Truth is Stranger then Fiction

It was the kind of summer night unique to their city’s position on the southern coast, where the jewel of the South sat at or below sea level. Where the humidity and heat fought with the cool breeze of the ocean, and the night song of the cicada could easily overwrite the sounds wafting through the night air from the jazz clubs of the French Quarter. Where the heady scent of magnolia, azalea and wisteria rode forcefully over the scent of the streets and even the sea. Overhead a million stars were visible in the night sky, and no one once thought to ask how they were so clear over a city of this size, where the lights from the city and the haze of humanity’s air pollution should have dimmed them significantly.

It was also the kind of night meant for a small section of the city’s inhabitants to celebrate, for the end month run of their show had just ended to reviews and accolades that were just as numerous as when they opened.

The party had been long and large, and had traveled from the theater to the clubs, to the star’s backyard. Tiny white lights twinkled in the carefully chosen trees and decorated the patio and outside bar. Candles and water lilies floated lazily in the pool and the lower ring of a brilliant white marble unicorn fountain. The large terraced and landscaped yard was curiously bereft of cicadas and the twinkling white lights seemed to be more like tiny stars come to rest than any electrical device. From the patio came the music of Spanish guitars while a couple swayed sensually to the rhythm of the Latin strings.

The music ended and the woman-who had long ago abandoned her shoes to some fan on the street after she ceremoniously autographed them- tossed her thick mane of red hair over her shoulders and smiled up at her tall, lean dance partner.

”A drink, I think,” she said in purposeful rhyme and then nearly tripped over the black cat winding between their feet.

Rochelle laughed and he along with her as she fell against his chest. “Nightshade! You do that on purpose!” The cat responded like all cats do; with a haughty tilt of his head and lift of his tail before strutting along his previous vector to the open door of the house.

The man smiled at her then and offered his arm in a gentlemanly fashion, which she took with a coy smile. “Come, my lady,” he said airily and his eyes danced with laughter. She liked that about Benjamin, his eyes were incredibly expressive. He could, had he chosen to, made a go at acting she always thought. But his love was to be found in old maps and histories, in descriptions of epic battles fought with sword and shield and in the stories to be found in the dust of long dead civilizations. That was all right too, because she could understand him. He kept her sane when she was here and she reminded him there was more to life than dust and parchment and words on a page.

She opted to sit on the railing around the patio while he made their drinks. She smiled as she watched him move. He was graceful and elegant in his every movement, even when slightly inebriated. Rochelle sighed softly. She wasn’t in love him any more than he was with her; they had already had that talk ages ago. Benjamin liked being able to pick up and leave Edinburgh with no more than a call to the dean and he was on call to half a dozen museums worldwide. He didn’t have time to maintain a serious relationship and neither did Rochelle, not really. Even if she did spend most of her life here, she still sometimes had to leave at the drop of a hat. There was also the fact that he was very mortal and she wasn’t.


Rochelle was not stupid. She knew very well Benjamin was one of Benedict’s shadows. Though she had not met the uncle in question yet, she had his trump and had seen paintings in Amber. There was also that whole military angle. She had briefly felt guilty for getting so involved with Benjamin, and not just because of whom he reflected. The Tantric magic she practiced was intense, and grew more so with the same partner over time and affected them with each passing episode. It was one way her mother kept up with the stamina and appetites of an Amber male and kept him coming back for more.

She didn’t really know what it meant to be the shadow of an Amber Elder. Benjamin was the first one she had met. She knew that her continued presence in this place would make it more Real, but what did it do to the people she spent a lot of personal time with? She suspected he had a stronger will than the men around him, that he might have a slightly longer lifespan and the years he would be unaffected by age would be longer, that he was more disease resistant – for in the years she had known him, he had been sick only once, and that lasted only a couple of days. He had the endurance and stamina of a teenager. She smiled to herself. A very experienced teenager, but still, he could match her in several areas and she had yet to beat him at chess or Risk, though it was close.

“And what are you smiling at,” he asked, interrupting her musing, his voice laced with amusement.

Rochelle blinked and smiled more as she accepts the drink. “You.”

“Oh?” he inquired, eyebrow arched. He leaned against the railing beside her and sipped his drink. “Why?”

“Just thinking. How long can you stay this time?”

He smirked, and she still found the expression hilarious on that face but she just kept her smile.

“I took a week’s vacation,” he informed her in a voice that sent shivers down her spine. God, that accent was sexy. “I do need to go into the university at some point, since I did say that’s what I was doing here.”

