A Shadow Across Amber

The Crown Weighs Heavy

Bleys rounded the corner, packing his pipe and glaring at Corwin. Without pausing, a flame flared up just past the tip of his finger and he drew deeply.
“Random’s starting to lose it; this just isn’t right. Five kids of ours – ones we don’t know crap about – turn up out of the blue thanks to these blasted Trumps. And not only does he want us to drop everything and go find them, he wants us to give them ____ing gifts??? You can’t tell me that he isn’t getting soft.”
Corwin struck a match and lit his own pipe. “Just think about it for a second, man. Think of his kid. He feels guilty and he’s trying to make up for it. He’s been doing it for the past couple centuries with Martin and he still doesn’t know if it’s made any difference. Hell – I don’t even know and I’ve got my own son to worry about, too.”
“Yeah, exactly. Think of Martin. If he’d been around and coddled Martin like that, do you think he would’ve survived Brand’s attack. Of course not. It was because Random was a prick of an absentee father that jaded Martin and prepared him by making him not trust anyone.” Bleys passed another landing, a wreath of smoke swirling, agitated as his mood. “Face it – if Random had been there for Martin, especially back before he learned how to be responsible for himself and others, Martin would’ve bled out and the Pattern would’ve been toast and we’d all be bowing to Brand right now.”
“Bull____,” Corwin replied. “I won’t apologize for Random’s not being there when Martin was growing up – he made those choices. And learned from them. Martin survived because he’s a fighter. He’s tough and smart and lucky and he got a lot of that from his father, even if they didn’t have a house and a yard and a white picket fence. And sure – Martin still makes some bad choices; he wouldn’t be Random’s boy if he didn’t. But like his dad, he’s learning from those, too.”
At this, Bleys did pause a beat. “I hope you’re right,” he mused. “But giving favors – bribes – just sounds too much like the old favoritism and factions that got us into the old rivalries in the first place.”
Corwin reached a hand to his brother’s shoulder. “So maybe Random’s trying to put a little faith and trust in us – that we’ve gotten a bit mature under his reign. Stranger things have happened.”
“True, that. True, that.” He restarted their brisk pace, the echo of their footsteps suggesting they were drawing near the bottom. Another glare at Corwin: “Which reminds me – how come you and Merlin get to skip out on this Royal goose chase we’re so fortunate to have been volunteered for?”
Corwin raised an eyebrow. “Really? Would you be making this familiar hike down if you didn’t already know the answer to that?”
A smirk – “Probably not. Where the hell is Merlin, anyway?”
They made the level they sought, grabbed the key from the ring, and began walking down the tunnel, Corwin counting off doorways as though they weren’t burned into his memory. “He’s gone ahead in Shadow, trying to ride to my Pattern. It’ll take him a while, of course, to find it, but he’s got a much better chance than any of you and I’m needed here.”
Guards hadn’t been posted on this section since Eric’s reign. Most prisoners weren’t commonly held in the castle anymore anyway. Of course, Corwin’s plea to Random had also made sense; he was just glad that they hadn’t walled the whole thing up after all.
They reached his old cell; the door hung open and like the smells of the dank room, the memories flooded in, overwhelming his senses. The white-hot pokers, the humiliation, Rein’s kindness, the years spent wasting. He shuddered and it was Bleys’ turn to reach a hand out. But he said nothing, knowing no words to comfort and feeling anything else would be condescending.
At the touch, Corwin straightened up and regained his composition. They were here for a job, after all, not for musing over days better forgotten.
He held up the lantern as he and Bleys grew near. The light flickered along the wall and he was immediately able to locate the sketches Dworkin long ago carved into the stone using that sharpened spoon he was so grateful for. His eyes lingered over the lighthouse at Cabra – if only to be able to rest there again – to sail away from that immortal island and ride the waves under a carefree sky. But that was not in this future.
Bleys drew up beside him, incredulous that they still held up even after a score of decades of grime had assaulted the wall. He carefully wiped at the adjacent sketch and they began to concentrate. Soon, Dworkin’s long-abandoned study began to superimpose over the cell wall and, in unison, they stepped through.
As they began to work their way out towards the cave mouth, Corwin broke the silence. “So – you’ve made your objections clear. What are you going to do?”
Bleys’ familiar laugh drove away the last of the tension. “Find the child of my charge, give him whatever I find suitable, deliver him to Amber, smile, sit back and watch. I may not like what Random’s suggested, but he is my King and I am loyal to him and our dear City. We’ve butted heads on issues like this before and like it or not, he’s usually right. He’s been a damned good ruler – far better than any of us would’ve ever considered.”
The light from the entrance washed over them and Bleys doused the lantern. Stepping into the open glade, Corwin looked his brother over once more. “Ah – that explains it.”
“Explains what,” said Bleys in mock defensiveness.
“Would you have complained so much had Dad taken more of an interest in us? Given us a gift or two and taught us about Shadow and threats and such rather than pawning us off to our trainers?”
But he did not wait for an answer. Placing his foot at the entrance of the Primal Pattern, he began to order his mind against the challenges to come. He thought he heard Bleys respond, but maybe it was simply “Good luck, Brother.” Whatever.
They needed to determine whether Corwin’s Pattern was causing these new problems and that meant he needed to walk while Bleys stood back and observed. And neither of them could focus on the trivial matters of family and fatherhood any more. As the sparks began to rise up his legs he realized that, for once, he was sure that the familial squabbles of the past really didn’t matter all that much. All of reality was in jeopardy and it was going to take a Family united to keep things together.

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