The Chronicles of Shadow — Sequel to the Corwin Cycle
Corwin has come full circle.
Zelazny left our knight errant on a gauzy roadway floating across the abyss toward the dark citadel holding ancestors and ancient enemies of Amber. True, Corwin would put in a cameo appearance in the cycle of books written around the adventures of his son, Merlin, many years later. Yes, that’s true. But that was Merlin’s story. Corwin’s own story concluded in those final pages of The Courts of Chaos
, as he left one adventure behind and moved toward another.
It is nice to think that if Roger Zelazny were still with us he would have eventually returned to the two heroes whose adventures he began around the same time and several years later ended around the same time. These would be Dilvish and Corwin. Both are knights, both are on quests — vengeance quests, at least at first. Dilvish seems a bit younger, a little less cynical than Corwin. But this comes as no surprise, as Zelazny began writing about Dilvish in 1964. An excerpt from Nine Princes in Amber
appeared in Kallikanzaros
, No. 1, June 1967. At least three years separate these two incarnations of the hero who had come to fascinate our young author (he was 27 when the first Dilvish story saw print, 30 when the piece featuring Corwin — “Pattern in Rebma” — was published). Corwin completed his quest in 1978 with the publication of The Courts of Chaos
, and Dilvish was almost disappointed to have seen justice finally play out in The Changing Land
, which was being sold in bookstores just three years later.
It is nice to think Zelazny would have come back to these characters. Not such a crazy idea, at least in part since one of the authors he admired most — Jack Vance — did the same, revisiting the world portrayed in his The Dying Earth
(1950) over thirty years later with Rhialto the Marvellous
(1984). Likewise, the novel The Eyes of the Overworld
(1966), written about the antihero Cugel, set in the milieu of The Dying Earth
, was eventually followed up with the sequel Cugel’s Saga
Like many fans, I miss Zelazny, miss that voice, miss those heroes. And I always hoped, once he was done writing his Merlin cycle, that he might return to Corwin someday. What I offer here isn’t much, isn’t finished, and is unlikely to ever see publication. But it’s my own take on how the first leg of a follow-up story of Corwin might go. His original quest appeared to end with his arrival in the Courts of Chaos, so it seems logical his next quest would begin there. So where does Random send him once Corwin is ready to re-enter the game? The Courts, of course.
The original Amber series reflected the world of its day. The conflict between Amber and the Courts of Chaos made an effective stand-in for the Cold War. Corwin in certain ways was a science fantasy version of North by Northwest
Roger Thornhill (and maybe James Bond), who stumbles into the middle of a geopolitical struggle between two superpowers. He is set up by adversaries who assume he is a high-level player in the Great Game. Attempts are made on his life. He adopts an alias, nearly allows the ultimate secret weapon (equivalent to Thornhill’s microfiched MacGuffin) — the Jewel of Judgment — to fall into the wrong hands. And, like Thornhill, he naturally falls for the double agent, Dara.
The Cold War is long over. New problems plague our world. The emergence of a global elite which does not recognize national borders or loyalties, but only cares for its own ravenous self-interests, is at least as dangerous as the tensions once created by the Iron Curtain drawn through the middle of Europe. A nascent feudalism is in the making as income disparity widens to an astronomical distance between the wealthy and everyone else. The unchecked greed of this elite has unleashed a host of environmental disasters upon the planet, culminating in irreversible climate change and reckless degradation of natural resources, even resources as vast as our oceans.
Meanwhile, trust in science and facts has been replaced with a fanatical devotion to cults of personality, ideologies and religions, until events such as the Oklahoma City Bombing, the two attacks on the World Trade Center (the 1993 dry run later followed by the real thing in 2001), and the Friday the 13th Paris Attacks of 2015 are now things the public has come to expect. Fascistic leaders are on the rise all over the globe. The strategy of holding the masses in check through fear has not altered, only the methodology.
Corwin witnesses attacks staged for public benefit in his latest journey, finds the realm of Shadow in disarray and possibly facing something much worse, and finds it is no longer clear who is really running things. Nothing is safe or stable. Ghosts from the past have somehow returned. Who can resist an agency that cares for neither Amber nor Chaos, quite content to have everything ultimately destroyed simply to preserve its power for just a little longer in the name of whatever nonsense it chooses to believe?
