"Tempt not the stars, young man, thou canst not play with the
severity of fate... in thine aspect I note a consequence of danger." --
The Broken Heart
I never even read that particular work; I came across the
reference somewhere, but today it detached itself from my subconscious and
floated up into what passes for the conscious reaches of my mind.
Tempt not the stars... all my life I've been doing just that. I
decided, so long ago I can't remember doing it, just how the world ought
to be, and how I was going to live my life. The latter is within my
jurisdiction. The former technically is not, but in my reckless
enthusiasm I sought out to change it anyway.
Along the way I set myself some standards. Mom, Benedict,
Julian... as I've said before, they can seem too perfect to a child, so
capable. So obviously powerful enough to change the world. So clearly
the things I needed to be.
And I set myself tests, to prove I was of that mettle. The
travels in Shadow, the brave or desperate deeds in defense of Amber. The
pains.... especially the pains.
Ariana thinks I enjoy pain. Wrong, of course. I enjoy
implacability. Corwin and Deirdre can be implacable because few people
have the means to stop them. They pile Amberite physical skill on top of
prodigious knowledge and centuries of dirty tricks. I don't have those
advantages... so all I can do is take the shit and pass through them.
Every pain becomes a challenge, every pain taken willingly a proof that I
can take it and not be pushed back from my goal.
I don't enjoy it, but I need to prove I can take it if I want to
be what I have become. And even 50 years is too old to go back and be
The danger: Amber, for the most part. My time in Driscoll's land
ended badly, but his aim was not to kill me, and had I known the situation
I would have acted differently. It can be dangerous to take Shadow at
face value. The Badlands are a cruel Shadow, but even as the sole law for
200 miles, I was never in danger. A human can't fight a man whose draw is
too fast to see, who can take a bullet and fight at dawn the next day.
No, Amber is the cause that sends me into danger time and time
again, Amber meaning not only the place, but the people and the culture.
When Rygat, or Sand, or Brand, or the flavor of the month threatened it, I
opposed them with the skills I had. My opposition has rarely been more
the a nuisance, but it has been backed by my life - and a decision that my
life, like my sword, was simply a tool to be used in pursuit of the things
I believed in.
And now I face the consequences head on. A spell, meant to invoke
our worst fears to dissuade us from violating a sorcerer's privacy. My
Mother came to me, telling me that I had brought her nothing but pain, and
that killing me was her chosen way of correcting a mistake.
10 years ago, that would have been fine with me, really. She made
me, and perhaps it would be fitting for her to unmake me. And at that
time, before I saw just how complicated things could get, I might have
done it out of sheer depression. Did you want my life, Mother? It could
have been yours.
Not this time, no. She wasn't the real thing, for one, but for
another, how many forms of pain are there? I've been cut with swords and
kicked before. It's not terrifying. You get through it, and heal, or you
die. Time will tell.
But past that... there came a time when my stream of witticisms,
carefully designed to show that I was One Cool Customer, fell through.
The first time it happened, I reversed my retreat and delivered a front
kick to her crotch.
Looking back, I'm kind of proud of that. Kicking your mom in the
generative organs is a powerful existential statement, if taken as such.
Probably hurt, too.
The second time, I lost it. Totally. I recall screaming things
to the effect that my life hadn't been long on much besides pain, and the
good parts hadn't been her, and that 50 years after my birth was a bit
long after the second trimester. I think I cursed her a lot. At one
point, I decided that my death curse was going to be that she would do it
all over again, until she got it right. Never mind that I knew it was all
a fake; I was past caring. I never used the curse because I didn't think
I needed it. I was beyond feeling pain. I was hacking at her with a sort
of elemental brutality, mindful only of the feeling of the striking
surfaces of my arms and legs hitting flesh. I was genuinely surprised
when I woke up, for I had no recollection of losing consciousness.
That fight turned out to be an illusion, but for all that it was a
powerful experience. I am no longer what I once was, no longer afraid of
the things I thought I feared. I'm not sure I'm afraid of anything,
really, and it diminishes me. Fear is ultimately all fear of loss: loss
of loved ones, loss of a cherished feeling, loss of a sentimental object.
Loss of innocence. But at one point or another, I've lost all those
things. Mom, Kimdyl, Nicholas, Dad, the Castle where I grew up, the
notion of a moral universe. Some of them have been returned to me, and
others never will, but that is besides the point. I've learned to live
without them. And because we all live with our memories, part of me still
lives without them. Without much of anything at all.
That is the consequence of danger. Death. Or, as Coleridge
wrote, the Nightmare Life-in-Death, who thicks men's blood with cold. I
feel like a dead man walking, existing only to avenge some dimly
remembered wrong from a bygone time. The wrong of being born, perhaps, or
the wrong done me by all the people who haven't lived up to my
Not quite dead, no. I still look about me and find my feelings
engaged by a select few. My wife, who occasionally makes me think that
the universe keeps her promises after all. Felix's family, so
good-hearted under their inability to speak clearly that I can't help but
want to do it for them. Laughter, so bloodthirsty and yet so playful,
open, caring and kind. But they are the minority. As for the rest...
Come here, Arthur. We have much to discuss. The merits of a
moral universe, perhaps. The pain you've caused me, and the share of it
that is rightfully yours. And more than a share, for you and your maniac
kind embody the things that have hurt me all my life. At the times when I
feel like the walking dead, I wish you were here, and I feel that perhaps
once you are dead, I will be merely walking again.
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