for long.
Though she'd be ecstatic to find out her father is, um, not entirely dead, her feelings toward Luke would change not one whit. In her eyes, the attempt would be as bad as the success. It's lucky for everyone involved that she is not, taken altogether, a hateful person--if she didn't have a conscience and a certain respect for life (both thanks, in large part, to me) Luke might be dead already. That, and the fact that she happens to like both Random and Vialle and would not deliberately make trouble for them.
Brinna is a Trump artist, and quite talented. She drew Trumps for me of: herself, my flagship Unicorn, and the officers of the fleet - Admiral Briggs, Rear Admiral Madready, Commodore Emerson, and CPO Ian MacDougal.
After helping Random in presiding over Caine's funeral ceremony, I was glad for the diversion of accompanying Bill Roth around Amber. I took the Shadow Earth attorney with me on board my flagship Unicorn, to Deiga, as well as a few other ports of call. I felt useful during the occasion of the Begman diplomatic visit in Amber. I knew that King Random was in Kashfa, involved in political circumstances that were more conspiratorial in nature than I liked.
I was content, of course, to supervise defenses in the Harbor District, but I believed myself to be instrumental in helping Queen Vialle with some difficulties in the Royal Palace as well. I attended the state dinner for the ambassador and Prime Minister Orkuz of Begma, and their entourage. When Vialle spoke to me confidentially about a problem involving one of Orkuz's daughters, Coral, I willingly occupied Prime Minister Orkuz. After dinner, I engaged Orkuz in conversation. With Bill Roth joining us, I gave them an animated tour of the palace, pointing out lovely views of the harbor from various windows and ramparts. I believe that I captivated both Orkuz and Roth with my stories of the sea.
At the time of the awesome convergence of the Signs of the Logrus and Pattern in the palace, I was regrettably in the Harbor District. When I heard about the occurrence, I was deeply perturbed. It was difficult for me to encompass the idea that human beings were no longer in control of their political destinies. It only strengthened my resolve to preserve the well being of my children. I took an active part in watching over them better, I do not wish them to become pawns in the struggle of the Powers. I would battle the Powers themselves to protect my children, including Brinna.
I remain staunchly loyal to Random and Vialle, acting readily in their service. Although I may be bothered by the existing problems, the hazardous political climate, and further impending disasters of Powers beyond my ability to affect; I wish simply to assist my liege in resolving the great conflicts at hand.
On the political front:
Currently, things are pretty quiet. King Rinaldo of Kashfa has been pushing hard to establish cordial relations all around; he conceded Eregnor to Begma, in exchange for Random's consideration of the killing of Caine as a retroactive vendetta and his possible recognition as a family member. (The books are still open on those issues.) His marriage to Coral, though it's generally considered to be in name only, also helped, and it's possible that if the current climate continues, Kashfa may eventually be asked to join the Golden Circle.
Dalt is still a question mark in everyone's minds; word has it he's none too happy with Luke's new policy. Dalt’s current whereabouts is unknown.
As previously mentioned, things are somewhat on the rocks with Rebma, though it hasn't affected anyone's official policy just yet.
Merlin has sent ambassadors from Chaos, and Random has reciprocated; that situation is looking pretty positive, though rumor has it Merle's having some trouble with some of the older, more traditionalist Houses who still think Dworkin should be drawn and quartered, and the Serpent's Eye returned. Speaking of the Serpent, Amblerash is predicting he'll be waking again soon (he spends most of his time snoozing in the center of the Logrus, it seems) and they cannot foresee his temper when he does.
There's a formal reception at the Thelbane a few days hence, and the whole family is invited. The nature of the occasion is being kept quiet; not even Flora knows what's going on.
There are a few notable stories floating around:
Apart from Florimel's Conquest-of-the-Week, Caine's latest death and resurrection (there's a LOT of speculation on that point, almost none of it in any way accurate, since his shooting; there was actually a betting pool going on down at Bloody Sam's until I put a stop to it) and a few wild theories involving the return of the Moonriders or the impending surfacing of Rebma.
