From: Judi Marko 
Subject: [AM] Boulevard of Broken Patterns

"Would you mind telling me," Laura asked slowly, "just how you got into the
Main Hall of Castle Amber tied up in a sack?"

The young man seemed about to answer when he was interrupted by a cadre of
Castle guards, swords drawn and pointing as one to the newcomer. Laura
summarily waved them off.

'I -- but, m'lady ---"

"But nothing, Sergeant. You and your men are dismissed." She turned her
attention back to the man who had not so much as flinched when the point of
a blade kissed his throat.

"Might I ask your name?"

He bowed from the waist. "Kail Wl - " he began, then paused quickly, a
point not lost on Laura. The young man had apparently figured out where he
was and was being cautious. Hardly unexpected behavior.

" - Kail. And yours?"

"Laura Davega. Daughter of Princess Florimel, of the Blood of Amber." She
curtsied. "Shall we go speak with the King?"

"I find myself at your ladyship's mercy."

Laura eyed him suspiciously, doubting that he was one who would long remain
at anyone's mercy. If he were impressed by her beauty, he gave no outward
sign of it.

"I trust," she said, thought that was a word not often heard in Amber,
"that you are not so foolish as to attempt an attack on a Princess of Amber
within the halls of the Castle." Bloodstone was not pulsing; Laura knew
she was in no immediate danger.

Kail grinned broadly. "The furthest things from my mind, milady."

Nevertheless Laura kept her guard up as she led him to Random's office.
Kail kept his eyes straight ahead, yet there was little doubt to a
perceptive eye that he was absorbing his new surroundings, committing them
to memory. Logrus sight, perhaps? Laura would not have hesitated to lay
down a bet that it was possible.

The Castle was quiet in the early morning hours though word was certainly
spreading through back stairs and front about the rather unusual special
delivery package. Laura's light knock on the door to the King's office was
answered with an invitation to enter.

They walked in just in time for Laura to see the King, seated at a desk
that looked to be from the English Restoration period, slipping a card into
its deck. He had either finished or was just about to start a Trump
contact with someone, possibly that private conversation with Merlin he had
proposed the night before at dinner when Jono had revealed who she was.

"Good morning, Sire."

With a stranger in tow, Laura greeted her uncle formally. Random noticed
and did not make his usual request for familiarity although he did smile at

"Good morning, Laura, and who is this? Have you brought me yet another
nephew? Or, are you looking to introduce a new suitor?"

Eyes twinkling, Laura answered him. "I'm afraid not, Uncle. If someone
were to present me with such a gift, I should prefer it be wrapped in
something more elegant than a gunny sack."

Random raised one eyebrow and expressed his belief that such a statement
warranted further explanation. Laura acquiesced with a description of how
she'd had come to find the lively parcel and ended with an introduction.

"Your Highness, this is Kail, last initial 'W'. Kail, His Majesty Random,
King of Amber."

Kail bowed low, and it seemed a genuine bow of respect for station, if not
for the man, with no suggestion of mockery.

"Good day, Your Highness. I apologize for my unplanned intrusion without
invitation. I assure you I do not know how I came to be here nor who
brought me."

"You don't, eh?" Random looked unconvinced. "Well then, let's start with
something you presumably do know. My niece said your surname starts with
the letter W. Would you care to expand on that, young man?"

"With respect, I hope to stay in Amber for a while, now that I've been
brought here. I'm sure you will agree a wise man will not bandy about the
name of his family when he knows not the regard in which his house is

Random's eyes narrowed. "Oh? Not even to the King of Amber when you
request the hospitality of his home? Come now, young Kail. I was not born
yesterday. I recognize one from the Courts when he stands face to face
with me." He turned to Laura. "You seem to be drawing Chaosians to you
like flies, Laura. I begin to wonder if that has significance."

"Oh, I don't think so. After all, anyone could have tripped over Kail.
But, he is awfully cute, Uncle Random. May I keep him?" She gave the King
one of her high-beam smiles and a surreptitious wink.

Random sighed as he looked at his breathtaking niece. Had he ever been
that young and adventuresome? Yes, he had once, how long ago it seemed,
his Bohemian days in Laura's Shadow Earth, playing drums and introducing
the concept of 'groupies' to the Shadow. That was before the Crown of
Amber had been thrust on him by the Unicorn, a crown that weighed ever more
heavily on his head with each passing day.

