Burb Rocking
Sunday, February 24, 2008
  Chapter Three: The Library

CHAPTER THREE

I was standing by a crystal case over by the windows, my mind on distant things and far, far from Amber, when the door swung open.

Turning my head, I saw who it was. He was wearing orange trousers and a red shirt under a light brown jacket, all wrinkled and a bit travel-stained.

“Anything left?”

He was already over by the desk, lifting tray-covers.

“Victuals aplenty. Lots of leftovers.”

“Good.”

And he dug in. After he'd consumed the mound of pancakes I’d passed over ― which he first managed to drown in syrup ― and polished off a plate of sausages, he located a bowl of cream of wheat I’d overlooked (still quite hot and giving off steam). By then, though, he was slowing a little, so I made my way over and settled into a nearby easy chair.

“All right, Random, what’s up?”

He pushed the bowl away from him and leaned back, smiling.

“Julian said you weren’t in the best of shape when he saw you. Damned if he wasn’t right. You look beat.”

“Yeah? Well, you’re not looking so great there yourself. Where the hell have you been?”

“All over. On business. Ever wonder why so few people are in the king business, Corwin? Because it basically sucks, that’s why.”

“Oh, come on. There’s all that pomp. And, I hear, also a great deal of circumstance.”

He made a skeptical noise, audibly popping air through his lips.

“I think the girls go for that more than anybody,” he said, opening one of the desk drawers, seeking for something. In the next instant he had it, a pack of cigarettes. He extracted two, reaching over to pass me one. “Maybe Amber would be better off ruled by a queen, anyway.”

I was looking around for some means of obtaining a light. The fireplace was cold and, it being a sunny day, no sconces were lit.

“Corwin, over here. I’ve got it covered.”

He produced a small box, out of which he shook a couple of wooden matchsticks. He struck one against a bit of stone and handed the burning thing to me. He was grinning.

“Gunpowder which burns here in Amber is a state secret. But, for some reason, matches are easy to come by.”

“Cool,” I said, grinning back at him and lighting my cigarette.

We both relaxed for awhile, just sitting there and smoking. After about a minute of this, I let out a sigh.

“Okay. Somehow you knew I was on my way here and sent Julian to find me. You even knew where I was, it seems. As much as I’d like to know how you managed those bits of prescience, I’m even more curious as to why. You wanted me here, and here I am. Something’s up. Maybe it’s time you told me what it is?”

“Sorry. It’s been a long...day? Man, it’s been longer than that, but to tell you the truth I’ve lost track. Since I’ve kept you waiting, though, I’ll cut right to the chase. It's Swayvill. He's in trouble.”

“Swayvill? The King of Chaos?”

That was unexpected, all right! Random's small nod and quizzical expression let me know he was serious. Baffled by my bafflement, apparently. But the question wouldn't go away: Why the hell should any trouble for the ruler of the Courts of Chaos be a concern of ours?

“Now you’ve lost me.”

He was considering the smoldering tip of the cigarette that he held in his hand.

“Like I said, the king business is not as fun as it looks. And harder than Dad ever let on. Kinda lonely, too. So, believe it or not, we help each other out when we can.”

“Really? I’d suspected ― maybe hoped ― that by this point running Amber would be pretty routine, even boring. That it would more or less run itself after so many millennia under Dad's control. I take it that’s not actually the case?”

He turned to look at me then.

“Not all of it. You got the boring part right. Now you tell me. What usually happens to a realm when one person builds it up, maintains and sustains it, and then checks out permanently?”

I thought of Alexander, Attila, Canute, and ― someone whose wars I’d actually fought in ― Napoleon.

“Doesn’t often end well, true.”

“Anybody you can think of who pulled it off for as long as Dad did?”

“Not that I can think of. But, then, you knew that already.”

“But there is one. Swayvill. And that’s it.”

I came over to the desk to stub out my cigarette in his ashtray.

“I see. And I get it. Your situations are similar. You can relate.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s it.”

He poured two coffees, so I took one. I dumped sugar into mine, but he surprised me by taking his black. Those syrup-drenched pancakes were still fresh in my mind. We sat back and sampled the dark stuff.

After a bit, Random volunteered, “Llewella told me you’d left Rebma. Me asking Julian to look for you on top of Kolvir was just a lucky guess. The Jewel does come with some wild powers, but I haven’t noticed clairvoyance yet. Though that would make this job a helluva lot easier.”

“That was Brand’s trick. In my opinion, we’re all better off with you running the show instead.”

Random snorted.

“Running the show? I’m in the show, all right. Don’t know if I’m actually running it.”

“What do you mean? If you’re not in charge, then who is?”

“No one is, Corwin. It’s too big to work that way. Gérard’s in charge of the navy. Caine helps him, but he really handles the intel. He’s born for the undercover jobs, if you know what I mean.”

Recalling Caine’s nearly successful attempt to assassinate me in my own well-secured quarters, I agreed with a clipped, “I know what you mean.”

“And Bleys can do the foreign minister gig while standing on one foot and juggling sticks of dynamite.”

I sipped my coffee thoughtfully.

“With long enough fuses, sure. Which I suppose explains why you’ve got him stationed at the Courts.”

“Exactly. And Julian watches Arden, while Benedict is only a Trump away.”

“Benedict? With the succession intrigues over, I’d figure he’d be closer to home.”

Random was quiet for a few moments, drinking his coffee, staring at the trays. He replaced the covers, pushed the trays to the left side of the desk, keeping only the coffee within easy reach. Then he put his feet up.

“I’ve more than half a mind to abdicate and hand the crown over to him. Only, Corwin, I don’t think he’d take it. No idea why. But you know what I mean, don’t you? He wouldn’t take it, doesn’t want it, never has. Damn him.”

“He is the oldest. And probably the wisest. Maybe that’s why.”

“Maybe.” From his tone, though, it was clear he didn’t believe his own maybe. “But I think it’s something else.”

I was about to object, but something stopped me. Some new knowledge, some fresh realization, something I hadn’t been aware I’d known until just that moment. It had to be new information, acquired very recently. Whatever it was, it checked the rebuttal I was in the midst of formulating. Instead, all I managed was a weak-sounding, “You could be right.” So I added, “Well, at least Gérard’s stepped up, helped to share the load.”

Random nodded.

“You got that right. Don’t know what I’d do without him. Still have no idea how Dad did it all by himself.”

“Except he didn’t,” I reminded Random. “He had Gérard, Caine, Julian, Bleys and Benedict. Just like you. And was intimidating enough, powerful enough, and mysterious enough to keep them all in line.”

“And damned smart,” Random rejoined.

“And damned smart,” I agreed. And then, after a second or two ticked by, I continued, “And he was probably even smarter than Swayvill. Who is, I understand, in some kind of trouble.”

Random gave me a quick good-natured grin.

