Courts of Chaos
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"What? How could you know?"
"I can see through Shadow, Corwin. I would have thought our sister had filled you in more thoroughly on these matters. With a little mental effort, I can perceive whatever I choose now. Naturally, I was concerned with the outcome of this affair. So I watched. He is dead, Corwin. The effort was too much for him. He lost control of the forces he was manipulating and was blasted by them a little over halfway through the Pattern."
"You lie!" I said, touching the Jewel.
He shook his head.
"I admit that I am not above lying to gain my ends, but this time I am telling the truth. Dad is dead. I saw him fall. The bird brought you the Jewel then, as he had willed it. We are left in a universe without a Pattern."
I did not want to believe him. But it was possible that Dad had failed. I had the assurance of the only expert in the business, Dworkin, as to the difficulty of the task.
"Granting for the moment what you have said, what happens next?" I asked.
"Things fall apart," he replied. "Even now. Chaos wells up to fill the vacuum back at Amber. A great vortex has come into being, and it grows. It spreads ever outward, destroying the shadow worlds, and it will not stop until it meets with the Courts of Chaos, bringing all of creation full circle, with Chaos once more to reign over all."
I felt dazed. Had I struggled from Greenwood, through everything, to here, to have it end this way? Would I see everything stripped of meaning, form, content, life, when things had been pushed to a kind of completion?
"No!" I said. "It cannot be so."
"Unless . . ." Brand said softly. "Unless what?"
"Unless a new Pattern is inscribed, a new order created to preserve form."
"You mean ride back into that mess and try to complete the job? You just said that the place no longer exists."
"No. Of course not. The location is unimportant. Wherever there is a Pattern there is a center, let's do it right here."
"You think that you can succeed where Dad failed?"
"I have to try. I am the only one who knows enough about it and has sufficient time before the waves of Chaos arrive. Listen, I admit to everything Fiona has doubtless told you about me. I have schemed and I have acted. I have dealt with the enemies of Amber. I have shed our blood. I tried to burn out your memory. But the world as we know it is being destroyed now, and I live here too. All of my plans-everything!-will come to nothing if some measure of order is not preserved. Perhaps I have been duped by the Lords of Chaos. It is difficult for me to admit that, but I see the possibility now. It is not too late to foil them, though. We can build the new bastion of order right here."
"I need the Jewel-and your assistance. This will be the site of the new Amber."
"Supposing-arguendo-I give it to you. Would the new Pattern be exactly like the old one?"
He shook his head.
"It could not be, any more than the one Dad was attempting to create would have been like Dworkin's. No two authors can render the same story in the same fashion. Individual stylistic differences cannot be avoided. No matter how hard I might try to duplicate it, my version would be slightly different."
"How could you do this," I asked, "when you are not fully attuned to the Jewel? You would need a Pattern to complete the process of attunement-and, as you say, the Pattern has been destroyed. What gives?"
Then, "I said that I would need your help," he stated. "There is another way to attune a person to the Jewel. It requires the assistance of someone who is already attuned. You would have to project yourself through the Jewel once more, and take me with you-into and through the primary Pattern that lies beyond."
"Why, when the ordeal is past I will be attuned, you give me the Jewel, I inscribe a new Pattern and we are back in business. Things hold together. Life goes on."
"What of Chaos?"
"The new Pattern will be unmarred. They will no longer have the road giving them access to Amber."
"With Dad dead, how would the new Amber be run?"
He smiled crookedly.
"I ought to have something for my pains, oughtn't I? I will be risking my life with this, and the odds are not all that good."
I smiled back at him.
"Considering the payoff, what is to prevent me from taking the gamble myself?" I said.
"The same thing that prevented Dad from succeeding-all the forces of Chaos. They are summoned by a kind of cosmic reflex when such an act is begun. I have had more experience with them than you. You would not have a chance. I might."
"Now let us say that you are lying to me. Brand. Or let us be kind and say that you did not see clearly through all the turmoil. Supposing Dad did succeed? Supposing there is a new Pattern in existence right now? What would happen if you were to do another, here, now?"
"I . . . It has never been done before. How should I know?"
"I wonder," I said. "Might you still get your own version of reality that way? Might it represent the splitting off of a new universe-Amber and Shadow-just for you? Might it negate ours? Or would it simply stand apart? Or would there be some overlapping? What do you think, given that situation?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I have already answered that. It has never been done before. How should I know?"