She looked askance at him. “And they still buy that?” She shifted around so she was facing him. “It isn’t like we’ve made any effort to hide our relationship. You do know your picture has been in the press, don’t you? Not that the writers get anything right.”

“Oh, yes,” he snorted. “My colleagues are quite jealous, which I find funny, but the students, their reactions are too much. Do you know you have a fan club on campus?”

“Just one?” she pouted. “I shall have to come visit you and sit in on your classes to increase my visibility, in that case.”

“Minx,” Benjamin chuckled. “They’ll want you to autograph their textbooks.”

“The ones you wrote?” she said indignantly. “Well, I will just have to sign them ‘love, Dr. Alexander’s girlfriend’ then.” She sipped her drink and moved around again so she was behind him and could play with his hair while they talked.

“It’s not like I can use your books in my class,” he pointed out laughingly. He shifted in front of her and she brought her legs around him to hold him close.

“Bet they’d do more reading ahead if you could. What are you studying next in class?” It wasn’t unusual for them to discuss it, though they didn’t usually discuss it while they were both drinking all night.

He sighed, and she knew it was one of those topics. She felt bad for him.

”The Fall of Troy. I wish I could do more than teach Homer, who may well have been making it up as he went along, and the writings of a dead German who may or may not have found Troy. I’m a historian, not a Lit professor…”

Rochelle’s mind drifted again as his voice mesmerized her. She had heard this rant before she didn’t mind so much. She got off on listening to him talk. Still, guilt nagged at her, that annoying little voice in the back of her head that kept her from treating people of shadow the way many of her relatives were said to. She sat up suddenly, startling Benjamin.


She blinked. “I am so stupid,” she stated and drained her glass. She tossed it over her shoulder into the rose bushes, swung a long bare leg over his head and hopped off the rail. “Wait right here. Don’t move.” She ran into the house. Keys? Keys? Where were her keys? Dammit! Ah! She spotted them on the floor, damn cat.

The damn cat was sitting on the banister post watching her. “We’ll be back later. Watch the house.” Nightshade looked insulted that she felt the need to voice that. Rochelle ignored him and flew out of the house, the door closing behind her with a thoughtless wave of her hand behind her back.

She grabbed a bewildered Benjamin’s hand. “C’mon!”

”Wh… Rochelle, where are we going? It’s four in the morning!”

“You’ll see,” she grinned and hopped into the convertible.

“Should you be driving?”

“ ‘m fine,” she replied and started the car. When they backed into the street she stopped and looked at him then leaned over and kissed him thoroughly. “Can you ride a horse?”

“Wha… yes. Yes, of course. Rochelle…”

She held up a finger, grinned and put the car in drive. Heading for the forested state highways instead of the interstate, the car sped into the night and inland.

After a few miles were between them and civilization, Rochelle slowed down enough to put the top up. She took a moment to light a cigarette for her and her still confused date. Handing his to him, she leaned over and took a silver flask out of the glove box and handed it to him wordlessly. He looked thoughtfully at it and then her as she pulled back into the night.

Rochelle made the first shift in Shadow and watched as the moon in her rear view mirror wavered and became two.

“Once, long ago, there was only the Great Abyss from which all life sprang,” she began.

“Rochelle… ” Benjamin started, wondering why he was getting a mythology lesson. Rochelle pursed her lips and then over rode him as she began the shift of the constellations.

“Millennia passed until one day from the Abyss rose the Great Serpent. The Serpent looked over the darkness and envisioned a place, a land of change and ever changing. This place was called Chaos, and into Chaos the Serpent accepted demon things that came from the Abyss, and he took their forms and refined them, gave them the shape of man but ever changing as the land and sky around them, and blessed with his touch. Into the Chaos they went, and built, and lived, and grew into a great civilization. Families evolved, and government and religion grew up around the Great Serpent. The Serpent saw all this, and he also saw among his children that he had touched long ago, the sign of The Great Serpent in their blood, and he was proud, and once again dipped into the Abyss, and into himself, and wrestled a great power into being, the Logrus. Unto his children he gave the ability to, the possibility of, great power at their fingertips if they could only traverse the Logrus. Many would die, many more would go insane. The few who traversed it and lived and regained their minds were forever wielders of this great power, and the ability of possibly gaining this power passed onto their children. Over the centuries they developed other powers, though minor in comparison; sorcery and a specialized art called Trump that contained the barest touch of the Logrus to power it, the ability to pull things into existence from out of the ether surrounding Chaos, the power to force things and circumstances with just a word. They tamed and extended the wilds of Chaos, and created Ways, pathways to other places that they could reach by walking down a hall in their great homes.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him open the flask and sniff it. He would be drinking it soon enough. Rochelle shifted the color of the grass and the color of the dirt.

