Chapter Seven: Homeward Bound
Set out on a road for a place, end up somewhere other than your destination. Come home, find confusion. In that bit where Bilbo says stepping outdoors and onto a road is a dangerous and unpredictable business, he has it right — it is. It’s the way of the worlds, I guess.
Looking out the window as we thundered through the tunnels and caverns under the mountain, I reflected on the unpredictability, the danger and the confusion.
Amber is supposed to be the one reliable constant in the universe, the pole star about which everything else spins. That, more than it being the city where I was born, is what has made Amber worth possessing above all other things, what makes her worth inhabiting more than any other place. Yet while change comes with reluctance to the Eternal City, it does come. You would think I’d have figured this out by now, but, clearly, I am a slow learner.
Change provides a wonderful incentive to pause to get one’s bearings. So I peered out into the blackness punctuated with mysterious flecks of light at indeterminate distances and strange green glowing structures nearer to hand, and took stock.
He threw his arms around me and held me tight for a hug. This is not something I am much used to, but then it struck me: this man was my best and closest friend in Amber, maybe anywhere. I hugged him back.
We were standing at the end of a street, where a very wide avenue crossed below us. Perhaps more of a court or plaza than an avenue, but it stretched to avenue length, curving out of view on either hand. Piers, docks and boardwalks reached from the side opposite out into the shimmering sea itself, where vessels were moored. The sea was full of ships, most of them foreign and strange. Many other streets also emptied into this great avenue, where buildings and setups less permanent were everywhere in evidence. Storefronts, awnings raised, doors propped open, vied with merchant’s carts and tents scattered across the granite-flagged space. Above the perpetual movement and shouts of the citizens and outlanders, the flight and cries of the gulls.
“Good to see you,” he said, drawing back. “Alive, I mean. People have been saying you’re dead again.”
“So I gather. But I have also heard about a list, and gotten the impression I might be on it.”
“You are. Anyone not in the Party is.”
“The party with the cool kids and their beer and loud music?”
“The Black and Green Party. It’s also called the Regency Party. Most call it the Black and Green. That probably doesn’t make much sense.”
“No, but it’s beginning to. Come on. I have friends waiting, and we can talk while we walk.”
So we descended into Mapmakers’ Market. There were other points of interest, where the streets and alleys twisted their ways through the maze of shops and dwellings down to the ships and quays. Fisherman’s Wharf, Gallowglass Way, Weavers Row, and the Rare and Precious House were just a few of the popular places. But down below Kolvir where the morning sun flung its gold on the narrow windows and red tile roofs, this was the busiest place and where all the best food could be found.
His name was Rein, and he was a lord of Amber. Red-haired, and his preferred colors were crimson, though today he had come down to the Harbor in more subdued garb, blues and greens, hoping to be less easily recognized. I had gotten in touch with him through a mutual acquaintance (a guard from my time in the dungeons, when Rein had risked life and liberty to bring me food and gossip), and now here he was, guessing I would be asking for favors and not seeming to mind.
“So,” I began, “Black and green suggest Caine. Sounds bad. ‘Regency,’ though, sounds ten times worse. Holding my breath as I ask the inevitable: Random?”
“Among the living,” Rein quickly reassured me, “according to the Regency Council.”
“Wait,” I said, stopping and grabbing his arm, “When was he last seen publicly?”
“Over two years ago.”
Releasing his arm, I glanced around the plaza. The sun no longer felt quite so warm as it had, and even the steady breeze from the sea seemed to falter as I watched the people go about their activities. Was the vibe less cheerful, less lively than it should have been where folk from Shadows far and near come to do business in the Harbor below my mountain? Were there fewer people in this place than typical in times past? Were there fewer smiles? To me, it seemed so, though I could not be sure if I was merely projecting my own disquiet.
I started walking again.
“Awhile after my latest departure, then. Well, if a quiet palace coup has been staged by someone, it wasn’t rushed. So who are the someones? Who is on this Regency Council?”
“Long-time friends and allies. Who else?”
“Gérard. There are no others.”
“Interesting. And no one asks, ‘Where is the King?’”
A trolley rolled by, clanging its bell, and we both watched as it crested a hill and then dipped out of sight. That was something new, and it wasn’t the only change I had noticed since waking and finding myself in my father’s old love-nest at the White Rabbit. There were many questions, of course. As in: How could I fall asleep in the ghost of an inn up in Tir-na Nog’th, and waken in the real inn three blocks from where Rein and I had just met? But this man was part of Amber’s court and my best hope for learning what was happening there. Focus, I told myself, focus.
“The rumor is that Random has gone to the Courts of Chaos,” Rein elaborated, “or was ambushed along the way. Because you, Bleys, Merlin and Martin have all gone missing, and he went to investigate. But, Corwin....”
“You are the main suspect.”
The darkness came closer as shafts of discolored light and strangely glowing stalactites went away. Not that I was alone on this underground railroad, but I refused to look around me and meet the gazes of those close by — we see in others what is reflected in ourselves. And I was not ready for that just yet.
Rein was someone I loved. Not as a brother. Better than that, I would say, as most of my brothers I would be happy to meet sword to sword. And I would not weep if some of them were left bleeding on the floor, leaking life and losing all excuses to cling to it. But this is not knowledge resting close to the surface; it’s underground, like this train. I missed him, prayed I would see him again, feared I would not.
“What are you going to do?”
We were standing at a street-corner, near where I had headed us. I sucked in some air, appreciating the gift, the sustaining energy generously bestowed by the air of Amber. No air fills a man like that of his homeland.
Rein’s question echoed within my skull and I tried to answer honestly.
“Someone has sunk his or her fangs into the jugular of Amber. He or she has tried to drain the life-blood of my family and my city. This entity, or these entities, has tried to claim my son, my nephew, my brothers. Given the opportunity, I will cut them down with every ounce of strength in my blood, and I care not if it costs me my own life. Does this answer your question?”
Rein nodded, and smiled.
“No other answer was expected. What would you of me?”
Rein was not a swordsman of my caliber, or even that of Gérard. He was not the man who would — or could — cut down Caine. But he was loyal, trustworthy, honorable, no question. He would try.
We had crossed the intersection in silence. No answer from him, not that he owed me one. It had been an absurd request.
But then I hear: “And what else?”
“Take my friend under your wing, protect him from harm. Do that, if you can.”
“I can do that. Who is your friend?”
“His name is Bill.”
“And then forget that thing about killing Caine. If it comes to that, I’ll do it myself.”
The train was slowing.
I got up from my seat.
“I’ve got to go. Be back soon.”
Walked up the aisle of the train, came up to the door as the train stopped, turned and said over my shoulder, “Or not,” and took with me the lantern hanging above the door.
And stepped into a natural cavern. Parts of it had been widened and buttressed. There were lamps, electric ones, and lots of tracks. Yard workers were busy unhooking freight cars from the back of the train. A couple other passengers disembarked with me. No one got on. This place seemed more geared toward freight. There was a well-lit passage with steps carved into it, which, of course, led straight to the surface and nowhere near where I was going.
There were other caves here. The gnome had told me which one I needed. Putting the light and noise of the yard behind me, I crossed over to it. Someone shouted at me as I did. I threw him the finger and entered the cave. No one followed me.
It would be so easy, so very easy to get lost and starve to death. So I just did what felt right to me, even when it didn’t actually make a lot of sense. I bore to the right and upward. At every branching I stopped to sniff, choosing the passage where the air smelled freshest. The whole time, I held Grayswandir before me, summoning the image of the Pattern into my mind, for it was the center of everything and I was connected to it by my blood, by having walked it, by attunement through the Jewel of Judgment and the Diamond of Tir-na Nog’th, by having cast a Pattern of my own many years ago. And I also worried about the lantern going out.
My mind moved into a trance-like state as I wandered. The fear that had gnawed at me in the beginning had abated, and I felt I was moving toward something. This thought occurred to me by degrees, rather than all at once, that the phosphorescence of the caves and tunnels, the peculiar multilevel network formed by them seemed to me to form a spiral interrupted by zigzags, by right-angled corners and by backward loops, but a spiral just the same. Like the Pattern, I realized. Very, very much like the Pattern, as though it had been realized as a sculpture instead of a drawing on a polished black floor. All I had to do, then, was proceed to its center.
Something hissed, so I stopped, froze, listened. Snakes made sense down here, but what the hell could they be eating, except perhaps the occasional mushroom? Then again, that might have been the hiss of intaken breath or—
I looked up, just in time to swing Grayswandir toward something pale and falling toward me. No time to cut, so I thrust the blade upward, skewering the thing with red eyes, fangs, something black flapping around it. The blade was torn from my grasp and the thing screamed, spat, and crashed into the stony ground. Smoke curled up from the wound, and there were spurts of flame running up the blade where it protruded.
Howling, it rolled toward me, back onto its feet and into a crouch. Then it leaped.
By then I had the gun out and put three rounds into the beast.
Three new holes, and the smoke and the fire gushed forth. I stepped back as it fell, bellowed its pain, clawed at its wounds, eyes rolling as though unable to contain their hate and anguish. But there was something more in its gaze, stronger than everything else: a terrific and all-consuming lust.
“Hungry, so hungry,” it rasped, “for the blood...the blood of Amber.”
Then it writhed, spasmed, and lay still.
It was awhile before I was willing to come close enough to pull Grayswandir free.
A vampire, in Amber.
The thing was only human in outline, closer to a feral descendant of some failed line of humanity —
say, Homo ergaster —
bred with something else, rat, wolverine, hyena or some combination of these. The image of it stayed with me as I continued on my way. I looked up a lot.
And then I was in a tunnel I recognized, though I had never come to it from this end before. But I knew it as well as I knew the great, gray, metal-bound door guarding the room where was locked the thing I sought.
As well as I knew the man standing before that door, his own lantern burning at his feet.
Over six feet tall, massive, heavily muscled. Resembling me in some ways, but bigger.
“Corwin,” he said. “Caine warned me you might come here.”
“He did, did he?”
“And he said I must stop you.”
“Really? And why should you do that?”
“You brought back a prince we hoped was dead.”
To that, I had nothing to say.
“You’re a traitor, Corwin.”
Still, I said nothing.
