Chapter Seven: The Railway
Set out on a road for a place, end up somewhere other than your destination. Come home, find confusion. In that bit where Bilbo says stepping outdoors and onto a road is a dangerous and unpredictable business, he has it right — it is. It’s the way of the worlds, I guess.
Looking out the window as we thundered through the tunnels and caverns under the mountain, I reflected on the unpredictability, the danger and the confusion.
Amber is supposed to be the one reliable constant in the universe, the pole star about which everything else spins. That, more than being the city where I was born, is what has made Amber worth possessing above all other things, what makes her worth inhabiting more than any other place. Yet while change comes with reluctance to the Eternal City, it does come. You would think I’d have figured this out by now, but, clearly, I am a slow learner.
Change provides a wonderful incentive to pause to get one’s bearings. So I peered out into the blackness punctuated with mysterious flecks of light at indeterminate distances and strange green glowing structures nearer to hand, and took stock.
He threw his arms around me and held me tight for a hug. This is not something I am much used to, but then it struck me: this man was my best and closest friend in Amber, maybe anywhere. I hugged him back.
We were standing at the end of a street, where a very wide avenue crossed below us. Perhaps more of a court or plaza than an avenue, but it stretched to avenue length, curving out of view on either hand. Piers, docks and boardwalks reached from the side opposite out into the shimmering sea itself, where vessels were moored. The sea was full of ships, most of them foreign and strange. Many other streets also emptied into this great avenue, where buildings and setups less permanent were everywhere in evidence. Storefronts, awnings raised, doors propped open, vied with merchant’s carts and tents scattered across the granite-flagged space. Above the perpetual movement and shouts of the citizens and outlanders, the flight and cries of the gulls.
“Good to see you,” he said, drawing back. “Alive, I mean. People have been saying you’re dead again.”
“So I gather. But I have also heard about a list, and gotten the impression I might be on it.”
“You are. Anyone not in the Party is.”
“The party with the cool kids and their beer and loud music?”
“The Black and Green Party. It’s also called the Regency Party. Most call it the Black and Green. That probably doesn’t make much sense.”
“No, but it’s beginning to. Come on. I have friends waiting, and we can talk while we walk.”
So we descended into Mapmakers’ Market. There were other points of interest, where the streets and alleys twisted their ways through the maze of shops and dwellings down to the ships and quays. Fisherman’s Wharf, Gallowglass Way, Weavers Row, and the Rare and Precious House were just a few of the popular places. But down below Kolvir where the morning sun flung its gold on the narrow windows and red tile roofs, this was the busiest place and where all the best food could be found.
His name was Rein, and he was a lord of Amber. Red-haired, and his preferred colors were crimson, though today he had come down to the Harbor in more subdued garb, blues and greens, hoping to be less easily recognized. I had gotten in touch with him through a mutual acquaintance (a guard from my time in the dungeons, when Rein had risked life and liberty to bring me food and gossip), and now here he was, guessing I would be asking for favors and not seeming to mind.
“So,” I began, “Black and green suggest Caine. Sounds bad. ‘Regency,’ though, sounds ten times worse. Holding my breath as I ask the inevitable: Random?”
“Among the living,” Rein quickly reassured me, “according to the Regency Council.”
“Wait,” I said, stopping and grabbing his arm, “When was he last seen publicly?”
“Over two years ago.”
Releasing his arm, I glanced around the plaza. The sun no longer felt quite so warm as it had, and even the steady breeze from the sea seemed to falter as I watched the people go about their activities. Was the vibe less cheerful, less lively than it should have been where folk from Shadows far and near come to do business in the Harbor below my mountain? Were there fewer people in this place than typical in times past? Were there fewer smiles? To me, it seemed so, though I could not be sure if I was merely projecting my own disquiet.
I started walking again.
“Awhile after my latest departure, then. Well, if a quiet palace coup has been staged by someone, it wasn’t rushed. So who are the someones? Who is on this Regency Council?”
“Long-time friends and allies. Who else?”
“Gérard. There are no others.”
“Interesting. And no one asks, ‘Where is the King?’”
A trolley rolled by, clanging its bell, and we both watched as it crested a hill and then dipped out of sight. That was something new, and it wasn’t the only change I had noticed since waking and finding myself in my father’s old love-nest at the White Rabbit. There were many questions, of course. As in: How could I fall asleep in the ghost of an inn up in Tir-na Nog’th, and waken in the real inn three blocks from where Rein and I had just met? But this man was part of Amber’s court and my best hope for learning what was happening there. Focus, I told myself, focus.
“The rumor is that Random has gone to the Courts of Chaos,” Rein elaborated, “or was ambushed along the way. Because you, Bleys, Merlin and Martin have all gone missing, and he went to investigate. But, Corwin....”
“You are the main suspect.”
The darkness came closer as shafts of discolored light and strangely glowing stalactites went away. Not that I was alone on this underground railroad, but I refused to look around me and meet the gazes of those close by — we see in others what is reflected in ourselves. And I was not ready for that just yet.
Rein was someone I loved. Not as a brother. Better than that, I would say, since a few of my brothers I would be happy to meet sword to sword. And I would not weep if one or two were left bleeding on the floor, leaking life and losing all excuses to cling to it. But this is not knowledge resting close to the surface; it’s underground, like this train. I missed him, prayed I would see him again, feared I would not.