Kail watched and listened, glad of the repartee between Random and Laura.
It gave him some time to consider how much he could withhold from the King
and still remain a welcome guest at the Castle.

"I'm afraid you must find your pets elsewhere, my dear. This one doesn't
look as if he'll tame all that easily. You did well to bring him to me.
Run along now, though, while Kail and I continue our talk."

"As you wish, Uncle Random."

Laura blew him a kiss and left. The outcome of that conversation was
beyond her ability to influence. Either she would see this Kail around the
Castle later, or she would find him gone. It was the King's decision to

A page approached as she left Random's office.

"Beg pardon, Princess, but the Lady Florimel requests that you meet her in
the gardens. She said to tell you she arranged to have a breakfast served

Laura nodded and sighed. If Flora wanted a chat, there would be no
avoiding her. Best to have it done with. It looked to be a lovely fall
morning, and the gardens would be a pleasant place to take her morning
meal. As was to be expected, Laura was ravenous.

When one walked out into the gardens outside the Castle, it was almost
possible to forget threats of death and danger to the Pattern and the
Unicorn. Exquisitely sculptured, they had the look of a Japanese garden of
Shadow Earth, not surprising since the gardens had been one of Benedict's
projects. He tended them himself when at the Castle. The morning air was
fragrant with the aroma of the blossoms. Laura found her mother seated at
a small white marble table. A covered serving cart warmed by burning logs
underneath stood next to it.

"Sit down, dear. I'm pleased you agreed to join me. It's such a lovely
morning and we haven't taken the time for a talk in several days."

"Good morning, Mother." Laura sat in the chair across from her mother and
helped herself to a healthy serving of cheese and mushroom omelet, several
croissants, and a large mug of café amaretto. "What's on your mind?"

Flora sighed, playing the part of aggrieved and misunderstood mother to
the hilt. "Really, Laura, is it not possible I merely wished to share a
pleasant breakfast with my daughter?"

"Possible, but highly unlikely, I should say."

"Laura, I know that you are still resentful that I was not around when you
were growing up and that you were kept unaware of your heritage, but I
shall not apologize." A graceful wave of dismissal accompanied Flora's
words. "As you mature, I hope you will come to see that I had my reasons.
Now that you've been here for a while, I would like to know how you feel
about being of the blood of Amber. You seem to have made good strides with
many at Court. I should like to see that continue." There was a note of
warning in Flora's voice.

"Ah, not we begin to get to it. I love Amber, Mother, truly love it.
Whatever happens and wherever I may wander, this will always be my true
home and I shall do whatever is necessary to protect and defend it. So,
what is behind all this motherly concern?"

"You've made great progress in a very short time, Laura. All the elders
have noticed. Would you mind pouring some more coffee, dear? But, you are
still naïve in the ways of the true reality, the intrigues, the dangers,
the deceptions," she continued as Laura acquiesced to her request. "You
are cautious, but still too trusting of your cousins and of others who come
to Court. You attract to you those of Chaos and notice has been taken of
that, too."

"Oh?" A slight smile of amusement curled Laura's full lips upward. "I
shouldn't have thought the elders would take such an interest in my comings
and goings."

"This is not a matter for flippancy," Flora frowned. "It is no secret
that you have bedded Orbus and he is rather out of favor with Random just
now. What other lovers you have chosen, I don't know, but you offer the
hand of friendship to strangers with unknown ties to Chaos at a time when
the Pattern itself may be in danger."

"That's quite enough!" Laura bristled, while taking a sip of coffee to
give herself a minute to cool off. "My choice of lovers is no one's
business but my own just as yours have always been. For sheer numbers, I'd
say you've earned closer scrutiny than I."

"I shall choose to ignore your impudence this time, Laura, in order to make
my point, but I advise you to remember your manners among your elders. We
have powers you cannot even dream of yet." Tight lips softened into as the
most beautiful of the elders tried to get back on an even footing with her

"Position is everything at Court, Laura. Remember that. A smart woman
tries to make no enemies and to convince friends that she is no threat.
Tell me, dear, you seem to be fond of Zachary. Why don't you cultivate
that relationship more?"

