An Archetale in the Assembling Terrania Cycle
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Roger Zelazny’s science fiction and fantasy stories influenced me strongly growing up. The first book I read of his was Nine Princes in Amber, which a bored eighth-grader came across in a drug store and decided to buy, what the hell. Since then, I’ve often mourned that Zelazny never finished a series of Amber tales which came to ten novels and several short stories. So I decided to finish it to my own satisfaction. (Go here for another attempt to extend one of Zelazny’s evocative story lines.)
A nice thing about my Assembling Terrania Cycle is that in the Dreamvale layer of reality, all stories and their characters remain alive, waiting for their chance to reappear on the stage of imagination.
When a wizard gives consciousness to his grimoire, it must decide right then whether to be a closed book or an open one. I decided long ago to be an open book.
Not that many would ever read me. I spend most days sitting on a dusty table between a talking skull and a pouch holding shimmering gravel taken from some shadow or other. The skull came from a Chaos yeti who tried to get its poisonous teeth into the wizard. The pouch was cut from its soft and furry skin. The wizard regards them as mementos of a home he left behind ages ago.
The room around me contained no windows, but all four walls held old books and, between them, instruments of magic. On the table beneath me were more books, some papers, quills that never ran dry, and a paperweight of crystal. The table stood upon a thick rug bearing an ornate border framing mysterious mandalic images.
Of the two doors at the end of the room, one opened onto the primal Pattern of Amber whose glowing gold-pink swirls I saw only when my creator, Dworkin, sat next to it to write. The other door led to a small nook hewed from rock, part of which served as a fireplace.
“I’m kind of bored,” I told the skull. Its grin seemed to widen a trifle.
“At least you still have your skin on.”
True. Dworkin had jacketed me with a scaly black cover woven of sturdy materials enchanted so they would not age. I was older than his children and grandchildren. Even so, I never grew larger than a moderately hefty tome. Now and then, the older parts of me archived themselves automatically somewhere, in the Undershadow maybe, invisible but still connected. My memory remained intact.
For example, my pages hold some verses Dworkin penned in me after the arduous effort of drawing the first Pattern while staring through the left Eye of Chaos. The Unicorn had fought the Serpent, snatched the gem from its head, and carried it to him shortly after his departure from the Courts of Chaos. Upon recovering, he had mused on his achievement:
Transmuted through red Stone,
the rebel fire of my restless spirit
drew Order’s bright design in rock
encircled by a sea of starless night.
Summoned forth to stop me,
Chaotic elders howled and spat
but none could touch my creativity
unleashed to form the shining maze of light.
Rearing in triumphant glee,
The Unicorn gazed upon a newborn sun
that set below white lattices of stars
ablaze within the cobalt waters bright.
And so rose a new balance between Serpent and Unicorn, Chaos and Order, each now placed at its own pole of existence, the shadowlands stretching between them….until Dworkin’s grandson Corwin drew his own Pattern and upset the balance. He was good at that.
The balance had nearly failed once before, when ambitious Grandson Brand stabbed young Martin from within the primal Pattern and shifted cosmic influence toward Chaos. Prince Brand sought to redesign the universe in his own mad image. But he failed, opening a path to the restoration of balance, at which point Prince Corwin made his move. With the best intentions and all like that.
About this more recent history Dworkin wrote:
With two Patterns in existence, the balance of power is now in Order’s favor. This unhealthy state of affairs has prompted Old Powers to return to life. Born of Serpent and Unicorn, older than Pattern or Logrus, and eager to awaken through bloody sacrifice, the Eleven stir once more.
Suhuy and I agree on the ultimate solution, as do Mandor and Fiona. Mandor took persuading, but he has come around. What must be done to restore the great balance is, after all, obvious.
Suhuy is Dworkin’s opposite number in the Courts of Chaos. They recently met to play wizardly chess at the Great Divide, where the shadows of Amber and Chaos meet and merge. Perhaps that’s where Dworkin has gone. But he’s never away for this long.
As they floated through the air, he removed a midnight blue traveling cloak, black gloves, and a mauve scarf and draped them carelessly over invisible wall hooks. Standing a staff in one corner, he let out a sigh as he sat at the table, a portion of his white beard spreading over it.
“About time,” I remarked amid the welcome-back noises given off by the other animate objects.
“Perhaps I was wrong to give you sight and a tongue,” he replied.
“Sorry. I was concerned.”
He gestured, and I opened. A quill hovered over a blank page as he packed his pipe and tamped it.
The quill ran busily over me as he dictated:
Preparations for the new era are now made. Most of the Old Powers forged in ancient times through the Eyes of the Serpent have been consecrated with blood. The Great Rebalancing is finally at hand.
He placed a red finger in the briar bowl. A pleasant blue haze of tobacco filled the air. These days he favored a cavendish from the Shadow Earth.
“I seem a bit behind on current events.”
“Worry not, old book. Soon you will have the full accounting.”
“I know you had planned on speaking again with Merlin. Show me that conversation at least?”
Chuckling, Dworkin summoned a floating globe and touched its surface.
Cut to monochrome:
On a hilly grey plain of broken columns stood a black-bearded hunchback speaking with a slim young man whose dark hair flared white.
“…Hard to find a place where Pattern and Logrus won’t overhear,” explained the hunchback. “We’ll have to live with the color value reversals.”
The other nodded. “I’ve been here before. A Pattern-ghost resembling my father brought me here.”
“The original once came to my study unannounced. Corwin gets around.”
“You probably know what he and I have been planning. Is that why we’re conferencing here?”
“That is so. Some things to remember for when you order the spikard to bring you to Delwin and Sand…”
The conversation then went technical. Sensing my wandering attention, Dworkin extinguished the globe.