“What are you going to do?”
We were standing at a street-corner, near where I had headed us. I sucked in some air, appreciating the gift, the energy generously bestowed by the breath of Amber. No air fills a man like that of his homeland.
Rein’s question echoed within my skull and I tried to answer honestly.
“Someone has sunk his or her fangs into the jugular of Amber. He or she has tried to drain the life-blood of my family and my city. This entity, or these entities, has tried to claim my son, my nephew, my brothers. Given the opportunity, I will cut them down with every ounce of strength in my blood, and I care not if it costs me my own life. Does this answer your question?”
Rein nodded, and smiled.
“No other answer was expected. What would you of me?”
Rein was not a swordsman of my caliber, or even that of Gérard. He was not the man who would — or could — cut down Caine. But he was loyal, trustworthy, honorable, no question. He would try.
We had crossed the intersection in silence. No answer from him, not that he owed me one. It had been an absurd request.
But then I hear: “And what else?”
“Take my friend under your wing, protect him from harm. Do that, if you can.”
“I can do that. Who is your friend?”
“His name is Bill.”
“And then forget that thing about killing Caine. If it comes to that, I’ll do it myself.”
The train was slowing.
I got up from my seat.
“I’ve got to go. Be back soon.”
Walked up the aisle of the train, came up to the door as the train stopped, turned and said over my shoulder, “Or not,” and took with me the lantern hanging above the door.
And stepped into a natural cavern. Parts of it had been widened and buttressed. There were lamps, electric ones, and lots of tracks. Yard workers were busy unhooking freight cars from the back of the train. A couple other passengers disembarked with me. No one got on. This place seemed more geared toward freight. There was a well-lit passage with steps carved into it, which, of course, led straight to the surface and nowhere near where I was going.
There were other caves here. The gnome had told me which one I needed. Putting the light and noise of the yard behind me, I crossed over to it. Someone shouted at me as I did. I threw him the finger and entered the cave. No one followed me.
It would be so easy, so very easy to get lost and starve to death. So I just did what felt right to me, even when it didn’t actually make a lot of sense. I bore to the right and upward. At every branching I stopped to sniff, choosing the passage where the air smelled freshest. The whole time, I held Grayswandir before me, summoning the image of the Pattern into my mind, for it was the center of everything and I was connected to it by my blood, by having walked it, by attunement through the Jewel of Judgment and the Diamond of Tir-na Nog’th, by having cast a Pattern of my own many years ago. And I also worried about the lantern going out.
My mind moved into a trance-like state as I wandered. The fear that had gnawed at me in the beginning had abated, and I felt I was moving toward something. This thought occurred to me by degrees, rather than all at once, that the phosphorescence of the caves and tunnels, the peculiar multilevel network formed by them seemed to me to form a spiral interrupted by zigzags, by right-angled corners and by backward loops, but a spiral just the same. Like the Pattern, I realized. Very, very much like the Pattern, as though it had been realized as a sculpture instead of a drawing on a polished black floor. All I had to do, then, was proceed to its center.
Something hissed, so I stopped, froze, listened. Snakes made sense down here, but what the hell could they be eating, except perhaps the occasional mushroom? Then again, that might have been the hiss of intaken breath or—
I looked up, just in time to swing Grayswandir toward something pale and falling toward me. No time to cut, so I thrust the blade upward, skewering the thing with red eyes, fangs, something black flapping around it. The blade was torn from my grasp and the thing screamed, spat, and crashed into the stony ground. Smoke curled up from the wound, and there were spurts of flame running up the blade where it protruded.
Howling, it rolled toward me, back onto its feet and into a crouch. Then it leaped.
By then I had the gun out and put three rounds into the beast.
Three new holes, and the smoke and the fire gushed forth. I stepped back as it fell, bellowed its pain, clawed at its wounds, eyes rolling as though unable to contain their hate and anguish. But there was something more in its gaze, stronger than everything else: a terrific and all-consuming lust.
“Hungry, so hungry,” it rasped, “for the blood...the blood of Amber.”
Then it writhed, spasmed, and lay still.
It was awhile before I was willing to come close enough to pull Grayswandir free.
A vampire, in Amber.
The thing was only human in outline, closer to a feral descendant of some failed line of humanity —
say, Homo ergaster —
bred with something else, rat, wolverine, hyena or some combination of these. The image of it stayed with me as I continued on my way. I looked up a lot.
And then I was in a tunnel I recognized, though I had never come to it from this end before. But I knew it as well as I knew the great, gray, metal-bound door guarding the room where was locked the thing I sought.
As well as I knew the man standing before that door, his own lantern burning at his feet.
Over six feet tall, massive, heavily muscled. Resembling me in some ways, but bigger.
“Corwin,” he said. “Caine warned me you might come here.”
“He did, did he?”
“And he said I must stop you.”
“Really? And why should you do that?”
“You brought back a prince we hoped was dead.”
To that, I had nothing to say.
“You’re a traitor, Corwin.”
Still, I said nothing.
“I’ll do it myself,” I said, but neither of us was paying attention to me anymore.
