Courts of Chaos
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Next page
The wind sang about me and there was thunder near at hand. I did not meet with the physical resistance that I did on the old Pattern. There was no resistance at all. Instead-and in many ways worse-a peculiar deliberation had come over all my movements, slowing them, ritualizing them. I seemed to expend more energy in preparing for each step-perceiving it, realizing it and ordering my mind for its execution-than I did in the physical performance of the act. Yet the slowness seemed to require itself, was exacted of me by some unknown agency which determined precision and an adagio tempo for all my movements. Right . . .
. . . And, as the Pattern in Rebma had helped to restore my faded memories, so this one I was now striving to create stirred and elicited the smell of the chestnut trees, of the wagonloads of vegetables moving through the dawn toward the Hallos. . . . I was not in love with anyone in particular at the time, though there were many girls-Yvettes and Mimis and Simones, their faces merge-and it was spring in Paris, with Gipsy bands and cocktails at Louis'. . . . I remembered, and my heart leaped with a kind of Proustian joy while Time tolled about me like a bell. . . . And perhaps this was the reason for the recollection, for this joy seemed transmitted to my movements, informed my perceptions, empowered my will. . . .
I saw the next step and I took it. . . . I had been around once now, creating the perimeter of my Pattern. At my back, I could feel the storm. It must have mounted to the plateau's rim. The sky was darkening, the storm blotting the swinging, swimming, colored limits. Flashes of lightning splayed about, and I could not spare the energy and the attention to try to control things.
Having gone completely around, I could see that as much of the new Pattern as I had walked was now inscribed in the rock and glowing palely, bluely. Yet, there were no sparks, no tinges in my feet, no hair-raising currents-only the steady law of deliberation, upon me like a great weight. . . . Left . . .
. . . Poppies, poppies and cornflowers and tall poplars along country roads, the taste of Normandy cider . . . And in town again, the smell of the chestnut blossoms . . . The Seine full of stars . . . The smell of the old brick houses in the Place des Vosges after a morning's rain . . . The bar under the Olympia Music Hall . . . A fight there . . . Bloodied knuckles, bandaged by a girl who took me home
. . . What was her name? Chestnut blossoms . . . A white rose . . .
I sniffed then. The odor was all but gone from the remains of the rose at my collar. Surprising that any of it had survived this far. It heartened me. I pushed ahead, curving gently to my right. From the corner of my eye, I saw the advancing wall of the storm, slick as glass, obliterating everything it passed. The roar of its thunder was deafening now.
Right, left . . .
The advance of the armies of the night . . . Would my Pattern hold against it? I wished that I might hurry, but if anything I was moving with increasing slowness as I went on. I felt a curious sense of bilocation, almost as if I were within the Jewel tracing the Pattern there myself while I moved out here, regarding it and mimicking its progress. Left . . . Turn . . . Right . . . The storm was indeed advancing. Soon it would reach old Hugi's bones. I smelled the moisture and the ozone and wondered about the strange dark bird who had said he'd been waiting for me since the beginning of Time. Waiting to argue with me or to be eaten by me in this place without history? Whatever, considering the exaggeration usual in moralists, it was fitting that, having failed to leave me with my heart all laden with rue over my spiritual condition, he be consumed to the accompaniment of theatrical thunder. . . . There was distant thunder, near thunder and more thunder now. As I turned in that direction once more, the lightning flashes were nearly blinding. I clutched my chain and took another step. . . .
The storm pushed right up to the edge of my Pattern, and then it parted. It began to creep around me. Not a drop fell upon me or the Pattern. But slowly, gradually, we came to be totally engulfed within it.
It seemed as if I were in a bubble at the bottom of a stormy sea. Walls of water encircled me and dark shapes darted by. It seemed as if the entire universe were pressing in to crush me. I concentrated on the red world of the Jewel. Left . . .
The chestnut blossoms . . . A cup of hot chocolate at a sidewalk cafe . . . A band concert in the Tuileries Gardens, the sounds climbing through the sunbright air . . . Berlin in the twenties, the Pacific in the thirties-there had been pleasures there, but of a different order. It may not be the true past, but images of the past that rush to comfort or torment us later, man or nation. No matter. Across the Pont Neuf and down the Rue Rivoli, buses and fiacres . . . Painters at their easels in the Luxembourg Gardens . . . If all were to fall well, I might seek a shadow like this again one day . . . It ranked with my Avalon. I had forgotten . . . The details . . . The touches that make for life . . . The smell of the chestnuts . . .