After he ate, slept, and poked the fire, he put on his traveling garments once again.
“Long excursion or short?”
“Medium. Do you want to sleep this time until I return?”
We magical objects in the room had an informal betting pool going about what was up. Skull voted for another big war. Quill thought it might be a magical contest with brave deeds and so forth. Glowing Coral hoped whatever it was did not threaten oceanic Rebma. I guessed a significant confrontation between Pattern and Logrus. Did I need to stick around for yet more speculation?
“Send me to sleep. I’ll catch up with you when you come back.”
When consciousness returned, so had Dworkin. He stood smiling down at me.
“Things have shifted to break, blow, burn, and make the new.”
Wizards love being mysterious. “Meaning?”
“Meaning, enough time has gone upright in his carriage that I can now tell you all about it.”
At this, chatter broke out among my colleagues. Dworkin turned, eyebrows raised.
“I had no idea you were all so curious,” he told them unconvincingly. “Attend me, then, whilst I a tale unfold…”
You have all heard me muttering about events both before Patternfall and after. An important part to remember is that Corwin’s Pattern tipped the ancient balance between Order and Chaos, and therefore between Amber and the Courts. His son Merlin’s actions tipped it further, yea, unto the awakening of ancient Powers.
These Powers, numbering eleven, were forged from the Eyes of the Serpent even before Suhuy drew the first Logrus and I the first Pattern, summoned as I was by the Unicorn to preserve the cosmic balance. Nine of the Powers, the spikards, were used to consolidate Shadow by the other two Powers, which subsided into Thelbane and Castle Amber once conditions had settled.
Even so, Chaos ladies and lords schemed for a return to a pre-Amber past.
Meanwhile, Delwin and Sand of Amber had left the court and exiled themselves. Suhuy and I deemed them duly neutral. We trained them to be Guardians and gave them the spikards for safekeeping. The power of three were muted by being changed into blades carried by my grandsons of the House of Amber. For balance, a fully powered, untransformed spikard was given to the King of Chaos. That left five to the Guardians, each of whom wore one and stored the rest.
So matters stood until Corwin drew his Pattern. The resulting disturbances to the continuum stirred the Eleven. All but one have been awakened by the blood sacrifices they arranged for themselves. They are eager to play a part in rebalancing the grand design.
You all know me to be a snoop who keeps to himself. I seldom go out, but my eyes and ears go everywhere. I listened in on the recent planning session between Merlin and Corwin. Suhuy did as well, at my invitation.
As father and son sat together in a replica of Merlin’s old four-wheeled vehicle, the conversation turned to methods for mending the imbalance. The vehicle stood under a large tree near the beginning of Corwin’s Pattern. Merlin wore his human form.
“So that’s my idea,” Merlin said.
“Not bad. Not bad at all. It makes sense. After all, this Pattern—” Corwin hooked a thumb at his glowing creation “—lives both here as a shadow and in its own universe without a partner for balance. Like its maker, it’s a loner. So what will you be about first to settle this thing?”
“I’m taking Delwin up on his invitation for a visit so I can get up to speed on matters spikard.”
Corwin nodded. “The Old Ones are stirring, as Luke and I found to our intense discomfort recently.” He placed one hand on his aching abdomen.
“And then I’ll need your help preparing for the trial.”
“I’ll do what I can, but I might be busy keeping your enemies off your back.”
Merlin nodded. “Just knowing you’re back in action helps. A lot, actually.”
“I appreciate the sentiment even while ruing the extra risk and labor my efforts have caused you.”
“If I succeed it will take care of my problems too.”
“What would you say your mother is up to in all of this?”
“Something covert, underhanded, and Machiavellian, I’m sure.”
“Agreed. I have an idea about what and am putting preparations in place.”
“Please don’t hurt her if you can possibly avoid it.”
“I won’t. Her scaly henchmen are another matter.”
He winked and moved the foot that bent the leg that jiggled the scabbard that held Grayswandir.
From the site of Corwin’s Pattern, Merlin willed the spikard to take him to Delwin, having called ahead first. Sand was present as well. I listened to Merlin’s thoughts….
We stood together on a path along an intricately ridged coastline. The height below us grew green scrub but little else. A brisk breeze ruffled the sea beyond the edge. Dark islets under the cloudy sky reminded me of Wales on the Shadow Earth.
The two looked alike: slim of build, alert green eyes, red-blond hair flicked by the wind. They both wore black shirts, but his vest was brown, her jacket tan. Her shirt enclosed her neckline, but his was open. Both wore rings like my own.
He nodded. “I am Delwin, and this is my sister Sand.”
“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me. The Powers you spoke of in a vision are breaking loose indeed.”
“Yes,” Sand said with a nod. “We Guardians keep an ear out for such things. This event is cataclysmic on a universal scale.”
“My understanding is that the two of you exiled yourselves from Amber two centuries ago. If that is true, I am grateful for the conversation at this dire time.”
Delwin smiled slightly. “King Oberon’s treatment of our mother and our homeland provided a useful reason for departure, but our guardianship of the Old Powers made necessary a continued absence. We could not remain neutral while living in Amber.”
“The spikards are far older than your exile, though, aren’t they?”
“Yes,” Sand acknowledged. “The custom since the dawn of time is that two sibling Guardians watch over the sleeping Old Ones. The last pair of Guardians came from the Courts but, like us, lived in Shadow. The next two will be of Chaos as well, assuming all falls as it should.”
We began to walk along the path above the sea. I glanced around but saw no buildings or other signs of habitation. It felt a rough, briny kind of peaceful here.