Cannon fire. Rein looked first, as if he’d been expecting it, and I followed his gaze. Out to sea, where there were flashes of fire and the booms of gunpowder. Modern naval warfare, off the coast of Amber. I looked back to Rein.
“Gorlan, we call him,” Rein said, not looking at me, unwilling or unable to look away from the war on the waves.
Turning away from Rein, I saw ships flying the green and white flag of Amber closing with other ships. Black hulls, black sails, and flags of blue and ochre —
the enemy vessels fired cannons of their own upon our navy.
“Yes, cannons, Corwin. You brought gunpowder to Amber. And most say you brought him, too, the plague of the high seas, Gorlan the Corsair, Scourge of Ships.”
“Harbor’s not as busy as it used to be...,” I commented, recalling how something hadn’t seemed quite right as we had walked about the old places.
“Sea Monster,” Rein said softly. “That is his other name.”
“Well, I have some questions.”
“Like how did Caine become Regent? And what happened to Random?”
“You really expect me to believe you don’t know?”
“Would I be asking if I did?”
“He’s no longer himself. You know that — you’re the one who destroyed his mind. You’re the one who made him insane.”
He straightened, drew his greatsword from its sheath.
“The time for talk is over, Corwin. You can surrender to me now and keep your life.”
“No, wait. What do you mean Random’s gone insane?”
“You attacked his mind. And now he’s basically catatonic. Thanks to you.”
“Who says so?”
“The Council says so. Caine was there the day Eric held you with your Trump before you overwhelmed his mind. And he was there at the edge of the abyss when you took control of the Jewel of Judgment from Brand. And we were all there when you used combined Trump power to find Brand in his hell. Only you have been able to do all these things.”
“Flattering to find I am reckoned so formidable. But you need to get your facts straight. Nobody hated Eric more than me, and it was that hate gave my will the strength to beat back his.”
“What about Brand?”
The light from our lanterns licked the veins in the surface of the rock walls, cast our shadows about the place, making them unstable, shifting, even though we stood still. I decided to set mine down on the floor, too.
“That one’s easy,” I replied. “He wasn’t fully attuned to the Jewel. I was.”
“He was wearing the Jewel. You were a hundred yards away.”
“This is coming from Caine? Who is now head of the Regency Council, as I understand it? Interesting. Has everyone forgotten it was Caine’s arrow that took Brand down, and not my power over the Jewel?”
“And who else ever drew a Pattern, Corwin? Besides Dworkin, who went crazy? Besides Dad, who died doing it? You’re the only one strong enough to do to Random what’s been done. You
It was easy to see where he was coming from; I mean, who could blame him for going with the propaganda? Still, I had to try.
“Gérard, have you considered that by working so closely with Swayvill and Chaos, Random’s run greater risks than Dad ever did? Exposed himself more fully to Amber’s enemies? I bore the Jewel only for a few days. Random’s had years to grow in his control of it. Yet I easily blasted his brain with my minimal mastery? While Chaos has had nothing to do with Random’s condition? Makes no sense, and you know it.”
“No, Corwin! You always make everything you say sound so reasonable and—
“Obvious, Gérard. The word is ‘obvious.’”
“Not this time, Corwin. You will have your chance to have your say before the court.”
“Court being the new head of the Regency Council, Caine? Who has benefitted so strangely and spectacularly from Random’s incapacitation? I hope you will understand if I decline that sort of justice.”
“Decline all you like. You are coming with me. Or you are falling to my blade.”
And with that, the brother I trusted most advanced toward me, death in his eyes.
Amber’s navy fired upon the black ships. The black ships fired back. Some of the black ships began listing, though, and the rest began retreating back toward the horizon. Caine or Gérard — Gérard, I imagined, as the Harbor and southern waters normally fell under his protection — had done his job. Again, but how many times again? Amber under assault? That hadn’t happened, well, since the Black Road War.
“Attacking ships visible from shore. Cannons. Trolleys. Political parties, with their political lists. Regency Council.”
“I know,” Rein said, looking at me with sympathy touched with unhappiness. “There’s a lot to explain.”
“Actually, it all seems to kind of fit together. Still, since we have to start somewhere: Trolleys?”
“Generated how? Combustion engines, turbines, all that used to be impossible here.”
“Used to be,” Rein acknowledged.
We watched awhile longer, as Amber’s navy drew farther out to sea and as the crowd of bystanders, who had stopped in their tracks as we had, began to break up and continue on their various ways. I noticed we were standing outside a bookstore I recognized, ages ago a favorite haunt of mine. Still had the blue paint on the window-frames.
We started walking again. Rein stretched his hand out toward me.
“Dangerous times. Please take this. You may need it.”
It was a SIG semi-automatic pistol, or something very similar, with three magazines. I muttered, “Thanks,” and quickly put the weapon away. In my mind, I vowed never to use it in Amber unless facing a similarly armed opponent —
or, of course, if I was going to lose. Returning to my earlier question, I asked, “Now where does the electricity come from?”
“There is a generator somewhere in Arden,” he said, gesturing vaguely toward the mountains. “No one knows how it works. But there is a fuel depot down here at the Harbor. Ships we’ve never seen before deliver the fuel.”
“What kind of fuel?”
