“Incredible,” I said. “Then whose body was it that I found?”
“I've no idea,” she replied. “It could have been one of her own shadow selves or some stranger off the street. Or a corpse stolen from the morgue. I've no way of knowing.”
“It was wearing one of your blue stones.”
“Yes. And its mate was on the collar of the beast you slew-and she opened the way for it to come through.”
“Why? And why all that business with the Dweller on the Threshold as well?”
“Red herring of the first water. Victor thought I'd killed her, and I thought he had. He assumed I'd opened a way from the Keep and sent the heating beast after her. I guessed he'd done it, and I was irritated he'd hidden his rapid development from me. Such things seldom bode well. “
“You breed those creatures around here?”
“Yes,” she replied, “and I show them, too, in several adjacent shadows. I've a number who've taken blue ribbons.”
“I'll stick with pit bulls,” I said. “They're a lot cuter and better behaved. So, she left a body and a hidden corridor to this place, and you thought Victor had done her in and was setting things up for a raid on your sanctum sanctorum.”
“More or less.”
“And he thought she'd become sufficiently dangerous to you-as with the corridor-that you'd killed her?”
“I don't really know that he ever found the corridor. It was fairly well hidden, as you learned. Either way, neither of us was aware of what she'd really done.”
“She'd also planted a piece of tragolith on me. Later, after the initiation, she used its mate to track me through Shadow to Begma.”
“Begma? What the hell were you doing there?”
“Nothing important,” she said. “I mention it only to show her subtlety. She did not approach me at that time. I know of it, in fact, only because she told me of it later. She trailed me then from the perimeter of the Golden Circle back here to the Citadel. The rest you know.
“I'm not sure that I do.”
“She had designs on this place. When she surprised me, I was surprised indeed. It was how I became a coatrack.”
“And she took over here, donning a goalie mask for public relations purposes. She dwelled here for a time, building her powers, increasing her skills, hanging umbrellas on you-”
Jasra growled softly, and I remembered that her bite was worse. I hastened into a fresh area of speculation. “I still don't understand why she spied on me on occasion and sometimes threw flowers.”
“Men are exasperating,” Jasra said, raising her wineglass and draining it. “You've managed to understand everything but her motive.”
“She was on a power trip,” I said. “What's to understand past that? I even recall a long discussion we once had concerning power.”
I heard Mandor chuckle. When I glanced at him, he looked away, shaking his head.
“Obviously,” Jasra said, “she still cared about you. Most likely, a great deal. She was playing games with you. She wanted to rouse your curiosity. She wanted you to come after her, to find her, and she probably wanted to try her power against your own. She wanted to show you that she was worthy of all those things you'd denied her when you denied her your confidence.”
“So you know about that, too.”
“There were times when she spoke freely to me.”
“So she cared for me so well that she sent men with tragoliths to track me to Amber and try to slay me. They almost succeeded, too.”
Jasra looked away, coughed. Mandor immediately rose, circled the table, and refilled her goblet, interposing himself between us. At that time, while she was wholly blocked from my sight, I heard her say softly, “Well, not exactly. The assassins were... mine. Rinaldo wasn't around to warn you, as I'd guessed he was doing, and I thought I'd have one more shot at you.”
“Oh,” I observed. “Any more wandering around out there?”
“They were the last,” she said.
“That's a comfort.”
“I'm not apologizing. I'm just explaining, to clear our differences. Are you willing to cancel this account, too? I've got to know.”
“I already said I was willing to call things even. It still goes. Where does Jurt come into all this? I don't understand how they got together and what they are to each other.”
Mandor added a touch of wine to my own glass before returning to his seat. Jasra met my eyes.
“I don't know,” she said. “She had no allies when we fought. It had to have happened while I was rigid.”
“Have you any idea where she and Jurt might have fled?”
I glanced at Mandor, and he shook his head.
“Neither have I,” he said. “However, a peculiar thought has occurred to me.”
“Besides the fact that he has negotiated the Logrus and come into his powers, is it necessary for me to point out that Jurt-apart from his scars and missing pieces bears you a strong resemblance?”
“Jurt? Me? You've got to be kidding!”
He glanced at Jasra.
“He is right,” she said. “It's obvious that the two of you are related.”
I put down my fork and shook my head.