It has taken too long to bring Corwin back to the Courts of Chaos. There will most likely not be any more of his story after this. If there is, though, the next installment will be titled: Void in the Courts
. Corwin will have to determine through trial and error who can and cannot be trusted in the Courts, and errors will prove costly. But he will finally begin to get an idea of who or what has been pulling the strings, and why. Once he begins to comprehend what he is up against, he may want to just go off somewhere to live out the remainder of his days before it all comes crashing down. It will be very tempting to throw in the towel. If he chooses instead to stick his neck even further out than he already has, he is going to need allies, but as of right now he doesn’t have any. It would be difficult to write, and before scribbling out Three Kings of Chaos
I had never written a novel before. So this is probably it.
Then again, I said that after finishing Three Kings of Chaos
, so who knows?
Chapter Eleven: The Tower of Glass
It was crowded
in the place where strands of light stretched between streaked pillars
resembling celery stalks, coins stacked askew, twists of licorice,
sparklers, frozen lengths of rope. Beings furred, feathered, scaled and
tentacled, as well as many sorts of humanoids, were pressed together at
the north end of this park threaded with streams of water gurgling
through pools and channels carved into the stone. The bottomless
expanse yawned beyond them, half flickering blackness, half rainbow
mists, strewn with drifting ghostly ribbons slipping to and fro. The
battlefield stood on the other side, shimmering intermittently, troops
and the dust of their conflict moving upon it, though the fighting was
now effectively over.
Drawing Merlin’s cloak about my shoulders again, fastening it with the clasp of the silver rose, I reached for Renée’s hand.
“Look,” I said, pointing past where the massive shard of Thelbane thrust into the carnival sky.
We both saw it, the oblong profile of the airship we had been aboard only moments ago. Wing Thing
was tipped on its side, in what looked to be a banking maneuver, as the
craft held to the course already set, collision with Thelbane. Yet the
vehicle had been more level before — had Maio succeeded, at least in
Beside me I felt her hand tighten, heard her say, “There must be a way around.”
ridged and textured in a way suggestive of a tree trunk scaled to
reduce Chaos dwellers to insects, had huge tendrils of dense glassy
material flowing down its sides which then ran outward from its base in
all directions before merging with and vanishing beneath the park.
around,” I said, taking note of the wedge of open territory between the
two nearest roots and taking a step in that direction, “through.”
started at a jog, but soon were running between the rivulets and
pillars. Though we were somewhat worse for the wear we both knew this
was the final lap and that knowledge gave us speed. Reaching the
archway minutes later, we slowed as we hurried through it.
underside of Thelbane was a wild, confusing space, like a forest, the
abstract pillars gone and supplanted by more of the glittering roots
where rivulets still ran through channels cut in the stone. The
root-columns were more than supports, appearing to act almost as
membranes — portals opened and closed, beings passing in and out.
this sheltered zone stood tall flowers, slim trees, massive ferns,
great whorls of coral, shelves of lichen reaching above human height,
tentacled entities resembling denuded willow trees, arcs of vines
wrapped around each other and festooned with bright chromatic blossoms.
The glowing mosses to either side of the paths were for the most part
various shades of blue, while the leaves and leaf-like appendages of the
taller plant-life seemed to prefer autumnal colors — yellow,
yellow-green, ruddy gold — though more familiar greenery deriving from
Earth-like places was also evident.
through an arch on the other side we veered north, and came to the
edge. Rather than a sudden drop, the landscape fell in a series of
narrow terraces, sinuous zigzags etched into their sides. We stopped
and stared up at the flying machine.
Fewer folk here on
the western side of the tower, but slowly individuals and then small
clutches of bystanders and then en masse they turned from the spectacle
to the northeast to look where we were looking.
Her words, “Can you do anything?” were a whisper.
“I can try.”
