It was late that night when Jackson knocked on the door to the training room.
"Lady Juliette? The Queen is requesting all of her children and grandchildren to join her immediately."
I stopped, and pulled my helm off. "It's the end, isn't it Jackson?"
"I couldn't comment, ma'am."
I unbelted my weapon, and handed it, and the helm, to Jackson. "Please take these to my room. I'll go to her chambers myself."
It would be better to go in this with someone by my side, so I stopped by Samba's room on the way there. He was dressing, obviously trying to "look nice." I told him I wanted to go together, to present a somewhat united front.
"Okay, but if...How much are you planning on doing, Julie?"
"I was training."
"I mean... I'm not... I don't want to get us killed."
"I won't get us killed," I smiled, "I don't have a weapon, after all."
"Well, there's always me." He grew his claws out.
I looked him up and down. "I could probably wield you, not much practice though. Come on, let's get going"
"This is taking a turn I'm not too sure I'm comfortable with...Ah, good plan." He shaped his hair back into a tail, and we started off.
The room was decorated with weapons and shields containing banners from many different defeated armies. The Queen, Callyn, was lying in her bed, looking weaker than ever. Several attendants were caring for her, with Agnes Sprottle also attending her mother. Fionn and Paki were already there, speaking quietly to each other in the corner. Eathon Eaton arrived about the same time we did, going immediately to his mother's side and saying a few comforting words while holding her hand.
I entered with Masamba, nodding slightly to Paki as I did so, and more so to Fionn. I then stood a respectful distance away, near her bed. Samba did his best to not make eye contact with anyone, following me at a respectful distance and stopping at a nearby window, focusing mainly on the Queen. After we entered, the Queen said " I have an announcement to make, but first, I will wait to see if anyone else is coming."
Most seemed to be in an uncomfortable silence, except for Eathon and Agnes. Eathon, in what I had gathered in my short time there was his usual manner, joked as much as he could, and Agnes doted over her mother, obviously trying not to cry. Andrevo watched her with obvious concern, but was silent.
Samba slunk a little closer to me, and I whispered with him while we waited. "I wonder what she has to say?"
"I think things are going to turn ugly."
I shrugged, "I don't think there will be fighting here. But you might not want to go strolling through the woods afterwards...at least ones that aren't mine."
"I didn't mean that ugly, but ugly nonetheless"
We stopped as Andrevo walked over, forcing a slight smile and speaking quietly, "Salutations, cousins."
I turned to Andrevo, "Greetings."
Masamba nodded, "Allo."
"Indeed, my Lady Juliette. I dare wager you came direct from..." He looked at my Garb, "The Forest?"
"I was training. I did not wish to be late, although it looks now I would have had time to choose something more...appropriate."
Masamba snicked, "I believe this is one of the few times you're better dressed than I, Juliette..."
Andrevo continued, "I cannot say which would befit your character more for this day; martial garb or a fancy dress."
"And I am Masamba, I do not think I have officially made your acquaintance."
"I sense we will soon find out," I replied, as Andrevo turned to Masamba and offered his hand.
"I believe you are correct, Lord Masamba. I am Andrevo."
Samba shook it and bowed. "It is a pleasure to meet you, I'm sure. I can only hope this union is as awkward for the rest of you as it is for me."
Andrevo shrugged, "This is an awkward affair."
"I suspect these things often are.," I replied. Andrevo arched an eyebrow but didn't comment, and fell silent.
At that time, a strange distortion filled the air...almost a heat shimmer. The Queen propped herself up on one arm. "Come children, help me to my feet. We haven't much time." Everyone around us stood frozen, as if held by a spell. All three of us, myself, Samba, and Andrevo, walked over to her and offered our hand.
"What shall be done, Queen?" Andrevo said. She took the help offered and struggled to her feet., almost seeming to freeze herself as she stared at Andrevo.
"This is unexpected. But there's nothing we can do now. Come close child, let me see you through the eye, to ensure you're not my enemy in hiding." She beckoned for Andrevo, and he nodded, deftly stepping directly in front of her and kneeling. She raised the Jewel of Judgement to eye level and stared at him. Meanwhile, Samba looked over to me, his look showing his concern with the situation. The Queen spoke again, "So be it. I can't hold this magic for long, it'll probably be the end of me, but I can fight him no longer. To the library."