“Yeah, you’re right, he is. All’s not well over at the Courts. Hasn’t been for a real, real long time, it turns out. Only lately, it looks like it's been getting worse. A lot worse.”

“So why doesn’t he do what Dad would have done?”

“Which would be what? Sic the Unicorn on the trouble? Make the trouble spend two hours discussing the aesthetics of Order versus Chaos with Dworkin?”

“Exile it or kill it,” I answered matter-of-factly.

Random raised his eyebrows.

“Hey, Dad often favored the direct approach,” I pointed out.

“Except when choosing an heir.”

“Yeah,” I admitted, “that did get a little complicated.”

“And Dad was basically the absolute ruler in Amber. Unchallenged. That's not how it is at the Courts. Chaos has been around a lot longer than Amber. We’ve got one royal house. They’ve got at least three. Once there were more.”

Three royal houses? How could such an arrangement even hope to be workable, I wondered? Perpetual civil war would be an obvious result. I tried to imagine it. Constant vendettas, new ones being born even as old ones were retired. Never-ending…well, never-ending chaos.

“You did say, ‘once there were more’?”

Random nodded, holding my gaze.

“There was a fourth, known as the House of Barimen.”

“Ah…hah.”

“Yeah.”

Dworkin Barimen was the oldest inhabitant of Amber, who knew more about Amber and the structure of reality than anyone else could ever hope to learn. It might have rendered him a bit daft, for his mind didn’t work like the rest of ours, and the man even seemed to grasp the fundamental underpinnings of time itself. Only right at the end, just before Oberon’s sacrifice upon the Pattern, had any of us known he was also our grandfather and Amber’s true founder.

“So,” I mulled, “maybe Dworkin in his way did Swayvill a favor when he split off from the Courts?”

Random looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully.

“Haven’t heard the full story. But the drift I get is that Dworkin founding Amber is what allowed Swayvill to take power in the first place. Somebody else held the throne before him.”

“Wow,” I said, chewing on that for a second, “Wow. There’s a lot we don’t know about the Courts. Or at least a lot I don’t know, since you seem aware of more than I ever guessed about that place. And now you say you and Swayvill are allies?”

The cynical expression which settled on Random’s face at that moment was neither a smile nor a frown, but had elements in common with each. The word “smirk” might cover it, but too strongly suggests a component of derision. The best I can do is to say it was an ironic, lop-sided grin.

“Allies? No. But who are the two parties who signed the Amber Accords? Swayvill and me, that’s who. So what if something should, shall we say, ‘happen’ to one of us?”

Sitting there, sipping my coffee, I thought about that. Machinations, almost certainly very complex and well-developed but long held in check, would be set in motion. Those involved, since time out of mind immersed in the intricacies of three-sided royal politics ― in reality, probably composed of many more sides than that ― would be the equivalent of chess grand masters. Who had just been invited to the big international tournament.

While we in Amber enjoyed a false sense of security due to our expertise at checkers.

“That would be…” I ventured, “bad.”

Random looked at me, and then his gaze traveled past me.

“Yeah, real bad. Hi, Fi.”

I winced at the pun. Hi-fi? I wondered who might even remember high-fidelity stereo systems in an era when such things had been buried under decades of technological advancement. And, naturally, I twisted in my chair to regard the library’s big heavy door. Standing just in front of it (strange, but I hadn’t heard the door open or close) was the most dangerous of all our sisters. She was only a couple of inches over five feet in height, slim and strong, striking in a gown of white and gold bound with a silver-and-gold belt, her eyes recalling the wildness and intensity of the green depths of the forest. To call her hair red, when it brought to mind bonfires and sunsets, was to give up too easily, to abandon the poem before even toying with its title. Her complexion was flawless, of course, soft as cream, luminous as the interior of a seashell, as polished pearls. Beautiful? Of course, but to merely call her beautiful was to miss the point ― her presence altered the space around her, defining its new center. She was also the most knowledgeable of all our siblings when it came to matters magical or metaphysical.

And I was glad she was here.

I had jumped to my feet and quickly crossed over to her before really knowing what I was doing.

“Fi,” I offered, a little sheepishly, “good to see you.”

Smiling, she held up her hand, which I took and kissed.

“It really is good to see you. There’s some stuff I need to talk to you about.”

“Dreams,” came Random’s voice from over my left shoulder.

Turning, I shot him a look. He was grinning.

“Relax. Moire told Llewella. Llewella told me.”

“Gee,” said I, perhaps a little more sarcastically than I meant to, “It’s good to know what I share in private remains private for, I don’t know, all of five minutes.”

“But,” Random went on, “that is why you’re here, right?”

I turned back to Fiona. She was smiling broadly.

“Moire? Hmm, I’d heard some rumor of a brother of mine disappearing into the chambers of Rebma’s queen. Of course, I discounted the tale as pure hearsay.”

“The tale is not wholly pure,” I responded. “Nor entirely hearsay. But I’ll be more interested in your opinion of the tale I’ve actually come here to tell.”

“Ah,” said Fiona, not letting go of my hand, and walking with me back toward Random, “that sounds even more interesting! I look forward to hearing all about it.”

And we made our way over to the sofa by the fireplace, while I remained somewhat stung by how truly not secret my so-called secrets were. I determined to deliver every damnable detail, even if it bored my audience to tears. Smiling a little, and feeling in the mood for some retribution, I decided: Especially if it bored them to tears.

I wasted no time getting started.

Copyright © 2008 Lokabrenna @ Blogger (JTB) All rights reserved

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008
  Chapter Two: The South Garden

CHAPTER TWO

The south garden is one of my favorite places to be when morning comes to Amber. As with so much else in a city draped on the shoulders of a mountain, it is a terraced affair. Beds of roses, rows of fruit trees, paths weaving forgotten stories with their mosaics of colored stone, gates, bridges, marble statuary, stretches of bright lawn, benches scattered throughout, the occasional table. A fine place for a picnic, perhaps even more so when the rising sun draws first blood from the sea and the sky.

Except for the gardeners going about their duties, I was the only early bird about the grounds. Since it looked like I was in for a wait, I found a table near the lily pond, where I folded my cloak, laid it on the bench and sat down. In my pouch I discovered some bread and cheese, both rather hardened. The bread I broke into bits which I threw to the ducks, geese and birds. It wasn’t long before I was out of bread (though I had gained a greedy gaggle of feathered fair-weather friends ― too much alliteration?). So I brought out the family’s favorite deck of playing cards to pass the time.

Though I expected the cards to point to Random, they didn’t. This might be because I stubbornly refused to remove the Trumps of those no longer among the living. My sisters kept appearing, but the message was far from clear, with no single one among them emerging dominant. My query had been simple enough: Who can help me? The fortunes thus told were typically muddled, but now I couldn’t help wondering whether this was just the way of the cards, or if it was me? Or something else?