"Cultivate in what way, Mother?" Laura asked, playing the ingenue although
she was quite sure she understood what Florimel was getting at.

"Zachary is the Crown Prince and heir to the kingdom. Doesn't the thought
of being Queen of Amber hold some appeal for you?"

Laura laughed out loud, a lyrical, lilting laugh of pure enjoyment. "So
that's it. You never got the crown yourself, so having your daughter as
Queen is the next best thing. Well, I can't claim to know you well,
Mother, but from what I've read, you haven't changed. Protecting your
position has always been your top priority for you. Yes, I like Zachary
very much and find him -quite- attractive, but Random is hardly a doddering
old man and I'm far from ready to settle down with one man when there are
so many possibilities just waiting for me. Heavens, Mother. You're
centuries older than I and no one man can hold your interest permanently."
Laura's eyes narrowed. "Certainly not my father."

"This time I will -not- overlook your insolence! How I live is not for an
infant to judge. Know this. I made Paul very happy."

"Of course you did! You were Amber's most beautiful Princess. How could
he hope to find love again after you left him? Who in Shadow could

"Exactly. He had his memories of me, more than most men could find in
their most fanciful fantasies. If your father could speak, you would find
that he regretted not one moment. It was inevitable that I leave him and
move on. You will do the same, Laura, with the men you love in Shadow."

Laura didn't answer but had the grace to blush. She knew that what Flora
had just said was most likely true.

"But, this is not what we're discussing," Florimel continued. Zachary is
growing into a most fascinating man. If you do not choose to entice him,
perhaps I shall."

"Oh good grief. Really, Mother!"

Flora smiled, her golden hair gleaming in the early morning sunshine. "You
think I could not interest him, that I can no longer compete now that you
are here?"

"Hardly." She was enjoying this now. "You are as lovely as ever and you
know it. But you and Zachary?" Laura giggled.

"We'll see. I'm quite fond of that young man and competing with you might
prove an amusing little game." Flora rose to leave but reached out to
touch her daughter's hand. "I only ask that you think about what I've
said. I really do love you, Laura. Someday I hope you'll believe it."

Flora moved off gracefully and Laura watched her go and wondered if she'd
ever resolve the mixed feelings she had about her mother. Strangely enough
she did believe Flora's words about loving her, but she also suspected from
reading Corwin's chronicles that the Princess Florimel might be one of the
most talented manipulators among Amber's royalty. And, if she thought she
was going to dictate Laura's love life….."

It was sometime later that day when, having checked several times on the
still-sleeping Brandi, Laura was in the Library with the subject of her
mother's interest, Zachary. Their time together had started out pleasantly
enough with Laura showing her cousin some of the Trumps she had designed
lately. Zach had been most complimentary about the way she had captured
the essence of her subjects as she saw them, but had also given her some
suggestions about line and form.

The talk had turned serious as they began to discuss the recent events in
Amber and to compare notes. Laura told him at long last of her experience
in the Corridor of Mirrors and of her vision in the mirror in her own
bedroom. Zachary, for his part, confided his encounter with the strange
young boy and the Unicorn. They were trying to make some sense out of the
ever more threatening episodes each was experiencing.

"Who was the boy, Zach? Do you know?"

"I have an idea, but it's only just that."

He did not elaborate and Laura knew better than to push him for anything
he wasn't ready to share. Instead, she decided to tell him some things
she'd been thinking, things that seemed on the surface to be outside of the
realm of possibility, but then in Amber, all was possible.

"Zach, you're going to think this is crazy, but I have an idea about who
might be behind all of this. I've argued with myself over all the reasons
why it's impossible, but it's growing stronger every day."

"Say whatever it is you're thinking, Laura," he encouraged. "We're not in
a position to dismiss any theory out of hand."

She spoke but one word and was not surprised at the incredulous look it
produced in Zachary.


"Brand is dead." The Crown Prince made the statement flatly, as an
indisputable fact.

"Is he? Do we know that for certain? Yes, he fell into the Abyss taking
Princess Dierdre with him, but can we be sure he never found a way out?
Did anyone ever know the extent of his abilities? I have a hard time being
convinced that any of them are really dead, Zach. It wouldn't cause me
undue surprise if Oberon or even Eric were to resurface someday.

