Fri Nov 22 01:03:45 1996
Subject: [AM] Just Another Day At the Office
        It was early summer, and the sun shone brightly on this sixth 
day of the ngan of Posya.  With a busy day ahead of her, Laura had 
decided to forego breakfast in the dining room and had asked her maid, 
Audra, to bring a tray to her third-floor apartment.  Now she sat 
comfortably on her balcony looking out at majestic Kolvir.  Three 
stories below lay the gardens where she had walked the evening before 
with Lord Bleys.
        A heavy silver tray rested on the round white wrought iron 
table.  Laura sat on one of the four matching chairs, two cushioned in 
black, two in red. There were no more than scraps left on the plates it 
held, the light but filling meal having already fueled Laura for the 
morning's activities.  No more than scraps and a white envelope.  
        Audra had told her that Zachary had handed her the envelope as 
the young maid was carrying the breakfast tray upstairs.  Laura's 
excitement rose as she opened the envelope, correctly surmising what it 
contained.  Her cousin had been industrious.  Laura now held five 
finished copies of her trump, fanned out like a hand of poker.  She was 
certain he must have kept one for himself and wondered whether he'd 
given any more away to cousins, aunts, and uncles.  
        Well pleased with the trump, Laura studied it carefully.  It 
capture her grace and beauty, the soft folds of her pink and red gown 
were drawn to display the life in her body.  Mesmerized by the image, 
Laura felt that her life force was a part of these cards.  Could she do 
work like that?  In her own style, of course, but just as powerful?  
Determined to persevere until she could, Laura drained the last of the 
coffee from a china cup, then hurried to bathe and dress.  It was what 
this morning's trip was all about.
        An hour later she was approaching the stables, dressed in red 
cotton riding pants and a matching shirt, with a short white cape thrown 
over her shoulders.  The memory of her last trip into the City still 
fresh in her mind, Laura had donned more than clothing.
        The sword she had purchased from Nate's Emporium of Exotic Arms 
was sheathed in its scabbard around her waist.  The sword was not 
ornate, indeed it looked quite ordinary.  It had no special powers, but 
it was forged from a metal so incredibly light in weight that the speed 
with which she could wield it was formidable.  Daily instruction by the 
Castle's master-at-arms and the occasional lesson from Prince Gerard. 
had improved the young princess' skills quite a bit.
        On the fourth finger of her right hand was another of Nate's 
gems.  It appeared to be a heavy, domed, gold ring with a large garnet 
embedded at the top.  The dome could be raised, however, to reveal four 
small compartments within.  In each was a drop of a potion Laura had 
mixed.  It wasn't magic, but merely a derivative of several herbs she 
had found in the Crime Lab. Each drop, injected via a tiny needle hidden 
in each compartment, would render its victim temporarily paralyzed.  Her 
only other jewelry was the ruby and diamond archery pin with the Pattern 
etched deep inside which hung concealed between her breasts.  Her pack 
of trumps, now including her own, rested in the side pocket of her 
pants.  This time Laura felt more prepared for a trip into Amber and a 
lunch at Bloody Bob's.
        "G'day to ye, m'lady."  Vegar, the stable boy, greeted Laura, a 
look of pleasure and pride on his face.  "I thank ye humbly for yer kind 
words to Mr. Grube about me giving you a bit o' help in the City.  Give 
me a rise in wages and position, he did, from stable boy to groom."
        "Not at all, Vegar.  You earned it," Laura said with a smile and 
was rewarded by a look of pure devotion on the lad's face.  That she had 
an champion in Castle Amber's stables was without doubt.  There were few 
royals throughout the history of her own Shadow Earth who would not have 
denied the potential value of such an ally.
        "Don't you be bothering her Ladyship, boy."  Mikal Grube, 
stablemaster had hurried out to join them.  "Be off with you and saddle 
up Tovarich."
        "Aye, Mr. Grube.  Right away.  Sorry, mum, if I spoke out of 
        Eyes cast downward and feet shuffling, Vegar was clearly 
horrified that he might have offended the Lady Laura.  Lay down his life 
for her, he would, with nary a thought about it.  Chastened, he hurried 
off to do as Grube ordered.