“No one knows that either. But I can tell you whose idea it was.”
“Let me guess. Not Gérard, who’s never been a fan of change. Leaving one or the other of the remaining two in the troika. So: Caine?”
Grayswandir before me, I retreated into the shadows. My lantern guttering, Gérard’s going nice and strong. Not exactly ideal from my point of view, light at his back.
There was no one I knew who could put more behind a sword stroke than the strongest of my brothers. I could beat him through a combination of luck and skill, but he could still demolish me through sheer force and staying power. If it came down to a choice between valor and discretion, in this situation my preferred option would be discretion.
But I didn’t think I had that option, not really.
He kept coming, of course. And I considered where this left me. I wasn’t sure I could find my way back through the caves again. And, honestly, I was hungry and thirsty and didn’t want to even if I could. It is possible that the small matter of having been attacked there by a vampire also contributed to this feeling. The darkness to which I was returning would negate my edge in fencing ability, working to Gérard’s advantage.
What to do? The pistol came to mind, of course, but I rejected that notion. I would not be the one who began the shooting of family members. Let someone else claim that distinction.
So I stooped for a stone I had felt underfoot, picked it up and charged. The stone I threw at his head while I aimed a cut at his chest.
He blocked the stone with his forearm, which moved his blade out of line. This left him open and I could have given him something to remember, but this was not my goal. Instead, I used the opportunity to continue my rush and get past him. This put the door he had been guarding at my back. We had traded positions in the tunnel.
He whipped around.
“That was dirty, Corwin.”
“True,” I admitted, “but I didn’t slice your chest open when I had the chance, which kind of evens things out.”
“It’s still cheating.”
“Then get the ref in here and I’ll take the foul call.”
He aimed a cut at my head — I supposed an indication of his displeasure — but it was off and slid down my blade. It still sent a shock down my arm, but also told me what I had hoped.
Throwing caution somewhere into the cool darkness, I came at him with cuts at his head and chest. His parries were slow and uncertain — again as I had hoped. So I pressed him harder with faster attacks. Opportunities presented themselves, and I ignored them as they were of the fatal variety. And I wanted him alive.
Mercy, of course, might get me dead.
So I drove him deeper into the tunnel. Then I eased up, so as to move us back where I needed us to be; namely, with the lanterns not far behind me, so that Gérard was stuck fighting my silhouette with eyes which had become dark-adapted. The very thing I had avoided by our switch.
It began to dawn on him at last what I had done, and there was the moment when I saw his eyes narrow as he understood he was going to lose. That was also the moment that he suddenly came straight at me, fast, with a wild lunge.
And just like that, I slapped the flat of my blade against the side of his head, hard, as his lunge missed me.
He just stood there, stunned, refusing to either fall or release his blade.
With Grayswandir, I twisted his sword from his grasp. Difficult, even with Gérard on the brink of unconsciousness. Shifting my blade to my left hand, I punched him in the face.
Any normal person, even any of my brothers, would already be on the ground. But he just stood there for two more seconds. Then, like a tree at the final blow of the axe, he toppled.
It hurt to hear it. And hurt to see it. And I feared things had not gone to plan, that he was gone.
“Julian, you say.”
They were seated at a pair of small tables outside a breakfast-and-lunch place that was also a bakeshop across yet another intersection. The joint was sandwiched within a messy jumble of shanties, shacks, stalls, warehouses and shops, and would be easy to miss if it weren’t for the wonderful smell of the food. I inhaled and smiled.
“That is the story up in the palace. The train gets its power from its track somehow. People think that is why the electrical power station is located out in Arden, where the rail runs.”
Bill, Maio, and, yes, Erin were there, waiting. Still confusing, everything to do with our visit to Tir-na Nog’th. Our gazes met briefly, then we both looked away. And the gnome Cymnea had assigned to me was also there, imbibing ale and even blending in; not all who come to Amber are human. Though I had been planning on crossing the street — and then immediately consuming a quantity of potato pancakes stuffed with shrimp, with some of that ale the gnome was drinking to wash it down — I stood stock still.
“Through Arden, yes.”
Why was it that now, as things were starting to fall into place, it still didn’t make much sense?
“A train,” I said, still marveling, “through Arden.”
“Yes. Would you like to see it?”
For just a second or two I thought he might not have survived, but I should have known better. When I checked his breathing, he was still very much alive. Further inspection turned up what I was really after, and with his belt I bound his wrists behind him. His greatsword I threw deeper into the tunnel.
What was going through my head, I wish I could say. But I can’t, at least not with any great reliability.
My first goal, naturally, had been to get to the Pattern chamber. This had apparently been anticipated; thus this latest round with Gérard.
There was another thing, however, a notion gnawing at the back of my mind, refusing to be ignored. Not far from here lay my old cell. And on a wall of that cell there had once been carved a rather important drawing. There were two drawings, actually. One of them had been of the Lighthouse of Cabra, but I was thinking of the other.
The other drawing was of a study located in a very special place, perhaps the most special place there is. And a question had been moving nearer and nearer to the surface of my mind ever since my shared dream with Dworkin.
As I turned the key I had taken off of Gérard, I glanced back toward him.