Up where the winds fought above the abyss, the currents were shifting, the possibilities wide open, the probabilities wild.
air currents, I could feel them, some roaring into the void even as
others billowed out of it, and swirling, I could sense, around Mount
Melgem which I now understood in a flash of clarity to be the eye of a
storm. If certain of those airs circulating about this island in the
dark — different bands moving at different speeds and even different
directions — were to be nudged just a little toward or away, then the
whole system would suffer a disturbance. Could this happen? Well, we
were in a place named Chaos...
struck the Tower of Glass.
airship was knocked downward sharply, swinging away, behind the tower,
then coming back into view as Maio seemed to steer the thing back out
over the abyss. Wing Thing
was on a corkscrew-like trajectory,
moving clockwise from the perspective of the onlookers in the Courts and
in a rapid descent.
The Diamond receded into the
background, the nows fanned out before me fell away, not altogether gone
but relegated to the edge of things.
Random’s machine had clipped the tower rather than hitting it head on. A
scar was visible on the western side, almost directly above us. While
the exterior of the structure resembled glass, it was obviously made of
“Come on,” I urged, as the ship banked to the left.
don’t know what I was going to say because it changed when I saw her
face, the uncertain light of the Courts caught in the tears she was
fighting to hold back. So I simply pointed.
laid out upon the Lake of Sleep approached Thelbane most closely here
where luminous channels bordered by floating paths led off to the
outermost parks, where buildings slid and turned.
“He overflew this area on the first pass — it’s the best spot for an emergency landing.”
She stumbled as I pulled her along. Then we were running. Then we stopped.
rounded the tower, coming in low, turbofans in reverse and whining as the black bulk of its blended-wing body passed overhead.
We watched the ship hit the water and vanish.
of the lake’s fluid — possibly water, possibly something else — rolled
impressively outward from the point of impact. It seemed obvious the
walkways to either side of the channel would be rocked by the force of
the waves, and perhaps parts farther off might be affected. Instead, as
the waves neared the boundaries between the lake and the things it
supported, they subsided to become gentle ripples as though dampened by
some unguessed property or mechanism.
then burst through the surface. Another great spray flew out from
where the ship had emerged, and again the waves surged forth mightily,
only to swiftly diminish as they ran up toward boardwalks and
buildings. The vehicle was carried forward by its momentum, skimming
above the surface, but slowed as it approached a shining walkway,
apparently in response to the same mysterious agency maintaining the
calm on Lake Haylish.
We were running again and soon
reached the airship where it rested at a corner of the canal. I jumped
onto the wing overhanging the promenade and made my way up to the
topside hatch, which I undogged and raised open. I was about to
straighten up to go back down the wing for Renée. Turning my head,
though, I saw her standing right behind me.
here,” I said, as I swung my legs over and began climbing down,
“Depending on the shape he’s in, I may need to pass him up to you.”
“You have five minutes before I come down myself,” she warned me.
Then down I went.
ship still had power. The spokes in floor and ceiling were glowing,
though weakly. Light from the city fell through the viewplates upon the
And there he was.
had the good sense to strap himself in, but was slumped forward. Blood
streamed from a nasty gash on his forehead. When I reached him, I felt
for a pulse, found it, then bound his wound with strips torn from my
shirt, staunching the bleeding somewhat. Checking him for other damage,
I discovered his right arm was broken. Swearing continuously, I went
aft, returning with two struts yanked from one of the bunks, which I
used for a hastily crafted splint.
Arranging things as
best as I could, I ducked under his belly, got him over my shoulders,
made my way to the ladder and began climbing. I did not get very far
before I had to shift things around, slowly working Maio into position
where I could get him up near the hatch, getting banged up myself in my
efforts to avoid subjecting him to further harm.
“Hold on! I’ve got him!”
Renée took his arms, and, gripping his belt, I stepped down to a lower rung to push while she pulled.
had help, as I took note of paws and tentacles assisting her, then saw
him lifted away. Soon I was up on top of the ship with them. Can’t say
I was at all surprised she and I were grabbed straightaway and marched
“Where have they taken him?”
