The last two short stories by Roger Zelazny had a lot of information which fills us in on many things, including the continuing conflict between the Pattern and the Logrus, Corwin’s role in the conflict, and the scale of sentience in Zelazny’s universe.
First, let’s look at ‘Coming to a Cord’. This story begins at the point at the end of ‘Knight of Shadows’, when Merlin discovers the spikard in Brand’s room that plays such an important role in ‘Prince of Chaos’. Keep in mind that point; that ring belonged to Brand, so we can consider it to be Brand’s estate, Luke’s property (as Brand’s son), or else we can call it Finder’s Keepers as Merlin has decided to apply the logic. At the end of ‘Knight of Shadows’, Merlin was even trying to think of a way to keep the ring and the sword Werewindle, but eventually concluded the sword belonged to Luke – or at least would be an appropriate gift for him. The ring is something that Luke may have a much more valid claim to than Merlin, yet Merlin never even mentions it to Luke until midway through ‘Prince of Chaos’, at which time Merlin clearly considers the ring to be his property. Hmm. We also see that Merlin is affected by a spell on or from the ring, and under that compulsion Merlin abandons Frakir and ties her to the bedpost of Brand’s bed. ‘Coming to a Cord’ picks up from that point, from Frakir’s point of view.
First off, we discover that the sentience granted to Frakir in its upgrade by the Logrus has continued; it was suppressed by shock when Merlin returned to normal spacetime conditions, but it has returned. Frakir is not happy to have been tied to the bedpost in Brand’s old quarters, but is surprisingly forgiving of Merlin. Also, Frakir informs us that the spell which took hold of Merlin was placed on the ring by Brand, a benevolent spell meant to help his son Rinaldo, whom we know as Luke for the most part. Frakir also confides to us that the swords Werewindle and Grayswandir are actually spikards which have been transformed into swords, which helps to explain their tremendous power and apparent sentience.
After freeing himself from the bedpost, Frakir searches for someone who can help her get in touch with Merlin. She finds her way to Flora’s room, and she agrees to help her. After unsuccessfully trying to reach Merlin through his trump, Flora and Frakir discuss the confrontation between the Pattern and the Logrus briefly, and Frakir decides to wait for a time in Flora’s room. When an intruder arrives – through the mirror – Flora is offended, then intrigued. We are not given a good description of the fellow, but the following exchange between Flora and this mystery character includes some interesting details:
"There are many legitimate ways by which you could have gained an introduction," she said.
"True, but that way might have led to horrible complications in my life."
"Oh, you're married."
"Worse than that," he said.
"No time now. I can feel its approach," he said.
"The guisel," he said. "I sent one to slay another sorcerer, but he disposed of it and sent one of his own after me. Didn't know he was that good. I don't know how to dispose of the things, and it will be oozing through that mirror in a matter of minutes, to destroy us all most nastily. So, this place being Amber and all, is there some hero available who might be anxious to earn another merit badge?"
"I think not," she replied. "Sorry."
Just then the mirror began to darken.
"Oh, it's coming!" he cried.
At this point the Guisel which our mystery sorcerer has sent after Merlin, and he defeated and sent back, enters the room and the dialogue between our characters is cut off. What does he mean, do you suppose, by being ‘worse than married’, and it’s interesting that our mystery guy can send a guisel off to attack someone, but is unsure what to do in defending against one. A little later on, the story describes the sorcerer as a “strange little man”, which is information we can use to start building a profile on him.
We also get some more interesting details when Luke enters the room and draws Werewindle. The sorcerer notes the blade and once he finds it’s Werewindle, asks:
"Your father--who was he?"
"Brand--Prince of Amber."
"Of course," the sorcerer said, moving again toward the door. "You can destroy that thing with it. Command it to draw energy while you're using it. It has a virtually limitless supply to draw upon."
"Why?" Luke asked.
"Because it isn't really a sword."
Note the focus on Brand, and the details this guy knows about Werewindle. Just to make sure that we readers get it, Roger has Frakir climb onto Luke so she can give him more information about his blade. Frakir advises Luke that
“You might well be able to draw enough energy through Werewindle to destroy a world.”
Hmm. Considering that in the first book of the Merlin Cycle, we find out that Luke is trying to avenge Brand’s death on Amber, this may not be a good thing. And looky looky, with Corwin carrying Grayswandir and Luke carrying Werewindle, we see a bit of balance restored between Order and Chaos. Wonder if that is as important as it seems?