I picked up the Trump for Julian, put it down. If he had stood me up, then he surely had his reasons and I'd know them soon enough. So I put down the image of Julian, almost lifelike in his scaled white armor, and picked up the Trump featuring Random.

As shown on the card, he was a trifle sharp-featured, of no great physical stature, and the face beneath the headful of thick straw-colored hair bore a wry expression, as though about to share a joke. The features shifted. I hadn't been trying to reach him ― or had I? The card, cold to the touch like all the family Trumps, seemed to become colder still. The image rearranged itself, and it was Random all right, in some lonely valley streaked with salmon-pink fog which I thought I recognized but couldn’t identify right away.

“Corwin?”

“Yes.”

“Where are you? The south garden?”

“Yes, I am. How did you know?”

“Julian. He’s going to be a no-show.”

“So much is becoming apparent.”

“My fault. I wanted him back in Arden, and I need you right where you are.”

“In the south garden?”

“At the palace. I’ll be there soon. Have to wrap things up here first.”

“Okay.”

“See you soon.”

“Soon.”

I swept up the cards, replaced them in their case, tucked the case behind my belt. I let out a breath and pushed my hands down my thighs toward my knees. I needed to think and, hell, I was still hungry.

Time to get moving. I got up and started walking. It had been quite awhile since I’d just taken a quiet stroll around this place. Heraldic beasts wrought life-size in stone reared to one side. Scenes out of Amber’s history, scenes out of Amber's mythology ― the distinction not always so obvious ― played out on the paths. Stuff I hadn’t really thought much about since childhood. So long, long ago all that was. But that was then, and this was now.

Could it be that whatever was going on with me was somehow connected to Random’s troubles? The notion, seemingly absurd on the face of it, could not immediately be discounted. In a universe drawn from the blood and brain of actual persons, how much could be called coincidence? Perhaps too deep a philosophical question, but one which nevertheless applies. Me drawn back to Amber at just the time when Random required me to be there? Coincidence perhaps, but I resolved to be alert for any common threads; too many could indicate our problems had been woven on the same loom.

Taking a look around me, I could see I was now on the other side of the pond, regarding through the mists of a fountain the place where I had consulted the cards and communicated with Random. That felt a bit weird, as it wasn’t that short a walk and not much had passed through my head along the way. That’s what happens when you zone out. And now, near the spot where I’d relaxed earlier and walking towards me, I spied a short slim woman. The dress she wore was deep scarlet, a yellow sash belting it at the waist. Her attire created a curious effect as she moved past the roses and herself seemed to become such a flower. Affected by this bit of magic, I stood for a moment transfixed. In that moment I knew her, for she was Vialle, Random’s wife and Amber’s queen.

She moved slowly, as one would expect a blind woman to move, yet confidently. Her fingertips lightly touched the surfaces of shrubs, the petals of flowers, the railings before the statues. The black slippers on her feet slid forward carefully and purposefully, never deviating from the path of stone.

“Lady!” I called across the pond, feeling foolish as I did so. “Your Highness!”

She paused, turned and seemed to regard me from where she stood.

Not running exactly, but not really walking either, I hurried back up the path toward Vialle. Hearing my steps, she tilted her head, then began walking again. Again feeling foolish, I slowed my pace to a normal walk. She knew what she was doing and it was wrong of me to insult her by reacting as though she didn’t.

We met below the statues of two heroic-looking men, eternally fending off some awesome but invisible attack. Her hand strayed to the marble bannister, moved past it to briefly touch the plaque just beyond.

“Your Highness,” I said, taking her other hand. “It is Prince Corwin, who has just today adopted the practice of shouting across ponds. Soon to be all the rage, this behavior is already the style at the Courts. Or so I hear. Good morning.”

She smiled through a few stray strands of brown hair, which she brushed aside.

“I think I heard about this fashion on Bleys’ last visit. We spent five minutes trying it out right here.”

I laughed and, moved more by affection than custom, raised her hand and kissed it.

She blushed a little, which only widened my smile. In fact, I was sure I was grinning like a fool. Her right hand still in mine, I turned us back toward the palace. She acquiesced without a hint of protest. A hawk at that instant swooped low over the water, scattering my winged fan-club. The noise of their collective duck-and-cover (which nevertheless involved a great deal of flapping of wings and the subsequent taking flight) burst like a crazy squall over us, swiftly subsiding. Charlemagne and the seashore, Don Quixote and windmills ― these popped into my mind for no reason at all. Vialle laughed at the surprise, which I explained with one word: “Hawk.”

“And the birds thought the hawk came here for the same reason you did? For breakfast?”

“If he did, then I may be to blame. He may have been attracted by the followers I and my few crusts of bread had won. Proving I retain my knack for causing trouble. And did you say breakfast?”

“Did you think it coincidence that I appeared when I did?”

“Honestly, I hadn’t given it a thought till this moment. You were looking for me?”

She nodded.

“Gérard said you would be here and that you would be hungry.”

“Then why didn’t he come himself? Or send one of the palace staff?”

“Because I wanted to. It is a beautiful morning, isn’t it, Corwin?”

“Truly, it is.”

“Centuries may pass, yet a beautiful day is precious whenever it comes. Some things the ages cannot change. Such as the journey home sometimes being the hardest journey of all. Do you not agree?”

“Yes,” I answered softly.

Coincidence. She had raised the topic which had earlier occupied my thoughts. And she seemed to know something I had not fully admitted to myself; namely, if there had been an alternative to this homecoming, I would have taken it. As good as it was to be home again, being back where so much of signifigance had transpired, where there was so much past, was the farthest thing from my desires. The final chapter had been written; it was good that the tale ― the pain and the glory, tragedy and triumph ― was done. Let that book stay closed, begged a part of myself I had thought I’d lost and forgotten. But I knew that part of me at once, the scared kid angrily rejecting reminders that whatever we love in this world can be taken from us and, sooner or later, will be ― mother, father, sisters, brothers, friends, lovers, places we call home.

The hunger of which Vialle had spoken ― did she know it was more than an unquiet stomach? That I was hungry for answers, for resolution where I had once thought all was resolved? For, let’s be honest, healing? And my fear? Maybe that the cure can often be as bad as the disease?

“So where are we going?” I asked. For I had realized that I was no longer the one guiding our steps and we were passing through a courtyard near the back of the palace.

“To the library. I requested a breakfast be laid out for you there. I hope that’s all right? You like the library, as I recall.”

We approached a side entrance, and shortly found ourselves on a stairway I rarely used.

“Vialle, it’s been too long,” I said, breaking the silence of our climb as we took the second landing. “Tell me what you’ve been doing with yourself. What’s it like being queen of the perfect realm?”

I hadn’t intended the note of sarcasm that had crept in there at the end, but I knew she’d detected it when she squeezed my hand.

“No, nothing is perfect. It is not difficult being queen, though the same cannot be said for being king. Random goes away from time to time, I think because he needs to. And leaves Gérard in charge.”

