Nine Princess In Amber
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"Gould you not find a Shadow of your Shadow?"
"I don't want to try," I said. "I'm sorry."
"Then what real good are you to me?"
"I'll go," I told him, "if that's all you had in mind, if that's all you really wanted me around for-more hodies."
"Wait!" he cried out. "I spoke hastily. I don't want to lose your counsel, if nothing else. Stay with me, please. I will even apologize."
"That is not necessary," I said, knowing what this thing means to a prince of Amber. "I'll stay. I think I can help you."
"Good!" and he clapped me upon my good shoulder.
"And I'll get you more troops," I added. "Never fear."
And I did.
I walked among Shadows, and found a race of furry creatures, dark and clawed and fanged, reasonably manlike, and about as intelligent as a freshman in the high school of your choice-sorry, kids, but what I mean is they were loyal, devoted, honest, and too easily screwed by bastards like me and my brother. I felt like the dee-jay of your choice.
Around a hundred thousand worshiped us to the extent of taking up arms.
Bleys was impressed and shut up. After a week my shoulder was healed. After two months we had our quarter million and more.
"Corwin, Corwin! You're still Corwin!" he said, and we took another drink.
But I was feeling kind of funny. Most of these troops were destined to die. I was the agent responsible for much of this. I felt some remorse, though I knew the difference between Shadow and Substance. Each death would be a real death; however, I knew that also.
And some nights I dwelled upon the playing cards. The missing Trumps had been restored to the pack I held. One of them was a portrait of Amber itself, and I knew it could bear me back into the city. The others were those of our dead or missing relatives. And one was Dad's, and I skipped it over quickly. He was gone.
I stared at each face for a long while to consider what might be gained from each. I cast the cards several times, and the same thing came up on each occasion.
His name was Caine.
He wore satin that was green and black, and a dark three-cornered hat with a green plume of feathers trailing down behind. At his belt there was an emerald-studded dagger. He was dark.
"Caine," I said.
After a time, there came a reply.
"Who?" he asked.
"Corwin," said I.
"Corwin! Is this a joke?"
"What do you want?"
"What've you got?"
"You know that." and his eyes shifted and lay upon me, but I watched his hand, which was near to his dagger.
"Where are you?"
"There was a rumor you'd shown up in Amber recently-and I wondered at the bandages on Eric's arm."
"You're looking at the reason," I said. "What's your price?"
"What do you mean?"
"Let us be frank and to the point. Do you think Bleys and I can take Eric?"
"No, that's why I'm with Eric. And I won't sell out my armada either, if that's what you're after-and I'd imagine you are."
"Perceptive brother," I replied. "Well, it's been nice talking to you. See you in Amber-maybe."
I moved my hand, and he cried out.
"I don't even know your offer."
"Yes. you do," I said. "You've guessed it, and you're not interested."
"I didn't say that. It's just that I know where the equities lie."
"You mean the power."
"Okay, the power. What've you got to offer?"
We talked for maybe an hour, after which time the northern seaways were open to the three phantom fleets of Bleys, which might enter expecting reinforcements.
"If you fail, there'll be three beheadings in Amber," said he.
"But you don't really expect that, do you?" I asked.
"No. I think either you or Bleys will sit upon the throne before too very long. I'll be satisfied to serve the winner.
That regency would be nice. I'd still like Random's head as part of the price, though."
"No deal," I said. "Take it as you've heard it or forget it."
"I'll take it."
I smiled and placed my palm upon the card and he was gone.
Gerard was a matter I'd leave for the morrow. Caine had exhausted me.
I rolled into bed and slept.
Gerard, when be learned the score, agreed to lay off us. Mainly because it was I who was asking, as he had considered Eric a lesser of potent evils.
I concluded the deal quickly, promising him evervthing he asked, as no heads were involved.
Then I reviewed the troops again and told them more of Amber. Strangely, they got along like brothers, the big red guys and the little hairy ones.
It was sad and it was true.
We were their gods, and that was that.
I saw the fleet, sailing on a great ocean the color of blood. I wondered. Iin the Shadow worlds through which they sailed, many of them would be lost.
I considered the troops of Avemus, and my recruits from the place called Ri'ik. Theirs was the task of marching to Earth and Amber.
I shuffled my cards and cast them. I picked up the one called Benedict. For a long while I searched it, but there was nothing but the cold.
Then I seized upon Brand's. For another long while there was nothing but the cold.
Then there came a scream. It was a horrible, tormented thing.
"Help me!" came the cry.
"How can I?" I asked.
"Who is that?" be asked, and I saw his body writhe.
"Deliver me from this place, brother Corwin! Anything you name shall be yours in return!"