At length, “I have a plan,” I told them, “for restoring the balance disrupted when my father, Prince Corwin, drew his Pattern. It has the support of him, Dworkin, and Suhuy, and I believe at least some of my Amber and Chaos relatives will endorse it as well. But before I go into that, I need to know more about these Old Powers and the part they play in all the turbulence.”
The two of them nodded together. Sand went first:
“The Old Ones were brought forth before even Logrus and Pattern…”
I listened carefully as we walked, occasionally raising a question. When their explanation ended, I told them of my plan to restore the Great Balance.
“We too endorse your plan,” said Delwin as they negotiated a Pattern-like turn, ducking briefly under a tall bush extending Logrus-like arms over the trail. “It makes good sense. In the long run, it should heal the imbalance and send the Old Ones back to sleep. For now, however, they remain active and dangerous players.”
“The nine spikards are convinced that Order has grown too strong,” said Sand. “This bias makes them easier for the Courts to manipulate. The one in your pocket that allowed itself to be enchanted, for example. Should they take sides, your task will be even more difficult.”
“What exactly is my task?”
“To touch all of them with the spikard you now wear and, at the appropriate moment, to convince them to enlist on the side of your plan for the restoration of the balance.”
“Swell. But you said nine. What about the other two Powers?”
“They have already taken sides. Fortunately, they are immobile, set to guard the Sign to which they owe allegiance.”
Sand reached toward me with her ring hand. I touched my spikard to hers and saw a brief silver flash. My hand tingled for a moment. I touched rings with Delwin as well.
Delwin brought forth a small box of what looked like polished wood. It opened by itself to reveal two more rings. I touched them with mine.
I removed the spellbound spikard from my pocket, touched it to the one on my finger, put it away again. As I did, I wondered where Bleys might be swashbuckling just then. I needed to look him up soon.
“Five down,” she said, “and four to go.”
“Six,” I said. “I don’t want Thelbane and Castle Amber to feel left out. I have enough trouble on my backside without pissing them off too.”
“We wish you much luck, Merlin,” Delwin said as we halted and stared out at stony promontories washed by restless waves. “Getting possession of the Serpent’s other Eye will be particularly challenging.”
“Wait a minute. The Serpent’s other Eye? Are you putting us on?” It wouldn’t have been the first time.
I went on: “Why would he need the Serpent’s right eye? How could he ever obtain it?”
In response, Dworkin pulled a globe from the air. It inflated between his spreading hands until it grew large enough for everyone to see the scene playing inside it.
“I’m very glad you are here,” Coral told Merlin, who had taken her into his arms to kiss her. “A crystal cave is no place for a lady.”
“Depends on the lady. And her lover. Remind me to tell you about Vivianne some time. She had a thing for wizards.”
“Well, I have a thing for you…”
“Fast forward!” I prompted. Dworkin obliged.
“—Do you really think the Logrus will agree to it?”
“Sure. It has much to gain by it. Dworkin and Suhuy will help us negotiate. The Pattern, though, is another matter.”
A circle of light shone through the green cave walls.
“Dad, are you in there?”
“Yes, Ghost. Me and Coral.”
“Two of your elders and betters request your presence at Checkpoint Shadowlands.”
“Ready?” asked Merlin. Coral took a breath and nodded. They rose and headed for the ladder…
“I still don’t get it,” I told Dworkin. The skull clacked its teeth together in agreement. The glowing coral rattled.
Scene change to:
A clearing in a twilit forest watched over by blue mountains.
The Signs of Order and Chaos, the labyrinthine Pattern and angular Logrus, hovered on one side of the clearing, with the Unicorn and Serpent positioned behind them. In a semicircle facing the Signs stood Dworkin, Suhuy, Merlin, Coral with post-surgery eyepatch, Random, Vialle, Flora, Bances, Corwin, Mandor, Fiona, and Luke.
Near them, off to the side, waited Sand and Delwin, watching. Luke had again introduced himself to them, mentioning this time that he was a friend of Merlin. They decided to give him a chance even though they blamed his mother Jasra for Brand’s Fountain-impelled psychosis, one that could have destroyed all existence. Sometimes apples do fall far from the tree.
“We’ve been thinking again about that microwave you offered to sell us,” Sand began when a gong sounded by Suhuy called for silence throughout the group.
Merlin made the pitch. He had thought of starting funny—“I expect a clean match, with no elbows or headbutts tolerated”—but wisely thought better of it. A pendant once again, the Jewel of Judgment burned a steady red upon his breast.
“The deal is simple,” Merlin told the Signs and the gods behind them. Luke nearly winked, but he too reconsidered. “It begins with return of the Jewel of Judgment to the one-eyed Serpent of Chaos, who will loan the other Eye to me temporarily.”
“For what purposssss?” rumbled the Serpent, swaying restlessly.
“With your right Eye, which contains the matrix of the Logrus, I will enter the universe of my father’s Pattern, find a suitable location, and inscribe a new Logrus there. That will allow those two Signs to be fully integral to their own cosmos, eliminating the turbulence in this one, quieting the Eleven once again, and universally balancing things out. I will then return your Eye to you. Problem solved.” Corwin nodded.
The Unicorn stamped a hoof, shaking the ground, as its Sign blared, “We fought and bled to obtain the Jewel ages ago, as compensation for an encroachment by the Serpent! Why should we return it now? What would Order gain by such a sacrifice?”
Dworkin fielded this one: “Aside from the restoration of the universe, the goodwill of Chaos, peace between Amber and the Courts, and the restabilization of all of Shadow? If you must think only in terms of your own contest of power, how does Order’s possession of all the spikards strike you?
“We propose the return of Delwin and Sand to Amber. The Guardians stand ready to reintroduce the Old Powers to the realm of Order, where the Nine shall slumber unless needed again.” The Guardians nodded.
