Nine Princess In Amber
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"Those damn hounds of his will tear this car to pieces, and his birds will feed on our eyes!" he said. "I'd hate to meet him when he's this well prepared. Whatever he hunts, I know he'd willingly relinquish it for quarry such
as two of his brotbers."
"'Live and let live' is my philosophy these days," I remarked.
"What a quaint notion. I'll bet it will last all of five minutes."
Then the horn sounded again, even nearer, and he remarked, "Damn!"
The speedometer said seventy-five, in quaint, runic numerals, and I was afraid to go any faster on that road,
And the horn sounded again, much nearer now, three long notes, and I could hear the baying of hounds, off to
"We are now very near to the real Earth, though still far from Amber," said my brother. "It will be futile to run
through adjacent Shadows, for if it is truly us that he follows. he will pursue us. Or his shadow will."
"What shall we do!"
"Speed. and hope it is not us that be follows."
And the horn sounded once again, almost next to us this time.
"What the hell is be riding, a locomotive?" I asked.
"I'd say he is riding the mighty Morgenstern, the fastest horse he has ever created."
I let that last word roIl around in my head for a while, wondering at it and wondering at it. Yes, it was true, some
inner voice told me. He did create Morgenstern, out of Shadows, fusing into the beast the strength and speed of a hurricane and a pile driver.
I remembered that I had call to fear that animal, and then I saw him.
Morgenstern was six hands higher than any other horse I'd ever seen. and his eyes were the dead color of a
Weimaraner dog's and his coat was a light gray and his hooves looked like polished steel. He raced along like the wind, pacing the car, and Julian was crouched in his saddle-the Julian of the playing card, long black hair and bright blue eyes. and he had on his scaled white armor.
Julian smiled at us and waved, and Morgenstern tossed his head and his magnifleent mane rippled in the wind,
like a flag. His legs were a blur.
I recalled that Julian had once had a man wear my castoff garments and torment the beast. This was why it
had tried to trample me on the day of a hunt, when I'd dismounted to skin a buck before it.
I'd rolled the window shut once more. so I didn't think it could tell by scent that I was inside the car. But Julian
had spotted me, and I thought I knew what that meant. All about him ran the Storm Hounds, with their tough, tough bodies and their teeth like steel. They too had come Out of Shadow, for no normal dog could run like that. But I knew, for a certainty, that the word "normal" did not really apply to anything in this place.
Julian signaled us to stop then, and I glanced at Random and he nodded. "If we don't, he'll just run us down," he said. So I hit the brakes, slowed, stopped.
Morgenstern reared, pawed the air, struck the earth with all four hooves and cantered over. The dogs milled
about, their tongues hanging out their sides heaving. The horse was covered with a glistening sheen that I knew to
"What a surprise!" said Julian, in his slow, almost impeded way of speaking and a great hawk that was black and green circled and settled upon his left shoulder.
"Yes. isn't it," I replied. "How have you been?"
"Oh, capital," he decided, "as always. What of yourself and brother Random?"
"I'm in good shape," I said, and Random nodded and remarked, "I thought you'd be indulging in other sports at a time like this."
Julian tipped his head and regarded him crookedly, through the windshield.
"I enjoy slaughtering beasts," he said, "and I think of my relatives constantly."
A slight coldness worked its way down my back.
"I was distracted from my hunt by the sound of your motor vehicle," he said. "At the time, I did not expect it
to contain two such as you. I'd assume you are not simply riding for pleasure, but have a destination in mind, such
as Amber. True?"
"True," I agreed. "May I inquire why you are here, rather than there?"
"Eric set me to watching this road," be replied, and my hand came to rest upon one of the pistols in my belt as he spoke. I had a feeling a bullet couldn't breach that armor. though. I considered shooting Morgenstern.
"Well, brothers," he said, smiling, "I welcome you back and I wish you a good journey. I'll doubtless see you
shortly in Amber. Good afternoon," and with that he turned and rode toward the woods.
"Let's get the hell out of here," said Random. "He's probably planning an ambush or a chase," and with this he drew a pistol from his belt and held it in his lap.
