From: Matt Greenwood 
Subject: Brandi Chapter 10: This Precious Declaration


"One hour," said Brandi, and went to her room. Gods, she needed a bath.

She needed a lot of things, but a bath would be enough for her sanity for
now. In fact, her mind was so immersed in the idea that she almost didnít
notice the maid who was at the point of entering her chambers ahead of her.

"Excuse me," she said pleasantly, but irritation still crept through. She
was feeling very tired. "No need for that. Iíll take care of it."

The maid looked at her. She recognized her as Jokara. She couldnít
decide
whether the maid was intelligent or flighty- she showed indications of both
at times.

"Milady!" poor Jokara looked quite shocked. "I didnít know-"

"Thatís all right, dear." She managed a weary smile. "You donít have to
worry about me now."

"Iím glad youíre feeling better, milady," said the maid. She curtsied and
withdrew, an unfathomable look on her face.

Brandi entered her quarters, drew a bath, and promptly reduced herself to
a
state of infancy in the hot, soothing water. She cleaned the wound in her
shoulder and dressed it again, acutely aware of the fact that Laura had
saved her life.

It was quite a risk she had taken. A newcomer to Amber, barely initiated
in its practices and powers, and she confronted one of the most devious and
powerful of her elders, Bleys. She had actually -shot- at him. Was she
aiming for the crossbow itself? Or at her uncle? If the former, then
Laura
was frighteningly accurate with a bow. If the latter, then she had
deliberately tried to harm an elder Amberite for Brandiís sake, but had hit
the crossbow instead. Either alternative said much about Brandiís cousin.

The central point of this was that Laura had put herself in serious
trouble
to save the Bard of Amberís ass. She peered at the wound, healing already.
Eventually there would not even be a mark on her skin to remind her of the
wound. But she knew she would never forget.

So, did this mean she owed a debt to Laura? Brandi laughed at herself.
"You suspicious little wench! Why canít you accept that Laura did
something
nice for you because she -likes- you? Itís possible to actually -trust-
someone, you know." It was hard to accept that you could trust someone in
this family, but some of her generation were showing that it was possible.
Old habits die hard, and suspicion is a way of life in the True City, but
the "youngsters" seemed to be warming things up a little.

Brandi dried herself off and went to the closet, looking for something
appropriate to wear. This was a very important gathering, and it was
essential to present herself in exactly the right way. She chose a
full-length strapless, sleeveless red satin dress with an almost sinfully
low back. It clung in the right places, but still allowed freedom of
movement. Her hair was down, a waterfall of fire down her back and around
her shoulders. She wore a silver tiara with a single black diamond
suspended from it to rest on her forehead. Silver earrings. A heavy
silver
necklace embedded with diamonds sat just below her collarbone. Silver
rings
on each of her fingers, as well as her two magical constructs in ring form.

She was ready to face them. "Go get Ďem, girl," she said to the beauty in
the mirror.

As she descended from her quarters, she met up with Zachary, whose raised
eyebrow was compliment enough on her attire. He was also dressed to kill,
in elegant creams and whites. "My, my, lord Zachary," Brandi smiled. "Set
to break a few hearts?"

Zachary smiled back. "I doubt anyone will be able to keep their attention
away from you to notice me," he said. He stopped her, regarding her with a
serious, intense gaze. "Are you sure youíre up to this?"

Brandi stared up at him. "I have to be, donít I? This affects everyone.
And you donít know the whole story yet. I fear you may think differently
of
me after this." Suddenly she could not bear to meet his eyes, and she
turned away.

Zacharyís hand was then on her shoulder. "I was there when you faced your
past, my friend. I will also be there when you face your future. Do not
doubt those close to you."

She whirled around and buried her face in his chest, and his arms encircled
her. It felt good. She tried not to cry, and mostly succeeded. As such,
had she been wearing eyeliner, it would be a little smudged now. But she
never relied on those makeup tricks (as much out of pride and the fact that
they made her sneeze).

She stepped back then, peering at his shirt. "Good. No boogers," she said
to him, and turned. Zachary accompanied her the rest of the way, both of
them trying not to grin.

She lost the Crown Prince to a trio of Golden Circle emissaries, and found
herself before the doors of the main dining hall, alone and serious. Her
pace had slowed steadily as she got closer, apprehension setting in. She
suddenly found herself concerned over what they would think of her. Well,
not all of them; mostly it was her cousins she was concerned with. -Donít
tell me you actually like them,- she smirked mentally. She took a deep
breath, and stepped inside.

Immediately all eyes turned to her. She held each one of them in her gaze
in turn. Zachary had arrived ahead of her. A silent nod from him. Sarah,
her face pensive, a newcomer who looked to be taking the pressures of
Amber-in-crisis in stride. Laura, beautiful as ever, with- was that Orbus?

Yes; it was good that he was here too. Julianna was absent, on a mission of
her own, speaking with Luke- Brandiís brother. She had a brother, now.
Another absent face, one which she had not seen in many years, was Ivy- she
was sure sheíd want to be involved in this as well, and she was a good one
to have as an ally in the coming conflict.

