Chapter Five: Dworkin’s Dream
She had taken the others to the levels above where quarters and refreshments waited, leaving me alone for a few minutes with the man who was my grandfather.
He did not look very alive.
And how, I wondered, could he still be alive? Centuries could not even describe the span of his existence. Millennia had seen him through his studies and applications of those studies, and the building, dismantling, and rebuilding which had presumably led to the establishment of the kingdom Oberon would come to rule. What sights he had seen, what events he had witnessed, what tragedies he had suffered, what ecstacies he had known, what a pageant of faces had moved into and out of his life — how much did he remember of it all? Small wonder he had seemed half crazy to the rest of us. Somehow, as the universe had transformed itself over the ages, so had he. What he had been when his journey had begun, I had no idea. But the transformation that had mattered most answered the question of how he had done it. As he had told me in our most memorable meeting, the Pattern sustained him. Whoever and whatever Dworkin had been had forever been altered when he had created — and at the same time had become — the Pattern on that day of music, blood and fire.
“What did you say?”
She came further into the room, walked over to where I stood.
“You’re...dead...?” I repeated with a touch more irony.
“And you were not yet born,” Cymnea answered, moving past me and reaching to take Dworkin’s hand for a moment before laying it atop the blanket.
“True,” I said, stepping back so she could resume her seat. “So why don’t you tell me how you are still alive?”
Accepting the chair, she pointed to the other side of the room, where a wardrobe, chair and waist-high cabinet stood.
“There is wine in the sideboard.”
“It would be a shame to waste it,” I decided, and, acting on that decision, returned minutes later with two brimming glasses and one bottle, setting the items on the bedside table.
She said, “Thank you,” and waited while I brought the other chair over to the bed.
As I sat down, Cymnea leaned toward Dworkin, pulling something from beneath his pillow. Settling back, she turned my way again, lifted her glass and touched it to mine.
“To disappointing those desiring our demise.”
“And to that state of affairs continuing for many centuries more,” I agreed, taking up my own glass.
“Your brothers Osric and Finndo, my sons,” she began, keeping the object she had retrieved out of view in the folds of her dress, “died so you might live.”
“So you do know my name.”
She looked away, regarded Dworkin.
“I have hated you.”
Since I had nothing to say, and it seemed she did, I joined her in considering the man lying in the bed. As the room was not very well lit, and he was sequestered in its dimmest corner, almost entirely concealed by the blanket, it was nigh impossible to determine his condition. It seemed, nevertheless, that he lived. While it was possible Oberon’s former queen enjoyed sitting in the dark serenading corpses, it was more likely that she was instead his nurse. She might hate me, but all indictations suggested Dworkin, at least, was the object of her goodwill, even affection.
“Yes,” she said, watching me watch Dworkin and seeming to read my thought, “he is alive. He is not the man he once was, not the sage ready with wise counsel. Yet he lives.”
“Alive, but bedridden. What has laid him so low?”
“Who can know? Since Oberon’s death, he has not been the same. But perhaps you can find out.”
“No one has ever understood Dworkin, where he goes, what he does, what he wants.”
“That’s true. And I remain as mystified as anyone else. Possibly more so. The mystification of which I speak includes yourself, by the way. How you’re alive, what any of us are doing in a hidden tree house, who those little guys are who brought us here, why you are looking after Dworkin. I’ve been away from Amber for years and wouldn’t mind being brought up to date.”
Cymnea looked down at the floor.
“I have told you I hated you. Your mother stole Oberon from me. He divorced me and married Faiella, whose first act as queen was to give birth to you. Do you understand?”
She looked up.
So I said, “You were the injured party; you wanted justice, a fair outcome,” and took another sip of wine.
“My sons hated you, too. But when Oberon sent them to their deaths, that changed. We no longer hated you, Eric, or your mother. We hated Oberon.”
“Eric had been born to Faiella out of wedlock,” I said, recalling old family lore, “leaving the legitimacy of any claim he might make on the throne very much in doubt. Me, though, born to Faiella as queen...a blatant affront to your entire clan. Your feelings are understandable.”
“But they changed,” she continued. “We understood what was really happening. We were being exiled.”
It came back to me then, the ride from the summit of Kolvir down toward the Grove of the Unicorn and the Valley of Garnath. I had just fled yet another deadly encounter in Tir-na Nog’th, the artifact known as the Dreaming Diamond in hand, me already partially attuned to it, having undergone the ritual of walking it through the silvery reflection of the Pattern in the sky. Oisen, long-dead prince from before even Benedict, our oldest surviving brother, had attacked me as I had stood before my mother. Oisen and Faiella had both been ghosts, of course, actors moving on the stage of Tir-na Nog’th in a drama woven from my own fancy, from things welling up from within my subconscious. And the play had provided grist for a discussion of the deaths of Oisen, Osric and Finndo, of the end of the era defined by Cymnea’s time as Queen of Amber.