“Julian mentioned something of this, that Random keeps Gérard very much in the loop. I will admit this surprises me a little.”

“Besides Eric and yourself, Gérard is the only prince with experience running the kingdom. His time as regent during the war was longer than many realize, but because the family was away at the Courts during that period this is sometimes forgotten. Gérard was a very fair and practical ruler.”

“You’re right, I had forgotten. It was years, wasn’t it? Dad apparently knew what he was doing, leaving Gérard behind and in command. The arrangement makes sense, come to think of it, given Gérard’s long-time role as the one entrusted with looking to the security of the harbor and our naval defenses. But enough of that; we were talking about you.”

Vialle steered us around a corner and to the right.

“I’ve been studying the history of art in Amber. Of course, I have paid particular attention to sculpture.”

I nodded, “I see.” And I also saw not far ahead of us the big door to the library. Silence again prevailed as we approached that door, but as I pushed it open I picked up the briefly dropped conversation.

“And you’re augmenting that history with your own contributions?”

On the desk near the room’s center were some food trays and a steaming pot of some warm beverage ― tea, I guessed.

“A little,” Vialle responded as I let go her hand and crossed to the desk. “Did you see the two statues where we met by the pond?”

Unabashedly yielding to my physical needs, I was sniffing the pot. Coffee ― excellent!

Absently, I answered, “Yes, the two valiant defenders. They’ve been there for ages.”

Vialle remained by the door, her expression strangely wistful, possibly even sad. As I poured the coffee, I asked, “Will you be joining me? There’s first-rate coffee.”

“No, thank-you. I’ve already eaten and will be going.” A pause. “You recognized the warriors, then?”

I had already taken a good bite out of the omelette I had discovered under the cover of the middle tray. Before I finished that bite, I tried to recall the two figures, swords raised against implacable opposition, their expressions vivid as they faced fearsome ― and probably hopeless ― odds with clenched jaws and gritted teeth, resolute in the face of impending doom.

“They made an impression on me back when I was just a kid. But that was a very, very long time ago, and I’m not sure there was even a plaque there back then. Why? What do you know of them?”

“They were your brothers Osric and Finndo.” She stepped back, a hand on the door. “I must go. Please enjoy your breakfast. Random should be here soon. Good luck with everything.”

“Thank-you, m’lady,” I answered, my mouth having gone a little dry. “Thank-you...for many things. And a good day to you, as well, Your Highness.”

“Vialle," she corrected me, smiling. “We are family, Corwin. Good day, then.”

And she closed the door behind her.

Copyright © 2008 Lokabrenna @ Blogger (JTB) All rights reserved

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  Save The 4400!

Mass-mailing deadline for Save-The-4400 was Feb. 20, but never say never. Still not too late to apply some pressure.

This fan is rather out-of-the-loop ― just learned of this recently: The 4400 has been cancelled just as it was moving toward some sort of final resolution. As another fan out there has put it, this show was Heroes before there was a Heroes series. And that's true. To be fair, though, it's also true that The X-Men ― not-so-subtly addressing current prejudices and social conflicts with its battle for mutant rights versus mutant oppression or extermination ― was The 4400 before anyone ever got the cool idea of abductees taken recently and long ago returned to Earth in the present-day. (And that idea also has obvious earlier antecedents; i.e., Spielberg's Close Encounters of The Third Kind). Only these abductees have been enhanced with one signifigant alteration: Each of the 4400 discovers he or she has a strange and unexpected "ability" or superpower.

The writers and creators of The 4400 show didn't stop there. They also borrowed a page out of Chris Carter's book by pairing up a diminutive redhead and a gentleman of Eastern European descent as a law enforcement team charged with investigating the paranormal phenomenon known as "the 4400" ― can we say Mulder and Scully? So The 4400 had it all, and had it going on. (See Why the USA Network should renew the 4400 for more on the coolness of The 4400.)

Links to information about the campaign to save this show:

4400 fans plant seeds of renewal at USA by Tim Surette (TV.com)

SAVE 4400!!! (USA Network Forums)

The idea is this: Send a polite note to the address below, and include one or more sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds? Yes, sunflower seeds. Take a look at Surette's article if you're wondering why. The address:

Bonnie Hammer
USA NETWORK
30 Rockefeller Plaza
21st Floor
New York
NY 10112


Blogged.com
 
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
  Which Amberite Are You?
Another quiz? No, actually two:

Which Elder Amberite Are You? (by Lana Gjovig)

Which Amberite Are You? (courtesy of Amanda D. Barncord Doerr)

(I took the second quiz and came up as Oberon - so take the results with a block of salt.)
 
Saturday, February 09, 2008
  Chapter One: Kolvir

CHAPTER ONE


The cell in the Courts of Chaos where I was drowned was constructed from a million mistakes. Not the first time the bars around me have been made of something stronger than my own will.

The sleepy currents shift to unseen pressures far above. On them drift golden fish, green and red billows of algae, weedy rootless plants, and glowing gelatinous see-through things. So little changes here in the vasty deep, I can no longer tell if I dream while awake or merely dream of waking.

And if I dream, is it a good dream or a bad dream?

Nothing is easy.

Loyalty is hard. Love is hard. Some things cost more than money.

I remember…



It was no nightmare that woke me this time, but big ugly reality.

I sat up suddenly, listened, waited. Just below my little camp a stretch of shell-strewn beach ended at a cairn washed by the surf. From shore to horizon, the sea was an empty expanse. Then it came again. A scream in the night.

The screams had come from within the Valley of Garnath. A glance at the sky showed me the moon was on her way back to bed, and that the sun would soon rise. I buckled on my sword Grayswandir, kicked sand onto my dying campfire, saddled Drum and mounted up, envying the moon.

I rode into the wood, slowly. About me the trees gathered, crowding me more closely as I progressed. For perhaps fifteen minutes I continued in this wise, with no third scream to guide me, just following the path.

Something, some sixth sense, alerted me that I was very near, if not in, a place where someone had recently died. I have learned to trust this sense, which I believe is cultivated by a frequent exposure to violent death.

It was at about this time that I heard the softest of sounds behind me. I halted Drum, took Grayswandir into my hand, turned round in my saddle.

A giant Siamese cat, tiger-sized, glared at me with two balefully bright all-yellow eyes.

A shudder went through me. I knew this thing, had met its like before. It was a thing from my past, from my nightmares. No less unsettling for having traversed the long country of sleep to stand before me now, solid, real. I had some fear of it.

“I give you greetings, Opener,” it said in a voice I did not like. “I have crossed many worlds to savor the sight of our favorite prince of Amber.”

“Anything more will cost you,” I responded, and wheeled Drum around to face it.

“I have not come alone,” it said, and leaped.

I twisted as Drum reared wildly, bringing Grayswandir up and around in a bright flash. The second cat, springing from a tree behind me, impaled itself on my blade. Its body crashed into mine, knocking me from Drum’s back onto the ground.

