Burb Rocking
Friday, February 03, 2012
  Chapter Six: Moonshine

CHAPTER SIX

She kisses me, draws back, smiles uncertainly, her damp hair dripping. My heart is hurtling itself against my ribs, things are hazy and my legs are weak. Taking my hand, she pulls me to my feet, leads me up the slope.

I am soaked, with hardly any memory of how I came to be that way.

Looking back at me, she tells me, “There are towels and blankets in my room. It is not far.”

“Your room?”

“You will be able to lie down and rest there.”

Though I am somewhat less than one hundred percent, I am not so out of it as to be unaware of my own condition. I know I am missing something.

“Rest? From what? What have I been doing?”

“Drowning.”

With that single word, it begins to come back to me. Her answer is an exercise in unvarnished expression. I hadn’t merely been drowning, but struggling against Time’s very own riptide. Normally a rather futile endeavor, but in this case....




To walk through the ebbing of the transient fields, mountains and isles of the clouds, to move among the spirits who dwell within the slippage of the sky, to climb the winding stairs and stroll the battlements of fairy castles on high. An old dream from our childhoods, to go where only the birds and winds can go, soon set aside as the foolish fancy it can only ever be.

Unless.

Unless one achieves the summit of Kolvir by the light of the stars to risk the wavering stair that leads from three stone steps there up to the city tethered in the middle air, the shining city built of moonlight, stardust, fog, and one’s own secret yearnings, worries and regrets.

As I have done.

Why am I here again, running up this avenue past all the unseeing ones dwelling in this mirage, mirror folk borrowed from other truths of memory and prophecy, other histories of Amber, silver silhouettes blind to the reality of me, Corwin? Part of the answer lies with my grandfather. Another part of the answer is running ahead of me up the glittering pavement, fleeing my approach. There are ghosts here within this semi-substantial reflection of Amber hung beneath the stars, floating high above the roiling sea, but the one I pursue, like me, is an outlander in the city of dreams. Yellow hair, blue cloak over pale clothing, someone I recognize from another place, someone I have recently met under rather unusual circumstances...

A figure steps from the shadows of an alley to my left, pauses in the middle of the street, blocking my way. As with any ghost, I could pass through it as though it were not there. But I recognize the form and, though the portents presented here are invariably dubious, I cannot turn down a vision offered at a buy-one-get-one-free discount. For even in Tir-na Nog’th, where Time doubles back upon itself, where the energy resembles that of perpetual motion and Paradox is the default setting of the experience — even in Tir-na Nog’th there is a price paid; no matter if one does not immediately see the bill. This city belongs to the moon, yet this weird and warped image of Amber also has its rules.

With a sigh, I draw Grayswandir, the portion of the Pattern with which it is carved seeming to writhe and twist within the cold grip of the moon. Extending the blade, I touch it to the hem of her garment, then wave it away. The ghost assumes the colors she would have by daylight, and takes on other real-world attributes, as well.

She pulls her wrap closer to her shoulders — the emerald hue of the material contrasting dramatically with the red tresses spilling over it while simultaneously calling attention to her eyes — shrinks from the chill evening air, glances at Grayswandir, searches my face with her critical green gaze.

“Corwin? What are you doing here? I thought we had agreed you should leave right away.”

She does not know that the Corwin whom she addresses is the product of a branch of history separate from hers, that while she and I may share many things, our memories of events do not agree. Because we, this incarnation of my sister Fiona and I, were born from different Ambers. To learn anything, however, I must play along.

“Remind me of our agreement, if you don’t mind. I have been through a lot recently.”

Pale people glance in our direction, from balconies and terraces, from the avenue where we have stopped. Fiona motions me into the alley, and I follow, keeping Grayswandir visible, involuntarily reaching for her hand and forcing myself to suppress the gesture. Here in the dreamworld leaning out over the ocean one may look upon ghosts, and when Grayswandir snares the magic of the moon one may even converse with them. But one can never touch, lest the spell be broken.

“What if someone recognized you?” she demands, her obvious frustration taking the form of a rebuke.

“Then I would depart in haste, leaving clever Fiona to concoct a viable explanation.”

She smiles, not unaware she is being flattered, but not minding either.

“Even my wiles have their limits. Now what part of what we agreed upon do you need to hear again? Your memory problems ended that day you walked the Pattern in Rebma. Or so you said.”

“No,” I correct her, adopting what I hope to be a contrite expression, “though it’s not something I like to share with everyone, my memory has never been returned to what you would call complete working order. So please pretend I’ve forgotten everything, which it now appears I have, and give it to me again.”

Her brows move toward one another as she frowns up at me.

“These are things you can ill afford to forget! Quickly then, so you can do what must be done. Amber is no place for you, and a very unsafe place for any of us. And Chaos will fall next, unless you can thwart our enemies in time.”

“So it is your opinion that I should be there rather than here?”

“My opinion, yes,” she confirms, absently tugging on a silver ear-ring wrought in the shape of a seashell, “and, more importantly, also Dworkin’s opinion. But you must have the Diamond with you. Have you lost it again? Is that why you are still here?”

“You never miss a trick, Fi. Where do you recommend I should go searching for it?”

“Where Dworkin told you to go, of course. Where you first found it.”