“I’ll do it myself,” I said, but neither of us was paying attention to me anymore.
Cannon fire. Rein looked first, as if he’d been expecting it, and I followed his gaze. Out to sea, where there were flashes of fire and the booms of gunpowder. Modern naval warfare, off the coast of Amber. I looked back to Rein.
“Gorlan, we call him,” Rein said, not looking at me, unwilling or unable to look away from the war on the waves.
Turning away from Rein, I saw ships flying the green and white flag of Amber closing with other ships. Black hulls, black sails, and flags of blue and ochre —
the enemy vessels fired cannons of their own upon our navy.
“Yes, cannons, Corwin. You brought gunpowder to Amber. And most say you brought him, too, the plague of the high seas, Gorlan the Corsair, Scourge of Ships.”
“Harbor’s not as busy as it used to be...,” I commented, recalling how something hadn’t seemed quite right as we had walked about the old places.
“Sea Monster,” Rein said softly. “That is his other name.”
“Well, I have some questions.”
“Like how did Caine become Regent? And what happened to Random?”
“You really expect me to believe you don’t know?”
“Would I be asking if I did?”
“He’s no longer himself. You know that — you’re the one who destroyed his mind. You’re the one who made him insane.”
He straightened, drew his greatsword from its sheath.
“The time for talk is over, Corwin. You can surrender to me now and keep your life.”
“No, wait. What do you mean Random’s gone insane?”
“You attacked his mind. And now he’s basically catatonic. Thanks to you.”
“Who says so?”
“The Council says so. Caine was there the day Eric held you with your Trump before you overwhelmed his mind. And he was there at the edge of the abyss when you took control of the Jewel of Judgment from Brand. And we were all there when you used combined Trump power to find Brand in his hell. Only you have been able to do all these things.”
“Flattering to find I am reckoned so formidable. But you need to get your facts straight. Nobody hated Eric more than me, and it was that hate gave my will the strength to beat back his.”
“What about Brand?”
The light from our lanterns licked the veins in the surface of the rock walls, cast our shadows about the place, making them unstable, shifting, even though we stood still. I decided to set mine down on the floor, too.
“That one’s easy,” I replied. “He wasn’t fully attuned to the Jewel. I was.”
“He was wearing the Jewel. You were a hundred yards away.”
“This is coming from Caine? Who is now head of the Regency Council, as I understand it? Interesting. Has everyone forgotten it was Caine’s arrow that took Brand down, and not my power over the Jewel?”
“And who else ever drew a Pattern, Corwin? Besides Dworkin, who went crazy? Besides Dad, who died doing it? You’re the only one strong enough to do to Random what’s been done. You
It was easy to see where he was coming from; I mean, who could blame him for going with the propaganda? Still, I had to try.
“Gérard, have you considered that by working so closely with Swayvill and Chaos, Random’s run greater risks than Dad ever did? Exposed himself more fully to Amber’s enemies? I bore the Jewel only for a few days. Random’s had years to grow in his control of it. Yet I easily blasted his brain with my minimal mastery? While Chaos has had nothing to do with Random’s condition? Makes no sense, and you know it.”
“No, Corwin! You always make everything you say sound so reasonable and—
“Obvious, Gérard. The word is ‘obvious.’”
“Not this time, Corwin. You will have your chance to have your say before the court.”
“Court being the new head of the Regency Council, Caine? Who has benefitted so strangely and spectacularly from Random’s incapacitation? I hope you will understand if I decline that sort of justice.”
“Decline all you like. You are coming with me. Or you are falling to my blade.”
And with that, the brother I trusted most advanced toward me, death in his eyes.
Amber’s navy fired upon the black ships. The black ships fired back. Some of the black ships began listing, though, and the rest began retreating back toward the horizon. Caine or Gérard — Gérard, I imagined, as the Harbor and southern waters normally fell under his protection — had done his job. Again, but how many times again? Amber under assault? That hadn’t happened, well, since the Black Road War.
“Attacking ships visible from shore. Cannons. Trolleys. Political parties, with their political lists. Regency Council.”
“I know,” Rein said, looking at me with sympathy touched with unhappiness. “There’s a lot to explain.”
“Actually, it all seems to kind of fit together. Still, since we have to start somewhere: Trolleys?”
“Generated how? Combustion engines, turbines, all that used to be impossible here.”
“Used to be,” Rein acknowledged.
We watched awhile longer, as Amber’s navy drew farther out to sea and as the crowd of bystanders, who had stopped in their tracks as we had, began to break up and continue on their various ways. I noticed we were standing outside a bookstore I recognized, ages ago a favorite haunt of mine. Still had the blue paint on the window-frames.
We started walking again. Rein stretched his hand out toward me.
“Dangerous times. Please take this. You may need it.”
It was a SIG semi-automatic pistol, or something very similar, with three magazines. I muttered, “Thanks,” and quickly put the weapon away. In my mind, I vowed never to use it in Amber unless facing a similarly armed opponent —
or, of course, if I was going to lose. Returning to my earlier question, I asked, “Now where does the electricity come from?”
“There is a generator somewhere in Arden,” he said, gesturing vaguely toward the mountains. “No one knows how it works. But there is a fuel depot down here at the Harbor. Ships we’ve never seen before deliver the fuel.”
“What kind of fuel?”
“No one knows that either. But I can tell you whose idea it was.”
“Let me guess. Not Gérard, who’s never been a fan of change. Leaving one or the other of the remaining two in the troika. So: Caine?”
Grayswandir before me, I retreated into the shadows. My lantern guttering, Gérard’s going nice and strong. Not exactly ideal from my point of view, light at his back.
There was no one I knew who could put more behind a sword stroke than the strongest of my brothers. I could beat him through a combination of luck and skill, but he could still demolish me through sheer force and staying power. If it came down to a choice between valor and discretion, in this situation my preferred option would be discretion.
But I didn’t think I had that option, not really.
He kept coming, of course. And I considered where this left me. I wasn’t sure I could find my way back through the caves again. And, honestly, I was hungry and thirsty and didn’t want to even if I could. It is possible that the small matter of having been attacked there by a vampire also contributed to this feeling. The darkness to which I was returning would negate my edge in fencing ability, working to Gérard’s advantage.
What to do? The pistol came to mind, of course, but I rejected that notion. I would not be the one who began the shooting of family members. Let someone else claim that distinction.
So I stooped for a stone I had felt underfoot, picked it up and charged. The stone I threw at his head while I aimed a cut at his chest.
He blocked the stone with his forearm, which moved his blade out of line. This left him open and I could have given him something to remember, but this was not my goal. Instead, I used the opportunity to continue my rush and get past him. This put the door he had been guarding at my back. We had traded positions in the tunnel.
He whipped around.
“That was dirty, Corwin.”
“True,” I admitted, “but I didn’t slice your chest open when I had the chance, which kind of evens things out.”
“It’s still cheating.”
“Then get the ref in here and I’ll take the foul call.”
He aimed a cut at my head — I supposed an indication of his displeasure — but it was off and slid down my blade. It still sent a shock down my arm, but also told me what I had hoped.
Throwing caution somewhere into the cool darkness, I came at him with cuts at his head and chest. His parries were slow and uncertain — again as I had hoped. So I pressed him harder with faster attacks. Opportunities presented themselves, and I ignored them as they were of the fatal variety. And I wanted him alive.
Mercy, of course, might get me dead.
So I drove him deeper into the tunnel. Then I eased up, so as to move us back where I needed us to be; namely, with the lanterns not far behind me, so that Gérard was stuck fighting my silhouette with eyes which had become dark-adapted. The very thing I had avoided by our switch.
It began to dawn on him at last what I had done, and there was the moment when I saw his eyes narrow as he understood he was going to lose. That was also the moment that he suddenly came straight at me, fast, with a wild lunge.
And just like that, I slapped the flat of my blade against the side of his head, hard, as his lunge missed me.
He just stood there, stunned, refusing to either fall or release his blade.
With Grayswandir, I twisted his sword from his grasp. Difficult, even with Gérard on the brink of unconsciousness. Shifting my blade to my left hand, I punched him in the face.
Any normal person, even any of my brothers, would already be on the ground. But he just stood there for two more seconds. Then, like a tree at the final blow of the axe, he toppled.
It hurt to hear it. And hurt to see it. And I feared things had not gone to plan, that he was gone.
“Julian, you say.”
They were seated at a pair of small tables outside a breakfast-and-lunch place that was also a bakeshop across yet another intersection. The joint was sandwiched within a messy jumble of shanties, shacks, stalls, warehouses and shops, and would be easy to miss if it weren’t for the wonderful smell of the food. I inhaled and smiled.
“That is the story up in the palace. The train gets its power from its track somehow. People think that is why the electrical power station is located out in Arden, where the rail runs.”
Bill, Maio, and, yes, Erin were there, waiting. Still confusing, everything to do with our visit to Tir-na Nog’th. Our gazes met briefly, then we both looked away. And the gnome Cymnea had assigned to me was also there, imbibing ale and even blending in; not all who come to Amber are human. Though I had been planning on crossing the street — and then immediately consuming a quantity of potato pancakes stuffed with shrimp, with some of that ale the gnome was drinking to wash it down — I stood stock still.
“Through Arden, yes.”
Why was it that now, as things were starting to fall into place, it still didn’t make much sense?
“A train,” I said, still marveling, “through Arden.”
“Yes. Would you like to see it?”
For just a second or two I thought he might not have survived, but I should have known better. When I checked his breathing, he was still very much alive. Further inspection turned up what I was really after, and with his belt I bound his wrists behind him. His greatsword I threw deeper into the tunnel.
What was going through my head, I wish I could say. But I can’t, at least not with any great reliability.
My first goal, naturally, had been to get to the Pattern chamber. This had apparently been anticipated; thus this latest round with Gérard.
There was another thing, however, a notion gnawing at the back of my mind, refusing to be ignored. Not far from here lay my old cell. And on a wall of that cell there had once been carved a rather important drawing. There were two drawings, actually. One of them had been of the Lighthouse of Cabra, but I was thinking of the other.
The other drawing was of a study located in a very special place, perhaps the most special place there is. And a question had been moving nearer and nearer to the surface of my mind ever since my shared dream with Dworkin.
