Nine Princess In Amber
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allowed to keep my weapon.
Inside the city, we were conducted up a wide avenue, lighted by pillar flames set at even closer intervals than on Faiella-bionin, and people stared out at us from behind octagonal, tinted windows, and bright-bellied fishes swam by. There came a cool current, like a breeze, as we turned a corner; and after a few steps, a warm one, like a wind.
We were taken to the palace in the center of the city, and I knew it as my hand knew the glove in my belt. It was an image of the palace of Amber, obscured only by the green and confused by the many strangely placed mirrors which had been set within its walls, inside and out. A woman sat upon the throne in the glassite room I almost recalled, and her hair was green, though streaked with silver, and her eyes were round as moons of jade and her brows rose like the wings of olive gulls. Her mouth was small, her chin was small; her cheeks were high and wide and rounded. A circlet of white gold crossed her brow and there was a crystal necklace about her neck. At its tip there flashed a sapphire between her sweet bare breasts, whose nipples were also a pale green. She wore scaled trunks of blue and a silver belt, and she held a scepter of pink coral in her right hand and had a ring upon every finger, and each ring had a stone of a different blue within it. She did not smile as she spoke:
"What seek you here, outcasts of Amber?" she asked, and her voice was a lisping, soft, flowing thing.
Deirdre spoke in reply, saying: "We flee the wrath of the prince who sits in the true city-Eric! To be frank, we wish to work his downfall. If he is loved here, we are lost, and we have delivered ourselves into the hands of our enemies. But I feel he is not loved here. So we come asking aid, gentle Moire-"
"I will not give you troops to assault Amber." she replied. "As you know, the chaos would be reflected within my own realm."
"That is not what we would have of you, dear Moire," Deirdre continued, "but only a small thing, to be achieved at no pain or cost to yourself or your subjects."
"Name it! For as you know, Eric is almost as disliked here as this recreant who stands at your left hand," and with this she gestured at my brother, who stared at her in frank and insolent appraisal, a small smile playing about the corners of his lips.
If he was going to pay-whatever the price-for whatever he had done, I could see that he would pay it like a true prince of Amber-as our three dead brothers had done ages ago, I suddenly recalled. He would pay it, mocking them the while, laughing though his mouth was filled with the blood of his body, and as he died he would pronounce an irrevocable curse which would come to pass. I, too, had this power, I suddenly knew, and I would use it if circumstances required its use.
"The thing I would ask," she said, "is for my brother Corwin, who is also brother to the Lady LIewella, who dwells here with you. I believe that he has never given you offense. . . ."
"That is true. But why does he not speak for himself?"
"That is a part of the problem, Lady. He cannot, for he does, not know what to ask. Much of his memory has departed, from an accident which occurred when he dwelled among Shadows. It is to restore his remembrance that we have come here, to bring back his recollection of the old days, that he might oppose Eric in Amber."
"Continue," said the woman on the throne, regarding me through the shadows of her lashes on her eyes.
"In a place in this building," she said, "there is a room where few would go. In that room," she continued, "upon the floor, traced in fiery outline, there lies a duplicate of the thing we call the
Pattern. Only a son or daughter of Amber's late liege may walk this Pattern and live; and it gives to such a person a power over Shadow." Here Moire blinked several times, and I speculated as to the number of her subjects she had sent upon that path, to gain some control of this power for Rebma. Of course, she had fai!ed. "To walk the Pattern," Deirdre went on, "should, we feel, restore to Corwin his memory of himself as a prince of Amber. He cannot go to Amber to do it, and this is the only place I know where it is duplicated, other than Tir-na Nog'th, where of course we may not go at this time."
Moire turned her gaze upon my sister, swept it over Random, returned it to me.
"Is Corwin willing to essay this thing?" she asked.
"Willing, m'lady," I said, and she smiled then.
"Very well, you have my permission. I can guarantee you no guarantees of safety beyond my realm, however."
"As to that, your majesty," said Deirdre, "we expect no boons, but will take care of it ourselves upon our departure."
"Save for Random," she said, "who will be quite safe."
"What mean you?" asked Deirdre, for Random would not. of course, speak for himself under the circumstances.
"Surely you recall, she said, "that one time Prince Random came into my realm as a friend, and did thereafter depart in haste with my daughter Morganthe."
"I have heard this said. Lady Moire, but I am not aware of the truth or the baseness of the tale."
"It is true," said Moire, "and a month thereafter was she returned to me. Her suicide came some months after the birth of her son Martin. What have you to say to that, Prince Random?"
"Nothing," said Random.