He lay motionless, though I knew this would not last for very long. Even with the belt, which I had wrapped more than once about his wrists, he would only be slowed a little. Gérard was too damned strong for that to be much more than a minor obstacle, but I had dismissed the idea of hogtying him as too cruel and extreme. In a little while he would wake, shift closer to the wall, push himself to his feet. Maybe he would walk back toward the dungeons and the stair leading back up into the palace. Maybe he’d peer into the Pattern chamber to see if I was there (I shouldn’t be). Or maybe Caine or Julian would look in on him via his Trump, wondering why he hadn’t been heard from, and cut his bonds.
Yet what if he should wake sooner than I planned? His wrath, while slow, was a terrific force once unleashed. He would probably be angry. That, combined with his incredible strength, would make short work of his restraints. He wouldn’t need Caine or anyone else. Even if I did lock the huge old door behind me, he’d come right through it. With his sword, or without. I’d be well on my way through the Pattern by then and therefore beyond his reach. So I would be safe from him. But not from Caine.
Gérard could use his Trump for Caine, a master archer. And Caine could pick me off using a couple of arrows. Or, worse, a couple of bullets.
The moment for second, or even third, thoughts had arrived, and I chose to act on mine.
Returning to Gérard, I relieved him of his Trumps. Unfortunately for me, they were all for people I didn’t trust fully right now; i.e., my family. They were useless to me (especially since I already possessed the set Random had lost on his ill-fated mission to rescue Brand), but they were all too useful to Gérard. So he couldn’t have them.
On my way back to the now-open door, my lantern went out. Gérard’s, though, was burning nice and steady. I picked it up and brought it with me into the enormous chamber — cavern, really — and over to the corner where the Pattern begins.
Then I set the lantern down. The Pattern glowed with enough light of its own to illuminate my way. I stood there and regarded it. Big, complex, eerie, powerful, daunting. And, I knew now, alive in a sense, the way Earth, the Sun and the Universe are alive. This design was the code ordering existence, the physical expression of that equation the physicists of today seek with the same fervor with which alchemists once pursued the Philosopher’s Stone. It lay there before me, unmoving, yet brightly shining and far from passive.
Even a non-religious fellow like myself knows the sacred when he sees it. I felt the need to say something.
“Damn it, you’re beautiful. But you’re not the Pattern I walked as a young man. You’re just not. I don’t know how I know, but I know. You’re doing a good job holding up this end of creation, though, so don’t worry, I’m not going to tell anyone.”
Flashes of brightness travel through the Pattern all the time, enhancing its light as they do, and the Pattern flashed then as though in answer. Randomly, of course, as a matter of coincidence. But I couldn’t help wondering. Whatever the thing was, it was Dworkin and, ever since the end of the war, also my father. And it probably also included the Unicorn somehow in the fundamental aspects of its nature. The Unicorn, after all, was the source of the Jewel, which had provided the original image inspiring its configuration. No wonder it seemed alive to me; life was part of what it was.
Then I inhaled, exhaled, and started walking the line of light.
As I did, damned if something didn’t attach itself to my leg. It quickly clawed its way up to my shoulder and then draped itself there, a living scarf, purring.
Once on the Pattern, there is no going back.
Though I doubted the creature would survive the process, I soldiered on.
“You crazy cat,” I muttered, “this thing can kill a prince of Amber if not done right; it’ll certainly kill you.”
That’s right, this was the cat from my visit to Tir-na Nog’th. Make that: our visit. For, before the animal had attached itself to me just now, she had attached herself to Erin up in the sky. She had been in the real White Rabbit where I had woken up, and had never truly separated herself from our group down in the Harbor. Must have followed me off the train and through the tunnels.
So I pushed on through the veils, the Grand Curve, all of it. Though I considered just pulling the thing off of me and hurling the animal through the air and beyond the design, I refrained. This would have the nasty effect of robbing me of all my momentum, and at the same time probably just end up killing the cat, since she would be departing the Pattern, which is death even for a prince or princess of Amber.
The creature responded by seeming unfazed by the current generated in passing along the glowing lines of force. She even amused herself by indulging in a fascination with the chain supporting the Dreaming Diamond, which she pawed at till the gem was pulled from within my shirt to hang out in plain view.
With no alternative, I just kept going till, sweat dripping from me, hair fairly crackling with electricity, sparks falling from myself and my passenger like snow shaken from a tree branch, I once again made it through the ordeal and stood in the center.
I had survived the Pattern. Again. Strangely, the cat did not perish as expected, perhaps shielded by the presence of someone of the blood who was therefore inherently connected to and part of the Pattern. However that might be, I was far more interested in the Diamond, which had flashed and shone like a prism in a focused beam of light, rays from it dancing on my clothing, the polished floor, the Pattern itself. On the other hand, maybe death was still coming for the cat and this would occur when we both left the Pattern.
Feeling simultaneously depleted and renewed, I closed my eyes and thought of places within the Pattern’s reach — essentially anywhere I desired. Thoughts of Caine, and of Brand, and of Dad, had intruded as I had struggled, along with thoughts of all that led me to the Pattern, here, now. Erin had been part of that stream of consciousness, too. Our recent lovemaking seemed the most obvious reason, but I sensed there might be something more to it.
