From: Judi Marko 
Subject: [AM] Alliances and Assignations

"I accept."

Laura gave an almost inaudible gasp as Brandi spoke these two simple words
without giving up an ounce of her pride. She locked eyes with her cousin
taking her own place at table with Orbus sitting on her left while Brandi
sat with a palace guard standing on behind and on either side of her.

Never had Laura seen King Random so stern and forbidding, not even when he
had taken her to task over behavior of which he disapproved. Vialle, at
his side, wore a look of compassion, but if she would argue with her
husband over his edict, it would be in private. The sight of her Uncle
Julian with his blade at Brandi's throat and no question he would use it
without a second thought had caused Laura to recoil in horror. Brandi
hadn't even flinched; Laura hoped she would have shown the same courage in
similar circumstances.

Would Brandi abide by the order she had just accepted so readily? Or was
she already planning some to take some action she thought necessary. Laura
could not read her cousin's thoughts or her expression, but she had made a
commitment when she aimed her arrow at Bleys' crossbow. Until such time as
Brandi gave incontrovertible proof that she was a traitor to Amber, she had
an ally in Laura, whatever course she chose to sail. Laura was trying by
sheer force of will to convey that message to Brandi.

It -had- been the crossbow she been aiming at. Laura's arrows hit their
target and she knew better than to try to kill an elder Prince,
particularly in full view of witnesses. In truth, while she didn't trust
him farther than she could throw one of Julian's hellhounds, she had no
reason to wish her uncle dead. She had merely prevented him from dictating
that fate for Brandi. Not that she had any illusions about what effect
that action had had on her status with some of her aunts and uncles. Bleys
had done naught but glare at her with a look that promised retribution and
Fiona had almost pointedly ignored her.

With Amber under the threat of a resurrected Brand, it was hardly the time
for the elder generation and the younger to be pitted against one another.
But changing alliances were nothing new in the Court of Amber; they had
been going on since Oberon was king.

"It's not fair," Laura said quietly to Orbus. "She's done nothing other
than be born the daughter of Brand and take an inappropriate lover,
something all of them have done more than once, not excluding your mother,
my mother, or the King."

"How often does fairness come into play in the machinations that make up
life at Court?" Orbus answered with a strong note of bitterness in his
tone. "Machiavelli would be a novice in this company."

Laura turned her full attention to her newly returned cousin and lover.
Orbus had transformed himself from the bedraggled and unkempt man she had
pulled through the Trump. He looked handsome and perfectly presentable for
a state dinner, but Laura could see the exhaustion in his eyes. She could
see other things in them as well -- betrayal, anger, new knowledge -- and
things she couldn't begin to comprehend. Orbus had been changed during
this last trip. He now carried both Pattern and Logrus, she was sure, and
while the latter was more than a little alarming to her, it did nothing to
diminish the attraction she felt for him.

A casual observer, noting the quality and quantify of the food being
served and the gusto with which the always ravenous Amberites were
consuming it, would never have imagined the level of tension in the room,
nor the enormity of the reasons behind it. Things had quieted down while
they dined, with various private conversations being conducted in soft
undertones among the family members. Laura left Orbus alone to take in
badly needed nourishment and took some time to observe her other cousins.

Sarah, the consummate horsewoman, was talking a blue streak to the usually
taciturn Julian. What Sarah thought of current events, Laura couldn't
imagine, but she had seen Sarah's expression at the site of Morgenstern and
thought the horse might well be a topic of conversation. She wondered if
Sarah had decided to go for the risk and rewards of her first Pattern walk.

Jono was concentrating on her dinner and her own thoughts, probably
relieved that someone other than she was under the gun of suspicion. Kail
had not yet put in an appearance and neither, to Laura's surprise, had
Julianna. There was little Laura wouldn't have wagered that Julianna,
whatever her sources, was fully aware of what was happening at the Castle.
It seemed odd to Laura that the most senior of her cousins would choose to
absent herself at this time. Still, Laura was perfectly willing to admit
that she didn't understand the Lady Julianna and it might be many years
before she had a glimmer. What she did feel was that whatever Julianna was
doing, it would be in what she felt to be the best interests of Amber.
While Julianna could, and did, ruffle Laura's feathers with her
condescension masked as concern, Laura did not doubt for a moment the
other's fierce loyalty to Amber.

Motioning to one of the servants for another healthy service of breast of
chicken stuffed with lobster, Laura studied Zachary. Deep in conversation
with his father, Zach had yet to express a thought on what had happened at
the Broken Pattern or on what was happening now. As much time as she had
spent with the Crown Prince, Laura couldn't discern his thoughts unless he
chose to have her do so. Her affection for Zach was always growing. Truth
to be told, if her mother hadn't been so intent on playing Yenta the
Matchmaker, Laura might well have been putting more effort into becoming a
potential Queen of Amber. But, she still thought that Zachary had more of
the family distrust than many of the younger generation, perhaps as a
result of having been brought up at Court. Fairly high up on her to-do
list was finding a way to discern some of Zachary's secrets. Laura smiled
to herself. Whatever the perils, she loved her life as a Princess of Amber
and was finding it ever more difficult to remember how it was before she
had learned her heritage and taken her Patternwalk.

