Courts of Chaos
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"No. That is not necessary."
"Dont you want to get out? I thought that was why you hollered."
"Oh, no. I simply wanted you to regard me."
I moved nearer and stared, for the fog was beginning to shift again.
"All right," I said. "I have seen you."
"Do you feel my plight?"
"Not particularly, if you will not help yourself or accept help."
"What good would it do me to free myself?"
"It is your question. You answer it."
I turned to go.
"Wait! Where do you travel?"
"South, to appear in a morality play."
Just then, Hugi flew out of the fog and landed atop the head. He pecked at it and laughed.
"Don't waste your time, Corwin. There is much less here than meets the eye," he said.
The giant lips shaped my name. Then; "He is indeed the one?"
"That's him, all right," Hugi replied.
"Listen, Corwin," said the sunken giant. "You are going to try to stop the Chaos, aren't you?"
"Do not do it. It is not worth it. I want things to end. I desire a release from this condition."
"I already offered to help you out. You turned me down."
"Not that sort of release. An end to the whole works."
"That is easily done," I said. "Just duck your head and take a deep breath."
"It is not only personal termination that I desire, but an end to the whole foolish game."
"I believe there are a few other folks around who would rather make their own decisions on the matter."
"Let it end for them, too. There will come a time when they are in my position and will feel the same way."
"Then they will possess the same option. Good day."
I turned and walked on.
"You will, too!" he called after me.
As I hiked along, Hugi caught up with me and perched on the end of my staff.
"It's neat to sit on old Ygg's limb now he can't-Yikes!"
Hugi sprang into the air and circled.
"Burned my foot! How'd he do that?" he cried.
He fluttered for a few moments, then made for my right shoulder.
"Okay if I rest here?"
"The Head is really a mental basket case, you know."
I shrugged my shoulders and he spread his wings for balance.
"He is groping after something," he went on, "but proceeding incorrectly by holding the world responsible for his own failings."
"No. He would not even grope to get out of the mud," I said.
"I meant philosophically."
"Oh, that sort of mud. Too bad."
"The whole problem lies with the self, the ego, and its involvement with the world on the one hand and the Absolute on the other."
"Oh, is that so?"
"Yes. You see, we are hatched and we drift on the surface of events. Sometimes, we feel that we actually influence things, and this gives rise to striving. This is a big mistake, because it creates desires and builds up a false ego when just being should be enough. That leads to more desires and more striving and there you are, trapped."
"In the mud?"
"So to speak. One needs to fix one's vision firmly on the Absolute and learn to ignore the mirages, the illusions, the fake sense of identity which sets one apart as a false island of consciousness."
"I had a fake identity once. It helped me a lot in becoming the absolute that I am now-me."
"No, that's fake, too."
"Then the me that may exist tomorrow will thank me for it, as I do that other."
"You are missing the point. That you will be fake, too."
"Because it will still be full of those desires and strivings that set you apart from the Absolute."
"What is wrong with that?"
"You remain alone in a world of strangers, the world of phenomena."
"I like being alone. I am quite fond of myself. I like phenomena, too."
"Yet the Absolute will always be there, calling to you, causing unrest."
"Good, then there is no need to hurry. But yes, I see what you mean. It takes the form of ideals. Everyone has a few. If you are saying that I should pursue them, I agree with you."
"No, they are distortions of the Absolute, and what you are talking about is more striving."
"That is correct."
"I can see that you have a lot to unlearn."
"If you are talking about my vulgar instinct for survival, forget it."
The trail had been leading upward, and we came now to a smooth, level place, almost paved-seeming, though strewn lightly with sand. The music had grown louder and continued to do so as I advanced. Then, through the fog, I saw dim shapes moving, slowly, rhythmically. It took several moments for me to realize that they were dancing to the music.
I kept moving until I could view the figures-human seeming, handsome folk, garbed in courtly attire-treading to the slow measures of invisible musicians. It was an intricate and lovely dance that they executed, and I halted to watch some of it.
"What is the occasion," I asked Hugi, "for a party out here in the middle of nowhere?"
"They dance," he said, "to celebrate your passage. They are not mortals, but the spirits of Time. They began this foolish show when you entered the valley."
He left my shoulder, flew above them and defecated. The dropping passed through several dancers as if they were holograms, without staining a brocaded sleeve or a silken shirt, without causing any of the smiling figures to miss a measure. Hugi cawed several times then and flew back to me.
