From: Judi Marko 
Subject: [AM] Where there is a WILL, there are relatives

Hours passed. Laura sat in a comfortable chair drawn up close to where
Brandi lay sleeping -- unconscious? -- closed lids hiding the different
colored eyes, and luxuriant fiery red hair splayed out across pillows and
bed linen.

Brandi would recover, Laura knew. Amberites recovered from almost
anything; it was merely a matter of time and will. They all healed at
different rates, of course, but they all healed quickly. Laura was
surprised that Brandi hadn't awakened yet. Unless -- someone or some
was at work to slow her recovery.

It was strange, the almost immediate connection Laura and Brandi had
forged. The Lady Blackswan was not one to form easy attachments, at
not with family. Laura had sensed that from the start. Still, a
friendship formed from mutual admiration and a sense of rivalry that
push each to higher achievement.

Not for the first time as she watched her cousin, Laura wondered as to
Brandi's royal parent, or parents. It was a sore spot for the volatile
Princess and likely the source of her antipathy towards the Elders. That
feeling Laura understood well for she had felt it too. But, for Laura,
uncertainly had not lasted long; for Brandi, it had gone on for years.

The blazing red hair pointed toward the three elder redheads, but
was a tricky science. Amber genes were bound to be dominant, but
genes were there and always had a 25% chance of appearing. Laura,
her cousin, speculated.

Was it Fiona? Her aunt's steel will was readily visible in Brandi, but
would Fi acknowledge Orbus and not Brandi? Fiona could have her reasons,
she gave little away to anyone, but it did seem unlikely.

The mad and presumably dead Brand? Brandi had his temperament and a
variation of his name, but had shown no hint of his madness, at least to
Laura. To Laura's mind, he was a possibility, but only that.

Bleys? She didn't think so. From what she knew of Bleys, which
was little, the charming rogue of Amber, she felt, would openly
his children should they find their way to the Castle, if only as living
proof of his conquests.

Her own mother, the exquisite Florimel, on the other hand had hidden the
fact that she had a daughter from all her siblings. Could she and Brandi
share the same mother? Other than the secret kept, it didn't seem
probable, although it suddenly struck Laura that she would be pleased to
discover that Brandi was a half-sister.

Laura's agile mind sifted through the personae of aunts and uncles,
considering, discarding, filing for future thought. One name suddenly
stuck in her mind and refused to depart. Lord Caine, master manipulator
and the Prince of a Thousand Faces. Supposedly dead, but Laura did not
take on faith that any of them were truly gone, save Eric. Laura's only
knowledge of Caine was from the Chronicles and from listening to the
told around the Castle and in town. She could definitely see Caine as
Brandi's father, but that was merely her own deduction and might well
no basis in fact.

Brandi stirred just then and began to squirm in her bed, mumbling
disjointed words and phrases. Her head turned from side to side and her
fists clenched as if she were in a battle, perhaps with herself, and
her eyes remained tightly shut. What she was seeing was in her own mind.

Laura leaned in closer to hear.

"Dalt … love lost … found … lost … robes … evil … passion … hate … black
hidden … faceless evil ... power … forbidden desire …. Yes! …
… Shadows lost … No! … DALT!"

It made no sense, they were just fragments of dreams, Laura told herself,
but the words had been uttered and would not be forgotten though Brandi
once again slept quietly. What could it mean? Why did it begin and end
with Dalt? Had her cousin found the one most suspect in the attack on
Unicorn? If so, why had she not called through the Trumps for help?
Desire? Passion? Was it possible, what she was thinking? Laura stared
hard at Brandi, now resting comfortably again in what seemed a peaceful

"Don't jump to assumptions based on sleep-induced ramblings," Laura
herself. Still, it must all mean something and there were the other
that chilled Laura to the bone. What was the faceless evil, hidden
It brought back with a sharp jolt to her mind the vision that had been in
her mirror the day before -- the evil hooded face and the brilliant red
jewel beckoning to her.