The Unicorn has been sighted several times of late, in various locations throughout the region. The religious-minded are proclaiming it's a harbinger of great events soon to come. Of course, they do that every time someone's goat gets loose and goes running around the countryside, but some of the witnesses this time appear to be reliable people.
The number of disappearances in and around Murderer's Row has climbed sharply in the past few weeks, particularly involving the indigent, homeless and poor. Several of the bar's regulars have vanished without a trace. The city guard, of course, has enough to do without looking into the disappearance of some of the city's worst nuisances and troublemakers, but people are starting to mutter and avoid that area even more than usual, especially after dark, and the businesses down that way (including the bar and Mayra's place) have suffered.
Me and my bloodline are cursed. It is possibly the most ridiculous curse I've ever heard of, and I stumbled across it by accident (literally!) but it's rather annoying.
You see, there's this step on the Pattern Room stairs...
At first, it seemed like just one of those petty irritations that crop up around any old castle. A loose step, one which, perhaps, only I noticed because only I have a heavy enough tread to jar it up off its foundation. It gave me a tumble or two, and I wound up leaving a note affixed to it with a dagger--"This one, blast it!"--so the castle staff could get it fixed. They removed the note, but apparently didn't do anything about the step, or did it wrong; it remained loose. I kept forgetting to say something--it isn't a frequent problem, after all. I don't visit the lower levels all that often, and nobody else had complained about it.
So, there the matter rested, until the day I brought Drake in from Shadow to give him his first look at the Pattern. On the way down the stairs, he somehow lost his footing and fell some distance down the spiral. It shook him up and bruised him a bit, but he escaped any serious injury. It wasn't until some time later that I realized he had tripped right about where that loose step was...
I had a stern word with the maintenance staff, then, and their foreman scratched his head. "My apologies, Your Highness. We checked it out," he explained, "but we couldn't find a thing wrong with it. We'll go over the entire stairway again, and you may be sure we'll have this thing licked by the next time you and yours go down that way."
They spent weeks combing the thing from top to bottom, replacing steps and whole sections of framework, creating a racket, annoying the castle guard, and generally making a nuisance of themselves. But by the time they were done, the stairway looked brand-new, tightly constructed, like it had just been built. I walked up and down that section several times, and all the steps behaved themselves. Not so much as a creak of protest.
Then I brought Thaine in, and right about that same place, he tripped and went flailing all the way down to the bottom, with many an "OOOFF!" and a "WHOA!!"... fortunately, he wasn't injured badly...
This time I replaced that blasted step with my own two hands and a slab of heavy Begman oak, fastened it down securely, jumped up and down on it repeatedly to be ABSOLUTELY SURE it was done right. And when I took Mirima down there for a look, I lifted her OVER it just to be safe. No mishaps that time.
I got involved in a spirited conversation with Odin, however, on his first visit down that way, lost track of where we were, and didn't warn him in time. Sure enough, down he went, hitting the suit of armor standing ornamentally at the bottom with a CLANG! (I've since had it moved.) He came away with a couple of minor abrasions and a slightly cracked collarbone.
I've even had Fi check it out; it isn't magicked. I've asked the family Trump artists to take a look, just on the off-chance -- though what Trump would have to do with a loose step, I can't imagine. No dice. I even managed to persuade Random to come down and examine it through the Jewel. He says it's clean, and grumbled about being hauled down there for no good reason. It's the strangest thing I ever saw. Unable to fix it, I finally had it painted bright red, so my kids won't kill themselves if they have occasion to visit the dungeons. As long as they watch where they put their feet, they ought to be okay... though I have this paranoid suspicion that the Step from Hell will find some way around that, too, and have found myself at odd moments contemplating the logistics of installing an elevator...
(Why is the Gérard family line plagued with weirdness, you may well ask? Actually, it's not just me; it's all of Rilga's kids and grand-kids, to some degree. But then, she came from a really strange Shadow... I just seem to have inherited the lion's share...)