"Who else but Brand would have the power to track the Unicorn? If he IS
alive, his hate for Amber and all of us must have grown over the years and
it was no small thing before."

Any further speculation on this by the two cousins was postponed by the
arrival of Jono who immediately collapsed at their feet.

"By the Unicorn, look at her!" Laura gasped as they knelt down to examine
Merlin's daughter. "What beasts could have done this?"

The gaping tears in Jono's back were already starting to heal, a sign of
her Amber heritage for sure, but the young woman was moaning and her
breathing was alarmingly slow. Her eyes fluttered open for a brief moment.

"Poison," the young woman whispered and sunk back into unconsciousness.

Zachary, alarmed now, rose quickly and called for a guard.

"Laura, I know you've been working with herbs and medicaments. Do you
think you can help her?"

"Yes, I can try to analyze the poison and put together an antidote, though
I'm sure she'll recover without it. But, maybe we can speed things up a

Zach nodded and instructed the guard to carry Jono up to the Crime Lab and
to bring in a cot for her to lie on. Laura quickly extracted a sample of
Jono's blood for analysis.

"I can't identify the poison," she stated, a little disappointed, "but it
seems to have properties that slow muscular activity, including the body's
largest muscle, the heart. In someone not of Amber, I think it would have
killed by now. I can put together some herbs to stimulate her nervous
system. That should help to detoxify her."

Zachary dismissed the guard and monitored Jono's condition while Laura
prepared a salve. It would hardly help to cement relations between Amber
and the Courts if Merlin's daughter were to die on the second day of her
visit to the Castle. When the preparation was ready, Laura introduced it
directly into Jono's still open wounds. It would go directly into her
bloodstream and begin to do its work quickly helped by Jono's own Amberite
healing. Ten minutes later, Jono opened her eyes once more.

"Where…. where am I?" Jono sat up, but groaned and fell back into a
supine position, still weak from her ordeal.

"You're in the Castle's Laboratory," Zachary explained. "It appears that
you were poisoned, but Laura found an antidote and you're recovering. What
happened to you, Jono?"

Zachary's unusually stern expression and tone of voice indicated that he
wanted, and expected, answers.

Late that same night, Laura made her fourth trip of the day to Brandi's
apartment, and was alarmed to find the Bard of Amber gone. She immediately
rang for the maid, Jokara.

"Were has Lady Brandi gone?" she demanded in a tone she did not often use
with servants.

"Don't know," Jokara responded, somewhat sullenly. "I went off to get
some fresh linen for her bed. When I got back, she was gone."

"You were told to stay with her. You could have sent someone for clean
sheets. When I give you an order, Jokara, I expect it to be followed to
the letter. You should remember this if you want to remain on staff at the

"She was sleeping. I thought I was doing right," Jokara whined. "There
ain't no pleasing the likes of you. It wasn't my fault." She was trying
to look defiant.

"We'll discuss that later. Right now, I want to you find Prince Zachary
and ask him to meet my in my apartment right away. That means immediately.
Do you understand."

"Yes, mum." Jokara slunk out, turning her head at the door to give Laura
a look filled with resentment.

Laura returned to her apartment and rang for her own maid, Audra. The
young girl had just arrived when there was a knock at the front door.

"That will be Prince Zachary, Audra. Please show him in and then I have
some questions for you."

"What is it?" Zachary asked as Audra showed him in and he sat next to
Laura on her settee.

"Brandi's gone," she explained without delay.

"Again?" Zachary was as close to exasperated as Laura had ever seen him.
She knew it was from concern for his cousin.

"Yes, and I'm not happy about it either." She related her conversation
with Jokara. "Audra, what do you know about Jokara?"

"Not much, milady. Keeps to herself she does and hasn't been here long."
Audra's eyes were cast down; she seemed unwilling to look Laura directly in
the eye.

"There's more, isn't there?" Laura asked gently. "Please tell us, Audra.
It could be important and no blame will fall on you."

"Well, milady -- milord, it's just some backstairs gossip. I don't know
if there's any truth to any of it."

"Please tell us what you've heard," Zachary encouraged. "Lady Laura is
right. No one will blame you for anything."