“After untold amount of passing time, unto one of the Great Houses was born a son, Dworkin of House Barimen. I don’t know if there were more in his House, my father didn’t say when he told me the story. Dworkin was a bright young man, a bit of a dreamer, some would say. He was the Da Vinci of his place and time. How he arrived at his conclusions that bring about the rest of the story, who can say? Perhaps he was already mad by then. Those of Chaos certainly thought so.”

”Dworkin conceived a plot and set to carry it out. Into the Temple of the Serpent, where the Great One himself resided, the Lord Barimen went. In a daring move, he stole from the Serpent's own head - an Eye. The left eye, to be exact, and into the wilds that surrounded Chaos he fled before his blasphemy was discovered.”

“It is possible that Dworkin didn't even know how long and far he ran, stopping only when he had to and drawing what he needed to him. At some point he met another being of great Power, known simply as The Unicorn. He spent time in her company. He was a shape shifter and it is reasonable to assume no Great Being is locked into one form.” She winced as she went on. It was a bit kinky, even for her. “And from that union was born a son, but his part in this story does not start yet.”

Benjamin found himself intrigued and, on a subconscious level, a bit uneasy at where this was going. Rochelle was acting odd, even for Rochelle. Deciding silence was the key, he took a stiff drink of the flask and found it to be a singularly impressive brandy. She had been holding out on him.

He shot her an accusing look and she smiled thinly at him before continuing. In the dark, the landscape changed again and it started to rain as they began crossing a seemingly endless bridge over rough waters…

“Dworkin reasoned that the eye of the Great Serpent held within it the power of Creation itself. He was mostly right, but it took the help of the Unicorn to bring it into being. She led him to a large, flat plain of stone and stood in its center. Taking his cue from Her, he stood apart and cut his hand, letting the blood wash over the eye and onto the ground.”

“And then he walked. Round and around, spiraling, and crossing his own steps, spiraling into the center. The trail of his footsteps, and blood burned behind him with blue white fire and he envisioned his ideal creation. His life passed before his eyes, remembrances of places, feelings, people, and three times he almost fell when the way became too difficult, but the Unicorn helped him from where She stood, even as chaos erupted around them, and still his blood flowed, and the blue white fires sparked, and burned behind him. Great storms rose and ripped out from the plateau, fleeing outward and spreading, even to the borders of the distance Chaos and the great towers of the city of Thelbane, where they realized the full scope of his treachery. He didn’t know it then but whole worlds, entire universes sprang up out in the distant darkness between Chaos and where the Unicorn stood, gleaming in the darkness, a peaceful goal in the storms around him.”

”Dworkin was torn down and remade even as he walked. The madness he had escaped with the Logrus took hold on him then, but the gleaming Unicorn drew him forward until the end, where he collapsed at her feet. Untold time again passed while he slept and She guarded, and creations sprang up and solidified around them. Suns rose and stars fell, and still he slept. Eventually though, he awoke to the sun shining in a perfect blue-sky overhead, and he found himself in the middle of his creation, the spiral of blue white fire cut into the black stone now simply glowed an ethereal blue white, like star trails in the night sky. He was near a glade, a beautiful and peaceful place and the Unicorn watched him from the edge of the woods as he rose and willed himself to her side.”

”She moved him from that perfect place of his creation to another place. Having been in perfection he knew where he was - a slightly imperfect reflection of his creation. A shadow of the real thing. But it was a perfect shadow of perfection, and he knew that this would be his home now. His creation, his Pattern would be kept safe, hidden from all but him and Her. It was then he noticed that he no longer had the eye but the Unicorn calmed him with a touch and lowered her horn to his hand. The eye now sparkled like a small red sun and in its depths he could see his grand design, his Pattern inside the eye that now hung from a heavy gold chain. He sat down and again walked the path, this time inside the jewel.”

Benjamin was so caught up in the spell wrought by Rochelle’s story he didn’t notice when they left the bridge, nor that the shape of the car had changed, or that the trees around them were no longer familiar to the country they had been in, nor as plentiful. The rain stopped as she continued.