My left arm got mauled, and ribs raked with claws, but I managed to land free of the thrashing form. I got to my feet, picked up a nearby rock and smashed the creature’s skull with it, yanked out Grayswandir, turned.

The first cat had leaped for Drum, not me. I sprang forward and sliced open the side of the creature as it made another leap for my horse. It fell snarling to the ground, wound aflame. I hacked its side again and jumped back, knowing what was coming.

The burning cat regarded me as flames spread over it.

“We will be back,” it said.

I stepped forward then and split its skull open with my blade. Both cats were utterly consumed by the fires of their own bodies.

When I examined Drum, I found that the ceremonial chest-piece of sea-shell barding had done its job better than I’d have expected. The gashes on Drum’s front were superficial. I washed out the wounds with whiskey and bound them with long strips of cloth torn from my cloak. My wounds were worse, and received similar treatment. That done, I remounted Drum and returned to my camp.

I changed my shirt, drew on a spare cloak, stowed blankets and other gear, all now mostly dried by the fire and breeze. Then I rode Drum back into Garnath. There was no way I’d be able to sleep after what I’d just seen and fought.

Garnath: burned by sheet after sheet of lightning hurled against Bleys and myself when we had laid seige to our brother Eric in Amber, blasted by the Black Road, restored by my father’s sacrifice upon the Pattern. It was and was not the wood I remembered.

Drum obligingly turned north onto the trails that lead to Kolvir, eldest, mightiest and farthest-flung peak of a range of mountains, home to things old, powerful and hard-to-reach. Emulating my horse in their fashion, Dawn’s rose-pink steeds mounted the rim of the sea, shook their glowing manes. The cool morning, full of rich moist odors of earth and vegetation, soon found Drum carrying me up the steep southern face of Kolvir.

The trees that rose up from the black earth were towers of shining green graced with the lightest hint of gold. Their size and majesty distinguished them from their counterparts in the Valley of Garnath. I took a deep breath of the invigorating fragrance brought me by the breeze. I was in the Forest of Arden.

Golden sunlight lay on the eastern flanks of the great trunks. The awesome veils of leaves did their dance to the music of morning. A reddish brown fox standing on the edge of the trail stared straight into my eyes. Then he discretely retreated back into the foliage.

Not much later the trail split. Something in me laughed and said, "Why not?" I guided Drum to the left. As I departed the main southern trail and wound my way up toward the back of Kolvir, I got up above the green flowing cloak of Arden. The way twisted through windy passes and across slopes of bare stone. The deep brilliant blue of Amber’s sky more and more became my world.

Eventually, I reached the declivity notched into the mountain’s backside. A low ivy-clad building stood within it. Two tough gnarly trees stood by it in soil brought from some lower altitude, for nothing green flourished naturally this far above the timber line. There were also a few shrubs.

I slid off Drum’s back, tethered him to one of the trees, taking my place on one of the two benches in front.

For this was my tomb.

There was a casket inside, too, empty. I knew it was empty because the last time I’d been this way I’d opened it up to make sure.

I brought out my pipe almost by reflex, then put it away. The dark leaf in my tobacco pouch could hardly be of use to me after its sojourn in Rebma. So I dumped it out and leaned back to think.

The sun stood high in that blue, blue sky. The clouds were thin and few, the air fresh and clean. These things made it very hard for me to believe what had happened a few hours ago had happened.

The only other time I had encountered such creatures I had been on my way to Avalon. I had met them many times since then in dark dreams on which I prefer not to dwell, but never had I seen their like again in the waking world. Never would I have expected to meet them so close to Amber.

The line between reality and dream had been broken more than once lately. My dreams had acquired a sense of depth and fullness normally denied me. Grayswandir came free of its sheath while I slept. I woke and, like an amateur sleep-walker, found myself holding an imaginary card.

I had assumed the problem had to do mainly with myself, and based my thinking on that assumption. Now it appeared I might have been wrong, in which case I had some rethinking ahead of me. For two of the denizens of Chaos to have made it into the Vale of Garnath was something that greatly disturbed me.

My need to leave Rebma and come to Amber had been strictly personal till now. I had been in no great hurry, which was why I had not bothered to trump straight to the palace, as I could have done. I had wanted a liesurely and pleasant journey through the land I loved, indulging myself in nostalgia and anonymity. There was no desire in me to attract either attention or concern; I had wanted simply to have some time to myself to think and relax.

The relaxing part had not turned out so well. Maybe I’d do better with the thinking.

My original intent had been to enter Amber and locate either my grandfather Dworkin or my sister Fiona. Either of them could give me the counsel I felt I needed. In any event, I felt sure they would tell me to go ahead with what I meant to do next: spend the night in Tir-na Nog’th.

My plan was essentially unchanged. Except now I felt I would have to trouble Julian, Benedict, or even Random, with the news of what I’d found in Garnath. Which meant I’d probably end up discussing my dreams, which meant my fantasy of quietly entering Amber for a discrete visit to the sky-city had been shot to hell.

The wall of my tomb was cool against my back, as I reviewed the facts. At this elevation, the air was crisp and cool even at the height of day. Below my feet, the rock was like a stair leading away from my quiet and unpretentious throne, the sky and barren nooks of stone my nowhere-kingdom. I was comfortable, and my sleep had been interrupted by two accursed cats. It was so nice to rest, to rest...I dozed, and I dreamed.

A large man with the head of a goat stared back at me across space and time. We were in a tower. We both wore mail and we both bore swords. I resolved not to do battle with him, however. Instead, I reached down into the Jewel of Judgment, which burned with a red glow against my breast. He didn’t know it, but soon he’d be a statue unable to parry my blade.

But he did know. And somehow he, too, reached into the Jewel I wore.

So I hurled my blade at him.

He parried Grayswandir, and it clattered to the floor. Seeing me unarmed, the Jewel neutralized by his influence, he advanced.

And I knew I had him.

For, glancing down once more at the Jewel, now pulsing like a living heart, I saw that it had become silvery white and glittered palely. The Goat hesitated, seeing it.

Grayswandir no longer lay useless on the flags. I felt a blaze of triumph in me, as I ―

There was a sudden unexpected jolt. I felt a presence, opened my eyes.

I was alone.

Lingering there on the surface of my fading dream, however, lay the sensation of Trump contact. Had someone been trying to reach me, or was this just another side-effect of my crazy dreams? Sparing my blade a passing glance, I tried to recall precisely how it had been propped against the side of my tomb. Pointless, if I allowed for the possibility that my own mind and memory might no longer be trusted.

“Guess I picked the wrong day to quit smoking,” I muttered as I got to my feet.