"Where are you?"
And there came a swirling of things my mind refused to conceive of, and another scream, torn forth as though in agony and ending in silence.
Then the coldness came in again.
I found that I was shaking. From what, I did not know.
I lit a cigarette and moved to the window to consider the night, leaving the cards where they had fallen upon the table-top of my room within the garrison.
The stars were tiny and misted over. There were no constellations that I could recognize. A small blue moon dropped quickly through the darkness. The night had come on with a sudden, icy chill and I wrapped my cloak close about me. I thought back to the winter of our disastrous campaign in Russia. Gods! I'd almost frozen to death! And where did it all lead?
To the throne of Amber, of course.
For that was sufficient justification for anything.
But what of Brand? Where was he? What was happening about him, and who had done this thing to him?
I wondered, though, as I stared up and out, tracing the path of that blue disk in its descent. Was there something I was missing In the whole picture, some factor I didn't quite dig?
I seated myself at the table once more, a small drink at my hand.
I fingered my way through the pack and found Dad's card.
Oberon, Lord of Amber, stood before me in his green and his gold. High, wide, and thick, his beard black and shot with silver, his hair the same. Green rings in gold settings and a blade of golden color. It had once seemed to me that nothing could ever displace the immortal liege of Amber from his throne. What had happened? I still didn't know. But he was gone. How had my father met with his end?
I stared and concentrated.
There came a responding movement, though ever so weak, and the figure on the card turned in upon itself and shriveled to a shadow of the man he had been.
"Father?" I asked.
"Yes . . ." Very faint and distant, as though through a seashell, immersed in its monotone humming.
"Where are you? What has happened?"
"I . ." Long pause.
"Yes? This is Corwin, your son. What came to pass in Amber, that you are gone?"
"My time," he said, sounding even further away.
"Do you mean that you abdicated? None of my brothers has given me the tale, and I do not trust them sufficiently to ask them. Eric now holds the city and Julian guards the Forest of Arden. Caine and Gerard maintain the seas. Bleys would oppose all and I am allied with him. What are your wishes in this matter?"
"You are the oaly one-who-has asked," he gasped. "Yes. . ."
" 'Yes' what?"
"Yes, oppose-them. . ."
"What of you? How can I help you?"
"I am beyond help. Take the throne. .
"I? Or Bleys and I?"
"You!" he said.
"You have my blessing, . . . Take the throne-and be quick-about it!"
"I lack the breath- Take it!"
Then he, too, was gone.
So Dad lived. That was interesting, What to do now?
I sipped my drink and thought about it.
He still lived, somewhere, and he was king in Amber. Why had he left? Where had he gone? What kind of, which, and how many? Like that.
Who knew? Not I. So there was no more to say, for now.
I couldn't put the thing down. I want you to know that Dad and I never got along very well. I didn't hate him, like Random or some of the others. But I, sure as hell, had no reason to be especially fond of him. He had been big, he had been powerful, and he had been there. That was about it. He was also most of the history of Amber, as we knew it, and the history of Amber stretches back for so many millennia that you may as well stop counting.
So what do you do?
As for me, I finished my drink and went to bed,
The following morning I attended a meeting of Bley's general staff. He had four admirals, each in charge of roughly a quarter of his fleet, and a whole mess of army officers. Altogether there were about thirty of the high-ranking brass at the meeting, big and red or small and hairy, as the case might be.
The meeting lasted perhaps four hours, and then we all broke for lunch. It was decided that we would move three days hence. Since it would require one of the blood to open the way to Amber, I was to lead the fleet aboard the flagship, and Bleys would take his infantry through lands of Shadow.
I was troubled by this, and I asked him what would have happened had I not shown up to give this assistance. I was told two things in reply: one, if he had had to go it alone, he would have led the fleet through and left them at a great distance from shore, returned in a single vessel to Avernus and led his foot soldiers forward to rendezvous at a given time; and two, he had purposely sought for a Shadow in which a brother would appear to give him aid.
I had some misgivings when I heard about the latter, though I knew I was really me. The former smacked of being a bit unworkable, since the fleet would be too far out to sea to receive any signals from the shore, and the chance of missing the date-allowing for mishaps when it came to a body that large-was too great, as I saw it, to encourage a whole big lot of faith In his general plan.
But as a tactician, I had always thought him brilliant; and when he laid out the maps of Amber and the outlying Country which he himself had drawn, and when he had explained the tactics to be employed therein, I knew that he was a prince of Amber, almost matchless in his guile.