There has been a rash of sickness among the city's children recently. It doesn't seem to be an epidemic--there's no one specific illness involved, just an increase in health problems in general. Little Kirin came down with viral meningitis not long ago, and I had him out in a hospital in Shadow for a couple of days. I haven't yet managed to track down the cause; health measures, always dutifully followed by the populace, have been stepped up, but there's been no discernible effect so far.
Currently, I'm concerned about Random's new baby daughter, Corona. She seems healthy enough, but Moiré has been making noises like she would like to see Corona come to Rebma for a while--Rebman children tend to do poorly out of the water when they're so young. Random is of the opinion that she's an Amberite, not a Rebman, and refuses to hear of it. I find myself in agreement with Moiré, that the newborn should spend some time in Rebma to insure the health of the child. I hope Random’s decision doesn’t jeopardize the child’s health. After losing Drake’s twin, I can only imagine what he would go through; and the guilt he would bear. I plan to 'warn' him that Corona may be in danger of exposure. She may be safer in Rebma, until we find out what is wrong. I'm sure that will not go over well, but he needs to be told.
The last few months have been rather hectic, I have been busy more as an MD instead of managing the fleet. Admiral Briggs can handle things and reach me in case of an emergency. He's doing a superb job, as usual. At least that's one thing I haven't had to worry about.
I have been working with the Castle infirmary staff and all medical personnel in the town of Amber to investigate this increase in health problems. I have organized all physicians, identified all known illnesses found in Amber over the last year or so, looking for a pattern or possible link, and inventoried our supply of: antibiotics, vaccines, and medicines.
If we have to go into Shadow for supplies or treatment, or negotiate with the Golden Circle kingdoms, then so be it. I can't take every child into Shadow for treatment, so I have to plan to bring the treatments to Amber. I briefed Random about the plans, in case he needs to be personally involved with any negotiations.
I have found that Amber always has a plethora of illnesses, all the usual things one would expect to find in a busy and populace port city: influenza, pneumonia, various types of pox and fevers, every manner of cold, STDs (though these, of course, are seen almost exclusively among the adult populace,) rashes, infections--even an occasional case of something really nasty, like: Ebola, Hansen's disease or bubonic plague; though thankfully, nothing of that virulence has come through town in a long time. The people are tough and resilient, so even the worst conditions do not produce the fatality rates often seen in Shadow. Right now, the medical community is just about at capacity, not yet overwhelmed. Supplies are being strained, and need to be replenished soon, but I have a little bit of leeway yet--provided things don't get substantially worse in the next day or two.
After a lot of hard work and research, we have found patterns and links in the occurrences: Children living in ground-level quarters and generally poorer conditions appear to be more susceptible, and nightmares are frequently reported. Dehydration is also common. The most puzzling thing is, many of the children do not seem to be responding well to treatment, and some will be cured of one condition only to show up a few days later with something else. It is very frustrating, but we refuse to give up.
Because of the medical emergency, I pass on the reception in Thelbane, Random understood. Merlin sends his regards, as well as an offer of assistance from the personal physician to the Thelbane. I may soon accept his offer.
Regarding the disappearances in Murderer’s Row; it sounds rather sinister. Maybe Random can assign someone to search around for some clues to the disappearances, I doubt if the city guard would find anything. He needs trained investigators. After the medical staff is organized, a plan is established, and some progress is made; maybe I will check Murderer’s Row myself. Bloody amateurs.
I asked Mirima to bring Mayra and the children out of Murderer’s Row, to stay at Castle Amber for awhile. I don't want Mirima or any of the kids around Murderer's Row until that little problem is resolved. Mayra came in, under protest--"What are you going to do, Gerry, move the entire city up here? If it weren't for the kids..." She's a tough lady, used to fending for herself. I get her and the younger kids installed on the third floor, generating a few rumors of my own in the process. Odin, of course, insists on remaining at his assigned position aboard the Unicorn.
With the family safe in the castle, I concentrate my efforts on the medical emergency. Murderer’s Row can wait. I hope there is no connection...
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