"That was hardly necessary," I said. "It is a fine performance."
"Decadent," he said, "and you should hardly take it as a compliment, for they anticipate your failure. They but wish to get in a final celebration before the show is closed."
I watched for a time anyway, leaning upon my staff, resting. The figure described by the dancers slowly shifted, until one of the women-an auburn-haired beauty-was quite near to me. Now, none of the dancers' eyes at any time met my own. It was as if I were not present. But that woman, in a perfectly timed gesture, cast with her right hand something which landed at my feet.
I stooped and found it substantial. It was a silver rose-my own emblem-that I held. I straightened and fixed it at the collar of my cloak. Hugi looked the other way and said nothing. I had no hat to doff, but I did bow to the lady. There might have been a slight twitch at her right eye as I turned to go.
The ground lost its smoothness as I walked, and finally the music faded. The trail grew rougher, and whenever the fogs cleared the only views were of rocks or barren plains. I drew strength from the Jewel when I would otherwise have collapsed, and I noted that each such fix was of shorter duration now.
After a time, I grew hungry and I halted to eat what rations I had left.
Hugi stood on the ground nearby and watched me eat.
"I will admit to a certain small admiration for your persistence," he said, "and even for what you implied when you spoke of ideals. But that is about it. Earlier, we were talking about the futility of desire and of striving-"
"You were. It is not a major concern in my life."
"It should be."
"I have had a long life, Hugi. You insult me by assuming I have never considered these footnotes to sophomore philosophy. The fact that you find consensus reality barren tells me more about you than it does about that state of affairs. To wit, if you believe what you say I feel sorry for you, in that you must for some inexplicable reason be here desiring and striving to influence this false ego of mine rather than free of such nonsense and on your way to your Absolute. If you do not believe it, then it tells me that you have been set to hinder and discourage me, in which case you are wasting your time."
Hugi made a gargling noise. Then: "You are not so blind that you deny the Absolute, the beginning and end of everything?"
"It is not indispensable to a liberal education."
"You admit the possibility?"
"Perhaps I know it better than you, bird. The ego, as I see it, exists at an intermediate stage between rationality and reflex existence. Blotting it out is a retreat, though. If you come from that Absolute-of a self-canceling All-why do you wish to go back home? Do you so despise yourself that you fear mirrors? Why not make the trip worthwhile? Develop. Learn. Live. If you have been sent on a journey why do you wish to cop out and run back to your point of departure? Or did your Absolute make a mistake in sending something of your caliber? Admit that possibility and that is the end of the news."
Hugi glared at me, then sprang into the air and flew off. Going to consult his manual, perhaps. . . .
I heard a peal of thunder as I rose to my feet. I began walking. I had to try to keep ahead of things.
The trail narrowed and widened a number of times before it vanished completely, leaving me to wander across a gravelly plain. I felt more and more depressed as I traveled, trying to keep my mental compass set in the proper direction. I almost came to welcome the sounds of the storm, for they at least gave me a rough idea as to which way was north. Of course, things were a bit confusing in the fog, so that I could not be absolutely certain. And they were growing louder. . . . Damn.
. . . And I had been grieved by the loss of Star, troubled by Hugi's futilitarianism. This was definitely not a good day. I began to doubt that I was going to complete my journey. If some nameless denizen of this dark place did not ambush me before too long, there was a strong possibility that I would wander here until my strength failed or the storm caught me. I did not know whether I would be able to beat back that canceling storm another time. I began to doubt it.
I tried using the Jewel to disperse the fog, but its effects seemed blunted. By my own sluggishness, perhaps. I could clear a small area, but my rate of travel quickly bore me through it. My sense of Shadow was dulled in this place which seemed in some way the essence of Shadow.
Sad. It would have been nice to go out with opera-in a big Wagnerian finale beneath strange skies, against worthy opponents-not scrabbling about in a foggy wasteland.
I passed a familiar-seeming outcrop of stone. Could I have been moving in a circle? There is a tendency to do that when completely lost. I listened for the thunder, to take my bearings again. Perversely, all was silent. I moved to the outcrop and seated myself on the ground, resting my back against it. No sense to merely wandering. I would wait a time for the thunder's signal. I withdrew my Trumps as I sat there. Dad had said that they would be out of commission for a time, but I had nothing better to do.
