Lara remained sitting on the balcony long after Deirdre finished her drink and took her leave. The sun was lowering on the horizon and a gentle breeze was playing around, just strong enough to ruffle her hair occasionally.

The sunset, when it came, was spectacular, all fire and force, painting the clouds red and bathing the world in an ethereal glow. Lara smiled as she remembered an old saying her mother used to use, ‘red in the morning sailor’s warning; red at night, sailor’s delight.’ The smile faded from her face as she continued to think about Olivia and Deirdre and the extent of what they had lost.

It was well past fully dark by the time Lara left the balcony and returned the bottle of whiskey to its place on her desk. If there had been anyone else in the room they may have commented on the redness of her eyes or the faint vestiges of tear tracks on her cheeks, but there wasn’t so it remained unremarked. She disappeared off in the direction of the bathroom and soon the noises of running water could be heard.

A while later she reappeared, hair damp, feet bare and clothed in jeans and a simple t-shirt. Sitting at her desk she tugged her diary towards her but instead of opening it she started tapping her fingers on it, staring out the window at the sea. After a few minutes she shook her head and opened one of the desk drawers, reaching in to get her Trump deck. She pulled it out and spent a couple of moments flicking through the cards until she found the one she wanted. Her gaze sharpened as she concentrated on the card and the silence broke with, “Hi, I hope I haven’t caught you at a bad time?”

Sioned swam into view, mussed hair and rubbing sleep from her eyes. Lara noted the “Goonies Never Die” t-shirt, and widened her eyes. “Good and bad timing seems to be a matter of perspective for me today I think.” Sioned grinned wryly. In the background Lara could hear a ship’s bell, Sioned was close to the docks. She suspected Caine was somewhere around.

“Rough night, huh?” was Lara’s initial response, closely followed by “is that a Goonies shirt? Where on earth did you get a Goonies shirt from?” A slightly puzzled frown drew her brows together as she tried to recall if she saw Sioned buying it when they were last on Earth.

“Drinking with the Bayles does tend to do that.” Sioned grinned and then winced. “Pretty sure Caine’s responsible for the T-shirt. Unsure if a impromptu jaunt elsewhere happened. Memory is a little fuzzy.” She picked up a note and flapped it at Lara “Apparently he did something called the Truffle Shuffle and has been warned by Gerard to never do it again. I’m hoping the memory resurfaces, because it almost got him banned from Bloody Rachels!” For all Sioned’s casual tone, there was still a tightness that lingered in her voice. Things were better with her it seemed, but not fully resolved.

Lara paused for a moment, considering what to say next. I’m sorry I’ve not been there to help you deal with what you’ve been going though didn’t seem adequate. Is there anything I can do to help? felt like it was far too late in the day to be of use. The truffle shuffle, what the hell? was discarded outright. So she decided that simple and direct was the best way to go.

“Do you want to talk about it? Last time I saw you you didn’t seem like you were okay.”

Sioned grimaced. “Yes and no. But not right now. I’d like to retain some semblance of positivity for a few hours at least.” Lara watched her throw back a number of pills and wash them down with water. “I’m hoping these are some of Gerards magic cure-alls that mean my headache will disappear in the next five minutes and I’ll grow a new liver.” She grinned. “Anyway, what’s up? World falling apart again? The usual?”

“Umm, possibly, it always seems to be on the verge of that, but that’s not why I called,” Lara suppressed a smile at the thought of a Trump call being the same as a phone call. She looked at Sioned more closely, wondering whether it was the right time to talk to her about this. She did seem, perhaps, a bit brighter than a minute ago, so maybe Gerard’s pills were doing whatever they were meant to do.

“I’ve got some news, but I’d rather deliver it in person I think, do you want to come through? Do you need to let Caine know that you’re leaving? Or would you like me to come to you? Sorry, that’s a lot of questions.” Lara huffed a small laugh at herself.

“Pfft!” Sioned snorted, looking around to see if she had a jacket somewhere. “Caine is currently sprawled out across his pillow fort in the bedroom and unlikely to care if I leave. He’s now rather fixated on how I fit into the family, but since he won’t tell me who his first favourite niece is, I’m not inclined to help him with that.” She gave up looking for a jacket and assumed she hadn’t bothered with one the evening before. There were a pair of sandals kicked into the corner that she proceeded to strap on. “Do you believe the you and I are only his second and third favourite nieces?! Un. Believable.” She sat up and held out a hand. “Ready when you are, cuz.”

Lara grasped Sioned’s hand and brought her through to the rooms at the palace while asking, “he has favourite nieces?”