"But I think that you do know, or can make a very good guess at it. I think that that is what you are planning, that that is what you want to try-because that is all you have left now. I take this action on your part as an indication that Dad has succeeded and that you are down to your last card. But you need me and you need the Jewel for it. You cannot have either."
"I had expected more of you. But all right. You are wrong, but leave it at that. Listen, though. Rather than see everything lost, I will split the realm with you."
"Brand," I said, "get lost. You cannot have the Jewel, or my help. I have heard you out, and I think that you are lying."
"You are afraid," he said, "afraid of me. I do not blame you for not wanting to trust me. But you are making a mistake. You need me now."
"Nevertheless, I have made my choice."
He took a step toward me. Another. . .
"Anything you want, Corwin. I can give you anything you care to name."
"I was with Benedict in Tir-na Nog'th," I said, "looking through his eyes, listening with his ears, when you made him the same offer. Shove it. Brand. I am going on with my mission. If you think that you can stop me, now is as good a time as any."
I began walking toward him. I knew that I would kill him if I reached him. I also felt that I would not reach him.
He halted. He took a step backward.
"You are making a big mistake," he said.
"I do not think so. I think that I am doing exactly the right thing."
"I will not fight with you," he said hastily. "Not here, not above the abyss. You have had your chance, though. The next time that we meet, I will have to take the Jewel from you."
"What good will it be to you, unattuned?"
"There might still be a way for me to manage it-more difficult, but possible. You have had your chance. Goodbye."
He retreated into the wood. I followed after, but he had vanished.
I left that place and rode on, along a road over nothing. I did not like to consider the possibility that Brand might have been telling the truth, or at least a part of it. But the things he had said kept returning to plague me. Supposing Dad had failed? Then I was on a fool's errand. Everything was already over, and it was just a matter of time. I did not like looking back, just in case something was gaining on me. I passed into a moderately paced hellride. I wanted to get to the others before the waves of Chaos reached that far, just to let them know that I had kept faith, to let them see that in the end I had tried my best. I wondered then how the actual battle was going. Or had it even begun yet, within that time frame?
I swept along the bridge, which widened now beneath a brightening sky. As it assumed the aspect of a golden plain, I considered Brand's threat. Had he said what he had said simply to raise doubts, increase my discomfort and impair my efficiency? Possibly. Yet, If he required the Jewel he would have to ambush me. And I had a respect for that strange power he had acquired over Shadow. It seemed almost impossible to prepare for an attack by someone who could watch my every move and transport himself instantaneously to the most advantageous spot. How soon might it come? Not too soon, I guessed. First, he would want to frazzle my nerves-and I was already tired and more than a little punchy. I would have to rest, to sleep, sooner or later. It was impossible for me to go that great distance in a single stretch, no matter how accelerated the hellride.
Fogs of pink and orange and green fled past, swirled about me, filling up the world. The ground rang beneath us like metal. Occasional musical tones, as of rung crystal, occurred overhead. My thoughts danced. Memories of many worlds came and went in random fashion. Ganelon, my friend-enemy, and my father, enemy-friend, merged and parted, parted and merged. Somewhere one of them asked me who had a right to the throne. I had thought it was Ganelon, wanting to know our several justifications. Now I knew that it had been Dad, wanting to know my feelings. He had judged. He had made his decision. And I was backing out. Whether it was arrested development, the desire to be free of such an encumbrance, or a matter of sudden enlightenment based on all that I had experienced in recent years, growing slowly within me, granting me a more mature view of the onerous role of monarch apart from its moments of glory, I do not know. I remembered my life on the shadow Earth, following orders, giving them. Faces swam before me-people I had known over the centuries-friends, enemies, wives, lovers, relatives. Lorraine seemed to be beckoning me on. Moire laughing, Deirdre weeping. I fought again with Eric. I recalled my first passage through the Pattern, as a boy, and the later one when, step by step, my memory was given back to me. Murders, thieveries, knaveries, seductions returned because, as Mallory said, they were there. I was unable, even, to place them all correctly in terms of time. There was no great anxiety because there was no great guilt. Time, time, and more time had softened the edges of harsher things, had worked its changes on me. I saw my earlier selves as different people, acquaintances I had outgrown. I wondered how I could ever have been some of them. As I rushed onward, scenes from my past seemed to solidify in tile mists about me. No poetic license here. Battles in which I had taken part assumed tangible form, save for a total absence of sound-the flare of weapons, the colors of uniforms, banners and blood. And people-most of them now long dead-moved from my memory into silent animation about me. None of these were members of my family, but all of them were people who had once meant something to me. Yet there was no special pattern to it. There were noble deeds as well as shameful; enemies as well as friends-and none of the persons involved took note of my passage; all were caught up in some long-past sequence of actions. I wondered then at the nature of the place through which I rode. Was it some watered-down version of Tirana Nog'th, with some mind-sensitive substance in the vicinity that drew from me and projected about me this "This Is Your Life" panorama? Or was I simply beginning to hallucinate? I was tired, anxious, troubled, distressed, and I passed along a way which provided a monotonous, gentle stimulation of the senses of the sort leading to reverie. . . . In fact, I realized that I had lost control over Shadow sometime back and was now simply proceeding in a linear fashion across this landscape, trapped m a kind of externalized narcissim by the spectacle. . . . I realized then that I had to stop and rest-probably even sleep a little-though I feared doing so in this place. I would have to break free and make my way to a more sedate, deserted spot. . . .