Walking . . . I completed another circuit. The wind screamed and the storm roared on, but I was untouched. So long as I did not permit it to distract me, so long as I kept moving and maintained my focus on the Jewel. . . . I had to hold up, had to keep taking these slow, careful steps, never to stop, slower and slower but constantly moving. . . . Faces . . . It seemed that rows of faces regarded me from beyond the Pattern's edge. . . . Large, like the Head, but twisted-grinning. Jeering, mocking me, waiting for me to stop or step wrongly. . . . Waiting for the whole thing to come apart around me. . . . There was lightning behind their eyes and in their months, their laughter was the thunder. . . . Shadows crawled among them. . . . Now they spoke to me, with words like a gale from off a dark ocean. . . . I would fail, they told me, fail and be swept away, this fragment of a Pattern dashed to pieces behind me and consumed. . . . They cursed me, they spat and vomited toward me, though none of it reached. . . . Perhaps they were not really there. . . . Perhaps my mind had been broken by the strain. . . . Then what good were my efforts? A new Pattern to be shaped by a madman? I wavered, and they took up the chorus, "Mad! Mad! Mad!" in the voices of the elements.
I drew a deep breath and smelled what was left of the rose and thought of chestnuts once again, and days filled with the joys of life and organic order. The voices seemed to soften as my mind raced back through the events of that happy year. . . . And I took another step. . . . And another. . . . They had been playing on my weaknesses, they could feel my doubts, my anxiety, my fatigue. . . . Whatever they were, they seized what they saw and tried to use it against me. . . . Left . . . Right . . . Now let them feel my confidence and wither, I told myself. I have come this far. I will continue. Left . . .
They swirled and swelled about me, still mouthing discouragements. But some of the force seemed gone out of them. I made my way through another section of arc, seeing it grow before me in my mind's red eye.
I thought back to my escape from Greenwood, to my tricking Flora out of information, to my encounter with Random, our fight with his pursuers, our journey back to Amber. . . . I thought of our flight to Rebma and my walking of the reversed Pattern there for a restoration of much of my memory. . . . Of Random's shotgun wedding and my sojourn to Amber, where I fought with Eric and fled to Bleys. . . . Of the battles that followed, my blinding, my recovery, my escape, my journey to Lorraine and then to Avalon. . . .
Moving into even higher gear, my mind skimmed the surface of subsequent events. . . . Ganelon and Lorraine . . . The creatures of the Black Circle . . . Benedict's arm . . . Dara . . . The return of Brand and his stabbing . . . My stabbing . . . Bill Roth . . . Hospital records . . . My accident . . .
. . . Now, from the very beginning at Greenwood, through it all, to this moment of my struggle to assure each perfect maneuver as it appeared to me, I felt the growing sense of anticipation I had known-whether my actions were directed toward the throne, vengeance, or my conception of duty-felt it, was aware of its continuous existence across those years up until this moment, when it was finally accompanied by something else. . . . I felt that the waiting was just about over, that whatever I had been anticipating and struggling toward was soon to occur.
Left . . . Very, very slowly . . . Nothing else was important. I threw all of my will into the movements now. My concentration became total. Whatever lay beyond the Pattern, I was now oblivious to it. Lightnings, faces, winds . . . It did not matter. There was only the Jewel, the growing Pattern and myself-and I was barely aware of myself. Perhaps this was the closest I would ever come to Hugi's ideal of merging with the Absolute. Turn . . . Right foot. . . Turn again . ..
Time ceased to have meaning. Space was restricted to the design I was creating. I drew strength from the Jewel without summoning it now, as part of the process in which I was engaged. In a sense, I suppose, I was obliterated. I became a moving point, programed by the Jewel, performing an operation which absorbed me so totally that I had no attention available for self-consciousness. Yet, at some level, I realized that I was a part of the process, also. For I knew, somehow, that if anyone else were doing it, it would be a different Pattern emerging.
I was vaguely aware that I had passed the halfway point. The way had become trickier, my movements even slower. Despite the matter of velocity, I was somehow reminded of my experiences on originally becoming attuned to the Jewel, in that strange, many-dimensional matrix which seemed to be the source of the Pattern itself. Right . . . Left . . .
There was no drag. I felt very light, despite the deliberation. A boundless energy seemed to wash constantly through me. All of the sounds about me had merged into a white noise and vanished.
Suddenly then, I no longer seemed to be moving slowly. It did not seem as if I had passed a Veil or barrier, but rather that I had undergone some internal adjustment.
It felt as if I were moving at a more normal pace now, winding my way through tighter and tighter coils, approadhing what would soon be the design's terminus. Mainly, I was still emotionless, though I knew intellectually that at some level a sense of elation was growing and would soon burst through. Another step . . . Another . . . Perhaps half a dozen more paces . . .
Suddenly, the world went dark. It seemed that I stood within a great void, with only the faint light of the Jewel before me and the glow of the Pattern like a spiral nebula through which I was striding. I wavered, but only for an instant. This must be the last trial, the final assault. I would have to be sufficient to the distraction.