Sioned stepped through, leaving a whisper of rainbow coruscation in her wake.

“Apparently yes. I mean, I can totally understand your being more favourite than me, but how could he possibly have one more favourite than you? Besides which, aren’t we, like, his only nieces??” She smiled and brushed a lock of hair out of her face. “Sometimes I think he gets too drunk and confused even for a Bayle, either that, or he knows something we don’t…” She paused. “What am I saying, there’s a lot he knows that we don’t. But you’d think he’d at least tell us if there was a new niece knocking around.”

Sioned plonked down in the neared chair. “So what’s on your mind?”

Lara let the remarks about Caine’s nieces’ pass by without further comment, she knew who he was referring to when he said his first favourite niece, but that wasn’t her secret to tell. It did remind her, though, that it had been forever since she’d spoken to Ella and that she should contact her to fill her in on what had been going on. She didn’t really think Ella would be all that interested in Corwin being regent, but she did want to tell her about the engagement.

Lara sat down on the bed, “well, I wanted you to be the first to know because you’re my closest friend I think. Of course, you’re not actually the first to know, Corwin and Deirdre know, but you’re the first friend I’ve told.” She looked over at Sioned and smiled hesitantly.

Sioned blinked back at her friend, still smiling. She didn’t yet have an opinion on Corwin, but Deirdre was pretty ok. Either way, it’s not like she expected to be the first to know anything really, as long as she wasn’t the last. “Sure thing!”

“Okay, well,” Lara hesitated for a moment and took a breath before continuing, “so there’s a couple of things I guess and I’m not sure which I should tell you first.” She looked at Sioned to see that her smile had dropped a bit and and had been replaced with a faint look of concern.

“Oh, no, it’s not anything to worry about, please don’t think that,” Lara said in a rush, wanting to reassure Sioned that everything was alright. She shifted on the bed to move closer to the chair Sioned was sitting in, “Edan asked me to marry him.”

Sioned tilted her head to the side and her smile became slightly goofy. “D’aw! That’s adorable! I had no idea he was so old fashioned.”

Lara blinked. Sioned’s reaction was not what she had expected. It was almost as if Sioned had just been informed that Lara was getting a new and very cute puppy. She didn’t even ask what the answer had been, but Lara got the impression that she hadn’t assumed it was a yes.

“Old fashioned? Isn’t it something people do in Amber?”

Sioned stared blankly at her for a few seconds before the slowly turning cogs in her hangover addled brain finally clicked into place.

“Oh, OH!! Sorry, yes. Sorry. I was stuck in Rebma brain. Marriage is completely different here, isn’t it. So… so this is good, yes? Him asking you to marry him is a big thing… I’m not sure how it works here. At home it’s like… a very old fashioned way of telling someone you love them… so is that the same here? I mean, I haven’t really paid much attention to… every now and then something crops up…”

Sioned rambled a little and then stopped. Her eyes perceptibly widened “Lara… does this mean he told you that he loves you!?!”

“Ah, yes. Yes he has, often really.” Lara felt a faint blush creep up her face as she answered Sioned’s last question. She ignored the warmth in her cheeks and continued on, addressing Sioned’s other thoughts. “I think marriage here is probably a bit more like it is where I’m from, quite a big deal. It’s a significant commitment to someone and taken very seriously, the churches certainly have strong views on it as well. Ceremonies and so on vary from place to place but there’s more palaver, you know ceremony and interest, if you’re famous or royalty. I guess we’re not going to be able to escape that, especially now…”

“Oh. My. Gods!!!! He told you that he loves you!?!?! THAT’S SO AMAZING!!” Sioned launched herself at her friend, knocking them both back on the bed as she wrapped her arms around Lara’s shoulders in an all encompassing embrace.

“I mean, I knew it would be that way, because OF COURSE IT WAS GOING TO BE!!!” She stopped hugging Lara quite so tightly. “You’re excited, right? Yes? Because it’s not like I’ve not seen the way you look at each other… well, the last time I saw you two together… which was, admittedly, a while ago now.” She was grinning like a loon and started bouncing on the bed. “This is totally AWESOME!!!”

Sioned’s enthusiasm was infectious and Lara found herself giggling along with her friend’s joy. It felt good to be able to laugh and to celebrate this news, there had been so much sadness and difficulty recently, it was as if this was a bright spot of sunshine on an otherwise cloudy day.

She waited until Sioned had stopped bouncing quite so much before she responded. “Yes, of course I’m excited about it. Absolutely. I still can barely believe it, honestly it seems as if it’s all out of a fairytale.” The grin on her face was mirrored back to her by Sioned, who was still bouncing gently on the bed.