“Tir-na Nog’th. But where? The city in the sky is a big place.”

“The Diamond is a thing of power. It will be near the power-center, either by the Pattern or in the palace proper. Oisen may be wearing it, as he was when you first retrieved it. You will be drawn to it, wherever it is, since you are attuned to it.”

Triggered, very likely, by the irony of this Fiona having no idea we are standing in the city we are discussing, a notion occurs to me. Frivolous, but also irresistible. Caution being a thing for the stay-at-homes, the chance to experiment appeals to the troublemaker in me.

“Fiona, have you ever wondered if the reflecting power of Tir-na Nog’th might work both ways?”

“We have all wondered many things about that part of Amber. Tell me what you mean.”

“Well,” I begin, “if I were to encounter a ghost of yourself in that place, we might chat about days gone by, vendettas old and new, battles won and lost, that story about Dworkin turning a psychiatrist into a toad, how Random’s drumming might stack up against Keith Moon’s—”

“Or when Corwin tested Fiona’s patience till she was tempted to visit a pox on him?”

“Exactly!” I agree, while at the same time noting the sudden chill in the air as it occurs to me this is something of which she might actually be capable. “In Tir-na Nog’th you would be the ghost, and I the interloper in the ghost-world. But might it also work the other way? Could it be that in some Amber somewhere the same encounter plays out, where I am the ghost confounding that Amber’s Fiona with the problem of my existence?”

She looks up at the sky above me, then fixes me again with those green eyes as she makes her reply.

“If that were so, then ghosts would be seen in Amber all the time.”

“Would they, though? Tir-na Nog’th doesn’t see a lot of tourist traffic. Also, I’m thinking the ghosts of our visits to Tir-na Nog’th would only manifest in shadows of Amber, where our alter-egos are found.”

She becomes quiet, thinking her own thoughts, saying nothing. She purses her lips, begins to nod slowly.

“Hey, it’s just a crazy idea hatched by a crazy prince,” I say, changing the subject. “Just tell me one thing.”

“Yes?”

“Is there anything else you deem worth reminding me of before I go?”

“Only that haste is all. You must go. Now.” Her eyes soften with something like sympathy, or perhaps worry, as she adds, “Ferghus and Lothar are not known for their restraint. Good luck.”

She rises up on tiptoe to kiss my cheek. A touching gesture, but she stumbles through me, then walks back out onto the avenue, looking both ways for me. She is again the colorless doppelgänger of my sister I happened upon only minutes ago, again an image spun from moonlight and mystery, born from need and the night. Drawing a silver card from a silver deck, she uses a Trump I cannot see whose subject I cannot guess, in mere moments reduced to motes of light that wink on, off, out. Gone.

Sheathing my sword, I shrug. The message is clear. The drama will play out at the palace, as before. A better omen than some, I suppose, and refreshingly to the point.

There being no point in delay, I begin to run.

Ghosts ride and stride across my path, engage in their silent mime-like movements and activities in nearby parks and gardens, in doorways and on walkways, marionettes tugged this way and that by whatever forces rule here. I ignore them all.

Funny how you end up in places you never foresee. Not so long ago, we had been making our way up the southern trail. A strange group, to be sure, but we had had our reasons....




Remarkable how far we had come. Almost as remarkable as the existence of shortcuts up Kolvir of which I had been unaware all my life. That was what I had been thinking.

“You said there would be horses.”

There was an unmistakable tone in Bill’s voice.

“True.”

Having paused in our ascent to turn toward Bill, the view over his shoulder was hard to miss. An invisible hand, which some call the wind, had reached from somewhere to stroke Arden’s locks, luxuriant strands gleaming with the liquid silver poured down from the big, bright, inexhaustible moon. Bound to successive mountains, the highest reaches of the forest wandered up and over, side to side, a great braid running past Amber’s shoulders, down her back. There was an exploratory quality, interspersed with passionate surges, to how the wind roved among the trees, sky and earth trysting on a scale so grand it could be missed if one wasn’t looking. But tonight a voyeur named Corwin was looking.

Nor was I alone. Seeing my look, Bill turned, too, and a few moments passed as we both stared out over the vast and — in a very valid, though somewhat mystical, sense — endless, timeless wood running for miles, north, south, and west, out to the edge of the world.

“Nice view,” Bill said.

“We like it.”

Maio and our guide, hiking up ahead, had stopped.

“What’s the hold-up?”

That was Maio. Standing not far from him, our fourth musketeer said nothing, being the quiet type.

“Bill was just informing me that the view would be much better from horseback,” I explained.

“Yeah, I get that.”

“Or a ski-lift,” Bill put in.

“You get much snow up here?” Maio asked, interested.

I remembered he’d once mentioned that he had spent some time out at Tahoe, and liked to ski.

“Not really, no.”

“But the ski-lift,” Bill went on, “That would still be a great thing.”

“Further north maybe,” Maio suggested, moving downslope toward us.

“There is a place,” I let them know, “a week’s sail up the coast.”

“They go skiing?” Bill asked. “And ride, instead of walk?”

“They do, though I’d have to say in winter they skate more than ski.”

“Like Hans Christian Andersen?” Maio guessed, halting just a few paces away.

“A lot like that, yes.”

“And easier on older, retired people?” Bill wondered.

