Over the next several days, I tried to talk with some of the "candidates," so that I might make a more informed decision. I decided to try Sato Otanashi first, and picked his trump out of my deck. He answered my call, as he rode with a contingent of his guard. "What can I do for you Juliette?"
I decided to speak in Rebman, as he. "I would like to arrange a meeting, to discuss your proposal."
"I had planned to come to you, but we can do so now."
"I will be...in and out..so I thought some pre-arrangement might be in order. If now is convenient for you, where do you wish to meet?"
"Is there a reason we can't speak like this?"
"I suppose not." I hope to meet in person, to avoid at least some spying.
"Then since you have heard of my proposal, what do you wish to ask?"
"Your name had been highly recommended to me by a mutual acquaintance, and I wished to know you better, as I have but spoken to you in passing before this time. If you will allow me to be blunt, what are your interests in Amber, Your Majesty?"
"I believe I am the only one competent to rule Amber. The others will all sow chaos in some form or another. There will be changes for certain, but I only hope to embetter Amber as a whole."
"And what changes would these be?"
"Such a thing is fairly large for a simple discussion. It is a thing for law-makers and politicians to debate. I suppose you could look to Rebma as your guide. We have known prosperity for sometime now." Otanashi's policy of prosperity through fear, and his demon army to support it, did not encourage me.
"You feel Amber has not? Or merely not enough?"
"I feel the wars that Amber has waged are always too close to home, and that the family itself brings as much disaster as any outsider." I smiled. "It is time to solidify our home, expand our reach and have our citizens prosper."
"While a noble ambition, as you said, the family brings as much disaster as any outsider."
"Do you imply that I will bring disaster to Amber in my attempt, or that I will have to deal with the family if I succeed?"
"While I consider the first a small possibility, I am curious as to how you plan to deal with the second?"
"I consider the first a necessary evil to bring peace to Amber, as for the second, I will not allow the Prince and Princesses of Amber to run amok like children just because they are royalty. They will have to abide by laws like anyone else."
"It would take a lot to enforce laws on the Princes and Princesses of Amber."
"My power is greater than death, each of my siblings fears me in their own way, they will listen to my rule." Of this...I was not so sure as Otanashi.
"Then why your proposal?"
"It is better to oil a hinge than force it. I, as the best, will win."
"Wouldn't we all consider ourselves the best?"
"Perhaps, but then the contest is still a fair way to decide."
"Contests can be rigged."
"Is there something you wish to say besides being devil's advocate when I answer your questions?" Was that not, in some way, my role?
"As I said when we began, my purpose was to know you better. If I have taken too much of your time, please forgive me."
"I have time, but you do not seek what you ask for. Your purpose is not to know me, but to know what I plan to do in the coming days. My machinations are my own."
"Your actions, and plan for actions, are telling. Very well, though. I wonder, though, if there was something you wished to ask me, other than merely inform me of your proposal. My dear aunt's presentation might have been...biased.
"The plan is for the representatives of each family to meet and decide upon a competition to choose as the queen put it, 'the best.' We will then allow those who wish to compete to do so, while the representatives judge the outcome. Then we will coronate the new ruler."
"Has each family agreed to this?"
"Each family isn't even whole, which is why I travel shadow, but I have yet to hear a word of dissent."
"You plan on bringing *all* of them to Amber?" Samba would not appreciate a visit from his mother.
"I plan on informing all I can find within the time frame I gave. Whether they choose to participate is up to them."
"If it would be useful, I offer my assistance." It would be...interesting, to say the least.
"I sworn to this duty, I will fulfill it."
"As you wish. No one would fault your honor. I will see you at the appointed time, then. And I will make sure the jewel is there as well."
No one seemed to care about the jewel, or the Queen's word to us anymore. I would still make my own decision...but this contest would at least provide useful information.
I decided to try Ambrose next. I went to his flagship that evening, and asked him about Otanashi's proposal. He said he thought it would keep the peace until after the competition was over. When I asked if he thought it would be successful, he said that trump reading had not shown him much yet.
I also asked him if there was anything I could do about Joan. After explaining that I didn't want my mother-in-law to hate me too much before I even got married, he said the best way to deal with it was to simply avoid her until after the ceremony, and then pretend it never happened. I questioned that, but he said it was the most likely thing to work. Joan...is going to be my thorn, I can see it now.
I then asked him if he was going to compete...
"The family is talking it over." I rolled my eyes. "Its not a cop out, its just the truth."
"Oh, I've gotten to know Andrevo well enough to know it's the truth. It's just frustrating at time. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, and for your advice about Joan,"
We parted way amicably as we both went about our separate business.
I went to meet with Paki in Arden.
