From: Judi Marko 
Subject: [AM] Cousins By the Dozens
         "It is lovely here today, isn't it, Zachary?"
        It was.  Arden was lushly green this afternoon.  A gentle breeze 
whispered in the clearing.   There was no sign, strangely enough, of  
Julian and Morgenstern or the hell hounds, but Arden was not small.  
Presumably, its guardian was in another part of the forest.
        "Yes, it is and you were right.  I did need this break and the 
very pleasant company."
        Zachary smiled and took a healthy bite from an even healthier 
overstuffed sandwich.  Laura was pleased to seem her cousin looking more 
relaxed than she'd seen him in weeks.  For her part, she felt 
marvelous.   The heavenly night she had just enjoyed had even managed to 
push the disturbing visions of the mirrors into a back corner of her 
mind.  Equally as ravenous as Zachary, she savored the first bite of her 
own sandwich, washing it down with the chilled white wine.
        All that bothered her was the sense that she never knew what 
Zachary was really thinking.  Friend to everyone, liked by all, but what 
did the affable Crown Prince keep hidden?  Laura fully understood that 
she was vulnerable.  Not long enough in Amber to become fully hardened 
with the famous, or infamous, family suspicion, she wasn't naove enough 
to believe she could be fully open with any of them.  And yet, it was 
what she would have liked.  She was fond of Zachary and of Brandi, and 
Orbus, well, Laura just smiled.  There was little that could draw a man 
and woman closer than the night they had shared, but still, she had a 
sense of foreboding about him and what lay ahead.  Certainly she was not 
going to confide the night of passion to Zachary.
        But, did he know?  Nothing in his manner suggested that he did, 
but one thing Laura HAD been in Amber long enough to realize was that 
the royals had paid eyes and ears everywhere.  Even now, two elder 
Princesses were discussing the behavior of their children.
        "I don't believe I approve," said the blonde.
        "I am quite certain I do not," replied the redhead.
        It was an unlikely conversation for these two Princesses had a 
longstanding dislike for each other, not to mention that they didn't 
trust each other two inches out of sight.  But maternal concern 
motivated them today.   Or, was it perhaps suspicion of a combined power 
play by their offspring.
        "Laura is young and not yet wise to the ways of Amber and of a 
gifted sorcerer."
        "Orbus has been alone for a long time and is particularly 
vulnerable to one such as your daughter."
        The half-sisters glared at each other briefly.
        "Do you propose to do anything about it, Fiona?"
        "For the present, I will merely observe, Flora.  I suggest you 
do the same.  Time will tell if we need to take action."
        Fiona was still seriously displeased with the disrespectful 
arrogance her son had shown her the day before, highly disturbed that he 
had discovered the identify of his father, and fully aware that he would 
listen to nothing she had to say.  Any more direct action would be 
premature and would sure widen the breach between them.  There was no 
reason, however, for Florimel to know any of this.  Flora, for her part, 
knew that her daughter still resented her perceived abandonment.  She 
did not unburden herself to Fiona.
        "Very well, then.  We are agreed, unlikely as that may seem.  We 
will watch.  Carefully."
        "Very carefully."
        Laura would have been a good deal more than annoyed if she had 
been aware of that conversation, but she was not.  She was enjoying an 
outing with Zachary on beautiful summer day with good food and better 
        "Maybe I should try contacting Brandi again," she suggested, 
pulling her deck from her pocket.  Zachary watched with interest as 
Laura concentrated on the Trump of her bardic cousin.  "No," she said 
after a few minutes, "there's nothing.  She's got the receiver off the 
        "Brandi Blackswan can take care of herself," Zachary assured 
her, though Laura sensed a note of concern in his voice. "If she doesn't 
contact us or return, I'll see if Julianna can help."
        Laura nodded and looked down at the swan ring.  Did Brandi need 
help, but wasn't where she could call for it, or was she doing her own 
thing and purposely blocking contact?  Maybe if Laura focused her will 
on that mystical ring --- 
        Whether it would have worked or not, she wasn't to find out now. 
Zachary's sharply drawn breath and recoil grabbed Laura's attention.
        "What is it, Zachary?"
        "A Trump contact," he answered.
        "From Brandi?"
        "No, I don't think so.  It's strong, but unfocused, someone not 
accustomed to ^E Hello?  Who is this?"
        Laura and Zachary exchanged glances.  Another relative?
        "How are you talking to me?" Zachary asked.
Sarah explained.
        Zachary gave a reassuring smile.  "Where are you now?"
        "That will take some time to explain.  And it would probably be 
best to talk to you in person. Now, the question is, would you like to 
come here, or shall we go to where you are?
she was an inquisitive one, that was for sure.
        "A friend and relative of, unless I miss my guess, both of 
ours.  But all this will be explained in due time.  Perhaps it would be 
best if we came there."