“Preposterous,” I said, more in self-defense than as a matter of certainty. “I never noticed.”
Mandor shrugged, very slightly.
“You want a lecture on the psychology of denial?” Jasra asked me.
“No,” I said. “I want a little while in which to let this sink in.”
“Time for another course anyway,” Mandor announced, and he gestured widely and it was delivered.
“Will you be in trouble with your relatives for having released me?” Jasra asked after a while.
“By the time they realize you're gone, I hope to have a good story ready,” I answered.
“In other words, you will be,” she said.
“Maybe a little.”
“I'll see what I can do.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don't like to be obligated to anyone,” she said, “and you've done more for me than I have for you in this. If I come upon a means of turning their wrath away from you, I'll employ it.”
“What could you possibly have in mind?”
“Let it go at that. Sometimes it's better not to know too much.”
“I don't like the sound of this at all.”
“An excellent reason for changing the subject,” she said. “How great an enemy has Jurt become?”
“To me?” I asked. “Or are you wondering whether he'll be returning here for second helpings?”
“Both, when you put it that way “
“I believe he'll kill me if he can,” I said, glancing at Mandor, who nodded.
“I fear that is so,” he stated.
“As for whether he'll be back here for more of whatever it is that he got,” I continued, “you're the best judge. How close did he seem to be to possessing the full powers one might gain from that ritual at the Fountain?”
“It's hard to say exactly,” she said, “as he was testing them under very chaotic conditions. Fifty percent, maybe. Just a guess. Will that satisfy him?”
“Perhaps. How dangerous does that make him?”
“Very When he gets the full hang of things. Still, he must realize that this place will be heavily guarded even against someone such as himself-should he decide to return. I suspect he'll stay away. Just Sharu-in his present circumstances-would be a formidable obstacle.”
I went on eating.
“Julia will probably advise him not to try it,” she continued, “familiar as she is with the place.”
I nodded my acceptance of the notion. We would meet when we met. Nothing much I could do now to forestall it.
“Now may I ask you a question?” she said.
“Even in the body of the duke Orkuz's daughter, I am certain that she did not just walk into the palace and wander on up to your apartments.”
“Hardly,” I replied. “She's with an official party.”
“May I ask when the party arrived?”
“Earlier in the day,” I answered. “I'm afraid, though, that I can't go into any detail as to-”
She dipped her well-ringed hand in a gesture of denial.
“I'm not interested in state secrets,” she said, “though I know Nayda usually accompanies her father in a secretarial capacity.”
“Did her sister come along or did she stay home?”
“That would be Coral, wouldn't it?” I asked.
“She did,” I replied.
“Thank you,” she said, and returned to her food.
Damn. What was that about? Did she know something concerning Coral that I didn't? Something that might bear on her present, indeterminate state? If so, what might it cost me to find out?
“Why?” I said then.
“Just curious,” she replied. “I knew the family in... happier times.”
Jasra sentimental? Never. What then?
“Supposing the family had a problem or two?” I asked.
“Apart from Nayda's possession by the ty'iga?”
“Yes,” I said.
“I would be sorry to hear that,” she said. “What problem?”
“Just a little captivity thing involving Coral.”
There came a small clatter as she dropped her fork and it fell upon her plate.
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
“A misplacement,” I said.
“Of Coral? How? Where?”
“It depends partly on how much you really know abort her,” I explained.
“I'm fond of the girl. Don't toy with me. What happened?”
More than a little puzzling. But not the answer I was after.
“You knew her mother pretty well?”
“Kinta. I'd met her, at diplomatic functions. Lovely lady.”
“Tell me about her father.”
“Well, he's a member of the royal house, but of a branch not in the line of succession. Before he was prime minister, Orkuz was the Begman ambassador to Kashfa. His family was in residence with him, so naturally I saw him at any number of affairs-”
She looked up when she realized I was staring at her through the Sign of the Logrus, across her Broken Pattern. Our eyes met, and she smiled.
“Oh. You did ask about her father,” she said. Then she paused, and I nodded. “So there's truth in that rumor,” she observed at last.
“You didn't really know?”
“There are so many rumors in the world, most of them impossible to check. How am I to know which of them hold truth? And why should I care?”
“You're right, of course,” I said. “Nevertheless...”