She regarded the elders, too. King Random, crown on head, looking every
bit
as regal and impressive as the King of Amber should. Vialle beside him, a
portrait of a Queen. Brandi would rely heavily on her compassion and
insight. Julian, stern as always- this was one to watch. Gerard, brave
and
honourable. She saw Benedict enter through a side door. He needed to hear
this. Brandiís gaze settled on Bleys; his animosity of before had been
replaced by a careful neutrality- his poker face. Fiona was by his side,
and their eyes locked. Brandi felt a battle of wills with her aunt was
inevitable, but not right now.

Brandi mentally recited the battle cry of an army she had once commanded.
She was song and fire made flesh, and it showed, and she damn well knew it.
With that in mind, she began.

"My Lord the King, I have important information regarding the threat to
Amber and the Pattern."

If she hadnít had their full attention already, she definitely had it now.

Random gestured towards her. "Explain yourself, Brandi."

"As you know, the Unicorn was recently attacked and seriously wounded.
Evidence leads to Dalt as the attacker. This is only partially true."
Brandi noticed out of the corner of her eye the entrance of a woman in
blue,
fascinating blue-tinted hair. This must be Jono. She and Fiona exchanged
glares. Others glanced at her.

"Dalt has indeed raised an army, and has his eyes on Amber. But he is not
working alone. One of the men assisting him is Lord Borel of the Courts of
Chaos."

"Borel is dead," stated the ever loquacious Benedict.

"A Logrus-ghost, perhaps?" asked Vialle. "Merlin mentions one in his
writings."

"Perhaps," mused Benedict again.

"Borel is not the only one with Dalt," Brandi continued. "There is a
greater threat. Dalt does not control this campaign, nor does Borel. The
one with the real power is a figure known to them as ĎThe Robed One.í"

A subtle ripple passed through the gathering.

"In Amber he was known as Brand."

She was staring at Bleys and Fiona when she said this. Others reacted with
surprise; Vialle gasped in shock, while Random breathed a "damn" under his
breath. Sarah blinked, eyes wide. The two elder redheads remained
impassive.

"My father."

-That- caused a reaction, as heads turned and voices were raised. Julian
stood quickly, hand moving fluidly to his sword hilt. Gerard and Random
were on their feet as well.

The King motioned to everyone to be silent. "How do you know this?" he
demanded.

"I recently went to confront Dalt on the attack on the Unicorn and to try
to
dissuade him from attacking Amber. I had a chance to observe his forces.
They number around two hundred thousand, mostly foot soldiers and some
cavalry. Siege engines accompany them. I believe he also has some
airborne
troops, but not many. I can give Benedict, Julian and Gerard more details
as they wish and as well as I can provide them."

Julian strode forward. "And you just walked into his camp and found this
out? From him?"

"I was magically cloaked, but yes, I gained this information from Dalt
himself. And I faced my father as I tried to leave, barely escaping with
my
life."

"You have remarkable access to this enemy of Amber. How have you managed
that?" pressed Julian.

Brandi held her head up and met his gaze evenly. "Dalt was my lover."

She had the satisfaction of seeing even Fiona and Bleys start with a
surprise in her peripheral vision, as Julianís sword leapt out of its
scabbard and in one smooth step was placed at her throat, the point a
hairsbreadth away from drawing blood. Her eyes did not stray from his for
a
moment, even though she wanted to jump out of her skin.

"Guards!" he barked.

"Hold on, Julian," snapped Random, as he moved towards them. "These are
serious claims, Brandi. By your own admission your relationship with
Amberís enemy should have you thrown in the dungeons if not executed. You
are damn close to being branded a traitor, like your father."

Brandiís eyes burned as she glared at the King with an anger as intense as
she had ever felt in her life. "IÖ am NOTÖ my father."

A moment ofÖ compassion?Ö flickered across the Kingís features, but he kept
his hard, regal edge, and did not back down where others would have fled
her
gaze. She could feel the bite of Julianís steel against her neck, its cold
tip warming to her body heat.

"She should be imprisoned anyway," said Julian.

"I agree," added Gerard.

"We canít," said Random. "Can we?" he asked Brandi. "You seem to be able
to find Dalt, when we canít. Maybe Brand has a way of masking them,
because
we canít locate this army you speak of. But you can."

"Yes."

"Clever girl," Orbus commented quietly to Laura. "They want to imprison or
kill Brandi, but they canít, because they need her. Nicely done."

Random began pacing slowly. The entire room was silent, save for the
Kingís
footfalls. Julian and Brandi remained still, two living statues joined by
a
length of tempered steel.

Zacharyís father turned to her again. "This is what Iíll do. Iím placing
you under house arrest. You wonít be put in the dungeons, but you wonít
leave Castle Amber. If you do, youíre exiled, and if you join Amberís
enemy
youíll be killed on sight. You offered to share the information on Daltís-
no, Brandís- army. If you donít, you will see the dungeons, if I donít
have
you executed altogether. Iíll give you this: had you wanted to join your
father, you wouldnít be here now, by your own will. That took balls, and
in
itself has saved your life. But youíll have to prove yourself to me and
Amber if you want to remain welcome in its halls. So I decree," he ended
formally, with all the weight and authority of the King of Amber.

Brandi stole the thunder of Randomís official decree. "I accept," she
said,
her voice clear and proud. Those two words turned the Kingís sentence on
his subject into her acceptance of a supplicantís offer. He glared at her,
but through his anger she thought she sensed a grudging respect, as if he
would have done the same. She and the King were very alike in some ways.

Julian sheathed his blade. Flanked by a pair of guards, shadowed by her
uncle, she took her seat at the table.