Laura rose with her natural grace. She had been sitting here for most of
the night. In a few hours, the sun would send its newborn rays through
Castle windows. It would be a good idea for her to get a few hours sleep

"Watch her carefully please, Jokara," Laura asked the maid who had been
assigned to stay with Brandi through the night, "and send word to me
immediate if there is any change, for the better or the worse."

"Yes, milady. As you wish."


 Near the Stairway Down to the Pattern

There she was. Laura had been looking for Lady Sarah for some time now.

It was hardly her duty to look out for her newly arrived cousin, but
was kind by nature, until she had good cause not to be. Having known of
her heritage and having been at Amber only a few short months, Laura had
not forgotten the enormity of the discovery and its effect. She smiled
herself, acknowledging that her motives were not entirely altruistic.
was a Princess of Amber and learning what she could about her relatives
highly advisable. Then, there was the feeling of pure delight that she
no longer the newest of the royals. At last!

Laura's day had been quiet but busy and devoted to study. She was
to expand her knowledge of Shadow Shifting, Trump Artistry, and Sorcery
at the same time. She also devoted a portion of each day to archery
practice and lessons in swordsmanship. It was a Herculean curriculum
given herself, but her skills -were- improving. She would match herself
any Amberite with bow and arrow. The rest were coming along, each at its
own pace.

During a luncheon break, she had sought out Zachary, but the Crown
was not to be found. He had still not told Laura where the Pattern had
taken him; she wondered if he ever would. What an exasperating man her
cousin could be at times! He had welcomed her to Amber and had been
teacher, mentor, and friend. Laura was as fond of him as she was of
and Orbus, but try as she might to grow closer to him, he seemed to be as
kind and friendly to her as he was to everyone, no more, no less. When
opportunity seemed to leave an opening, something or someone interrupted.

By chance or design? Laura didn't know. Zach was genuinely liked by all
the royals, or that was how it appeared, but to Laura, he was among the
most difficult to figure out. Perhaps -that- was a lesson she would be
wise to learn from him.

"Sarah! Wait up!"

"I'm exploring," Sarah explained and turned back to enter the corridor.

"Sarah, we need to talk before you go down there," Laura stated
emphatically and rushed towards her new cousin. She saw Sarah's eyes
in anger, but that wasn't going to stop her. "It's not safe for you just
yet. You're not ready…."

"Ready for what?" Sarah's tone was one of extreme irritation and
impatience. Something was pulling at her from down this corridor and
be damned if some small woman claiming to be a long lost relative was
to stop her.

"It's the Pattern," Laura said simply for that was enough. She saw the
effect the one word had on Sarah and was not surprised. The Blood of
flowed in her veins and the Pattern was magnet stronger than the pull of
gravity on Shadow Earth.

"The Pattern?"

Laura breathed deeply. How did one explain the Pattern? It could not
done. The Pattern must be experienced to be even meagerly understood.
could tell Sarah only the details that would sound astounding, but would
minute to any who had walked it.

"Through this corridor is a stairway," she began, "which leads down
through Mt. Kolvir. How it came to be is something we may never know.
It's dark, steep, and winding, seemingly an endless descent, but
you do come to its bottom where you will find Kristoff standing guard.
air is dank and not pleasant. The Castles dungeons are down there, more
dreadful than any medieval horror chambers you've read of, Sarah.

"The dungeons are a maze of tunnels. An escaped prisoner, for sometime
that is managed, who is not caught is often lost forever in that maze.
must follow a careful path to reach the tunnel you seek. It is the
seventh. The first six house prisoners, each tunnel for a different type
of crime. The first is for political prisoner, the second for prisoners
war, and the third, often called Murderer's Row, is for Amber's own
criminals. The fourth tunnel is for those convicted of treason and the
fifth is for the criminally insane. The sixth is where Creatures of
are held."

The anger in Sarah's eyes melted as she listened carefully, knowing
instinctively that was she was hearing was important.

