Nine Princess In Amber
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Then if I succeeded, with a blade in my hand, nothing could keep me from reaching the Pattern. I'd walk it, and when I made it to the center, I could transport myself to any Shadow world I chose. There I would recuperate, and this time I would not rush things. If it took me a century, I'd have evervthing letter-perfect before I moved against Amber again. After all, I was technically its liege. Hadn't I crowned myself in the presence of all, before Eric had done the same? I'd make good my claim to the throne!
If only it weren't impossible to walk into Shadow from Amber itself! Then I wouldn't have to fool around with the Pattern. But my Amber is the center of all, and you just don't depart it that easily.
After, say, a month my hands had healed and I was developing large callouses from my scraping activities. I heard a guard's footsteps and removed myself to the far side of the cell. There was a brief creak and my meal was slipped beneath the door. Then there were footsteps again, this time diminishing in the distance.
I returned to the door. Without looking, I knew what was on the tray: a chunk of stale bread. a crock of water, and a piece of cheese if I was lucky. I positioned the mat, knelt on it and felt at the groove. I was about halfway through.
Then I heard the chuckle.
It came from behind me.
I turned, not needing my eyes to tell me that someone else was present. There was a man standing near the left wall, giggling.
"Who is it?" I asked. and my voice sounded strange. I realized then that these were the first words I had spoken in a long while.
"Escape," he said. "Trying to escape." And he chuckled again.
"How did you get in here?"
"Walked," he replied.
"From where? How?"
I struck a match and it hurt my eyes, but I held it.
He was a small man. Tiny, might be an even better word. He was around five feet tall and a hunchback. His
hair and beard were as heavy as my own. The only distinguishing features in that great mass of fur were his long, hook nose and ins
alrn06t black eyes, now squinted against the light.
"Dworkin!" I said.
He chuckled again.
"That's my name. What's yours?"
"Don't you know me, Dworkin?" I struck another match and held it near my face. "Look hard. Forget the beard and the hair. Add a hundred pounds to my frame. You drew me, in exquisite detail, on several packs of playing cards."
"Corwin," he said at last. "I remember you. Yes."
"I had thought you were dead."
"I'm not, though. See?" and he pirouetted before me.
"How is your father? Have you seen him recently? Did he put you here?"
"Oberon is no more," I replied. "My brother Eric reigns in Amber, and I'm his prisoner."
"Then I have seniority," he told me, "for I am Oberon's prisoner."
"Oh? None of us knew that Dad had locked you up."
I heard him weeping.
"Yes," he said after a time. "He didn't trust me."
"I told him I'd thought of a way to destroy Amber. I described it to him. and he locked me in"
"That wasn't very nice," I said.
"I know," he agreed, "but he did give me a pretty apartment and lots of things to do research with. Only he stopped coming to visit me after a time. He used to bring men who showed me splotches of ink and made me tell stories about them. That was fun, until I told a story I didn't like and turned the man into a frog. The king was angry when I wouldn't turn him back, and it's been so long since I've seen anybody that I'd even turn him back now, if he still wanted me to. Once-"
"How did you get here, into my cell?" I asked again,
"I told you. I walked."
"Through the wall?"
"Of course not. Through the shadow wall."
"No man can walk through Shadows in Amber. There are no Shadows in Amber."
"Well, I cheated," he admitted.
"I designed a new Trump and stepped through it, to see what was on this side of the wall. Oh my!-I just remembered. . . . I can't get back without it. I'll have to make another. Have you got anything to eat? And something to draw with? And something to draw on?"
"Have a piece of bread," I said, and handed It to him, "and here's a piece of cheese to go along with it."
"Thank you, Corwin." and he wolfed them down and drank all my water afterward. "Now, if you'll give me a pen and a piece of parchment, I'll be returning to my own rooms. I want to finish a book I was reading. It's been nice talking to you. Too bad about Eric. I'll stop back again some time and we'll talk some more. If you see your father, please tell him not to he angry with me because I'll-"
"I don't have a pen, or parchment," I observed.
"Goodness," he said, "that's hardly civilized."
"I know. But then, Eric isn't very."
"Well, what have you got? I prefer my own apartment to this place. At least, it's better lighted."
"You have dined with me," I said, "and now I am going to ask you a favor. If you will grant me this request, I promise that I will do everything I can to make things right between you and Dad."
"What is it that you want?" he asked.
"Long have I admired your work," I said, "and there is something I have always desired as a work of your hand. Do you recall the Lighthouse of Cabra?"