Taking a quick gander, I saw no sign of Maio, but suspected the purposeful knot somewhat ahead of us might include her father.
receive medical treatment,” I answered, failing to add that medical
care would in short order be followed by some intense interrogation.
But she would figure that out once she was being interrogated herself.
honor guard of bird-like beings with feline faces in glowing green mail
was waiting in the cathedral-like space beneath Thelbane. They
attended a tall queen.
We were ushered into the circle of open space before her.
from her shoulders by an errant breeze from the abyss, her dark hair
was long now, confined by the spiky circle of silver on her brow. Hues
of blue and yellow washed over each other and rippled through her
garment as if she were clothed in a sunlit waterfall.
“Hello, Dara,” I said.
She was about to say something when a dark bird glided in from the north, circled me, and alighted upon my left shoulder.
“Prince Corwin...” she began.
“You have a raven on your shoulder.”
“Oh,” I said, genuinely disappointed, “well, I’ll admit it would work better if it were a black dove, or at least a crow.”
“Really? And why is that?”
She did not pay me much heed, however, as she had by then moved on to studying Renée.
ring of onlookers stirred and made way as someone familiar was brought
forward by two of Dara’s half-bird minions to stand beside us. Ribbons
of orange armor belted his red clothing, but he had been relieved of any
weapons. More or less human, with a long narrow face and mobile pointy
ears, while his hands were bound behind him he was otherwise
Dara ran her critical gaze over our friend.
“Coyote, where is your master?”
He chuckled, and gave her a sidelong look.
“You are trying to make a joke; I like that. Everyone knows — and you do, too — that I have no master.”
“Only because you cannot master yourself,” was the sharp retort.
“The self cannot ever truly be mastered,” Coyote acknowledged, smiling, “and what a boring world if it could be.”
“Then you are never bored, are you?”
“You two,” I interjected with a small cough, “need to make out.”
Looks were directed toward me, but nothing got said. Something was happening behind us.
of Chaos parted like grass before a strong wind. Through the gap thus
created floated a platform with low rails woven of flowers, attended by a
retinue of minotaurs. Alone upon this gliding stage was a woman robed
in yellows and reds, her cloak green and literally flowing behind her as
though levitated by the same force which upheld her drifting dais, robe
and cloak casting bright flashes from gems, glass and gold.
one side of the space: Dara and her anti-sphinx entourage. To the
other side: the mystery lady accompanied by her bull-men.
Dara signaled her cat-birds, who at once hopped forward.
The other lady of Chaos raised a beringed hand, and everything stopped.
“What right do you imagine you are exercising on behalf of Sawall by your presence here?”
As she spoke, her minotaurs advanced till they were a dozen yards away, about the same distance as the winged cats.
Dara drew herself up, standing a little taller.
“I bring more than my battle birds, and have more than one house behind me. I am here for my prize.”
touched my calf, possibly Merlin’s cloak, ignored by me as the tension
in the air rose, as the space became more claustrophobic. But I could
not take my eyes off her, she of the emeralds and the rubies. Her
platform having drawn nearer with the advance of her minotaurs, she was
more visible now, wearing a wreath of lilies wrought of diamonds,
mother-of-pearl and pale gold. Likewise, the rail enclosing the
suspended altar resembled a chain of poppies and was encrusted with
precious stones glowing red, purple and green. And wherever the
platform went, the people bowed before her.
“Any prize you believe you see in this place,” said the lady, “belongs to Thelbane. You have my leave to depart.”
The anti-sphinxes, Dara’s battle birds, took a single step forward.
The minotaurs, brandishing double-bitted axes, also moved closer.
The air was charged with impending violence, and the lady of lilies and poppies raised her hand imperiously—
“I volunteer myself,” Coyote proclaimed loudly, “to go with the Lady Sawall if she is permitted to leave in peace.”
still hung between the two opposing forces. Grips shifted on weapons,
feet shuffled, breath steamed from the nostrils of the minotaurs, the
armor of the anti-sphinxes glinted...
“Will you?” asked the mistress of the minotaurs, “will you go if Coyote is released to you?”
“I should say,” Coyote added, “that I know things about Imryss, Havgan, and other subjects, which could prove...useful.”