"It's the seventh tunnel that leads to the room that holds the Pattern.
The door is always locked, but all the royals have a key, as does
Sarah, the Pattern, carved into the floor, was drawn by Dworkin in his
blood to bring Order where there had been only Chaos. It's from the
Pattern that we get our ability to shift Shadow and our other powers.
Until we have walked it, we cannot travel through Shadow. You could not
have come to Amber on horseback as you did if I, or another Pattern
Initiate, had not been with you."

"Then, I must walk it," Sarah insisted. "Why do you try to stop me?"
note of suspicion in her voice was unmistakable. Laura knew she was
wondering the royals who had walked the Pattern tried to stop those who
hadn't from achieving their birthright.

"Because you aren't prepared, Sarah. I can't begin to tell you how hard
Pattern Walk is. Two things are required. The blood of Amber must flow
your veins, and your will must be strong enough to overcome the Pattern's
resistance. Yes, yes, I know you have a will of iron." Laura smiled
broadly at her cousin. "But, it's not enough. One misstep or one brief
pause and the Pattern will kill you. End of story."

Sarah was still suspicious. "I heard that -you- walked the Pattern only
day or two after you came to Amber, Laura, even though I didn't know what
that meant at the time. So, if you could do it, why can't I?"

"I spent almost two solid days in the Library, Sarah, reading everything
could, studying what I would have to know and have to do walk the
Even so, when I went down there, my plan was only to look. Once I was
inside, the Pattern compelled me. I couldn't resist. But with all my
reading, I still wasn't prepared for it. Take the hardest thing you've
ever done, Sarah. Raise it to the nth power, and it would still be a
of cake compared to a Pattern Walk. When I made it to the center and
ask the Pattern to take me anywhere, the only place I wanted to go was to
my bedroom to sleep."

"Then why do it at all, Laura?" Sarah asked, although she suspected the
answer already lay within her mind.

"Because when you've done it, the feeling you get is indescribable. You
understand for the first time who you are and what reality truly is."
Laura's face lit up and her eyes positively glowed as she made this
statement. The effect was not lost on Sarah.

"I was royally scolded for trying it so soon without help," she

"You mean someone who has walked it can help someone who hasn't?" Sarah
asked eagerly? "Would you help me do it, then?"

"I would, Sarah, but I don't think I'm experienced enough to help
through a first Pattern Walk. Don't misunderstand me. We do gain our
powers from the walk, but that doesn't make us a Mistress of Pattern as
Julianna is. We gain the ability to shift Shadow but we are still
The Pattern gives us the abilities; after that, we must study long and
hard. I am nowhere near as expert in Trump Design as Zachary, and I'm a
rank beginner at Sorcery. I doubt I'll ever have Julianna's gift with
Pattern. I really think you should wait before you try. If you do, I'll
do everything I can to help you get ready."

"Well, all right," Sarah said doubtfully, but she allowed Laura to lead
her away from the staircase.

This did little to allay Laura's suspicions. Sarah was probably agreeing
so that her cousin would not call for reinforcements to keep her from
descending. If there were a resident bookie at the Castle, Laura would
have put down a large bet that Sarah would take her first opportunity to
get to the Pattern. Laura shrugged imperceptibly. She had done what she
could. Whatever trouble Sarah got herself into now would be of her own


Laura went up to her apartment with the intent of working on the Trump of
Russell Mallory. The idea that she must return to Shadow Earth had been
niggling in her mind for days now. She had no idea why, but the sense of
urgency heightened each time she thought of it. Creating a Trump of a
person of Shadow was eminently more difficult than one of an Amberite,
Laura still had not gotten it to work. She knew Rusty so much better
any of her cousins, but some essential element must still be missing. It
she could not make the Trump come alive soon, she would have to traverse
Shadow. Perhaps tomorrow.