“I am super happy for you. You deserve all the good things. So is he going to move in with you and everything?” She caught herself on that last question. “Shit, sorry! Wow, talk about unconscious bias. That was a bit of a sexist thing to say, assuming that he would be the one moving. Ugh, my brain is being a retro moron today!” Sioned knocked on her skull with the knuckles of one hand and winced gently.
“Anyway, I love this news. And we should celebrate… maybe not with booze though.” She grimaced apologetically.

Lara reached past Sioned to the side table and picked up the pitcher of water and waggled it in Sioned’s direction. “Yes, we should celebrate! And no alcohol is fine.” Sioned nodded at the pitcher so Lara poured her a glass and handed it over. “Actually I’ve already moved into Eorthwick, Edan being the Duke and all means that we can’t really live anywhere else. I’m keeping these rooms for us though and with what Corwin seems to be planning… well we might end up back here one day, but for now Eorthwick’s my home.” Sioned looked a bit more closely at the room they were in, it did seem more empty of Lara’s things than last time she was in it.

“Way cool. This place is stuffy and dull anyway.” Sioned rarely stayed at the palace any more. She slept there if it was convenient, but was usually to be found elsewhere. “What was the other thing you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Ah, that.” For a moment Lara looked quite tense and Sioned wondered whether she was going to change the subject. Then Lara puffed her cheeks and exhaled, looking down at the bedspread as she continued, “I guess it’s not going to be a secret for much longer. Corwin is going to officially recognise me as his eldest child and heir.” She continued staring at the bedding, playing with a loose thread on the coverlet.

Sioned’s brow creased slightly. Lara did not seem particularly enthused by that notion, and something seemed decidedly off. She propped herself up on an elbow. “Are you his eldest child and heir? Or, more importantly, do you want to be? Because I’m pretty sure you get to say no if you want. It’s your life, and he doesn’t get to tell you how you spend it. No one does.”

“Oh, no, it’s fine. It’s just… a bit of a shock. I never had any idea who my father was and mum didn’t say anything about Amber to me ever, so I had no idea that it even existed. And to now know who my Amber parent is…” Lara swallowed and looked at Sioned, and for a moment Sioned could have sworn there was a sheen of tears to Lara’s eyes, “and what’s going to happen next because of that, it’s a bit overwhelming, you know?”

Sioned smiled. “Overwhelming I get. I hope at least that it was a welcome shock. Family surprises can be…difficult.” A shadow briefly crossed her features and was gone. “I’m sorry I questioned like that. Just the way you said it, sounded like this decision was his, not yours. And I hope that he is giving you the time and space to grok everything before whatever is going to happen happens.” She grinned. “Because gods know you need a break from all this hullabaloo!”

Sioned took Lara’s hand and wove their fingers together. “I reckon you and Edan
should go find a fast time shadow full of beaches, sun and drinks with umbrellas in. They’ll hardly miss you for half a day and you guys definitely deserve down time together.”

Lara squeezed Sioned’s hand a bit, “that sounds so good right now. Hmm, we do want to have a small ceremony first, just us and our people. Have it be what we want before the big to-do that will be the Duke of Karm marrying the King’s daughter and heir to the throne. I’d been thinking somewhere personal, maybe in Pembrokeshire where mum and I went camping when I was a kid.” Her eyes went soft at the memory and she nodded, “it’s certainly beachy but not really warm and there are no drinks with umbrellas in. Maybe I’ll need to find somewhere like that for the honeymoon.” She smiled at the thought.

“We can bring our own umbrellas and apply them to drinks at random. Because why not.” Sioned started chuckling. “And, you know, we’re Amberites. I’m sure I can encourage the air to get a little feevah goin on!!” And she jiggled her waist, like she was dancing.

“Ha, glitter and sparkles all round, huh?” Lara laughed and joined in with Sioned’s wiggling, waving her free arm in the air for added effect. “Sounds perfect.” She stopped the wiggling and squeezed Sioned’s hand again, “I’ve also got something to ask you if that’s ok?”

“More!? Oh my gods! I’m already on the little umbrella committee!” Sioned feigned indignation. “What could possibly be more important than little umbrellas!?” And then broke into giggles.

“Well not much, that’s true,” Lara giggled along with her friend, “and this is kind of an extension of that. Sioned, I was wondering whether you’d like to be my maid of honour?” She looked at Sioned, suddenly realising that she may have no real idea of what that was, given what she’d said earlier about Rebman wedding practices.