        Sarah paused to think for a while.  
        Zachary smiled.  "No, all you need to do is hold out your hand.  
You will feel someone clasp your hand, and then all you have to do is 
pull gently. A rather beautiful young woman will appear before you, and 
then you will have to do it again with me.  It may sound strange, but 
believe me, it works."  He motioned Laura over. "Anytime you're ready."
        "Tell her to wait just a moment, Zachary."
        He passed along the message and looked at Laura quizzically.
        "We have to get back," she reminded him.
        "I know.  We can Trump back.  Someone at the Castle will pull us 
        "What about Tovarich and Rainpuddle?  Do you want to send them 
back on their own?"
        "Good point," he conceded.  "Two riderless horses returning to 
Amber at this time could have serious ramifications.  Any suggestions?"
        Laura nodded.  "You can draw a Trump faster than I.  How about 
if Sarah pulls me through and you stay here long enough to make one of 
this clearing.  We can bring her back here and she can ride double with 
one of us.  She'll have to be tested, won't she?  Like I was?"
        "Yes, she will of course.  All right, Laura.  You go through and 
talk to her.  I'll call you when I'm ready to join you."
        "Have you got paper and inks?  If not, you'll find some in 
Tovarich's saddlebag."
        Laura turned to stretch out her hand, then stopped.  They would 
be leaving the horses here alone for a while, and with things as they 
were ----  The fledgling sorceress had a warding spell of protection 
prepared and hung. She drew it around the two horses.  Tovarich whinnied 
in protest.  As if he couldn't take care of himself!  And Rainpuddle, 
too, if it came to that. Laura smiled.  It seemed as if her horse was 
growing more intelligent by the day.  She had a feeling that one day 
soon, he'd be able to talk to her.
Zachary had begun his drawing and Laura stretched out her hand until she 
felt the slightest tug.
"Hello, Sarah.  My name is Laura."
The redheaded woman, who seemed to be in her mid-twenties, was naturally 
startled, but was clearly determined to face whatever it was that was 
happening to her.
"Hello," she replied.  "My, but you really are beautiful.  Could you 
please tell me what's going on here?"
"That will take some telling, my dear, but I can start.  We'll leave 
most of it for Zachary though.  He'll join us soon."
"Zachary?  Is that the man I was talking to?"
"Yes.  He's making preparations for us to get back."
"Back to where?  You haven't told me anything yet," Sarah pointed out.
"I will.  Do you think we can sit down, Sarah?  We're about to change 
your concept of reality."
Well, that was quite an opening line, Sarah thought, and not one she 
would likely have believed if she hadn't been through what had just 
happened to her.  Perhaps this Laura person was right.  They should sit 
down.  Sarah led the way to a large couch covered in a country cotton 
print fabric.  It suddenly made Laura realize that she was back in 
Shadow Earth, her shadow of birth, though not quite in her own time, she 
sensed.  She felt a sudden sense of urgency that she needed to return to 
her home before Amber, and soon.
"First, let me tell you that not very long ago, I was where you are now. 
If we are right about you, your life is going to change more than you 
could possibly imagine, Sarah.  For me, it was a wondrous change.  Tell 
me, have you ever felt that you're different from the people you know, 
different even from your family?"
Sarah thought about it. Her life certainly had not been an easy one, but 
different?  Was she different?  "Yes, now that you mention it, I guess I 
"Well, you've been right. You are different, and you're just beginning 
to learn how much.  You're not what you've always believed yourself to 
be, Sarah.  If we're right about you, you'll see and do things you never 
believed were possible.  And you have so much to learn.  I'm still 
learning myself."
"Learning what?"  Sarah was growing a little impatient.  She could tell 
that Laura was trying to break things as gently as she could, but Sarah 
wanted to know!  "You really haven't told me anything, Laura."
"Oh dear, I'm afraid I'm doing this badly.  It's not easy to explain 
Amber!  The word struck a chord in Sarah, deep inside, where she lived. 
She didn't know why, but it had meaning for her.  Amber, she knew 
suddenly, was not merely a semi-precious gem.  It was something else, 
something very significant.
Laura felt the tingle in her mind that signaled a trump contact.
"Oh good. I think that Zachary is ready to join us.  He's the best one 
to tell you the rest.
"Zachary, is that you?"


Sarah watched as Laura stretched out her hand.  A moment later, she had 
another guest.
"Sarah, allow me to introduce Zachary, Crown Prince of Amber, and most 
probably your cousin.  As I am."
Princess of Amber
  Here we are, Sarah.  Ready to bring you back.
Allen, Orbus and Laura do have the whole morning to themselves.  J
Chris, would you post this to the newsgroup for me?  I still can't access
my news servers.  Thanks.
ALL:  Please add Greg Armstrong to our mailing list.  He's thinking up a
character.  Address is