These were my reflections on entering the dining hall. They were
not so eloquent in their presentation, being wordless impressions and
fleeting thoughts, nor can I be certain of the order in which they
occurred to me, nor attest to the completeness of my representation. What
I can say with surety is that my mood at the time can be glimpsed in those
words, and so they serve that purpose, at least. My frustrations were
great in both pitch and variety. I felt that no Realm had a place for me,
and yet I desperately wished to help them all. It is clear to me from
this vantage that I was indeed welcome nearly everywhere, but I desired
more than that; in my youthful conceit, I would not be happy without the
adulation to which I was used.
This lesson remained unlearned for many years, and so I indulged
in self-pity as Amber's enemies moved into the final stages of their
attack. They, of course, were the Hendrakes, and all of their supporters.
There were so many sides in that war, that I am not certain even at this
remove that anyone knows of all the alliances and plots that transpired.
What everyone agreed on was that you fought with Dara or against her. She
seemed to be the prime instigator of the hostilities, although there is
some controversy now as to how much control she really had. Various
apologists point to Arthur or to the Logrus itself as the real puppet
masters of the fighting. It cannot be denied, however, that she was a
traitor to Chaos, and that if she were being manipulated, it made no
outward difference in her behavior.
With me at that breakfast were three companions: Ariel, my loyal
familiar, securely held in the shell that served as both her home and the
buckle for my belt; Florian, the Helgram who had taught me to control my
curse; and what was left of my cousin Ahab, also residing in the shell.
Lest you imagine that my Helgram friend was any less unusual than the
other two, I should mention that he was then pretending to be my chair,
Benedict having already once impressed on us the undesirability of his
finding a Chaosite in the Castle at that time. Ahab's is a longer story,
but one that is so entwined in the dynamics of that period that it must be
rehearsed here for proper understanding of the events.
Ahab's mother was Deirdre, my aunt. Those who felt that she
needed a male to breed were satisfied that Ahab's father had been Ramon, a
theory supported by the manner in which Corwin dispatched him. No one put
this together with Oberon's pointed remark about incest. Really. To this
day it is not public knowledge, although it is common. Myself, I heard it
from Lyss, sometime after the whole thing was moot. The point of this is
that we learned of Oberon's motivation for that pronouncement in the worst
possible way. In Rebma, incest is avoided for many reasons, not the least
of which is a certain level of respect. The big one, though, is the risk
of birth defects. What Ahab got was much worse, at least for his family.
His inbred affinity for the Pattern was so great that he could use it to
make anyone do his bidding. Even mental avatars like Fiona and,
presumably, Oberon, were unprotected. Anyone who had walked the Pattern
was his to command. It is a testament to his determined morality that he
did not turn this ability to his obvious advantage. I have not often
agreed with him, but I can respect such incredible restraint.
Others could not, most notably Arthur, whose tragedy is well
documented elsewhere. It is unclear whether he had played any role in the
early stages of the Hendrake revolt, but it certainly gave him what he
needed. Rather than allowing it to fall to the Serpent, the Unicorn (a
lovely lady, but only barely communicative) shattered the Jewel of
Judgment, spreading its shards throughout Shadow. Some of us felt that it
would be nice to collect them before Dara got them all, and so it was that
we followed one right into Arthur's trap. There is only one way into his
Shadow; a Trump will deposit you just outside, but you must traverse a
certain alley to gain entrance. We escaped with most of all lives, but
left much behind. Arthur had implanted his own consciousness in Ahab's
body by mechanical means, and had set in motion a chain of brainwashings
which threatened all of Amber. He also gained possession of the few
shards we had already collected, incidentally capturing Lyss, who had
retreated into the shards to prevent her disintegration in the absence of
Most of the psychic virus had been countered by the time of my
breakfast, although Corwin still marched on Amber with Dara's army. He
was soon to regain his senses, although his own forces were too much a
part of the Hendrake expedition to redirect so close to their original
goal. Ahab had returned from Kalevala in the body of Martin, who had been
Arthur's first victim. It had been decided that a small mission might
prove more successful, and Martin's experience in Kalevala, and Lord
Vetch's lengthy career as an assassin for the Chaos Crown, nominated them
speedily. So it was that Ahab was entirely disembodied. There was an
available body in which to place him, a Shadow bum who had recently housed
Martin, but it was thought by not a few that Ahab would prefer not to
experience such degradation. I was holding the plug when this mood became
prevalent, so I put him with Ariel for safe keeping.