Drum was hungry and thirsty, and so was I. Digging into the provisions, I addressed our needs. While doing this, I also removed my horse’s bandages to take a look at the wounds. Already looking much better, though I applied new bandages to the two most serious cuts. Drum seemed satisfied with the sea kelp, yarrow and cod liver oil mix he received, though my fish sandwich left something to be desired. Then I packed everything away, buckled on my sword and mounted up. In short order, we had worked our way up to the crest of Kolvir and were heading down the other side toward the city.

The sun reddened the west and stretched the shadows of the mountains out toward the glittering sea. The going became easier, and Drum responded willingly when I urged a faster pace. The tops of Amber’s tallest towers, glimpsed intermittently in the distance earlier on, were now always in view.

There was the sound of hoofbeats approaching. I brought Drum to a halt, to listen. More than one horse ― several, in fact. This was Amber, post-succession. Therefore, of course, there was nothing to fear. I loosened my blade all the same.

There was a bend not far ahead, a little more than a quarter mile down the mountainside. Half a dozen horsemen rounded it, in no special hurry it seemed, barely moving at a trot, a sensible pace given the terrain. The horses were all impressive beasts, at least a hand or more higher at the shoulder than most steeds to be found in Shadow. But one was larger and more worthy of admiration than the rest, nearly one-and-a-half times the size of any normal horse, silky gray, with hooves that flashed as they moved ― the magnificent Morgenstern. Sitting astride that amazing animal, three or four of his Storm Hounds following close behind, was the tall proud figure of a black-haired man in white armor: my brother Julian.

My hand dropped from Grayswandir’s hilt as I relaxed and shook the reins to get us moving again. Julian raised his hand in greeting, and I did the same. At the same time, he and his group slowed their horses to a walk. We met half-way from the turn ahead.

Julian waved to his rangers, who saluted us and rode past back up the way I had come.

“Returning to their patrols. I must say I had expected to run into you sooner.”

“I don’t understand.”

As we continued down the trail, which was quickly becoming very steep and rugged again, Julian drew forth his pack of Trumps.

“Not taking any calls?”

“That was you?”

He shook his head.

“I only know that Random informed me you were not answering your Trump. Seeing as I was on my way back to Arden, he asked if I wouldn’t mind keeping an eye out for you.”

As we came round the bend, the view that opened up came between me and my response. Far below spread a sea so deep in color that it could well have been what the blind poet had been thinking ― and, very likely, drinking ― when he had sung of the Wanderer’s wine-dark way. The sun had fired much of it into molten, flowing gold. Already, I thought I discerned stars in the gloaming at the ocean’s outer edge, though for all I knew their appearance could have been nothing more than the result of imperfect vision combined with an imperfect mind. Celestial perfection yielding to earthly imperfection? Some data are more easily gleaned if embedded in noise ― certainly not a first instance of such paradoxes. There is, after all, Amber herself....

“Did you and Drum have a rough journey?” Julian inquired, his glance traveling over the cuts and bandages.

“There was an incident, but there will be plenty of time to talk about that later. Now you say Random’s been trying to reach me about something, but you haven't yet said what it is. So what’s this all about, Julian?”

The keen blue gaze of Arden’s master met mine, one eyebrow raised.

“You don’t know?”

“No.”

He shrugged, returning his attention to the trail before us.

“Then I don’t either. I have been speculating, however.”

“And what have you come up with?”

“Nothing much, brother. Something important, I warrant, else neither of us would be here. I would already be back in the forest and about my business. And you, I imagine, would be wherever you’ve been. Rebma, I presume?”

“Yes.”

We were now below the tree-line, among sturdy oaks and pines anchored to Kolvir’s slopes. The Storm Hounds, those big tough canines who were about as much like normal dogs as our Unicorn was like a horse, had caught some scent. They looked eagerly to my brother, awaiting a signal. After staring off into the trees for a few moments, he gave it, and they were off.

“They can use a little run. They were expecting to be heading directly into the wild, but now I’ve turned them back around, dashing their hopes. And the way things are going, it seems the night will find me back in my bedchamber at the palace and these hounds curled up in some stall at the stables.”

Compassion? We were making good progress down the narrow switchback trail, more and more of Amber coming into view as we moved, but instead of Amber my mind dwelled on the brother beside me. Yes, of course, compassion. And it was strange it had lain so well hidden for so many centuries. Yet it had. He was my brother, all right, but ― of all of us ― he was also possibly the most remote. He it was, after all, who preferred the company of trees, hounds and horses to that of other men, especially his family. There were his rangers, naturally, but, though well-coordinated with one another, they often patrolled in small groups, in pairs, or alone. It might be, when it came to anti-social inclinations, that he had at least one rival: our brother Benedict. Hundreds of years ― make that a thousand ― devoted to perfecting the best ways to destroy, or at least to damage and defeat, millions of men might not make for the best ice-breaker at parties. That said, such oversimplifications had caused me to miss things in the past. Benedict was not solely a slaughterer of men; he was also a diligent gardener and a sentimental great-grandfather. And Julian? He did not merely regard his well-trained animals as pieces of his arsenal, tools to be used as dictated by circumstances. He loved them. And loved the forest that held them, just as I did.

“So now it is your turn,” Julian was saying. “After years away from home, what suddenly prompts your return?”

“It was time.” Then, as he deserved better, I added, “I’ve been away for too long. Things have been happening. Signs, omens, recollections. It’s time to check in. I really have no idea what everyone’s been up to since....”

I let the sentence trail off. Since the death of our father, the end of an era, the losses of two brothers and a sister, a cataclysmic war and a struggle for all of existence?

Julian glanced up at the branches overhead.

“Everyone has done as you’ve done, it seems. All gone back to their old lives. As if there never was a war with Chaos, as if many things that happened...hadn’t.”

Though this did not come as a complete surprise, it still left me with questions. So I asked, “Flora?”

“She visits on special occasions. Otherwise, she resides where she did of old. Though now I understand she also oversees imports from your Shadow Earth.”

“And Caine? Bleys, Fiona?”

“I see Caine from time to time. He and Random have grown closer. Random relies on him for news of what goes on beyond Amber, from here to the distant reaches of Shadow. Bleys? He is himself often at the Courts, where he functions as our ambassador there. As for Fiona, I don’t know. She keeps to herself. Nothing terribly interesting has been going on, as I hear things.”

“What about Random? How sits the ancient crown on that youthful brow?”

Julian allowed himself a small smile, which quickly faded.

“Heavily. You put it correctly. The throne, crown and sceptre are very old; he is not. The office has aged him.”

This I already knew, but Julian’s words troubled me all the same. How was our youngest brother holding up after the first few years of his kingship? I’d know soon enough, but now I felt the beginnings of worry. I hoped he was okay, and I hoped my showing up wouldn't add to his troubles.

Julian slowed Morgenstern, pausing to wind his hunting-horn, two short blasts. The distant baying of his hounds answered him. Satisfied, he allowed Morgenstern to resume his pace.