As I turned the key I had taken off of Gérard, I glanced back toward him.
He lay motionless, though I knew this would not last for very long. Even with the belt, which I had wrapped more than once about his wrists, he would only be slowed a little. Gérard was too damned strong for that to be much more than a minor obstacle, but I had dismissed the idea of hogtying him as too cruel and extreme. In a little while he would wake, shift closer to the wall, push himself to his feet. Maybe he would walk back toward the dungeons and the stair leading back up into the palace. Maybe he’d peer into the Pattern chamber to see if I was there (I shouldn’t be). Or maybe Caine or Julian would look in on him via his Trump, wondering why he hadn’t been heard from, and cut his bonds.
Yet what if he should wake sooner than I planned? His wrath, while slow, was a terrific force once unleashed. He would probably be angry. That, combined with his incredible strength, would make short work of his restraints. He wouldn’t need Caine or anyone else. Even if I did lock the huge old door behind me, he’d come right through it. With his sword, or without. I’d be well on my way through the Pattern by then and therefore beyond his reach. So I would be safe from him. But not from Caine.
Gérard could use his Trump for Caine, a master archer. And Caine could pick me off using a couple of arrows. Or, worse, a couple of bullets.
The moment for second, or even third, thoughts had arrived, and I chose to act on mine.
Returning to Gérard, I relieved him of his Trumps. Unfortunately for me, they were all for people I didn’t trust fully right now; i.e., my family. They were useless to me (especially since I already possessed the set Random had lost on his ill-fated mission to rescue Brand), but they were all too useful to Gérard. So he couldn’t have them.
On my way back to the now-open door, my lantern went out. Gérard’s, though, was burning nice and steady. I picked it up and brought it with me into the enormous chamber — cavern, really — and over to the corner where the Pattern begins.
Then I set the lantern down. The Pattern glowed with enough light of its own to illuminate my way. I stood there and regarded it. Big, complex, eerie, powerful, daunting. And, I knew now, alive in a sense, the way Earth, the Sun and the Universe are alive. This design was the code ordering existence, the physical expression of that equation the physicists of today seek with the same fervor with which alchemists once pursued the Philosopher’s Stone. It lay there before me, unmoving, yet brightly shining and far from passive.
Even a non-religious fellow like myself knows the sacred when he sees it. I felt the need to say something.
“Damn it, you’re beautiful. But you’re not the Pattern I walked as a young man. You’re just not. I don’t know how I know, but I know. You’re doing a good job holding up this end of creation, though, so don’t worry, I’m not going to tell anyone.”
Flashes of brightness travel through the Pattern all the time, enhancing its light as they do, and the Pattern flashed then as though in answer. Randomly, of course, as a matter of coincidence. But I couldn’t help wondering. Whatever the thing was, it was Dworkin and, ever since the end of the war, also my father. And it probably also included the Unicorn somehow in the fundamental aspects of its nature. The Unicorn, after all, was the source of the Jewel, which had provided the original image inspiring its configuration. No wonder it seemed alive to me; life was part of what it was.
Then I inhaled, exhaled, and started walking the line of light.
As I did, damned if something didn’t attach itself to my leg. It quickly clawed its way up to my shoulder and then draped itself there, a living scarf, purring.
Once on the Pattern, there is no going back.
Though I doubted the creature would survive the process, I soldiered on.
“You crazy cat,” I muttered, “this thing can kill a prince of Amber if not done right; it’ll certainly kill you.”
That’s right, this was the cat from my visit to Tir-na Nog’th. Make that: our visit. For, before the animal had attached itself to me just now, she had attached herself to Erin up in the sky. She had been in the real White Rabbit where I had woken up, and had never truly separated herself from our group down in the Harbor. Must have followed me off the train and through the tunnels.
So I pushed on through the veils, the Grand Curve, all of it. Though I considered just pulling the thing off of me and hurling the animal through the air and beyond the design, I refrained. This would have the nasty effect of robbing me of all my momentum, and at the same time probably just end up killing the cat, since she would be departing the Pattern, which is death even for a prince or princess of Amber.
The creature responded by seeming unfazed by the current generated in passing along the glowing lines of force. She even amused herself by indulging in a fascination with the chain supporting the Dreaming Diamond, which she pawed at till the gem was pulled from within my shirt to hang out in plain view.
With no alternative, I just kept going till, sweat dripping from me, hair fairly crackling with electricity, sparks falling from myself and my passenger like snow shaken from a tree branch, I once again made it through the ordeal and stood in the center.
I had survived the Pattern. Again. Strangely, the cat did not perish as expected, perhaps shielded by the presence of someone of the blood who was therefore inherently connected to and part of the Pattern. However that might be, I was far more interested in the Diamond, which had flashed and shone like a prism in a focused beam of light, rays from it dancing on my clothing, the polished floor, the Pattern itself. On the other hand, maybe death was still coming for the cat and this would occur when we both left the Pattern.
Feeling simultaneously depleted and renewed, I closed my eyes and thought of places within the Pattern’s reach — essentially anywhere I desired. Thoughts of Caine, and of Brand, and of Dad, had intruded as I had struggled, along with thoughts of all that led me to the Pattern, here, now. Erin had been part of that stream of consciousness, too. Our recent lovemaking seemed the most obvious reason, but I sensed there might be something more to it.
Without fully understanding what I was doing, I looked about me. But not in the sense of studying the chamber in which I stood, no. With eyes closed, I looked about me through Shadow.
Brand had mastered this ability, and had been able to do it without even traversing the Pattern first. And Caine had taught himself to briefly touch several Trumps at once to waken the connections sleeping deep within them without fully activating them, so he could “look but not touch” with respect to what (more properly: who) lay on their other sides. Fiona’s facility in these matters, whatever her abilities were with things related to the Pattern, had intimidated even Brand. As for Dad and Dworkin, they had taken their understanding of such matters entirely to another level. Which meant, of course, that there was
I had remained contentedly ignorant of such things for far too long. The time had come to learn more.
So I stood there and thought of other places. I opened the channel to Manhattan and looked in on my hotel room. All was as it had been, though the bed was now made and the laptop seemed dormant. I opened the way to Gérard and saw him lying where I had left him, breathing shallowly.
Next I tried for Random, but that way was truly dark, tacit verification of Gérard’s story that something had damaged his mind.
Finally, there was the place depicted in that drawing on the wall of my old cell in the dungeons.
With a deep breath, I tried for that place, for Dworkin’s old quarters, for Wixer’s den, for the shelf of rock sliced into that other Kolvir, for the home of the primal Pattern.
There are technically four Patterns. Three are reflections, and these are the Pattern in Rebma, the Pattern in Tir-na Nog’th, and the Great Pattern of Amber, in the center of which I was now standing. The original, the source of those reflections, was but a shadow veil away in primal Amber. That place had been kept secret for quite a long time, for obvious reasons, since damage to it could threaten Amber and all of Shadow. A very special place and, for reasons I did not understand, not easy to reach. To my knowledge, no Trump for it existed, and it seemed to me it probably could not be accessed that way. But there was no place with greater overlap with primal Amber than the center of the Great Pattern, which was congruent with the original, wherever it was. So it shouldn’t be difficult to reach from where I was standing.
It wasn’t difficult, it was impossible. I tried to just look in at first, as I had done with Gérard and my room in Manhattan. Nothing. Like tuning a radio dial for a station you know and finding only static. Perhaps not trying hard enough? So I threw all my will into it, so that I would be transported there by the power of the Great Pattern. Again, nothing. It was as if the place did not exist.
Could the reflections of the primal Pattern exist without the original image? Many of us have looked upon paintings and photographs of things which no longer exist. So maybe such a thing was possible. But if it was, it seemed to me things would be less stable without a real center. The Patterns of Amber, Rebma and Tir-na-Nog’
th were now on equal footing, and equally responsible for the condition of Shadow. What was that line from Yeats? “
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
Yes, that was it. The center cannot hold.
My experiment had failed, and I just stood there a moment, confounded. Then, on an impulse, I tried for Caine. And there he was, in his black and his green, dark and sardonic as always, standing in Beacon Tower. I knew the place and had used the Jewel to call my first storm from there. He looked confident and was even smiling a little. Perhaps he believed I was already in Gérard’s custody and soon to be standing trial?
“Hello, Caine,” I said into his mind, “treachery looks good on you. Keep smiling.”
Amber now had her own Grand Central Station, and I didn’t know how to feel about it.
“Julian, Julian. Making his power-grab. Admittedly unexpected.”
Rein glanced at the four we had in tow, turned to me.
“You know how gossip is in the palace,” he began. “Servants and soldiers talk.”
“This is very true.”
“Some claim to have been bringing trays of food in and out, and hearing part of the Council meeting.”
“So they say. And they say Julian suggested the train with great reluctance. He felt it would compromise security in Arden, but nevertheless was the best way to get around Gorlan’s raids on Amber’s shipping.”
“Sure. Yet Julian, in all his reluctance, also proposed shipping some new kind of fuel to Amber and the construction of a generator for electricity? That is quite a lot of research and effort and planning in which he engaged so ‘reluctantly.’”
“Well, the generator was already being built on someone else’s orders.”
“Who gave said orders?”
The train station was located within sight of the fuel depot. It wasn’t actually much like Grand Central Station. More of a cross between the Gare d’Orsay, Antwerpen-Centraal, and Kuala Lumpur Railway Station, an eclectic blend of Neo-classical, Renaissance Revival and Raj styles. Vaulted spaces, pinnacles, arcades, towers, pavilions. And I couldn’t help admiring it. The trolley yard was here, and there were rails running north toward Baylesport, south toward Garnath, and west up the slope of Kolvir.
“Does the train really run up the side of Kolvir into the City?”
Rein shook his head.
“No. That train runs into a tunnel within Kolvir. It stops somewhere along the way to unload things for the City. And then it comes out the other side of the mountain and into Arden.”
We were inside, where half a dozen platforms were evident. Looking up, the sky was an impressionistic blue blur as seen through the arched glass roof. To either side, the high walls were grand expanses of white stone, interrupted by the tall pointed arches of stained glass windows, festooned with sculpture of centaurs, pegasi, griffins and dryads clinging to ledges, buttresses, and columns.
