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Disclaimer: The Chronicles of Amber do not belong to me. I'm just borrowing the characters for my and (I hope) my readers' amusement only and have no intention of trying to make money off of them in any way, shape or form.

Warnings: Discussion of death and violence. Ignores short stories and makes up original characters who are mentioned and discussed. Not beta'd.
Fandom: Chronicles of Amber
Rating: PG

Author: The RCK
Website: http://www.therck.org
Last updated: 28 July 2009

Written for the 2009 Finishathon. Originally conceived as a seed for a campaign that never materialized. Thanks to Olna Jenn for cheerleading.

Precipitation

The funeral of Queen Vialle of Amber drew dignitaries from many lands. They arrived slowly, traveling great distances, but the King had ordered that the final interment be delayed in hopes that the Queen's surviving daughter might be found and persuaded to attend.

For three months, the city waited. Mourners and gossips filed past the Queen's bier in the Cathedral of the Unicorn, paying a final homage to the woman who had been, at various times, both adored and reviled by the populace. Queen Llewella sent Rebman guards to watch over her sister-in-law's body. Diplomats nodded and murmured, taking this as a sign that Rebma forgave its errant daughter on the matter of Prince Martin's death. The King made no public appearances during the first month of his mourning. His brothers and sisters stepped in, each in his or her own sphere, to keep everything running smoothly.

When Merlin, King of Chaos, arrived to offer his condolences, even King Random had to admit that the funeral could be delayed no longer. Princess Helice's absence, the gossips commented, was indeed regrettable, but perhaps... Perhaps she no longer had any reason to call Amber home. In the long history of the royal family, such things had been known to happen.


Random stood on the battlements and let the rain pour over him. He closed his eyes against it and tried to lose himself in the flowing water. Where I met her first...

"You won't melt, you know, much as you might want to." There was amusement in the words and a gentle sympathy.

Random didn't bother turning to look. Even if I didn't recognize his voice, it would be him, the one person I can't simply order away. "Your  father tells me," he said in a conversational tone, "that you could tell how Dad felt about losing each of his ladies. The weather showed it. For each funeral. For each death. And there's some bureaucrat in the depths of the castle whose job it is to do nothing but track the weather, keeping meticulous records...

"He didn't mourn my mother, particularly, but the storms after Clarissa died were so bad that entire fishing villages disappeared." He smiled, briefly. "I always thought that was a metaphor for their whole relationship."

Merlin laughed. "And perhaps for their children as well?" He put a hand on Random's arm. "Come inside. There are half a dozen people hovering by the windows, watching you. If you come to my room for a drink, they'll assume it means you're fine."

Random hesitated then nodded reluctantly. "There's part of me that wants to go to Rebma, you know, to visit the places where we first met." He started walking, allowing Merlin to draw him along toward the door inside. "But I can't. It wouldn't be...politic. The best I can do is that damned cell Eric stuck us in. And, well, people worry when the king starts wandering in the dungeons."

"A sign of imbalance, definitely." There was a hint of a smile in Merlin's voice as he pulled the door open.

Random hesitated, looking back over his shoulder.

"It'll rain again, I'm sure, and the battlements aren't going anywhere." Merlin stood by the open door, obviously waiting for Random to precede him. His expression softened into quiet sympathy. "You can make a tradition of it."

"Have you done that?" Random felt a sudden surge of anger that this boy should dare to tell him how to mourn. "Do you mourn any of them?"

Merlin set his jaw and met Random's eyes. "I'd no idea you wished to model your marital life on mine, Uncle." He inclined his head to one side and extended an arm into the doorway. "If you would..."

Random shrugged and walked on. He ignored those members of his court brave enough to draw near and simply swept past them, heading for his nephew's rooms. He heard Merlin fall into step behind him. And half of these idiots are only holding back because they're can't figure out how they outrank him. More scared of him than of me. "Familiarity breeds contempt," he murmured. Merlin's soft answering chuckle surprised him. Sharper hearing than I expected.

He slowed his pace a little and let Merlin lead the way as they neared his suite. He saw no point in challenging whatever wards the King of Chaos might have chosen to put on his quarters.