"When Martin came of age," said Moire, "because he was of the blood of Amber, he determined to walk the Pattern. He is the only one of my people to have succeeded. Thereafter, he walked in Shadow and I have not seen him since. What have you to say to that, Lord Random?"
"Nothing," Random replied.
"Therefore, I wilI punish thee," Moire continued. "You shall marry the woman of my choice and remain with her in my realm for a year's time, or you will forfeit your life. What say you to that, Random?"
Random said nothing, but he nodded abruptly.
She stuck her scepter upon the arm of her tarquoise throne.
"Very well," she said. "So be it"
And so it was.
We repaired to the chambers she had granted us, there to refresh ourselves. Subsequently she appeared at the door of my own,
"Hail, Moire," I said.
"Lord Corwin of Amber," she told me, "often have I wished to meet thee."
"And I thee," I lied.
"Your exploits are legend."
"Thank you, but I barely recall the high points."
"May I enter here?"
"Certainly," and I stegped aside.
She moved into the well-appointed suite she had granted me, She seated herself upon the edge of the orange couch.
"When would you like to essay the Pattern?"
"As soon as possible," I told her.
She considered this, then said, "Where have you been, among Shadows?"
"Very far from here," I said, "in a place that I learned to love."
"It is strange that a lord of Amber should have this capacity."
"To love," she replied.
"Perhaps I chose the wrong word."
"I doubt it," she said, "for the ballads of Corwin do touch upon the strings of the heart."
"The lady is kind."
"But not wrong," she replied.
"I'll give you a ballad one day."
"What did you do when you dwelled in Shadow?"
"It occurs to me that I was a professional soldier, madam. I fought for whoever would pay me. Also. I composed the words and music to many popular songs."
"Both these things occur to me as logical and natural."
"Pray tell me. what of my brother Random?"
"He will marry with a girl among my subjects who is named Vialle. She is blind and has no wooers among our kind."
"Are you certain," said I, "that you do the best thing for her?"
"She will obtain good status In this manner," said Moire, "though he depart after a year and never return.
For whatever else may be said of him, be is a prince of Amber."
"What if she comes to love him?"
"Could anyone really do this thing?"
"In my way, I love him, as a brother."
"Then this is the first time a son of Amber has ever said such a thing, and I attribute it to your poetic temperament."
"Whatever," said I, "be very sure that it is the best thing for the girl."
"I have considered it," she told me, "and I am certain. She will recover from whatever pain he inflicts, and after his departure she will be a great lady of my court."
"So may it be," I said, and looked away, feeling a sadness come over me-for the girl, of course.
"What may I say to you?" I said. "Perhaps you do a good thing. I hope so." And I took her hand and kissed it.
"You. Lord Corwin, are the only prince of Amber I might support," she told me. "save possibly for Benedict. He is gone these twelve years and ten, however, and Lir knows where his bones may lie. Pity."
"I did not knew this," I said. "My memory is so screwed up. Please bear with me. I shall miss Benedict, an' he be dead. He was my Master of Arms and taught me of all weapons. But he was gentle."
"As are you, Corwin," she told me, taking my band and drawing me toward her.
"No, not really," I replied, as I seated myself on the couch at her side. Then she said, "We've much time till we dine." Then she leaned against me with the front of her shoulder which was soft.
"When do we eat?" I asked.
"Whenever I declare It," she said, and she faced me more fully.
So I drew her upon me and found the catch to the buckle which covered the softness of her belly. There was more softness beneath, and her hair was green.
Upon the couch, I gave her her ballad. Her lips replied without words.
After we had eaten-and I had learned the trick of eating under water, which I might detail later on if circumstances really warrant-we rose from our places within the marble high hall, decorated with nets and ropes of red and brown, and we made our way back along a narrow corridor, and down, down, beneath the floor of the sea itself, first by means of a spiral staircase that screwed its way through absolute darkness and glowed. After about twenty paces, my brother said, "Screw!" and stepped off the staircase and began swimming downward alongside it.
"It is faster that way," said Moire.
"And it is a long way down," said Deirdre, knowing the distance of the one in Amber.
So we all stepped off and swam downward through darkness, beside the glowing, twisting thing.
It took perhaps ten minutes to reach the bottom, but when our feet touched the floor, we stood, with no tendency to drift. There was light about us then, from a few feeble flames set within niches in the wall.
"Why is this part of the ocean, within the double of Amber, so different from waters elsewhere?" I asked.
"Because that is the way it is," said Deirdre, which irritated me.
We were in an enormous cavern, and tunnels shot off from it in all directions. We moved toward one.
After walking along it for an awfully long while, we began to encounter side passages, some of which had doors or grilles before them and some of which did not.