“Exile? That is not the story I have heard, not even when told by members of your family.”
“And what does my son Benedict say?”
“Nothing. He is adamant in his refusal to discuss such matters.”
That brought a sigh from her.
“He is my eldest, and was always so serious. His obsession with war I at first saw as his attempt to make sense of violence and the irrational impulses which drive us. So studious, sensitive, and compassionate, I could not understand his preoccupation with fighting and killing.”
“He was driven by love, and then by anger.”
“Anger? Toward whom? Oberon?”
“He was angry with his hero, Oisen.”
“If you’re trying to muddy the picture, I can only say, ‘Well done.’”
“Oisen was Oberon’s favorite. Oberon himself schooled him in war and sword-play. Dworkin taught him music and magic. Benedict idolized him and learned from him all that Oisen would teach.”
“But then something happened,” I surmised.
“Your mother happened,” she answered, elaborating. “Eric happened, and you happened. Oberon more than divorced me. He voided the marriage entirely. It was as if we had never been husband and wife, as if I had not been his queen, as if I had not borne him three sons.”
I heard the bitterness, saw it in her eyes and in the tightness around her mouth. And I guess I even felt an echo of it somewhere inside myself. The facts, after all, were the facts. Oberon had not been the most attentive father, and I doubted there was a one of us who had not felt somehow slighted by him, ignored, overlooked or passed over in some fashion. You might get used to it, but you never got to like it. No one likes being rejected, told, in effect, they don’t matter. While the universe has been telling living beings from Day One that they are of no consequence, that’s an impersonal reflex action of the cosmos. To be treated thus by a fellow being somehow hurts more. In matters of the macrocosm, we might lack significance and still keep our egos intact. But within our own microcosm? Not so much.
Marriages between nobles, however — especially among royalty — are always political arrangements. And politics is a contact sport where the referee is often paid to look the other way. So I wondered: How naïve could Cymnea really have been?
“We were never formally exiled. My family was old blood, with ties to Chaos, and had grown stronger while I was Queen. The story told in the court of Amber was that Osric and Finndo went to a hell-world to staunch a threat to Oberon’s allies. They led a force sent to reinforce troops in the field under Oisen’s command.”
“Then why wasn’t Benedict sent with them? I mean, if this was really about your family’s objections to the divorce.”
“Benedict had already been sent somewhere else by your father.”
“Then why not wait for him to come back?”
“Because if Benedict had gone with them, Osric and Finndo would have returned.”
Saying nothing, I finished my wine. She went on to explain.
“I was living with my family then, humiliated and in seclusion. But the story ran like wildfire. Benedict returned, I heard, and learned his brothers had been hurled into the jaws of certain death. He went after them. He was too late. All three were lost. All Benedict brought back was the sword you carry. He came straight to me, even before reporting to Oberon, to give me the news that Osric and Finndo were nowhere to be found.”
“What of Oisen?” I interjected. “He was a master strategist and, as you said yourself, he had instructed Benedict. He was clearly Oberon’s heir. What of him?”
“Benedict found him.”
Her delivery of that information was laden with fatalism. I knew that I was missing something, and pressed her for more detail.
“And I take it he was too late? So that Oisen perished along with your sons?”
“No,” she said solemnly, “He was just in time to kill Oisen himself.”
I watched her pour more wine into both our glasses. Her words had just struck me nearly like a physical blow. Not that I believed an offspring of Oberon would balk at killing a brother — there was a time when I would have (quite happily) granted Eric the benefit of an endless vacation in his own personal patch of six-feet-under. Caine had tried to murder me, and had actually taken Brand out of the world. Fiona had taken great pains to plant a thin blade between Brand’s ribs in a determined attempt to permanently remove him from the picture. No, it wasn’t that. Benedict was the one who reminded the rest of us to pursue ideals, to strive to adhere to some kind of a code. Then again, my own memory grimly reminded me, Benedict had slain the great-grandmother of his cherished Dara, and had then tried rather sincerely to prevent my heart from beating by sticking a sword through it. The sad fact was that the awful account of past misdeeds Cymnea was rendering might be all too true.
“That’s a rather large pile that I am not so sure I can swallow.”
“I don’t care. I stopped caring about anything that day. I left Amber then, in mourning. My greatest fear was that Benedict would be the next to die. I left, and never returned. It was said I had died of grief, and so all came to believe.”
“You care about something, or you and I would not be here at Dworkin’s bedside.”
“Yes,” she admitted, “you are right. Dworkin rescued me from the storm that ran through Shadow during the war with Chaos. He had always been kind to me, kind to all of Oberon’s cast-offs, kinder than Oberon ever was. He needs me now, and so I need you. I need you to see.”
She reached into her dress and withdrew an object, the thing I presumed she had brought forth from beneath Dworkin’s pillow: a pack of cards. She placed them on the table beside the wine and the dulcimer.