Merlin's valet, a humanoid demon covered in some sort of vining vegetation that smelled of sage, helped both men into dry robes and slippers. Random recognized the slippers as his own and wondered how Merlin had managed to persuade Lord Skahl, the Master of the Wardrobe, to part with them. He wiggled his toes in the warm fleece and couldn't bring himself to regret the lapse. Or even to call it a lapse...

Merlin's valet offered them both mulled wine and then excused himself. Random took the cup and held it, letting it warm his hands, without drinking.

"You'll want something stronger." Merlin crossed the room and opened a cupboard. "Do you want to savor or would you rather have something you can get drunk on without needing to compliment me on the quality?"

"I can't afford to get drunk." Random set aside his cup. He stood up.

Merlin regarded him with a crooked grin. "But you can afford to stand out in the rain? You have skewed priorities, Uncle." He waved Random back to his seat. "For tonight, you can afford anything. Even your sisters won't come in here after you."

Random sighed and sat down. "Something to savor, then. Something to remind me of...quality."

Merlin nodded. He took a few minutes looking over the contents of the cupboard then pulled out a decanter and two small glasses. "I think this will do." He held up the decanter, and the fluid inside shimmered red, orange and yellow. "It's from a little family place in a Shadow called Trenskal. It's made from a local berry. They collect it at different points during the season to get different levels of ripeness for a blend of flavors." He set the decanter and glasses on a tray and carried them over to where Random sat. "I thought you might like something a little... obscure."

"Obscure..." Random managed a thin smile. "Yes, that suits my mood." He took a glass and swirled the liquor around. "What causes the color variation?"

"I'm not sure. It's unique so far as I know." Merlin sat down. He stretched out, putting his feet on an ottoman. "And it disappears if you carry the stuff through a Trump. Finding out why is on my list of things to study when I get time. Fairly far down the list, I'm afraid." He sighed. "That list keeps getting longer and longer..."

Random laughed softly and bitterly. "Here's to being king." He raised his glass. "Too bad we can't let some other bastards do it."

Merlin also raised his glass. "To the other bastards."

For a few minutes, they sat in silence, watching the fire and sipping their drinks. The storm outside pounded the castle and the mountain on which it stood. Random closed his eyes and listened. After a while, he said, "She loved the rain, you know. Snow, too. Even sleet. The ways that water could be...different fascinated her. After Moire banned her from Rebma, the rain was as close as she could come to home."

Merlin nodded but didn't say anything.

"Helice talked to her, you know. Fairly regularly, I think. Even when she wouldn't come home and wouldn't talk to me. I think that was some comfort to her, to them both. I hope so. The Unicorn knows I didn't have anything to offer either of them."

"That's not true," Merlin replied with absolute conviction. "If you'd nothing to offer her, Vialle would have left."

"And go where?" Random swallowed half of his remaining alcohol.

"I thought you were going to savor that." Merlin shook his head. "And go anywhere. Luke would have taken her. Or Dad. Or me. And there's precedent for queens going to the Church. She stayed because she wanted to."

"I suppose so..." Random studied the fire through his glass.

"So, any bets on how soon they'll be nagging you to marry again?" Merlin almost managed to sound casual.

Random tilted his glass then righted it, watching with complete concentration as the fluid moved, and didn't say anything.

"Already at it." Merlin shook his head. "I can't say I'm surprised, but they could show some respect."

"They've been pushing since Martin...died. It's just louder now." Random set his glass down hard enough to crack it. "I have no sons. And my daughter... Well."

"She'll come home eventually."

"No. I don't think she will. And the court wouldn't have her. There's been a lot of talk of a taint in the blood and how it wasn't a valid marriage anyway since I was forced."

Merlin went to the cupboard and got Random a new glass. Wordlessly, he filled it and handed it over. He sat down again and raised his glass. "To the Queen."

Random raised his glass, too, then drank. "How do you do it? Marry again and again, I mean."

Merlin snorted. "Going to model your love life on mine? I don't recommend it."

"Your children are all still alive." Random set his glass down, more carefully this time.