At the seventh of these we stopped. It was a huge gray door of some slate-like substance, bound in metal, towering to twice my height. I remembered something about the size of Tritons as I regarded that doorway. Then Moire smiled, just at me, and produced a large key from a ring upon her belt and set it within the lock.
She couldn't turn it, though. Perhaps the thing had been unused for too long.
Random growled and his hand shot forward, knocking hers aside.
He siezed the key in his right hand and twisted.
There came a click.
Then he pushed the door open with his foot and we stared within.
In a room the size of a ballroom the Pattern was laid. The floor was black and looked smooth as glass. And on the floor was the Pattern.
It shimmered like the cold fire that it was, quivered, made the whole room seem somehow unsubstantial. It was an elaborate tracery of bright power, composed mainly of curves, though there were a few straight lines near its middle. It reminded me of a fantastically intricate, life-scale version of one of those maze things you do with a pencil (or ballpoint, as the case may be), to get you into or out of something. Like, I could almost see the words "Start Here," somewhere way to the back. It was perhaps a hundred yards across at its narrow middle, and maybe a hundred and fifty long.
It made bells ring within my head,. and then came the throbbing. My mind
recoiled from the touch of it. But if I were a prince of Amber, then somewhere within my blood, my nervous system, my genes, this pattern was recorded somehow, so that I would respond properly, so that I could walk the bloody thing.
"Sure wish I could have a cigarette," I said, and the girls giggled, though rather a little too rapidly and perhaps with a bit of a twist of the treble control.
Random took my arm and said, "It's an ordeal, but it's not impossible or we wouldn't be here. Take it very slowly and don't let yourself he distracted. Don't be alarmed by the shower of sparks that will arise with each step. They can't hurt you. You'll feel a mild current passing through you the whole time, and after a while you'll start feeling high. But keep concentrating, and don't forget-keep walking! Don't stop, whatever you do, and don't stray from the path, or it'll probably kill you," and as he spoke, we walked. We walked close to the right-hand wall and rounded the Pattern, heading toward its far end. The girls trailed behind us.
I whispered to him.
"I tried to talk her out of this thing she's planned for you. No luck."
"I figured you would," he said. "Don't worry about it. I can do a year standing on my head, and they might even let me go sooner, if I'm obnoxious enough."
"The girl she has lined up for you is named Vialle. She's blind."
"Great," he said. "Great joke."
"Remember that regency we spoke of?"
"Be kind to her then, stay the full year, and I will be generous."
Then he squeezed my arm.
"Friend of yours, huh?" he chuckled. "What's she like?"
"Is it a deal?" I sald, slowly.
"It's a deal."
Then we stood at the place where the Pattern began, near to the corner of the room.
I moved forward and regarded the line of inlaid fires that started near to the spot where I had placed my right foot. The Pattern constituted the only illumination within the room. The waters were chill about me.
I strode forward, setting my left foot upon the path. It was outlined by blue-white sparks. Then I set my right foot upon it, and I felt the current Random had mentioned. I took another step.
There was a crackle and I felt my hair beginning to rise. I took another step.
Then the thing began to curve, abruptly, back upon itself. I took ten more paces, and a certain resistance seemed to arise. It was as if a black barrier had grown up before me, of some substance which pushed back upon me with each effort that I made to pass forward.
I fought it. It was the First Veil, I suddenly knew.
To get beyond it would be an achievement, a good sign, showing that I was indeed part of the Pattern. Each raising and lowering of my foot suddenly required a terrible effort, and sparks shot forth from my hair.
I concentrated on the fiery line. I walked it breathing beavily.
Suddenly the pressure was eased. The Veil had parted before me, as abruptly as it had occurred. I had passed beyond it and acquired something,
I had gained a piece of myself.
I saw the paper skins and the knobby, stick-like bones of the dead of Auschwitz. I had been present at Nuremberg, I knew. I heard the voice of Stephen Spender reciting "Vienna," and I saw Mother Courage cross the stage on the night of a Brecht premiere. I saw the rockets leap up from the stained hard places, Peenemunde, Vandenberg, Kennedy,
Kyzyl Kum in Kazakhstan, and I touched with my hands the Wall of China. We were drinking beer and wine, and Shaxpur said he was drunk and went off to puke. I entered the green forests of the Western Reserve and took three scalps one day. I hummed a tune as we marched along and it caught on. It become "Auprés de ma Blonde." I remembered, I remembered . . . my life within the Shadow place its inhabitants had called the Earth. Three more steps, and I held a bloody blade and saw three dead men and my horse, on which I had fled the revolution in France. And more, so much more, back to--
I took another step.
