Nine Princess In Amber
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"The stakes are far too high for a bluff, and I think that's what you're trying, walking in here like this. I've always admired your courage, Corwin, but don't be a fool. You know the score."
Corwin? File it away, under "Corey."
"Maybe I don't," I said. "I've been asleep for a while, remember?"
"You mean you haven't been in touch?"
"Haven't had a chance, since I woke up."
She leaned her head to one side and narrowed her wonderful eyes.
"Rash," she said, "but possible. Just possible. You might mean it. You might. I'll pretend that you do, for now. In that case, you may have done a smart safe thing. Let me think about it."
I drew on my cigarette, hoping she'd say something more. But she didn't, so I decided to seize what seemed the advantage I'd obtained in this game I didn't understand with players I didn't know for stakes I had no inkling of.
"The fact that I'm here indicates something," I said.
"Yes," she replied, "I know. But you're smart, so it could indicate more than one thing. We'll wait and see."
Wait for what? See what? Thing?
Steaks then arrived and a pitcher of beer, so I was temporarily freed from the necessity of making cryptic and general statements for her to ponder as subtle or cagey. Mine was a good steak, pink inside and full of juice, and I tore at the fresh tough-crested bread with my teeth and gulped the beer with a great hunger and a thirst. She laughed as she watched me, while cutting off tiny pieces of her own.
"I love the gusto with which you assail life, Corwin. It's one of the reasons I'd hate to see you part company with it."
"Me, too," I muttered.
And while I ate, I pondered her. I saw her in a low-cut gown, green as the green of the sea, with full skirts. There was music, dancing, voices behind us. I wore black and silver and . . . The vision faded. But it was a true piece of my memory, I knew; and inwardly I cursed that I lacked it in its entirety. What had she been saying, in her green, to me in my black and silver, that night, behind the music, the dancing and the voices?
I poured us more beer from the pitcher and decided to test the vision.
"I remember one night," I said, "when you were all in green and I in my colors. How lovely things seemed-and the music..."
Her face grew slightly wistful, the cheeks smoothing.
"Yes," she said. "Were not those the days? . . . You really have not been in touch?"
"Word of honor," I said, for whatever that was worth.
"Things have grown far worse," she said, "and the Shadows contain more horrors than any had thought. . . ."
"And ...?" I inquired.
"He still has his troubles," she finished,
"Yes," she went on, "and he'll want to know where you stand."
"Right here," I said,
"You mean. ..
"For now," I told her, perhaps too quickly, for her eyes had widened too much, "since I still don't know the full state of affairs," whatever that meant.
And we finished our steaks and the beer, giving the two bones to the dogs.
We sipped some coffee afterward, and I came to feel a bit brotherly but suppressed it. I asked, "What of the others?" which could mean anything, but sounded safe.
I was afraid for a moment that she was going to ask me what I meant. Instead, though, she leaned back in her chair, stared at the ceiling, and said, "As always, no one new has been heard from. Perhaps yours was the wisest way. I'm enjoying it myself. But how can one forget-the glory?" I lowered my eyes, because I wasn't sure what they should contain. "One can't," I said. "One never can."
There followed a long, uncomfortable silence, after which she said: "Do you hate me?"
"Of course not," I replied. "How could I-all things considered?"
This seemed to please her, and she showed her teeth, which were very white.
"Good, and thank you," she said. "Whatever else, you're a gentleman."
I bowed and smirked.
"You'll turn my head."
"Hardly," she said, "all things considered."
And I felt uncomfortable.
My anger was there, and I wondered whether she knew who it was that I needed to stay it. I felt that she did. I fought with the desire to ask it outright, suppressed it.
"Well, what do you propose doing?" she finally asked, and being on the spot I replied, "Of course, you don't trust me. . ."
"How could we?"
I determined to remember that we.
"Well, then. For the time being. I'm willing to place myself under your surveillance. I'll be glad to stay right here, where you can keep an eye on me."
"Afterward? We'll see."
