I gave up my stratagems some few hours before dawn, but my mind
seemed bent on refusing me rest. How was I to replace all that Benedict
had been? I had appreciated his faith in me, in the words he had spoken
before he left, but I lacked his confidence in my abilities. I had
neither Arden, nor Julian. Julian I sorely missed, but the missing trees
I could actually use to my advantage. A broad plain was all that stood
between me and my enemy. I hoped it would inspire overconfidence on his,
or her, part. I had spent over a hundred years in plains warfare, and I
planned on using every trick I had ever learned. I climbed into bed
carefully. Laughter was asleep, and I wished her to remain so. I blew
the candle out and watched as the glowing ember faded into night.
I slept no more than four hours. I was beginning to recover from
my ordeal on the Patterns. I rose, washed, and found my wife in the next
"What about Benedict's body?" she said. I sighed.
"I've spoken to Kaedric about it. He can retrieve it, and will, as
soon as he is free from helping Aelle," I said, as I placed the Jewel of
Judgment around my neck.
"Well, what about Melanie?" I'm sure the surprise registered
clearly on my face.
"I don't think, at this point in time, she'd be inclined to do
Benedict any favors."
"But he's dead. Don't you think that would help?"
Whenever I am lost in the darkest of thoughts, I can always count
on my wife to bring a smile to my lips. Although, I did tell her that I
was not at all sure that would make any difference. I gave her a kiss,
before I left, and told her I would see her at lunch.
As I walked to the stables I could feel the beginnings of a Trump
contact. I slowed my pace somewhat and accepted the call. It was
"Mok is dead." That brought me to a stop, and I could feel my
frown deepening. Before I could attempt to gain further details, however,
"I would like your permission to walk the Pattern, Sire."
I am far from being a mental giant on most scales, but even I
could tell what was on the Moor's mind.
"Have you any idea," I inquired, "exactly how dangerous it is to
walk the Pattern and then say to it, 'Take me to Mok's killers?'"
Obviously, not only had he not given it thought, but he didn't let it
cause him any distress, either. He was adamant in his request. Since he
had so foolishly run off after Delwin on his own, I was less than inclined
to let him have his way. I told him instead to spend the morning thinking
about this plan of his, and then to call me back in the afternoon. He
broke contact. Having twice thwarted him, I was beginning to think I was
working my way to the top of his list. Unfortunately, I had bigger
When I reached the stables, I didn't bother saddling the
hell-beast that was my wedding present from Sylvie. Quite frankly, I
didn't want to risk the insult it might give.. I must admit that my
limited imagination had never wandered across the topic of what one would
get if one were to cross a large cat with a large horse, but I can assure
you, dear reader, that the end result looked more than a little dangerous.
I had also never gotten around to naming the damn beast. I was sure that
whatever it called itself would be good enough for me. I chose a light
bit, and it was courteous enough to accept my offer. I probably wouldn't
ride the thing at all, if it were not for my tendency to have mounts shot
out from under me. As I grabbed a handful of mane and jumped as lightly
as I could upon its back, I mused that there just weren't that many
surface-to-air missiles lying around Amber, so the odds of this mount
being shot out from under me were slight at best.
I began deploying troops then, in accordance to the plans I had
fashioned the night earlier. I had what army I had been able to build in
the past year, troops from Foil, and troops from Corwin. Mok's mecha
warriors I was using to protect the Pattern, and the castle, itself.
Mok... Funny, I hadn't thought of him since my conversation with Claudio.
Another member of the Family was gone, and yet another damnable side
effect of parting company with my soul was making itself apparent. Sooner
or later, everyone was going to think I was a cold, heartless bastard,
devoid of any emotion. I had emotions. It just took them a long time to
catch up with me now.
I turned back to the task at hand. I couldn't imagine that Mok
would be happy if everyone got depressed at his passing. I certainly
couldn't think of a time when I had ever seen him afflicted with that
particular emotion. I conveyed a few more deployments, but was suddenly
distracted. I nearly had Song out of its sheath before I realized it was
Melanie that had appeared in a rainbow shimmer before me. Christ, what a
start she gave me. I acknowledged her clipped curtsey.
"Mok is dead," she said.
"I know. He's not the only one." It was her turn to look surprised.
"Benedict," I answered. She was kind enough to pay me the same
courtesy as I had done her when I learned of Maron's death. "If you walk
in Shadow, do so carefully now."
A bit of her arrogance returned to her then. "I always do." She
disappeared in the same fashion that she had arrived. I went back to
Arden had been an enormous forest, and as the wind lifted my hair,
I knew I had a lot of ground to cover. I had given myself the entire
morning to just begin building my defense framework. My eyes scanned the
horizon and began matching every hill, plateau and valley to their
corresponding markings on the maps I had studied the night before. I
began spreading the men across the ground, placing them near the tops of
strategic hills, so that they would be hidden from any oncoming troops,
and a short charge would give them the high-ground advantage. I then
informed my officers of the special plans I had in mind.
In plains warfare, the participants were often at the mercy of the
elements. In Amber, with the Jewel of Judgment 'round my neck, I had
command over many of those elements. I dismounted and checked the grass.
It would due in a pinch, but it could be better. I squinted up into the
brightening sky, looking for clouds. I found a few that offended me and
tapped into the power that is the Jewel's, banishing them from the sky. I
wanted this grass to remain dry. The first weapon I was going to use
against any bold enough to attack Amber was fire. I thrilled at the idea.