Without fully understanding what I was doing, I looked about me. But not in the sense of studying the chamber in which I stood, no. With eyes closed, I looked about me through Shadow.
Brand had mastered this ability, and had been able to do it without even traversing the Pattern first. And Caine had taught himself to briefly touch several Trumps at once to waken the connections sleeping deep within them without fully activating them, so he could “look but not touch” with respect to what (more properly: who) lay on their other sides. Fiona’s facility in these matters, whatever her abilities were with things related to the Pattern, had intimidated even Brand. As for Dad and Dworkin, they had taken their understanding of such matters entirely to another level. Which meant, of course, that there was
I had remained contentedly ignorant of such things for far too long. The time had come to learn more.
So I stood there and thought of other places. I opened the channel to Manhattan and looked in on my hotel room. All was as it had been, though the bed was now made and the laptop seemed dormant. I opened the way to Gérard and saw him lying where I had left him, breathing shallowly.
Next I tried for Random, but that way was truly dark, tacit verification of Gérard’s story that something had damaged his mind.
Finally, there was the place depicted in that drawing on the wall of my old cell in the dungeons.
With a deep breath, I tried for that place, for Dworkin’s old quarters, for Wixer’s den, for the shelf of rock sliced into that other Kolvir, for the home of the primal Pattern.
There are technically four Patterns. Three are reflections, and these are the Pattern in Rebma, the Pattern in Tir-na Nog’th, and the Great Pattern of Amber, in the center of which I was now standing. The original, the source of those reflections, was but a shadow veil away in primal Amber. That place had been kept secret for quite a long time, for obvious reasons, since damage to it could threaten Amber and all of Shadow. A very special place and, for reasons I did not understand, not easy to reach. To my knowledge, no Trump for it existed, and it seemed to me it probably could not be accessed that way. But there was no place with greater overlap with primal Amber than the center of the Great Pattern, which was congruent with the original, wherever it was. So it shouldn’t be difficult to reach from where I was standing.
It wasn’t difficult, it was impossible. I tried to just look in at first, as I had done with Gérard and my room in Manhattan. Nothing. Like tuning a radio dial for a station you know and finding only static. Perhaps not trying hard enough? So I threw all my will into it, so that I would be transported there by the power of the Great Pattern. Again, nothing. It was as if the place did not exist.
Could the reflections of the primal Pattern exist without the original image? Many of us have looked upon paintings and photographs of things which no longer exist. So maybe such a thing was possible. But if it was, it seemed to me things would be less stable without a real center. The Patterns of Amber, Rebma and Tir-na-Nog’
th were now on equal footing, and equally responsible for the condition of Shadow. What was that line from Yeats? “
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
Yes, that was it. The center cannot hold.
My experiment had failed, and I just stood there a moment, confounded. Then, on an impulse, I tried for Caine. And there he was, in his black and his green, dark and sardonic as always, standing in Beacon Tower. I knew the place and had used the Jewel to call my first storm from there. He looked confident and was even smiling a little. Perhaps he believed I was already in Gérard’s custody and soon to be standing trial?
“Hello, Caine,” I said into his mind, “treachery looks good on you. Keep smiling.”
Amber now had her own Grand Central Station, and I didn’t know how to feel about it.
“Julian, Julian. Making his power-grab. Admittedly unexpected.”
Rein glanced at the four we had in tow, turned to me.
“You know how gossip is in the palace,” he began. “Servants and soldiers talk.”
“This is very true.”
“Some claim to have been bringing trays of food in and out, and hearing part of the Council meeting.”
“So they say. And they say Julian suggested the train with great reluctance. He felt it would compromise security in Arden, but nevertheless was the best way to get around Gorlan’s raids on Amber’s shipping.”
“Sure. Yet Julian, in all his reluctance, also proposed shipping some new kind of fuel to Amber and the construction of a generator for electricity? That is quite a lot of research and effort and planning in which he engaged so ‘reluctantly.’”
“Well, the generator was already being built on someone else’s orders.”
“Who gave said orders?”
The train station was located within sight of the fuel depot. It wasn’t actually much like Grand Central Station. More of a cross between the Gare d’Orsay, Antwerpen-Centraal, and Kuala Lumpur Railway Station, an eclectic blend of Neo-classical, Renaissance Revival and Raj styles. Vaulted spaces, pinnacles, arcades, towers, pavilions. And I couldn’t help admiring it. The trolley yard was here, and there were rails running north toward Baylesport, south toward Garnath, and west up the slope of Kolvir.
“Does the train really run up the side of Kolvir into the City?”
Rein shook his head.
“No. That train runs into a tunnel within Kolvir. It stops somewhere along the way to unload things for the City. And then it comes out the other side of the mountain and into Arden.”
We were inside, where half a dozen platforms were evident. Looking up, the sky was an impressionistic blue blur as seen through the arched glass roof. To either side, the high walls were grand expanses of white stone, interrupted by the tall pointed arches of stained glass windows, festooned with sculpture of centaurs, pegasi, griffins and dryads clinging to ledges, buttresses, and columns.
“Must admit,” I said, my gaze roving over the layout, catching sight that moment of an astrological map of the constellations rising from the walls to meet the transparent ceiling, “even I would be a fan of Caine’s if he brought something like this to Amber. Whatever his sins, he is to be commended for forward-thinking and good taste.”