“This creation wrought by Dworkin and the Unicorn was just as powerful, just as Real, as that which was created by the Great Serpent. The descendents of Dworkin, such as his son Oberon, would traverse the Pattern, they would be imprinted by it and they would be able to call upon its Powers, just as the children of the Serpent called upon the Logrus. His descendents could perform magic, use the words of power, and create the mystical Trumps using Pattern instead of Logrus. The art of shape shifting would elude many of them. The Pattern imposed Order on the chaos surrounding the birthplace of Dworkin’s creation, you see, and the gift of shape shifting is not a gift of Order. Instead of reaching in the stuff of shadow and pulling their objects of desire to them, the children of Pattern could move through the stuff of shadow, shape it and take it.”

”It is not known if Dworkin ever took a wife, I doubt it myself. He was never quite right afterwards. He occasionally would pop up to advise, or discuss things with Oberon, but mostly he kept to himself. No one even knew he was Oberon’s father for the longest time. A few of the children of Oberon he took, and taught the skills he could pass on, but he never passed on everything. The eye became the Jewel of Judgment to be wielded by the ruler of Amber, and only those bound to it could wield the powers it contained. Oberon grew up learning what a future king should know, and he ruled the land of Dworkin’s vision, a land called Amber, after he himself traversed the Great Pattern. Oberon had several wives and many children over the years, the centuries that passed. Not all of them lived as the land grew and prospered, and no one is sure how many children of Oberon –legitimate or not- there were. Children born of the line of Dworkin and the Unicorn are effectively immortal. They wield great power even before they walk the Pattern. They are all exceptionally strong, exceptionally gifted, and exceptionally beautiful. They can move through worlds, dimensions, and they have the ability to create and to destroy more. They can shape worlds and influence them as little or as much as they know how by the force of their Will alone. They and Amber are what is truly Real. Everything else is a shadow of Amber, the one true city, the one true Earth. Like an endless reflection of a reflection of a candle in a mirror with each of those reflections casting their own. Because even though Chaos was first, it was the creation of Amber that created the worlds of Shadow.”

She fell silent and pulled the car off the road. It would go no further. The rain had stopped and despite how long they had been driving, it was still night. Rochelle turned off the car and sat back, looking out into the night.

Benjamin too sat in silence and moments passed before he ventured to speak. “There’s more, isn’t here?”

“Yes, but now we ride.” She got out of the car and walked around to the trunk. He joined her as she popped it open. Rochelle handed him jeans, boots a shirt and a light jacket. She pulled the same out for herself and started to change out of her party dress right there. He looked around nervously. Where the hell were they?


”No one is around, baby,” she assured him. After a moment he believed her and changed clothes too, tossing his tux in the boot, along with her dress. She smiled and took his hand when they are both ready and leads him to the stables that were previously hidden by the trees and he ruthlessly ignored that the car they were leaving was not the one they left her house in.

Inside were two impressive black Arabians, for Rochelle never does anything by half. The horses were already saddled and ready to go. Benjamin’s brow furrowed as he took all this in and not another soul in sight, but he inhaled sharply in surprise when he saw a sword attached to the horse Rochelle was leading out and a saber, a weapon he was very familiar with, to the one that was meant for him. He had no idea she could even fence much less use that thing

She waited for him to join her outside. Before mounting up though, she turned to him and caressed his cheek. “Do you trust me?” she asked seriously.

He laid his hand over hers and smiled slightly as his eyes sought out hers. “It would be a little late if I didn’t, wouldn’t it?”

“No,” she said gravely. “We could get back in the car, go back to my house and spend the rest of the week doing naughty things to each other and by the time you went home, this would all be hazy as a half forgotten dream.”

He looked at her in silence and indecision. The part of him that lived by precise truths and order wanted to roll over and wake up. But the adventurer, the scholar, the romantic in him felt compelled to go on. “I have to know, Rochelle,” he said softly.

She nodded and dropped her head back to look at the sky. Instinctively his eyes looked up at the night sky and sought out the familiar Canis Major…

…And couldn’t find it. Rochelle dropped her hand from his face and he felt her take a step back from him.

He scanned the skies and frowned back down at Rochelle who he found watching him nervously. “Where are we?” he asked tersely

“Near Hisarlık,”

He blinked at her. “What!” he barked and Rochelle jumped. “How are we in TURKEY?”

“Well, technically we’re n…”

“That wasn’t just some myth you were telling me to pass the time, was it? You’re one of them, aren’t you?” he demanded. “From that place. Amber.”