"Yes, milord. Like I said, Jokara hasn't been here long and she keeps to
herself. Word is that she has a boyfriend servin' some time in the
dungeons for doin' harm to a shrine. That's all I know, honest."

"Really?" Zachary and Laura exchanged a glance. "Thank you, Audra.
You're a good girl. Tell me, have you a young man of your own?"

The young maid blushed. "Aye, milady," she answered shyly. "I step out
with Duggan down to the stables when we both have off."

"Well then, I think you should have a new frock for the next time you see
him. Go to my closet and take the pink chambray. It will suit you. Then
you may go."

"Oh, thank you! Your Ladyship is too good to me!"

Audra fetched her new dress and her excitement was evident as she left.
Zachary and Laura began a futile search for Brandi with the Prince saying
he would launch an investigation into the backgrounds of Jokara and her
associates. It was nearly midnight when, frustrated and worried and trying
to decide what to do next, when Laura felt a brush touching her mind and
recognized a Trump contact.

"Yes?" she said, immediately alert despite the lateness of the hour.

"Hello, Laura, it's Brandi."

"Brandi! Where the hell are you? We've been looking for you!"

"Uh oh. "Who's been looking?"

"Zachary and I. We've been searching the entire castle."

"Does anyone else know I'm gone?"

"I don't think so. We decided not to tell anyone till the morning, and
searched for you ourselves."

"Good. Is Zach with you?"

"Yes, he's here."

"I need you and him to come through to me. I'll explain when you get
Laura agreed, and came through with Zachary in tow. They had evident
concern in their looks, along with a hint of annoyance, Brandi suspected.
She didn't blame them. Then their attention was taken by the brilliance
of the Broken Pattern.

"I'm sorry for the secrecy, Zach, Laura. I'm about to walk that thing,
and I need you here. This is very important, not only for myself, but also
Amber, I feel."

"Why, this looks like the land of Odysseus in the ancient days of my
Shadow," Laura said in some surprise. She recognized Charybdis and
wondered if the ancient poet, Homer, had some of the Blood of Amber in him.

Suddenly a great shadow loomed above them. Brandi whirled, calling one of
her few remaining spells to mind, and drew The Devil. Behind her she heard
the drawing of a bowstring and the unsheathing of a sword. Then she froze.
"Always so quick with your temper, child," came a familiar voice.

She stared up at a friend she thought dead. It was the elder dragon Drokk,
her old mentor.

But at the same time it was not him. Dark swirls covered his otherwise
green and golden scales, turning one eye from dark brown to opaque red.

Laura and Zachary listened with growing concern to the words of the
Pattern Ghost dragon, and more alarm at the words of the unknown young man
who was tempting Brandi onto the Broken Pattern.

"I have to do this," Brandi said finally, and Laura nodded. She has
suspected this would be the outcome from the moment they arrived. She
gripped Brandi's hand momentarily in support, and Zachary admonished,
"Be careful, Brandi."

She nodded and proceeded to the starting point of the Broken Pattern, then
walked alongside it, looking for the cracks, the imperfections. One must
walk the faults of a Pattern such as this one, not the Pattern itself. She
willed her clothes to reform around her, and once again she was clothed in
the black silk and netting of the Sorceress Queen of Satyyng, as she was
once known. That was somewhat of a dark period in her own psyche, and she
found it strangely appropriate to walk this Pattern again in that garb.

She found the crack she was looking for, a narrow band of black in the
blue-white of the Pattern, and paused. At the end of this, she would know
the truth of her parentage, and possibly more. "The gods punish us
sometimes by giving us what we want," Master Drokk's words echoed in her
head. But this was what she wanted.

She took the first step.

"I'm afraid for her, Zach," Laura whispered and grabbed hold of the
Prince's hand. "She's not fully recovered and we have no idea what she's
supposed to find at the end of this."

"I'm worried, too," he admitted, "but Brandi always does what she feels
she must do. I don't think anything could have stopped her from this."

"Be strong, Brandi," Laura called out. "Draw on my will and Zach's if you
need it. We will not leave this place until you've finished. Whatever
help you need from us, ask and we'll give it."

They watched as Brandi's feet began to traverse the broken lines they must
follow for her to find what she sought.