The dead. They were all about me. There was a horrible stink-the smell of decaying flesh-and I heard the howls of a dog who was being beaten to death. Billows of black smoke filled the sky, and an icy wind swept around me bearing a few small drops of rain. My throat was parched and my hands shook and my head was on fire. I staggered alone, seeing everything through the haze of the fever that burned me. The gutters were filled with garbage and dead cats and the
emptyings of chamber pots. With a rattle and the ringing of a bell, the death wagon thundered by, splashing me with mud and cold water.
How long I wandered, I do not know, before a woman seized my arm and I saw a Death's Head ring upon her finger. She led me to her rooms, but discovered there that I had no money and was incoherent. A look of fear crossed her pained face, erasing the smile on her bright lips, and she fled and I collapsed upon her bed.
Later-again, how much later I do not know-a big man, the girl's Black Davy, came and slapped me across the face and dragged me to my feet. I seized his right biceps and hung on. He half carried, half pulled me toward the door.
When I realized that he was going to cast me out into the cold, I tightened my grip to protest it. I squeezed with all my remaining strength, mumbling half-coherent pleas.
Then through sweat and tear-filled eyes. I saw his face break open and heard a scream come forth from between his stained teeth.
The bone in his arm had broken where I'd squeezed it.
He pushed me away with his left hand and fell to his knees, weeping. I sat upon the floor, and my head cleared for a moment.
"I . . . am . . . staying here," I said, "until I feel better. Get out. If you come back-I'll kill you."
"You've got the plague!" he cried. "They'll come for your bones tomorrow!" and he spat then, got to his feet, and staggered out.
I made it to the door and barred it. Then I crawled back to the bed and slept.
If they came for my bones the next day, they were disappointed. For, perhaps ten hours later, in the middle of the night, I awoke in a cold sweat and realized my fever had broken. I was weak, but rational once more.
I realized I had lived through the plague.
I took a man's cloak I found in the wardrobe and took some money I found in a drawer.
Then I went forth into London and the night, in a year of the plague, looking for something. . . .
I had no recollection of who I was or what I was doing there.
That was how it had started.
I was well into the Pattern now, and the sparks flashed continually about my feet, reaching to the height of my knees. I no longer knew which direction I faced, or where Random and Deirdre and Moire stood. The currents swept through me and it seemed my eyeballs
were vibrating. Then came a pins-and-need!e feeling in my cheeks and a coldness on the back of my neck, I clenched my teeth to keep them from chattering.
The auto accident had not given me my amnesia. I had been without full memory since the reign of Elizabeth I. Flora must have concluded that the recent accident had restored me. She had known of my condition. I was suddenly struck by the thought that she was on that Shadow Earth mainly to keep tabs on me.
Since the sixteenth century. then?
That I couldn't say. I'd find out, though.
I took six more rapid steps, reaching the end of an arc and coming to the beginning place of a straight line.
I set my foot upon it, and with each step that I took, another barrier began to rise against me. It was the Second Veil.
There was a right-angle turn, then another, then another.
I was a prince of Amber. It was true. There had been fifteen brothers and six were dead. There had been eight Sisters, and two were dead, possibly four. We had spent much of our time in wandering in Shadow, or in our own universes. It is an academic, though valid philosophical question, as to whether one with power over Shadow could create his own universe. Whatever the ultimate answer, from a practical point we could.
Another curve began, and it was as though I were walking in glue as I moved slowly along it.
One, two, three, four. . . I raised my fiery boots and let them down again.
My head throbbed and my heart felt as though it were fibrillating to pieces.
The going was suddenly easy once more, as I remembered Amber.
Amber was the greatest city which had ever existed or ever would exist. Amber had always been and always would be, and every other city, everywhere every other city that existed was but a reflection of a shadow of some phase of Amber. Amber, Amber, Amber . . . I remember thee. I shall never forget thee again. I guess, deep inside me, I never really did, through all those centuries I wandered the Shadow Earth, for often at night my drearns were troubled by images of thy green and golden spires and thy sweeping terraces. I remember
thy wide promenades and the decks of flowers, golden and red. I recall the sweetness of thy airs, and the temples, palaces, and pleasances thou containest, contained, will always contain, Amber, immortal city from which every other city has taken its shape, I cannot forget thee, even now, nor forget that day on the Pattern of
Rebma when I remembered thee within thy reflected walls, fresh from a meal after starvation and the loving of Moire, but nothing could compare with the pleasure and the love of remembering thee; and even now, as I stand contemplating the Courts of Chaos, telling this story to the only one present to hear, that perhaps he may repeat it, that it will not die after I have died within; even now, I remember thee with love, city that I was born to rule. . . .