"Clever," she said, "very clever. And you place me in an awkward position." (I had said it because I didn't have any place else to go. and my blackmail money wouldn't last me too long.) "Yes, of course you may stay. But let me warn you"-and here she fingered what I had thought to be some sort of pendant on a chain about her neek-"this is an ultrasonic dog whistle. Donner and Blitzen here have four brothers, and they're all trained to take care of nasty people and they all respond to my whistle. So don't start to walk toward any place where you won't be desired. A toot or two and even you will go down before them. Their kind is the reason there are no wolves left in Ireland. you know."
"I know," I said, realizing that I did.
"Yes." she continued, "Eric will like it that you are my guest. It should cause him to leave you alone, which is what you want, n'est-ce-pas?"
"Oui." I said.
Eric! It meant something! I had known an Eric, and it had been very important, somehow. that I did. Not recently. But the Eric I had known was still around, and that was important.
I hated him, that was one reason. Hated him enough to have contemplated killing him. Perhaps I'd even tried.
Also, there was some bond between us, I knew.
Yes, that was it. Neither of us liked it being brothers. ...I remembered, I remembered....
Big, powerful Eric, with his wet curly beard, and his eyes--just like Evelyn's!
I was racked with a new surge of memory, as my temples began to throb and the back of my neck was suddenly warm.
I didn't let any of it show on my face, but forced myself to take another drag on my cigarette, another sip of beer, as I realized that Evelyn was indeed my sister! Only Evelyn wasn't her name. I couldn't think of what it was, but it wasn't Evelyn. I'd be careful, I resolved. I'd not use any name at all when addressing her, until I remembered.
And what of me? And what was it that was going on around me?
Eric, I suddenly felt, had had some connection with my accident. It should have been a fatal one, only I'd pulled through. He was the one, wasn't he? Yes, my feelings replied. It had to be Eric. And Evelyn was working with him, paying Greenwood to keep me in a coma. Better than being dead, but...
I realized that I had just somehow delivered myself into Eric's hands by coming to Evelyn, and I would be his prisoner, would be open to new attack, if I stayed.
But she had suggested that my being her guest would cause him to leave me alone. I wondered. I couldn't take anything at face value. I'd have to be constantly on my guard. Perhaps it would be better if I just went away, let my memories return gradually.
But there was this terrible sense of urgency. I had to find out the full story as soon as possible and act as soon as I knew it. It lay like a compulsion upon me. If danger was the price of memory and risk the cost of opportunity, then so be it. I'd stay.
"And I remember," Evelyn said, and I realized that she had been talking for a while and I hadn't even been listening. Perhaps it was because of the reflective quality of her words, not really requiring any sort of respouse--and because of the urgency of my thoughts.
"And I remember the day you beat Julian at his favorite game and he threw a glass of wine at you and cursed you. But you took the prize. And he was suddenly afraid he had gone too far. But you laughed then, though, and drank a glass with him. I think he felt badly over that show of temper, normally being so cool, and I think he was envious of you that day. Do you recall? I think he has, to a certain extent, imitated many of your ways since then. But I still hate him and hope that he goes down shortly. I feel he will...."
Julian, Julian, Julian. Yes and no. Something about a game and my baiting a man and shattering an almost legendary self-control. Yes, there was a feeling of familiarity; and no, I couldn't really say for certain what all had been involved.
"And Caine, how you gulled him! He hates you yet, you know. . . ."
I gathered I wasn't very well liked. Somehow, the feeling pleased me.
And Caine, too, sounded familiar. Very.
Eric, Julian, Caine, Corwin. The names swam around in my head, and in a way, it was too much to hold within me.
"It's been so long. . . ." I said, almost involuntarily, and it seemed to be true.
"Corwin," she said, "let's not fence. You want more than security, I know that. And you're still strong enough to get something out of this, if you play your hand just right. I can't guess what you have in mind, but maybe we can make a deal with Eric." The we had obviously shifted. She had come to some sort of conclusion as to my worth in whatever was going on. She saw a chance to gain something for herself, I could tell. I smiled, just a little. "Is that why you came here?" she continued. "Do you have a proposal for Eric, something which might require a go-between?"
"I may," I replied, "after I've thought about it some more. I've still so recently recovered that I have much pondering to do. I wanted to be in the best place, though, where I could act quickly, if I decided my best interests lay with Eric."