"Of course. I've been there many times. I know the keeper, Jopin. I used to play chess with him."
"More than anything else I can think of," I told him, "for most of my adult life. I have longed to see one of your magical sketches of that great gray tower."
"A very simple subject," he said, "and rather an appealing one, at that, I did some preliminary sketches in the past, but I never got beyond that point. Other work kept getting in the way. I'll fetch you one, if you'd like."
"No," I said. "I'd like something more enduring, to keep me company here in my cell-to comfort me, and any others who may later occupy this place."
"Commendable," he said. "What have you in mind as the medium."
"I have a stylus here," I told him (the spoon was fairly sharp by then), "and I'd like to see it traced upon the far wall, so that I might look at it as I take my rest."
He was silent a moment, then, "The illumination is quite poor." he remarked.
"I have several books of matches," I replied. "I'll light them and hold them for you. We might even burn some of this straw if we ron low."
"Those are hardly ideal working conditions.
"I know," I said, "and I apologize for them, great Dworkin, but they are the best I have to offer. A work of art by your hand would brighten my humble existence beyond measure."
He chuckled again.
"Very well. But you must promise me that you will provide light afterwards, so that I may sketch myself a way back to my own chambers."
"Agreed." I said. and I felt in my pocket.
I had three full packages of matches and part of a fourth.
I pressed the spoon into his hand and led him to the wall.
"Do you have the feel of the instrument?" I asked him.
"Yes, it's a sharpened speon, isn't it?"
"Yes. I'll make a light as soon as you say you are ready. You'll have to sketch rapidly, because my supply of matches is limited. I'll allot half for the lighthouse and the other half for your own business."
"All right," he said, and I struck a match and he began to trace lines upon the moist gray wall.
First he did an upright rectangle to frame and contain the thing. Then with several deft strokes, the lighthouse began to appear. It was amazing, daft as he was, his skill was intact. I held each match at its barest base, spat on my left thumb and forefinger, and when I could hold it no longer in my right I took hold of the blackened end and inverted it, letting the match burn away completely before I struck another.
When the first book of matches was gone, he had finished the tower and was working on the sea and the sky. I encouraged him, I murmured appreciation at every stroke.
"Great, really great," I said, when it appeared to be almost finished. Then he made me waste another match while he signed it. I was almost through the second book by then.
"Now let's admire it," he said.
"If you want to get back to your own apartments, you'll have to leave the admiring to me." I told him. "We're too low on matches to be art critics at this point."
He pouted a bit, but moved to the other wall and began sketching as soon as I struck a light.
He sketched a tiny study, a skull on the desk, a globe beside it, walls full of books all around.
"Now that's good." he said, when I had finished the third pack and was starting on the remaining partial pack.
It took him six more to finish up and one to sign it. He gazed at it while the eighth match burned-there were only two remaining-then he took a step forward and was gone.
The match was burning my fingertips by then and I dropped it and it sizzled when it hit the straw and went out.
I stood there shaking, full of mixed feelings, and then I heard his voice and felt his presence at my side. He was back again.
"I just thought of something," he said. "How can you see the picture when it's so dark in here?"
"Oh. I can see in the dark," I told him. "I've lived with it so long that it has become my friend."
"I see. I just wondered. Give me a light so I can go back now."
"Very well," I agreed, considering my second to last match. "But you'd better bring your own illumination next time you stop around, I'll be out of matches after this."
"All right." And I struck a light and he considered his drawing, walked toward it. and vanished once more.
I turned quickly and considered the Lighthouse of Cabra before the match failed. Yes, the power was there. I could feel it.
Would my final match serve me, though?
No, I didn't think it would. A longer period of concentration than that was required for me to use a Trump as a gateway.
What could I burn? The straw was too damp and might not take fire. It would be horrible to have the gateway-my road to freedom-right there with me and not be able to use it.
I needed a flame that would last awhile.
My sleeping roll! It was a cloth liner stuffed with straw. That straw would be drier, and the cloth would burn, too.
I cleared half the floor, down to the bare stone. Then I sought the sharpened spoon. to use to cut the liner. I cursed then. Dworkin had carried it off with him.
I twisted and tore at the thing.
Finally, it came open and I pulled out the dry straw from the middle. I made a little heap of it and I set the liner nearby, to use as extra fuel if I needed it. The less smoke the better, though. It would attract attention if a guard passed this way. This wasn't too likely, though, since I had just recently been fed, and I got one meal a day.