Standing for a moment just inside her door, Laura felt the sense of
sanctuary her apartment always gave her. The rich ebony furniture
on the soft pile of charcoal grey carpeting was lushly feminine in the
curve and carving of legs and arms. The soft pink sofa with red and
pillows carefully arranged to look casually tossed offered a invitation
sit; it seemed to say that two would enjoy its comfort more than one or
three. The piece Laura loved best was in her study. The large ebony
with drawers evident and other drawers hidden. They held her set of pens
and inks, a spare set of Trumps, and other items best left unmentioned.
Hidden inside were the ensorcelled bow and arrows she had found in the
Crime Lab. Fresh flowers cuttings from the gardens were placed daily
twin red cut crystal vases. There were similar, but larger ones on the
night tables by her large round bed, giving her bedroom a perpetual scent
of romance and allure.

"Why, I haven't named you," Laura said as she went to the desk and opened
the secret drawer that kept them from prying eyes. Their apartments were
supposed to be sacrosanct, never entered by a relative without
but who could be sure of that? She had, after all, secretly explored
Flora's apartment before her mother returned to Amber and finally
acknowledged her daughter openly.

Laura caressed the bow lovingly. It was meant to be hers. "Your name
Onyx," she stated and the bowstring hummed its assent. Her hand went to
finger Bloodstone. Yes, it was fitting. Her artifacts would be named

"Oh milady, you are here."

Laura hurriedly put bow and arrows away and looked up, somewhat surprised
to find her maid Audra coming out from her bathroom.

"Yes, Audra. Is there something I should know?"

"I am to tell you there is to be a family dinner, Princess. So many of
their Highnesses have already arrived. I've drawn your bath and if you
will select a gown, I will press it while you bathe."

Laura frowned, wondering if there had been a new attack. Something
must have occurred to bring the elders together on such short notice.

"A family dinner? Is there talk of what the occasion is, Audra?"

"I don't know much, milady. Only that a strange lady came last night to
the Castle gates asking to see His Majesty and that he allowed her a room
and that she is still in the Castle."

"Thank you, Audra. I'll wear the red velvet tonight and the silver
slippers. Take out the black pearl and garnet necklace and earrings and
ask Severin up to see to my hair."


The Dining Room was set as if for a State Dinner. Laura arrived to find
that, indeed, many of her aunts and uncles and most of her cousins were
there. She looked over the room hoping to see her Uncle Corwin for the
first time. He was the one she most wanted to meet, but he wasn't there.

The word was that no one knew where Lord Corwin was and had not known for
many years. That was the word, but was it true? If true, was it true
everyone? That was a bet Laura would not make.

Brandi, still asleep, was not there either, and Laura was disappointed
see that Orbus had not yet returned. This was no ordinary family
gathering. Laura realized it the moment she walked in. The tension was
palpable and Laura had never seen the King look so grim. Laura greeted
aunts and uncles and her mother, then went to find Zachary.

"What's up?" she asked. "From the atmosphere in here, I expect to hear
ominous music in the background."

The Crown Prince smiled at the reference to the suspense movies of
Shadow when the lovely, but clearly dimwitted heroine walked alone into
some dark alley when a serial killer was on the loose.

"Evening, Laura. You look even more stunning than usual. Giving my
Aunt Flora a run for her money."

Laura curtsied to him. "Thank you, your Highness," she said, rewarding
Zach with a dazzling smile. "I've been looking for you. What happened
when you went looking for the Unicorn?"

Zachary looked around the room and placed a finger to his lips. "Not now,
Laura. I'll tell you about it later."

She nodded, understanding his wish to keep that for a time when far fewer
ears were about to overhear, but neither did she miss the expression of
concern that clouded his features for a moment. It was a topic she would
pursue until she had some answers.

"All right, Zach. Why don't you plan to come up to my apartment later
tonight? Our lovely picnic did get interrupted and we really haven't had
chance to talk since then." She presented him with one of her high-beam

He did tell her what he knew of the arrival of the woman in the night,
said that his father was keeping his own counsel on most of it. The King
wanted his siblings and scions to make their own judgments.

"If you'll all be seated," his Majesty requested, "our guest should be
arriving at any moment.