I wrenched at my surroundings. I twisted things about. I broke free.
Soon I was riding in a rough, mountainous area, and shortly thereafter I came to the cave that I desired.
We passed within, and I tended to Star. I ate and drank just enough to take the edge off my hunger. I built no fire. I wrapped myself in my cloak and in a blanket I had brought. I held Grayswandir in my right hand. I lay facing the darkness beyond the cavemouth.
I felt a little sick. I knew that Brand was a liar, but his words bothered me anyway.
But I had always been good at going to sleep. I closed my eyes and was gone.
The Courts Of Chaos
I was awakened by a sense of presence. Or maybe it was a noise and a sense of presence. Whatever, I was awake and I was certain that I was not alone. I tightened my grip on Grayswandir and opened my eyes. Beyond that, I did not move.
A soft light, like moonlight, came in through the cavemouth. There was a figure, possibly human, standing just inside. The lighting was such that I could not tell whether it faced me or faced outward. But then it took a step toward me.
I was on my feet, the point of my blade toward its breast. It halted.
"Peace," said a man's voice, in Thari. "I have but taken refuge from the storm. May I share your cave?"
"What storm?" I asked.
As if in answer, there came a roll of thunder followed by a gust of wind with the smell of rain within it.
"Okay, that much is true," I said. "Make yourself comfortable."
He sat down, well inside, his back against the righthand wall of the cave. I folded my blanket for a pad and seated myself across from him. About four meters separated us. I located my pipe and filled it, then tried a match which had been with me from the shadow Earth. It lit, saving me a lot of trouble. The tobacco had a good smell, mixed with the damp breeze. I listened to the sounds of the rain and regarded the dark outline of my nameless companion. I thought over some possible dangers, but it had not been Brand's voice which had addressed me.
"This is no natural storm," the other said.
"Oh? How so?"
"For one thing, it is coming out of the north. They never come out of the north, here, this time of year."
"That's how records are made."
"For another, I have never seen a storm behave this way. I have been watching it advance all day-just a steady line, moving slowly, front like a sheet of glass. So much lightning, it looks like a monstrous insect with hundreds of shiny legs. Most unnatural. And behind it, things have grown very distorted."
"That happens in the rain."
"Not that way. Everything seems to be changing its shape. Flowing. As if it is melting the world-or stamping away its forms."
I shuddered. I had thought that I was far enough ahead of the dark waves that I could take a little rest. Still, he might be wrong, and it could just be an unusual storm. But I did not want to take the chance. I rose and turned to the rear of the cave. I whistled.
No response. I went back and groped around.
"Something the matter?"
"My horse is gone."
"Could it have wandered off?"
"Must have. I'd have thought Star'd have better sense, though."
I went to the cavemouth but could see nothing. I was half-dienched in the instant I was there. I returned to my position beside the left wall.
"It seems like an ordinary enough storm to me," I said. "They sometimes get pretty bad in the mountains."
"Perhaps you know this country better than I do?"
"No, I am just traveling through--a thing I had better be continuing soon, too."
I touched the Jewel. I readied into it, then through it, out and up, with my mind. I felt the storm about me and ordered it away, with red pulses of energy corresponding to my heartbeats. Then I leaned back, found another match and relit my pipe. It would still take a while for the forces I had manipulated to do their work, against a stormfront of this size.
"It will not last too long," I said.
"How can you tell?"
"According to some versions, this is the way that the world ends-beginning with a strange storm from out of the north."
"That's right," I said, "and this is it. Nothing to worry about, though. It will be all over, one way or the other, before too long."
"That stone you are wearing . . . It is giving off light."
"You were joking about this being the end, though-were you not?"