“Because I can see through a Trump? So I take it you cannot. Still, there are others who can. Benedict certainly could.”
She put up a hand.
“Please, no. Only you can see as Dworkin does, for only you have done as Dworkin has done. You are the one who can find him where he is.”
Interesting. She seemed to know more of my story than I had guessed. Then again, how could this come as any surprise? She had had Dworkin at her disposal, and no one had ever known more about the disposition of all the worlds than he had. This made me curious, wanting to know more.
“Very well,” I said, taking a final sip, setting down the glass and picking up the pack of cards, making one of those split-second decisions one knows will change everything. “What have we got to lose?”
“The one on top,” she said, taking up her instrument and strumming it. “It is a self-portrait. Sit beside him, lay it on his forehead and go to where he is.”
I withdrew the top card, and it was a Trump of Dworkin.
Taking her advice, I got up and placed the card on Dworkin’s forehead, then sat down beside him, the springs creaking audibly as I gave my weight to the bed.
“You must hold his hand,” Cymnea coached, pulling the beginnings of a tune from her dulcimer.
“I don’t know. Those are the instructions he left me. There should be music, best if a harp or lyre. But I know the dulcimer. There should be contact between the operator and the subject, between seer and seen — you may rest fingertips on his eyelids, or hold his hand. The card should touch you both. The seer must be an adept, or ideally a master.”
“A master of what?”
“Of the Line. Are you ready?”
Turning back to Dworkin, holding the card to his forehead with the thumb of my right hand while grasping his gnarled right hand in my left, I peered at the image on the card, into the image, through it. Never in my life would I have thought to employ a Trump at such close range. It was completely redundant, like speaking on the phone with someone standing right in front of you. On the face of it, totally absurd. Yet now, with Dworkin breathing so shallowly, unconscious and straddling that borderland separating life from death, it felt appropriate. So natural it seemed, that a part of my mind cast back through my memory, wondering if I’d done this before, even though I was reasonably certain I had not.
My sense of self slipped further and further away. As in meditation, or in certain dreams where we are not who we are, my identity retreated from me. Who was I really, and what, after all, is this “I” which is of such monumental importance to us all, anyway? Diffusion was what I felt, a gradual, pleasant, peaceful spreading outward. The name Corwin, which had never passed Cymnea’s lips during our conversation, was of no real consequence. What did it truly mean? I could be named anything, could be
anything, and was, like anything else, part of everything.
The music was nice. A harp might indeed have been better, providing that nameless quality of being embedded in the notes and rhythms, as opposed to merely hearing them, music spinning around one like the eye of a whirlwind of sound. But the dulcimer was fine; she played it well. And she sang well, too. For, yes, she was softly singing now. I liked the song which lulled me, though I could not make out the words.
The edges of the card had disappeared along with the edges of my being, the artificiality of two dimensions at the same time yielding to a more fully realized experience of space. As Corwin went away, Dworkin came nearer. The dark eyes, the long nose, the stoop of the shoulders, the staff, the purple cloak over the orange garments covering most of his five-foot frame, the heavy white beard covering most of his face....
The wide balcony of indigo stone, its floorplan like the silhouette of a circus tent, jutted out into space, four parapets meeting at three corners beyond the walls of the narrow keep. Below swept a great and gentle plain the like of which I had never seen. Pentagonal in shape, a quilt of trapezoidal fields woven across it, alternately red and pale brown, the plain resembled an immense and peculiar chessboard. Like a chessboard, it was divided into the traditional sides: white and black, the colors of the stone of its two cities. Unlike a chessboard, though, it was crossed with lines of low hills and the five rivers that rolled down the slopes of the lone dormant volcano standing near its center. Four other keeps stood at the other corners of the plain, leaning at an outward angle, each an ethereal Pisa so tall they were lost in the clouds.
The most remarkable feature of the scene, though, was what lay beyond the plain: nothing. The five rivers roared as cataracts out over the five sides of the place into a perpetual night flecked with stars.
“Ah, peace in the valley.”
Turning toward the voice, I noticed the hooded figure in an orange robe at the corner to my left, the wind moving in waves over his garments.
“Yes, the residents seem to have retired,” I responded.
Looking up, I now saw the sun, visible through a rent in the clouds, shrinking without changing its position in the sky, as if it were rapidly retreating from where I stood or as if this tiny world were flying away from the sun at some fraction of light-speed. As the sun got smaller, of course, the night encircling the five horizons crept upward.
“After all,” I added drily, “it seems to be getting on toward evening.”
“Their war is fought,” the man said, “and both sides lost.”
I realized I knew the voice.
He turned. Or, rather, they did. Standing in the corner to my right was another man, similarly clad in purple.
Both were Dworkin.
“Will the real Dworkin,” I requested, “please remove his cowl?”
They approached and cowls were pulled back; two Dworkins grinned at me.
“I have to keep myself company,” said the Dworkin in purple, “as I don’t get many visitors.”