I had often used this tactic before, but never before had I control over
the wind that would drive the flames. I would strike the first blow, and
do my damnedest to make sure it was a hard one. I spent a great deal of
time explaining to my officers the timing required of the task involved,
and gave my general a Trump card so he could alert me when the order to
flame was given. I left the rest of the deployments to my officers and
galloped back to the castle. I took what comfort I could from the wind.
As I walked back to my office, I suddenly felt the skin at the
back of my head crawl, much in the way it used to when Jubal was placing
it in the cross-hairs of his rifle. The motions that followed were as
fluid as the element to which I was born. By the time I had completed my
turn, Song was already twice its length in flight toward the target. Now,
who was sneaking up on me at the time became blatantly obvious as soon as
I turned around. I also knew that it was far too late for me to do
anything about it, and that the panic that I should have been feeling at
realizing this would hit me in about ten seconds or so. Thankfully, Song
recognized her as well, and curved in its flight, so that she was not
impaled against the wall. I closed my eyes to give thanks to a couple of
gods I knew of, and quickly had both my feet and my wind knocked cleanly
from me. I opened my eyes to my wife, currently perched on my chest and
smiling triumphantly. First I let the wave of panic wash over me, as I
had predicted it would, and then I waited for the anger to both hit and
lessen somewhat before I spoke. Christ Almighty! Had she entirely taken
leave of her senses? I could have killed her.
She had come to interpret my various frowns and her smile began to
fade, but she maintained her perch.
"Your timing is rather inopportune," I growled at her.
"It very rarely isn't. I've come to accept it."
"I could have hurt you, or worse." I was intrigued by the fact
that she was shaking her head no.
"I've got my spell on."
"Laugh-" I began, in my most stern tone. I was interrupted anyway.
"Plus I have on a very high collar," which, in fact, she pointed
to, "And, Song would have never hurt me."
"A very fortunate occurrence for you," I said, trying to maintain a
stern tone, "for if I had hurt you, I'd only be madder now."
"I just wanted to know what you were doing with all the troops." I
sighed. She could have just asked.
"I had been planning on having troops positioned around Amber.
Benedict's death has just hastened my progress."
We lost the opportunity to continue our argument further, however,
as Aelle and Caitlin suddenly appeared next to us in a Trump shimmer. I
gained my feet as best I could, as they were both dressed less than
regally, and somehow I knew they would have bad news. I wasn't
disappointed. Caitlin blurted out that there was an army of undead
heading toward Amber. They had been created by Orrin, son of Osric.
Kaedric, she said, had been killed trying to free her. Sylvie was
missing. So it began.
I Trumped Ulysses and filled him in. Sylvie was his daughter,
after all. I then Trumped Fiona, and let her know that we had an undead
army on the way. I received a Trump call then, and accepted. It was
Melanie. She said nothing, but handed a note through and broke the
contact. I had barely read the words, "Kaedric is dead," when there was a
large thunder clap and the entire castle trembled. Everything happened so
fast after that. Swift inspection of the damage led to the revelation
that the left side of the castle had slid down the stairs of Kolvir. The
kitchens, Flora's quarters, my quarters were gone. If the twins had been
I Trumped Corwin. No answer.
I Trumped Bleys. His card answered, and I warned him of what had
I Trumped Gerard. His card animated, but he was being tossed
about the deck of his ship. I knew for a fact there were no storm fronts
anywhere near Amber. I told him what had happened in Amber. He asked
what of Rebma. I didn't know. I cut the contact.
Martin's card did not animate. Neither did Vialle's.
Caitlin had apparently stuck with me, for I heard her ask for
"He's dead," I said, as simple as that. I turned to Laughter then.
"Check on the children."
"Where should I start?" At least she was capable of anguish. Mine
would come later. "Start with Mandor." She was gone in a flash.
I set Fiona to the defense of the castle, then, and put all of the
troops on alert. The Trump call that followed was the first good news I'd
had that day. The children were safe. They had, indeed, been with their
grandfather. Thank the Unicorn for that. I joined her there and held
them close, as the pain began to finally find me. I had Alfred take them
to what I hoped would be one of the castle's structural strong points. I
returned to the battlements to take my watch.
Caitlin Trumped. She had found clothes and weapons and wished to
play a role. As Benedict's daughter, I gave her a command worthy of her.
Sky came shortly after with similar request. To her I gave the cavalry.
I was struck with a headache then, but it soon passed. I quickly learned
of the reason. The Atherton Pattern had been destroyed. Before that
really had time to sink in, Melanie Trumped again. This time she came
through, and brought Benedict and Sand with her. He lived, but was placed
under heavy spells. Fiona was summoned. She summoned Mandor in turn.
She, Mandor and Beauty linked hands, in an attempt to break the spell.
Twenty minutes later, Mandor and Beauty laid under the same spell. Fiona
had managed to escape.
My eyes returned to where they had been of late, over the
battlements to the far horizons. Benedict, Mandor, Beauty, Corwin,
Kaedric, Mok and the entirety of Rebma were lost to me. My emotions had
more than had enough time to catch up with me, and I preferred not to
share them with my assembled Family. I had not struck the first blow, but
I was far from beaten.
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