I walked in front of the two men helping the Queen, assisting with doors and such, as she continued to talk. "There is a grave threat to Amber, and I know not where my children lie in it. Everywhere I turn I see his face. I turn to you cause each time he has been faced, only the youngest generation has outsmarted him, and never for long."
"What threat do you see, Cousin?" Samba looked at me in surprise as I spoke.
"If you know the history of Amber, you'll remember Corwin, who created our Pattern, to stop his brother Brand from destroying the first Amber. This much is true, but later events are not." She paused as we reached a set of stairs. "I see I must set my dignity aside for the sake of Amber. I cannot walk these alone."
"I will assist you, your majesty," Masamba said, and picked her up as she moved for him to lift her, then continued.
"Shortly after Brand was thought killed he returned from the Abyss with new power." I watched around us as she spoke. "He destroyed the original Amber and any who were there."
I interrupted, concerned. "Destroyed? All of it?"
"Yes." Andrevo frowned as she continued. "He then set his eyes on Corwin's pattern. For brevity's sake, I will skip to that he destroyed it as well. You'll find the details in the books I will show you. He destroyed Chaos as well, plunging reality back to the abyss. I Survived, and with the help of the Serpent, redrew Pattern, and watched as it recreated Chaos. We have staved him off for this long, but he lies in the Abyss plotting, and I have seen his agents in shadow again."
As you reach the library, she points you through a series of well concealed doors. Samba questioned her as we proceeded through. "May I ask a question?"
"Yes, but be quick"
"Why would he do all this? Why destroy.. everything?
"He's as mad as a hatter. Now the advice I must give you." She paused. "There must be a new ruler for Amber. I don't mean one of you."
I smirked and Andrevo sighed. "I see only brand in my children's faces, you must determine who it will be for me." Samba smiled.
She turned to me, "This is why I saved you in Shadow, and why I have trained you." She took the necklace off, and handed it to me.
My thoughts raced through me head as I extended my hand to take it. I tried my best to mask my surprise.
"Do not use this, it will surely kill your weak body."
"Of that I am certain as well."
"But award it to the one who should be ruler." Samba nodded as she continued, "The sword and crown are but trinkets. The real power is in the Jewel.
"Brand's power is that of trump. His only peer was Dworkin, the original creator of Trump and Pattern, who has gone missing as of late. There is also something wrong with trump, but I haven't the time or knowledge to study it."
I looked to Andrevo for a moment as he grimaced.
The Queen gestured for us to usher her back to her room. I place the jewel around my neck, then started off towards the room. Andrevo and Samba followed.
Immediately upon placing the jewel around my neck, I felt it's weight on my entire being. I tried to hide it as we continued, knowing it was not safe for now to take it off. The Queen spoke again as we continued back, "You must trust no one, for Brand hides everywhere. Nothing is and no where is safe."
Andrevo interjected, "A daunting warning it its least form."
Somewhat incoherently she continued, "Speak to no one of this till you ascertain who they are. Don't trust the trump."
She gibbered on as we reached her bed. "Quickly, while I can, questions...and move to where you were."
Andrevo assumed his previous position. "Will we save this Amber, or forge anew?"
I spoke up as I walked back, Samba next to me. "I will forge nothing, save out of sweat and blood."
"I hope you can save it. I have not had the time to show anyone how to prepare a new one. The pattern lies with the eye." She laid back, and coughed.
Samba leaned closer to me and whispered. "I told you it was going to be ugly."
Suddenly, she sat up. "The best! The best among you must rule!" Everyone in the room gasped as she fell to the bed, not breathing.
I leaned slightly against Masamba, and noticing Andrevo glaring at my neck. I quickly tucked the jewel into my tunic. I leaned against Samba for support as Eathon tried to revive her.
Andrevo took a step forward to gain attention as Agnes ran and buries herself in Andrevo's chest. "What does that mean?" Paki and Fionn, of course, glared at each other.
Samba muttered to me as Andrevo comforted Agnes. "I take it we should leave?" He subtly put his hand on my shoulder as he whispered to me. "Julie?"
"Perhaps I am coming down with something."
"I'm going to do something and I don't want you to freak out."
"Ok. I must sit."