“You’re the first,” added the Dworkin in orange.
“Glad I could make it,” I told them.
“And I am also glad,” the purple Dworkin agreed.
“Oh, yes,” the orange Dworkin chimed in, “we are glad you got out of the burning tower.”
“You know about that?”
They chortled, as if at some inside joke, and the Dworkin in purple said, “But you only escaped to be trapped here with me.”
“Trapped? Explains the claustrophobic feeling here. And, by the way, where are we?”
“In the maze.”
“In the labyrinth.”
I decided I no longer cared which spoke, that I would take them at their word and treat both as Dworkin.
“Looks more like a chessboard.”
“Well,” one of the Dworkins confessed, “it is a game.”
“What about the real world?”
“This is the real world.”
“Seems kind of artificial to me.”
“What’s the difference?”
In the back of my mind was the thought that this was all occurring through a Trump connection. Dworkin’s mind, his imagination, his ability to conceive of other realities, was responsible for what we were both experiencing. Nevertheless, he was right. That fact changed nothing, for the depth and completeness of his vision matched anything encountered in the waking world.
“Then if there’s no difference, why are you here rather than there? Why stay asleep, rather than waken?”
“There is one difference,” the Dworkin in purple conceded.
“Steps...crests...levels,” the other Dworkin added.
“Okay. Then what level is this?”
“A lower one, where I can recover.”
“Recover? From what?”
The floor beneath our feet trembled. I looked down and turned toward the keep, saw that orange blocks were mixed with the indigo stones, creating a bright spiral design. A door was set in the wall, and, looking up now, I saw how the exterior was scalloped, like immense waves of rock laid on their sides, end to end, growing smaller as the keep disappeared into the atmosphere, each long ascending curve encompassing several stories. A Babel-like tower, resembling something out of some Hindu or Chinese fable, soaring all the way up to Heaven itself.
“They’re coming,” a Dworkin said from behind me.
Not waiting for another cryptic comment, I walked quickly across the flagstones to the door. There was no handle, so I gave it a healthy shove. It gave not an inch. Looking for a keyhole, I saw none, but did observe a concave space the size of an egg, shiny, faceted, set within the door at eye level.
Indistinct sounds from deeper within the keep, already audible from the parapet, came louder now. Whoever was coming would no doubt be along any minute.
“Damn. Left my lock-picks at home.”
“Oberon asked you to bring the jewel,” I heard the voice of Dworkin say behind me, “Use it now to open the door.”
Inhaling deeply in an effort to draw patience into me, I examined myself. I was in my usual colors — black cloak, black trousers, gray shirt, silver belt, silver scabbard. No jewel.
Still, maybe there was something.
Drawing Grayswandir, the only talisman I possessed, I scrutinized the hilt for any surface which might conceivably align with the hollow in the door.
“Well?” Dworkin prodded.
I shrugged. What the hell, why not give it a shot?
The blade flat and pointing straight down, I pressed the hilt into the place in the door where Dworkin indicated the jewel should go. On a sudden inspiration, I visualized the Dreaming Diamond, recalled my journey through it to the Pattern on the other side, my Pattern. I had plucked it out of Tir-na Nog’th with this very blade, held the stone in my hand...
The door split in half and opened toward us.
Without waiting, both Dworkins pushed past me. Never one to run with scissors, I sheathed Grayswandir before following.
Brass. The floor, the tall tapered columns rising from that floor, the ceiling above — all of brass. Rock gardens spread to either side, beyond them sheets of glass separating the interior from trees and flowers on outdoor terraces fanning out from the walls of the keep.
The Dworkins had already passed through this open area into a corridor waiting on the other side. The ceiling was lower there. The walls, floor and ceiling of the passage were of white stone decorated with scenes of strange plants and animals wrought in gold inlay. I passed several pairs of pillars, and by the arched doorways set between them, before reaching the fork where the corridor branched to the right and the left at forty-five degree angles. A glowing tree sculpted of jade, more than three feet tall, stood atop a silver pedestal in an alcove, illuminating the intersection.
Just as I caught up to both incarnations of my grandfather, the one wearing orange veered down the branch to the right, while the other went to the left.
My future looked orange as I hastened after Dworkin. He disappeared through an opening half-way down on the left. Catching up with him there, together we moved into a triangular lobby which I took to be the core of the keep’s structure. Parallel curtains of vertical metal rods eight feet apart hung there in the center, slender obsidian slabs like oversized piano keys suspended between their side-by-side crescents, floating steps of a winding stair. The Dworkin in purple, coming from the other side, met us at the landing.
They immediately mounted the stairs.
The tromp of many feet was audible here. I looked down. The whorls of an endlessly elongated snail’s shell spiraled out of sight. In motion, in great numbers, not yet near enough to make out clearly, chanting something incomprehensible, bestial and man-like forms were swarming up the stairs from below. Their colors like the cities on the plain: white and black.