"Take care," she said. "You know I'll report every word."
"Of course," I said, not knowing that at all and groping for a quick hedge, "unless your best interests were conjoined with my own."
Her eyebrows moved closer together, and tiny wrinkles appeared between them.
"I'm not sure what you're proposing."
"I'm not proposing anything, yet," I said. "I'm just being completely open and honest with you and telling you I don't know. I'm not positive I want to make a deal with Eric. After all. . ." I let the words trail off on purpose, for I had nothing to follow them with, though I felt I should.
"You've been offered an alternative?" She stood up suddenly, seizing her whistle. "Bleys! Of course!"
"Sit down," I said, "and don't he ridiculous. Would I place myself in your hands this calmly, this readily, just to be dog meat because you happen to think of Bleys?"
She relaxed, maybe even sagged a little, then reseated herself.
"Possibly not," she finally said, "but I know you're a gambler, and I know you're treacherous. If you came here to dispose of a partisan, don't even bother trying. I'm not that important. You should know that by now. Besides, I always thought you rather liked me."
"I did, and I do," I said, "and you have nothing to worry about, so don't. It's interesting, though, that you should mention Bleys."
Bait, bait, bait! There was so much I wanted to know!
"Why? Has he approached you?"
"I'd rather not say," I replied, hoping it would give me an edge of some kind, and now that I knew Bleys' gender: "If he had, I'd have answered him the same as I would Eric-'I'll think about it.'"
"Bleys," she repeated, and Bleys, I said to myself inside my head, Bleys. I like you. I forget why, and I know there are reasons why I shouldn't-but I like you. I know it.
We sat awhile, and I felt fatigue but didn't want to show it. I should be strong. I knew I had to be strong.
I sat there and smiled and said, "Nice library you've got here," and she said, "Thank you."
"Bleys," she repeated after a time. "Do you really think he has a chance?"
"Who knows? Not I, for certain. Maybe he does. Maybe not, too."
Then she stared at me, her eyes slightly wide, and her mouth opening.
"Not you?" she said, "You're not proposing to try yourself, are you?"
I laughed then, solely for purposes of countering her emotion.
"Don't he silly," I said when I'd finished. "Me?"
But as she said it, I knew she'd struck some chord, some deep-buried thing which replied with a powerful "Why not?"
I was suddenly afraid.
She seemed relieved, though, at my disavowal of whatever it was I was disavowing. She smiled then, and indicated a built-in bar off to my left.
"I'd like a little Irish Mist," she said.
"So would I, for that matter," I replied, and I rose and fetched two.
"You know," I said, after I'd reseated myself, "it's pleasant to be together with you this way, even if it is only for a short time. It brings back memories."
And she smiled and was lovely.
"You're right," she said, sipping her drink. "I almost feel in Amber with you around," and I almost dropped my drink.
Amber! The word had sent a bolt of lightning down my spine!
Then she began to cry, and I rose and put my arm around her shoulders to comfort her.
"Don't cry, little girl. Please don't. It makes me unhappy, too." Amber! There was something there, something electrical and potent! "There will be good days once again." I said, softly.
"Do you really believe that?" she asked.
"Yes," I said loudly. "Yes, I do!"
"You're crazy," she said. "Maybe that's why you were always my favorite brother too. I can almost believe anything you say, even though I know you're crazy."
Then she cried a little more and stopped.
"Corwin," she said, "if you do make it--if by some wild and freakish chance out of Shadow you should make it--will you remember your little sister Florimel?"
"Yes," I said, knowing it to be her name. "Yes, I will remember you."
"Thank you. I will tell Eric only the essentials, and mention Bleys not at all, nor my latest suspicions."
"Thank you, Flora."
"But I don't trust you worth a damn," she added. "Remember that, too."
"That goes without saying."
Then she summoned her maid to show me to a room, and I managed to undress, collapsed into the bed, and slept for eleven hours.