It was not until I'd gotten seriously into breakfast that the plan
came to me. Amazed that I could prove of use, I consulted my chair for
validation. He agreed that the notion was ironic, but pointed out that if
he were to accompany me, I would provide for his protection. I can fight,
if need be, but I've never developed much of a liking for violence. I
suggested Usires, who reputedly had been raised a Viking, and had always
been amenable to my suggestions in the past. Florian accepted this, and
offered his choice as well.
"Perhaps," he said, "we should involve the Crown Prince. He's
supposed to be nearly invulnerable."
I nearly choked on my pastry. I believe it was a strudel.
"Mandor!" my brain screamed in appalled wonder.
"Oh, no! I'd not risk my own Prince," he sniffed.
I understood, and after a moment's thought decided that he was an
excellent choice, although there was much assistance which Mandor could
grant to us. There remained but one obligation before I could proceed
with my arrangements. Before breakfast, Ariana had approached me to
retrieve Ahab's plug. She came armed with good rationales, and a touch of
moral indignation, essentially implying that I had welched on an agreement
by sparing Ahab the humbling experience of life as a bum. Personally, I
felt that he would only lose a few days experience if the plug were lost,
and miserable ones at that. Still, I didn't really care all that much,
certainly not enough to argue. Of course, her reasons seemed valid
anyway, but there was that sense that she had invented them to justify
some anger or other, and so I had told her to ask after I had eaten my
I removed Ahab's chip from my belt and folded it carefully into a
cloth napkin. On this I wrote "Lady Vetch," an appellation that was as
applicable as she herself despised it. Call me petty, but such small
pranks keep me from shoving my relatives off the battlements. A page was
dispatched to deliver my parcel, and I was free to begin. I Trumped my
sister, and she pulled me through to House Jesby.
In order to understand Constance's affection for me, one only has
to know that she was the heiress of Jesby before my arrival in Chaos.
This fact diminished her prospects significantly. The last time a woman
inherited the House, she had to marry Bartleby, my grandfather. He was
the only one stupid enough to take the risk. Jesby is not respected in
Chaos, or anywhere else that has heard of it. Its members are poets,
dreamers, and favorite victims of the Hendrakes. The House symbol is a
rabbit. Some have suggested, only half in jest, that it should be a
She greeted me warmly and went to arrange a meeting for me with
Mandor. I had just recently declared House Jesby as an open supporter of
Sawall, despite the fact that the Hendrakes were winning, so I had some
confidence that he would at least see me. I tried to make myself
presentable, but I've never really caught on to all of the subtleties of
Court fashion, and Constance finally made me concede defeat and just get
on with it.
Mandor accepted me into his presence and allowed me to tell him my
plan. He listened, I suppose, then asked if I were willing to enact my
thoughts. I could not answer immediately, being unable to discover a
polite way of asking him why else I would have come all this way. At last
I settled on a different truth.
"Your Highness, I cannot guarantee that I will be successful in
this endeavor, but I consider it to be too valuable an opportunity to
allow it to pass untried."
This seemed to meet his approval, for he agreed to provide maps of
the location and a breakdown of its spell theory. My thanks were profuse
and my retreat hasty. I found Florian practicing his ottoman in my rooms.
He didn't really go with the decor, but I have no great love for Flora's
conception of an aquatic theme anyway, so I let it pass. I filled him in
and left him there, while I sought Driscoll. Being Random's son, he was
sort of related to me twice over, once through Oberon and again through,
well, Random. Martin's mother, Morganthe, was my cousin, even though she
died before my birth. It's sort of a technicality, but the connection is
The last time I'd met him on any personal level, I'd thought that
I'd killed his brother. This was due to Martin's somewhat confusing
explanation of why he looked like a Shadow bum. Let's just say that I now
had a much fuller understanding of the data jacks, having been installed
with one courtesy of Arthur's science pals. I was eager to impress
Driscoll with my more courtly graces this time around. I did mention that
he was Random's son?
"Your Highness," I addressed him, bowing somewhat less lowly than I
had for Mandor. I had cast my lot with Chaos, after all.