Saying “Wait!” loud enough for my grandfathers to stop and turn, I ran back the way we had come, returned to the junction. Taking up the tree in the crook of my right arm with a grunt (it was heavier than I had thought), I dropped to one knee to hug the pedestal to my chest with my left (unfortunately, just
as heavy as I had thought), and stood slowly, carefully keeping balance. At something less than a jog, I made my way as fast as I could back to the stairway. The Dworkins surprised me by being right where I had left them.
Leaning a little to look down the stairwell again, one thing was clear: They were a lot closer.
So I hurled the stone tree down the stair, and then pitched the pedestal down after it.
Yeah, like bowling pins they went down. Some of them went down, anyway. And, like the opposite of pins going down, we went up, up the stairs. Also — a bonus — the chanting had stopped, to be replaced by cries of woe.
Stairs and rods thrumming and rumbling around us, we took four landings before stepping off into a long passage with glazed walls of tawny pixelated sand. Light streamed down from kidney-shaped openings in the ceiling above. A dozen wide, shallow steps waited for us at the far end.
“Dworkin, why are we running?”
The Dworkin in purple slowed till we walked abreast of one another, and took my arm. His twin hurried on ahead.
“Because you elected to become part of this dream, where the forces of Entropy pursue us, who can harm us because we are closer to the lower energies here.”
“Except none of this is real,” I countered, “and all I have to do is block the Trump contact.”
He stopped, there at the bottom of the steps. So I stopped, too.
“Go on, then,” he said, grinning up at me, “Try.”
“All right,” I said, frankly relieved to have his permission to abandon him to this nightmare.
So for a moment I tried, tried to break free of the link keeping our minds in proximity with one another. It should have been easy enough, since it was an exercise of my own will, after all, that was responsible for that link. All I had to do, in effect, was to relax my grip, and we would part.
But something peculiar at once became evident. There was no longer a part of me somewhere outside of all this that could turn the card, look away, stage a graceful exit. His dream was now as much mine as it was his own.
Unfortunately, I had a feeling I was beginning to.
Quickly mounting the steps, we found ourselves at one end of a wide court filled with the sound of rushing water. Waterfalls screened the walls, except where they were interrupted by metal doors, and by alcoves and galleries holding objets d’art, sculpture, seating, books, fountains. Three stand-alone walls were joined together as a large flatiron-like object in the center, the two walls facing us displaying shelves full of books, scrolls and curios.
As much to allay my own fears as to reassure Dworkin, I said, “Nevertheless, our bodies remain safe in the real world.”
Keeping his eyes on mine, Dworkin shook his head.
“If one becomes lost here,” he said, tapping his forehead, “one never wakes. There is no reality without the mind.”
He led the way around to the other side of the shelves, where I saw the third side of the flatiron was a single floor-to-ceiling mirror, and also noticed a door standing open on the other side of the court. The other Dworkin had presumably passed that way.
Standing before the mirror, Dworkin turned over in his hands a scroll he had pulled from one of the shelves, studying the writing on the ribbon which bound it. He nodded, apparently satisfied, then glanced over at me.
“You must stand beside me if you wish to escape.”
I was standing off to the side at the corner of the large three-sided bookcase/mirror in order to maintain a view of the way we had just come, where any moment I expected the forces of Entropy, as Dworkin called them, to appear. The air was warmer here, rising through slots in the floor, and fluctuating yellow-green light from panels overhead moved like an aurora over the bindings of books, figurines, myself, the compressed features of Dworkin’s face.
“Yes,” Dworkin remarked absently, keeping his attention on the mirror, “they are close.”
Joining him before the mirror, I noticed something right away. Though I stood on Dworkin’s right, in the mirror my position was reversed so that — from my perspective — I was on the left, though if the reflected image of Dworkin were real I would still be on his
right. Likewise, while he held the scroll in his left hand, his reflection held a scroll in what to me was the hand displayed farthest to the right in the surface of the mirror.
Watching the mirror, I reached across my body to rest my right hand on Grayswandir’s hilt, seeing the hand on the left side of the mirror reach toward the right, mimicking my movement in reverse.
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall...” I said aloud.
“Magic?” Dworkin began, “You know that any sufficiently advanced technology—”
“Later, Dworkin,” I said, hearing now the shouts and the stamping of boots coming toward us, “they’re here.”
“Then look into the mirror with me,” Dworkin instructed calmly, lowering the hand that held the scroll and resting his right hand on my arm, “pay attention to the water in the reflection as I am doing, and walk with me toward what you see.”
Our reflections seemed to melt into the rippling surface of the waterfall as we took a first step. I thought I could feel its mist. The clanking of our pursuers’ armor, their angry bellows, the answering bird-like cries of their beasts, were now so near that I felt if I turned I would see them. The chanting heard earlier on the stairs, much louder now, could be made out without any trouble and it was: “The end is nigh!” We took a second step and were wetted by the water. Our third step took us through the torrent to the other side.