“You… you want me to be your maid?” Sioned looked amused and puzzled. “Hon, have you seen me try to do laundry? It’s a travesty! Tra.Ves.Ty!! I could probably be your stable hand. I’m much better with horses than feather dusters.” She grinned. Obviously this was an excellent solution. “Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, Saturday to 2. Sunday… I’m gonna take Sunday off, probably… Maybe I’ll come in for a couple of hours. But… August, I’m gonna take August off.”

A slightly horrified look crossed Lara’s face as she contemplated Sioned doing laundry. “Oh, oh no. Nononono. No. Not my maid at all. Umm, the other term that gets used is chief bridesmaid.” Lara shook her head as she continued, “sorry, I forgot you might not understand what I meant given what you said about marriage in Rebma. Basically it means that I want you to stand with me as my friend and witness at the wedding. Like, the groom has a best man and sometimes groomsmen to stand with him and support and help him out with stuff before the wedding, and the bride has the same, her maid of honour and bridesmaids. Umm, if you’re interested I can get you a couple of books about it and maybe show you a video of a wedding on Earth?” Lara supposed there had to be books on bridesmaids and a copy of the recording of Wills and Kate’s wedding wouldn’t be too hard to come by.

“OH! Ok, I get it, like a second in a duel. Someone who comes along to stand with you and witness what happens and fights for you if you can’t show up.” Sioned beamed. “I can definitely do that! I accept!” It was said with a salute “Although I am now disappointed that I can’t have August off.” She chuckled.

Lara laughed along with her, “well, traditionally, the maid of honour is meant to marry the groom if the bride doesn’t show up.”

Sioned paused for a moment. “Oddly, I can think of at least three individuals, and a whole duchy’s worth of people who who would be less ok with that than I would. Huh.” and then threw a pillow at her friend.

Lara caught the pillow and pitched it directly back, giggling as Sioned deflected it with some force and it sailed off the bed and out the open balcony door. The look of shock on Sioned’s face as the pillow disappeared from view set off a new round of laughter and she fell back on the bed. Eventually the giggles calmed enough for her to speak.

“Okay, so,” she was still a bit breathless from the laughter, “I guess we should probably start making some plans.” Lara’s tone grew thoughtful as she continued, “I’ve got no idea how much control we’ll have over most of the stuff, probably not much, but at least you and I should be able to choose what we wear.”

“Oh I know you don’t think anyone’s going to be telling me what I’m going to be wearing to this shindig. And If I’m this maid of honour thingamy, you better believe I’m not going to be letting anyone do it to you either!” She pondered for a second “Hey, didn’t we watch that television show that time about meeting someone’s mother where people were just running around yelling “it’s for the bride” and other people just giving them what they wanted out of fear? Is that how it works?” Sioned thought for a few more seconds. “Actually, you better give me some research on this overlander wedding thing, otherwise we could be in a whole mess of trouble,” she said before she started involuntarily giggling again. “And remind me to compliment Gerard on the quality of his anti-hangover pills.”

“God, I do remember that,” Lara grimaced at the thought, “fear usually shouldn’t be involved in weddings, no. I think you and I are due for a trip to London, research purposes and all that.” She looked at Sioned, smiling, “what do you think? Hit up home, get you some research type stuff and look at clothes? Sound like a plan?”

“Sounds vaguely plan like. Would be a better plan if we include bar crawls through Seven Dials too?” Sioned had no idea where her fascination for warren like roads and lanes between houses came from, but add in cocktail lounges, live music, theatre and nook-like shops, and she was interested.

“Gerard’s pills really must be magic then if you’re up for another bar crawl!” Lara wondered if they should ask him for some before they headed to London, just in case. “Alright, it’s a deal. We can kip at my flat and spend a couple of days there if we need to, no problem. I’ll just let Edan know and then we can head off whenever you’re ready?” She looked at Sioned, wondering whether she needed to grab anything for the trip. Or let anyone know she was going.

As Lara moved to the desk to pick up her Trump deck and contact Edan, Sioned made a move as if to pull out her own Trump deck but then stilled her hand and shook her head slightly. “All present and correct. Ready to go when you are!” This last was followed up with another salute as Lara turned back towards her from the desk.

“Okay then, I think we’re good to go,” Lara smiled, “oh, Edan said to say hi, have fun and not get into too much trouble.” Sioned snorted at this and Lara grinned back as she pulled out the Trump of MI6, “alright, grab my hand and we’ll be off.” Sioned took Lara’s free hand and suddenly all that was left in the room as a faint rainbow shimmer in their place.

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