        "Apologies, my lady.  The boy is a good worker, but needs to 
learn better manners."
        "Not at all, Grube.  He was merely thanking me, and quite 
politely, too. It pleases me to learn that you rewarded his diligence.  
I've not been in Amber very long, but long enough to learn that its 
stables are in very good hands."
        "You're too kind, my lady."
        Though he would not presume to say it, Grube approved highly of 
Amber's newest princess.  Tovarich, the fine black colt the Lady had 
chosen for her own was thriving and obviously loved his rider.  That was 
quite enough for Grube.  And though he would keep the boy, Vegar, from 
growing too big for his britches too soon, the stablemaster took note 
when a royal not only appreciated a service performed by his team, but 
took time to express it. All he did, however, was bow awkwardly from the 
        "Ah, here comes the lad with your horse.  Quick, boy.  Give the 
princess a hand up."
        Vegar did as he was bid and Laura nuzzled her horse's neck 
before riding off to make the descent down the face of Mt. Kolvir.  The 
usually frisky Tovarich seemed content with the leisurely pace Laura set 
on this warm summer morn.  She felt the need to soak in the aura of the 
mountain.  With each passing day, the young princess was feeling more 
and more a part of the reality that was Amber.  She had come to feel 
that the royals and the One True City were one and the same, the source 
of Order that kept Chaos in check, the Chaos that provided the need for 
        The City was bristling with activity as Laura rode in.  While it 
had been her intention to go directly to the artisans sector of the City 
in search of her drawing pens, she made a spur of the moment decision to 
make her first stop elsewhere.
        "Let's go to the House of Harte, Tovarich.  I think I need a few 
new gowns."
        The coal black stallion gave a whinny of assent.
        "Well, I DO need some more clothes if I'm going to be pursued by 
Bleys and/or any other uncles... for whatever purposes," Laura told 
herself.  Not that she really needed an excuse to fill her closets.
        Barris Harte welcomed her with open arms and a ready tape 
measure. Together they selected three gowns and two riding outfits.  
Harte assured her he would have them delivered to the Castle in short 
order.  Word had gotten out, though Barris claimed not to know how, that 
Laura of Amber had picked him as her couturier and his custom had grown 
enough for him to employ four additional seamstresses.
        Pleased with her selections, Laura bade the man good day and 
made her way to a row of shops featuring tools for all crafts that the 
mind could imagine.  She browsed in several shops before finding what 
she sought.  One look and she knew.  It was a set of drawing pens with 
nibs of varying widths.  Their shafts were of the blackest ebony and 
they were accompanied by a set of colored inks of a purity that showed 
through their containers. The collection was encased in a red leather 
container.  Laura wanted it. This was what she would use to draw her 
trumps.  Spotting a box of blank white cards of the proper thickness and 
quality, along with a sketch pad and some pencils, she made her 
purchase.  Complimentary words about the lovely new Princess of Amber 
following her out the door.
        The sun had climbed high in the sky during the shopping trip and 
Laura's light breakfast had by now worn off.
        "I think it's time for lunch," she told Tovarich as she slipped 
her package into his saddle bag.
        Later, they would ride into Forest Arden where she would draw 
and he could graze, but now it was her turn to dine.  The horse easily 
remembered the way to Bloody Bob's and Laura tethered him outside and 
entered one of Amber's most notorious watering holes.
        As usual, the place was teeming with patrons eager to satisfy 
hungers and thirsts of all sorts.  A good percentage of the clientele 
were what one would expect to find at a waterfront tavern -- seamen, 
ship masters, harbor riffraff, all of them loud and boisterous.  
Gentility was not a requirement at Bloody Bob's.  For that reason, many 
of the upper class of Amber shunned the place, but those who were in the 
know believed that the fare served there was worth the ever present 
possibility of danger to purse or person. Indeed, for many, it was an 
added attraction.