"You make me think of that line from the Holy Book-The Archangel Corwin shall pass before the storm, lightning upon his breast. . .. You would not be named Corwin, would you?"
"How does the rest of it go?"
". . . When asked where he travels, he shall say, 'To the ends of the Earth,' where he goes not knowing what enemy will aid him against another enemy, nor whom the Horn will touch."
"All there is about the Archangel Corwin."
"I have run into this difficulty with Scripture in the past. It tells you enough to get interested, but never enough to be of any immediate use. It is as though the author gets his kicks by tantalizing. One enemy against another? The Horn? Beats me."
"Where do you travel?"
"Not too far, unless I can find my horse."
I returned to the cavemouth. It was letting up now, with a glow like a moon behind some clouds to the west, another to the east. I looked both ways along the trail and down the slope to the valley. No horses anywhere in sight. I turned back to the cave. Just as I did, however, I heard Star's whinny far below me.
I called back to the stranger in the cave, "I have to go. You can have the blanket."
I do not know whether he replied, for I moved off into the drizzle then, picking my way down the slope. Again, I exerted myself through the Jewel, and the drizzle halted, to be replaced by a mist.
The rocks were slippery, but I made it halfway down without stumbling. I paused then, both to catch my breath and to get my bearings. From that point, I was not certain as to the exact direction from whidh Star's whinny had come. The moon's light was a little stronger, visibility a bit better, but I saw nothing as I studied the prospect before me. I listened for several minutes.
Then I heard the whinny once more-from below, to my left, near a dark boulder, cairn or rocky outcrop. There did seem to be some sort of turmoil in the shadows at its base. Moving as quickly as I dared, I laid my course in that direction.
As I reached level ground and hurried toward the place of the action, I passed pockets of ground mist, stirred slightly by a breeze from out of the west, snaking silvery, about my ankles. I heard a grating, crunching sound, as of something heavy being pushed or rolled over a rocky surface. Then I caught sight of a gleam of light, low on the dark mass I was approaching.
Drawing nearer, I saw small, manlike forms outlined in a rectangle of light, struggling to move a great rocky slab. Faint echoes of a clattering sound and another whinny came from their direction. Then the stone began to move, swinging like the door that it probably was. The lighted area diminished, narrowed to a sliver, vanished with a booming sound, all of the struggling figures having first passed within.
When I finally reached that rocky mass all was silent once again. I pressed my ear to the stone, but heard nothing. But, whoever they were, they had taken my horse. I had never liked horse thieves, and I had killed my share in the past. And right now, I needed Star as I had seldom needed a horse. So I groped about, seeking the edges of that stony gate.
It was not too difficult to describe its outlines with my fingertips. I probably located it sooner than I would have by daylight. When everything would have blended and merged more readily to baffle the eye. Knowing its situation, I sought further then after some handhold by which I might draw it. They had seemed to be little guys, so I looked low.
I finally discovered what might have been the proper place and seized hold of it. I pulled then, but it was stubborn. Either they were disproportionately strong or there was a trick to it that I was missing.
No matter. There is a time for subtlety and a time for brute force. I was both angry and in a hurry, so the decision was made.
I began to draw upon the slab once again, tightening the muscles in my arms, my shoulders, my back, wishing Gerard were nearby. The door creaked. I kept pulling. It moved slightly-an inch, perhaps-and stuck. I did not slacken, but increased my effort. It creaked again.
I leaned backward, shifted my weight and braced my left foot against the rocky wall at the side of the portal. I pushed with it as I drew back. There was more creaking and some grinding as it moved again-another inch or so. Then it stopped and I could not budge it.
I released my grip and stood, flexing my arms. Then I put my shoulder to it and pushed the door back to its fully closed position. I took a deep breath and seized it again.
I put my left foot back where it had been. No gradual pressure this time. I yanked and shoved simultaneously.
There was a snapping sound and a clattering from within, and the door came forward ahout half a foot, grinding as it moved. It seemed freer now, though, so I got to my feet, reversed my position-back to wall-and found sufficient purchase to push it outward.
It moved more easily this time, but I could not resist placing my foot against it as it began to swing and thrusting forward as hard as I could. It shot through a full hundred and eighty degrees, slammed back against the rock on the other side with a great booming noise, fractured in several places, swayed, fell and struck the ground with a crash that made it shudder, breaking off more fragments when it hit.
Grayswandir was back in my hand before it struck, and I had dropped into a crouch and stolen a quick look about the corner.