“Must admit,” I said, my gaze roving over the layout, catching sight that moment of an astrological map of the constellations rising from the walls to meet the transparent ceiling, “even I would be a fan of Caine’s if he brought something like this to Amber. Whatever his sins, he is to be commended for forward-thinking and good taste.”
Beside me, Rein coughed politely.
“Things like this were ideas Random promoted. Yet when the King went missing, it was Caine who went forward with Random’s projects.”
“Then the generator...?”
“Random’s idea, yes.”
It made sense. Everything Rein had mentioned was consistent with my youngest brother. Caine was resourceful, absolutely. But he did not, as a rule, initiate change. Change disturbed the pieces on the board, and Caine liked to be the only one who made that happen, subtly and by careful degrees, and usually while others weren't looking. Change? That was Random.
“And the train through Kolvir? It can bear my friends and I west and out into Shadow?”
“Yes, it can.”
Even as I asked my question, a sleek train slid into the station. It had a kind of retro science fiction look, like something futuristic dreamed up back in the ‘50s, a bit like the Nankai Rapit and also reminiscent of the Nautilus of Jules Verne. Rein pointed to it.
“And there it is.”
Caine did keep smiling, yet this compliance of his did not endear him to me.
“Corwin,” he said. “It is good to know you are alive.”
“Yes, I imagine it is. Now you know previous attempts to kill me failed, and it will be necessary to try again.”
He furrowed his brow, seeming concerned.
“We knew you were on a mission for Random, but feared you had fallen victim to forces in the Courts and were lost.”
“And wasted no time bringing electricity and the locomotive to Amber. Naturally, this leads to speculation as to what else your Council was waiting to fire up once Random was out of the picture.”
“After the war,” Caine said, unperturbed, “Random understood Amber had to be modernized.”
But I noticed his hand had drifted down toward the vicinity of his emerald-studded dagger.
“And modernization includes the creation of a ruling party?”
“Disloyal elements have arisen of late. They had to be opposed.”
“The brand new police force wasn’t enough?”
“The Black Guards keep the streets safe, the Green Guards watch Arden’s roads. They have been integrated to work more closely together. Amber is growing and can no longer hide behind her walls.”
“Black and green. Those are your personal colors, Caine, and the people of Amber have gotten your message. Having just spent a few days in Amber, that message has been made clear to me, as well. You are now the government of Amber.”
“For now, until Random’s return.”
His hand was now resting on the dagger.
“In some places, people call that a coup d’état.”
“Corwin, why don’t you come to the palace, where we can talk about these things?”
“Caine, I’m not going to lie,” I said, lying, “but I can see into your mind. I can read your thoughts. Nothing is hidden from me.”
“Then I have told you nothing you did not already know.”
“Wrong. You’ve told me a few things neither of us would have imagined you telling. And I must say, some of those things surprise even me.”
Besides Random, there was only one brother I feared playing poker with, and it was Caine. As if to back this up, he laughed.
“That I would continue Random’s policies? You find that surprising? Well,” he said, “I am glad you underestimated me.”
I laughed in return.
“Underestimate you? You’ve staked your money on quite a gamble, though. Not saying I don’t admire your audacity, because I do. But you bet wrong this time. Random’s coming back, and with me on his side.”
Caine’s brows drew down and he looked puzzled.
“Corwin. If you can read my mind, then you see my confusion. All I desire is for Amber to survive.”
And here is the strange thing. For all my boasting, for all my lying, I could indeed read his thought. This surprised me, yes, it did. And I knew he was telling the truth.
So: “Caine,” I said, “I am gone. Me, and my allies. We are no longer in Amber. We know your plans, as well as those of the others. And we are going to win. We are going to bring Random back. We are going to bring back some others, too, and there will be an accounting. We are going to win. For the good of Shadow. And for the good of Amber.”
Caine’s smile flickered for a second, faltered, then came back.
“Just so you know,” I said, preparing to break the connection, “yes, it is good. And, yes, really. We will meet again. Soon. Good-bye, my brother.”
“Word reached us you were taken by Chaos. Our abilities do not work as well there as they do elsewhere, sometimes not at all. Yet you escaped. We have differences, you and I, but Chaos is still our enemy.”
“Should Gérard or Benedict be made captive, you would not want them at the mercy of our foes. So: How did you escape?”
I could not help it. I laughed heartily. Like I would tell Caine.
“Your interest is duly noted. Meanwhile, you might want to check on Gérard.”
“You will. He is lying in the tunnel just outside the Pattern chamber. Good-bye.”
Then I broke the connection.
On my shoulder, the cat purred. The Diamond and the Pattern were bright, the corners of the cavern dark. Except for my breathing and the sounds from the cat, there was only the sound of my thoughts.
Puzzling, was what it was. And practically pointless. But I did not care.
And I had indeed considered pitting my will against Caine’s. I had held back for several reasons. With Brand and Random no longer in the game, and Benedict’s whereabouts unknown to me, Caine had the best mind among my remaining brothers. Even Fiona had referred to him as a virtual adept in matters relating to the Pattern. Caine was also the one who, whatever my feelings regarding certain of his motives and actions, was best suited for the job of running Amber during a dangerous time. I hated to admit that, but it was true, especially if I was about to do the thing I had been avoiding since my escape from the Courts of Chaos: return there to learn more, kill whom I must if that were called for, and very possibly lose my own life in the process. I could not attend to internal matters in Amber while at the same time going into the heart of enemy territory.
Caine had already known I was alive. The farmer in Garnath, the troops in Arden, and probably some observant folk down in the Harbor. I had been seen by too many, and word had reached him. I had lost nothing by revealing I was alive and had been visiting home. And I had learned something.
Caine feared Random’s return, and “return” was the key word. I had caught it there when our minds were close: Random was not in Amber.
But Random was alive, else Caine would not fear his return.
Standing there at the center of the Pattern, I reached for the Dreaming Diamond. The cat tried to reach it with her paw, came up short, but she stared at it, hypnotized by its light. Peering into the milky gem, focusing my mind with it for a lens, I sent my thought far, far from where I was, out through Shadow, and farther still, on toward what lies beyond the farthest reaches of the worlds.
The Waste slid beneath me, the plain running for miles and miles from the final range of mountains at the end of the universe, creased with rifts and ridges, pocked with craters, as barren and ancient as the bottom of the ocean. Already taxed by tackling the Pattern, and then by using it to scan for Gérard, Random and Caine, my strength was flagging. And it is not easy to cast one’s mind all the way to the Courts of Chaos from Amber. But I had to try.
For I had suffered yet another prophetic dream, a dream of a day of blood and steel at the farthest end of that Waste. I had woken from it at the White Rabbit just this morning, and I wanted to know if the dream was for something imminent, or for something years hence.
And, yes, it was so. There were troops there. There was not one battle, there were many. There were flying creatures everywhere, a large proportion of them feasting on the bodies of the fallen. There was fire and smoke and carrion. There was war.
Then I swayed where I stood, and it all flashed away as I was snapped back to where I was, wondering what I had really learned today.
“Knowledge is not what counts,” I whispered, my only audience a stray cat. “It never was. It is wisdom. But first...”
Holding the Diamond at eye-level, I looked within, sought a flaw in its depths, let the planes and vertices fill my vision, moved my mind toward the strange spaces it held, willed the Pattern to send me there.
Projecting myself through the gem, the white cat mesmerized, too, I retraced my journey through its interior/exterior realm where a storm of worlds spun. The walk with the Diamond on the Pattern of Tir-na Nog’th had had a different feel than my experience at Ygg, where I had finally found the Pattern I had drawn. Not every Pattern is the same. Intuition informed me, therefore, that I should do this while I had some strength left. This chance might not come again, and I had never completed my attunement the night of my reunion with Random and Fiona, when I had traversed the Pattern in the sky. As with my interview with Caine, likely pointless, but how could I know without trying?
So once more I tripped the light fantastic, as provided by the Pattern and caught in the gem from the sky. The Pattern-walk from the night I robbed Tir-na Nog’th of the Diamond seemed to merge in my mind with the return to my Pattern on the other side of Ygg. Different, this journey, for though I found myself within a sphere of whirling flashes of light, this time I was pulled in a new direction, toward one flash in particular, a bright surface that was somehow familiar.
And then everything took the course it had that first time, years ago, when I had attuned myself to the Jewel of Judgment. My mind sank through a luminous white medium, seeming to become small, a mere point falling through a glacier of jello toward a curling piece of shredded fruit deep within. The light faded as I descended, the glacier a memory, and now there was the feeling of rushing through the black void that lies between the galaxies, of ferocious acceleration toward the flaw glimpsed earlier, not an imaginatively twisted bit of fruit, after all. More like a flower, an elaborate knot waiting to be pulled tight, a three-dimensional Spirograph by Hawking or Einstein. As it zoomed close, its scale expanded and became galactic. Flares of purple, green, lavender, blue, yellow and colors less definable accentuated the confusion and complexity of its design. I was whisked from a wispy frayed end made up of glittering diamond dust through blazing convolutions reminiscent of the whorls of a seashell chambered to hold all our stars. Nor was I alone as I was hurled through motes and clouds of color toward its bright center (though “center” seemed not quite the right word in this place where more degrees of freedom opened up, but close enough). Toward that blinding terminus I was flung, and I could feel the sentience of the cat nearby as her awareness was dragged along with mine. Then through, but not quite out, as, from within the Diamond, drenched in its white luminescence, I regarded myself standing there, saw myself looking back at me, looking through the Diamond, which I was now looking through, lowering the gem slowly. The halo of the gem’s light fell and faded as I looked up from it to see the world once more.
More than enough for one day. The power of the Pattern to send me wherever my mind could go remained. Calling upon it, I found myself, body and soul, on the train once again. The cat had survived, and jumped down to the seat next to me. Before turning to the others, I looked out the window. Still in a tunnel, widening now. And was that light I glimpsed up ahead, or only a larger darkness? Alongside us, just rock, and behind us, I knew, an Amber to which great change had come at last, and with a vengeance. The sureness of the ground, the simplicity of the old days — Amber’s golden age was gone now, and would not be coming back.