The adversaries eyed each other, regarded each other across a distance of sixty feet or so.
But at last Dara nodded, and Coyote walked to where the feline bird things waited and was escorted away.
me a last thoughtful glance, Dara swung away abruptly to march through
the crowd, her cat-headed battle birds in her wake.
“So now you are my prize, Lord Corwin.”
was the first time she had even appeared to be looking in my
direction. As she spoke, the platform drew closer, then settled on the
ground before us. She gestured with her hand — a section of the rail
slid aside — then beckoned to us with a crooked finger.
“Prize,” I asked, “or prisoner?”
“That depends on you.”
the same disturbance down by my calf which I had earlier ignored, I
finally looked down to see what it was. The white cat, the cat from
Tir-na Nog’th, rubbed herself against my boot again, then jumped up onto
Renée followed the cat, and then, after I
looked back along the way we had come, toward the city on the lake,
wondering how it went with Maio, wondering what would become of Wing Thing
, I joined them on the flying carpet.
The rail closed, the platform rose.
a small motion of her hand, she guided the palanquin northeast, toward
where the walls of Thelbane were one with the cliffs of Melgem and the
gap between the Courts and Shadow was narrowest.
As we slipped toward the brink, I inquired, “Who are you?”
She offered her reply without turning.
“Falikwen of Thelbane.”
name rang a bell somewhere. Had she been among those who had attended
dad’s funeral? Probably, as most Chaos dignitaries had. Could she have
been among those brought to Amber for the treaty negotiations?
Doubtful. The delegation from Chaos had been small and, perfunctory as
my participation had been, I was sure I would have remembered.
Turning her head slightly to her left, she addressed Renée.
“And what do they call you, child?”
“What?” Renée croaked weakly.
“I asked for your name.”
“Me? I’m Renée...Renée Maio...I just want to go home.”
“And where is that?”
She didn’t answer, perhaps overwhelmed by all the experiences she had been propelled through, by her father’s ordeal aboard Wing Thing
, by the prospect growing before us.
So I spoke into the silence, volunteering, “She is from a great city of an Earth strong in science, far from here.”
so I could see her frown of disapproval, Falikwen marveled, “What
deficiency causes the two of you to have so much trouble with names? Of
what city do you speak?”
I managed to respond with, “New—” but then the palanquin stopped and I did, too.
columns supporting the tower had retreated to either side as our
vehicle had progressed on its course, so that we had drifted through a
wide plaza before stopping just before the drop. Beyond the token
barrier of bejeweled poppies there was...nothing. Just space. Peering
over the edge of the Grand Canyon might provide a dizzying thrill; this
was more like falling into the sky, like wondering how secure one’s
tether to the spacecraft is when confronted with infinity.
feeling beyond vertigo took me, a certainty that I would fall into the
abyss mixed in equal measure with doubt and confusion over whether to
step into it would constitute a fall at all. Strung across the space
between the Courts and the shores of Shadow were pale twisting bridges
drawn to one side or the other, beings moving indistinctly upon them —
filmies, the floating bridges were called — as if gravity were absent
there. What happened to people and things claimed by the void? For a
brief moment, I was a prisoner of that thought.
“—York,” I finished quietly.
filmies parted like the Red Sea for Moses, pushed to either side as an
empty zone opened in the unplumbed deep lying between the Tower of Glass
and the battle plain at the end of all the worlds. Something was
moving down there within the boiling, streaming colors, something
boundless and black, spiraling and unspooling and rising.
was a sudden flapping, quite nearby, followed by a dark shape launching
itself into the air before us — the raven taking off, soaring out over
the abyss before swinging back in our direction to pass overhead and
back into the park beneath Thelbane.
creatures rose and dipped over the plain. Fire and smoke flickered and
swirled there, fallen combatants lay there. A whirlwind of wings and
limp bodies boiled toward us across the mottled landscape. The fires,
smokes, bodies and wings swept toward the chasm, then surged into it, a
wave washing into the maw of the maelstrom.