One by one, I went through them all, trying to reach everyone, save for Brand and Caine. Nothing. Dad had been right. The cards lacked the familiar coldness. I shuffled the entire deck then and cast my fortune, there on the sand. I got an impossible reading and put them all away again. I leaned back and wished I had some water left. For a long while, I listened for the storm. There were a few growls, but they were directionless. The Trumps made me think of my family. They were up ahead-wherever that might be-waiting for me. Waiting for what? I was transporting the Jewel. To what end? At first, I had assumed that its powers might be necessary in the conflict. If so, and if I were indeed the only one who could employ them, then we were in bad shape. I thought of Amber then, and I was shaken with remorse and a kind of dread. Things must not end for Amber, ever. There had to be a way to roll back the Chaos. . . .
I threw away a small stone I had been toying with. Once I released it, it moved very slowly.
The Jewel. Its slowdown effect again . . .
I drew more energy and the stone shot away. It seemed that I had just taken strength from the Jewel a little while ago. While this treatment energized my body, my mind still felt fogged up. I needed sleep-with lots of rapid eye movements. This place might seem a lot less unusual if I were rested.
How close was I to my destination? Was it just beyond the next mountain range, or an enormous distance farther? And what chance had I of staying ahead of that storm, no matter what the distance? And the others? Supposing the battle was already concluded and we had lost? I had visions of arriving too late, to serve only as gravedigger. . . . Bones and soliloquies, Chaos . . .
And where was that damned black road now that I finally had a use for it? If I could locate it, I could follow it. I had a feeling that it was somewhere off to my left. . . .
I reached out once again, parting the fogs, rolling them back. . . . Nothing . . .
A shape? Something moving?
It was an animal, a large dog perhaps, moving to remain within the fog. Was it stalking me?
The Jewel began to pulse as I moved the fog even farther back. Exposed, the animal seemed to shrug itself. Then it moved straight toward me.
The Courts Of Chaos
I stood as it came near. I could see then that it was a jackal, a big one, its eyes fixed on my own.
"You are a little early," I said. "I was only resting."
"I have come merely to regard a Prince of Amber," the beast said. "Anything else would be a bonus." It chuckled again. So did I.
"Then feast your eyes. Anything else, and you will find that I have rested sufficiently."
"Nay, nay," said the jackal. "I am a fan of the House of Amber. And that of Chaos. Royal blood appeals to me, Prince of Chaos. And conflict."
"You have awarded me an unfamiliar title. My connection with the Courts of Chaos is mainly a matter of genealogy."
"I think of the images of Amber passing through the shadows of Chaos. I think of the waves of Chaos washing over the images of Amber. Yet at the heart of the order Amber represents moves a family most chaotic, just as the House of Chaos is serene and placid. Yet you have your ties, as well as your conflicts."
"At the moment," I said, "I am not interested in paradox hunting and terminology games. I am trying to get to the Courts of Chaos. Do you know the way?"
"Yes," said the jackal. "It is not far, as the carrion bird flies. Come, I will set you in the proper direction."
It turned and began walking aWay. I followed.
"Do I move too fast? You seem tired."
"No. Keep going. It is beyond this valley certainly, is it not?"
"Yes. There is a tunnel."
I followed it, out across sand and gravel and dry, hard ground. There was nothing growing at either hand. As we walked, the fogs thinned and took on a greenish cast-another trick of that stippled sky, I assumed.
After a time, I called out, "How much farther is it?"
"Not too far now," it said.
"Do you grow tired? Do you wish to rest?"
It looked back as it spoke. The greenish light gave to its ugly features an even more ghastly cast. Still, I needed a guide; and we were heading uphill, which seemed to be proper.
"Is there water anywhere near about?" I asked.
"No. We would have to backtrack a considerable distance."
"Forget it. I haven't the time."
It shrugged and chuckled and walked on. The fog cleared a little more as we went, and I could see that we were entering a low range of hills. I leaned on my staff and kept up the pace.
We climbed steadily for perhaps half an hour, the ground growing stonier, the angle of ascent steeper. I found myself beginning to breathe heavily.
"Wait," I called to him. "I do want to rest now. I thought you said that it was not far."
"Forgive me," it said, halting, "for jackalocentrism. I was judging in terms of my own natural pace. I erred in this, but we are almost there now. It lies among the rocks just ahead. Why not rest there?"
"All right," I replied, and I resumed walking.