The Jewel showed me what to do and the Pattern showed me where to do it. The only thing missing was a view of myself. Left . . .
I continued, executing each move with all of my attention. An opposing force began to rise against me finally, as on the old Pattern. But for this, I was prepared by years of experience. I struggled for two more steps against the mounting barrier.
Then, within the Jewel, I saw the ending of the Pattern. I would have gasped at the sudden realization of its beauty, but at this point even my breath was regulated by my efforts. I threw all of my strength into the next step, and the void seemed to shake about me. I completed it, and the next was even more difficult. I felt as if I were at the center of the universe, treading on stars, struggling to impart some essential motion by what was basically an act of will.
My foot slowly advanced, though I could not see it. The Pattern began to brighten. Soon its blaze was almost blinding.
Just a little farther . . . I strove harder than I ever had on the old Pattern, for now the resistance seemed absolute. I had to oppose it with a firmness and constancy of will that excluded everything else, though I seemed not to be moving at all now, though all of my energies seemed diverted into the brightening of the design. At least, I would go out with a splendid backdrop. . . .
Minutes, days, years . . . I do not know how long this went on. It felt like forever, as if I had been engaged in this single act for all of eternity. . . .
Then I moved, and how long that took I do not know. But I completed the step and began another. Then another . . .
The universe seemed to reel about me. I was through. The pressure was gone. The blackness was gone. . . .
For an instant, I stood at the center of my Pattern. Without even regarding it, I fell forward onto my knees and bent double, my blood pounding in my ears. Head swimming, I panted. I began to shake, all over. I had done it, I realized dimly. Come whatever may, there was a Pattern. And it would endure. . . .
I heard a sound where there should have been none, but my jaded muscles refused to respond, even reflexively, until it was too late. Not until the Jewel was jerked from my limp fingers did I raise my head and roll back onto my haunches. No one had been following me through the Pattern-I was certain that I would have been aware of it. Therefore . . .
The light was almost normal, and blinking against it, I looked up into Brand's smiling face. He wore a black eyepatch now, and he held the Jewel in his hand. He must have teleported himself in.
He struck me just as I raised my head, and I fell onto my left side. He kicked me in the stomach then, hard.
"Well, you've done it," he said. "I did not think you could. Now I have another Pattern to destroy before I set things right. I need this to turn the battle at the Courts first, though." He waved the Jewel. "Good-bye for now." And he vanished.
I lay there gasping and clutching at my stomach. Waves of blackness rose and fell, like a surf, within me, though I did not completely succumb to unconsciousness. A feeling of enormous despair washed over me and I closed my eyes and moaned. There was no Jewel for me to draw upon now, either.
The chestnut trees . .
The Courts Of Chaos
As I lay there hurting, I had visions of Brand appearing on the battlefield where the forces of Amber and Chaos fought, the Jewel pulsing about his neck. Apparently his control over it was sufficient, as he saw it, to enable him to turn things against us. I saw him lashing out with lightning bolts among our troops. I saw him summoning great winds and hailstorms to strike at us. I almost wept. All of this, when he could still redeem himself by coming in on our side. Just winning was not enough for him now, though. He had to win for himself, and on his own terms. And I? I had failed. I had thrown up a Pattern against the Chaos, a thing I had never thought I could do. Yet, this would be as nothing if the battle was lost and Brand returned and wiped out my work. To have come this close, passing through everything that I had, and then to fail here. . . . It made me want to cry "Injustice!" though I knew the universe did not run in accordance with my notions of equity. I gnashed my teeth and spat some dirt I had mouthed. I had been charged by our father to take the Jewel to the place of battle. I had almost made it.
A sense of strangeness came over me then. Something was calling for my attention. What? The silence.
The raging winds and the thunder had ceased. The air was still. In fact, the air felt cool and fresh. And on the other side of my eyelids, I knew that there was light.
I opened my eyes. I saw a sky of a bright, uniform white. I blinked, I turned my head. There was something off to my right. . . .
A tree. A tree stood where I had planted the staff I had cut from old Ygg. It was already far taller than the staff itself had been. I could almost see it growing. And it was green with leaves and white with a sprinkUng of buds; a few blossoms had opened. From that direction, the breeze brought me a faint and delicate scent which offered me some comfort.
I felt along my sides. I did not seem to have any broken ribs, though my guts still felt knotted from the kick I had taken. I rubbed my eyes with my knuckles and ran my hands through my hair. I sighed heavily then and rose to one knee.
Turning my head, I regarded the prospect. The plateau was the same, yet somehow not the same. It was still bare but was no longer harsh. Likely an effect of the new illumination. No, there was more to it than that. . . .