He waved a hand dismissively.
"Drop the formalities," he said, or at least meant. I am used to a
denser medium for sound and tend to miss conversation when my head is
below my shoulders. My rushing blood drowns it out. "Have a seat."
I sat. Mandor would have been testing my etiquette, but most
Amberites haven't really learned how to sublimate their aggressions so
effectively, my mother and Flora being the notable exceptions. I gave
Driscoll my pitch, and he nodded and gave me his full attention. He
thought it to be decent enough, and went so far as to agree to participate
and still call it my game. Amateur. I decided to see how far I could go
with the subservient Crown Prince; call it a weakness of mine, but when
people make asses of themselves I like to help. He conjured for me a pair
of bifocal spectacles, made a Hendrake costume for himself, and promised
to provide for the others as soon as I gathered them. It was sad, really.
I vowed never to take such easy advantages again, but we all know the
strength of my resolutions.
My next object on leaving Driscoll was to Trump Shard. This came
from no especial desire to talk to him, but because I had no Trump of
Usires. Shard wasn't bad, not for Julian's son, but I had little use for
his precious forest, and did not know him well enough to ask him to invade
Chaos for me. Why that mattered with him and not the Crown Prince I still
don't know. Shard looked resigned when he found out that I wasn't really
calling for him, so I changed my mind and invited him along. He didn't
really commit to the cause then, but I couldn't blame him. I was getting
sick of repeating myself and wouldn't tell him anything until we found
Usires. Shard knew right where he was, since he'd been avoiding the spot
for fear of conscription. I saw my large friend wrestling poles into
place for the battlements and decided he'd be happier killing Hendrakes.
I have mentioned my aversion to violence, but I believe that I've
also recorded the Hendrakes' lust for Jesby blood. Normally, I swear that
I'm as harmless as a, well, a Jesby. I hate the thought of destroying a
life over a conflict of interest. There is always a way to resolve
matters peaceably, and I do not consider myself naive for believing so.
The thought of Hendrakes hunting my family for sport just gives my brain
the bends, though. I have tried to hate myself for what we did to them,
but damn it felt good and just!
I was talking to Usires.
"Dara approaches with her army. Now would be the ideal time to
attack her home."
The barbarian watched me warily. He'd done a remarkable job of
assimilating into our family.
"Why would we want to do that?" he asked me.
Shard thought he saw my point, and maybe he did. It sure sounded
good, whatever it was.
"A flanking maneuver," he said, nodding sagely. Usires joined him,
but he still had his doubts.
"With the extra bonus of retrieving Merlin and Rinaldo," I added,
just so we'd all be on the right mission.
Shard pretended he knew that. Of more importance, the big guy had
crossed over to my side. He liked Rinaldo, for reasons which remain
obscure. It probably had something to do with alcohol, a means by which
the Viking acquired many pals. Except for me, of course. Our parents
share information, or something, so we were encouraged to play nicely. So
I had him at last, but we still needed to agree on terms.
He looked back at the construction to which he'd been assigned.
It was apparent that he found it distasteful. He turned back and nodded
"I will go with you. I would prefer action to this."
Silly me, I had thought we were done. He indicated that we had
more to discuss by raising me a few feet off of the ground.
"You will not abandon us this time?"
Sometimes a question just has the feel of command. I agreed to
his conditions as best as I was able, given the circumstances. Shard was
grinning at me from somewhere behind me. I could just tell.
"An unfortunate misunderstanding," I managed to gasp. There was a
tremendous pressure on the back of my neck. I missed Rebma very much
He glared at me.
"Really. I had no idea he'd pull me through. It won't happen
He seemed satisfied for the moment, but I had the feeling that he
would remember his anger at some future time when he had not such pressing
need for relatives. I straightened my clothes as I resumed my
acquaintance with the ground. That tenuous relationship renewed, I
withdrew a Trump from my deck.
"Let's go," I said. Then, because I probably shouldn't have, I
added, "If that's okay with you."
Usires scowled, but moments later we proceeded to Driscoll's room
from the main hall. I left them there to their Crown Prince's tailoring
while I retrieved Florian. Nobody questioned his presence, or even his
name, as I recall. He and Driscoll established a rapport of sorts, and I
used the opportunity to fill in the others. We would arrive at a spot
selected for its concealability, as well as its closeness to Daraways.