“Another of the old boy's by-blows,” she said. “Does anyone keep score? It's a wonder he had any time for affairs of state.”
“Anyone's guess,” I said.
“To be frank then, in addition to knowing the rumor I'd heard, there was indeed a family resemblance. I couldn't judge on that count, though, not being personally acquainted with most of the family. You're saying there's truth in it?”
“Just because of the resemblance, or is there something more?”
She smiled sweetly and retrieved her fork.
“I've always enjoyed that fairy-tale revelation which sees one rise in the world.”
“I also,” I said, and I resumed eating.
Mandor cleared his throat.
“It seems hardly fair,” he said, “to tell only part of a story.”
“You're right,” I agreed.
Jasra returned her gaze to me and sighed.
“All right,” she said, “I'll ask. How did you know for cer-Oh. Of course. The Pattern.”
“Well, well, well. Little Coral, Mistress of the Pattern. This was a fairly recent occurrence?”
“I suppose she is off somewhere in Shadow now-celebrating.”
“I wish I knew.”
“What do you mean?”
“She's gone, but I don't know where. And it's the Pattern that did it to her.”
“Good question. I don't know.”
Mandor cleared his throat.
“Merlin,” he said, “perhaps there are some matters” – he rotated his left hand – “that on reflection you may wish-”
“No,” I said. “Ordinarily discretion would rule-perhaps even with you, my brother, as a Lord of Chaos. And certainly in the case of Your Highness"-I nodded to Jasra-"save that you are acquainted and may even have a touch of affection for the lady.” I decided against laying it on too thick and quickly added, “Or at least no malice toward her.”
“As I said, I'm very fond of the girl,” Jasra stated, leaning forward.
“Good,” I replied, “for I feel at least partly responsible for what happened, even though I was duped in the matter. So I feel obliged to try to set things right. Only I don't know how.”
“What happened?” she asked.
“I was entertaining her when she expressed a desire to see the Pattern. So I obliged her. On the way she asked me questions about it. It seemed harmless conversation, and I satisfied her curiosity. I was not familiar with the rumors concerning her parentage, or I would have suspected something. As it was, when we got there, she set foot upon the Pattern and commenced walking it.”
Jasra sucked in her breath.
“It would destroy one not of the blood,” she said. “Correct?”
“Or even one of us,” I said then, “if any of a number of mistakes be made.”
“Supposing her mother'd really been carrying on with a footman or the cook?” she remarked.
“She's a wise daughter,” I said. “At any rate, once one begins the Pattern, one may not turn back. I was obliged to instruct her as she went along. That, or be a very poor host and doubtless damage Begman-Amber relations.”
“And spoil all sorts of delicate negotiations?” she asked, half seriously.
I'd a feeling just then that she'd welcome a digression concerning the exact nature of the Begman visit, but I wasn't biting.
“You might say that,” I said. “At any rate, she completed the Pattern, and then it took her away.”
“My late husband told me that from its center one can command the Pattern to deliver one anywhere.”
“True,” I said, “but it was the nature of her command that was a bit unusual. She told the Pattern to send her wherever it wanted.”
“I'm afraid I don't understand.”
“Neither do I, but she did, and it did.”
“You mean she just said, `Send me wherever you want to send me,' and she was instantly dispatched for points unknown?”
“You've got it.”
“That would seem to imply some sort of intelligence on the part of the Pattern.”
“Unless, of course, it was responding to an unconscious desire on her part to visit some particular locale.”
“True. I suppose there is that possibility. But have you no means of tracing her?”
“I'd a Trump I'd done of her. When I tried it, I reached her. She seemed pent in a dark place. Then we lost touch, and that's it.”
“How long ago was this?”
“A matter of hours by my subjective reckoning,” I said. “Is this place on anything near Amber time?”
“Close enough, I believe. Why didn't you try again?”
“I've been somewhat occupied ever since Also, I've been casting about for some alternate way of approaching this.”
There came a clinking, rattling sound, and I smelled coffee.
“If you're asking whether I'll help you,” Jasra said, “the answer is yes. Only I don't really know how to go about it. Perhaps if you were to try her Trump again with me backing you-we might reach her.”
“All right,” I said, lowering my cup and fumbling forth the cards. “Let's give it a try.”
“I will assist you also,” Mandor stated, rising to his feet and coming to stand to my right.