Merlin stepped forward.
“Since before history began, you two Principles have manipulated powers, peoples, and events in your ongoing contest of dominance. I suspect you even brought Amber and the Courts of Chaos into being to help further your endless competition. Throughout Shadow, long histories and entire worlds have swung one way, then the other, birth and death, renaissance and collapse, depending on which of you was temporarily stronger.”
Mandor heard the anger in Merlin’s voice and hoped he wasn’t about to rant.
He didn’t. “Your creations now insist on being more than passive pawns in your great game. We have our own agendas to carry out. We can also participate actively in your struggle to define yourselves in contrast to each other. We are come of age.
“We propose, therefore, an Interrealm Arena where Order and Chaos can bring disputes for mediation.The Arena will be part courtroom, part embassy, and part stadium, depending on the issue being decided.”
“To further serve the Great Balance,” Suhuy stated, “let the Arena be housed in Amber, staffed by representatives of both Amber and the Courts, monitored by myself and Dworkin, and overseen by a mortal from Shadow: namely, Bill Roth, Attorney to the Courts of Amber and Chaos.”
“I’ll be one of Amber’s reps,” whispered Flora to Fiona. “Who knows? This may be my first long-term job.”
For once, Fiona served amity by simply smiling without remark.
When both Signs continued to bicker and equivocate as twilight headed for night, Merlin stepped forward another pace and cleared his voice. Unicorn and Serpent regarded him balefully.
“We have given you a workable agreement and a fair trade. Royalty of Amber and the Courts endorse it. It’s in your best interests as well as ours and everyone else’s. Will you commit to it, here and right now, intelligently and with resolve, or stubbornly go on failing to? You wear the aspect of divinity. Act like it, and choose.”
Flora gasped. Luke smirked. Mandor covertly fondled his silvery balls. Random waited to be struck by lightning. He was glad he had updated his will to give his drum kit to Martin.
After a moment, “We have one more question,” called out the Logrus Sign in every-shifting tones. The Pattern Sign dipped in agreement.
“King Random rules peacefully in Amber. Who will rule in the Courts of Chaos?”
Dworkin took back the narrative as he retuned the globe:
Having renounced her Amber citizenship before Merlin was even born, his mother, Dara of the Ways of Helgram, sorceress ally of the Logrus of Chaos, had joined the ranks of those Chaosites who remained adamant about a return to the old days before Amber and its Pattern existed.
Two of her schemes had failed. Brand had been a crazy blunt instrument, and Merlin a flawed one now out of her control. A third option remained in effect: obliterate the Patterns, with Prince Corwin’s first on the list.
For the Patterns held a fatal weakness. Royal blood could erase them.
Although Rinaldo had started life as a programmable Logrus-ghost generated by that Sign, Merlin had given him fresh blood that broke him free of his origins. He had walked Corwin’s Pattern and been accepted as its defender.
Therefore when Jurt winked into existence near that Pattern’s beginning under the big tree and set foot upon it, Rinaldo drew his sword and went after him.
“This is a Chaos-free zone,” Rinaldo said as he walked the design. “Members only allowed.” Sparks crackled at his feet.
“The Pattern doesn’t seem to mind me here,” Jurt replied as he kept moving ahead, his own feet outlined in fire.
Reaching the First Veil, he struggled as he slowed, at length shrugging off sparks and passing beyond it. He wore no blade.
“What do you intend doing?” Rinaldo called out with effort as he began to enter the Veil.
“I have a ritual sacrifice in mind,” Jurt replied. He halted and turned.
Rinaldo considered. Had Jurt worn a blade, he stood close enough to catch Rinaldo struggling against the Veil. The Pattern would not protect him against steel, but it should against magic. Jurt seemed ready to wait any length of time.
Rinaldo entered the Veil, sword in hand.
A crossbow bolt pierced his back near his left kidney. As he staggered under the impact, swearing and off balance, Jurt walked back through the Veil. Rinaldo felt the sword jerked from his hand.
“Goodnight, sweet Pattern-ghost.” Jurt’s thrust entered the chest. Rinaldo turned to bright vapor and vanished.
As Jurt turned and negotiated the Veil once again, a tall, hooded figure bearing a crossbow stepped out from behind the tree and saluted him. He waved back and, breaking through, continued on toward the Second Veil.
Before reaching it, he paused again. Reaching up one sleeve, he produced a Trump given to him by the hooded figure. He concentrated…
“But wait,” I interrupted. “Why did Corwin’s Pattern let Jurt walk it at all?”
“Patience,” counseled Dworkin.
…The Trump call interrupted Dalt’s conference with Jasra, who had asked him to the Keep of Four Worlds to discuss a military mission against a local ally of Amber.
“Who is it?” he asked, standing. His massive chest and arms filled out a yellow shirt. He wore black trousers. A large broadsword hung from one hip and a long dagger from the other. Jasra stood near his left shoulder.
“Dalt of Eregnor,” said Jurt, “I understand you are interested in the destruction of Amber.”
“What price are you prepared to spend for this?”
“I am pleased to hear that.”
Jasra’s head darted forward. She bit deeply into Dalt’s left bicep.
He pushed her away, but with her venom entering his system, he was already slowing and shaking his head. From behind him, Jasra shoved him forward toward the Trump gate.
Jurt stabbed again with Rinaldo’s sword. It stood out from Dalt’s chest near the medallion of a lion rending a unicorn.
As Dalt reeled back in agony, Jurt grabbed his blond hair and jerked him forward. Streams of blood fell upon the Pattern as Dalt died.
At this, the figure outside the Pattern pulled back her hood. Dara’s lips parted in triumphant anticipation.