I struck my last match, then used it to set fire to the cardboard book that had contained it. When this got going, I used it on the straw.
It almost didn't take. The straw was damper than I'd thought, even though it came from the center of my mat. But finally there was a glow, and then a flame. It took two of the other empty matchbooks to achieve this, so I was glad I hadn't thrown them down the john.
I tossed on the third, held the liner in my left hand, and stood and faced the drawing.
The glow spread up the wall as the flames danced higher, and I concentrated on the tower and recalled it. I thought I heard the cry of a gull. I sniffed something like a salt breeze, and the place became more real as I stared.
I tossed the liner onto the fire. and the flames subsided for a moment, then sprang higher. I didn't remove my eyes from the drawing as I did this.
The magic was still there, in Dworkin's hand, for soon the lighthouse seemed as real to me as my cell. Then it seemed the only reality, and the cell but a Shadow at my back. I heard the splashing of the waves and felt something like the afternoon sun upon me.
I stepped forward, but my foot did not descend into the fire.
I stood upon the sandy, rock-stewn edge of the small island Cabra, which held the great gray lighthouse that lit a path for the ships of Amber by night. A flock of frightened gulls wheeled and screamed about me, and my laughter was one with the booming of the surf and the free song of the wind. Amber lay forty-three miles behind my left shoulder.
I had escaped.
Nine Princes In Amber
I made my way to the lighthouse and climbed the stone stair that led to the door on its western face. It was high, wide, heavy, and watertight. Also, it was locked. There was a small quay about three hundred yards behind me. Two boats were moored at it. One was a rowboat and the other was a sailboat with a cabin. They swayed gently, and beneath the sun and water was mica behind them. I paused for a moment to regard them. It had been so long since I had seen anything that for an instant they seemed more than real, and I caught a sob withih my throat and swallowed it.
I turned and knocked on the door.
After what seemed too long a wait, I knocked again.
Finally, I heard a noise within and the door swung open, creaking on its three dark hinges.
Jopin, the keeper, regarded me through bloodshot eyes and I smelled whisky upon his breath. He was about five and a half feet tail and so stooped that he reminded me somewhat of Dworkin. His beard was as long as mine, so of course it seemed longer, and it was the color of smoke, save for a few yellow stains near his dry-looking lips. His skin was as porous as an orange rind and the elements had darkened it to resemble a fine old piece of furniture. His dark eyes squinted, focused. As with many people who are hard of hearing, he spoke rather loudly.
"Who are you? What do you want?" he asked.
If I was that unrecognizable in my emaciated, hairy condition, I decided that I might as well maintain my anonymity.
"I am a traveler from the south and I was shipwrecked recently," I said. "I clung to a piece of wood for many days and was finally washed ashore here. I slept on the beach all morning. It was only recently that I recovered sufficient strength to walk to your lighthouse."
He moved forward and took my arm. He threw his other arm around my shoulders.
"Come in, come in then," he said. "Lean on me. Take it easy. Come this way."
He led me to his quarters, which were extraordinarily messy, being strewn with many old books, charts, maps, and pieces of nautical equipment. He wasn't any too steady himself, so I didn't lean too hard, just enough to maintain the impression of weakness I had tried to convey as I'd leaned against his doorframe.
He led me to a daybed, suggested I lie down, and left to secure the door and fetch me something to eat.
I removed my boots, but my feet were so flithy that I put them back on again. If I'd been drifting about very long, I wouldn't be dirty. I didn't want to give away my story, so I drew a blanket that was there over me and leaned hack, really resting.
Jopin returned shortly with a pitcher of water, a pitcher of beer, a great slice of beef, and half a loaf of bread upon a square wooden tray. He swept clear the top of a small table, which he then kicked into a position beside the couch. Then he set the tray down on it and bade me eat and drink.
I did. I stuffed myself. I
gluffed myself. I ate everything in sight. I emptied both pitchers.
Then I felt tremendously tired. Jopin nodded when he saw it come over me, and he told me to go to sleep. Before I knew it, I had.
When I awakened, it was night time and I felt considerably better than I had in many weeks. I got to my feet and retraced my earlier route and departed the building. It was chilly out there, but the sky was crystal clear and there seemed to be a million stars. The lens at the top of the tower blazed at my back, then went dark, blazed, then went dark. The water was cold, but I just had to cleanse myself. I bathed and washed my clothing and wrung it out. I must have spent an hour doing that. Then I went back to the lighthouse, hung my clothes over the back of an old chair to dry out, crawled beneath the blanket, slept again.
