From: Judi Marko 
Subject: [AM] Twists and Turns Along the Way

The table where the sullen, unattractive young girl sat was a small one
off in a remote corner of the always-busy restaurant. The man who was
buying her dinner was dressed in the clothes of a common sailor. He looked
like any one of hundred seamen enjoying the pleasure of being in port. He
spoke roughly as if he were one of them. He was not.

A single candle in a blood red bowl gave the only illumination at the
table. Neither diner wanted to be observed or remembered if questions
should be asked later. There was little danger of that at Bloody Bob's
where it was prudent to mind one's own business.

"The Boss says your work was okay, that little job you did for him letting
the Lady Brandi get out. Now, he has another task for ya."

"Yeah, I ain't seen nothin' yet from him but promises," the girl answered
in a voice as whiny as her face was sullen. "A girl can't live on

The man scowled and it was not a pretty sight. "A girl may find it
difficult to live at all if she gets the Boss angry by sayin' no to him."
He held out a fist and slowly uncurled it to reveal a small deep green
stone sparkling in his palm. "He left it up to me whether to give you this
or not."

The girl's eyes opened wide. "Gimme it." She made a grab for the jewel,
but the man quickly closed his fist and turned it knuckles down on the

"Well, what does he want me to do?" Her lackluster eyes were gleaming
with the look of greed.

The man brought his other hand up from beneath the table and laid it face
up on the table revealing a small leather pouch. His smile was sinister
enough to cause a warning shiver in someone with more brains and less
avarice than the maid, Jokara.

"Easy doings for a smart girl like you. The Boss wants the one that
helped Lady Brandi, the Princess Laura. There's a powder in this here bag
that'll make her come to him. All you have to do is slip it into a drink
of hers."

Jokara's hand reached for the pouch, then pulled back as fear battled with
greed. "It won't kill her, will it? Not that I'd care, you know. Them
snooty royals all thinkin' themselves the be all and end all, lookin' down
their noses and not carin' two hoots about the likes of us that wait on
'em. But killin' one of 'em and getting' found out would win me nothin'
but death or a life sentence down in them damn dungeons. I already took a
big chance lettin' that Brandi get out when I was told to watch her. Don't
like how Lady Laura's looked at me, suspicious like, ever since."

"Nah it won't kill her. Just do as you're told, girl, and this is yours."

The palm that held the green gem opened again.

"Yeah, that and what else? I'll do the job, but I oughta get a lot more
for it. I wanna take my rightful place in the world -- wanna have a maid,
not be
one -- want my Rafe let out of the dungeon and given his own station in
life. Can your Mister Boss do all that?"

"That and plenty more, don't you worry, Missy. You just do your job and
you'll get everything that's coming to you."

"All right then, I'll do it. Gimme the bag and the bauble."

The man did so and watched as Jokara tucked both into her bodice, bolted
down the rest of her dinner, and left the restaurant. Once again he smiled
that menacing smile and thought how, when her job was done, he might just
get some fun out of her before he killed her. Then he beckoned for a
waiter to bring him another pitcher of Bayle's Piss and scouted the room
for other female talent for the night.

The slender rays of the morning sun had not risen over the top of Kolvir
when Laura's eyes fluttered open. Blonde curls splayed out over the still
cool pillows when she turned her head to find the imprint of Orbus' body on
the other side of her bed the only evidence of their hours together. It
neither surprised nor angered her to find him gone again.

The memory of the flames produced by the entrance of his father into his
dream flooded back into her mind. So strong was his need to discover --
something -- that it quelled even the compelling need to join the fight
against the growing threat to Amber. Laura understood a little about what
was pulling him down the road he had to travel. He had told her some, not
much, of what had happened to him, but she wished he trusted her more. She
knew that he would feel easier if she trusted less.

Laura smiled as her hand traced the lines where Orbus' body had lain beside
her. She had found it amusing, but strange, even back on Shadow Earth
before she had known her heritage, that people would so easily share the
secrets of their bodies, but keep silent on those of mind and heart and, in
the case of those of her Shadow, of bank account.