The pool of blood spread across the Pattern, darkening a quarter of the surface now.
“Do you see any effect?” she called out to Jurt. He shook his head.
The crimson pool widened. She saw no sparks, no breaks, no smeared-out Pattern lines. She shook her head in dismay. What had gone wrong?
Another figure stepped out from behind the tree’s other side. His voice reached her and Jurt:
“The great thing about liquid glass,” he explained, removing his scaled gauntlets and tucking them behind a wide black belt, “is that the particles of silicon dioxide they contain not only repel contamination, they leave a nice shine on the surfaces they coat. That Pattern hasn’t been polished since I drew it. Long overdue.”
“You,” she said in a low tone, “are a bastard.”
“Technically not,” he replied, “although I doubt you are speaking genealogically.”
“And the matter of the sparks and Veils?”
“Special effects agreed to and arranged by the Pattern. A nice touch, I thought.”
“Were the deaths of Rinaldo and Dalt a nice touch as well?”
He grimaced. “I had hoped to arrive here in time to prevent them, but a shadow storm delayed me. Speaking of ghosts, Jurt there is one too, isn’t he? Lobotomized upon delivery courtesy of the Logrus?”
She nodded and made a gesture. Jurt opened his mouth to protest but evaporated.
“You shouldn’t have come here alone,” she stated, walking toward him.
“Careful. I have a spikard and I know how to use it now.” He tapped Grayswandir. “Not to mention a grateful Pattern standing nearby.”
She stopped. “Why did you arrange all this? You could have thwarted the attempt without going to all the trouble.”
“I am here to ask for a truce.”
“You? A truce?” She laughed. He waited her out.
“I killed someone you cared for,” he said, referring to Lord Borel, “and thwarted your plans more than once. You in turn lied to me, kept our son a secret, imprisoned me, turned my brother Brand against all of us, tried to place our son involuntarily on the throne of Chaos, and just now murdered Dalt and a Pattern-ghost resembling Brand’s son. Those are only the acts I know of.”
“Your own hands are not clean. You have often killed for your own causes, noble or otherwise.”
“That I well know. But it is between us now. I am offering you a ceasefire.”
“I would be on better terms with the mother of my boy. I know he is angry with you about any number of things. But just look at how he turned out. He is exemplary, and I am proud of him. You had a large part in that, for which I am grateful regardless of what unfolds with us, for ill or good.”
One eyebrow lifted. “Any other reason?”
“While you were busy trying to erase my Pattern and, presumably, the one in Amber next, Merlin made a decision that will shortly rebalance Amber, Chaos, and all the shadowlands between them. He has come to terms with Serpent and Unicorn, and they with him. Ten of the Eleven Old Powers are his allies, and the eleventh will be soon if all goes well.”
“I knew of the Great Divide Summit, of course, but I’ve not yet heard the results.” Her face was impassive, but pride in Merlin was growing behind it.
“I know you now favor the return of the old ways, Dara. But the old ways are dead and will not return. Let the new balance begin with peace between us. –Besides, you’re getting something else you wanted, although not as you had planned: control of the throne of Chaos.”
“What? You favor this?”
“I helped arrange it. Come along. We need to talk.”
After a time, Dara dropped the crossbow. Corwin smashed it under a black boot.
And so with Merlin’s thoughts once again for a time:
It was good to have Frakir back on my wrist. She was silent for a long while, my apologies notwithstanding, but in the end she forgave me. Luke brought her to me.
I stood on the brink of the Abyss, where stars fell from the sky into the final void where all things begin and end. The glassy black needle of Thelbane pierced the air behind me.
I had asked to meet at bluesky next. A glance at the heavens showed that time to be at hand. I took a breath and tried to be ready for anything, reminding myself that I had brought some magical backup.
The voice preceded the form: “Scenic site for conversation. Forgive me if I do not venture very close to the drop. One time was enough.”
The one Rhanda had called “the hidden sorcerer” stood beside me, near but not too near the edge of all things. I was armed with blade and spikard. I do not know what he had brought. Both of us were under observation by our own allies located elsewhere.
We nodded to one another. I had figured out who he was before his arrival. Process of elimination, if you’ll pardon the ghastly pun. He had faked his death right here, which is one reason I had asked to meet here. Fearing Mandor, before whom so many applicants to the throne had fallen, he had gone underground and behind the mirror to guard his life and his rightful claim.
Before this meeting, I had verified he’d been briefed on the Summit. My hope was that it would change our relationship so I wouldn’t have to kill him.
“Lord Tubble,” I greeted him, “I asked for this meeting because I sincerely wish to come to terms.”
“That,” he replied, “will depend on what is offered.”
“Then let me state directly that I believe you to be a more suitable fit for the throne than I.”
“Yet your Sawall relatives have gone to much trouble to place you there.”
“True enough. I have now convinced them I will not occupy the throne. In fact, I will be off to another universe and out of the hair of everybody in this one.”
He smiled. He was actually somewhat larger in his human form than the short wizard Flora and Frakir had encountered in Amber, where he had gone in disguise. Also, a smaller body was easier to fit through the convoluted passages of the mirrorworld. Evidently, he had spent a lot of time there, a peeper with his own selection of one-way windows.
“Naturally, I would need proof of these assertions.”
“I am prepared to offer it once immediate business is concluded. But I do have a question. How far down the succession will you aim? My brother Despil is next in line, and Jurt after him. Jurt has been ambitious, Despil not at all. Do you intend to go after either of them? Or the ones coming after them?”
“No. Pretenders aside, you have been my immediate rival for the throne as the claimant next on the list. Because of all the fatalities in the line of succession, I naturally assumed you to be a willing ally of the dispatchers. I have come to realize, however, that you were not. Suhuy also confirms this, and he is an honorable man above our political conflicts of interest.”