Beside me, Rein coughed politely.
“Things like this were ideas Random promoted. Yet when the King went missing, it was Caine who went forward with Random’s projects.”
“Then the generator...?”
“Random’s idea, yes.”
It made sense. Everything Rein had mentioned was consistent with my youngest brother. Caine was resourceful, absolutely. But he did not, as a rule, initiate change. Change disturbed the pieces on the board, and Caine liked to be the only one who made that happen, subtly and by careful degrees, and usually while others weren't looking. Change? That was Random.
“And the train through Kolvir? It can bear my friends and I west and out into Shadow?”
“Yes, it can.”
Even as I asked my question, a sleek train slid into the station. It had a kind of retro science fiction look, like something futuristic dreamed up back in the ‘50s, a bit like the Nankai Rapit and also reminiscent of the Nautilus of Jules Verne. Rein pointed to it.
“And there it is.”
Caine did keep smiling, yet this compliance of his did not endear him to me.
“Corwin,” he said. “It is good to know you are alive.”
“Yes, I imagine it is. Now you know previous attempts to kill me failed, and it will be necessary to try again.”
He furrowed his brow, seeming concerned.
“We knew you were on a mission for Random, but feared you had fallen victim to forces in the Courts and were lost.”
“And wasted no time bringing electricity and the locomotive to Amber. Naturally, this leads to speculation as to what else your Council was waiting to fire up once Random was out of the picture.”
“After the war,” Caine said, unperturbed, “Random understood Amber had to be modernized.”
But I noticed his hand had drifted down toward the vicinity of his emerald-studded dagger.
“And modernization includes the creation of a ruling party?”
“Disloyal elements have arisen of late. They had to be opposed.”
“The brand new police force wasn’t enough?”
“The Black Guards keep the streets safe, the Green Guards watch Arden’s roads. They have been integrated to work more closely together. Amber is growing and can no longer hide behind her walls.”
“Black and green. Those are your personal colors, Caine, and the people of Amber have gotten your message. Having just spent a few days in Amber, that message has been made clear to me, as well. You are now the government of Amber.”
“For now, until Random’s return.”
His hand was now resting on the dagger.
“In some places, people call that a coup d’état.”
“Corwin, why don’t you come to the palace, where we can talk about these things?”
“Caine, I’m not going to lie,” I said, lying, “but I can see into your mind. I can read your thoughts. Nothing is hidden from me.”
“Then I have told you nothing you did not already know.”
“Wrong. You’ve told me a few things neither of us would have imagined you telling. And I must say, some of those things surprise even me.”
Besides Random, there was only one brother I feared playing poker with, and it was Caine. As if to back this up, he laughed.
“That I would continue Random’s policies? You find that surprising? Well,” he said, “I am glad you underestimated me.”
I laughed in return.
“Underestimate you? You’ve staked your money on quite a gamble, though. Not saying I don’t admire your audacity, because I do. But you bet wrong this time. Random’s coming back, and with me on his side.”
Caine’s brows drew down and he looked puzzled.
“Corwin. If you can read my mind, then you see my confusion. All I desire is for Amber to survive.”
And here is the strange thing. For all my boasting, for all my lying, I could indeed read his thought. This surprised me, yes, it did. And I knew he was telling the truth.
So: “Caine,” I said, “I am gone. Me, and my allies. We are no longer in Amber. We know your plans, as well as those of the others. And we are going to win. We are going to bring Random back. We are going to bring back some others, too, and there will be an accounting. We are going to win. For the good of Shadow. And for the good of Amber.”
Caine’s smile flickered for a second, faltered, then came back.
“Just so you know,” I said, preparing to break the connection, “yes, it is good. And, yes, really. We will meet again. Soon. Good-bye, my brother.”
“Word reached us you were taken by Chaos. Our abilities do not work as well there as they do elsewhere, sometimes not at all. Yet you escaped. We have differences, you and I, but Chaos is still our enemy.”
“Should Gérard or Benedict be made captive, you would not want them at the mercy of our foes. So: How did you escape?”
I could not help it. I laughed heartily. Like I would tell Caine.
“Your interest is duly noted. Meanwhile, you might want to check on Gérard.”
“You will. He is lying in the tunnel just outside the Pattern chamber. Good-bye.”
Then I broke the connection.
On my shoulder, the cat purred. The Diamond and the Pattern were bright, the corners of the cavern dark. Except for my breathing and the sounds from the cat, there was only the sound of my thoughts.
Puzzling, was what it was. And practically pointless. But I did not care.
And I had indeed considered pitting my will against Caine’s. I had held back for several reasons. With Brand and Random no longer in the game, and Benedict’s whereabouts unknown to me, Caine had the best mind among my remaining brothers. Even Fiona had referred to him as a virtual adept in matters relating to the Pattern. Caine was also the one who, whatever my feelings regarding certain of his motives and actions, was best suited for the job of running Amber during a dangerous time. I hated to admit that, but it was true, especially if I was about to do the thing I had been avoiding since my escape from the Courts of Chaos: return there to learn more, kill whom I must if that were called for, and very possibly lose my own life in the process. I could not attend to internal matters in Amber while at the same time going into the heart of enemy territory.