The Amberites, in the garb of Hendrakes, were to escort me to Dara's
guards, where we would distract them until Florian could overpower them
with his mind. I stopped there, figuring that the rest of it would only
So it was that shortly thereafter, I was marched into Daraways, my
relatives as captors and my friend as a shadow. Shard, being the actor,
delivered a superb bit of bluster to establish their credentials as
authentic cretins. As he concluded, I went into my role.
"Oh," I said, with heartfelt scorn (only the confidence was
illusory), "so you're all Hendrakes. Isn't that a contradiction in
As the two guards were trying to figure out to what I was
referring, my compatriots maintained their cover with excessive zeal. I
had underestimated two things in my plan so far: the Prince's pride and
the Viking's grudge. Bruised, and now genuinely annoyed, I continued.
"Hen? Drake? They're opposites, or hadn't you noticed?"
I collected more abuse while they realized that the Jesby was
maybe insulting them. I decided to be a little more blunt, before my pals
finished me off for them.
"Are you all hermaphrodites, or what?"
Amazingly, they got that one, and as they reached for me, my
backup threw me in their path. The one I hit froze just before contact.
The other's head passed me on the way down. I got back up, just to
demonstrate that they hadn't hurt me much. Usires was frightening content
as he wiped the blood off his ax. Florian had just finished turning his
boy into a gargoyle. They decided to hide the other in a similar manner
before his body cooled. I know some really disgusting people. I let them
finish before I started to complain.
"See, the point was to mind-control them so that they could get us
inside." Not to mention their usefulness in finding traps.
"I don't have that sort of finesse," he said simply.
I held back my thoughts on that subject, out of respect for what
he could make me into.
"Anyway," he added, "one's still alive."
I touched the larger statue and tore through its mind. When I
found what I was after, I didn't know whether to laugh or to be very, very
frightened. I stood before the doorway and recited the password as though
it were worth voicing.
I don't know what made me pop the Xeno, but I thank that paranoid
compulsion most sincerely, for I believe that it saved my life right then.
The bolt stopped within an inch of my heart, and in the bizarre starlight
of Chaos I watched its tip glint wetly. After I stopped shivering, I
plucked it from the air and resolved to use it on the next Hendrake I saw,
just to see what it would do. This affair landed me the point position.
At least the Xeno would prevent anyone from stabbing me in the back.
I took out the bifocals and slipped them on. They were
uncomfortable in the way that all sensations are when unfamiliar. The
transition from living under the water to above it was much worse. The
first thing I'd done on arriving outside Daraways had been to tell the
others to bide. The second was to cast a spell. Other sorcerers have
various means to investigate magic residue, whether through extra senses,
Pattern, or Logrus. I've never figured out how to accomplish these
things. The best I can do is to send out waves of magical energy and
"read" the interference grid, a sort of sorcerous sonar. There are a few
problems attendant to this. One is the volume of information, too much to
categorize every resistance pattern. Generally, I edit the spell to
filter indecipherable signals. This actually adds to the casting time. A
second inconvenience is that the information is available only so long as
I stay still and concentrate. For a mission like this, I could easily use
this spell six times, if all went well. Ariel can only rack up to twelve.
We've already discussed to usefulness of Xeno's Target.
My solution was to spend a lot of time on a variant of my Blood
Mapping spell that I could use to enchant the pair of bifocals. The top
half of the lenses showed the disruptions on a broad scale, and the bottom
allowed a somewhat more confined view for delicate observations. This
saved room for other spells and left me free to shift my attention at
will. Since the flow of magic is only diverted by stronger forces, I
could effectively see concentrations of power through solid objects. For
instance, standing in Dara's foyer I could see that one Amberite was on
the second floor, and another several levels below ground level.
At the top of the stairs, Florian surprised me by gesturing for me
to wait. He turned sort of invisible, although he'd fail any close
inspection, and proceeded down the hall. Moments later he came back with
mixed news. Two more guards stood outside the room I figured held our
first Amberite. I cast a Xeno each on Shard and Usires and sent them to
clear the way. Shard sent an arrow flying down the hall, Usires his ax,
and both hit their marks. Usires' target hadn't quite given up his ghost
though, so I took the chance to make myself look stupid.