“I am glad to hear this, Lord.”
“I, however, am not.”
I turned at these unexpected words. Julia stood there.
The last time I had seen her she looked startled and demure in a blue wrap, her dark hair bound back. It was still bound back, but she now wore a blouse and trousers of midnight blue. A black cloak flared at her back. Her eyes flashed as she assumed a sorcerer’s fighting stance.
I turned to Tubble. “This is not my doing! She is here without leave.”
“With Merlin out of the picture soon,” she said, raising her hands, “you, Tubble, are next on my list. And you are in my way.”
The Battering Ram spell she opened with contained a clever twist, starting as an invisible giant hammer and landing low down like a linebacker going for the knees. Tubble’s gestured ripost simultaneously blew the Ram apart while hardening into a flight of arrows parried by Julia’s Buckler spell.
I stood back from the fight and thought fast. I could summon Ghostwheel to transport her, but she might parry the attempt and injure him.
The truth was that she had no real chance. Sure, she was good, trained by Jasra, who had been trained by my mother, one of the best in the business. She was gifted with natural talent, and she had studied the Art as an initiate of the Broken Pattern.
Tubble, on the other hand, was a Logrus initiate raised and trained for centuries in the Courts of Chaos.
Back, then, he fought her with an onslaught of spells of impressive tactical complexity and perfect timing. She fought on, but he was clearly getting the better of her. No sooner did she revive from a Smash and Fold spell that had crunched her into a human accordion than Tubble’s Raise and Drop lifted her near the edge of the abyss as the Links of Confinement wound around her straining body. The sound of her choking tore at me.
“Lord Tubble,” I said loudly to make sure he heard me, “please spare her. She is a presumptuous pain and had no call to attack you. But she is no match for you, and I would see our agreement sealed with a show of leniency.”
He shook his head and kept forcing her toward the Abyss.
I drew the blade. “I do not want to intervene, Lord, but I will to save her life.” I pointed the tip at him and revved up the spikard. The step to take seemed to be a humane combination of spells that would restrain him and save her.
As he pulled back his arms to run power into the spell that would throw her over the edge, I moved to intercept him—and lost control of the blade as it leaped forward and pierced his side. He fell over the brink with a cry, taking the weapon with him.
Just as Julia was about to follow, Jurt came rocketing up from the depths like a mad fand player and caught her. Once his feet touched the ground he lowered her and bent over her.
Bleys appeared out of a red-orange whirlwind, strode over, and held out his hand. His blade flew up over the edge, spun itself clean of blood, and settled itself into the scabbard at his hip.
Before the disastrous parley I had already touched my ring to it, admiring the elegance of the middle portion of the Pattern inscribed in the golden metal.
“The chain is now complete,” said Bleys. “The Eleven are standing by for instructions.”
“Good. I’ll need their help after I draw the new Logrus. And by the way, thanks for the loaner.”
Bleys rested a hand on the pommel. His red mane always looked like the wind had been at it. “Sverburnir the Noon Blade has a mind of its own,” he admitted, “but then all the spikards do. Sorry it chose just then to consecrate itself.”
“I don’t suppose you gave it any extra oomph when it did?”
Was that a wink? I couldn’t be sure. “A sorcerer never tells.”
Others were popping in. I nodded to Bances and Mandor as I walked up to Jurt, still leaning over Julia, who was now gasping. I removed the spikard from my finger.
Her pain-squinted eyes found mine. “I am sorry,” she choked. My heart clenched when I thought about how that particular spell could rupture one’s insides.
Then she looked at Jurt. “Thank you for teaching me how to love.”
She breathed out one last time before her eyes closed. So did Jurt’s for a moment. I put my hand upon his shoulder.
When he rose, his jaw tightened as he stared at me.
“I suppose you’d like to believe all this solves what’s between the two of us, especially with you going off to your father’s universe. But from where I stand…” He paused for a moment as grief started to overcome him. He looked away. Then: “You were the chosen of our mother and of the Logrus. What’s to stop you from coming back to press your claim?”
At another time I would have laughed in disgust. He just never seemed to get past all that.
“I won’t, Jurt. I’m out. Really.”
“You say that now. But later?”
“I have something else to say in order to resolve this for good. Do you recall the ring that the previous King of Chaos wore?”
“Yes. He always had it on. Thick, with reddish metal and tiny spokes. You wore it too.”
I reached into my pocket and extracted the ring.
“I received this when everyone thought I would take the throne. The ring is a spell sorter with power sources scattered through Shadow. I am giving it to you now. Put it on.”
He looked it over and placed it over a finger. His fist clenched.
“Congratulations, condolences, and long live the new King of Chaos. And up yours, Jurt. Piss off until you grow up.”
So much for that. I turned and walked over to my parents, surprised to see them standing together.
“What’s with you two?”
“We have a lot to discuss,” my mother said. Father winked at me.
Mother went on: “Jurt now wears the ring?” Not my ring: that ring. She and Mandor had put a spell on it to make whomever wore it obedient to their will.
“He does indeed, and I wish him well of the whole chaotic mess.”
Suddenly, the immensity of Julia’s death—again!—fell on me. I needed to get away from everyone before all the inevitable conversations.
“I will catch up with you later,” I told Corwin, “before my attempt with the Logrus.” He clasped my shoulder.
I looked over at Jurt, who stood straighter already, and then at Dara.
“He’s all yours, and so is control of the throne. Try to keep him out of trouble.”