Home is not waiting faithfully for your return like a soldier’s young bride while he’s off to the wars. Home is as content as youth, as loyal as gold, as sturdy as castles in the sand. And time is the tide. We do not leave the places we love — they leave us.
Copyright © 2013 Lokabrenna @ Blogger (JTB) All rights reserved
Chapter Six: Moonshine
She kisses me, draws back, smiles uncertainly, her damp hair dripping. My heart is hurtling itself against my ribs, things are hazy and my legs are weak. Taking my hand, she pulls me to my feet, leads me up the slope.
I am soaked, with hardly any memory of how I came to be that way.
Looking back at me, she tells me, “There are towels and blankets in my room. It is not far.”
“You will be able to lie down and rest there.”
Though I am somewhat less than one hundred percent, I am not so out of it as to be unaware of my own condition. I know I am missing something.
“Rest? From what? What have I been doing?”
With that single word, it begins to come back to me. Her answer is an exercise in unvarnished expression. I hadn’t merely been drowning, but struggling against Time’s very own riptide. Normally a rather futile endeavor, but in this case....
To walk through the ebbing of the transient fields, mountains and isles of the clouds, to move among the spirits who dwell within the slippage of the sky, to climb the winding stairs and stroll the battlements of fairy castles on high. An old dream from our childhoods, to go where only the birds and winds can go, soon set aside as the foolish fancy it can only ever be.
Unless one achieves the summit of Kolvir by the light of the stars to risk the wavering stair that leads from three stone steps there up to the city tethered in the middle air, the shining city built of moonlight, stardust, fog, and one’s own secret yearnings, worries and regrets.
As I have done.
Why am I here again, running up this avenue past all the unseeing ones dwelling in this mirage, mirror folk borrowed from other truths of memory and prophecy, other histories of Amber, silver silhouettes blind to the reality of me, Corwin? Part of the answer lies with my grandfather. Another part of the answer is running ahead of me up the glittering pavement, fleeing my approach. There are ghosts here within this semi-substantial reflection of Amber hung beneath the stars, floating high above the roiling sea, but the one I pursue, like me, is an outlander in the city of dreams. Yellow hair, blue cloak over pale clothing, someone I recognize from another place, someone I have recently met under rather unusual circumstances...
A figure steps from the shadows of an alley to my left, pauses in the middle of the street, blocking my way. As with any ghost, I could pass through it as though it were not there. But I recognize the form and, though the portents presented here are invariably dubious, I cannot turn down a vision offered at a buy-one-get-one-free discount. For even in Tir-na Nog’th, where Time doubles back upon itself, where the energy resembles that of perpetual motion and Paradox is the default setting of the experience — even in Tir-na Nog’th there is a price paid; no matter if one does not immediately see the bill. This city belongs to the moon, yet this weird and warped image of Amber also has its rules.
With a sigh, I draw Grayswandir, the portion of the Pattern with which it is carved seeming to writhe and twist within the cold grip of the moon. Extending the blade, I touch it to the hem of her garment, then wave it away. The ghost assumes the colors she would have by daylight, and takes on other real-world attributes, as well.
She pulls her wrap closer to her shoulders — the emerald hue of the material contrasting dramatically with the red tresses spilling over it while simultaneously calling attention to her eyes — shrinks from the chill evening air, glances at Grayswandir, searches my face with her critical green gaze.
“Corwin? What are you doing here? I thought we had agreed you should leave right away.”
She does not know that the Corwin whom she addresses is the product of a branch of history separate from hers, that while she and I may share many things, our memories of events do not agree. Because we, this incarnation of my sister Fiona and I, were born from different Ambers. To learn anything, however, I must play along.
“Remind me of our agreement, if you don’t mind. I have been through a lot recently.”
Pale people glance in our direction, from balconies and terraces, from the avenue where we have stopped. Fiona motions me into the alley, and I follow, keeping Grayswandir visible, involuntarily reaching for her hand and forcing myself to suppress the gesture. Here in the dreamworld leaning out over the ocean one may look upon ghosts, and when Grayswandir snares the magic of the moon one may even converse with them. But one can never touch, lest the spell be broken.
“What if someone recognized you?” she demands, her obvious frustration taking the form of a rebuke.
“Then I would depart in haste, leaving clever Fiona to concoct a viable explanation.”
She smiles, not unaware she is being flattered, but not minding either.
“Even my wiles have their limits. Now what part of what we agreed upon do you need to hear again? Your memory problems ended that day you walked the Pattern in Rebma. Or so you said.”
“No,” I correct her, adopting what I hope to be a contrite expression, “though it’s not something I like to share with everyone, my memory has never been returned to what you would call complete working order. So please pretend I’ve forgotten everything, which it now appears I have, and give it to me again.”
Her brows move toward one another as she frowns up at me.
“These are things you can ill afford to forget! Quickly then, so you can do what must be done. Amber is no place for you, and a very unsafe place for any of us. And Chaos will fall next, unless you can thwart our enemies in time.”
“So it is your opinion that I should be there rather than here?”
“My opinion, yes,” she confirms, absently tugging on a silver ear-ring wrought in the shape of a seashell, “and, more importantly, also Dworkin’s opinion. But you must have the Diamond with you. Have you lost it again? Is that why you are still here?”
“You never miss a trick, Fi. Where do you recommend I should go searching for it?”
“Where Dworkin told you to go, of course. Where you first found it.”
“Tir-na Nog’th. But where? The city in the sky is a big place.”
“The Diamond is a thing of power. It will be near the power-center, either by the Pattern or in the palace proper. Oisen may be wearing it, as he was when you first retrieved it. You will be drawn to it, wherever it is, since you are attuned to it.”
Triggered, very likely, by the irony of this Fiona having no idea we are standing in the city we are discussing, a notion occurs to me. Frivolous, but also irresistible. Caution being a thing for the stay-at-homes, the chance to experiment appeals to the troublemaker in me.
“Fiona, have you ever wondered if the reflecting power of Tir-na Nog’th might work both ways?”
“We have all wondered many things about that part of Amber. Tell me what you mean.”
“Well,” I begin, “if I were to encounter a ghost of yourself in that place, we might chat about days gone by, vendettas old and new, battles won and lost, that story about Dworkin turning a psychiatrist into a toad, how Random’s drumming might stack up against Keith Moon’s—”
“Or when Corwin tested Fiona’s patience till she was tempted to visit a pox on him?”
“Exactly!” I agree, while at the same time noting the sudden chill in the air as it occurs to me this is something of which she might actually be capable. “In Tir-na Nog’th you would be the ghost, and I the interloper in the ghost-world. But might it also work the other way? Could it be that in some Amber somewhere the same encounter plays out, where I am the ghost confounding that Amber’s Fiona with the problem of my existence?”
She looks up at the sky above me, then fixes me again with those green eyes as she makes her reply.
“If that were so, then ghosts would be seen in Amber all the time.”
“Would they, though? Tir-na Nog’th doesn’t see a lot of tourist traffic. Also, I’m thinking the ghosts of our visits to Tir-na Nog’th would only manifest in shadows of Amber, where our alter-egos are found.”
She becomes quiet, thinking her own thoughts, saying nothing. She purses her lips, begins to nod slowly.
“Hey, it’s just a crazy idea hatched by a crazy prince,” I say, changing the subject. “Just tell me one thing.”
“Is there anything else you deem worth reminding me of before I go?”
“Only that haste is all. You must go. Now.” Her eyes soften with something like sympathy, or perhaps worry, as she adds, “Ferghus and Lothar are not known for their restraint. Good luck.”
She rises up on tiptoe to kiss my cheek. A touching gesture, but she stumbles through me, then walks back out onto the avenue, looking both ways for me. She is again the colorless doppelgänger of my sister I happened upon only minutes ago, again an image spun from moonlight and mystery, born from need and the night. Drawing a silver card from a silver deck, she uses a Trump I cannot see whose subject I cannot guess, in mere moments reduced to motes of light that wink on, off, out. Gone.
Sheathing my sword, I shrug. The message is clear. The drama will play out at the palace, as before. A better omen than some, I suppose, and refreshingly to the point.
There being no point in delay, I begin to run.
Ghosts ride and stride across my path, engage in their silent mime-like movements and activities in nearby parks and gardens, in doorways and on walkways, marionettes tugged this way and that by whatever forces rule here. I ignore them all.
Funny how you end up in places you never foresee. Not so long ago, we had been making our way up the southern trail. A strange group, to be sure, but we had had our reasons....
Remarkable how far we had come. Almost as remarkable as the existence of shortcuts up Kolvir of which I had been unaware all my life. That was what I had been thinking.
“You said there would be horses.”
There was an unmistakable tone in Bill’s voice.
Having paused in our ascent to turn toward Bill, the view over his shoulder was hard to miss. An invisible hand, which some call the wind, had reached from somewhere to stroke Arden’s locks, luxuriant strands gleaming with the liquid silver poured down from the big, bright, inexhaustible moon. Bound to successive mountains, the highest reaches of the forest wandered up and over, side to side, a great braid running past Amber’s shoulders, down her back. There was an exploratory quality, interspersed with passionate surges, to how the wind roved among the trees, sky and earth trysting on a scale so grand it could be missed if one wasn’t looking. But tonight a voyeur named Corwin was looking.
Nor was I alone. Seeing my look, Bill turned, too, and a few moments passed as we both stared out over the vast and — in a very valid, though somewhat mystical, sense — endless, timeless wood running for miles, north, south, and west, out to the edge of the world.
“Nice view,” Bill said.
“We like it.”
Maio and our guide, hiking up ahead, had stopped.
“What’s the hold-up?”
That was Maio. Standing not far from him, our fourth musketeer said nothing, being the quiet type.
“Bill was just informing me that the view would be much better from horseback,” I explained.
“Yeah, I get that.”
“Or a ski-lift,” Bill put in.
“You get much snow up here?” Maio asked, interested.
I remembered he’d once mentioned that he had spent some time out at Tahoe, and liked to ski.
“Not really, no.”
“But the ski-lift,” Bill went on, “That would still be a great thing.”
“Further north maybe,” Maio suggested, moving downslope toward us.
“There is a place,” I let them know, “a week’s sail up the coast.”
“They go skiing?” Bill asked. “And ride, instead of walk?”
“They do, though I’d have to say in winter they skate more than ski.”