She knew that Zach was quite fond of Brandi; it had been obvious since the
first time she'd seen them together. He hadn't hesitated a minute to go to
her aid. Would he go toe-to-toe with his father if he thought Random had
been too harsh? Zachary certainly had a mind of his own; he was a born
leader and he was among the best of them at keeping everyone's good will.
Zachary would do what he thought best, Laura decided. She just wished she
had a better guess at what he did think best.

After dessert and coffee had been served and eaten, Random, still wearing
the mantle of a troubled head of state, announced that this was hardly an
occasion for post-prandial conviviality, rose and offered his hand to
Vialle. The others waited until King and Queen had departed, then began to
leave the Dining Hall.

Studious avoiding Flora's disapproving glances, Laura linked her arm
through Orbus'. "Shall we go up?" she invited, smiling up into his eyes.

"Laura, I don't know," he answered torn by a mixture of desire, fatigue,
and caution."

"Oh, come on dear. You are too tired to stay down here and make small
talk, or large for that matter, and so am I. I've seen your apartment, but
you've not repaid the visit. Besides, just think how it will irritate our
respective mothers to watch us go upstairs together."

Her grin was full of mischief and of promise and he found himself smiling
for the first time in many days. He bowed and they strolled out of the
dining hall and up the Grand Staircase, their pace as slow and casual as if
they had no thought but what pleasures the night might bring. Laura
unlocked the door to her apartment and felt a hand on her arm.

"I want to come in, Laura, but I don't know if it's wise. I may be
dangerous to you now."

Laura shook her head and drew him inside. "I know that whatever you've
been through has changed you, Orbus. I've been hoping you'll choose to
tell me about it. Perhaps I should be afraid, but I'm not. I know only
that I don't care to spend this night alone and yours is the company I

Orbus shook his head as he allowed himself to be led into her bedroom. Why
did he find himself trusting her? Hadn't he just had been unforgettably
taught that no one in his family was above betrayal? Was he responding to
the fact that, even warned, she was willing to trust her well-being to him?
Or was he responding to another, more primal, instinct? Whatever it was,
he found he could no longer refuse the lure of Morpheus… of Laura?

She left him to undress while she told Audra that her duties were finished
for the night but for one errand.

"Please bring us breakfast in the morning, Audra, and before you go to bed
tonight, would you be good enough to deliver this note to the Lady Brandi?"

"Yes, milady. As you wish."

The note in question asked Brandi to meet Laura in the gardens the
following morning. There was always a place out there where conversation
could be kept from unwelcome ears. Laura hoped that Brandi would show.
There was also a warning about the maid, Jokara, and what Audra had
revealed about her. By the time Laura returned to her bedroom, Orbus was
undressed and in bed, and his eyes were closed. She sat down and lightly
kissed his forehead. He smiled as his eyelids fluttered open and he
stroked her hair.

"Aren't you going to join me?"

Laura shook her head. "Not just yet. What you need most right now is
sleep. But when you wake, you'll find the bed somewhat less roomy, I
promise. Let sleep come, Orbus. You'll think more clearly after you do."

He nodded, feeling the exhaustion he had fought so long winning its battle
at last. He had some warding spells hung and with them cast along with the
protection afforded by Argent and Laura's Bloodstone, they both should be
able to sleep safe. He pulled Laura's head down and as their lips met, he
did as she had bid and let sleep come.

After watching him for a few minutes and when she was sure he was asleep,
Laura went to her study to do some thinking. She was still appalled at the
rush to judgement of Brandi Blackswan. She understood the collective
horror at the return of Prince Brand and the implicit threat his any child
of his would stir in the hearts and minds of the royals. While the King's
word was law, nevertheless Amber did have a code of jurisprudence, one
Laura wasn't sure had been followed. She had been raised in a Shadow of
democracy, after all, and such things did not die easy. While tonight had
not been a time to argue with Random, it had given Laura pause for thought.

The need for a trip to her Shadow had been tugging at Laura for some weeks
now. Something or someone had distracted her each time she planned to go,
but now she had a purpose. She would study law and be in a position to
petition the King on her own behalf or someone else's. If she could
persuade him to come, she would bring Rusty back to Amber to replace the
now deceased Bill Roth. If Rusty refused, she would study on her own,
first the legal system of her Shadow of birth, then that of Amber.

Having come to this decision and feeling pleased with it, Laura could now
let her thoughts turn in the direction of rapture. She returned to her
bedroom where Orbus was now deeply asleep. Smiling at him, Laura undressed
and slipped beneath the cool sheets and moved towards the warmth of his
body, her golden hair tickling his chest and bare skin touching the same.
When Orbus awoke, he would find, as promised, that the bed was no longer
empty. The remainder of the night and the morning to come held the promise
of delight. If disapproving elders had their spies on the watch, Laura
really didn't care.