“Gérard, though, I’m guessing is the same old Gérard? Working with ships’ captains, looking to Amber’s trade?”

“Yes, much as you describe. Unchanged, with a single exception. As with Caine, he and Random trust each other as they never did before. Random often consults with him before taking major decisions.”

“Really? That is interesting. Even unexpected. I wonder why the change? I’d have thought he’d rely on Dworkin for key advice, as Dad once did. Dworkin.... What is Amber’s favorite crazy old artist up to these days, anyway?”

If Julian gave an answer, I never heard it. We had been descending the trail toward the city gate for some time. Now we passed through it, and all I could do was look around me.

Amber. I cannot flatter thee with words, first and most perfect of all the cities that have ever been or ever will be, heart of the realm from which all other places take their shapes.

If you have never seen my city, then I can only tantalize you with hints of her elegance, her beauty. If you have seen her, then her name itself should be enough to summon memories of the immortal glory, of the terraced city that slopes down to the cliffs that hold back the sea, of the flowers, red and gold, which deck the thoroughfares, of the marble buildings, of the towers, gold and green, fragile and high, of the temples and the fountains...of Amber.

The dwellings of many nobles lie within Amber, and we passed by some of them on our way to that palace beyond and above the rest. Julian nodded, and occasionally waved, to the passers-by, who recognized him, Arden's lord and protector, far more easily than me, the prodigal prince. I'd been gone for centuries, gone though never quite forgotten, coming back only three times since ― the first time to be immediately thrown into a dungeon, the second to take Amber with guns from Avalon, the third to assist with the Amber Accords. The public did not know me, save as a faceless name, and now I was only a nameless face.

A little red-haired girl leaned out of an octagonal window, shouting, “Corwin!”

Glancing up at she who had hailed me, I smiled, waved, went on. Perhaps my face was better known than I had thought.

As we rode up the wide sparkling way, my awareness of my fame ― or would that be notoriety? ― grew in proportion to the escort we acquired. Shopkeepers, students, children, traders from distant Shadows, even a few nobles ― they came out for a look at the back-from-the-dead (close enough) son of Oberon. Some even walked with us as we made our way toward the palace.

So I would not enter Amber quietly, after all.

The folk about us seemed happy. And why not? The Black Road was gone, the war was over, the idiotic succession struggle finished, and peace reigned in the House of Amber. It is true that the health of a people depends to some extent upon the health of its rulers. Our family had been infected with the viruses of greed, wrath, envy and pride (to name just a few of the seven deadly ones), but now it had finally healed.

The people of Amber had the usual reasons to be happy, too. Amber is rich with many things, not least among them the wealth and wisdom of a thousand thousand Shadows with whom we hold trade. Amberites, I like to think, are well-read and well-fed. Fairly free, too, as the government ― Oberon and his heirs ― has rightly never oppressed them overmuch or seen them as any threat.

The crowd had thinned somewhat. What was left of it was met and turned back by the Royal Guard at the palace gate, while we passed through. Grooms came to take our horses, and I dismounted, turning Drum over to their care. Julian, however, remained mounted.

“Here we part company, Corwin. Morgenstern is mine to see to, and mine alone. And I will see those hounds of mine fed. When that’s done, I may repair to the library. Like as not, though, I’ll be to bed. So I shall see you in the morning.”

This seemed strange to me, given the apparent urgency of whatever was happening.

“What of our meeting with Random?”

Julian frowned.

“Did I not tell you? The lapse is mine, then. He is off on some business. What it is, I have no idea. But I do not believe he is even in the palace at this time. It is doubtful he will see either of us tonight, however, even if he is. As I said, something of a serious nature has occurred, or is imminent.”

“Oh. Well, then, I guess this is it for today. All right. Good-night, Julian.”

Regarding me from the back of his legendary beast, his intense gaze never left mine.

“You will join me for breakfast? In the south garden?”

“You bring the food, I’ll bring the appetite.”

“Till morning then. Good-night, Corwin.”

“Good-night, Julian.”

The grooms led Drum away, and Julian went with them. A moment later, something changed in the air, made itself felt in the hairs on the back of my neck. A sound? I turned to see the guards step back from the gate. Then I saw the gray shapes, their steely coats ― almost gunmetal blue. Through the gate raced the Storm Hounds. Courtiers, servants, nobles and guards alike gave way before them as they ran at breakneck speed up the path to the stables.

Ruefully shaking my head, I headed up the wide marble steps to the main hall.

Copyright © 2008 Lokabrenna @ Blogger (JTB) All rights reserved

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  Thank you for your patience...

Apologies right up front for being such an unreliable writer. A writer is someone who writes. This is where I come up short, obviously. I can ramble endlessly, monologuing on a variety of topics with segueways natural or contrived, as need dictates. There's more I'd like to say about any number of things — about the Bushmen (still a tragic story), the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, the coming election in the U.S., our future as a species, our future in space, and cetera. But, just this once, trying to stay focused. So get ready for another chapter of the new chronicles. It may not be anything worth writing home about, but maybe it will move the story forward a little, which would be something...

[Edit: New material appears below, a piece of exposition requested more than once, a preface penned in mid-March, 2009:]

Three Kings of Chaos


Forward

Who am I? That is not important here. It is more important that you know some things about my father, Prince Corwin. And there are things you should know about the city at the center of everything, the only true Reality, the place where my father was born: Amber.

I guess the first thing you should know is that storytellers can never be completely trusted. They leave things out that are part of what happened, put things in that never happened at all, make some things seem important that weren’t, forget to tell you how important other things were.

My father is a storyteller.

This is his story, just the way he told it to me. But this part right here is just me. And I will tell you some things he might leave out, or be wrong about, or exaggerate, or forget.

Well, he often says Amber is the only real place, but even he knows that’s not really true. Amber is one pole of existence, but it’s not the only one. There are also the Courts of Chaos. And between them lie an unknown number of worlds or realities which are imperfect reflections of one pole or the other, or both. The places between belong to Shadow, are Shadows of the two real places. When something happens in Amber or at the Courts, it always affects the worlds in Shadow, though not always in expected ways. And time usually moves very fast in Chaos, but slowly in Amber. So it is even hard to tell when events at the poles of existence will be felt in those other worlds.

Amber did not always exist.

People living in the Courts of Chaos will tell you that Chaos has always been. There is no way to prove they’re telling the truth, but there is also no way of proving them wrong. Chaos was originally an island of stability, or maybe islands — nobody really knows — hovering in the abyss. The abyss would be all black empty space one moment, until you stared into it and saw all kinds of movement in that space, and in the next moment would be exploding with color or look like a blue inferno or a pink one, though there would be no heat. Was it illusion? Was it just reflecting things in the mind?