Beside me, Dworkin stumbled, but maintained his grip on my arm.
Turning to get a better idea of what had happened, where we were, whether any hostile entities were in the vicinity, I noticed some things. We stood on a kind of island, a moat of foaming water around us easily bridged by several paths of stepping stones, blocks of granite rising behind us in a marriage of ramps and stairs winding in and out, up and around, through a complex lattice of stone faces, water tumbling over some of them. Shifting blue light passed through the water and gaps in the honeycomb of stone above us and fell upon our island. Corridors ran out from this center, one lying on the other side of the line of stones before us. A long hall could be seen, shoebox-sized panels of pale brown wood forming walls here and there adorned with glowing symbols, the translucent ceiling carved in the pattern of tree-leaves and the source of yellow light. A shimmering surface was visible in the square of light marking the end of the hall, which I guessed to be corrugated metal or yet another indoor waterfall.
Returning my attention to the man beside me, I asked, “What are we doing here? What am I
doing here? How is any of this helping you recover? How am I helping?”
Blinking, and reaching out cautiously with his left hand, extending the scroll toward me, he said, “You will need this. Take it.”
Accepting the scroll, I tried again.
“What about my question?”
He blinked, very slowly, keeping his eyes closed for a few moments, opening them, repeating the process. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with him, and didn’t particularly care. Though I was rather fond of Amber’s mage-in-residence, right then I wanted answers.
“We are exploring the greatest library in existence,” he said finally, staring straight ahead. “Or, rather, we are exploring my recollection of it, of a replica resurrected in a dream. But the Pattern forgets nothing, for information, like matter and energy, is conserved. This copy, therefore, in its key essentials does not meaningfully differ from the original.”
“And, as you explained once before,” I mentioned, so he would know I understood his point, “you are the Pattern. Still, I detect a flaw in there someplace. As your direct descendant, I can attest to a remarkable episode of memory loss, some of which persists even to this day. Even though, like you, I have also cast a Pattern.”
Dworkin slowly opened his eyes again, inspiring me to pass my hand before them. As I had begun to suspect, his gaze shifted not an iota.
“What you forgot, you were eventually able to recall by resorting to the Pattern,” he reminded me. “That is your answer. Parts of your mind may fail to communicate properly for periods of time, but the Pattern cleared for you the paths that had become overgrown so that you could walk them once again.”
“Okay, you have resolved the contradiction between information conservation and memory, perhaps. But you haven’t really provided any answers yet. What’s going on?”
“We are here,” Dworkin began, “because the Pattern I drew is being distorted by a competing configuration, and entropy is being accelerated. The Pattern shields me, but I must shield it and the minds that ward it. This can leave me weak and overextended. So I am here, recovering. You are here because my nurse knows you to be a Master of the Line who can help me. And you have helped me already.”
This was the second time I had been awarded that title, which had formerly been a common means for referring to Dworkin, for ages the only such master in existence. I was not entirely comfortable with it, but I chose to ignore it in order to keep chasing what I was after: knowledge.
“I’ve helped you? How?”
Dworkin gave my arm a small squeeze. The power of his grip served as a reminder of something I had learned in our previous get-together; namely, that he was much stronger than he looked.
“You brought me to this level.”
Shaking my head, I politely disagreed.
“That may be one way of putting it. Another more valid way would be: You brought me.”
“That is, of course, how it has seemed to you. But before you came, I was unable to leave the parapet where you found me.”
Reflecting on our journey, I recalled my opening the locked door giving onto the interior of the keep.
“All right, granting I have been of some assistance, there’s still a fact you’re overlooking: We remain lost in this place.”
“How so?” he asked me, staring straight ahead, continuing his action of slow blinking. “We stand on the Natural History level beneath Stratigraphy Stair. You hold the scroll and the forces of Entropy have been temporarily outdistanced. We have come very far, very quickly. And now I cannot proceed without your help.”
“And why is that?”
“Because I can no longer see.”
That had been my guess, though it made little sense to me, as up to this point his eyes had obviously been working just fine.
“What has affected your vision? You led us this far.”
“The Pattern,” he answered me. “It is being distorted, as I said. Neither I nor it are as we were, and my sight comes and goes. If we get where we are going, you shall see for yourself and then make up your own mind what to do about it. But we waste time, and Entropy is gaining on us again. You must lead me up the Stair now.”
For an instant I considered pressing him further. But here’s the thing. This was Dworkin, the being least understood by anyone (excepting, perhaps, the Unicorn). No one I had ever met was more mysterious and unfathomable. No one I had ever met knew as much as he did. On top of that we were in what, by definition, was his domain: his own mind. In effect, I was Dante and he was my Virgil; I had to trust him.
So up into the honeycomb we went.