They all did as Random asked. Even such as Benedict and Julian deferred
their younger brother when he acted formally as their King. Conversation
faded to silence as they waited.

The doors opened in she walked in. With an attitude. Anger which was
escalating due undoubtedly to her having spent a day under constant
observation culminating in a challenge first by the King, then by Lord
Julian, then by Princess Fiona.

Laura's first impression was that she was striking looking, exotic with
blue-black hair and eyes. Her second impression as the newcomer took the
vacant chair between Laura and Sarah was that this woman had not dressed
for the occasion. Probably an act of defiance, or maybe she just didn't
care about appearances. Such a thing, to Laura, was almost

Laura tensed when the woman suddenly rose to her feet.

"I have a confession to make," she announced.

The family rose as one at her words, all distrust for each other
in the face of an imminent threat from outside. Blades came out of
scabbards, and Laura's hand went to her own dagger.

"Sit down," Random thundered, "and listen to what she has to say. If any
of you as much as touch her without my say-so…."

The King needed to say no more. They sat, but the tension increased

"I was at first unwilling to divulge my identity, but circumstances will
permit secrecy. I lay myself bare: if you are not involved in my pursuit
creatures out of Shadow, you can help me. If you are my enemies, I have
sacrificed myself. That is the risk I take. So now I tell you this with
truth and good intention; laying my cards on the table, so to speak."
paused. The room was a vacuum of silence. Every eye was trained on her.

"My name is Julia Jonora Corey, Princess of Chaos. I am Merlin's
If a silence could ever be said to grow in intensity, the one in the
Dining Hall would be the benchmark. It lasted for a full minute.
eyes widened. A daughter of Merlin. That would make her granddaughter
Corwin, a definitely plus in Laura's eyes. But on the minus side, also
granddaughter to Dara of Chaos. Who was her mother and on which side of
the balance sheet would that go? Most importantly, why had this Julia
to Amber and why now? Ever curious, Laura's mind continued to formulate

The King was the first to speak. Eyes narrowed, his demeanor demanded

"You claim Merlin to be your father?"

"I don't claim it," Jono retorted, feeling her temper threatening to get
out of control again. "It is a fact."

"Who then is your mother?"

Jono looked at him directly, eye to eye. "Sir, I do not know."

Random nodded and came to stand behind Jono. He reached into the pocket
of his robe for his pack of Trumps. Shuffling quickly through them, he
quickly pulled out the one he wanted. Moments later he was speaking with
the King of Chaos. The tone of the conversation was formal.

"Greetings, Uncle. I have been expecting your call."

"Greeting to you, Merlin. I'll get right to the point. A young lady
come to Amber. She claims to be your daughter. Does she speak the

"She does."

"Did you send her?"

"I did not. It was my hope she would stay far from Amber. Now that she
is there, I will be -- unhappy -- if she is not treated well."

"She will be treated in accordance with her behavior, Merlin. You have
word no harm will come to her at our hands if she proves herself to be no
threat to Amber."

"Understood, Uncle. I have had no cause to doubt your word in such
matters of late. I hope I never shall. You have my own word that I
know why Julia came to Amber."

"The question remains, Nephew, who is her mother? She claims she

Merlin's face became expressionless. "No, she doesn't know, and I'm
afraid neither shall you, Random. That is not a question I can answer."

"Won't answer, you mean. Very well, I can see you will not be persuaded
at least for tonight and certainly not in front of so many of your Amber
family. Do not forget, Merlin, that you are half Amberite."

"I have never forgotten that, Sir."

"Accepted. There -are- matters we should discuss, however. I will call
you again, privately. Meanwhile, your daughter will be allowed to remain
in Amber if that is her wish. Unless …."

Merlin nodded, understanding the implied warning and then the contact

Random gestured to Jono that she should sit and he returned to his own
place at the head of the table.