I drove on at a decent speed.
After about five minutes, when I was just beginning to breathe a bit easily, I heard the horn. I pushed down on the gas pedal. Knowing that he'd catch us anyhow, but trying to buy as much time and gain as much distance as I could. We skidded around corners and roared up hills and through dales. I almost hit a deer at one point, but we made it around the beast without cracking up or slowing.
The horn sounded nearer now, and Random was muttering obscenities.
I had the feeling that we still had quite a distance to go within the forest, and this didn't hearten me a bit.
We hit one long straight stretch, where I was able to floor it for almost a minute. Julian's horn notes grew more
distant at that time. But we then entered a section where the road wound and twisted and I had to slow down. He began to gain on us at once again.
After about six minutes, he appeared in the rear-view mirror, thundering along the road, his pack all around him, baying and slavering.
Random rolled down his window, and after a minute he leaned out and began to fire.
"Damn that armor!" be said. "I'm sure I hit him twice and nothing's happened."
"I hate the thought of killing that beast," I gaid, "but try for the horse."
"I already have, several times," he said, tossing his empty pistol to the floor and drawing the other, "and
either I'm a lousier shot than I thought, or it's true what they say: that it will take a silver bullet to kill Morgenstern."
He picked off six of the dogs with his remaining rounds, but there were still about two dozen left.
I passed him one of my pistols, and he accounted for five more of the beasts.
"I'll save the last round," he said, "for Julian's head, if he gets close enough!"
They were perhaps fifty feet behind me at that point, and gaining, so I slammed on the brakes. Some of the
dogs couldn't halt in time, but Julian was suddenly gone and a dark shadow passed overhead.
Morgenstern had leaped over the car. He wheeled then, and as horse and rider turned to face us I gunned the engine and the car sped forward.
With a magnificent leap, Morgenstern got them out of the way. In the rear-view mirror, I saw two dogs drop a fender they'd torn loose and renew the pursuit. Some were lying in the road, and there were about fifteen or sixteen giving chase.
"Good show," said Random, "but you're lucky they didn't go for the tires. They've probably never hunted a
I passed him my remaining pistol, and "Get more dogs," I said.
He fired deliberately and with perfect accuracy, accounting for six.
And Julian was beside the car now, a sword in his right hand.
I blew the horn, hoping to spook Morgenstern, but it didn't work. I swerved toward them, but the horse danced away. Random crouched low in his seat and aimed past me. his right hand holding the pistol and resting upon his left forearm.
"Don't fire yet," I said. "I'm going to try to take him."
"You're crazy," he told me, as I hit the brakes again.
He lowered his weapon, though.
As soon as we came to a halt, I flung open my door and leaped out-barefooted yet! Damn it.
I ducked beneath his blade, seized his arm, and hurled him from the saddle. He struck me one on the head with his mailed left fist, and there were Roman candles going off all around me and a terrible pain.
He lay where he had fallen, being groggy, and there were dogs all around me, biting me, and Random kicking them. I snatched up Julian's blade from where it lay and touched his throat with its point.
"Call them off!" I cried. "Or I'll nail you to the ground!"
He screamed orders at the dogs and they drew back. Random was holding Morgenstern's bridle and struggling
with the horse.
"Now, dear brother, what do you have to say for yourself?" I asked.
There was a cold blue fire within his eyes, and his face was without expression.
"If you're going to kill me, be about it," he said.
"In my own good time," I told him, somehow enjoying the sight of dirt on his impeccable armor. "In the meantime, what is your life worth to you?"
"Anything I've got, of course."
I stepped back.
"Get up and get into the back seat of the car", I told him.
He did this thing, and I took away his dagger before he got in. Random resumed his own seat, and kept his pistol with the single remaining round aimed at Julian's head.
"Why not just kill him?" he asked.
"I think he'll he useful," I said. "There is much that I wish to know. And there is still a long way to travel."
I began to drive, I could see the dogs milling around. Morgenstern began cantering along after the car.
"I'm afraid I won't be worth much to you as a prisoner," Julian observed. "Although you will torture me, I can only tell you what I know, and that isn't much."