I had continued to turn, completing my scanning of the horizon. It was not the same place where I had commenced my walk. There were differences both subtle and gross: altered rock formations, a dip where there had been a rise, a new texture to the stone beneath and near me, in the distance what appeared to be soil. I stood and it seemed that now, from somewhere, I caught the scent of the sea. This place had an entirely different feeling to it than the one to which I had mounted-so long ago, it seemed. It was too much of a change for that storm to have wrought. It reminded me of something.
I sighed again, there at the Pattern's center, and continued to consider my surroundings. Somehow, in spite of myself, my despair was slipping away and a feeling of-"refreshment"-seems somehow the best word-was rising within me. The air was so clean and sweet, and the place had a new, unused feeling about it. I-
Of course. It was like the place, of the primal Pattern. I turned back to the tree and regarded it again, higher already. Like, yet unlike . . . There was something new in the air, the ground, the sky. This was a new place. A new primal Pattern. Everything about me then was a result of the Pattern in which I stood.
I suddenly realized that I was feeling more than refreshment. It was now a sense of elation, a kind of joy that was moving through me. This was a clean, fresh place and I was somehow responsible for it.
Time passed. I just stood there watching the trees, looking around me, enjoying the euphoria that had come over me. Here was some kind of victory, anyway-until Brand came back to wipe it out.
Suddenly, I was sober again. I had to stop Brand, I had to protect this place. I was at the center of a Pattern. If this one behaved like the other, I could use its power to project me anywhere I desired. I could use it to go and join the others now.
I dusted myself off. I loosened my blade in the scabbard. Things might not be as hopeless as they had seemed earlier. I had been told to convey the Jewel to the place of battle. So Brand had done it for me; it would still be there. I would simply have to go and take it back from him, somehow, to make things turn the way they were supposed to have fallen.
I looked all around me. I would have to return here, to investigate this new situation at another time, if I survived what was to come. There was mystery here. It hung in the air and drifted on the breeze. It could take ages to unravel what had occurred when I had drawn the new Pattern.
I saluted the tree. It seemed to stir as I did so. I adjusted my rose and pushed it back into shape. It was time to move again. There was a thing I had yet to do.
I lowered my head and closed my eyes. I tried to recall the lay of the land before the final abyss at the Courts of Chaos. I saw it then, beneath that wild sky, and I peopled it with my relatives, with troops. I seemed to hear the sounds of a distant battle as I did this. The scene adjusted itself, came clearer. I held the vision an instant longer, then charged the Pattern to take me there.
. . . A moment later, it seemed, I stood upon a hilltop beside a plain, a cold wind whipping my cloak about me. The sky was that crazy, turning, stippled thing I remembered from last time-half-black, half-psychedelic rainbows. There were unpleasant fumes in the air. The black road was off to the right now, crossing that plain and passing beyond it over the abyss toward that nighted citadel, firefly gleams flickering about it. Gauzy bridges, drifted in the air, extending from far in that darkness, and strange forms traveled upon them as well as upon the black road. Below me on the field was what seemed to be the main concentration of troops. At my back, I heard something other than Time's winged chariot.
Turning toward what must have been north by a suocession of previous reckonings regarding its course, I beheld the advance of that devil-storm through distant mountains, flashing and growling, coming on like a skyhigh glacier.
So I had not stopped it with -the creation of a new Pattern. It seemed that it had simply passed by my protected area and would continue until it got to wherever it was going. Hopefully then, the thing would be succeeded by whatever constructive impulses were now spreading outward from the new Pattern, with the reimposition of order throughout the places of Shadow. I wondered how long it would take for the storm to get here.
I heard the sound of hoofs and turned, drawing my blade....
A horned rider on a great black horse was bearing down upon me, something like firelight glowing in his eyes.
I adjusted my position and waited. He seemed to have descended from one of the gauzy roadways which had drifted in this direction. We were both fairly far removed from the main scene of action. I watched as he mounted the hill. . . Good horse, that. Nice chest. Where the hell was Brand? I wasn't looking for just any fight.
I watched the rider as he came on, and the crooked blade in his right hand. I repositioned myself as he moved in to cut me down. When he swung, I was ready with a parry that pulled his arm within reach. I caught hold of it and dragged him from his mount.
"That rose . . ." he said as he fell to the ground. I do not know what else he might have said, because I cut his throat, and his words and everything else about him were lost with the fiery slash.
I whirled then, drawing Grayswandir away, sprinted several paces and had hold of the black charger's bridle. I spoke with the horse to calm him and led him away from the flames. After a couple of minutes we were on better terms, and I mounted.
He was skittish at first, but I just had him pace the hill top lightly while I continued to observe. The forces of Amber appeared to be on the offense. Smoldering corpses were all over the field. The main force of our enemies was drawn back onto a height near the lip of the abyss. Lines of them, not yet broken but hard pressed, were falling back slowly toward it. On the other hand, more troops were crossing that abyss and joining the others who held the heights. Estimating their growing numbers and their position quickly, I judged that these might be readying an offense of their own. Brand was nowhere in sight.