Soon we reached a stony wall which I realized was the foot of a mountain. We picked our way among the rocky debris which lined it and came at last to an opening which led back into darkness.
"There you have it," said the jackal. "The way is straight, and there are no troublesome side branches. Take your passage through, and good speed to you."
"Thank you," I said, giving up thoughts of rest for the moment and stepping inside.
"I appreciate this."
"My pleasure," he said from behind me.
I took several more steps and something crunched beneath my feet and rattled when kicked aside. It was a sound one does not readily forget. The floor was strewn with bones.
There came a soft, quick sound from behind me, and I knew that I did not have time to draw Grayswandir. So I spun, raising my staff before me and thrusting with it.
This maneuver blocked the beast's leap, striking it on the shoulder. But it also knocked me over backward, to roll among the bones. The staff was torn from my hands by the impact, and in the split second of decision allowed me by my opponent's own fall I chose to draw Grayswandir rather than grope after it.
I managed to get my blade unsheathed, but that was all. I was still on my back with the point of my weapon to my left when the jackal recovered and leaped again. I swung the pommel with all of my strength into its face.
The shock ran down my arm and up into my shoulder. The jackal's head snapped back and its body twisted to my left. I brought the point into line immediately, gripping the hilt with both hands, and I was able to rise to my right knee before it snarled and lunged once more.
As soon as I saw that I had it on target, I threw my weight behind it, driving the blade deep into the jackal's body. I released it quickly and rolled away from those snapping jaws.
The jackal shrieked, struggled to rise, dropped back. I lay panting where I had fallen. I felt the staff beneath me and seized it. I brought it around to guard and drew myself back against the cave wall. The beast did not rise again, however, but lay there thrashing. In the dim light, I could see that it was vomiting. The smell was overpowering.
Then it turned its eyes in my direction and lay still.
"It would have been so fine," it said softly, "to eat a Prince of Amber. I always wondered-about royal blood."
Then the eyes closed and the breathing stopped and I was left with the stink.
I rose, back still against the wall, staff still before me, and regarded it. It was a long while before I could bring myself to retrieve my blade.
A quick exploration showed me that I was in no tunnel, but only a cave. When I made my way out, the fog had grown yellow, and it was stirred now by a breeze from the lower reaches of the valley.
I leaned against the rock and tried to decide which way to take. There was no real trail here.
Finally, I struck off to my left. That way seemed somewhat steeper, and I wanted to get above the fog and into the mountains as soon as I could. The staff continued to serve me well. I kept listening for the sound of running water, but there was none about.
I struggled along, always continuing upward, and the fogs thinned and changed color. Finally, I could see that I was climbing toward a wide plateau. Above it, I began to catch glimpses of the sky, many-colored and churning.
There were several sharp claps of thunder at my back, but I still could not see the disposition of the storm. I increased my pace then, but began to grow dizzy after a few minutes. I stopped and seated myself on the ground, panting. I was overwhelmed with a sense of failure. Even if I made it up to the plateau, I had a feeling that the storm would roar right across it. I rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands. What was the use of going on if there was no way I could make it?
A shadow moved through the pistachio mists, dropped toward me. I raised my staff, then saw that it was only Hugi. He braked himself and landed at my feet.
"Corwin," he said, "you have come a good distance."
"But maybe not good enough," I said. "The storm seems to be getting nearer."
"I believe that it is. I have been meditating and would like to give you the benefit of-"
"If you want to benefit me at all," I said, "I could tell you what to do."
"What is that?"
"Fly back and see how far off the storm really is, and how fast it seems to be moving. Then come and tell me." Hugi hopped from one foot to the other. Then, "All right," he said, and leaped into the air and batted his way toward what I felt to be the northwest.
I leaned on the staff and rose. I might as well keep climbing at the best pace I could manage. I drew upon the Jewel again, and strength came into me like a red lightning flash.
As I mounted the slope, a damp breeze sprang up from the direction in which Hugi had departed. There came another thunderclap. No more growls and rumbles.
I made the most of the influx of energy, climbing quickly and efficiently for several hundred meters. If I were going to lose, I might as well make it to the top first. I might as well see where I was and learn whether there was anything at all left for me to try.