"Start with that then," I said.
"Eric looks to have the strongest position," he told us, "having been right there in Amber when the whole thing broke loose. At least this is the way I saw it, so I offered him my support. Had it been one of you, I'd probably have done the same thing. Eric charged me with keeping guard in Arden, since it's one of the main routes. Gerard controls the southern seaways, and Caine is off in the
"What of Benedict?" Random asked.
"I don't know. I haven't heard anything. He might be with Bleys. He might be off somewhere else in Shadow
and not even have heard of this thing yet. He might even be dead. It's been years since we've heard from him."
"How many men have you got in Arden," asked Random.
"Over a thousand," he said. "Some are probably watching you right now."
"And if they want you to go on living, that's all they'll do," said Random.
"You are doubtless correct," he replied. "I have to admit, Corwin did a shrewd thing in taking me prisoner
rather than killing me. You just might make it through the forest this way."
"You're just saying that because you want to live," said Random.
"Of course I want to live. May I?"
"In payment for the information I've given you."
"You've given us very little, and I'm sure more can be torn from you. We'll see, as soon as we get a chance to stop. Eh, Corwin?"
"We'll see," I said. "Where's Fiona?"
"Somewhere to the south, I think," Julian replied.
"How about Deirdre?"
"I don't know."
"Okay," I said, "I think you've told me everything you know."
We drove on in silence, and finally the forest began to thin. I'd lost sight of Morgenstern long ago, though I sometimes saw Julian's falcon pacing us. The road took a turn upward, and we were heading toward a pass between two purple mountains. The gas tank was a little better than a quarter full. Within an hour, we were passing between high shoulders of stone.
"This would be a good place to set up a road block," said Random.
"That sounds likely," I said. "What about it, Julian?"
"Yes." he agreed, "you should be coming upon one very soon. You know how to get by it."
We did. When we came to the gate, and the guard in green and brown leather, sword unsheathed, advanced
upon us, I jerked my thumb toward the back seat and said, "Get the picture?"
He did, and he recognized us, also.
He hastened to raise the gate, and he saluted us as we passd by.
There were two more gates before we made it through the pass, and somewhere along the way it appeared we had lost the hawk. We had gained several thousand feet in elevation now, and I braked the car on a road that crawled along the face of a cliff. To our right hand, there was nothing other than a long way down.
"Get out," I said. "You're going to take a walk."
"I won't grovel," he said. "I won't beg you for my life." And he got out.
"Hell," I said. "I haven't had a good grovel in weeks! Well . . . go stand by the edge there. A little closer please." And Random kept his pistol aimed at his head. "A while back." I told him, "you said that you would probably have supported anyone who occupied Eric's p~
He did. It was along way.
"Okay." I said, "remember that, should things undergo a sudden change. And remember who it was who gave you your life where another would have taken it.
"Come on, Random. Let's get moving."
We left him standing there, breathing heavily, his brows woven together.
We reached the top and were almost out of gas. I put it in neutral, killed the engine, and began the long roll down.
"I've been thinking," said Random; "you've lost none of your old guile. I'd probably have killed him, myself, for
what he tried. But I think you did the right thing. I think he wil throw us his support, if we can get an edge on Eric. In the meantime, of course, he'll report what happened to Eric."
"Of course," I said.
"And you have more reason to want him dead than any of us."
"Personal feelings don't make for good politics, legal decisions, or business deals."
Random lit two cigarettes and handed me one.
Staring downward through the smoke, I caught my first glimpse of that sea. Beneath the deep blue, almost night-time sky, with that golden sun hanging up there in it, the sea was so rich-thick as paint, textured like a piece of cloth, of royal blue, almost purple-that it troubled me to look upon it. I found myself speaking in a language that I hadn't realized I knew. I was reciting "The Ballad of the Water-Crossers," and Random listened until I had finished and asked me, "It has often been said that you composed that. Is it true?"
"It's been so long," I told him, "that I don't really remember any more."