Even if I had been rested and wearing armor I would have had second thoughts about riding down and joining in the fray. My job right now was to locate Brand. I doubted that he would be directly involved in the fighting. I looked off to the sides of the battle proper, seeking a lone figure. No . . . Perhaps the far side of the field. I would have to circle to the north. There was too much that I could not see to the west.
I turned my mount and made my way down the hill. It would be so pleasant to collapse, I decided, just to fall down in a heap and sleep. I sighed. Where the hell was Brand?
I reached the bottom of the hill and turned to cut through a culvert, I needed a better view-
"Lord Corwin of Amber!"
He was waiting for me as I rounded a bend in the depression, a big, corpse-colored guy with red hair and a horse to match. He wore coppery armor with greenish tracings, and he sat facing me, still as a statue.
"I saw you on the hilltop," he said. "You are not mailed, are you?"
I slapped my chest.
He nodded sharply. Then he reached up, first to his left shoulder, then to his right, then to his sides, opening fastenings upon his breastplate. When he had them undone, he removed it, lowered it toward the ground on his left side and let it fall. He did the same with his greaves.
"I have long wanted to meet you," he said. "I am Borel. I do not want it said that I took unfair advantage of you when I killed you."
Borel . . . The name was familiar. Then I remembered. He had Dara's respect and affection. He had been her fencing teacher, a master of the blade. Stupid, though, I saw. He had forfeited my respect by removing his armor. Battle is not a game, and I had no desire to make myself available to any presumptuous ass who thought otherwise. Especially a skilled ass, when I was feeling beat. If nothing else, he could probably wear me down.
"Now we shall resolve a matter which has long troubled me," he said.
I replied with a quaint vulgarism, wheeled my black and raced back the way I had come. He gave chase immediately.
As I passed back along the culvert, I realized that I did not have a sufficient lead. He would be upon me in a matter of moments with my back all exposed, to cut me down or force me to fight. However, while limited, my choices included a little more than that.
"Coward!" he cried. "You flee combat! Is this the great warrior of whom I have heard so much?"
I reached up and unfastened my cloak. At either hand, the culvert's lip was level with my shoulders, then my waist.
I rolled out of the saddle to my left, stumbled once and found my footing. The black went on. I moved to my right, facing the draw.
Catching my cloak in both hands, I swung it in a reverse-veronica maneuver a second or two before Borel's head and shoulders came abreast of me. It swept over him, drawn blade and all, muffling his head and slowing his arms.
I kicked then, hard. I was aiming for his head, but I caught him on the left shoulder. He was spilled from his saddle, and his horse, too, went by.
Drawing Grayswandir, I leaped after him. I caught him just as he had brushed my cloak aside and was struggling to rise. I skewered him where he sat and saw the startled expression on his face as the wound began to flame.
"Oh, basely done!" he cried. "I had hoped for better of thee!"
"This isn't exactly the Olympic Games," I said, brushing some sparks from my cloak.
I chased down my horse then and mounted. This took me several minutes. As I continued northward, I achieved higher ground. From there, I spotted Benedict directing the battle, and in a draw far to the rear, I caught a glimpse of Julian at the head of his troops from Arden. Benedict was apparently holding them in reserve.
I kept going, toward the advancing storm, beneath the half-dark, half-painted, revolving sky. I soon reached my goal, the highest hill in sight, and began to mount it. I halted several times on the way up, to look back.
I saw Deirdre in black armor, swinging an ax; Llewella and Flora were among the archers. Fiona was nowhere in sight. Gerard was not there either. Then I saw Random on horseback, swinging a heavy blade, leading an assault toward the enemy's high ground. Near him was a knight clad in green whom I did not recognize. The man swung a mace with deadly efficiency. He wore a bow upon his back, and he'd a quiver of gleaming arrows at his hip.
The sounds of the storm came louder as I reached the summit of my hill. The lightning flickered with the regularity of a neon tube and the rain sizzled down, a fiberglass curtain that had now passed over the mountains.
Below me, both beasts and men-and more than a few beast-men-were woven in knots and strands of battle. A cloud of dust hung over the field. Assessing the distribution of forces, however, it did not appear to me that the growing forces of the enemy could be pushed much farther. In fact, it seemed that it was just about time for the counterattack. They appeared to be ready up in their craggy places, and just waiting for the order.
I was about a minute and a half off. They advanced, sweeping down the slope, reinforcing their lines, pushing our troops back, driving ahead. And more were arriving from beyond the dark abyss. Our own troops began a reasonably orderly retreat. The enemy pressed harder, and when things seemed about ready to be turned into a rout an order must have been given.