In the morning, when I awoke, Jopin was already up. He prepared me a hearty breakfast, and I treated it the same way as I had the dinner of the previous evening. Then I borrowed a razor, a mirror, and a pair of scissors and gave myself a shave and a sort of haircut. I bathed again afterward, and when I donned my salty, stiff, clean garments I felt almost human again.
Jopin stared at me when I returned from the sea and said, "You look kinda familiar, fella," and I shrugged.
"Now tell me ahout your wreck."
So I did. Out of whole cloth. What a disaster I detailed! Down to the snapping of the mainmast, yet.
He patted me on the shoulder and poured me a drink. He lit the cigar he had given me.
"You just rest easy here," he told me. "I'll take you ashore any time you like, or I'll signal you a passing ship if you see one you recognize."
I took him up on his offered hospitality. It was too much of a lifesaver not to. I ate his food and drank his drinks and let him give me a clean shirt which was too big for him. It had belonged to a friend of his who'd drowned at sea.
I stayed with him for three months, as I recovered my strength. I helped him around the place-tending the light on nights when he felt like getting smashed, and cleaning up all the rooms in the house-even to the extent of painting two of them and replacing five cracked windowpanes-and watching the sea with him on stormy nights.
He was apolitical, I learned. He didn't care who reigned in Amber. So far as he was concerned, the whole bloody crew of us were rotten. So long as he could tend his lighthouse and eat and drink of good food and brew, and consider his nautical charts in peace, he didn't give half a damn what happened ashore. I came to be rather fond of him, and since I knew something of old charts and maps also, we spent many a good evening correcting a few. I had sailed far into the north many years ago, and I gave him a new chart based on my recollections of the voyage. This seemed to please him immensely, as did my description of those waters.
"Corey" (that was how I'd named myself), "I'd like to sail with you one day," he said. "I hadn't realized you were skipper of your own vessel one time."
"Who knows?" I told him. "You were once a captain yourself, weren't you?"
"How'd you know?" he asked.
Actually, I'd remembered, but I gestured about me in reply.
"All these things you've collected," I said, "and your fondness for the charts, Also, you bear yourself like a man who once held a command."
"Yes," he told me, "that's true. I had a command for over a hundred years. That seems long ago. . . Let's have another drink."
I sipped mine and sort of put it aside. I must have gained over forty pounds in the months I had spent with him. Any day now, I was expecting him to recognize me as a member of the family. Maybe he would turn me in to Eric if he did-and maybe not. Now that we'd established this much of camaraderie, I had a feeling that he might not do it. I didn't want to take the chance and find out.
Sometimes as I sat tending the light I wondered, "How long should I stay here?"
Not too much longer, I decided, adding a drop of grease to a swivel bearing. Not much longer at all. The time was drawing near when I should take to the road and walk among Shadows once again.
Then one day I felt the pressure, gentle and questing at first. I couldn't tell for sure who it was.
I immediately stood stock still, closed my eyes and made my mind go blank. It was about five minutes before the questing presence withdrew.
I paced then and wondered, and I smiled when I realized the shortness of my course. Unconsciously, I had been pacing out the dimensions of my cell back in Amber.
Someone had just tried to reach me, via my Trump. Was it Eric? Had he finally become aware of my absence and decided to try locating me in this manner? I wasn't sure. I felt that he might fear mental contact with me again. Julian, then? Or Gerard? Caine? Whoever it had been, I had closed him out completely, I knew that. And I would refuse such contact with any of my family. I might be missing some important news or a helpful call, but I couldn't afford to take the chance. The attempted contact and my blocking efforts left me with a chill. I shuddered. I thought about the thing all the rest of the day and decided that the time had come for me to move on. It wouldn't do for me to remain this close to Amber while I was so vulnerable. I had recovered sufficiently to make my way among Shadows, to seek for the place where I had to go if Amber were ever to be mine. I had been lulled into something close to peace by old Jopin's ministrations. It would be a pain to leave him, for in the months of our association I had come to like the old guy. so that evening, after we'd finished a game of chess, I told him of my plans to depart.
He poured us two drinks then raised his and said, "Good luck to you, Corwin. I hope to see you again one day."
I didn't question the fact that he had called me by my proper name, and he smiled as he realized that I hadn't let it slip by.
"You've been all right, Jopin," I told him. "If I should succeed in what I'm about to try, I won't forget what you did for me."
He shook his head.