Nine Princes In Amber
In the morning she was gone, and there was no message. Her maid served me breakfast in the kitchen and went away to do maid-things. I'd disregarded the notion of trying to pump information out of the woman, as she either wouldn't know or wouldn't tell me the things I wanted to know and would no doubt also report my attempt to Flora. So, since it seemed I had the nun of the house, I decided I'd return to the library and see what I could learn there. Besides, I like libraries. It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me. I always feel better when I can see that there is something to hold back the shadows.
Donner or Blitzen, or one of their relatives, appeared from somewhere and followed me up the hallway, walking stiff-legged and sniffing after my spoor. I tried to make friends with him, but it was like exchanging pleasantries with the state trooper who signaled you to pull off the road. I looked into some of the other rooms as I went along, and they were just places. innocuous-looking ones.
So I entered the library, and Africa still faced me. I closed the door behind me to keep the dogs out, and I strolled around the room. reading the titles on the shelves.
There were lots of history books. In fact, they seemed to dominate her collection. There were also many art books, of the big and expensive variety, and I leafed through a few of these. I usually do my best real thinking when I'm thinking about something else.
I wondered at the sources of Flora's obvious wealth. If we were related, did that mean that perhaps I enjoyed somewhat of opulence, also? I thought about my economic and social status, my profession, my origins. I had the feeling that I'd never worried much about money, and that there'd always been enough or ways of getting it, to keep me satisfied. Did I own a big house like this? I couldn't remember.
What did I do?
I sat behind her desk and examined my mind for any special caches of knowledge I might possess. It is difficult to examine yourself this way, as a stranger. Maybe that's why I couldn't come up with anything. What's yours is yours and a part of you and it just seems to belong there, inside. That's all.
A doctor? That came to mind as I was viewing some of Da Vinci's anatomical drawings. Almost by reflex, in my mind, I had begun going through the steps of various surgical operations. I realized then that I had operated on people in the past.
But that wasn't it. While I realized that I had a medical background, I knew that it was a part of something else. I knew, somehow, that I was not a practicing surgeon. What then? What else was involved?
Something caught mv eve.
Seated there at the desk, I commanded a view of the far wall. on which, among other things, hung an antique cavalry saber, which I had overlooked the first time around the room. I rose and crossed over to it, took it down from its pegs.
In my mind, I tsked at the shape it was in. I wanted an oily rag and a whetstone, to make it the way it should he once again. I knew something about antique arms, edged weapons in particular.
The saber felt light and useful in my hand, and I felt capable with it. I struck an en garde. I parried and cut a few times. Yes. I could use the thing.
So what sort of background was that? I looked around for new memory joggers.
Nothing else occurred to me, so I replaced the blade and returned to the desk. Sitting there, I decided to go through the thing.
I started with the middle one and worked my way up the left side and down the right, drawer by drawer.
Sationery, envelopes, postage stamps, paper clips, pencil stubs, rubber bands--all the usual items.
I had pulled each drawer all the way out though, and held it in my lap as I'd inspected its contents. It wasn't just an idea. It was part of some sort of training I'd once received, which told me I should inspect the sides and bottoms as well.
One thing almost slipped by me, but caught my attention at the last instant: the back of the lower right-hand drawer did not rise as high as the backs of the other drawers.
This indicated something. and when I knelt and looked inside the drawer space I saw a little box-like affair fixed to the upper side.
It was a small drawer itself, way in the back, and it was locked.
It took me about a minute of fooling around with paper clips, safety pins, and finally a metal shoehorn I'd seen in another drawer. The shoehorn did the trick.
The drawer contained a packet of playing cards.
And the packet bore a device which caused me to stiffen where I knelt, perspiration suddenly wetting my brow and my breath coming rapidly.
It bore a white unicorn on a grass field, rampant, facing to the dexter.
And I knew that device and it hurt me that I could not name it.
I opened the packet and extracted the cards. They were on the order of tarots, with their wands, pentacles, cups, and swords, but the Greater Trumps were quite different.
I replaced both drawers, being careful not to lock the smaller one, before I continued my inspection.
They were almost lifelike in appearance, the Greater Trumps ready to step right out through those glistening surfaces. The cards seemed quite cold to my touch, and it gave me a distinct pleasure to handle them. I had once had a packet like this myself, I suddenly knew.