I heard the sound of Julian's horn, and shortly thereafter I saw him astride Morgenstem leading the men of Arden onto the field. This balanced the opposing forces almost exactly and the noise level rose and rose while the sky turned above us.
I watched the conflict for perhaps a quarter of an hour, as our own forces slowly withdrew across the field. Then I saw a one-armed figure on a fiery striped horse suddenly appear atop a distant hill. He bore a raised blade in his hand and he was faced away from me, toward the west. He stood unmoving for several long moments. Then he lowered the blade.
I heard trumpets in the west, and at first I saw nothing. Then a line of cavalry came into view. I started. For a moment, I thought Brand was there. Then I realized it was Bleys leading his troops to strike at the enemy's exposed flank.
And suddenly, our troops in the field were no longer retreating. They were holding their line. Then, they were pressing forward.
Bleys and his riders came on, and I realized that Benedict had the day again. The enemy was about to be ground to pieces.
Then a cold wind swept over me from out of the north, and I looked that way again.
The storm had advanced considerably. It must have started moving faster just recently. And it was darker now than it had been, with brighter flashes and louder roars. And this cold, wet wind was increasing in intensity.
I wondered then . . . would it simply sweep over the field like an annihilating wave and that be that? What of the effects of the new Pattern? Would these follow, to restore everything? Somehow, I doubted this. If this storm smashed us. I'd a feeling we would stay smashed. It would require the force of the Jewel to permit us to ride it out until order was restored. And what would be left if we survived it? I simply could not guess.
So what was Brand's plan? What was he waiting for? What was he going to do?
I looked out over the battlefield once more. . . . Something.
In a shadowy place on the heights where the enemy had regrouped, been reinforced, and down which it had stormed . . . something.
A tiny flash of red . . . I was sure I had seen it.
I kept watching, waiting. I had to see it again, to pinpoint it . . .
A minute passed. Two, perhaps . . .
There! And again.
I wheeled the black charger. It looked possible to make it around the enemy's near flank and up to that supposedly vacant height. I raced down the hill and began that course.
It had to be Brand with the Jewel. He had chosen a good, safe spot, from which he commanded a view of the entire battlefield as well as the approaching storm. From there, he could direct its lightning into our troops as the front advanced. He would signal a retreat at the proper moment, hit us with the storm's strange furies, then sidetrack the thing to bypass the side he was backing. It seemed the simplest and most effective use of the Jewel under the circumstances.
I would have to get close fast. My control of the stone was greater than his, but it diminished with distance, and he would have the Jewel on his person. My best bet would be to charge right into him, to get within control range at all costs, take over command of the stone and use it against him. But he might have a bodyguard up there with him. That troubled me, because dealing with it could slow me disastrously. And if he did not. What was to prevent him from teleporting himself away if the going got too rough? Then what could I do? I would have to start all over, hunting him again. I wondered whether I could use the Jewel to keep him from transporting himself. I did not know. I resolved to try.
It might not have been the best of plans, but it was the only one I had. There was no longer time to plot.
As I rode, I saw that there were others headed for that height, also. Random, Deirdre and Fiona, mounted and accompanied by eight horsemen, had made their way through the enemy lines, with a few other troops-friends or foes, I could not tell-maybe both-riding hard behind them. The knight clad in green seemed to be moving the fastest, gaining on them. I did not recognize him-or her, as the case might be. I did not doubt the objective of the vanguard, however-not with Fiona there. She must have detected Brand's presence and be leading the others to him. A few drops of hope fell upon my heart. She might be able to neutralize Brand's powers, or minimize them. I leaned forward, still bearing to my left, hurrying my horse along. The sky kept turning. The wind whistled about me. A terrific clap of thunder rolled by. I did not look back.
I was racing them. I did not want them to get there before me, but I feared that they would. The distance was just too great.
If only they would turn and see me coming, they would probably wait. I wished there had been some way of giving them a sign of my presence earlier. I cursed the fact that the Trumps no longer worked.
I began shouting. I screamed after them, but the wind blew my words away and the thunder rolled over them.
"Wait for me! Damn it! It's Corwin!"
Not even a glance in my direction.
I passed the nearest engagements and rode along the enemy's flank out of range of missiles and arrows. They seemed to be retreating faster now and our troops were spreading out over a larger area. Brand must be getting ready to strike. Part of the rotating sky was covered by a dark cloud which had not been above the field minutes before.
I turned toward my right, behind the retreating forces, racing on toward those hills the others were already mounting.
The sky continued to darken as I neared the foot of the hills, and I feared for my kinsmen. They were getting too close to him. He would have to do something. Unless Fiona was strong enough to stop him. . . .
The horse reared and I was thrown to the ground at the blinding flash which had occurred before me. The thunder cracked before I hit the earth.