An arrow whizzed between Bill and myself, sailing out into the gulf of night air stretching from ourselves to the treetops far below.

“Flatter, less hills, less stairs,” I said into the silence which had descended, before turning to see Bill taking to the trail again with such vigor that I doubted he had heard my comment.

A person of very short stature — our fourth, and our guide — stood about twenty paces farther up Kolvir’s slope, glowering at us and clutching his bow.

“Hey, stairs,” said Maio, pointing past our Gimli.

Beyond the small scowling figure of our newest friend (and also, obviously, expert archer) the trail, swinging northeast, climbed the stony final fifty yards remaining between where we stood and the summit.

A luminous stairway, of a white hinting of the barest blue, shifting in and out of focus as if carved from flowing water, ran away from Kolvir’s peak toward bright buildings and parks, all of the same stuff as the stair, hovering far off in the not-so-dark navy-indigo-black of the sky.

Seeming satisfied that the arrow had gotten our attention, the fourth member of our party moved quickly toward the place where the stair began. Bill was not far behind him.

“‘Up the airy mountain,’” Maio muttered under his breath, shaking his head.

“‘We daren’t tarry a moment,’” I improvised, catching his drift as I moved past him, my sense of mission returning full force. The brief respite had served its purpose, but now urgency filled me. I knew a long night lay ahead.

Behind me I heard what would be the last words of our trip to the top.

“‘For fear of impatient little bowmen...’”




Why does my mind wander so, harkening back to an arrow cutting through our time-wasting as everyone but me had nearly reached journey’s end? There can be no doubt that it has to do with where I am, with how Tir-na Nog’th evokes what lies within the subconscious and how the place itself responds to that which sleeps there.

And then there is also the well-known fact that when the body is engaged in a repetitive activity requiring little attention the mind strays, drifts as the city of day-bright moon-silvered mists drifts between the stars and the waves that catch their light, between futures that might be and pasts that never were. Activity requiring little attention. Such as running up the wide, sparkling way to the palace, the palace whose steps I have just reached.

And I stop running.

On that wide stair stands someone I have not seen for nine years or more, and our final parting was not on terms which could be described as friendly.

As with everything in the city on the other side of the looking-glass, the palace behind her — a work of art in any reality — here is something sketched in, as by a comic book artist, before the panel has been inked. The high walls, higher parapets and domes, and balconies, turrets and towers higher still, all done up in silver bright or dim, blacks faint or thick. And, in keeping with the description offered by Fiona’s double, the structure before me seems to burn brighter than anything else here where the light of the moon is concentrated to the intensity of direct sunlight.

In the world I left behind, she is an enemy, but that is not why I again draw my silvered blade. For all I know, in this place she might be my closest friend. She is here, I know, because some part of me needs her to be, and she has something to tell me. It may be something of practical value, as with Fiona, but more likely it will speak to some psychological deficit in me. Either way, in Tir-na Nog’th, as in Rome, it is best to accept where you are.

I touch Grayswandir’s tip to the stair.

Fragments of the Pattern etched into Grayswandir’s metal by the one who forged the sword here more than a millennium ago, flash in the moonlight, seem to slide and slither, subtly rearranging themselves into a new expression, as if being viewed by a new and heretofore unsuspected angle. And in that flashing, that sliding, that rearrangement, around the blade reality shifts, to fall into a new alignment.

Her hair is longer now and a shade or two darker than the brown I remember from our first meeting. The burgundy strapless number she wears, bound by a wide magenta sash at the waist, falls to her knees, and compliments her well. Pearl ear-rings, a circlet of white gold on her brow, she looks the queen she was intended to be.

“Dara, either you’ve come up in the world, or you’re going to a wedding.”

A smile. She extends her hand.

“I’m glad you came. They said you might not.”

Though I take a step toward her, I do not take her hand; we are in Tir-na Nog’th.

She raises an eyebrow.

“So. You do hate me.”

“I thought it was you who hated me. Perhaps I’m remembering it wrong, that day above the abyss.”

“We remember that day differently.”

“So forgive and forget, bygones are bygones, no more bickering and arguing over who killed who?”

“That is what I want.”

Though I should be glad, to no longer be hated for defending myself against her beloved Duke Borel, anger long suppressed flares within me, heats the words so they burn me as I speak them.

“He cost me Deirdre. Do you know that?”

“What?”

“Deirdre, my sister. Because your noble fencing master, Borel, had something to prove, he got in my way, delayed me, kept me from reaching Deirdre in time. In all my family, there was no one I loved more.”

She blinks, her dark eyes widening in surprise.

The rage, which so swiftly filled me, drains away just as quickly, and I am myself again.

“I couldn’t save her. She died. I thought you should know.”

For a moment there is something besides surprise in those eyes, as she, too, re-experiences the emotions of that day heavy with death and loss.

“Well, I — I don’t know what to say.”

“That you understand will be enough.”

She hesitates, possibly trying to put herself in my place, possibly seeking some larger and more universal understanding. Or maybe just struggling with the mixed bag of feelings she holds which has my name on it. Or something else. Whatever the cause, she looks me directly in the eye as she makes her reply.

“I do. I understand.”

“Good,” I say, becoming aware of the sensation of relief in me, that it is good indeed to hear her say that, as I say the rest, “Then I’m going to quit while I’m ahead this time.”