Light . . . There was illumination beyond . . . From little lamps depending from hooks along the wall . . . Beside the stairway . . . Going down . . . To a place of greater light and some sounds . . . Like music. . .
There was no one in sight. I would have thought that the godawful din I had raised would have caught someone's attendon, but the music continued. Either the sound-somehow-had not carried, or they did not give a damn. Either way . . .
I rose and stepped over the threshold. My foot struck against a metal object. I picked it up and examined it. A twisted bolt. They had barred the door after themselves. I tossed it back over my shoulder and started down the stair.
The music-fiddles and pipes-grew louder as I advanced. From the breaking of the light, I could see that there was some sort of hall off to my right, from the foot of the stair. They were small steps and there were a lot of them. I did not bother with stealth, but hurried down to the landing.
When I turned and looked into the hall, I beheld a scene out of some drunken Irishman's dream. In a smoky, torchlit hall, hordes of meter high people, red-faced and green clad, were dancing to the music or quaffing what appeared to be mugs of ale while stamping their feet, slapping tabletops and each other, grinning, laughing and shouting. Huge kegs lined one wall, and a number of the revelers were queued up before the one which had been tapped. An enormous fire blazed in a pit at the far end of the room, its smoke being sucked back through a crevice in the rock wall, above a pair of cavemouths running anywhere. Star was tethered to a ring in the wall beside that pit, and a husky little man in a leather apron was grinding and honing some suspicious-looking instruments.
Several faces turned in my direction, there were shouts and suddenly the music stopped. The silence was almost complete.
I raised my blade to an overhand, epee en garde position, pointed across the room toward Star. All faces were turned in my direction by then.
"I have come for my horse," I said. "Either you bring him to me or I come and get him. There will be a lot more blood the second way."
From off to my right, one of the men, larger and grayer than most of the others, cleared his throat.
"Begging your pardon," he began, "but how did you get in here?"
"You will be needing a new door," I said. "Go and look if you care to, if it makes any difference-and it may. I will wait."
I stepped aside and put the wall to my back.
"I will do that."
And he darted by.
I could feel my anger-born strength flowing into and back out of the Jewel. One part of me wanted to cut and slash and stab my way across the room, another wanted a more humane settlement with people so much smaller than myself; and a third and perhaps wiser part suggested that the little guys might not be such pushovers. So I waited to see how my door-opening feat impressed their spokesman.
Moments later, he returned, giving me wide berth.
"Bring the man his horse," he said.
A sudden flurry of conversation occurred within the hall. I lowered my blade.
"My apologies," said the one who had given the order. "We desire no trouble with the like of you. We will be foraging elsewhere. No hard feelings, I hope?"
The man in the leather apron had untethered Star and started in my direction. The revelers drew back to make way as he led my mount through the hall.
"I will just call it a day and forgive and forget," I said.
The little man seized a flagon from a nearby table and passed it to me. Seeing my expression, he sipped from it himself.
"Join us in a drink, then?"
"Why not?" I said, and I took it and quaffed it as he did the same with the second one.
He gave a gentle belch and grinned.
" 'Tis a mighty small draught for a man of your size," he said then. "Let me fetch you another, for the trail."
It was a pleasant ale, and I was thirsty after my efforts.
"All right," I said.
He called for more as Star was delivered to me.
"You can wrap the reins around this hook here," he said, indicating a low projection near the doorway, "and he will be safe out of the way."
I nodded and did that as the butcher withdrew. No one was staring at me any longer. A pitcher of the brew arrived and the little man refilled our flagons from it. One of the fiddlers struck up a fresh tune. Moments later, another joined him.
"Sit a spell," said my host, pushing a bench in my direction with his foot. "Keep your back to the wall as you would. There will be no funny business."
I did, and he rounded the table and seated himself across from me, the pitcher between us. It was good to sit for a few moments, to take my mind from my journey for just a little while, to drink the dark ale and listen to a lively tune.
"I will not be apologizing again," said my companion, "nor explaining either. We both know it was no misunderstanding. But you have got the right on your side, it is plain to see." He grinned and winked. "So I am for calling it a day, too. We will not starve. We will just not feast tonight. Tis a lovely jewel you are wearing. Tell me about it?"
"Just a stone," I said.
The dancing resumed. The voices grew louder. I finished my drink and he refilled the flagon. The fire undulated. The night's cold went out of my bones.
"Cozy place you've got here," I said.
"Oh, that it is. Served us for time out of mind, it has. Would you be liking the grand tour?"
"Thank you, no."