“Like Hans Christian Andersen?” Maio guessed, halting just a few paces away.
“A lot like that, yes.”
“And easier on older, retired people?” Bill wondered.
An arrow whizzed between Bill and myself, sailing out into the gulf of night air stretching from ourselves to the treetops far below.
“Flatter, less hills, less stairs,” I said into the silence which had descended, before turning to see Bill taking to the trail again with such vigor that I doubted he had heard my comment.
A person of very short stature — our fourth, and our guide — stood about twenty paces farther up Kolvir’s slope, glowering at us and clutching his bow.
“Hey, stairs,” said Maio, pointing past our Gimli.
Beyond the small scowling figure of our newest friend (and also, obviously, expert archer) the trail, swinging northeast, climbed the stony final fifty yards remaining between where we stood and the summit.
A luminous stairway, of a white hinting of the barest blue, shifting in and out of focus as if carved from flowing water, ran away from Kolvir’s peak toward bright buildings and parks, all of the same stuff as the stair, hovering far off in the not-so-dark navy-indigo-black of the sky.
Seeming satisfied that the arrow had gotten our attention, the fourth member of our party moved quickly toward the place where the stair began. Bill was not far behind him.
“‘Up the airy mountain,’” Maio muttered under his breath, shaking his head.
“‘We daren’t tarry a moment,’” I improvised, catching his drift as I moved past him, my sense of mission returning full force. The brief respite had served its purpose, but now urgency filled me. I knew a long night lay ahead.
Behind me I heard what would be the last words of our trip to the top.
“‘For fear of impatient little bowmen...’”
Why does my mind wander so, harkening back to an arrow cutting through our time-wasting as everyone but me had nearly reached journey’s end? There can be no doubt that it has to do with where I am, with how Tir-na Nog’th evokes what lies within the subconscious and how the place itself responds to that which sleeps there.
And then there is also the well-known fact that when the body is engaged in a repetitive activity requiring little attention the mind strays, drifts as the city of day-bright moon-silvered mists drifts between the stars and the waves that catch their light, between futures that might be and pasts that never were. Activity requiring little attention. Such as running up the wide, sparkling way to the palace, the palace whose steps I have just reached.
And I stop running.
On that wide stair stands someone I have not seen for nine years or more, and our final parting was not on terms which could be described as friendly.
As with everything in the city on the other side of the looking-glass, the palace behind her — a work of art in any reality — here is something sketched in, as by a comic book artist, before the panel has been inked. The high walls, higher parapets and domes, and balconies, turrets and towers higher still, all done up in silver bright or dim, blacks faint or thick. And, in keeping with the description offered by Fiona’s double, the structure before me seems to burn brighter than anything else here where the light of the moon is concentrated to the intensity of direct sunlight.
In the world I left behind, she is an enemy, but that is not why I again draw my silvered blade. For all I know, in this place she might be my closest friend. She is here, I know, because some part of me needs her to be, and she has something to tell me. It may be something of practical value, as with Fiona, but more likely it will speak to some psychological deficit in me. Either way, in Tir-na Nog’th, as in Rome, it is best to accept where you are.
I touch Grayswandir’s tip to the stair.
Fragments of the Pattern etched into Grayswandir’s metal by the one who forged the sword here more than a millennium ago, flash in the moonlight, seem to slide and slither, subtly rearranging themselves into a new expression, as if being viewed by a new and heretofore unsuspected angle. And in that flashing, that sliding, that rearrangement, around the blade reality shifts, to fall into a new alignment.
Her hair is longer now and a shade or two darker than the brown I remember from our first meeting. The burgundy strapless number she wears, bound by a wide magenta sash at the waist, falls to her knees, and compliments her well. Pearl ear-rings, a circlet of white gold on her brow, she looks the queen she was intended to be.
“Dara, either you’ve come up in the world, or you’re going to a wedding.”
A smile. She extends her hand.
“I’m glad you came. They said you might not.”
Though I take a step toward her, I do not take her hand; we are in Tir-na Nog’th.
She raises an eyebrow.
“So. You do
“I thought it was you who hated me. Perhaps I’m remembering it wrong, that day above the abyss.”
“We remember that day differently.”
“So forgive and forget, bygones are bygones, no more bickering and arguing over who killed who?”
“That is what I want.”
Though I should be glad, to no longer be hated for defending myself against her beloved Duke Borel, anger long suppressed flares within me, heats the words so they burn me as I speak them.
“He cost me Deirdre. Do you know that?”
“Deirdre, my sister. Because your noble fencing master, Borel, had something to prove, he got in my way, delayed me, kept me from reaching Deirdre in time. In all my family, there was no one I loved more.”
She blinks, her dark eyes widening in surprise.
The rage, which so swiftly filled me, drains away just as quickly, and I am myself again.
“I couldn’t save her. She died. I thought you should know.”
For a moment there is something besides surprise in those eyes, as she, too, re-experiences the emotions of that day heavy with death and loss.
“Well, I — I don’t know what to say.”
“That you understand will be enough.”
She hesitates, possibly trying to put herself in my place, possibly seeking some larger and more universal understanding. Or maybe just struggling with the mixed bag of feelings she holds which has my name on it. Or something else. Whatever the cause, she looks me directly in the eye as she makes her reply.
“I do. I understand.”
“Good,” I say, becoming aware of the sensation of relief in me, that it is good indeed to hear her say that, as I say the rest, “Then I’m going to quit while I’m ahead this time.”
With that I sheathe Grayswandir and march past her. She is turning her head this way and that, bewildered, she now silver and shadow, me only a confusing memory for someone who can only be revealed by the the light of the moon.
Sorry, and not sorry. Sorry I killed Borel, since he meant something to Dara. Not sorry, since he had given me no other choice. Sorry that when I should be chasing the Diamond, I have been chasing old pain. Not sorry to have just experienced catharsis in a dream. Sorry I have come this way again, where mystery and history court each other beneath the eternal stars. Not sorry for the chance to do what must be done.
Perspective. Look at it one way, see something, another way and see something else.
Something in my mind shifts as I enter the palace, where the interior light and shadow are not like that found out in the night air here, but seem to move as I move, darkness flowing from one corner to the next as I pass. Light without source permeates the place like a plasma or noctilucent mist, drifting left, dropping, then rising, easing forward, pausing, its course like that of a twig bouncing and bobbing in the ponderous current of a rocky stream, slowing and wandering as it empties into some marsh, uncertain, questing. Avoided by me, where the shadows crouch and breathe on either side, the blackness there is absolute, suggesting holes out in space where the final and ultimate state of collapse goes on forever.
Does the unsteady trail of silver lead me, or merely anticipate impulses sloshing around within my subconscious? Did I just receive absolution from Dara, or give it?
And is that someone in a blue cloak running from right to left across my path, toward the southern wing?
And once again I am running...
When one walks — or runs — within the reflection of Amber in the sky, time is not what it is in the day-world. You have your wits about you, the use of all your faculties and whatever skills you’ve mastered over the years, yet move through time and space like one still asleep. Memories, plans, fables, wishes, pasts, futures — all one thing, found in a single volume where you can jump to any page. Or, perhaps a better analogy, the telescope through which we view our experiences has been reversed. Instead of the world going about its business, while the sleeping mind fogs up and wanders aimlessly and without regard for causality or continuity, it is Tir-na Nog’th that stumbles through jumbled time as though asleep while the mind remains as lucid as ever.
So what is the difference? You are picking your way through the litter of your life either way. I suppose the glitch comes when the piper arrives with the dawn and a missed payment means a long walk off the short pier of the sky-city into the great drowning sea. That’s the fatal problem confronting the seeker of oracular knowledge who fails to distinguish between safely dreaming in one’s own bed and taking a stroll up where the night makes moonshine.
There is a certain ignorance and arrogance which comes of having grown up around such wonders and taking them for granted, not questioning them. You could attribute it to the overconfidence and short-sightedness which are the heritage of any who are born to power and privilege which they themselves did not earn, the same reckless pride which happily assists with the downfall of all empires, dynasties and noble lineages. But I would go further and add that it is also a consequence of the provinciality with which all beings are burdened, wherever they may be on some social hierarchy.
A lot of sophistry you might see there, and I would be forced to agree. Because by the end of the day we’re all going to make mistakes.
For some time now — really, since Rebma — the real world and the dreamworld had become confused, even interchangeable. The recent business with Dworkin had taken it to a new level and left things more muddled than ever. It was a question I had asked, and thought I had answered, during the conflict between Amber and Chaos. Reality, I had concluded, is something other than solipsism, is more than the product of the mind. The Courts of Chaos had existed before Amber, and so reality was more than Amber. And more than Dworkin, even if his act of inscribing the Pattern had somehow brought Shadow into being.
Yet if one looks into Shadow, one sees one’s own mind reflected there. This is true for anyone, for everyone. Does reality somehow emerge out of the meeting of all minds? Though how can a mind react, learn and develop, without a pre-existing reality to push against? A problem in circularity and paradox. Chicken versus egg.
It was very simple. While in Trump contact with Dworkin, his dream had felt more real, more solid, and of greater consequence than anything I had experienced in a long while. It felt a lot more like something actually happening, certainly, than moving through the quiet and hollow dark, where the world from which we had come was more remote, more tangled, and more beyond comprehension than ever.
Steps, arches, doorways and tunnels had been cut from the living rock to link the segments of the course we followed. Downward we went, sometimes, but for the most part we climbed. We spoke very little and only as needed, which well suited the mood of our company.
In all the long centuries, I had never guessed there was a secret passage up through Kolvir to a point high on the mountain’s southwestern side.
Who had constructed this underground route, or why, I had no idea. But it was common knowledge that a system of caves ran beneath Kolvir, and that some had been developed as Amber’s dungeons. Beyond that, nothing general was known. The only purpose I could imagine were mining operations. Though I had never heard of mining in Amber’s mountains, it would have been a logical thing to do. Where had the stone for the palace come from, or the materials for the rest of the city? From Kolvir and her sister mountains? Why not? Who could say who had in times forgotten laid out the streets, dug the foundations, planted the gardens and trees, wrought the statues and fountains, erected the mighty walls, or lifted the towers up to where the clouds follow the winds? Not I.