With that I sheathe Grayswandir and march past her. She is turning her head this way and that, bewildered, she now silver and shadow, me only a confusing memory for someone who can only be revealed by the the light of the moon.

Sorry, and not sorry. Sorry I killed Borel, since he meant something to Dara. Not sorry, since he had given me no other choice. Sorry that when I should be chasing the Diamond, I have been chasing old pain. Not sorry to have just experienced catharsis in a dream. Sorry I have come this way again, where mystery and history court each other beneath the eternal stars. Not sorry for the chance to do what must be done.

Perspective. Look at it one way, see something, another way and see something else.

Something in my mind shifts as I enter the palace, where the interior light and shadow are not like that found out in the night air here, but seem to move as I move, darkness flowing from one corner to the next as I pass. Light without source permeates the place like a plasma or noctilucent mist, drifting left, dropping, then rising, easing forward, pausing, its course like that of a twig bouncing and bobbing in the ponderous current of a rocky stream, slowing and wandering as it empties into some marsh, uncertain, questing. Avoided by me, where the shadows crouch and breathe on either side, the blackness there is absolute, suggesting holes out in space where the final and ultimate state of collapse goes on forever.

Does the unsteady trail of silver lead me, or merely anticipate impulses sloshing around within my subconscious? Did I just receive absolution from Dara, or give it?

And is that someone in a blue cloak running from right to left across my path, toward the southern wing?

And once again I am running...




When one walks — or runs — within the reflection of Amber in the sky, time is not what it is in the day-world. You have your wits about you, the use of all your faculties and whatever skills you’ve mastered over the years, yet move through time and space like one still asleep. Memories, plans, fables, wishes, pasts, futures — all one thing, found in a single volume where you can jump to any page. Or, perhaps a better analogy, the telescope through which we view our experiences has been reversed. Instead of the world going about its business, while the sleeping mind fogs up and wanders aimlessly and without regard for causality or continuity, it is Tir-na Nog’th that stumbles through jumbled time as though asleep while the mind remains as lucid as ever.

So what is the difference? You are picking your way through the litter of your life either way. I suppose the glitch comes when the piper arrives with the dawn and a missed payment means a long walk off the short pier of the sky-city into the great drowning sea. That’s the fatal problem confronting the seeker of oracular knowledge who fails to distinguish between safely dreaming in one’s own bed and taking a stroll up where the night makes moonshine.

There is a certain ignorance and arrogance which comes of having grown up around such wonders and taking them for granted, not questioning them. You could attribute it to the overconfidence and short-sightedness which are the heritage of any who are born to power and privilege which they themselves did not earn, the same reckless pride which happily assists with the downfall of all empires, dynasties and noble lineages. But I would go further and add that it is also a consequence of the provinciality with which all beings are burdened, wherever they may be on some social hierarchy.

A lot of sophistry you might see there, and I would be forced to agree. Because by the end of the day we’re all going to make mistakes.

For some time now — really, since Rebma — the real world and the dreamworld had become confused, even interchangeable. The recent business with Dworkin had taken it to a new level and left things more muddled than ever. It was a question I had asked, and thought I had answered, during the conflict between Amber and Chaos. Reality, I had concluded, is something other than solipsism, is more than the product of the mind. The Courts of Chaos had existed before Amber, and so reality was more than Amber. And more than Dworkin, even if his act of inscribing the Pattern had somehow brought Shadow into being.

Yet if one looks into Shadow, one sees one’s own mind reflected there. This is true for anyone, for everyone. Does reality somehow emerge out of the meeting of all minds? Though how can a mind react, learn and develop, without a pre-existing reality to push against? A problem in circularity and paradox. Chicken versus egg.

It was very simple. While in Trump contact with Dworkin, his dream had felt more real, more solid, and of greater consequence than anything I had experienced in a long while. It felt a lot more like something actually happening, certainly, than moving through the quiet and hollow dark, where the world from which we had come was more remote, more tangled, and more beyond comprehension than ever.

Steps, arches, doorways and tunnels had been cut from the living rock to link the segments of the course we followed. Downward we went, sometimes, but for the most part we climbed. We spoke very little and only as needed, which well suited the mood of our company.

In all the long centuries, I had never guessed there was a secret passage up through Kolvir to a point high on the mountain’s southwestern side.

My mistake.

Who had constructed this underground route, or why, I had no idea. But it was common knowledge that a system of caves ran beneath Kolvir, and that some had been developed as Amber’s dungeons. Beyond that, nothing general was known. The only purpose I could imagine were mining operations. Though I had never heard of mining in Amber’s mountains, it would have been a logical thing to do. Where had the stone for the palace come from, or the materials for the rest of the city? From Kolvir and her sister mountains? Why not? Who could say who had in times forgotten laid out the streets, dug the foundations, planted the gardens and trees, wrought the statues and fountains, erected the mighty walls, or lifted the towers up to where the clouds follow the winds? Not I.

And then we were there.

Light leaked around the edges of a rubble pile before us, light from the outside world. We zagged right and zigged left, and then did that again, the ground beneath our feet rising to meet the overhang of rock above till we were crouching. The overhang ended abruptly and we were outside, standing under a ledge.