"I think it's not..." Merlin frowned, groping for words. "Oberon did you a disservice. He raised his children to believe that he might die any time. He turned you on each other to fight for the privilege of being the heir he had no expectation of needing." He sighed and slouched in his seat. "My kids know I'm probably not going anywhere any time soon, so there's no point in offing each other." He shook his head. "They know, too, that the crown is a hungry beast. None of them want to increase the odds that they'll be called to feed it. Let somebody else do that."

Their eyes met. After a moment, Random looked away.

"Oberon didn't tell any of you that either, did he?"

"Gerard knows and, I think, Benedict. I suspect that Eric figured it out at the end." Random sighed. "And I think that Dad... Well, Amber's a fickle bitch, always looking for someone better, so he--" He shook his head. "He desperately needed children to...strengthen the realm, but there was a risk that one of us would have more of whatever the hell it is that Amber looks for in a king."

Merlin shrugged with one shoulder, not denying the point. He was silent for a long moment, looking at the fire, then said, "So Gerard is your Priest. I'd not have guessed, and I should have." He looked at Random. "Should you have told me?"

Random's laugh was a bitter, twisting thing. "I think he can guard himself well enough. Besides, I don't think it's hard to guess, not when he was Regent during the war. Who else would be left home to guard the Pattern?"

"True. True. You don't seem to like him much..." Merlin's expression was equal parts speculation and invitation.

"Do you like yours?"

Merlin shrugged. "I don't think about my Priest at all except to make sure the office need only be ceremonial." He hesitated for a moment then said, "But we were talking about Vialle."

"Yes. Yes, we were... What is there to say? She's gone, and I miss her. I broke her heart, and it killed her." Random drank deeply.

"I should have given you the rotgut."  Merlin's eyes narrowed. "Do you want to me refute your last two points, or should I let you wallow?"

Random shook his head. "Can't refute the truth. She blamed me for what the boys-- No. She blamed me for believing that the boys did it." He scrubbed his face with his hands. "She said no evidence was too complete to be fabricated."

"Ah."  Merlin looked away. "I wasn't here then, and my ambassador didn't have much to say except that she was glad no one thought it was us. A very polite phrasing that conjured images of lynch mobs."

"There'd been three attempts on Martin's life in the previous month. Attempts that we noticed anyway." Random sighed. "The first two were clumsy, obvious, quite lacking any...familial subtlety. Flora led the investigation into those. I think she was mostly looking at the under belly of the Golden Circle. The third.... That one involved explosives. In Amber. We still don't know what they used exactly, and the last I knew, Bleys was experimenting. Since he had no idea where to start, it might take centuries yet. Or not come to anything at all. We lost several people to that one." He set his glass down and stared into the fire for a few moments. "That's when we couldn't hide it from Moire any longer. She demanded that he...return home. She wanted him to marry, to have a daughter to be her heir. At least, that's what she said. I think getting him to Rebma, where she could hope to protect him, mattered more.

"He refused. Of course, he refused. She was the one person he got along with less well than he did with me, both of us trying to keep him as--" He waved a hand. "How many parents see their children as people instead of...appendages?"

Merlin wobbled his hand. "Some, some of the time. It takes a break of some sort or a lack of connection to begin with. Holding too tight breaks as many as not holding at all. You'd have gotten there. I did. Even Mother did."

I let Helice go. Random blinked and wondered if that had been too much or too little. I'm feeling the booze. "Stop me when I get too maudlin."

Merlin laughed then shook his head. "That's part of the point tonight. You need it, and I won't tell. Are you hungry?"

Random shook his head. Wait. When did I last eat? At the banquet, of course. I just didn't eat much. "Maybe. It seems...lacking respect." He didn't think he saw any traces of judgment on Merlin's face.

"Do you think--" Merlin hesitated. "I never met them. Would your boys have known how to use explosives? I won't address whether or not they might have found one. It's not impossible, however unlikely it might be." He tapped his fingers on the table, launching a flicker of sorcery that sped through the door. "We'll have food soon."

"I don't know. They...wandered. We've all done that. I don't know how much time they spent...somewhere that wasn't here or where those places might be." You use magic so casually, even in Amber. We all could. We just don't. Another one to put at Dad's feet? Probably. "Vialle said that they wouldn't squander something like that, not on something so...trivial. She couldn't see why either of them would kill Martin."