As I led him up the chaotic way, we moved through a mazy building where water was always moving somewhere, but never where we were, where the light shifted between green and blue, where sometimes we walked at the outer edge of the edifice and sometimes deep within. The slabs beside us and above, grainy and striated, were embedded with fossils of ancient and bizarre creatures, very primitive at the beginning of our climb and less so as we progressed, creating the impression that we were rising up through the buried past. An interesting effect, though it struck me as an unnecessarily tedious and difficult way to reach the floors above, especially after the shortcut we had taken through the mirror. There was no denying its beauty, however.
“I think I may be catching on,” I announced at length, as we walked a ramp along the outside of the Jenga-like structure, “and I can’t help noticing we have climbed up several stories of this keep. If I understand this right, when we get to the top, you wake up.”
“Harmonics,” he said, clutching my cloak.
Our winding way brought us back within the vertical water garden.
“Waves and crests. Steps and levels. Music and the mind. Geometry has everything to do with everything.”
“I never thought of it that way,” I admitted, noticing the stones around us becoming less jumbled, the spaces between them growing smaller or disappearing altogether.
The stone merged as we achieved a landing whose floor was a puzzle of pink quartz. To our left, a conventional stairway curved upward, the outer wall all of glass and gleaming bands of steel. Dworkin came up beside me, moved to the rail.
“Do you see?”
Even before reaching the rail myself, I saw. The pentagonal plain was so far below that most of its features were no longer distinguishable. In the twilight, only the volcano, three of the rivers, and the white city were visible. What had been lost in detail, however, had been gained in perspective. I was gazing down at one corner of a many-sided object somewhat resembling a soccer ball the size of a large moon, for each edge of the plain formed the edge of another pentagonal surface. Clouds swirled over the faces of the Platonic solid below, some of them in sunlight, some not. The other keeps — there were a dozen or more — were clearly not keeps at all, but spindles rising from the corners of this world.
“Maybe I’m beginning to,” I replied. “If Cymnea’s dulcimer-playing, the polyhedral planetoid within your dreaming consciousness, and the Pattern all can be understood as expressions of a single system of mathematical relationships, then geometry might be the key which unlocks reality. But,” I continued, turning away from the dizzying prospect to regard Dworkin, “I’m not sure what practical good that information does either you or me. Or, for that matter, what it has to do with the price of tea in China. Pythagoras and other great minds reached similar conclusions without mastering reality.”
“That is precisely why it has practical value, Corwin,” Dworkin said, seeming to study the cosmic scene beyond the glass. “We are masters of reality. Never forget that.” Looking up at me with a clear and focused gaze, so that I knew he was able to see again, he said, “Now let us have a look at that scroll.”
Complying, I slid the ribbon off the scroll, pulled it open, and together we examined it.
There were diagrams, illustrations, notes, and marginalia on the parchment. But what caught my eye were sketches of polyhedra of all types, which clearly pertained directly to our conversation. There was also a schematic of the keep in which we now stood, and I could not resist brushing one of the illustrations with a fingertip. As I suspected, the surface was cold there. It was a Trump, as I suspected all the lifelike drawings were — and there was one of Dworkin, and one of me.
“There,” I heard Dworkin say while my eyes moved up and down the scroll as I sought to unravel its full meaning. “The way out. Do not tarry too long at the Wheel of Worlds. If I wake before you, you will never leave.”
Turning to him to ask him exactly what he was talking about, a certain level of consternation assailed me as I realized what had just happened.
Dworkin had vanished and left me stranded in his dream.
Still clutching the scroll in my left hand, I stepped out of the dim corridor into the light.
The light. Domes over the outer walls giving way to the greater and higher domes rising above the center, domes of yellow tile and beaten gold, the base of each a ring of tall windows, light streaming down from them all. The windows beneath the lower domes were colorful things, casting rainbow rectangles upon the gray-white stone of the floor and the rugs of red and blue. Towering columns rose up from that floor to uphold the arches that lifted the upper domes above those at the edges of the great hall. Galleries, on the ground floor and stories above, curved in semi-circles beyond the columns. Chandeliers hung about thirty feet above, scattering light from their lenses and prisms.
A couch of pale jade or limestone rested on an intriguing dais at the opposite end of this wide, atrium-like space. The dais held the couch as a setting would its stone, a dragon-shaped thing of crystal, great pinions resting on the floor to either side, the coils of its tail steps leading up to the high seat, the lower jaw the floor upholding the couch, the upper jaw the canopy, the rectangle of red carpet spilling from the couch to the floor like a tongue. Half-way between myself and the dais, standing alone beneath a larger, more elaborate chandelier hanging over the center of the court like some wire and crystal version of inverted Queen Anne’s Lace, was an artificial tree carved from carnelian, garnet or jasper, sporting a score of branches decked with copper leaves, as well as unlit candles and lanterns. The tree’s most notable ornament was the mechanical songbird perched atop its highest branch.