The only thing was, we were up against another prince of Amber, one who occupied what was definitely a stronger position. I was worried, but with the impending Coronation, it seemed about the only course available to us, and I decided to go along for the whole ride. If we lost, we were creamed, but he held the biggest threat available and had a workable time schedule, which I didn't.
So I walked the land called Avernus and considered its foggy valleys and chasms, its smoking craters, its bright, bright sun against its crazy sky, its icy nights and too hot days, its many rocks and carloads of dark sand, its tiny, though vicious and poisonous beasts, and its big purple plants, like spineless cacti; and on the afternoon of the second day, as I stood on a cliff overlooking the sea, beneath a tower of massed vermilion clouds, I decided that I rather liked the place for all that, and if its sons would perish in the wars of the gods, I would immortalize them one day in song if I were able.
This mild balm in mind for what I feared, I joined the fleet and took command. If we made it, they would be feted forever in the halls of the immortals.
I was guide and opener of the way. I rejoiced.
So we set sail the following day. and I directed things from the lead ship. I led us into a storm, and we emerged that much nearer our destination. I led us past an enormous whirlpool, and we were so much to the good. I led us through a shallow rocky place. and the shade of the waters deepened afterward. Their colors began to approximate those of Amber. So I still knew how to do it. I could infiluence our fate in time and place. I could take us home. Home for me. that is.
I led us past strange islands where green birds cawed and green apes hung like fruit in the trees, swung, sometimes gibbered, and threw rocks into the sea. Aimed, doubtless, at us.
I took us far out to sea, and then nosed the fleet around back in the direction of shore.
Bleys by now was marching across the plains of the worlds. Somehow, I knew he would make it, past whatever defenses Eric had set up. I kept in touch with him by means of the cards, and I learned of his encounters along the way. Like, ten thousand men dead in a plains battle with centaurs, five thousand lost in an earthquake of frightening proportions. Fifteen hundred dead of a whirlwind plague that swept the camps. Nineteen thousand dead or missing in action as they passed through the jungles of a place I didn't recognize, when the napalm fell upon them from the strange buzzing things that passed overhead. Six thousand deserting in a place that looked like the heaven they had been promised, five hundred unaccounted for as they crossed a sand flat where a mushroom cloud burned and towered beside them. Eighty-six hundred gone as they moved through a valley of suddenly militant machines that rolled forward on treads and fired fires, eight hundred sick and abandoned, two hundred dead from flash floods, fifty-four dying of duels among themselves, three hundred dead from eating poisonous native fruits, a thousand slain in a massive stampede of buffalo-like creatures, seventy-three gone when their tents caught fire, fifteen hundred carried away by the floods, two thousand slain by the winds that came down from the blue hills.
I was pleased that I'd lost only a hundred and eighty-six ships in that time.
To sleep, perchance to dream...Yeah, there's a thing that rubs. Eric was killing us by inches and hours. His proposed coronation was only a few weeks away, and he obviously knew we were coming against him, because we died and we died.
Now, it is written that only a prince of Amber may walk among Shadows, though of course he may lead or direct as many as he chooses along such courses. We led our troops and saw them die, but of Shadow I have this to say: there is Shadow and there is Substance, and this is the root of all things. Of Substance, there is only Amber, the real city, upon the real Earth, which contains everything. Of Shadow, there is an infinitude of things. Every possibility exists somewhere as a Shadow of the real. Amber, by its very existence, has cast such in all directions. And what may one say of it beyond? Shadow extends from Amber to Chaos, and all things are possible within it. There are only three ways of traversing it, and each of them is difficult.
If one is a prince or princess of the blood, then one may walk, crossing through Shadows, forcing one's environment to change as one passes, until it is finally in precisely the shape one desires it, and there stop. The Shadow world is then one's own, save for family intrusions, to do with as one would. In such a place had I dwelled for centuries.
The second means is the cards, cast by Dworkin, Master of the Line, who had created them in our image, to facilitate communications between members of the royal family. He was the ancient artist to whom space and perspective meant nothing. He had made up the family Trumps, which permitted the willer to touch his brethren wherever they might be. I had a feeling that these had not been used in full accord with their author's intention.
The third was the Pattern, also drawn by Dworkin, which could only be walked by a member of our family. It initiated the walker into the system of the cards, as it were, and at its ending gave its walker the power to stride across Shadows.
The cards and the Pattern made for instant transport from Substance through Shadow. The other way, walking, was harder.
I knew what Random had done in delivering me into the true world. As we had driven, he kept adding, from memory, that which he recalled of Amber, and subtracting that which did not agree. When everything corresponded, he knew we had arrived. It was no real trick, for had he the knowledge, any man could reach his own Amber. Even now, Bleys and I could find Shadow Ambers where each of us ruled, and spend all of time and eternity ruling there. But this would not be the same, for us. For none would be the true Amber, the city into which were were born, the city from which all others take their shapes.