“Well…yes and no..” she trailed off.


She sighed. “I wasn’t born there. But my father was. I was born in the cloud city of Stratus, as was my sister, Gilian. Our mother is Queen there.”

He looked back up at an unfamiliar sky and let out a breath. “You weren’t going to tell me before you got a wild idea tonight, were you?”

“Well, no,” she replied, twisting her fingers together. “It’s generally frowned upon to go about telling people who don’t already know about Amber, and as far out as Terra is, I’m pretty sure there aren’t any people around who suspect a thing. I would have felt them by now.”

He ran a hand through his hair and then ruffled it in frustration. His world was falling apart. “Why did you tell me then?”

“Because,” she said in a small voice. “You wanted to see Troy.”

His mouth opened and closed and he gaped at her. “You can do that?” he demanded.

“Sorta,” she admitted. “I can’t take you to Terra’s Battle of Troy because that would involve time travel and even we can’t do that, although sometimes we can change the time flow of a world relative to Amber’s time…”

He waved her explanation off impatiently now that she had lit a fire in his mind. “How can you show me Troy then?”

She dared to smile slightly. Shadow travel really had to be her favorite part of being an Amber Royal. “I can show you a shadow of Terra, one that is a lot slower than your Terra. One where Paris has Helen in Troy and her husband’s thousand ships are about to land. We can watch from a distance, we can watch from the walls of Troy if you wish. Assuming my uncle Benedict isn’t around, we can even change the course of the battle and help the Trojans win the day.”

He lost the far away look the possibilities had given him and look at her. “What has your uncle Benedict to do with anything?”

She laughed. “You know how every myth has some truth in reality? Well, my uncle Benedict is the God of War. I haven’t a clue how old he is but my father said he had studied the art of warfare for several millennia. He moves through worlds, fighting every possibility of the same war over and over until there is nothing left to learn. It doesn’t seem like much of a life, but it seems to be what he wants.”

Benjamin just stared at her in amazement. Rochelle decided now was not the time to tell him about his status as a shadow of the God of War.

She smiled again and patted his arm. “Come on. Mount up. We have a ways yet to go and a few more shadow shifts before we get there and you decide what you want to do. You have a week, we could do more than one version of the battle.”

“But that battle lasted for years!” he exclaimed.

“And?” she asked and waited for him to process the time differential thing.

“Oh, my god,” was his only reply before he shook himself out of it enough to mount his horse and fall in beside her.

She told him about Patternfall that night, knowing the battle would take his mind off the greater ramifications that Patternfall represented to the reflected worlds of Reality. She didn’t leave anything out that she knew, and confessed that it was a secretive family and she was fairly certain there were a lot of things they weren’t admitting to the kids.

They stopped to rest for a few hours and Rochelle had to spell the poor man to sleep or his mind would have been racing for hours and kept him awake. He was still up before she was ready to be but had the good sense to have found the coffee in the saddlebags and made it over the fire. She was amused at his increasing excitement as she gave him status checks as they neared their destination and was greatly relieved at how it made his acceptance of her own status easier. They discussed it again one night on the hills overlooking the plains where the battle would take place and she confessed her further abilities.

“Alright, look,” she finally said in a huff one night. “I need a bath. A hot bath, and so do you.”

Benjamin looked pointedly around their campsite, which had a noticeable lack of water and then looked back at her with a raised eyebrow.

“And you need a shave,” she snapped. “You’re starting to look like my uncle Benedict and it’s disconcerting.”

”Rochelle, darling,” he said soothingly, for her irritability had come as a surprise. She was rarely in a temper. “Can’t you just do your… you know.”

“Not without moving from here,” she huffed. “But I can do something else but you’ll want to sit down for it. No, really,” she added at the look he was giving her.

He shrugged and sat on a boulder, waiting expectantly for whatever was to come.

She blew out a breath. “I’m a sorceress,” she announced and waved her hand at the same time, releasing her romantic setting spell which included a big bathtub for two filled with hot water and bubbles that could be seen through the open curtains of the large pavilion now sitting in the clearing. She smirked over her shoulder at the man now sitting on the ground staring.

“Told you.”

He looked from tent to redhead several times before climbing to his feet. “Explain.”