"You all heard me give my assurance to Merlin that his daughter would
suffer harm at the hands of her Amber relatives. I trust I need say no
more about that. Julia is of Chaos, but also of Amber and is welcome at
the Castle until she gives reason she should not be. I remind you that
Orbus is also of both and has always found a home here."

He looked straight at Fiona as he said this. The red-haired Princess
the grace to cast her eyes downward for a brief moment before again
the eyes of her brother. Fiona, challenged, would not long remain

"Last night when she arrived, Julia stated that she had been chased
through Shadow and did not know by whom. Considering current affairs,
is a matter that should be investigated. Tonight, however, we dine
together as family. Let's put aside suspicion while we eat. It's better
for the digestion."

Random smiled and sat down. Laura turned to face her new cousin.
eager to meet new relatives, this time Laura felt a strong sense of
wariness, but she acknowledged to herself this might well be unfair to a
woman who had to be feeling the effects of the suspicion that permeated
dining room. So, she offered her hand and smiled.

"Hello, Julia. My name is Laura, daughter of Florimel. Welcome to

Jono's eyes showed wariness, but she accepted the handshake. Her grip
firm and told Laura that this woman possessed strength far greater than

"How do you do, Princess. I'm called Jono by most."

"Call me Laura, Jono, and this is Sarah." Laura gestured to the woman
seated to Jono's left. "If you really don't know who your mother is, I
identify with that. I didn't know mine until just a few months ago.
hard, isn't it?"

Jono felt herself responding to the beautiful blonde's casual
and friendly tone. She did sense caution in this Laura, but also that
Princess was at least making an attempt to be friendly. Jono allowed her
guard to drop just a fraction. Laura was full of questions, and wondered
how many of them she could ask without Jono closing herself off. The
was both Chaos and Amber? Had she walked the Pattern, the Logrus, both?

"Have you been to Amber before this, Jono? Oh, and do you know our

"Who is Orbus?" Jono asked, purposely ignoring Laura's first question.
There was genuineness to her response about Orbus that convinced Laura
girl really hadn't heard of the one who was like her in parentage.

"Oh, just another cousin," Laura answered breezily, not about to give
more than she got. "I thought maybe you might have heard of him, but no
matter. I'm ravenous, and the chefs here are the best. Let's enjoy our

Across the table, Flora watched carefully and caught her daughter's eye.
Laura sighed, readily understanding the message her mother was sending.
There would be a lecture forthcoming as to Laura's tendency to get close
her Chaosian cousins and a warning to protect her position at court. It
was a lecture Laura would do her best to avoid. She took a sip of wine,
recognizing an exquisite Spaetlese, and savoring the taste.

 she thought

In what was a mixture of defiance and her insatiable curiosity, Laura
tossed her head and turned back to Jono.

"I really would like to get to know you. I've got a lot to do tomorrow,
but maybe we could meet for breakfast."

"Perhaps, Laura. We'll see what the morning brings," was Jono's
non-committal answer.

Well, it wasn't an acceptance, but it wasn't a refusal either. A lot
would depend on when Brandi woke up, too. Laura couldn't help but wonder
how these two volatile women would react to each other. It was an
encounter at which she would make certain to be present.

After dinner, the first one to request a dance was Lord Bleys. It was no
surprise to Laura to feel his hand pressing her closer and closer as he

"We must talk soon, Laura. I feel you have been avoiding your loving
Bleys. This saddens me." His voice was a sensuous whisper in her ear.

"Not at all, Uncle Bleys," she answered, although he was right. "It's
that I've been busy learning about my role as a Princess."

"Part of that role is showing that you welcome your aunts and uncles, my
dear. I should like to visit you later in your apartment. We've all
that your wish to learn is sincere. I can teach you a great deal."

"Oh, I'm sure you can, and I'm ever so grateful. But, I'm so sorry. I
already have plans for tonight."

"A pity." It was amazing how Bleys' whisper could sound both sensual and
sinister. "I shall hope you'll see fit to make time for me soon."

He said no more, but whirled her around the floor expertly until Zachary,
having caught her look requesting rescue, cut in.