I lay there for several moments, dazed. The horse had run off, was perhaps fifty meters away, before he halted and began to move about uncertainly. I rolled onto my stomach and looked up the long slope. The other riders were also down. Their group had apparently been struck by the discharge. Several were moving, more were not. None had yet risen. Above them, I saw the red glow of the Jewel, back beneath an underhang, brighter and steadier now, and the shadowy outline of the figure who wore it.
I began crawling forward, upward and to my left. I wanted to get out of line of sight with that figure before I risked rising. It would take too long to reach him crawling, and I was going to have to skirt the others now, because his attention would be with them.
I made my way carefully, slowly, using every bit of cover in sight, wondering whether the lightning would be striking in the same place again soon-and if not, when he would begin pulling disaster down upon our troops. Any minute now, I judged. A glance back showed me our forces spread over the far end of the field, with the enemy pulled back and coming this way. Before too long, in fact, it seemed I might have them to worry about, too.
I made it into a narrow ditch and wormed my way south for perhaps ten meters. Out again then on the far side, to take advantage of a rise, then some rocks.
When I raised my head to take stock of the situation, I could no longer see the glow of the Jewel. The cleft from which it had shone was blocked by its own eastern shoulder of stone.
I kept crawling, though, near to the lip of the great abyss itself, before I bore to my right once more. I reached a point where it seemed safe to rise, and I did so. I kept expecting another flash, another thunderclap-nearby or on the field-but none came. I began to wonder . . . Why not? I reached out, trying to sense the presence of the Jewel, but I could not. I hurried toward the place where I had seen the glow.
I glanced back over the abyss to be sure that no new menaces were approaching from that direction. I drew my blade. When I reached my goal, I stayed close to the escarpment and worked my way northward. I dropped low when I came to its edge and peered around.
There was no red glow. No shadowy figure either. The stony recess appeared to be empty. There was nothing suspicious anywhere in the vicinity. Could he have teleported again? And if so, why?
I rose and passed about the rocky rise. I continued moving in that direction. I tried once more to feel the Jewel, and this time I made a faint contact with it-somewhere off to my right and above, it seemed.
Silent, wary, I moved that way. Why had he left his shelter? He had been perfectly situated for what he had been about. Unless . . .
I heard a scream and a curse. Two different voices. I began to run.
The Courts Of Chaos
I passed the niche and kept going. Beyond it, there was a natural trail winding upward. I mounted this.
I could see no one as yet, but my sense of the Jewel's presence grew stronger as I moved. I thought that I heard a single footfall from off to my right and I whirled in that direction, but there was no one in sight. The Jewel did not feel that near either, so I continued.
As I neared the top of the rise, the black drop of Chaos hanging behind, I heard voices. I could not distinguish what was being said, but the words were agitated.
I slowed as I neared the crest, lowered myself and peered around the side of a rock.
Random was a small distance ahead of me and Fiona was with him, as were Lords Chantris and Feldane. All, save Fiona, held weapons as if ready to use them, but they stood perfectly still. They were staring toward the edge of things-a shelf of rock slightly above their level and perhaps fifteen meters distant-the place where the abyss began.
Brand stood in that place, and he was holding Deirdre before him. She was unhelmed, her hair blowing wild, and he had a dagger at her throat. It appeared that he had already cut her slightly. I dropped back.
I heard Random say softly, "Is there nothing more you can do, Fi?"
"I can hold him here," she said, "and at this range, I can slow his efforts at weather control. But that is all. He's got some attunement with it and I do not. He also has proximity going for him. Anything else I might try, he can counter."
Random gnawed his lower lip.
"Put down your weapons," Brand called out. "Do it now, or Deirdre's dead."
"Kill her," Random said, "and you lose the only thing that's keeping you alive. Do it, and I'll show you where I'II put my weapon."
Brand muttered something under his breath. Then: "Okay.-I will start by mutilating her."
"Come on!" he said. "She can regenerate as well as the rest of us. Find a threat that means something, or shut up and fight it out!"
Brand was still. I thought it better not to reveal my presence. There must be something I could do. I ventured another look, mentally photographing the terrain before I dropped back. There were some rocks way off to the left, but they did not extend far enough. I saw no way that I might sneak up on him.
"I think we are going to have to rush him and chance it," I heard Random say. "I don't see anything else. Do you?"
Before anyone answered him, a strange thing occurred. The day began to grow brighter.
I looked all about me for the source of the illumination, then sought it overhead.
The clouds were still there, the crazy sky doing its tricks beyond them. The brightness was in the clouds, however. They had paled and were now glowing, as if they masked a sun. Even as I watched, there was a perceptible brightening.
"What is he up to now?" Chantris asked.
"Nothing that I can tell," Fiona said. "I do not believe it is his doing."
"Whose then?" There was no answer that I could overhear.