"I must admit that that question does come to my mind." Merlin tapped his fingers again, this time without the magic. "There's no benefit." He frowned. "The evidence was unmistakable?"

"Several of us saw Gareth standing over Martin's corpse. The blood still dripped from his sword. Martin only had a knife. He'd drawn blood anyway, but he only had a knife." Random studied his hands. "He ran, you know. We had to chase him down." How could my son kill his brother? They weren't like us, not like my brothers.

"Did you catch him? Immediately, I mean. I can think of several ways to fake that. The extra time isn't necessary--" Merlin closed his mouth and ran his fingers through his hair. "He was my friend. We plotted treason and counter-treason and shattering the universe together. Even with nothing else-- I should have asked sooner. I should have come sooner. I'm sorry."

Random blinked. You agree with her. He covered his face. "You think--"

Merlin's hand touched Random's shoulder. "I don't know." His tone became sharper and more bitter. "But someone should have asked the questions. Someone who wasn't Aunt Vialle." His sigh seemed to sweep through the room. "Someone who wasn't you, either."

Random heard the door open, but he didn't look up. He heard Merlin's valet murmur something before Merlin dismissed him.

"We have food now."

Random looked up as the tray landed solidly on the table. "I don't think--"

"Food will help that." Merlin's eyes met Random's and held. "I may be wrong, but I think.... Someone got something out of those deaths, out of all three. Before, you had three sons. After, you had none."

Random choked on a laugh that was all hidden edges. "Would that make it better? Having someone to blame? Someone else to blame?" Because I always knew it must be my fault. If I'd left Martin to Rebma. If I'd raised them all right. If I hadn't become king. If. If. If.

"Yes." Merlin handed Random a plate of cubes of cheese and small pieces of bread. "Having someone to kill will help. Killing the people responsible also means, if you have more children, they won't die the same way."

But they still might die. 'Might' is better than 'will.' Random poked a chunk of cheese with one finger. Do I care? "They've been dead a long time." I'm not sure it matters now.

"Yes." Merlin paused in front of his chair. His face showed Random no emotion. "That means the trail is cold, but it also means that--" He shook his head then sat. "That means I can be cold. It also means we can take the time to be careful."

Random narrowed his eyes. "You have a plan."

"Perhaps." Merlin steepled his fingers.

"Tell me."

"I have...an agent who is good at ferreting out this sort of plot. The difficulty...." Merlin looked apologetic. "Getting her here without raising any suspicions will be a challenge."

"Her?" Random's survival instincts roused, telling him to flee. "Oh, no--"

"Who do you have here who you can trust? Who in the family, I mean. Is there anyone?"

"Gerard." Random's voice was dry. "At least as long as the Pattern needs me."

"He won't help you, not when the signs point to family."

Random nodded. That much is true. He sighed. "And your father is seldom here now. I might trust Benedict, but...we all trust Benedict. There's more to trust family for if it touches the realm. This...."

"Touches the throne." Merlin squeezed a piece of bread into a pellet and tossed it on the fire. "Amazing how much you will do for Amber that you won't do for each other. I can't bring any of them back. I can't turn back years for any purpose. Let me do this much, please."

"You're asking me to marry again."

"That would be easiest. A wife has access and, if she's clever, acceptance at court. Gerard would back any strong marriage. I'll find somebody with power but no political ambition. I can think of a handful of possibilities. My agent and her agents will make part of the retinue." He raised his eyebrows. "Unless you'd like to marry the spy? She's personable enough, and the Courts are far enough from here that we can give her an appropriate provenance. Marriage would limit her ability to move."

I'm considering it. Random blinked. "Proximity to a crown seems to generate ambition in all of us." Ambition devours children. I don't think-- I'll have to some day. He cleared his throat. "One of your daughters, perhaps?" He put a sharpness into the question to let his nephew know that he wasn't blind to the possibility that Merlin also might have ambitions.

Merlin laughed. "No. No. Neither of us are fool enough for that or for any of Mother's connections. The Pattern-- even the potential-- would be poison. I'm not sending any of my children here. I.... Amber nearly devoured me. The dangers here are different, and they're not ready."

You love them. You don't want to risk them. That was the moment when Random decided. He raised his glass. "A father understands," he said softly.

Merlin almost smiled.

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