"I did not think so, but 'twas my hostly duty to offer. You are welcome to join in the dancing, too, if you wish."
I shook my head and laughed. The thought of my cavorting in this place brought me images out of Swift.
He produced a clay pipe and proceeded to fill it. I cleaned my own and did the same. Somehow all danger seemed past. He was a genial enough little fellow, and the others seemed harmless now with their music and their stepping.
Yet . . . I knew the stories from another place, far, so far from here . . . To awaken in the morning, naked, in some field, all traces of this spot vanished . . . I knew, yet . . .
A few drinks seemed small peril. They were warming me now, and the keening of the pipes and the wailings of the fiddles were pleasant after the brain-numbing twistings of the hellride. I leaned back and puffed smoke. I watched the dancers.
The little man was talking, talking. Everyone else was ignoring me. Good. I was hearing some fantastic yarn of knights and wars and treasures. Though I gave it less than half an ear, it lulled me, even drew a few chuckles.
Inside, though, my nastier, wiser self was warning me: All right, Corwin, you have had enough. Time to take your leave . . .
But, magically it seemed, my glass had been refilled, and I took it and sipped from it. One more, one more is all right.
No, said my other self, he is laying a spell on you. Can't you feel it?
I did not feel that any dwarf could drink me under the table. But I was tired, and I had not eaten much. Perhaps it would be prudent . . .
I felt myself nodding. I placed my pipe on the table. Each time that I blinked it seemed to take longer to reopen my eyes. I was pleasantly warm now, with just the least bit of delicious numbness in my tired muscles.
I caught myself nodding, twice. I tried to think of my mission, of my personal safety, of Star. . . . I mumbled something, still vaguely awake behind closed eyelids. It would be so good, just to remain this way for half a minute more . . . .
The little man's voice, musical, grew monotonous, dropped to a drone. It did not really matter what he was say-
I sat bolt upright, eyes wide, and the tableau before me swept all sleep from my mind.
The musicians continued their performance, but now no one was dancing. All of the revelers were advancing quietly upon me. Each held something in his hand-a flask, a cudgel, a blade. The one in the leather apron brandished his cleaver. My companion had just fetched a stout stick from where it had leaned against the wall. Several of them lofted small pieces of furniture. More of them had emerged from the caves near the fire pit, and they bore stones and clubs. All traces of gaiety had vanished, and their faces were now either expressionless, twisted into grimaces of hate or smiling very nasty smiles.
My anger returned, but it was not the white-heat thing I had felt earlier. Looking at the horde before me, I had no wish to tackle it. Prudence had come to temper my feelings. I had a mission. I should not risk my neck here if I could think of another way of handling things. But I was certain that I could not talk my way out of this one.
I took a deep breath. I saw that they were getting ready to rush me, and I thought suddenly of Brand and Benedict in Tir-na Nog'th, Brand not even fully attuned to the Jewel. I drew strength from that fiery stone once again, growing alert and ready to lay about me if it came to that. But first, I would have a go at their nervous systems.
I was not certain how Brand had managed it, so I simply reached out through the Jewel as I did when influencing the weather. Strangely, the music was still playing, as though this action of the little people was but some grisly continuation of their dance.
"Stand still." I said it aloud and I willed it, rising to my feet. "Freeze. Turn to statues. All of you."
I felt a heavy throbbing within/upon my breast. I felt the red forces move outward, exactly as on those other occasions when I had employed the Jewel.
My diminutive assailants were poised. The nearest ones stood stock-still, but there were still some movements among those to the rear. Then the pipes let out a crazy squeal and the fiddles fell silent. Still, I did not know whether I had reached them or whether they had halted of their own accord on seeing me stand.
Then I felt the great waves of force which flowed out from me, embedding the entire assembly in a tightening matrix. I felt them all trapped within this expression of my will, and I reached out and untethered Star.
Holding them with a concentration as pure as anything I used when passing through Shadow, I led Star to the doorway. I turned then for a final look at the frozen assembly and pushed Star on ahead of me up the stair. As I followed, I listened, but there were no sounds of renewed activity from below.
When we emerged, dawn was already paling the east. Strangely, as I mounted, I heard the distant sounds of fiddles. Moments later, the pipes came in on the tune. It seemed as though it mattered not at all whether they succeeded or failed in their designs against me; the party was going to go on.
As I headed us south, a small figure hailed me from the doorway I had so recently quitted. It was their leader with whom I had been drinking. I drew rein, to better catch his words.
"And where do you travel?" he called after me.
"To the ends of the Earth!" I shouted back.