How silly it is, Laura had often thought. Still, though she had decided to
put her trust in at least three of her Amberite cousins and try to chisel a
crack in the rock of mistrust of family that was etched into her genes, the
warning flag of caution was never lower than at half mast in her mind.
From even the most casual read of the family chronicles one learned never
to rely on the word or deed of a brother, or sister, or aunt, uncle,

When it came to the elders, Laura was not much different from the others.
The caution flag flew high and wide. Hadn't she heard for herself Bleys'
easy statement that he would kill Brandi without a moment's thought if he
saw the madness of her father in her? If her arrow hadn't found its mark,
he might have done just that at the site of the Broken Pattern that now
held Brandi's mark.
No, the elders were undoubtedly up to their old machinations. They would
all fight to protect Amber, Laura thought, but if several of them didn't
have their own secret agendae, she'd stand on her ear on 42nd Street and
Broadway and eat her hat.

The older generation of royals so confident in their arrogance might love
their children, but they thought of them as neophytes, mere pawns to be
molded and manipulated. They were starting to learn that their progeny had
inherited the Amberite will. Each would follow his own path, wherever it
led, and not one chosen by a parent. It was a lesson that displeased the
children of Oberon.

But, what of her developing relationships with her cousins? Was Orbus
right to worry? Would her affection for him put her in peril of life or
sanity? Would her steadily growing fondness for Zachary, who knew so much
and told so little, lead her down a path of deception? Would the bond she
had formed with Brandi put her into disfavor with the King and Queen or,
worse, into the power of her maniacal and twisted father?

"No," Laura said aloud, pulling herself up to recline against the mound of
pillows. "I do not choose to believe that."

It was still pre-dawn but Laura was wide awake and ready to begin her day.
A night of shared intimacy was a most effective energizer. Her plans were
to spend some time in the Crime Lab, as she was now calling it all the
time. She had already designed a number of arrows each with different
properties. Most had their arrowheads treated with potions and reagents
that caused a variety of effects on impact. The color of the head was the
indicator. She had some new ideas that she wanted to test and it would
take some hours of experimentation to find the right combination of
ingredients. After that, she would begin her study of Amber jurisprudence.
For now, she was hungry.

After a quick bath, she dressed in red suede tapered trousers and a silver
and scarlet chevron-striped silk blouse. A supple red leather belt
circled her waist. One quick stop to check the reflection in her mirror --
Laura nodded, satisfied with her look of the day, and headed down for

The breakfast room off the kitchen was deserted. It looked as if she would
take her morning meal alone today. She was somewhat surprised to find that
it was Jokara, an upstairs maid, who brought her breakfast tray. Well, the
girl had probably been demoted to kitchen scullery after failing to keep
Brandi from leaving the Castle when she was recovering. A well-deserved
punishment, Laura thought.

"Will there be anything else, Lady?" Jokara's manner was as sullen and
unpleasant as ever.

"No, thank you. This is fine. You may go on about your duties."

"Yes, mum. As you say."

Jokara sniffed and Laura watched her slink off. There was something about
that girl, the Princess thought, that would bear watching. She made a
mental note to ask Audra if she had heard any more backstairs gossip about
Jokara and settled down to enjoy her breakfast.

 Dungeons Beneath Castle Amber

"Food for tunnel three," Jokara told Kristoff.

The guard lifted the cover of the large cart she pushed and nodded.

"You may pass."

Tunnel three of the dungeons housed Amber's own criminals. Master
thieves, murderers, those who desecrated a shrine of the Unicorn -- all
these were incarcerated in tunnel three. It was one of the last of these
that Jokara had come to see. She looked both ways as she stopped at his
cell and pushed his ration through the narrow slot designed for it.

"Jokara! Whatcha doin' down here, girl? Hey, gimme an extra ration, will

"Sshh, Rafe. Sure, I'll give ya double, but what I come to tell ya is you
won't be here much longer. I got it all arranged."

"Yeah sure. A nobody maid like you is gonna get me out of this place. I
believe that." His eyes narrowed. "What you been up to, girl?"

"Been doin' a job of work for some big shot gonna take down the blasted
royals and take over hisself. Look, he already give me this."

She took the small emerald from her bosom and snatched her hand back as
Rafe made a grab for it. "Hey, that ain't bad. Bring a good price it will
when you sell it off."