I looked around for a chair and sat, Samba following me. Meanwhile, Fionn made a half hearted attempt to check on the queen, but his real motivations seemed to be to look at her neck. He, of course, did not find what he was looking for. Agnes whispered to Andrevo as they stood together. Fionn and Paki glared at each other with palpable tension until finally Eathon spoke up. "I'll arrange the funeral, we'll call to our family and discuss regency later." He glared at the other men and walked out the door.
Andrevo spoke to Agnes. "Let us away, dear Agnes; this room is no place to be now."
She cried, "I have to go," and hurriedly exited, Andrevo following her. He looked strongly at me as he exited.
I nodded absentmindedly to Andrevo, much more interested in Paki and Fionn. They were having a heated discussion on whether the matter at hand is more important than "the other."
I spoke quietly with Samba. "I need you to stay, I may not be able to walk out of this room otherwise."
He tapped a finger to my forehead, whispering, "...Spying..."
"I know. But my weaknesses are known. The pain of my cousin's death strains my already weak form."
Finally, Paki and Fionn decided to bring their argument elsewhere. Samba turned back to me. "I am sorry. MY ears were busy. Shall we depart?"
"I suppose so." The servants started attending to the body as we left the room.
Samba continued our talk as we walked down the hallway. "So, remind me.. did you already tell me she was your cousin?...and how are you feeling?"
"I don't remember, but on my mother's side, Julian is my grandfather, Corwin is hers." I paused. "And I can barely wear the damn thing!"
Then I noticed Andrevo walking towards us.
Samba turned to him as he joined us. "I don't know about the two of you, but I could use some fresh air."
I spoke up. "I need a chair, but as long as that requirement is filled."
"I'm sure there is a bench outside. In fact..." Samba pointed us to a nearby balcony, complete with bench. Andrevo followed, appearing distracted.
"I must follow and provide comfort to my Aunt soon. And maybe you should put that someplace else."
"Fionn and Paki noticed it was missing" I said.
Samba added, "And they were worried about someone else."
Andrevo added "Yes, and you're very lucky they didn't notice more."
"I am hesitant to let it out of my sight, but I can not continue to wear it - even that is taxing."
"I, um...I have a probable solution." I looked to Samba as he spoke, "But, judging what her majesty said about trust issues, I can see if you don't like it. I could...uh...store it some place that would only be found over my dead body, as it were."
Once again, Andrevo interjected. "Such sorcery is not part of what she groomed her for this; and I must advise against it."
"I'm sure she means for me to use anything at my disposal...well, meant, I suppose now."
Samba winked. "I am at your disposal. Granted, I do not know if other more...uh...mystically inclined of our family can detect it, but I can hide it from sight. It would involve giving it to me."
"I suspect that it will hide itself or not as it chooses. I can not hide it in that way."
"But I assure you, I have no intention of using it."
"I could reveal it, but I suspect my life expectancy will shorten thereafter. I might, however, be able to obtain some sort of regency, as I obviously am not in any contention for the throne."
"I do not mean to sound a devil, but do you think certain uncles of ours would respect such regency?"
I thought for a moment. "Fionn is my cousin...I do not know why she did not include him."
Andrevo grinned. "My Lady Juliette, I wish this wasn't sounded like an indecent proposal, but may I borrow you elsewhere for oh half a span so that I may... sketch you?"
An unusual request, considering I have a trump in the royal deck. Both Samba and I smiled though. "I think I would be able to fend off your unwonted advances if necessary"
"Perhaps under different auspices I may test that assertion, but for now I mean only now for some...investigation."
Samba continued with our previous subject. "She did say the youngest generation, perhaps she meant age as opposed to familial ties."
"Not to sound fatalist. But where...uh...where could we go to that would be safe?"
Andrevo spoke up, "For now, for this sketch I recommend my room."
Samba agreed, "I suspect now we have confusion on our side."
"I am normally below notice and it might be safe in passing." Andrevo volunteered.
"I do as well. I don't' think we are likely...suspects."
Samba spoke up, "Not to sound rude, but can we trust the trump?"
"Hopefully we can trust it's creation, if not it's use."
Andrevo was less hopeful. "I trust nothing now except what I have seen, and must learn about what else there is."
"I did not mean it's creator," Samba continued, "I just meant if there's something... else that might usurp-ah, screw it."
Samba said his goodbyes, and headed off as Andrevo and I continued towards his room.