And as the cliff curved further and further to the left, and as we swung downward across its face, heading toward a wooded valley, more and more of the sea came within our range of vision.
"The Lighthouse of Catba," said Random, gesturing toward an enormous gray tower that rose from the waters, mucs Out to sea. "I had all
but forgotten it."
"And I," I replied. "It is a very strange feeling, coming back," and I realized then that we were no longer speaking English, but the language called Thari.
After almost half an hour, we reached the bottom. I kept coasting for as far as I could, then turned on the
engine. At its sound, a flock of dark birds heat its way into the air from the shrubbery off to the left. Something
gray and wolfish-looking broke from cover and dashed toward a nearby thicket; the deer it had been stalking,
invisible till then, bounded away. We were in a lush valley, though not so thickly or massively wooded as the
Forest of Arden, which sloped gently but steadily toward the distant sea.
High, and climbing higher on the left, the mountains reared. The further we advanced into the valley, the better came our view of the nature and full extent of that massive height of rock down one of whose lesser slopes we had coasted. The mountains continued their march to the sea, growing larger as they did so, and taking upon their shoulders a shifting mantle tinged with green, mauve, purple, gold, and indigo. The face they turned to the sea was invisible to us from the valley, but about the back of that final, highest peak swirled the faintest veil of ghost clouds, and occasionally the golden sun touched it with fire. I judged we were about thirty-five miles from the place of light, and the fuel gauge read near empty. I knew that the final peak was our destination. and an eagerness began to grow up within me. Random was staring in the same direction.
"lt's still there," I remarked.
"I'd almost forgotten," he said.
And as I shifted gears, I noticed that my trousers had taken on a certain sheen which they had not possessed before. Also, they were tapered considerably as they reached toward my ankles, and I noted that my cuffs had vanished. Then I noticed my shirt.
It was more like a jacket. and it was black and trimmed with silver; and my belt had widened considerably.
On closer inspection, I saw that there was a silver line down the outer seams of my pants legs.
"I find myself garbed effectively," I observed, to see what that wrought.
Random chuckled, and I saw then that he had some where acquired brown trousers streaked with red and a shirt of orange and brown. A brown cap with a yellow border rested on the Seat beside him.
"I was wondering when you'd notice," he said. "How do you feel?"
"Quite good," I told him, "and by the way, we're almost out of gas."
"Too late to do much about that," he said. "We are now in the real world, and it would be a horrible effort to play with Shadows. Also, it would not go unnoticed. I'm afraid we'll have to hoof it when this gives out."
It gave out two and a half miles later. I coasted off to the side of the road and stopped. The sun by now was
westering farewell, and the shadows had grown long Indeed.
I reached into the back seat, where my shoe's had become black boots, and something rattled as my hand
groped after them.
I drew forth a moderately heavy silver sword and scabbard. The scabbard fit my belt perfectly. There was also a black cloak, with a clasp like a silver rose.
"Had you thought them lost forever?" asked Random.
"Damn near." said I.
We climbed out of the car and began walking. The evening was cool and briskly fragrant. There were stars in the east already, and the sun was diving toward its t,~'1
We trudged along the road, and Random said:
"I don't feel right about this."
"What do you mean?"
"Things have gone too easily, thus far," he told me. "I don't like it. We made it all the way through to the Forest of Arden with barely a hitch. True, Julian tried to take care of us there-but I don't know. . . We've made it so very far so readily that I'd almost suspect we were permitted to do it."
"This thought has also crossed my mind," I lied. "What do you think it portends?"
"I fear," said he, "that we are walking into a trap."
We walked on for several minutes in silence.
Then "Ambush?" said I. "These woods seem strangely still."
"I don't know."
We made maybe two miles, and then the sun was gone. The night was black and studded with brilliant stars.
"This is no way for two such as we to move," Random said.
"Yet I fear to fetch us steeds."
"And I, also."
"What is your assessment of the situation?" Random asked.
"Death and dreck," said I. "I feel they may be upon us soon."
"Do you think we should abandon the roadway?"
"I've been thinking about it," I lied again, "and I don't see that it would hurt any for us to walk off to the side