Ten paces, then a swirling filigree of fire confronted me, I essayed it, my sweat vanishing into the waters as fast as it sprang forth.
It was tricky, so devilish tricky, and it seemed that the waters of the room suddenly moved in great currents which threatened to sweep me from the Pattern. I struggled on, resisting them. Instinctively, I knew that to leave the Pattern before I'd completed it would mean my death. I dared not raise my eyes from the places of light that lay before me, to see how far I had come, how far I had yet to go.
The currents subsided and more of my memories returned, memories of my life as a prince of Amber. . . . No, they are not yours for the asking: they are mine, some vicious and cruel, others perhaps noble-memories going back to my childhood in the great palace of Amber, with the green banner of my father Oberon flaring above it, white unicorn rampant, facing to the dexter.
Random bad made it through the Pattern. Even Deirdre had made it. Therefore, I, Corwin, would make it, no matter what the resistance.
I emerged from the filigree and marched along the Grand Curve. The
forces that shape the universe fell upon me and beat me into their image.
I had an advantage over any other person who attempted the walk, however. I knew that I had done it before, so I knew that I could do it. This helped me against the unnatural fears which rose like black clouds and were gone again, only to return, their strength redoubled. I walked the Pattern and I remembered all, I remembered all the days before my centuries on the Shadow Earth and I remembered other places of Shadow, many of them special and dear to me, and one which I loved above all, save for Amber.
I walked three more curves, a straight line, and a series of sharp arcs, and I held within me once again a consciousness of the things which I had never really lost: mine was the power over Shadows.
Ten arcs which left me dizzy, another short arc, a straight line, and the Final Veil.
It was agony to move. Everything tried to beat me aside. The waters were cold, then boiling. It seemed that they constantly pushed against me. I struggled, putting one foot before the other. The sparks reached as high as my waist at this point, then my breast, my shoulders. They were into my eyes. They were all about me. I could barely see the Pattern itself.
Then a short arc, ending in blackness.
One, two. . . And to take the last step was like trying to push through a concrete waIl.
I did it.
Then I turned slowly and looked back over the course I had come. I would not permit myself the luxury of sagging to my knees. I was a prince of Amber, and by God! nothing could humble me in the presence of my peers. Not even the Pattern!
I waved jauntily in what I thought to be the right direction. Whether or not I could be made out very clearly was another matter.
Then I stood there a moment and thought.
I knew the power of the Pattern now. Going back along it would be no trick at all.
But why bother?
I lacked my deck of cards, but the power of the Pattern could serve me just as well. . . .
They were waiting for me, my brother and sister and Moire with her
thighs like marble pillars.
Deirdre could take care of herself from here on out-after all, we'd saved her life. I didn't feel obligated to go on protecting her on a day-by-day basis. Random was stuck in Rebma for a year, unless he had guts enough to leap forward and take the Pattern to this still center of power and perhaps escape. And as for Moire, it had been nice knowing her, and maybe I'd see her again some day, and like that. I closed my eyes and bowed my head.
Before I did so, though, I saw a fleeting shadow.
Random? Trying it? Whatever, he wouldn't know where I was headed. No one would.
I opened my eyes and I stood in the middle of the same Pattern, in reverse.
I was cold, and I was damn tired, but I was in Amber-in the real room, of which the one I had departed was but an image. From the Pattern, I could transfer myself to any point I wished within Amber.
Getting back would be a problem, however.
So I stood there and dripped and considered.
If Eric had taken the royal suite, then I might find him there. Or perhaps in the throne room. But then, I'd have to make my own way back to the place of power, I'd have to walk the Pattern
again, in order to reach the escape point.
I transferred myself to a hiding place I knew of within the palace. It was a windowless cubicle into which some light trickled from observation slits high overhead. I bolted its one sliding panel
from the inside, dusted off a wooden bench set beside the wall, spread my cloak upon it and stretched out for a nap. If anyone came groping his way down from above, I'd hear him long before he reached me.
After a while, I awakened. So I arose, dusted off my cloak and donned it once more. Then I began to negotiate the series of pegs which laddered their way up into the palace.
I knew where it was, the third floor, by the markings on the walls.
I swung myself over to a small landing and searched for the peephole. I found it and gazed through. Nothing. The library was empty. So I slid back the panel and entered.
Within, I was stricken by the multitudes of books. They always do that to me. I considered everything, including the display cases, and finally moved toward the place where a crystal case contained everything that led up to a family banquet-private joke. It held four decks of the family cards, and I sought about for a means of obtaining one without setting off an alarm which might keep me from using it.