“At last!”

Bill wasn’t alone in his joy at the sight of light and freedom, but he was the most vocal about it.

“Indeed,” I assented as I got clear of the ledge and straightened, taking a gander at the stars just coming out above Arden and Garnath.

It was good to taste the breeze again.

Maio was the last to join us out in the open. Our man with the blue light, who had led us through the heretofore unsuspected underground maze, was already a short distance up Kolvir’s slope, waiting.

Bill was grumbling, muttering about something in a voice too low for me to make out.

“What, Bill? Sorry, I didn’t catch that last part.”

There was a look of extreme unhappiness on his face as he turned toward me.

“My wife, Corwin. Alice. She has no idea whether I am alive or dead. She only knows that I went to meet you at the Wild Blue Restaurant. By now, she knows the building was attacked.”

For just a moment, I felt bad. It had not even occurred to me what Alice might be going through, worrying about the man who had shared the ups and downs of half a century with her.

“Bill, I — There’s been a lot going on, but...yes. Hadn’t thought of it from your viewpoint.”

“Corwin, it’s been days. She must think I died in the attack.”

Would she even survive the shock of the news? Doing the math, I estimated her age to be somewhere in her late sixties. It would be a blow, surely, but...she would handle it, process it, be aged by it, but live. Still...why should she? Wasn’t there something I could do, or at least something I could say?

“I wish there was — wait! Hold on.”

“What?”

It was hitting me with a bit of a delay, my mind having been distracted by recent goings-on. It was obvious, now that I remembered. I was wearing Merlin’s cloak, and still carrying his pack. I reached in.

“Here,” I said, taking the item I had pulled from the pack, handing it to him.

Bill knotted his bushy eyebrows, eying it skeptically.

“A cellphone? From everything you and Merlin have told me about Amber, the place is medieval. There aren’t any cellphone towers around here.”

By the time he had those words out, I had the next item in hand and was concentrating on it, opening the connection.

“What are you doing?”

No answer for Bill from me, as I focused on the Trump my son had drawn.

Maio answered for me with, “I think I know.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. Turn on the cellphone.”

While they talked, while our guide waited and watched, my mind found its way through the Trump to a laptop, a laptop sitting in an empty hotel room in Manhattan. At the sight of that computer screen, still tracking live data from Princeton, I was suddenly glad I had paid the month in advance.

I motioned Bill closer.

“Stand beside me, and hold the cellphone in front of you as close to the Trump as you can.”

Bill complied; I could feel him standing close. Then I saw his hand holding the opened cellphone in my line-of-sight.

“Place your call,” I told him.

“Huh?”

“Place your call,” I repeated. “There are plenty of cellphone towers in Manhattan.”

The number he called was from the last call made to Merlin’s phone. It was also, I assumed, the number Bill knew best.

The phone rang, clicked as someone picked up.

“Hello?”

“Alice?” Bill said. “Alice it’s me. I’m okay. I’m...I’m away right now. But I’m okay. I love you and I’m okay...”




Fiona is wrong.

As I stride along the eastern verge of the lily pond, diamond-dusted flowers glittering, the thought comes to me. As the blind, gleaming statues of man and beast seem to watch me, despite their sightless eyes, I turn the notion over in my mind.

The ghost of Fiona, agent tonight of the prophetic power of this spectral image of Amber in the sky, has misled me. Allowed a moment of consideration, however, hardly surprising that omens can be misleading, since they can easily be misread. Maybe I am missing something?

Osric and Finndo loom to my left as I pass beneath the shining bulk of their statues, seeming to shift their frozen gazes from the unseen foe they are forever fending off, seeming by a strange trick of the light to turn slightly at the intrusion of a living man into the sleepy, stagnant world of ghosts moving through their pantomimes of real life. Unsettling, the way even their stances appear to twist, to assume new positions, almost as if—

—impulsively, I move to my right, turning as I go by so I can regard them better, and—

Finndo’s sword strikes the walkway an inch from my foot, splintering the stone there. I jump off the path, at the same time turning and reaching for Grayswandir, in time to see Osric shake the ground with his leap down from his pedestal.

Both statues are now, somehow, on the move and on the attack. And I, Corwin, who once bested the ghost of Benedict himself here in this port-of-call for phantoms, am in full and fast retreat. An instant ago, I had reached for my enchanted blade, but now I am wondering why. It can do no good against a real statue, and if they are ghostly things like the other denizens here, it cannot touch them.

I am down by roots and sedge near where the pond laps the shore. Stepping behind a tree at the water’s edge, I pause to turn and see. Both animated statues are still coming. Osric, off to his brother’s right, seems to be lagging behind Finndo. Ducks and geese, aglow here, white shadows of their real-world counterparts, glide silently toward us across the surface of the pond, curious. There are no moon-born breadcrumbs I can toss to reward that curiosity, though I would if I could. It would make a fine distraction, possibly impeding the actions of the statues of my long-dead brothers.

Running along the uneven terrain closest to the pond, my mind matches my body, racing, nearly tripping, unsure in which direction to go.

To my knowledge, nothing like this has ever happened in Tir-na Nog’th before.

Risking another glance behind me, I am relieved to see that Osric continues to lag. At least I won’t have to face both of them at once. Meanwhile, Finndo will soon be upon me, and I am at a severe disadvantage. And the realization of a moment ago won’t stop echoing within my brain.