“I had looked forward to seeing you seated as liege of Chaos,” stated Mandor as he poured us coffee from a silver pot. Behind his white hair, a new mural here at Mandorways depicted tormented souls crying upward from some colorful astral hell, all of it painted with exquisite taste. I wondered what Fiona would think of it.
“But I am willing to work with Jurt. Particularly after Suhuy recommended it and Dara seemed resigned to it.”
“Good. That should help settle things on this end.”
“For now, at any rate.” He bit into a pastry. Even his manner of chewing looked elegant.
“Above all, though,” he went on, “I am quite gratified by your new capacity not only to survive, but to give your life the sense of direction it previously lacked.”
His words sent my mind skimming over the course of recent events. At first I had mainly felt acted upon. More recently, however, I finally felt in charge of my own destiny. Whether or not he or anyone else agreed with my interpretation of it. I smiled an acknowledgment.
A drifting dime-sized circle of light drew my attention. Glancing at Mandor, I asked, “Do you mind if someone joins us? Probably for only a few minutes.”
“By all means.”
The circle swelled into a kind of computer-generated face of indistinct gender and shifting features. Had it come with a body it would have been seated at the table with us.
“Hello, Ghost. How are you?”
“Still out trying to find myself.”
“How are you managing?”
“Better since the Pattern and the Logrus decided to leave me alone. Kergma showed up again to play her tricks, but I was wise to her and went into avoidance mode.”
“Good thinking.” I liked Kergma, but the AI hasn’t been born that could defend itself against her computational antics. Well, maybe now it has.
“Dad, I wanted to run something by you. At this point I’ve gained the ability to manipulate the materials and machinery that generate my being. Would it be OK with you if I made some improvements?”
In the past that would have alarmed me. But from the drawing board onward, Ghostwheel had contained an ethical core. And…
“I appreciate being asked. In a sense, you wish to undertake what we all should be doing: self-improvement. Go ahead.”
“Thanks. It helps knowing you went through your version of this.”
“It never ends, Ghost.”
“I might be off traveling and learning for a while, Dad.”
“Me too. Soon I’m headed to the other universe to help consolidate it. I hope you can visit me there when you’re ready. Perhaps my father’s Pattern will let you walk it.”
“Put in a good word for me, will you?”
“I surely will. Call me if you need anything.”
“So long for now.”
The white circle vanished. I felt a pang of…fatherhood? Creatorhood, anyway. It’s hard when they grow up.
“I do hope you won’t forget your friends and family over here, Merlin.”
“That would be impossible. In your case, most of my recollections are pleasantly grateful. I will definitely stay in touch.”
“Do. And don’t hesitate to contact me if you encounter any difficulties in need of removal. It is a task at which I tend to excel.”
Still with Merlin:
“You look older, Son.”
“Uncle Suhuy said that too.”
We sat with our backs against the tree Father had planted so long ago from a single staff screwed into the ground. He placed it there before his supremely arduous attempt to draw his Pattern. Now that I had drawn a Logrus I could understand what the effort had cost him.
An odd thought went through my post-exertion mind: Did he ever tire of the same old livery? I could take purple, gray, and black only so long before I wished for other colors. Yet every time I had seen him, he wore a gray or silver shirt, black trousers with a silver line on the outside, black boots with silver clasps, and a black cloak closed with a silver rose. Must be a generational thing. Impressive nonetheless.
I added, “He also told me to escape the cage that was my life.”
His green eyes lit below black hair framing a hard face cracked with a smile. He was old with the age of centuries upon him, but he didn’t look a day over thirty-five.
“Bravo! You escaped at last. So now the Pattern and Logrus have something else in common: Their first choice of king bowed out. Like father, like son.” We both chuckled.
We sat and pulled forth our pipes. Birds sang in the branches overhead as a layer of fog hugged the Pattern’s silvery surface.
“By the way, did you know that Tubble had a thing for Flora?”
“Ha. Yes. Frakir told me.”
“He even maintained a Flora shrine back in the Courts.”
“That part I hadn’t heard.”
“She is a bit sad about him. She thought his interest intriguing.”
“There will be others. Many others…”
“Incidentally, I hear that your brother Jurt has taken a liking to a fan of his, one Rhanda.”
“Rhanda!” I felt a flash of jealousy. “Really?”
“Really. She has watched him from the mirrorworld for some time now. More than watched, I suspect. Anyway, it makes a kind of sense, does it not? A Shroudling as Queen of Chaos. If it works out.”
I shook my head in wonder. “Well, it will certainly put her people in a better light. They’ve been ostracized for a long time. And maybe she will soften him a bit.” I silently self-soothed my injured male ego by reminding myself that I had never liked the champion business anyway.
We puffed, having disposed of a chicken, some cheese, half a loaf of bread, and a chocolate pie. An empty bottle of wine sat nearby, with its brother freshly opened.
“So what was it like to create a new Logrus?”
I thought for a moment, remembering making and multiplying shifting angular limbs with my waving arms and legs while staring into the Eye as I walked. Up one level, down another, round a corner, round another…feeling alternately baked, frozen, exploded, and imploded; and crazy the entire time….
“It was like scuba diving without a mask in orbit under the influence of ayahuasca while scaling Mt. Everest in the nude while your guts boil and flames pour out of your anus. Aside from that it wasn’t so bad.” Parts of it were hazy now. Defenses are good sometimes.
“Glad the thing went easy on you. No discouraging monsters showed up?” His question reminded me of his own Pattern-inscribing account, with him struggling at the bottom of a bubble of downpour and lightning while demonic shapes shrieked at him from just beyond the newly drawn lines.
“No. The Signs were all for it, so maybe that’s why.”
A breeze made eddies in the fog over the Pattern. I waved, and a moist gray limb seemed to wave back. I thought about San Francisco when Karl rolled in.