“Benjamin, I’m not sure I can. You’re going to want to know the physics of magic and I really never needed to know that. One day I’ll introduce you to my mother and she can explain her version of it.” Rochelle said as she vanished her dusty clothes and his, which startled him more than the pavilion. “I’ll make more,” she said casually while sauntering inside. The bath called to her and bid her come.

Benjamin did not hesitate to follow –the view was more than enticing- and pulled her back against him once they were submerged. He spied a hairbrush sitting beside the tub and used it to brush out her hair while they talked as he so often did. The familiar actions soothed his nerves.

“I don’t want you to get offended by what I’m about to ask,” he said cautiously. He knew if she felt vindictive she was more than capable of leaving him here and he would be stuck trying to make nice with the Greeks. While naked. He immediately felt bad for even considering it. She wouldn’t do that.

“Alright,” she purred at his ministrations. Hell, he could ask to rule Amber right then and she’d start plotting.

“How much of what Terra is, what you do there, is influenced by your desires?” he asked hesitantly and felt her stiffen a moment.

“It’s alright,” she said after a moment. “It’s a fair question. I set up housekeeping in Terra before I ever even thought about changing a thing. I, for some reason, wanted to see if I could accomplish my goals without changing things. Everything I have as Rochelle Strata, I earned fair and square. Once in awhile I might tweak things so that a new playwright gets a fair shake from the critics –you know how those bottom feeders are- but that’s not for me. I can afford to do a few bad shows and still come out well. But the profession needs new blood once in awhile. I just make sure it gets it.”

“Fair enough,” he replied. “What about the big picture?”

She sighed. “I have tweaked Terra, especially in my area. When I noticed the air quality dropping, I cleaned it up. When the fishermen started having bad seasons, I tweaked the coastal fishing zones. When the space program was in danger of losing the funding for the space station and the Mars and Lunar colonies, I did a LOT of messing about. I desperately wanted that to happen. No matter where I go, the night sky continues to fascinate me. One of these days I’m going to shadow travel through space and see what I find.”

Benjamin was silent as he brushed her hair and she found herself nervous. “I can live with that. But promise me you won’t help me unless I ask you to.”

Rochelle sighed again. “I promise. But I should warn you that the longer I spend with you, or in Terra, the more REAL it becomes. I suspect that will be the same for you, but I don’t know. I honestly haven’t a clue. You’re the first person I’ve been involved with for this long. Besides, you do plenty well on your own. You were a success before I ever even laid eyes on you and it was you that sought me out, so there.” She turned her head and stuck her tongue out at him.

The evening evolved from there and Benjamin got an up close experience with a lot of the spells in Rochelle’s repertoire.

They had simply observed from the distance the first time after Rochelle determined the time flow with a brief call to her mother. Rochelle kept them hidden from the Greek and Trojan sentries. Despite the company, Rochelle was heartily sick of the Greeks by the time that stupid horse was taken into the gates. She was the one who insisted they shift to another version of the war and marched them into the gates of Troy to warn them of the incoming ships. Benjamin managed to hide a laugh behind a cough when Rochelle solemnly convinced Priam that they were the aid Aphrodite had managed to slip in under the noses of the other gods. She made an instant enemy in the temple Seer that had predicted the downfall of Troy. They were both surprised to find that Paris wasn’t just the little arrogant snot Homer portrayed him as, nor was Helen a bit on the vapid side.

Rochelle still refused to stop the attack. Paris had to learn in a big way that actions had consequences on more than himself but she did keep his brother from being killed at the hands of Achilles, which considerably shortened the war, as did Benjamin’s tactical advice to Hector. She and Benjamin put their collective foot down when the Trojans wanted to bring in the wooden horse, telling them it was a trap. Instead of continuing to argue, she went up to the walls and threw a fireball at the construction and more than half of the remaining Greeks died before they could get away from the tinderbox that was the dry wooden horse. The men of Troy flooded the plain and captured the fleeing army. She wasn’t the least bit sorry to see that Menelaus was one of the ones who died horribly. She had come to loathe that arrogant bastard. She was surprised to discover Achilles had not been inside the horse, though she shouldn’t have been. He wasn’t a stupid or even an overly ambitious man as Benjamin pointed out. He hadn’t wanted to be in Troy in the first place and just wanted to go home. Rochelle had Priam extract an oath from him and Hercules that they would never again raise army or sword against Troy or give aide to anyone that would and would come to Troy’s aide if called and let them go. Before he left, Rochelle took Achilles aside and made sure he was aware of his vulnerability. In return, he warned her that Agamemnon was not likely to sit back calmly after his brother’s death so Priam had Agamemnon dragged in and executed as a warning to the remaining army. A confession of aiding the Greeks in retaliation of being ignored ended the life of the Seer.