And then we were there.
Light leaked around the edges of a rubble pile before us, light from the outside world. We zagged right and zigged left, and then did that again, the ground beneath our feet rising to meet the overhang of rock above till we were crouching. The overhang ended abruptly and we were outside, standing under a ledge.
Bill wasn’t alone in his joy at the sight of light and freedom, but he was the most vocal about it.
“Indeed,” I assented as I got clear of the ledge and straightened, taking a gander at the stars just coming out above Arden and Garnath.
It was good to taste the breeze again.
Maio was the last to join us out in the open. Our man with the blue light, who had led us through the heretofore unsuspected underground maze, was already a short distance up Kolvir’s slope, waiting.
Bill was grumbling, muttering about something in a voice too low for me to make out.
“What, Bill? Sorry, I didn’t catch that last part.”
There was a look of extreme unhappiness on his face as he turned toward me.
“My wife, Corwin. Alice. She has no idea whether I am alive or dead. She only knows that I went to meet you at the Wild Blue Restaurant. By now, she knows the building was attacked.”
For just a moment, I felt bad. It had not even occurred to me what Alice might be going through, worrying about the man who had shared the ups and downs of half a century with her.
“Bill, I — There’s been a lot going on, but...yes. Hadn’t thought of it from your viewpoint.”
“Corwin, it’s been days
. She must think I died in the attack.”
Would she even survive the shock of the news? Doing the math, I estimated her age to be somewhere in her late sixties. It would be a blow, surely, but...she would handle it, process it, be aged by it, but live. Still...why should she? Wasn’t there something I could do, or at least something I could say?
“I wish there was — wait! Hold on.”
It was hitting me with a bit of a delay, my mind having been distracted by recent goings-on. It was obvious, now that I remembered. I was wearing Merlin’s cloak, and still carrying his pack. I reached in.
“Here,” I said, taking the item I had pulled from the pack, handing it to him.
Bill knotted his bushy eyebrows, eying it skeptically.
“A cellphone? From everything you and Merlin have told me about Amber, the place is medieval. There aren’t any cellphone towers around here.”
By the time he had those words out, I had the next item in hand and was concentrating on it, opening the connection.
“What are you doing?”
No answer for Bill from me, as I focused on the Trump my son had drawn.
Maio answered for me with, “I think I know.”
“Yeah. Turn on the cellphone.”
While they talked, while our guide waited and watched, my mind found its way through the Trump to a laptop, a laptop sitting in an empty hotel room in Manhattan. At the sight of that computer screen, still tracking live data from Princeton, I was suddenly glad I had paid the month in advance.
I motioned Bill closer.
“Stand beside me, and hold the cellphone in front of you as close to the Trump as you can.”
Bill complied; I could feel him standing close. Then I saw his hand holding the opened cellphone in my line-of-sight.
“Place your call,” I told him.
“Place your call,” I repeated. “There are plenty of cellphone towers in Manhattan.”
The number he called was from the last call made to Merlin’s phone. It was also, I assumed, the number Bill knew best.
The phone rang, clicked as someone picked up.
“Alice?” Bill said. “Alice it’s me. I’m okay. I’m...I’m away right now. But I’m okay. I love you and I’m okay...”
Fiona is wrong.
As I stride along the eastern verge of the lily pond, diamond-dusted flowers glittering, the thought comes to me. As the blind, gleaming statues of man and beast seem to watch me, despite their sightless eyes, I turn the notion over in my mind.
The ghost of Fiona, agent tonight of the prophetic power of this spectral image of Amber in the sky, has misled me. Allowed a moment of consideration, however, hardly surprising that omens can be misleading, since they can easily be misread. Maybe I am missing something?
Osric and Finndo loom to my left as I pass beneath the shining bulk of their statues, seeming to shift their frozen gazes from the unseen foe they are forever fending off, seeming by a strange trick of the light to turn slightly at the intrusion of a living man into the sleepy, stagnant world of ghosts moving through their pantomimes of real life. Unsettling, the way even their stances appear to twist, to assume new positions, almost as if—
—impulsively, I move to my right, turning as I go by so I can regard them better, and—
Finndo’s sword strikes the walkway an inch from my foot, splintering the stone there. I jump off the path, at the same time turning and reaching for Grayswandir, in time to see Osric shake the ground with his leap down from his pedestal.
Both statues are now, somehow, on the move and on the attack. And I, Corwin, who once bested the ghost of Benedict himself here in this port-of-call for phantoms, am in full and fast retreat. An instant ago, I had reached for my enchanted blade, but now I am wondering why. It can do no good against a real statue, and if they are ghostly things like the other denizens here, it cannot touch them.
I am down by roots and sedge near where the pond laps the shore. Stepping behind a tree at the water’s edge, I pause to turn and see. Both animated statues are still coming. Osric, off to his brother’s right, seems to be lagging behind Finndo. Ducks and geese, aglow here, white shadows of their real-world counterparts, glide silently toward us across the surface of the pond, curious. There are no moon-born breadcrumbs I can toss to reward that curiosity, though I would if I could. It would make a fine distraction, possibly impeding the actions of the statues of my long-dead brothers.
Running along the uneven terrain closest to the pond, my mind matches my body, racing, nearly tripping, unsure in which direction to go.
To my knowledge, nothing like this has ever happened in Tir-na Nog’th before.
Risking another glance behind me, I am relieved to see that Osric continues to lag. At least I won’t have to face both of them at once. Meanwhile, Finndo will soon be upon me, and I am at a severe disadvantage. And the realization of a moment ago won’t stop echoing within my brain.
Nothing like this has ever happened in Tir-na Nog’th before.
Animate entities within this city are visible, but not tangible — mere ghosts. The inanimate aspects and structure of the city, however, like things in the world below, are trustworthy, solid things. More or less. The streets, the buildings, the pillars atop which the white fires here burn — solid, so long as they are sustained by the moon above. The only danger comes when clouds get between the all-important moon and the sojourner in the place of dreams. Then the city fades, one falls—
There is movement further up along the shore. No, it can’t be — but it is.
Another statue is coming toward me.
Looking to my left for an exit, I am cruelly disappointed, as there are two more statues stumbling down the slope, juggernauts aimed in my direction. Since I am again standing by a tree with branches leaning over the water, I look upward for vertical sanctuary. And am surprised to see something else.
“Get out of here!” she whispers from her perch on the thickest branch overhanging the pond.
Make that someone else.
“Sweet Polly!” I call up to her in surprise that is at least partly genuine. “I would like to say, ‘There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here,’ but the line clearly is, ‘Looks like this is the end.’”
Blonde, wearing a blue cloak. I have finally caught up with the one person in this place for whom Grayswandir is not required for conversational purposes.
“Get out of here!” she repeats, more loudly this time.
“Too late for that. Two of those things look like they were already headed this way well before I arrived. You, my dear, are officially a damsel in distress.”
She says something else, but I can no longer spare her any attention.
Scanning the three golems I have just spotted, one — possibly the closest — looks somewhat familiar, while the others are too far away. As I look them over, though, I spy something shining like a star on the breast of one, and feel I know him, too.
There is no time for real thought. Ignoring her protests, I grab hold of the nearest branch and begin climbing, not stopping till I have gone as far as I can.
“Jump!” I yell at her, “Jump into the pond!”
jump!” she yells back.
Nothing is ever as easy as it could be. For proof, all I need do is look down.
Finndo is below the tree. With one hand he shoves at the trunk of the tree, leaving the other hand free; it is the one holding his sword.
Gripping the trunk, I swing my feet free of the branch on which I have been standing. And watch as my former support is sliced away from the tree with one casual sword-stroke.
Then several things happen at once. One of the new golems takes hold of Finndo’s right arm and wrests the sword free. The other two newcomers are not far behind, but, just as they reach us, one trips the other with his trident.
The statue that has just fallen has landed half in the pond, half out. Luckily, or unluckily as the case may be, he is the one I want. I swing down to a lower branch as he struggles to rise and do something rather stupid.
I drop straight down to the ground near his face.
Then I climb up onto his shoulders.
His stone arm lifts, the hand of stone at the end of it aimed right at me. Still amply supplied with stupidity, I shift only a little as I reach for that which hangs about his neck. The trident impales the mud, impeding the motion of the arm, but not halting it. Choosing survival, I try to leap to the ground on his other side, where his left arm is struggling to raise him up again. The hand barely brushes me, but I am half-stunned as I land on my back.
Looking up, though, I see it. Candles going off in my head, ears ringing, I lift myself up with one arm (oddly mimicking my foe) and with the other draw Grayswandir. For this is how it must be, if it is to be at all.
With all my strength, I use the blade to wrench at the chain hanging around the Oisen statue’s neck. The chain snaps as, now half-risen, I snatch with my other hand at that which hangs from it.
And it falls into the pond.
Sparing a single glance for the battle about me, I see that there is a statue of Dworkin grappling with the statue of Finndo, while the long-bearded trident-wielder kicks at the statue of Oisen. The statue of Osric is arriving at last, his shins stained with the mud which has slowed him. The girl is standing at the very end of her branch, wobbling, with her left hand clinging to a thin wisp of twigs and leaves.
Sheathing Grayswandir, I dive in.
I have never taken a swim in Tir-na Nog’th, and a part of my dazed brain that operates somewhere beyond thought steadfastly determines that I shall never do so again. If I survive, that is...if I survive...
And there it is not so far below me, as I swim down toward the bottom, still burning like a bright star. There are other stars here, too, I can see, the stars of the night sky. There is no longer any sense of up or down, but I can see the silver chain now, the Diamond in its setting still hanging from it.
I reach for the stone, close my hand upon it, seeing stars, stars, stars.
The ghost of Fiona was right, after all...
...and in the darkness which closed over me there were stars and music faint and far away, music then closer though no louder, but clearer, as I struggled to recall a kiss when I was dreaming or as I had woken. But it had to have been a dream of waking, since sleep was only just being shaken from me, since I was still trying to wake up.
From our dream.
Not too often a sentence like that can be put together. I decided to try it out — ‘Still trying to wake up from our dream’ — and was listening to it in my mind for the third time when my eyes opened.
“Welcome back, Corwin.”
“Didn’t you just say that?”