I began spreading them on the blotter before me. The one bore a wily-looking little man, with a sharp nose and a laughing mouth and a shock of straw-colored hair. He was dressed in something like a Renaissance costume of orange, red and brown. He wore long hose and a tight-fitting embroidered doublet. And I knew him. His name was Random.
Next, there was the passive countenance of Julian, dark hair hanging long, blue eyes containing neither passion nor compassion. He was dressed completely in scaled white armor, not silver or metallic-colored, but looking as if it had been enameled. I knew, though, that it was terribly tough and shock-resistant, despite its decorative and festive appearance. He was the man I had beaten at his favorite game, for which he had thrown a glass of wine at me. I knew him and I hated him.
Then came the swarthy, dark-eyed countenance of Caine, dressed all in satin that was black and green, wearing a dark three-cornered hat set at a rakish angle, a green plume of feathers trailing down the back. He was standing in profile, one arm akimbo, and the toes of his boots curled upwards, and he wore an emerald-studded dagger at his belt. There was ambivalence in my heart.
Then there was Eric. Handsome by anyone's standards, his hair was so dark as to be almost blue. His beard curled around the mouth that always smiled, and he was dressed simply in a leather jacket and leggings, a plain cloak, high black boots, and he wore a red sword belt bearing a long silvery saber and clasped with a ruby, and his high cloak collar round his head was lined with red and the trimmings of his sleeves matched it. His hands, thumbs hooked behind his belt, were terribly strong and prominent. A pair of black gloves jutted from the belt near his right hip. He it was, I was certain, that had tried to kill me on that day I had almost died. I studied him and I feared him somewhat.
Then there was Benedict, tall and dour, thin, thin of body, thin of face, wide of mind. He wore orange and yellow and brown and reminded me of haysticks and pumpkins and scarecrows and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. He had a long strong jaw and hazel eyes and brown hair that never curled. He stood beside a tan horse and leaned upon a lance about which was twined a rope of flowers. He seldom laughed. I liked him.
I paused when I uncovered the next card, and my heart leaped forward and banged against my sternum and asked to be let out.
It was me.
I knew the me I shaved and this was the guy behind the mirror. Green eyes, black hair, dressed in black and silver, yes. I had on a cloak and it was slightly furled as by a wind. I had on b]ack boots, like Eric's, and I too wore a blade, only mine was heavier, though not quite as long as his. I had my gloves on and they were silver and scaled. The clasp at my neck was cast in the form of a silver rose.
And a big, powerful man regarded me from the next card. He resembled me quite strongly, save that his jaw was heavier. And I knew he was bigger than I, though slower. His strength was a thing out of legend. He wore a dressing gown of blue and gray clasped about the middle with a wide, black belt, and he stood laughing. About his neck, on a heavy cord, there hung a silver bunting horn. He wore a fringe heard and a light mustache. In his right hand he held a goblet of wine. I felt a sudden affection for him. His name then occurred to me. He was Gerard.
Then came a fiery bearded, flame-crowned man, dressed all in red and orange, mainly of silk stuff, and he held a sword in his right hand and a glass of wine in his left, and the devil himself danced behind his eyes, as blue as Flora's, or Eric's. His chin was slight, but the beard covered it. His sword was inlaid with an elaborate filigree of a golden color. He wore two huge rings on his right hand and one on his left: an emerald, a ruby, and a sapphire, respectively. This, I knew, was Bleys.
Then there was a figure both like Bley's and myself. My features, though smaller, my eyes, Bleys' hair, beardless. He wore a riding suit of green and sat atop a white horse, heading toward the dexter side of the card. There was a quality of both strength and weakness, questing and abandonment about him. I both approved and disapproved, liked and was repelled by, this one. His name was Brand, I knew. As soon as I laid eyes upon him, I knew.
In fact, I realized that I knew thiem all well, remembered them all, with their strengths, their weaknesses, their victories, their defeats.
For they were my brothers.
I lit a cigarette I'd filched from Flora's desk box, and I leaned back and considered the things I had recalled.