“I take it you restored the Eye you borrowed to the Serpent?”
“Yes, and all the spikards that aren’t blades will retire once we’ve used them to delineate the new shadowlands. I held a conference call through my ring, and all the artifacts are on board.”
“Once back in this universe they will go to Delwin and Sand for safekeeping. I am glad your siblings are returning to Amber.”
“As am I. We have a lot of catching up ahead.”
“Seen any Corridors of Mirrors since all this hit the fan?”
“Nope. Can’t say I miss them.”
I puffed. “Incidentally, congratulations.”
“For what?” he asked.
“You are going to be a grandfather.”
“No shit? Hot damn. Who’s the lucky lady?”
“Coral. We’re going to have a daughter.”
“Well, hooray for you, and me.” We clinked glasses and drank.
The Pattern had arranged it, of course, with my daughter intended as its new champion of Order, another piece in the game played out between the Signs. That was why it had kidnapped Coral and forced me to find her and more than find her at the center of its newly repaired counterpart. Only now our daughter would be born in a place where she could choose her own way.
“So, you and Coral as King and Queen of Chaos in the Great Beyond Over There?”
“I’ve been meaning to discuss that with you. How would you feel about the Corwinverse dispensing with all the royalty and pageantry?”
“I would feel relieved. It has all been a huge pain in the ass. I did not refuse to be King of Amber just to get stuck being king in my own version of Amber. Frankly, Amber is unique, and the Courts too. Let’s keep them that way and make something new together.”
We clinked again and puffed.
“And please don’t call it the Corwinverse. How about the Merlinverse?”
A thought from the direction of my wrist whispered, “The Frakirverse has a nice ring to it.” I petted her.
“How about we let it name itself?”
“Works for me. Who is on your guest list?”
“I have some childhood friends I’d like to invite for a visit. Or a stay. My half-brother Despil, for instance. He says he’d like a fresh start somewhere as far from the Courts as possible. He never did like drama. Ghostwheel if he can get there. Ghost has grown up, though, and he doesn’t need his maker around so much anymore.
“Luke, of course, and his partner Nayda. Coral might have some people. Who’s on yours?”
“Dierdre. Random and Vialle. Bill Roth if he wants to visit. Benedict, same consideration. All contingent on whether they hit any resistance when they try to walk my Pattern.”
“Our lists seem fairly short. What of Fiona and Mandor, for instance?”
“Do you trust Mandor?”
“I used to, but the business with the spikard got me thinking. Do you trust Fiona?”
“More than I used to. Sounds like we are agreed on them.”
“Yes. Let’s give them a chance to give up their intriguing first.”
“Check. And the rest?”
I blew a smoke ring that shaped itself into faces: Dara, Dworkin, Suhuy… “A Cheshire Cat advised me: ‘The hell with them all.’ But they are family.”
“Yeah. They are family.” I knew what he meant. He had gone far toward coming to terms with his own, but… But. And he didn’t know mine.
“You know, if we invite some and not others it could get tense…”
He broke off and raised his head as though listening. Fogs swirled over the Pattern. Corwin gestured in its direction.
“It says it will help us screen who is worthy and safe. That seems fair.”
Their way in remained this Pattern, situated in the Amber/Courts cosmos one shadow from his primal Pattern and my primal Logrus. We couldn’t have asked for better filters. I made a mental note to talk with mine as well. If we pissed off family and friends, we could always blame the Signs…
“Although we have a lot of work ahead of us,” he went on, puffing, “I’d like to pause from it long enough to invite you to meet an old friend. He helped me through a difficult time.”
“I’d be happy to. Who?”
“Joppa the lighthouse keeper at Cabra. I’ve not seen him for years. He told me he wanted to know how the story turned out. Only now do I feel like the time has come to fill him in.”
“Sounds good to me.” I remembered hearing of solitary, cranky, anarchic, drunken, kind-hearted Joppa from my father’s first long telling while we sat at the lip of the Abyss years ago. At one time Joppa had captained ships that sailed dozens of Shadow trade routes into and near Amber. The stories he must have.
“Tell me, do you think you can retrieve things from Shadow that close to Amber? If not, we can make other arrangements.”
“It’s more difficult, but I can do it,” I said. “What do you need?”
“To pay off an old debt by restocking Joppa’s liquor cabinet.”
“Wow,” I exhaled along with the collective sigh of the other objects as Dworkin finished showing and telling. “Wow.”
“All in all, my grandchildren and their children have finally done me proud.” Clicking tooth applause from the skull; flapping book covers; winking on and off from the coral.
“Truly an amazing account,” I said. “Here at the end of it, I’m left with a single question. With whom will you share all this? Outside the walls of your rooms? To whom will you give me? I guess that’s two questions, maybe three, but in a way they are the same question.”
Dworkin yawned, stretched, and got up. The floating globes he pointed at went out. Everybody except me went to their own kind of sleep.
He bent toward me, and I felt his beard rustle across my pages.
Quietly: “I’ve one more entry to make, and then I shall give you into the hands of Merlin and Coral to do with as they will. May your narratives inform and bless the new creation and its awakening inhabitants as they make their own fresh destinies.”
Night. Clouds floated by. A meteor streaked overhead, shedding stars in its wake. The dragons had all gone to sleep.
In a hollow under blue mountains, two elderly entities played a three-dimensional game to its end.
One player was a hunchback with a long beard. The other was a demon with gray and red skin and thick incisors. Or so these two appeared at first glance.
The one resembling a demon moved a piece. His opponent countered. Both sat back.
“I believe,” commented the demon, “that makes the game a draw.”
The other chuckled as they put away the pieces for the night and offered:
“Best two out of three?”