On cushions, couches, and on the floor itself lounged men and women whose hair and skin were either as black as outer space, or as white as the evening star. They were all of them tall, healthy people, all garbed as courtiers, knights and nobles. The women were without exception beautiful, their smooth faces seeming to my eye gentle and compassionate, while the men were well-built, bearded individuals all bearing the same ferocious expression conveying extreme ire and animus.
Aside from their unusual pigmentation, there were a couple of other peculiar aspects of their situation worth noting. Except where differences of hair and skin arose, the men could all have been brothers, and the women could all have been sisters. They appeared to be clones. The other thing was this: They were all asleep.
Into that fairy-tale, from the shadows of an arcade to the right, stepped something unexplainable and as mysterious as poetry. A soft shape of light never completely still, yet never clearly observed in motion, elegant, graceful...here, then there.
She crossed between me and that tree, moving to the left. Just before she disappeared from view, she turned her head, her golden horn pointed toward me, capturing me and releasing me in a single glance.
Dreams are mysteries, and every fairy-tale a poetic puzzle. And time, I knew, was running. Yet, while Dworkin’s warning was a reminder that Time not only never goes on foot, but prefers jet-travel to the mere flapping of wings, I wanted to solve this.
Having no interest in breaking the spell, I stepped carefully over and past the bodies. A small noise caused me to look across the court, my hand on Grayswandir’s hilt. While I paused, alert for new disturbances, wary and waiting, a lady only ten feet away moved her arm, turned her head, eyes never opening, became still and silent once more.
There were no further signs of activity as I made my way over to the nearest gallery on the left. Keeping my eyes open for stirring nobility, I sought an exit. A guard sitting on the floor with his back to the doorframe and his chin on his chest, spear leaning against the doorway, forced a minor detour before I could step outside.
Minarets stood at the corners of a courtyard, where pools gleamed and fountains still played. Beyond the minarets, instead of the icy night I had expected: blue skies, wisps of cloud-mist, sunlight. Nine black doves circled the octagonal tower of pink and gray marble that rose up from within a strange series of concentric circular bronze tracks in which shiny metal spheres slowly moved. In a recessed archway above a short flight of steps at the tower’s base was set an intricately worked brass door.
Looking back the way I had come, I saw only sky above the many-domed palace behind me. The top of the keep at last.
Giving my attention back to the tower and what would have to be my final ascent, I jogged up the steps, found the door ajar, went inside.
A study on the first floor, then a workshop or laboratory, then more than one floor lined with books, then a room full of machines, spare parts, supplies, and then...bells. Bells of all sizes, large and small, every one of bronze, hung in rows from metal beams. Three floors of bells. So: a belfry. I kept going, above the bells and the metal latticework of the walls around them. There was one room still above me, and I had to see it.
A circle of glass, every wall a window, reminding me of the lantern room atop Jopin’s lighthouse, the ceiling a cunning arrangement of mirrors and lenses like what might be found inside a telescope. A round pedestal supporting a hemisphere of crystal occupied the middle of the room. A keyboard made up of wooden levers instead of the usual ivory keys stood to one side, a bed curtained by woven ropes twined about with roses on the other.
Stretched upon that bed was a young maiden in a robe of white and gold silk. The blanket upon which she lay matched the violet coverlet under which Dworkin slumbered in another world, another realm of consciousness. Long yellow tresses spilled over the scarlet pillow that supported her shoulders and her lovely head.
Though she did not resemble them, like those I had discovered in the court below, she was asleep.
Moved by something I did not understand, but something easily recognized in the context of a dream, I crossed the room, stopping at the pedestal to look down into the crystal, where wheels turned and shiny spheres spun amid a spray of colors. In the center of the system moving on the surface of a mirror, about which all the other parts seemed to slide: a cabochon of amber.
Not truly comprehending any of what I glimpsed, I nevertheless knew I beheld something of significance. But, as Dworkin had cautioned, I could not tarry.
Yet at the beautiful maiden’s bedside, I could not help pausing once more.
Blonde, voluptuous, limbs smooth and fair. I brushed the curtains to the side, leaned over her, rested my hand on the edge of the bed. There was something familiar about her, something which drew me irresistibly. Her lips were full, and I pressed mine against them, closing my eyes. My left hand strayed to her hair, the scroll rolling free. Not that I cared. It was a kiss such as I had thought I had forgotten, a kiss like the first I had ever known, so many centuries ago.
There was an immediate response. She was kissing back, softly at first, languidly, perhaps still lost in her own dream, and then with a sweetness so stirring that I imagined I heard music. Then there was the light thrilling touch of her fingertips sliding up my neck and into my hair.
There was indeed music. Mild, aimlessly wandering notes, almost inaudible, reminiscent of chimes woken by a breeze. As the kiss went on and the shivers of its pleasure ran through me, the chimes yielded by degrees to the clear and resonant interplay of bell-like tones.
The bells were ringing.
My eyes opened. Hers did, too.
Her smile held kindness in it, and perhaps some joy, as she said, “Well, well. Welcome back, Corwin.”
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