        Laura took her place at a small, out of the way table, taking 
care to unsheathe her sword and lay it on the rough wooden table within 
easy reach. The menu was printed in chalk on a slab of black slate 
hanging above the bar.  Laura opted for the special of the day, a 
steaming seafood chowder, filled with succulent morsels of lobster, 
crab, and shrimp.  She wasn't asked what she would like to drink.  At 
Bloody Bob's, it was assumed, unless specifically corrected, that a 
tankard of Bayle's Piss was the beverage of choice.  The waitress who 
brought the meal appeared skilled enough but had the look of one who's 
evening work was of a different nature.  The ease with which she took 
the lewd comments shouted at her as she moved among the tables at her 
station, laden trays balanced on one hand, seemed to confirm this.
        The chowder lived up to all expectation and Laura had almost 
finished it when a loud voice boomed far the bar.
        "Ya spilled my ale, you drunken lout!  You'll be buyin' me 
        "Buy yer own, ya son of a scurvy galley slut!  'Twas yer own 
clumsy self that spilled yer swill!
        It was no surprise that the brawl grew louder and more physical 
with friends of each combatant taking the side of his mate.  Fists flew, 
chairs were broken over heads and tables were smashed. Bottles were 
broken, their jagged edges thrust to pierce skin and more vital organs.
        Grabbing her sword, Laura stood up and backed towards a window 
and away from the spreading brawl.  Fully prepared to defend herself, 
she preferred to avoid a fracas that meant nothing to her.  Or did it?  
Without warning a beefy, hairy arm was around her neck and a gravelly 
voice whispered in her ear.
        "Be careful of the choices you make, Princess, or your days as a 
Lady of Amber may be few."
        No sooner was the last word out of his mouth than Laura was 
released. Sword in hand, she spun around, but her assaulter had melted 
into the general melee, a show she was beginning to believe had been 
staged as a diversion for her to receive this warning.  She'd had enough 
of Bloody Bob's for one day although, if under oath, she would have to 
admit feeling a thrill at the excitement of it all.
        "Come, Tovarich."  Laura sheathed her sword and swung herself up 
into the saddle.  "Our work here is done.  Would you like a romp in the 
        The colt whinnied his delight and practically pranced his way 
back towards Arden.  As soon as they were on one of the forest's tree 
lined paths, Laura gave the colt his head and let him run free.  This 
was not a hellride, and Laura could feel the horse's pure joy at running 
hard in the fresh summer air, his muscles rippling under her legs.  It 
was not until the path widened into a grassy knoll with a gently running 
stream bisecting it that she reined him in dismounted.
        "Ah, that was fun, wasn't it?" she asked, laughing gaily.
        Tovarich snorted and pranced his agreement, then came close and 
nuzzled Laura's neck as if in thanks for his play time.  She gave him a 
sugar cube and, after taking her sketching materials from the saddle 
back encouraged the horse to graze in the tall grass across the shallow 
stream.  Laura watched him fondly for a few minutes, then settled down 
in the grass, cross-legged, the sketch pad on her knees.  She would make 
some preliminary sketches before trying to create a real trump.
        Before starting to draw, Laura took her own deck from her pocket 
and immersed herself in their beauty and power.  She did not spend too 
much time examining any one card, not wishing to initiate a contact.  
When she felt the cards' energy within her, Laura put away her deck and 
began to draw. Soon the bare white page was covered with the outlines of 
three figures, the darkly handsome Rusty Mallory in tennis clothes on 
the left, blonde and beauteous Flora in the middle, and the studious 
Zachary on the right.  Laura stopped drawing and gazed at what she'd 
        The image of Rusty formed in her mind, a smiling, loving Rusty 
whom she'd never had a chance to bid good-bye.  She knew him so well, 
the dedicated, gifted lawyer at work, the fun-loving companion at play, 
the tender lover. He must sure have been frantic, wondering what had 
happened to her.  But as she concentrated on him, the smile faded, 
replace by a look of ire mixed with anguish.  Laura shuddered, suddenly 
certain that something was very wrong on the Shadow of her birth, 
something that involved Rusty.
        Laura concentrated hard on the sketch, willing even a brief 
contact.  She needed to know what the trouble was.  But the sketch was 
only that, a sketch.  While her hand had subconsciously added detail as 
her mind was focused on Rusty, the drawing was not nearly rich enough in 
character for a trump.  And as much as she would like to finish it, 
needed to finish it, such a thing could not be rushed, especially not 
for a neophyte such as she. The basis was there.  Later, at the Castle, 
she would use pen and ink and try again.