Nothing like this has ever happened in Tir-na Nog’th before.

Animate entities within this city are visible, but not tangible — mere ghosts. The inanimate aspects and structure of the city, however, like things in the world below, are trustworthy, solid things. More or less. The streets, the buildings, the pillars atop which the white fires here burn — solid, so long as they are sustained by the moon above. The only danger comes when clouds get between the all-important moon and the sojourner in the place of dreams. Then the city fades, one falls—

There is movement further up along the shore. No, it can’t be — but it is.

Another statue is coming toward me.

Looking to my left for an exit, I am cruelly disappointed, as there are two more statues stumbling down the slope, juggernauts aimed in my direction. Since I am again standing by a tree with branches leaning over the water, I look upward for vertical sanctuary. And am surprised to see something else.

“Get out of here!” she whispers from her perch on the thickest branch overhanging the pond.

Make that someone else.

“Sweet Polly!” I call up to her in surprise that is at least partly genuine. “I would like to say, ‘There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here,’ but the line clearly is, ‘Looks like this is the end.’”

Blonde, wearing a blue cloak. I have finally caught up with the one person in this place for whom Grayswandir is not required for conversational purposes.

“Get out of here!” she repeats, more loudly this time.

“Too late for that. Two of those things look like they were already headed this way well before I arrived. You, my dear, are officially a damsel in distress.”

She says something else, but I can no longer spare her any attention.

Scanning the three golems I have just spotted, one — possibly the closest — looks somewhat familiar, while the others are too far away. As I look them over, though, I spy something shining like a star on the breast of one, and feel I know him, too.

There is no time for real thought. Ignoring her protests, I grab hold of the nearest branch and begin climbing, not stopping till I have gone as far as I can.

“Jump!” I yell at her, “Jump into the pond!”

You jump!” she yells back.

Nothing is ever as easy as it could be. For proof, all I need do is look down.

Finndo is below the tree. With one hand he shoves at the trunk of the tree, leaving the other hand free; it is the one holding his sword.

Gripping the trunk, I swing my feet free of the branch on which I have been standing. And watch as my former support is sliced away from the tree with one casual sword-stroke.

Then several things happen at once. One of the new golems takes hold of Finndo’s right arm and wrests the sword free. The other two newcomers are not far behind, but, just as they reach us, one trips the other with his trident.

The statue that has just fallen has landed half in the pond, half out. Luckily, or unluckily as the case may be, he is the one I want. I swing down to a lower branch as he struggles to rise and do something rather stupid.

I drop straight down to the ground near his face.

Then I climb up onto his shoulders.

His stone arm lifts, the hand of stone at the end of it aimed right at me. Still amply supplied with stupidity, I shift only a little as I reach for that which hangs about his neck. The trident impales the mud, impeding the motion of the arm, but not halting it. Choosing survival, I try to leap to the ground on his other side, where his left arm is struggling to raise him up again. The hand barely brushes me, but I am half-stunned as I land on my back.

Looking up, though, I see it. Candles going off in my head, ears ringing, I lift myself up with one arm (oddly mimicking my foe) and with the other draw Grayswandir. For this is how it must be, if it is to be at all.

With all my strength, I use the blade to wrench at the chain hanging around the Oisen statue’s neck. The chain snaps as, now half-risen, I snatch with my other hand at that which hangs from it.

And it falls into the pond.

Sparing a single glance for the battle about me, I see that there is a statue of Dworkin grappling with the statue of Finndo, while the long-bearded trident-wielder kicks at the statue of Oisen. The statue of Osric is arriving at last, his shins stained with the mud which has slowed him. The girl is standing at the very end of her branch, wobbling, with her left hand clinging to a thin wisp of twigs and leaves.

Sheathing Grayswandir, I dive in.

I have never taken a swim in Tir-na Nog’th, and a part of my dazed brain that operates somewhere beyond thought steadfastly determines that I shall never do so again. If I survive, that is...if I survive...

And there it is not so far below me, as I swim down toward the bottom, still burning like a bright star. There are other stars here, too, I can see, the stars of the night sky. There is no longer any sense of up or down, but I can see the silver chain now, the Diamond in its setting still hanging from it.

I reach for the stone, close my hand upon it, seeing stars, stars, stars.

The ghost of Fiona was right, after all...




...and in the darkness which closed over me there were stars and music faint and far away, music then closer though no louder, but clearer, as I struggled to recall a kiss when I was dreaming or as I had woken. But it had to have been a dream of waking, since sleep was only just being shaken from me, since I was still trying to wake up.

From our dream.

Not too often a sentence like that can be put together. I decided to try it out — ‘Still trying to wake up from our dream’ — and was listening to it in my mind for the third time when my eyes opened.

“Welcome back, Corwin.”

“Didn’t you just say that?”

There it was again, that question, which had been cropping up more and more lately. The one asking what is dream, and what is real.

Nothing had changed. Still sitting on the edge of a big, canopied bed, I was half-facing Oberon’s former queen, Benedict’s mother, and half-facing.... On closer inspection, some things had changed. The Trump for Dworkin was gone.

And so was Dworkin.