I watched the clouds grow brighter. The largest and brightest of them seemed to swirl then, as if stirred. Forms tossed within it, settled. An outline began to take shape.
Below me, on the field, the sounds of battle lessened. The storm itself was muted as the vision grew. Something was definitely forming in the bright place above our heads-the lines of an enormous face.
"I do not know, I tell you," I heard Fiona say in response to something mumbled.
Before it finished taking form, I realized that it was my father's face in the sky. Neat trick, that. And I had no idea what it represented either.
The face moved, as if he were regarding us all. There were lines of strain there, and something of concern to his expression. The brightness grew a little further. His lips moved.
When his voice came down to me it was somehow at an ordinary conversational level, rather than the vast booming I had expected:
"I send you this message," he said, "before undertaking the repair of the Pattern. By the time you receive it, I will already have succeeded or failed. It will precede the wave of Chaos which must accompany my endeavor. I have reason to believe the effort will prove fatal to me."
His eyes seemed to sweep across the field.
"Rejoice or mourn, as you would," he went on, "for this is either the beginning or the end. I will send the Jewel of Judgment to Corwin as soon as I have finished with it. I have charged him to bear it to the place of conflict. All of your efforts there will be as nothing if the wave of Chaos cannot be averted. But with the Jewel, in that place, Corwin should be able to preserve you until it passes."
I heard Brand's laugh. He sounded quite mad now.
"With my passing," the voice continued, "the problem of the succession will be upon you. I had wishes in this regard, but I see now that these were futile. Therefore, I have no choice but to leave this on the horn of the Unicorn.
"My children, I cannot say that I am entirely pleased with you, but I suppose this works both ways. Let it be. I leave you with my blessing, which is more than a formality. I go now to walk the Pattern. Good-bye."
Then his face began to fade and the brightness drained out of the cloudbank. A little while, and it was gone. A stillness lay upon the field.
". . . and, as you can see," I heard Brand saying, "Corwin does not have the Jewel. Throw down your weapons and get the hell out of here. Or keep them and get out. I do not care. Leave me alone. I have things to do."
"Brand," Fiona said, "can you do what he wanted of Corwin? Can you use it to make that thing miss us?"
"I could if I would," he said. "Yes, I could turn it aside."
"You will be a hero if you do," she said gently. "You will earn our gratitude. All past wrongs will be forgiven. Forgiven and forgotten. We-"
He began to laugh wildly.
"You forgive me?" he said. "You, who left me in that tower, who put the knife into my side? Thank you, sister. It is very kind of you to offer to forgive me, but excuse me if I decline."
"All right," Random said, "what do you want? An apology? Riches and treasure? An important appointment? All of these? They are yours. But this is a stupid game you are playing. Let us end it and go home, pretend it was all a bad dream."
"Yes, let us end it," Brand replied. "You do that by throwing down your weapons first. Then Fiona releases me from her spell, you all do an about-face and march north. You do it or I kill Deirdre."
"Then I think you had better go ahead and kill her and be ready to fight it out with me," he said, "because she will be dead in a little while anyway, if we let you have your way. All of us will."
I heard Brand's chuckle.
"Do you honestly think I am going to let you die? I need you-as many of you as I can save. Hopefully Deirdre, too. You are the only ones who can appreciate my triumph. I will preserve you through the holocaust that is about to begin."
"I do not believe you," Random said.
"Then take a moment and think about it. You know me well enough to know that I will want to rub your noses in it. I want you as witnesses to what I do. In this sense, I require your presence in my new world. Now, get out of here."
"You will have everything you want plus our gratitude," Fiona began, "if you will just-"
I knew that I could delay no longer. I had to make my move. I also knew that I could not reach him in time. I had no choice but to try using the Jewel as a weapon against him.
I reached out and felt its presence. I closed my eyes and summoned my powers.
Hot. Hot, I thought. It is burning you. Brand. It is causing every molecule in your body to vibrate faster and faster. You are about to become a human torch-
I heard him scream.
"Corwin!" he bellowed. "Stop it! Wherever you are! I'll kill her! Look!"
Still willing the Tewel to burn him, I rose to my feet. I glared at him across the distance that separated us. His clothing was beginning to smolder.
"Stop it!" he cried, and he raised the knife and slashed Deirdre's face.
I screamed and my eyes swam. I lost control of the Jewel. But Deirdre, her left cheek bloody, sank her teeth into his hand as he moved to cut her again. Then her arm was free, and she jabbed her elbow into his ribs and tried to pull away.
As soon as she moved, as soon as her head dropped, there was a silver flash. Brand gasped and let go the dagger. An arrow had pierced his throat. Another followed an instant later and stood out from his breast, a little to the right of the Jewel.
He stepped backward and made a gurgling noise. Only there was no place to which he might step, from the edge of the abyss.