"A moment or two of your time, please."
I lead him away from his men some so that we could speak. "Otanashi has spoken with you, I assume?"
"I would be interested in your opinions of his proposal."
"I think its a chance for me to claim what's mine."
"What makes you think you will win?"
"I don't know that I'll win, but I'll certainly give it everything I have."
"That I am sure of. Are any other Igare planning on attending?"
"I'm not certain honestly. Masamba seems to be avoiding me."
"He is afraid you still think he's a traitor."
"Well we can't discuss that until we see each other again."
"For what it is worth to you, I don't believe he is one. And I will arrange a meeting if you wish."
"I'm sure we'll cross paths eventually."
"I suppose it isn't really any of my business, but don't be too hard on him."
"I'm sure everything will work out fine in the end. How did Otanashi get you to agree with his idea?"
I chuckled. "He just kind of...assumed. I did tell him I would be there."
"It *is* a good idea - and everyone seems to think I'll just go along."
"I suppose they have a tendency to do that."
"They do. I'm not sure if they just don't care if I say no, or just haven't thought I would."
"Do you have the gift I gave you?"
I took it out of my pocket. "I do. Although you should know that there was at least a painting of that meeting."
"Good. Siobhan has admitted to me that she has power over the jewel no matter where it lies." A good thing to know. "As for the others I'm sure its arrogance. I feel we're as protected as we can be here."
"Interesting...Did she say how much, or should I just start sending her transcripts to save her the trouble?" I smiled.
"Her mastery over the Pattern is unsurpassed, but I'd imagine the extent of her control depends on proximity."
"Good. I don't like her being that close to me."
"Keep the stone with you, and avoid invoking powers while speaking privately. And of course be aware of non magical listening methods. She's too busy most of her day to spy anyway."
"I'm sure eradicating the demon wig threat from Amber has kept her most busy."
"Though they may take inconsequential forms, demons are still a threat. Now you have me sounding like her."
"They are, indeed, but I do not truck much with fanatics."
"I'm sure the competition will be interesting, but it will all boil down to what happens afterwards. Its all been a battle for support." In that, he was definitely correct. "Some would think that funny coming from one who's going to marry into the Sprottles."
An interesting thought. "Trading one fanatic for another? As for support...you still have your troops here. A large physical presence."
"More then armies are needed to rule. I find it hard to call her a fanatic over the slaying of a demon. And none of the Sprottles have a reputation for sanity."
"I think I have at least found the most sane one." He remained quiet. "If you win, do you think you have the support to keep your prize?"
"Unfortunately that remains to be seen."
"For what it is worth, you would have more than just a crown to assist you." He would make a good king...and I would support him. Knowledge of that now could only help to further my own cause.
"That is reassuring."
"As for whether or not I choose to fully participate, no matter the outcome, that remains to be seem. Thank you for your time, cousin."
"I'm glad you came by. Care to see the new jets?"
"You know what I think of jets." He was trying, at least, and we talked for a while longer about different aspects of the defenses before parting ways.
Eathon was next on my list. I tried to find him in his room, somewhat early in the morning, so hopefully he would be sober. He answered the door in his dressing gown. "Good morning Juliette, what can I do for you?"
"I hope I'm not disturbing you too early. I wanted to talk if you have a moment."
"I'm available anytime for you."
I smiled. "You flatter me, cousin."
"You're a pleasure compared to most of our family. Shall we meet in the library in a few minutes?"
"Sure. I'll see you there."
I went to the library, and started looking through a history of Amber while I waited. In a few minutes, he joined me. "Good morning again."
I smiled. "And to you. Although I am afraid the subject of my conversation might put a pall on it." I paused for a moment to collect my thoughts. "I wanted to know how plans for grandmother's funeral are going."
"They'll be finished shortly."
"Do you need any assistance?"
"No, everything will be set soon."
"I'm hoping to have things ready before this competition begins."
It might provide a little...reunion before things got heated again. "Probably a wise move. What are your thoughts on the competition?"
"I'm hoping it will calm things down."
"Do you plan to participate?"
"Interesting. At all, or just as a competitor?" Did he not agree with Sato's idea?
"I will not be competing."
I nodded. "Sorry, I was wondering if perhaps I had found someone with opposition to it."
"No, I'm sure the only other way to solve this will be war."
"Unfortunately." And he was right.
"Was there anything else?"
"Not unless you wished to ask me something."
He smiled. "Not that I can think of."
Some social time would probably be in order as well, and with the way things had been going lately, I could use it. "Then why don't we have a drink together, and talk of lighter subjects for a moment?"
"Certainly." We shared several glasses as we talked of other subjects, avoiding for a moment the pending troubles.