Five am.

Sioned carefully extricated herself from the bedclothes, pausing briefly, waiting for Esmond to release her hand, caught in his convulsive and slightly possessive grip as she moved away. He shifted position, the pattern of his breathing quietened, and his hand relaxed.

Pulling one of the balcony doors open, limpid pre-dawn light filtered into the room, bringing with it an eddy of brisk air that quickly settled over her feet. Enough to remind her to don some attire.

Morning rituals she had been neglecting, like the Niwaki.

Toyama-ryū Kata. The balcony was wide and empty, she rarely used it but for kata practice. When she wasn’t neglecting it. Hagan had taught her patterns to help her find stillness and stability. All too often she was in danger of being too caught up in spontaneous acts and thoughts that seemed to define her. It had been too long since she had felt the comfortable silence of the kata.

She moved gently through the kata, Ippone Me, Nihon Me, Sambon Me, Yonhon Me, Gohon Me, Roppon Me, Nanahon Me; paying close attention to correct form and inflection.

As she completed the downward stroke of Happon Me kata, a finger of sunlight bled over the horizon.

Sioned stopped and sat, cross legged, on the balcony balustrade.

There was a new ruler in Amber.

The pattern walk had been revealing. But there was a stubbornness in her, a somewhat juvenile sense of loyalty, that did not want to let Erica go.

She did not know Corwin, did not trust Corwin…that in and of itself disturbed her. She had never distrusted without reason before.

Was it Julia and Caine? They were so adamant in their dislike, and she had ended up closer to the Bayles than most of the other Elder princes.

Were her emotions and loyalties so easily manipulated?

Was this why none of them trusted each other?

Gods. This family was so very, very broken.