"I don't want anything," he said. "I'm happy right where I am, doing exactly what I'm doing. I enjoy running this damned tower. It's my whole life. If you should succeed in whatever you're about-no, don't tell me about it, please! I don't want to know!-I'll be hoping you'll stop around for a game of chess sometime."
"I will," I promised.
"You can take the Butterfly in the morning, if you'd like."
The Butterfly was his sailboat.
"Before you go," he said, "I suggest you take my spyglass, climb the tower, and look back on the Vale of Garnath."
"What's there to see?"
"You'll have to make up your own mind about that"
"Okay, I will."
We then proceeded to get pleasantly high and turned in for the night. I'd miss old Jopin. With the exception of Rein, he was the only friend I'd found since my return. I wondered vaguely about the valley which had been a sheet of flame the last time I had crossed it. What could it be that was so unusual about it now, these four years later?
Troubled by dreams of werewolves and Sabbats, I slept, and the full moon rose above the world.
At the crack of dawn I did the same. Jopin was still sleeping, which was good, because I don't really like to say good-by, and I had a funny feeling that I would never see him again.
I climbed the tower to the room that housed the big light, spyglass at my side. I moved to the window facing the shore and focused on the valley.
There was a mist hanging above the wood. It was a cold, gray, wet-looking thing that clung to the tops of the small, gnarly trees. The trees were dark, and their branches twisted together like the fingers of wrestling hands. Dark things darted among them, and from the patterns of their fight I knew they were not birds. Bats. probably. There was something evil present in that great wood, I knew, and then I recognized it. It was myself.
I had done this thing with my curse. I had transformed the peaceful Valley of Garnath into what it now represented: it was a symbol of my hate for Eric and for all those others who had stood by and let him get away with his power grab, let him blind me. I didn't like the looks of that forest, and as I stared at it I realized how my hate had
objeetified itself. I knew it because it was a part of me.
I had created a new entranceway into the real world. Garnath was now a pathway through Shadows. Shadows dark and grim. Only the dangerous, the malicious might walk that pathway. This was the source of the things Rein had mentioned, the things that troubled Eric. Good-in a way-if they kept him occupied. But as I swung the glass, I couldn't escape the feeling that I had done a very bad thing indeed. At the time, I'd had no idea that I'd ever see the light of day's bright skies again. Now that I did, I realized that I'd unleashed a thing that would take an awful lot of undoing. Even now, strange shapes seemed to move within that place. I had done a thing which had never been done before, not during the whole of Oberon's reign: I had opened a new way to Amber. And I had opened it only to the worst. A day would come when the liege of Amber-whoever he might he-would be faced with the problem of closing that dreadful way. I knew this as I stared, realizing the thing to be a product of my own pain, anger, and hate. If I won out in Amber one day, I might have to cope with my own handiwork, which is always a devilish thing to attempt. I lowered the glass and sighed.
So be it, I decided. In the meantime, it would give Eric something to have insomnia over.
I grabbed a quick bite to eat, outfitted the Butterfly as rapidly as I could, hoisted some canvas, cast off, and set sail. Jopin was usually up by that hour, but maybe he didn't like good-bys either.
I headed her out to sea, knowing where I was going but not real certain how to get there. I'd be sailing through Shadow and strange waters, but it would be better than the overland route, what with my handiwork abroad in the realm.
I had set sail for a land near as sparkling as Amber itself, an almost immortal place, a place that did not really exist, not any longer. It was a place which had vanished into Chaos ages ago, but of which a Shadow must somewhere survive. All I had to do was find it, recognize it, and make it mine once again, as it had been in days long gone by. Then, with my own forces to back me up, I would do another thing Amber had never known. I didn't know how yet, but I promised myself that guns would blaze within the immortal city on the day of my return.
As I sailed into Shadow, a white bird of my desire came and sat upon my right shoulder. and I wrote a note and tied It to its leg and sent It on Its way. The note said, "I am coming," and it was signed by me.
I would never rest until I held vengeance and the throne within my hand, and good night sweet prince to anybody who stood between me and these things.
The sun hung low on my left and the winds bellied the sails and propelled me onward. I cursed once and then laughed.
I was free and I was running. but I had made it this far. I now had the chance I'd wanted all along.
A black bird of my desire came and sat on my left shoulder, and I wrote a note and tied it to its leg and sent it off into the west.
It said, "Eric-I'lI be back," and it was signed: "Corwin, Lord of Amber."
A demon wind propelled me east of the sun.