immensity unfolded itself, coils rotating and winding beneath the long,
widening triangular mouth of geographic proportions, a mouth opening in
what seemed a genuine desire to touch both Melgem and the plain at the
same time. The colossal mouth was full of blue and red fires, as though
a mountain had opened to reveal the magma within.
bodies of the slain, borne aloft by the wyverns, rained down into the
jaws of the monster. They fell and fell and fell. And as they fell,
the light from the fires within grew brighter and began rolling out
across the intervening distance, obscuring the exploding colors of the
As the waves of ghastly light fell upon us, a different sort of wave overtook me.
at Renée, there was something on her face which I recognized within
myself: horror. For me, though, there was something more. There was
remorse, and even a feeling which might well be dubbed shame.
one should misunderstand, however. Tens of thousands — perhaps more —
had given their all under my command, and over the centuries hundreds of
thousands more had died opposing those I led. Death and I were no
strangers. But here, what was it? Here, death appeared needlessly
greedy and cruel. Here, I feared, was death for its own sake.
As the bodies fell into the gullet of the Beast, I felt sickened.
“This is...” Renée said, “...that
“What,” I finally managed, “...what the hell is that?”
were a couple paces behind our benefactor, in deference to her obvious
status here. She turned to face us, and it was the first time we had
gotten a good look at her.
Her hair was long, falling
to her waist, pale and red and brown and wild, and her bright and steady
gaze seemed to hold starlight captive within it. Though not much more
than five feet in height, she carried herself with great confidence, as
one of formidable stature. The golden diadem of interwoven lilies,
encrusted with diamonds, inlaid with pearl, the cloak a lush green with
emeralds scattered throughout the material, a liberal distribution of
garnet, ruby and carnelian visible in her gown — these only enhanced the
authority she seemed to wield.
“This is the teind.”
“A tribute,” Renée said, “like the seven youths and seven maidens. Isn’t that right?”
“Yes,” Falikwen agreed, “you understand.”
reached out then to take Renée’s hand, which she lifted up so that the
ring upon it sparkled in the unusual illumination of the Courts and the
abyss, the gemstone that was the eye of the serpent sending forth violet
“As you should, being a child of Chaos.”
her, the rain of bodies had ceased. The cloud of wyverns hovered over
the abyss. The jaws of the monster were closing, its head twisting above
the bulk of its undefined form, filling the expanse.
Its enormous eye regarded us.
disturbing purple light streamed out of it and also seemed to pour into
it, so that a mesmerizing swirling effect was created. There was
something beyond the visible operating, almost a magnetic power working
its will upon those in range, holding us in thrall.
The lady drew Renée forward, turned toward the vast form so terrifyingly close. She held up Renée’s hand.
My own will had left me, my awareness of my body had become a distant thing, my mind had gone adrift.
Falikwen’s voice rang out.
“O, Great Serpent, behold! Your daughters stand before you!”
eye was drawn to Falikwen’s hand, where I now saw among her rings one
nearly identical to that which Renée bore — a serpent, tail in mouth,
whose single eye was a stone of purple hue.
“Leviathan, thou hast feasted.”
The center of the eye was black, somehow bright, and it hurt to look upon it.
“Striker in the Dark, thou hast been paid.”
Darkness for a moment, as the eyelid covered the crackling iridescence of the indigo sun, as the Beast blinked.
cat jumped up onto my shoulder, rubbed her face against my jaw, then
reached her paw down to pull the Diamond to where it entered my field of
“Go, lie down in the darkness, Lord Who Lies.”
For me, the spell was broken. My body returned to me, and my mind. A shiver ran through me, I shook myself.
She turned toward me. Renée did, too.
Though I had asked the question before, I felt I hadn’t really gotten an answer, so I decided to ask it again.
“Who are you?”
“I am Falikwen, last of the House of Barimen, Mistress of Thelbane, Queen of the Courts of Chaos.”
palanquin drew away from the abyss as the black shape fell back into
the depths. I turned around. We were sliding toward one of the
columns, where a wide doorway waited.
From behind me, I heard the queen say, “Welcome to my house.”
END OF BOOK TWO
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