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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
have no intention of trying to make money off of them in any way, shape
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
Author: The RCK
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
my son kill his brother? They weren't like us, not like my
"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
"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
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.
"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,
"Who do you have here who you can trust? Who in the family, I mean. Is
"Gerard." Random's voice was dry. "At least as long as the Pattern
"He won't help you, not when the signs point to family."
Random nodded. That much is true. He
"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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