They were offered anything they desired for payment of their assistance but they only asked for tokens of the culture of Troy. Hector presented Benjamin with his sword and a shield of the Trojan army. Rochelle thought the man was going cry. Paris and Helen presented Rochelle with an exquisite set of pearls and earrings that had been Helen’s and a gold work diadem and circlet that had belonged to Paris’s Amazonian mother. They left in the night after a closed door meeting with Hector, but not before Rochelle enspelled the sword of Troy to be invulnerable and gifted it with enough sentience to act as an early warning system to whoever held it as king of Troy. She also left their Arabians behind for Paris and Helen.

It was rough adjusting again to his life for Benjamin. They had spent years following the Trojan war, though Rochelle had kept life from being too rough for them while they were there and she had done something he was sure to keep him from aging but decided he didn’t want to know. His leave had extended and he spent several months with Rochelle getting back into his old habits and sorting through the crates of journals, notes and maps he had brought back. Rochelle was just glad to be home with her air conditioning and freezer and actual bathroom. Benjamin hadn’t even blinked when they Trumped back to her house, nor when he discovered her car was sitting in the garage.

They discussed the possible outcomes of their actions on that Shadow and the ramifications of an ancient world with a stronger Troy, an Achilles who knew how he could be killed, and no Menelaus or Agamemnon. Privately Rochelle entertained the notion that the three goddesses and their damn golden apple that had started the whole mess were actually three of her aunts. But while she could see Flora and Deirdre playing the parts of Aphrodite and Athena, she had a harder time with Fiona as Hera and Llewella was right out. A pretty face and a nice rack easily distracted Paris, but even he would have noticed if Hera had green hair.

Benjamin had had years to come to terms with Rochelle’s gifts and skills while they were in both Troys and really had no questions left to ask. He had been a bit uneasy at first when she finally confessed she suspected he was a shadow of her uncle, but it had explained some things for him and Rochelle had insisted that despite the looks and some skills, he was nothing like she had heard her uncle was and she had no problem separating the uncle from the professor. He had jokingly referred to himself as Benedict light and Rochelle’s responding rant had made sure he never did it again. He also agreed with her that the next time she took him out in shadow for a history lesson, it would be for a moment in time and not for decades. Returning home was too much like a severe case of jet lag and culture shock rolled into one.

Despite it all, their relationship didn’t really change. He was aware he knew her better than anyone outside her family and now knew why he had always felt there was more to her than she had let on. When things happened on the far end of her life, she could talk about it and not have to hide it behind the façade of Rochelle Stratus. She always let him know when she was leaving Terra for Amber with a call of “You need anything from the Center of Reality?” She had snuck him a few books to read from the Family Library, but nothing that would have been seen as too volatile to Random if he had found out. She presented him with a pot of miniature purple roses with gold edged petals, potted in the soil of Amber, that flourished so remarkably well on his desk at school that he finally had to take it to his house to protect it from the curious horticulturists on campus.

She kept Benjamin a closely guarded secret from her family, not wanting to risk a shadow of Benedict to the family she barely knew, though he had visited her room in the castle and seen the cities of Amber and Tir from the balcony off her tower one moonlit night. She could truthfully state that she wasn’t seeing anyone seriously when asked and luck had kept him and Gily from being in her house at the same time. She really did not need to hear the jokes. She did finally tell her mother when Icaria had dropped by for a visit and spotted a magazine with Rochelle and Benjamin at some party on the cover that Rochelle had neglected to hide with the rest of them. Her mother found it all very amusing, especially his Benedict light comment, and told Rochelle she didn’t see the harm, as long as she didn’t take up with a shadow of, say, Bleys.

Rochelle found the very idea deeply disturbing.

Benjamin took a sabbatical to write. Rochelle offered him her villa in Crete where he disappeared for over a year, calling once in awhile to check his facts against how she remembered them. While he was away she purposefully sought out a shadow of another uncle and found one in a Lothlorien type world. A shadow of Julian, he was wood elf with long black hair and deep blue eyes, deeply in tune with the forest and the land. She found an elf Julian to be the funniest thing ever, especially in his white and silver robes. But she had tested the waters and brought him to Amber in town. Wanting to avoid too blatant a showing, she had managed to avoid her relatives without looking like she was though a few people in town and the staff in the castle did double takes. Afterwards she waited for the rumors to hit the castle but no one ever said anything to her. She went back a few times to check on her elf and the wooded world but he claimed no disturbances. She eyed her relatives suspiciously for a while but didn’t see anything in them to cause her more alarm then usual. She let it lie, though she still makes the occasional foray to visit the elves.