Yes, there were minds on that island in the abyss. Its stability permitted life to arise, and the flux around it provided the energy. All kinds of weird life, creatures difficult to describe, sometimes difficult to even see. Lots of the life born there wouldn’t work very well, would live only a short while, or would fall into the abyss. But new things were being born all the time, and Chaos had nothing but time. My great-grandfather Dworkin says that time as we know it didn’t exist then anyway, that the only reference points were the memories of living things that could communicate. There weren’t very many of those. But there were a few. Some had seen so much they could not comprehend that it made them behave strangely, even insanely. Some of the others adapted better. A few of them even began to think.

The thinking ones learned they could look into the abyss and make it show them anything they wanted. Whatever was in the inner eye could be made visible to the outer eye. Ages and ages went by, dreaming beside the abyss. Then a Chaos creature learned how to make what was in the abyss come up out of it. The abyss was not a true void, after all. It was somehow alive, and could give birth to the creations of the mind. Those who mastered the living void were called the Lords of Chaos.

One of those Lords of Chaos was Dworkin. He was in line for the seat of ultimate power in the Courts, the Chair of Change, the Gate of Going, the Greenstone Throne. It has many names. But he had always been unpredictable and difficult to control, like most shapeshifters. And he was bored by the confines of the island on which he lived. He wanted to journey out into the abyss itself, even though everyone knew there was nothing there but raw chaos. Chaos and death.

So when a new island spontaneously appeared in the abyss, Dworkin created a bridge across the void so he could travel out to it. He saw the Dragon winding through the spaces beneath him, and he was afraid. Then he saw a white form moving upon the surface of the mysterious island, and drove the beast he rode as fast as he could toward it. That form was the Unicorn, bearer of the Jewel of Judgment, who would later become the mother of Dworkin’s son, Oberon.

Armed with the seed of enduring order given him by the Unicorn, Dworkin inscribed the Pattern. The energies of the abyss swarmed up out of the void in violent rebellion, raging against him on all sides. It is said that he drew it with his own blood, that fire leaped about him as he walked about the top of the island, bringing the Pattern into being with each agonizing pace, playing his lyre, in the grip of a wholly new kind of madness — willing order into being with all his soul.

When he was done, everything had changed. The island was no longer an island. It was the last peak of a chain of mountains, its cliffs falling into a sapphire sea, reflecting the blue of a newborn sky. And worlds had sprung into being between this new place and that other place older than anything else. What we call Shadow was created that day. In days to come, dissidents from Chaos and people drawn from Shadow would go to Dworkin’s new home, where the Pattern could be found, the organizing principle behind the myriad unexplored worlds. Its creator named the new realm Amber.

Oberon would rule that place, the place of the Pattern. For thousands of years he ruled it, quelling challenges to his power, leading armies against all invaders eager to test the strength of Amber. Different queens ruled at his side at different times. They gave him sons and daughters, who fought amongst themselves, striving for supremacy, each hoping to be the one to rule on the distant day when Oberon’s throne would stand empty.

With his son preoccupied with the needs of the kingdom, Dworkin delved into the secrets of the Pattern, the abyss, and Shadow. There was much to learn. Intuitively, he recognized the power of certain archetypes, and then he tried to encode those symbols in a system of some kind. This system became the Tarot deck employed by the royals of Amber. The subjects shown on the Major Arcana, each drawn by Dworkin himself, were all members of the royal family. By holding the cards and concentrating (similar to how a Lord of Chaos would call upon the power of the living void), Dworkin’s descendants could communicate through the Trumps, even move through them into other realities. Without the cards, royals could still reach other worlds by walking away from Amber and reshaping reality with their minds as they went, mentally altering one detail after another until in a place shaped by their own desires. This is called Shadow-walking, and is harder and slower than using a Trump. On horseback, the trip can be made to go faster, becoming a hellride. But nothing beats a Trump.

Well, one thing does. And that is the Pattern itself. An Amberite who walks the Pattern not only awakens his or her Shadow-walking abilities, but once at the Pattern’s center anyone of Dworkin’s line can transport themselves instantly to any place they can imagine.

Like any tool, the Trumps and the Pattern can be turned to evil purposes and used as weapons. Oberon’s children discovered ways this could be done. They fought. And a few died. And then one day Oberon left the palace of Amber. No one knew where he had gone, and he never came back.

The war had begun.

At first it was a civil war, and there were two main cabals. Eric led the cabal made up of himself, Julian and Caine. Eric also led the troops and held the strongest position. Gérard shared command of the navy with Caine, but was not truly part of the cabal, only going along with it so peace might reign in Amber. Benedict was the greatest general ever seen in Amber and Shadow. (I’ve been told one or two of the slain brothers of long ago might have matched him, but none has a legacy to match Benedict’s.) But Amber’s Master of Arms had not been seen or heard from since before Oberon’s disappearance. The other group were the family’s redheads: Bleys, Fiona and Brand. Except for Fiona, the princesses — Deirdre, Llewella and Flora — tried to remain outside the conflict. Only Llewella truly succeeded. Deirdre wanted her favorite brother, Corwin, on the throne. But Corwin had gone away centuries before. Everyone had searched for him, and he was believed dead.

But he wasn’t.

On the Shadow Earth, where Flora dwelt, Corwin, wounded, had been left to die in the midst of London’s black plague by Eric. His body survived the plague, but his memory didn’t. Flora agreed to keep watch over Corwin on Eric’s behalf, keeping at the same time a very powerful secret. For it was suspected that Corwin had been Oberon’s choice for an heir, though no one really knew. Oberon had never clearly made his wishes known.

Only one child of Oberon left that I haven’t mentioned: Random. He was the youngest of the princes. When Corwin began to slowly regain his memory and then located Flora so he could learn more, Random returned from a long self-imposed exile from Amber to find Eric was about to crown himself king. Random brought Corwin to the Pattern and his memory. Then Corwin and Bleys took on Eric, Julian and Caine, and lost. Bleys escaped. Corwin was blinded, that he might never escape his dungeon cell with the aid of a Trump.

Besides benefiting from very long lives, those of the blood of Chaos, and of the blood of Amber, all heal better than most humans. Corwin’s eyes recovered, and he did escape. He brought guns to Amber and almost became her king.

Instead of kingship, Corwin found a black road running through all of Shadow, from the Courts of Chaos to the foot of Kolvir, the mountain home of the eternal city. Brand had marred the Pattern, creating that road, giving enemies in the Courts of Chaos passage, betraying Amber. He would do anything for Amber’s throne. He murdered Deirdre for it. And paid for that crime with a fatal fall into the abyss. And Oberon would give his own life in his attempt to repair the Pattern.

Amber confronted Chaos in war. And won.

And then what, you ask?

Then the Unicorn chose Oberon’s successor: Random.

And my father? He had done something that only Dworkin had been able to do. He had created a Pattern of his own. But it did not seem to be part of the system of worlds created by Dworkin. He went looking for it, but never found it.

And then, one day, he made his way home.

copyright © 2009 Lokabrenna @ Blogger (JTB)

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