And in place of Dworkin rested the sleeping form of...me.

Again: Dream, or reality?

“Dworkin?”

His/my eyes moved beneath his/my eyelids, while my/his lips moved to shape words from somewhere within my/his dream.

He/I whispered, “Merlin?”

“Alive,” I reassured him. “Merlin is alive — I saw him only yesterday.”

As if in response, a dry chuckle escaped this other Corwin.

“Yes, alive,” I repeated, so that I wondered if I were really saying it for myself. “And well. On the Earth where I spent my centuries of exile.”

His/my head rolled to the side, toward Cymnea. The dulcimer, which she had not played since I had woken, she now set on the table beside her. As she did this, Dworkin mouthed a word.

The word was, “No.”

Cymnea rose, approached the bed and bent close to the man who, right then, looked just like me. He spoke, and what he said was unintelligible to me only a couple of feet away, though she seemed to catch the words.

“Tir-na Nog’th,” she said. “Yes...”

Straining to listen, I could make out nothing clearly, though sounds of hoarse whispering reached me and I saw his/my lips move.

“...a diamond...”

She drew back a little, touched two of her fingers to her lips, then to his/mine. And my confusion was not lessened thereby.

She straightened, and we regarded one another.

“I will explain,” she offered.

“And I will listen,” I responded, “And probably ask a few questions. To start with: What the hell is going on here?”

“Dworkin has a message for you.”

“Why doesn’t he tell me himself?”

“I don’t understand.”

“That’s very difficult, what he’s doing now, taking my form and holding it. It takes energy, focus, intent. He’s awake.”

She smiled slightly.

“No,” she said, “he still sleeps. I tried to wake him just before you...returned.”

“Really? How?”

“With a kiss.”

Had her smile just grown wider?

“Funny. I was in that dream, too. And when I woke—”

“—you were being kissed? Yes, that was me, but I wasn’t kissing you.”

Her gaze went to Dworkin.

“I was kissing him.”

“Not the way I remember it.”

“You shared more than a dream.”

“Something tells me the relationship between the two of you may not be AMA-approved.”

Rising, she picked up a glass from the table, handing to me the glass of wine I had never finished, resumed her seat.

“Spells must be broken however they can,” she went on. “Believe what you wish; it is not important. Dworkin was lost among dreams. With your help, and with my help, he is finding his way back.”

“But why isn’t he back?” I asked, getting up at last, and swaying on my feet so unexpectedly that I nearly dropped the glass as I struggled not to fall over. A red haze hung across my vision as I grabbed the back of the chair with my free hand and lowered myself into it.

Cymnea showed no surprise at my dizzy spell and waited without comment while I took a breath. After a swallow of the wine, I leaned forward to set the glass beside the bottle, leaned back again.

“And why am I the one who’s awake?” I went on, feeling better, “Maybe you kissed the wrong guy. I mean, hell, we look a lot alike.”

We both looked toward Dworkin then, who was losing his resemblance to me as his features loosened, softened, moved toward a new configuration. From moment to moment, he was less and less my bed-ridden stand-in.

“He has a message for you,” she said.

Though I said, “I’m listening,” I could not tear my gaze from Dworkin as he became slimmer than myself, as his eyes went from my green to a shade of gray-blue, as the beard vanished.

And this time I caught the words uttered by this man who, though he was Dworkin, looked nothing like my grandfather. And yet, though he was no longer an image of myself, he still bore a resemblance to me.

“‘The silver towers were fallen,’” said the double of my son lying beneath the bedclothes.

“‘Into a sea of blood,’” said Merlin, “‘The silver towers are fallen.’”




Head swimming, resting my hand on a sill to steady myself, and looking out over a city that only half exists, edged with stars, I see several stone figures gathered around a tree by a lily pond.

And I chuckle softly.

“Looks harmless enough from up here — statues of gardeners pruning an apple tree. The guy down on his knees must be pulling weeds.”

No response from my benefactor, but no sound of footsteps either, so I know she is waiting.

“I like them like this,” I muse, reluctant to take my weight off the bottom of the window, “far away and not moving.”

“You’re still delirious,” she says from behind me.

“Well, you have that effect on me,” I jest lightly, unwilling to turn away from the gleaming, glittering, silent cityscape below, uncertain borders lost in rolling fog.

She clears her throat warningly, whether to indicate we should get moving again or to indicate mild displeasure at my remark, I am not sure. So I add, “With gratitude, of course,” partly to deflect any chastisement, but mostly to draw things out a little longer, since the alternative will involve the use of legs I do not entirely trust at this time.

“We don’t have all night, you know,” she announces.

“Damn those musicians.”

“Why?”

“They’ve been lying for years about how we do.”

“Do what?”

“Have all night.”

Even before the loud exhalation of breath escapes her, I am turning. Her arms are folded and she is actually tapping her foot.

“Okay, Erin, where is this room of yours?”

We are in a servants’ hallway on the second floor, which by day in the Amber a thousand feet below would be musky and dank, but enjoys fresh, cool air here in Tir-na Nog’th.

“Here,” she says, pointing at the wall.

Moving, grudgingly, from the window to stand beside her, I stare, frown, even try to get my fingers around the wall-hanging there, but it is part of the wall.

“What are you talking about? There’s no room here.”