Eighteen months after he left, Benjamin showed up at her doorstep, tanned and grinning to present to her two newly published scholarly texts; one on the Trojan War and one on Ancient Weapons and Warfare, and the manuscript for, of all things, an alternative history romance, set in the world of the Troy they had saved. He wanted Angelique’s input. They would share credit. She admitted she already had notes for writing that very thing and they spent a week going over and combining their stories. He left the romance and the sex for Rochelle, saying men were rubbish at writing that believably.

The publication of said novel made him somewhat god-like to his students, much to her amusement and that of his peers-the ones who didn’t ask him to sign their copies. She just sat back and smiled as he won several awards for his scholarly texts and all three of the books hit the New York Times best seller lists, something that had never happened to him before. He totally blamed her for his new status as a romantic figure and made her help deal with the fan mail. They spent many nights laughing over some of the letters and she showed him a few of the more memorable ones she had gotten as Angelique. The university had to help him move to another house after his was found out and Rochelle took care of making sure this one was only known to the ones it was supposed to be. He stopped answering his house and office phone and Rochelle set him with an answering service. The only phone he answered was his cell phone and he made liberal use of caller id. For her own peace of mind, she taught him how to use a trump card and gave him of hers and one of her house incase he found himself in any trouble. She also bought him a handgun and showed him how to use it and took a leaf from Caine’s book and brought him several rounds of hardened silver bullets. Just in case. Immortal did not mean invulnerable.

One night while he slept she had spent hours enspelling his signet ring with the same minor intelligence as the sword of Troy and hiding a tracking charm in it so she could always find him. She added an old blood based spell to the ring that Icaria had taught her. If he were ever incapacitated or near death, it would alert her. Another spell hid the magic in the ring from all but the deepest and direct scans. She was the one that had shaken his carefully ordered universe; the least she could do was make sure he could always find her. Of course, it took the better part of the morning to explain to him why the ring would never come off his finger while he lived. She had angrily reminded him of both Oberon’s careless slaying of Benedict’s household and Brand’s callous disregard for any human life as example of just what people of Reality were capable of, never mind that they were fairly certain both of those men were dead. She had admittedly not thought of all that before they got involved and her own paranoia had reared it’s ugly head after they had gotten back from Troy. It was only the long talks with Icaria that convinced her she had done what she could short of uprooting him and moving him to a distant shadow that didn’t have her or Benedict’s imprint on it and never seeing him again. The idea was refused flatly all around, even Benjamin’s own adventurous spirit balked.

Despite all this uproar, their relationship stayed the same casual one it had always been, though it was easier now for them to drop in one on another when the urge hit or one of them needed a date for some function. They were fond of each other and they had great sex and were close friends but neither wanted anything more. Rochelle’s only best friend had ever been Gily but she came to see him the same way and he her. It remained the ideal for a couple who weren’t really looking to be a couple.

Then the year came when Rochelle told him she had fallen into a sexual relationship with Benedict. Benjamin had stared at her for long enough for Rochelle to get nervous then he fell back laughing. She beat him with a pillow and then told him it was much the same as the relationship she had with himself so she felt no reason to stop being lovers with Benjamin but it was up to him. He continued to find the whole thing quite hilarious until she boldly confessed a recent fantasy involving both men with her at the same time.

The resulting sex pegged out her Tantric meter and left them both exhausted.

Many months later when she showed up at one am one rainy night on his doorstep in Edinburgh, nervously wringing her hands and looking forlorn, he sat her down silently and handed her a brandy. She lit his fireplace with a flick of her wrist and he did nothing more than sit beside her with an arm around her shoulder until she felt like talking about it.

She confessed she was falling in love with Benedict, despite everything, and she wanted to be fair to Benjamin. She had never seen this coming and hadn’t been looking for it when it hit her. Benjamin’s place in her life as her best male friend was cemented that night when he bemoaned the loss of his reserved theater box for her performances and not the loss to his sex life. She laughed for the first time since returning to Terra and assured him his seats were his for as long as he wanted them. Their friendship remained unchanged, except for the sex part, of course, but the public would never know any difference.


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