They were my brothers, those eight strange men garbed in their strange costumes. And I knew that it was right and fitting that they should dress in whatever manner they chose, just as it was right for me to wear the black and the silver. Then I chuckled, as I realized what I was wearing, what I had purchased in the little clothing store of that little town I had stopped in after my departure from Greenwood.
I had on black slacks, and all three of the shirts I had purchased had been of a grayish, silvery color. And my jacket, too, was black.
I returned to the cards, and there was Flora in a gown green as the sea, just as I'd remembered her the previous evening; and then there was a black-haired girl with the same blue eyes, and her hair hung long and she was dressed all in black, with a girdle of silver about her waist. My eyes filled with tears, why I don't know. Her name was Deirdre. Then there was Fiona, with hair like Bleys or Brand, my eyes, and a complexion like mother of pearl. I hated her the second I turned over the card. Next was Llewella, whose hair matched her jade-colored eyes, dressed in shimmering gray and green with a lavender belt, and looking moist and sad. For some reason, I knew she was not like the rest of us. But she, too, was my sister.
I felt a terrible sense of distance and removal from all these people. Yet somehow they seemed physically close.
The cards were so very cold on my fingertips that I put them down again, though with a certain sense of reluctance at having to relinquish their touch.
There were no more, though. All the rest were minor cards. And I knew, somehow, that somehow, again--ah, somehow!-that several were missing.
For the life of me, however, I did not know what the missing Trumps represented.
I was strangely saddened by this, and I picked up my cigarette and mused.
Why did all these things rush back so easily when I viewed the cards--rush back without dragging their contexts along with them? I knew more now than I'd known before, in the way of names and faces. But that was about all.
I couldn't figure the significance of the fact that we were all done up in cards this way. I had a terribly strong desire to own a pack of them, however. If I picked up Flora's. though, I knew she'd spot in a hurry that they were missing, and I'd be in trouble. Therefore, I put them back in the little drawer behind the big drawer and locked them in again. Then, God, how I racked my brains! But to little avail.
Until I recalled a magical word.
I had been greatly upset by the word on the previous evening. I had been sufficiently upset so that I had avoided thinking of it since then. But now I courted it. Now I rolled it around my mind and examined all the associations that sprang up when it struck.
The word was charged with a mighty longing and a massive nostalgia. It had, wrapped up inside it, a sense of forsaken beauty, grand achievement. and a feeling of power that was terrible and almost ultimate. Somehow, the word belonged in my vocabulary. Somehow, I was part of it and it was a part of me. It was a place name, I knew then. It was the name of a place I once had known. There came no pictures, though, only emotions.
How long I sat so, I do not know. Time had somehow divorced itself from my reveries.
I realized then, from the center of my thoughts, that there had come a gentle rapping upon the door. Then the handle slowly turned and the maid, whose name was Carmella, entered and asked me if I was interested in lunch.
It seemed like a good idea, so I followed her back to the kitchen and ate half a chicken and drank a quart of milk.
I took a pot of coffee back to the llbrary with me, avoiding the dogs as I went. I was into the second cup when the telephone rang.
I longed to pick it up, but I figured there must be extensions all over the house and Carmella would probably get it from somewhere.
I was wrong. It kept ringing.
Finally, I couldn't resist it any longer.
"Hello," I said, "this is the Flaumel residence."
"May I speak with Mrs. Flaumel please?"
It was a man's voice, rapid and slightly nervous. He sounded out of breath and his words were masked and surrounded by the faint ringing and the ghost voices that indicate long distance.
"I'm sorry." I told him. "She's not here right now. May I take a message or have her call you back?"
"Who am I talking to?" he demanded.
I hesitatcd, then, "Corwin's the name," I told him.
"My God!" he said, and a long silence followed.
I was beginning to think he'd hung up. I said, "Hello?" again, just as he started talking.
"Is she still alive?" he asked.
"Of course she's still alive. Who the hell am I talking to?"
"Don't you recognize the voice, Corwin? This is Random. Listen. I'm in California and I'm in trouble. I was calling to ask Flora for sanctuary. Are you with her?"
"Temporarily," I said.