So we were taking the hardest route, the walk through Shadow, for our invasion of Amber itself. Anyone knowing this and possessing the power could interpose obstacles. Eric had done so, and now we faced them as we died. What would come of this? No one knew.
But if Eric were crowned king, it would be reflected and shadowed everywhere.
All the surviving brothers, we princes of Amber, I am sure, felt it much better, each in his own simple way, personally to achieve this status and thereafter let the Shadows fall where they might.
We passed ghost fleets, the ships of Gerard, as we sailed-the Flying Dutchmen of this world-that world, and we knew we were coming near. I used them as reference points.
On the eighth day of our voyaging we were near to Amber. That is when the storm broke.
The sea turned dark, the clouds collected overhead, and the sails grew slack within the still that followed. The sun hid its face-an enormous blue one-and I felt that Eric had found us at last.
Then the winds arose, and-if you'll excuse the expression-broke-upon the vessel I rode.
We were tempest-tossed and storm-torn, as the poets say. or said. My guts felt loose and watery as the first billows hit us. We were hurled from side to side like dice in a giant's hand. We were swept over the waters of the sea and the waters from the sky. The sky turned black, and there was sleet mixed in with the glassy bell ropes that pulled the thunder. Everyone, I'm sure, cried out. I know I did. I pulled my way along the shifting deck to seize the abandoned wheel. I strapped myself in place and held it. Eric had cut loose in Amber, that was for damn sure.
One, two, three, four, and there was no letup. Five hours, then. How many men had we lost? I dunno.
Then I felt and heard a tingling and a tinkling, and I saw Bleys as through a long gray tunnel.
"What's the matter?" he asked. "I've been trying to reach you."
"Life is full of vicissitudes," I replied. "We're riding out one of them."
"Storm?" he said.
"You bet your sweet ass. It's the granddaddy of them all. I think I see a monster off to port. If he has any brains, he'll aim for the bottom. . . . He just did."
"We just had one ourselves," Bleys told me.
"Monster or storm?"
"Storm," he replied. "Two hundred dead."
"Keep the faith," I said, "hold the fort, and talk to me later. Okay?"
He nodded, and there were lightnings at his back.
"Eric's got our number," be added, before he cut off.
I had to agree.
It was three more hours before things let up, and many more later I learned that we had lost half of the fleet (and on my vessel-the flagship-we had lost forty of the crew of one hundred and twenty). It was a hard rain that fell.
Somehow, to the sea over Rebma, we made it.
I drew forth my cards and held Random's before me.
When he realized who was talking. the first thing he said was "Turn back," and I asked him why.
" 'Cause, according to Llewella, Eric can cream you now. She says wait a while, till he relaxes, and hit him then-like a year from now, maybe."
I shook my head.
"Sorry," said I. "Can't. Too many losses involved in getting us this far. It's a now-or-never situation."
He shrugged, wearing a "Like, I warned you" expression.
"Why. though?" I asked him.
"Mainly because I just learned he can control the weather around here," he said.
"We'll still have to chance it."
He shrugged again.
"Don't say I didn't tell you."
"He definitely knows we're coming?"
"What do you think? Is he a cretin?"
"Then he knows. If I could guess it in Rebma, then he knows in Amber-and I did guess, from a wavering of Shadow."
"Unfortunately," I said, "I have some misgivings about this expedition, but it's Bleys' show."
"You cop out and let him get axed."
"Sorry, but I can't take the chance. He might win. I'm bringing in the fleet."
"You've spoken with Caine, with Gerard?"
"Then you must think you have a chance upon the waters. But listen, Eric has figured a way to control the Jewel of Judgment, I gather, from court gossip about its double. He can use it to control the weather here. That's definite. God knows what else he might be able to do with it."
"Pity," I said. "We'll have to suffer it. Can't let a few storms demoralize us."
"Corwin, I'll confess. I spoke with Eric himself three days ago."
"He asked me. I spoke with him out of boredom. He went into great detail concerning his defenses."
"That's because he learned from Julian that we came in together. He's sure it'll get back to me."
"Probably," he said. "But that doesn't change what he said."
"No," I agreed.
"Then let Bleys fight his own war," he told me. "You can hit Eric later."
"He's about to be crowned in Amber."
"I know, I know. It's as easy to attack a king, though, as a prince. isn't it? What difference does it make what he calls himself at the time, so long as you take him? It'll still be Eric."
"True," I said, "but I've committed myself."
"Then uncommit yourself," he said.
" 'Fraid I can't do that."