        Her grey eyes shifted to the right and focused on her Cousin 
Zachary. Looking at the Crown Prince brought back the warning she'd 
received only hours ago.  What was it all about?  Could Bleys be behind 
it, either as a method of letting Laura know it would be wise for her to 
welcome his advances, or for other, more nefarious reasons?  Did it 
concern the attack on the Unicorn and its threat to the very fabric of 
reality?  Was it really possible that ANY of the royals, elders or their 
offspring, were involved in such a travesty?  And how much of this 
should she confide to Zachary? Certainly some of it, but all?  Of all 
her newfound family, Zachary was the one she most wanted to trust.  
Would it be wisdom or folly if she did?
        The planes and angles of Zachary's face were taking shape on the 
sketch pad as these thoughts took shape in Laura's mind.  So immersed 
was she that she failed to hear the approach of a man cloaked in black 
with a hood covering his head until he reached down and pulled her 
upright.  The blade of a dagger gleamed in his right hand.
        "Come Lady, we go for a ride.  Someone wishes to see you.  I 
would regret having to mar such lovely skin with this blade when we 
could have a much more enjoyable trip together."
        The stranger smiled lasciviously, exposing blackened, rotting 
teeth.  Laura forced herself to appear calm.  She had no time to draw 
her sword; her wits would have to get her out of this.  She smiled up at 
her assailant.
        "Why use force for something given willingly?" she asked in a 
low, seductive voice.  "It's a fine day for a ride and you certainly 
have me curious... about several things."
        "Smart as well as beautiful.  Very well then. Lady.  We'll take 
a pleasant ride together, you and me, the long way 'round."
        The man reached for her, which was what Laura had intended.  She 
noted with interest that he had six fingers on his hand just before she 
brought her own hand up and a tiny needle shot out of its hiding place 
in her right.  Her assailant froze in his tracks, wide awake and 
cognizant, but as immobile as a statue.
        "Now, would you care to tell me exactly who you are and who sent 
you?" Laura asked quietly, but with the smile completely gone from her 
        The man's eyes gleamed with rage as he struggled in vain to 
move.  He began to speak, not with an answer to Laura's question, but 
with a stream of invective interspersed with threats.  Before she could 
restate her request more firmly, three of his comrades burst forth from 
the trees.
        "You were warned she could be tricky, L'thuth!  Fool!  But your 
tricks won't help you now, Princess.  You're coming with us."
        This time Laura did grab her sword, but two fingers of her other 
hand went to her mouth and whistled a signal to Tovarich.  The stallion, 
grazing happily across the stream, raised his head and snorted his 
anger.  He charged across at full gallop and reared up again and again, 
threatening to trample all three of Laura's attackers.  No match for the 
raging horse, they stopped only to sling their still frozen comrade over 
the shoulder of the largest of the three and ran into the cover of the 
trees.  That they stopped for him convinced Laura they did not want him 
questioned at the Castle.
        "Thank you, Tovarich," she said, rewarding him with an apple she 
pulled from one of the saddle bags.  "I think we've had enough adventure 
for one day.  Let's go home now."
        Stopping only to gather up her sketch pad and pencils, Laura 
mounted the horse she had grown to love.  Their return trip was much 
more sedate than their romp into Arden.  Had Julian, Defender of Arden, 
or any of his minions observed any of this?  That was something she 
might soon discover or never know.
        There were no more surprises on the way home.  Laura turned 
Tovarich over to the care of Mikal Grube and headed for the Castle and 
its library.  A talk with Zachary certainly seemed in order.
        Sure enough, when she opened the door, he was there.  But he was 
not alone. Instead, he sat comfortably relaxed in an overstuffed chair 
having a pleasant conversation with an exquisite blonde.  They looked up 
as Laura gasped in astonishment.
        "Hello, Laura," the woman said softly.
Princess of Amber
NRPG:  Any food for thought here, Chris?  
Matt:  Still looking forward to meeting Brandi.  I've no idea yet how 
she and Laura will take to each other, but I can't wait to find out.  :)
Jason:  I wonder how much of this Julianna is aware of.