There it was again, that question, which had been cropping up more and more lately. The one asking what is dream, and what is real.
Nothing had changed. Still sitting on the edge of a big, canopied bed, I was half-facing Oberon’s former queen, Benedict’s mother, and half-facing.... On closer inspection, some things had changed. The Trump for Dworkin was gone.
And so was Dworkin.
And in place of Dworkin rested the sleeping form of...me.
Again: Dream, or reality?
His/my eyes moved beneath his/my eyelids, while my/his lips moved to shape words from somewhere within my/his dream.
He/I whispered, “Merlin?”
“Alive,” I reassured him. “Merlin is alive — I saw him only yesterday.”
As if in response, a dry chuckle escaped this other Corwin.
“Yes, alive,” I repeated, so that I wondered if I were really saying it for myself. “And well. On the Earth where I spent my centuries of exile.”
His/my head rolled to the side, toward Cymnea. The dulcimer, which she had not played since I had woken, she now set on the table beside her. As she did this, Dworkin mouthed a word.
The word was, “No.”
Cymnea rose, approached the bed and bent close to the man who, right then, looked just like me. He spoke, and what he said was unintelligible to me only a couple of feet away, though she seemed to catch the words.
“Tir-na Nog’th,” she said. “Yes...”
Straining to listen, I could make out nothing clearly, though sounds of hoarse whispering reached me and I saw his/my lips move.
She drew back a little, touched two of her fingers to her lips, then to his/mine. And my confusion was not lessened thereby.
She straightened, and we regarded one another.
“I will explain,” she offered.
“And I will listen,” I responded, “And probably ask a few questions. To start with: What the hell is going on here?”
“Dworkin has a message for you.”
“Why doesn’t he tell me himself?”
“I don’t understand.”
“That’s very difficult, what he’s doing now, taking my form and holding it. It takes energy, focus, intent. He’s awake.”
She smiled slightly.
“No,” she said, “he still sleeps. I tried to wake him just before you...returned.”
“With a kiss.”
Had her smile just grown wider?
“Funny. I was in that dream, too. And when I woke—”
“—you were being kissed? Yes, that was me, but I wasn’t kissing you.”
Her gaze went to Dworkin.
“I was kissing him.”
“Not the way I remember it.”
“You shared more than a dream.”
“Something tells me the relationship between the two of you may not be AMA-approved.”
Rising, she picked up a glass from the table, handing to me the glass of wine I had never finished, resumed her seat.
“Spells must be broken however they can,” she went on. “Believe what you wish; it is not important. Dworkin was lost among dreams. With your help, and with my help, he is finding his way back.”
“But why isn’t he back?” I asked, getting up at last, and swaying on my feet so unexpectedly that I nearly dropped the glass as I struggled not to fall over. A red haze hung across my vision as I grabbed the back of the chair with my free hand and lowered myself into it.
Cymnea showed no surprise at my dizzy spell and waited without comment while I took a breath. After a swallow of the wine, I leaned forward to set the glass beside the bottle, leaned back again.
“And why am I the one who’s awake?” I went on, feeling better, “Maybe you kissed the wrong guy. I mean, hell, we look a lot alike.”
We both looked toward Dworkin then, who was losing his resemblance to me as his features loosened, softened, moved toward a new configuration. From moment to moment, he was less and less my bed-ridden stand-in.
“He has a message for you,” she said.
Though I said, “I’m listening,” I could not tear my gaze from Dworkin as he became slimmer than myself, as his eyes went from my green to a shade of gray-blue, as the beard vanished.
And this time I caught the words uttered by this man who, though he was Dworkin, looked nothing like my grandfather. And yet, though he was no longer an image of myself, he still bore a resemblance to me.
“‘The silver towers were fallen,’” said the double of my son lying beneath the bedclothes.
“‘Into a sea of blood,’” said Merlin, “‘The silver towers are fallen.’”
Head swimming, resting my hand on a sill to steady myself, and looking out over a city that only half exists, edged with stars, I see several stone figures gathered around a tree by a lily pond.
And I chuckle softly.
“Looks harmless enough from up here — statues of gardeners pruning an apple tree. The guy down on his knees must be pulling weeds.”
No response from my benefactor, but no sound of footsteps either, so I know she is waiting.
“I like them like this,” I muse, reluctant to take my weight off the bottom of the window, “far away and not moving.”
“You’re still delirious,” she says from behind me.
“Well, you have that effect on me,” I jest lightly, unwilling to turn away from the gleaming, glittering, silent cityscape below, uncertain borders lost in rolling fog.
She clears her throat warningly, whether to indicate we should get moving again or to indicate mild displeasure at my remark, I am not sure. So I add, “With gratitude, of course,” partly to deflect any chastisement, but mostly to draw things out a little longer, since the alternative will involve the use of legs I do not entirely trust at this time.
“We don’t have all night, you know,” she announces.
“Damn those musicians.”
“They’ve been lying for years about how we do.”
“Have all night.”
Even before the loud exhalation of breath escapes her, I am turning. Her arms are folded and she is actually tapping her foot.
“Okay, Erin, where is this room of yours?”
We are in a servants’ hallway on the second floor, which by day in the Amber a thousand feet below would be musky and dank, but enjoys fresh, cool air here in Tir-na Nog’th.
“Here,” she says, pointing at the wall.
Moving, grudgingly, from the window to stand beside her, I stare, frown, even try to get my fingers around the wall-hanging there, but it is part of the wall.
“What are you talking about? There’s no room here.”
“Yes, there is.”
“There, in the tapestry.”
I am not surprised that I could not move the tapestry. Much of what exists in Tir-na Nog’th is a stripped-down approximation of the more fully developed forms located in Amber, a kind of short-hand for the real thing. But I am surprised by what Erin has said, and even more so by the tapestry itself.
It is not the standard scene of a hunt, joust, battle or other event of historical moment. Instead, it is peculiar depiction of a bedroom, odd angles reminding me of Van Gogh’s piece. Is this how the version in the actual palace looks, I wonder, or a result of the distortion effects that are common in the place where I am now? I don’t care, I decide, as I turn to her.
“My brain is not quite fully in gear, but what you told me about Cymnea sending you up here —”
“— is totally true,” she says firmly, frowning up at me.
“Except it didn’t make much sense when you first told me, and makes even less sense now. Why are you really up here? And why did you really bring me to this spot, of all places? What kind of game is this?”
“Hm, I don’t know. A game where I save your life?”
“Or the game where you have tricked me into coming up here.”
“Trick? Your father was the one with the tricks, that’s what Cymnea said. She said this picture was one of them.”
I give the tapestry another look. Could it be? If so, would it work...here?
An interesting thought. Dworkin had created a mural of Cabra for me, which I had stepped through to freedom. More than a decade later, I had emulated that feat with a rendering of Mirata. In Manhattan, Merlin had vanished before my eyes while standing before a tapestry.
So I stare at the image with its strange perspective, feel for the power and...it is there. But will it take me to a place here in the sky, or to the original somewhere in the world below?
“Take my hand,” I say.
Together, we step into the new space. A spacious bedroom, over thirty feet long and about the same width. Besides the bed, there is a chest at its foot, a couple of bookcases, a fireplace, a wardrobe, a couple of chairs, a desk by the window, and two cups on a sideboard under a mirror hung on the wall. The ghost of a cat lashes its tail, where it sits on the sill, studying the city beyond. A rug portraying a white rabbit sitting below a pomegranate tree beside a stream covers the middle of the floor.
The room — all silver surfaces and inky shadows — almost immediately begins to fade. I look down through a floor like frosted glass, see the ocean below.
This is where I would have resorted to the Trumps I brought with me, Merlin’s Trumps, and made my escape. But I have again the Dreaming Diamond, the stone associated with the Pattern upholding this grave-quiet, polished silver sister of the immortal city. It shines where it lies on my breast, as I feel my way through it out into the realm about me. As I do, color flows into the room, just as it flowed into the form of my mother’s ghost when I touched her with the gem the last time I came this way.
With something like a kinesthetic extra sense I am aware of the cloud-wisps crossing between me and the moon, and something like heat, or electricity, moves through me and outward through the Diamond. And, though from here it is not possible to see it happen, I know the air is stirring somewhere above us, that the tendrils of cloud are being dissipated.
The room trembles, brightens, colors strengthening, now like any place in the day-world, solid, whole.
In unhappy contrast to that newfound stability, I shuffle across the room, shed pack, cloak, shirt, sword, as much as I can, and fall into bed dripping, exhausted. Closing my eyes for a moment of badly needed rest, I lie there and feel my body shaking. A prince of Amber, so easily worn down? Is it this place, an after-effect of the recent business with Dworkin, or perhaps something Cymnea put in the wine?
“Don’t know what’s wrong with me...”
She is doing something. Noises of drawers opening and closing, her footsteps.
“Don’t go to sleep. And lift your head.”
My eyes open. She has a folded towel in hand, places it on the pillow behind me.
“Don’t sleep,” she says again. “You were hit in the head by a block of stone.”
why I have this headache.”
But I lean back as she throws blankets on me, try to get my head working again.
“We can’t stay here,” I tell her. “It’s Tir-na Nog’th. In a couple of hours, all this...goes away.”
No answer as she pulls four split logs from the kindling basket, placing them on a pile of twigs in an arrangement reminiscent of the Masonic symbol. With flint and steel, she strikes sparks, flame licks up. Yellow flame, not the white flickers that light the moon-swept buildings and avenues here.
“Girl Scouts?” I ask sleepily, closing my eyes again.
She climbs in beside me.
“What are you doing?”
“Keeping you warm.”
Nor is she wrong, for I am shivering as she slides closer. She is still wet, too, in spite of having shed some of her own things.
“What are you
“Sorry,” I say, shifting, finding new places for my hands, relaxing, lying back.
, don’t sleep!”
But I am lying on a good mattress, my head on a pillow, warm under blankets, and tired. So very tired...
And dreaming again. There are lips on mine, pressing, a hand sliding past my ribs toward my back.
I open my eyes.
The dream, like the room, is as real as anything in Tir-na Nog’th — far, far more real than anything I could ever have imagined.
She clings to me and her hair is still wet, she is beautiful, and...she kisses me.
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