“Yes, there is.”

“Where?”

“There, in the tapestry.”

I am not surprised that I could not move the tapestry. Much of what exists in Tir-na Nog’th is a stripped-down approximation of the more fully developed forms located in Amber, a kind of short-hand for the real thing. But I am surprised by what Erin has said, and even more so by the tapestry itself.

It is not the standard scene of a hunt, joust, battle or other event of historical moment. Instead, it is peculiar depiction of a bedroom, odd angles reminding me of Van Gogh’s piece. Is this how the version in the actual palace looks, I wonder, or a result of the distortion effects that are common in the place where I am now? I don’t care, I decide, as I turn to her.

“My brain is not quite fully in gear, but what you told me about Cymnea sending you up here —”

“— is totally true,” she says firmly, frowning up at me.

“Except it didn’t make much sense when you first told me, and makes even less sense now. Why are you really up here? And why did you really bring me to this spot, of all places? What kind of game is this?”

“Hm, I don’t know. A game where I save your life?”

“Or the game where you have tricked me into coming up here.”

“Trick? Your father was the one with the tricks, that’s what Cymnea said. She said this picture was one of them.”

“Oberon?”

I give the tapestry another look. Could it be? If so, would it work...here?

An interesting thought. Dworkin had created a mural of Cabra for me, which I had stepped through to freedom. More than a decade later, I had emulated that feat with a rendering of Mirata. In Manhattan, Merlin had vanished before my eyes while standing before a tapestry.

So I stare at the image with its strange perspective, feel for the power and...it is there. But will it take me to a place here in the sky, or to the original somewhere in the world below?

“Take my hand,” I say.

Together, we step into the new space. A spacious bedroom, over thirty feet long and about the same width. Besides the bed, there is a chest at its foot, a couple of bookcases, a fireplace, a wardrobe, a couple of chairs, a desk by the window, and two cups on a sideboard under a mirror hung on the wall. The ghost of a cat lashes its tail, where it sits on the sill, studying the city beyond. A rug portraying a white rabbit sitting below a pomegranate tree beside a stream covers the middle of the floor.

The room — all silver surfaces and inky shadows — almost immediately begins to fade. I look down through a floor like frosted glass, see the ocean below.

This is where I would have resorted to the Trumps I brought with me, Merlin’s Trumps, and made my escape. But I have again the Dreaming Diamond, the stone associated with the Pattern upholding this grave-quiet, polished silver sister of the immortal city. It shines where it lies on my breast, as I feel my way through it out into the realm about me. As I do, color flows into the room, just as it flowed into the form of my mother’s ghost when I touched her with the gem the last time I came this way.

With something like a kinesthetic extra sense I am aware of the cloud-wisps crossing between me and the moon, and something like heat, or electricity, moves through me and outward through the Diamond. And, though from here it is not possible to see it happen, I know the air is stirring somewhere above us, that the tendrils of cloud are being dissipated.

The room trembles, brightens, colors strengthening, now like any place in the day-world, solid, whole.

In unhappy contrast to that newfound stability, I shuffle across the room, shed pack, cloak, shirt, sword, as much as I can, and fall into bed dripping, exhausted. Closing my eyes for a moment of badly needed rest, I lie there and feel my body shaking. A prince of Amber, so easily worn down? Is it this place, an after-effect of the recent business with Dworkin, or perhaps something Cymnea put in the wine?

“Don’t know what’s wrong with me...”

She is doing something. Noises of drawers opening and closing, her footsteps.

“Don’t go to sleep. And lift your head.”

My eyes open. She has a folded towel in hand, places it on the pillow behind me.

“Don’t sleep,” she says again. “You were hit in the head by a block of stone.”

That’s why I have this headache.”

But I lean back as she throws blankets on me, try to get my head working again.

“We can’t stay here,” I tell her. “It’s Tir-na Nog’th. In a couple of hours, all this...goes away.”

No answer as she pulls four split logs from the kindling basket, placing them on a pile of twigs in an arrangement reminiscent of the Masonic symbol. With flint and steel, she strikes sparks, flame licks up. Yellow flame, not the white flickers that light the moon-swept buildings and avenues here.

“Girl Scouts?” I ask sleepily, closing my eyes again.

She climbs in beside me.

“What are you doing?”

“Keeping you warm.”

Nor is she wrong, for I am shivering as she slides closer. She is still wet, too, in spite of having shed some of her own things.

“What are you doing?”

“Sorry,” I say, shifting, finding new places for my hands, relaxing, lying back.

No, don’t sleep!”

But I am lying on a good mattress, my head on a pillow, warm under blankets, and tired. So very tired...

And dreaming again. There are lips on mine, pressing, a hand sliding past my ribs toward my back.

I open my eyes.

The dream, like the room, is as real as anything in Tir-na Nog’th — far, far more real than anything I could ever have imagined.

She clings to me and her hair is still wet, she is beautiful, and...she kisses me.




Copyright © 2012 Lokabrenna @ Blogger (JTB) All rights reserved
 
Comments:
As you continue to carry on the story that Roger Zelazney created and loved, you continue to blow me away with your incredible writing skills and ability to capture moments, no matter what moment they may be, with eloquence and beauty. I can't wait for the next chapter and I know I am not the only one.
 
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