"Know before you die," I told him, "that a Jesby bested you."
His eyes widened in dismay and Usires dispatched him. I felt no
bigger for it, but I felt no smaller either, so at least it hadn't cost
me. Shard and Usires decided to hide the bodies, since the evidence of
our passing was becoming more blatant. In addition to the two guards,
there was a servant back at the top of the stairs. I don't know why I
forgot about him, unless it was from some vestige of guilt. It's hard to
blame servants for the attitudes and actions of their masters; it's harder
to remember having killed one for being in the wrong place. They just
don't seem to matter, either way. I take the time now to recall him and
all of the multitudes who die unnoticed through our efforts. I resolve
again to discover what secrets are hidden behind the obscure faces of
At the time, though, I turned to a minute study of the doorway.
It was a long time which I spent there, following threads of the spells
that Dara had woven in the elegant web which held fast one of our missing
brethren. I had thought myself a clever sorcerer, before being confronted
with such intricate crafting. As I followed fruitless avenues of
connections, I wondered at the mind that was so naturally devious as to
exert itself so much for such a simple task. All this effort she put into
securing this portal in the heart of her power, and she would crash it
with a word or gesture when she was through with it. It was for this key
that I sought. Somewhere in the serpentine construction of magic was an
empty place where a dispel phrase fit in, or such was my hope. If I could
just locate that hole, it would be relatively simple to mold the piece
which fit. Of course, given the fanaticism of her spell execution, she
may just waste the energy on a five-hour spell to neutralize her work.
I can attest to neither the time which passed, nor the events
which transpired, with any accuracy during this period. I became lost in
the labyrinth of her precision. Could I ever hope to be so enslaved to
the perfection of my casting to create such a beautiful piece of art? For
art it was, and beautiful as well, in all the ways which such things
generally are. Its vastness was sublime, and shrank within its boundless
environs; and for all of its might, it was as fragile as silence, for the
application of one element would destroy it forever; and lastly, it was
too cumbersome to be practical. The spell showed more paranoia in its
weight than it did measured skill, and I doubted that it was created
devoid of strong emotion.
It did not surprise me, therefore, to discover that the prisoner
so contained was none other than Merlin, her son. (No, I'll not share the
dispel; it is better that you retain the impression of its magnificent
construction, and nothing would destroy the illusion more quickly than the
key to its vanishing. Dara's taste for somatic components has already
been glimpsed.) What did startle me were sheepish visages of my
companions, or rather of the three that remained. While Driscoll attended
to Merlin, and Shard looked away, Florian admitted with some embarrassment
that Usires had been snared by none other than our friend Arthur, and that
his attempt to capture the villain had been somewhat less than a success.
Badly shaken, I went to see how my large friend fared. I chastised myself
for forgetting the man's vain revelation that Dara was in his pocket.
Somehow, I had expected him to stay in Kalevala, but it seems obvious to
me now that he would revel in his new freedoms. Daraways was an obvious
attraction for him, being thrillingly deep into Chaos and yet well
fortified against all possible opponents. Such as we.
Usires was standing sulkily in the hallway. He glared at Florian,
causing me to note the bruise on the Chaosite's cheek. Rather large, it
was, far too big to have been Ahab's hand. I let it pass for the moment.
A few questions revealed that Arthur had commanded Usires first to never
attack him, and second, upon noticing Florian's approach, to stay put. It
remained unclear whether the prior command applied to Ahab, Arthur, or the
gestalt. Time was beginning to collapse around us, however, and the only
question of importance was that of Rinaldo. If we could save him, then
Brand had promised his assistance, which would help us immensely. The
problem was that our adversary had doubtless gone to rally a death squad
to eliminate us. He might have gone to warn Dara, or to a million other
sources, but it was inevitable that an attempt would be made to rout us.
The only unknown factor was how much time we would have and need. If the
differential worked to our advantage, it might be a day or so before his
return. Or it might be a few moments.
I told Florian to summon his brothers. Not only would this
strengthen us against Arthur's ability, but they were variously masters of
combat and extraction. While he did that, I used one of my prepared
teleports to send Usires to Amber, where hopefully someone would repair
him. He was no longer useful here, and I had no wish to abandon him
again. I just hoped that he wouldn't be angry at me for what was, after
all, his own mistake.
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