The fact that the sword can draw that much energy is also a bit alarming, since being able to draw that much power is very different from being able to control it, hmm?
But Frakir is not done schooling us on Werewindle. As Luke continues to hack away at the guisel, Frakir gives him another tidbit:
It's not just a sword, I said.
"What is it, then?"
Long before there was Werewindle, it was the spikard Rawg.
"Spikard? Like that strange ring Merlin picked up?"
Among other things, interesting that this spikard had a name. Does that mean some or all of the others also had/have names? And names imply personalities – is this something else which will come into play?
Definitely a story worth plugging into the overall picture. And before I go on to “Hall of Mirrors”, let’s stop for a minute and consider other things we know about the new main villain, as this guy appears to be.
In the short story “The Shroudling and The Guisel”, Merlin’s childhood friend Rhanda reveals not only her secret race and abilities, but also gives us information on the mystery sorcerer, who plans to kill off his rivals become King of Chaos:
"There is the hidden one," she said. "I do not know his name to tell you, though I know you saw him in Suhuy's pool. I know his appearance,
Chaotic and human. I know that even Mandor considers him a worthy antagonist
when it comes to scheming. Conversely, I believe Mandor is the main reason
he removed himself to our realm. He fears Mandor."
So, our new villain is a short sorcerer whom Merlin saw in Suhuy’s pool, who has discovered the dimension of the Shroudlings, has broad knowledge of magic but it’s incomplete, especially in practical knowledge. He does not know Merlin well enough to have anticipated his response to the guisel attack, and he seems to be clever yet foolish. For instance, if he knew he needed to counter Mandor, he might have considered paying less attention to Flora, and more attention to Fiona.
Things to chew on, quite a few. But on now to the last of the short stories, “Hall of Mirrors”.
After reading the first two sets of books, many readers might be a bit bored b a story about the hall of mirrors. Subconscious visions, blah blah blah, secret histories and images you won’t find in normal conversations, sure whatever … ahh, but Roger has a new version of the Hall of Mirrors. We saw a hint of this change in the Hall, when Merlin encountered it in the Courts of Chaos, far from Amber Castle where he would normally expect to find the hall. In this story, the location is predictable, but there are other twists.
“Hall of Mirrors” picks up with Corwin a bit after “Blue Horse, Dancing Mountain” left off. In that story, by the way, Dworkin and Suhuy had both agreed that the Hall of Mirrors would hold important messages for Corwin, but Suhuy doubted he would be able to get there in time. At the end of that story, Corwin was beginning a hellride to Amber.
Having crossed the ‘Shadow Divide’ between Chaos’ shadowlands and Amber’s, Corwin and his mount Shask were ambushed by six bandits (we also learned in this story that Merlin found Shask in the Courts’ stables). What makes the incident of special interest, is a couple items. First, when Corwin draws Grayswandir, it makes a ‘singing note’, which continues to sound throughout the battle, which is brief, because of the second point – Corwin is unable to harm the man he strikes with the sword, and in return his attackers cannot harm him either – his weapon passes through the bandit, and the bandit’s weapon goes straight through him as well. On the other hand, some errant shots by guys with bows kill each other after passing harmlessly through Corwin and Shask.
"We seem to have come into a strange situation," I observed
Master of the obvious, our Corwin.
Corwin figures out that he’s not insubstantial, not exactly. It’s just that he can’t be harmed or harm anyone under his present condition. Corwin eventually comes to believe that the Dancing Mountains somehow caused his situation. Shask opines that it was probably someone in Corwin’s family, who caused the condition.
Roger hints that Shask may play an important role in things to come. When Corwin mentions that he appreciates Shask’s help and asks how he can repay him, Shask answers,
“Wait. I've a feeling the Fates will take care of that."
The rest of the trip to Amber is uneventful, and Corwin makes his way to the palace and the kitchen, where he grabs some fruit, then asks for a bottle of win and a chicken to be sent to his rooms.
On his way up to his room, Corwin sees some damage being repaired from the battle between the Pattern and the Logrus in ‘Knight of Shadow’. The back way being blocked, Corwin goes around to the main stairs and runs into Luke. Luke mistakes Corwin for his pattern ghost, but soon enough they sort things out about who each is, and they discuss Corwin’s situation. They agree to discuss things over the chicken and win Corwin ordered.
But they never make it to Corwin’s apartment.
[ next; concluding “Hall of Mirrors” and some speculations ]