"No sir, I'm keepin' it to wear. Plenty more where that came from, Rafe
honey. I got one more job to do, then you'll get outta here and we'll be
the toffs around here, givin' orders instead of takin' 'em. Just wanted to
tell ya so ya know what's comin' and don't cause yourself no trouble down

"Well then, if you really got this job, you do it right, you dumb bitch,
and you turn your profits over to me. When old Rafe gets outta here, he'll
give you plenty of what you been missin'." He reached through the bars and
grabbed her bodice. "You HAVE been missin' it, ain't you girl? You ain't
been passing out your favors all around while your Rafe is sittin' down
here doin' without?"

"Course not! I ain't been with no one, you know that," she lied. Jeez, a
girl couldn't live like a Sister of the Way of the Unicorn, could she?

"I better not hear no different or I'll take my belt to you, I will. Now,
you go off and back to work before someone wonders why you're so long at
this cell."

 Breakfast Room

Laura finished the last bit of French Toast and licked the trace of sweet
syrup that lingered on her lower lip. She had been ravenous and was now
sated. Except for coffee. She HAD to have her freshly brewed morning
coffee. She sighed with pleasure as she lifted the cover of the hottle and
the aroma wafted its way to her nostrils. She poured and as she did,
Bloodstone began to throb. Puzzled, Laura looked around and saw nothing
that should provoke such a warning. Cautious nevertheless, she got up,
opened the doors, and looked up and down the hall. Still nothing. Laura
shrugged and returned to her table. She picked up her porcelain mug and as
she lifted it, her brooch pulsated again, stronger this time.

"Easy, Bloodstone. There's no danger here." Laura patted the brooch,
which continued to thump its warning. "All right, I'll give my eyes open.
Quiet down now," she ordered and drank down her coffee relishing its

"Time to go to work. To the Crime Lab, Bat Stone," she cried with a

She was climbing the Grand Staircase to the Third Floor, but at the second
level, she happened to look down the hallway and saw the body of a guard
lying on the floor. Dagger in hand and poised for throwing, Laura changed
direction and went to investigate. She knew that off this particular
corridor were the apartments belonging to Merlin, Brand, Fiona, Corwin,
Martin, and on the other side, Benedict, Gerard, and Julian. Of those, on
Fiona was currently in residence.

Turning down that hallway, she stopped and stood frozen by what she saw.
A second guard was down and dead, and there stood Brandi, alone and facing
a creature that was beyond imagination. Black as midnight, silent as
death, it filled the corridor with a menace Laura had never known.

"Brandi, what is it?" she screamed.

"Laura, get out of here. I don't know, but I think it's a creature of the
Abyss. Your arrows won't pierce its hide and you can't help. Run!"

"Dear Unicorn, I've got to do something," she thought. "But what?"

She called to the Pattern, but the Pattern wasn't answering, apparently
busy with other concerns. If Brandi was right and this was something out
of the Abyss, how did you fight nothingness? Laura's mind worked
frantically while she watched Brandi in a face off with the thing.
Blackness, emptiness, what could she use against these?

Light! She had a light spell hung and cast it. The corridor was flooded
with brilliant white light. She watched in horror waiting to see if it
would have any effect on the thing, but she was not to know. The hallway
seemed to spin and dizziness overcame her.

"What's happening to me?" she cried, but there was no one to answer. Her
body quivered and she was no longer in the Castle.

When she became aware again, Laura looked around to find that she was
lying deep within a series of caves whose only light came from their
shimmering blue walls. She shook the last vestiges of vertigo off.

"All this considered," she said wryly, "if I'm going to spend some time in
the Blue Grotto, I'd rather it be on the Isle of Capri."

"You were warned more than once to take care with the choices you made,"
boomed a voice over her head.

Looking up, Laura saw a huge image of Brand of Amber looming over her and
she swallowed hard.

"You have interfered with my plans for the last time. Amber will fall.
Chaos will fall. All will be drawn into the Abyss. Only I shall rise and
create a new universe as it is meant to be. And you, Laura of Amber, shall
be my servant."


"Infant!" he mocked. "You come to Amber and walk the Pattern and believe
you know how to fight me. You understand nothing, but you will learn what
I teach you. Now, I leave to begin the end and leave to here to see that
there is no escape for you. When I come for you, you will be ready."

"He's mad, totally insane," Laura thought as the image faded. She was
afraid, really afraid. She had read Corwin's chronicles, and Merlin's,
many times over and Brand was right when he said she didn't have the power
to fight him, certainly not alone.

"I have -got- to find a way out of here before he returns," she said
aloud, and began to explore her prison.