My view of the sky grew more and more clear as I climbed. It had changed considerably since last I had regarded it. Half of it was of uninterrupted blackness and the other half those masses of swimming colors. And the entire heavenly bowl seemed to be rotating about a point directly overhead. I began to grow excited. This was the sky I was seeking, the sky which had covered me that time I had journeyed to Chaos. I struggled higher. I wanted to utter something heartening, but my throat was
As I neared the rim of the plateau, I heard a flapping sound and Hugi was suddenly on my shoulder.
"The storm is about ready to crawl up your arse," he said. "Be here any minute."
I continued climbing, reached level ground and hauled myself up to it. I stood for a moment then, breathing heavily. The wind must have kept the area clear of fog, for it was a high, smooth plain, and I could see the sky for a great distance ahead. I advanced, to find a point from which I could see beyond the farther edge. As I moved, the sounds of the storm came to me more clearly.
"I do not believe you will make it across," Hugi said, "without getting wet."
"You know that is no ordinary storm," I croaked. "If it were. I'd be thankful for the chance of getting a drink."
"I know. I was speaking figuratively."
I growled something vulgar and kept going.
Gradually, the vista before me enlarged. The sky still did its crazy veil dance, but the illumination was more than sufficient. When I reached a position where I was positive what lay before me, I halted and sagged against my staff.
"What is the matter?" Hugi asked.
But I could not speak. I simply gestured at the great wasteland which commenced somewhere below the farther lip of the plateau to sweep on for at least forty miles before butting up against another range of mountains. And far off to the left and still running strong went the black road.
"The waste?" he said. "I could have told you it was there. Why didn't you ask me?"
I made a noise halfway between a groan and a sob and sank slowly to the ground.
How long I remained so, I am not certain. I felt more than a little delirious. In the midst of it I seemed to see a possible answer, though something within me rebelled against it. I was finally roused by the noises of the storm and Hugi's chattering.
"I can't beat it across that place," I whispered. "There is no way."
"You say you have failed," Hugi said. "But this is not so. There is neither failure nor victory in striving. It is all but an illusion of the ego."
I rose slowly to my knees.
"I did not say that I had failed."
"You said that you cannot go on to your destination." I looked back, to where lightnings now flashed as the storm climbed toward me.
"That's right, I cannot do it that way. But if Dad failed, I have got to attempt something that Brand tried to convince me only he could do. I have to create a new Pattern, and I have to do it right, here."
"You? Create a new Pattern? If Oberon failed, how could a man who can barely stay on his feet do it? No, Corwin. Resignation is the greatest virtue you might cultivate."
I raised my head and lowered the staff to the ground. Hugi fluttered down to stand beside it and I regarded him.
"You do not want to believe any of the things that I said, do you?" I told him. "It does not matter, though. The conflict between our views is irreducible. I see desire as hidden identity and striving as its growth. You do not." I moved my hands forward and rested them on my knees. "If for you the greatest good is union with the Absolute, then why do you not fly to join it now, in the form of the all-pervading Chaos which approaches? If I fail here, it will become Absolute. As for me, I must try, for so long as there is breath within me, to raise up a Pattern against it. I do this because I am what I am, and I am the man who could have been king in Amber."
Hugi lowered his head.
"I'll see you eat crow first," he said, and he chuckled.
I reached out quickly and twisted his head off, wishing that I had time to build a fire. Though he made it look like a sacrifice, it is difficult to say to whom the moral victory belonged, since I was planning on doing it anyway.
The Courts Of Chaos
. . . Cassis, and the smell of the chestnut blossoms. All along the Champs-Elysies the chestnuts were foaming white . . . .
I remembered the play of the fountains in the Place de la Concorde. . . . And down the Rue de la Seine and along the quais, the smell of the old books, the smell of the river. . . . The smell of chestnut blossoms . . .
Why should I suddenly remember 1905 and Paris on the shadow Earth, save that I was very happy that year and I might, reflexively, have sought an antidote for the present? Yes . . .
White absinthe, Amer Picon, grenadine . . . Wild strawberries, with Creme d'Isigny . . . Chess at the Cafe de la Regence with actors from the Comedie Francaise, just across the way . . . The races at Chantilly . . . Evenings at the Boite a Fursy on the Rue Pigalle . . .
I placed my left foot firmly before my right, my right before my left. In my left hand, I held the chain from which the Jewel depended-and I carried it high, so that I could stare into the stone's depths, seeing and feeling there the emergence of the new Pattern which I described with each step. I had screwed my staff into the ground and left it to stand near the Pattern's beginning. Left . . .