Caine had already known I was alive. The farmer in Garnath, the troops in Arden, and probably some observant folk down in the Harbor. I had been seen by too many, and word had reached him. I had lost nothing by revealing I was alive and had been visiting home. And I had learned something.
Caine feared Random’s return, and “return” was the key word. I had caught it there when our minds were close: Random was not in Amber.
But Random was alive, else Caine would not fear his return.
Standing there at the center of the Pattern, I reached for the Dreaming Diamond. The cat tried to reach it with her paw, came up short, but she stared at it, hypnotized by its light. Peering into the milky gem, focusing my mind with it for a lens, I sent my thought far, far from where I was, out through Shadow, and farther still, on toward what lies beyond the farthest reaches of the worlds.
The Waste slid beneath me, the plain running for miles and miles from the final range of mountains at the end of the universe, creased with rifts and ridges, pocked with craters, as barren and ancient as the bottom of the ocean. Already taxed by tackling the Pattern, and then by using it to scan for Gérard, Random and Caine, my strength was flagging. And it is not easy to cast one’s mind all the way to the Courts of Chaos from Amber. But I had to try.
For I had suffered yet another prophetic dream, a dream of a day of blood and steel at the farthest end of that Waste. I had woken from it at the White Rabbit just this morning, and I wanted to know if the dream was for something imminent, or for something years hence.
And, yes, it was so. There were troops there. There was not one battle, there were many. There were flying creatures everywhere, a large proportion of them feasting on the bodies of the fallen. There was fire and smoke and carrion. There was war.
Then I swayed where I stood, and it all flashed away as I was snapped back to where I was, wondering what I had really learned today.
“Knowledge is not what counts,” I whispered, my only audience a stray cat. “It never was. It is wisdom. But first...”
Holding the Diamond at eye-level, I looked within, sought a flaw in its depths, let the planes and vertices fill my vision, moved my mind toward the strange spaces it held, willed the Pattern to send me there.
Projecting myself through the gem, the white cat mesmerized, too, I retraced my journey through its interior/exterior realm where a storm of worlds spun. The walk with the Diamond on the Pattern of Tir-na Nog’th had had a different feel than my experience at Ygg, where I had finally found the Pattern I had drawn. Not every Pattern is the same. Intuition informed me, therefore, that I should do this while I had some strength left. This chance might not come again, and I had never completed my attunement the night of my reunion with Random and Fiona, when I had traversed the Pattern in the sky. As with my interview with Caine, likely pointless, but how could I know without trying?
So once more I tripped the light fantastic, as provided by the Pattern and caught in the gem from the sky. The Pattern-walk from the night I robbed Tir-na Nog’th of the Diamond seemed to merge in my mind with the return to my Pattern on the other side of Ygg. Different, this journey, for though I found myself within a sphere of whirling flashes of light, this time I was pulled in a new direction, toward one flash in particular, a bright surface that was somehow familiar.
And then everything took the course it had that first time, years ago, when I had attuned myself to the Jewel of Judgment. My mind sank through a luminous white medium, seeming to become small, a mere point falling through a glacier of jello toward a curling piece of shredded fruit deep within. The light faded as I descended, the glacier a memory, and now there was the feeling of rushing through the black void that lies between the galaxies, of ferocious acceleration toward the flaw glimpsed earlier, not an imaginatively twisted bit of fruit, after all. More like a flower, an elaborate knot waiting to be pulled tight, a three-dimensional Spirograph by Hawking or Einstein. As it zoomed close, its scale expanded and became galactic. Flares of purple, green, lavender, blue, yellow and colors less definable accentuated the confusion and complexity of its design. I was whisked from a wispy frayed end made up of glittering diamond dust through blazing convolutions reminiscent of the whorls of a seashell chambered to hold all our stars. Nor was I alone as I was hurled through motes and clouds of color toward its bright center (though “center” seemed not quite the right word in this place where more degrees of freedom opened up, but close enough). Toward that blinding terminus I was flung, and I could feel the sentience of the cat nearby as her awareness was dragged along with mine. Then through, but not quite out, as, from within the Diamond, drenched in its white luminescence, I regarded myself standing there, saw myself looking back at me, looking through the Diamond, which I was now looking through, lowering the gem slowly. The halo of the gem’s light fell and faded as I looked up from it to see the world once more.
More than enough for one day. The power of the Pattern to send me wherever my mind could go remained. Calling upon it, I found myself, body and soul, on the train once again. The cat had survived, and jumped down to the seat next to me. Before turning to the others, I looked out the window. Still in a tunnel, widening now. And was that light I glimpsed up ahead, or only a larger darkness? Alongside us, just rock, and behind us, I knew, an Amber to which great change had come at last, and with a vengeance. The sureness of the ground, the simplicity of the old days — Amber’s golden age was gone now, and would not be coming back.
Home is not waiting faithfully for your return like a soldier’s young bride while he’s off to the wars. Home is as content as youth, as loyal as gold, as sturdy as castles in the sand. And time is the tide. We do not leave the places we love — they leave us.
Copyright © 2013 Lokabrenna @ Blogger (JTB) All rights reserved