Tuesday, February 08, 2011

A Thief In Amber - First and Very Rough Draft

Some people are hard to kill. I don’t mean the moral decision to kill, but the difficulty in getting someone to die, who is stubbornly opposed to the idea. Some people are hard to kill because they are physically tough, some have one of those spirits that refuses to quit, and some are just plain durable.

So imagine how much more difficult it can be to kill someone, who is already dead but comes back anyway.

It was in the early days, before all the betrayals and family intrigues … OK, we always had those going on, but this was back in the days when we still imagined that we played by the rules. You couldn’t attempt to murder a sibling then, without at least feigning innocence, and alliance with genocidal maniacs was only allowed if the said monsters were friends of Oberon.

So, when word got out that someone or something was making its way through the halls of Castle Amber at night, killing members of the staff and generally hurting the castle’s reputation for fine dining and keeping folks safe from threats to their safety, the family decided it was time to take matters in hand. And, being expected to take the lead, I did so.

Oberon, as he commonly did, was traveling and away from Amber. Caine and Gerard were at sea and therefore also unavailable. Dierdre and Llewellen on a diplomatic mission for the Golden Circle, Brand, Random and Eric were out of the city for reasons not known to anyone else in the family. That, of course, was also a reason for me to take charge; it would gall Eric no end if I could resolve things before he even heard about them … and give me no end of amusement if I could find a way to suggest he was somehow responsible for the problem. I was in those years when I was trying to show up everyone else, and convinced I looked good doing it. So it was that four princes and two princesses gathered for dinner, as we often did when we wanted to discuss issues of importance, and to imagine ourselves civilized.

The food was fine. The conversation, however, was wholly unsatisfying. It soon became apparent that none of us knew what was really going on, had any idea who or what was behind the attacks, and no one wanted to appear as helpless as we all felt.

After dinner, we all went to the library for drinks, and a second try at strategy. That fell apart as soon we chose our drinks. I watched as we chose different drinks, then different seats. Hell, we weren’t even looking at each other.

[Corwin in conversation with Fiona, in some mild disagreement]

‘ “Whereas wit is a bird that eludes the hand of rather too many princes.”

I shrugged. “Your disapproval concerns me even less than usual, Fi. All things considered.”

She tossed her head, read hair like a fall of flame. “Yet, perhaps it should. All things considered.”

I did things with my own eyebrows, emptied my glass, swung my boots down from the table, and headed for the door.

She chuckled, behind me.

I stopped, refrained from turning, and waited. Fiona could never resist showing the rest of us that she was a step ahead. Or pretending to be.

“You are wearing your blade,” she said. “Good.”

I went out, uttering no clever comments. With at least three murderous ghosts stalking Castle Amber, the time for such things was past.’

Hours passed, as I waited with blade drawn and senses wary, sitting in the hallway outside a row of rooms where I thought an appearance most likely by one or more of our homicidal specters.

I guessed wrong. The most dangerous thing to pass my way that night was an odor wafting from Julian’s room. I could pretend it was some feral scent from our nocturnal attackers, but I am sure it was simply the unwashed aroma of a pair of his dogs. In any case, I saw no spirits floating about, encountered no need to use my weapon, and generally felt like I was wasting my time.

Until I heard Flora scream. Down another hall, and far from my chosen station. Naturally. Or un-naturally. Whatever.

I felt damn foolish as I ran towards Flora’s room, hoping my missed guess would not be a costly mistake.

‘It was very late, or rather early, before one of the walls opened in a place where it should not have done, and something that was both silver and shadow joined me.

Grayswandir felt good in my hand as I put down what I was finished drinking anyway, and waited.

Patience, they say, is a chiefly a virtue for statues, but I’d made more than my share of mistakes, thus far, and blood is hell to get out of good rugs.

Came a whisper, out of darkness. “Corwin, is it time?” ’

A fight for my life, I expected. Temporal confusion from the spooks, I have to admit, I did not see coming.

‘And shadows fled before me, and I was alone.

My book was on the floor, blackened. Damn. I watched lightning flicker and wondered if I would ever know what I fought, or why. Family politics seemed as tiresome as ever.

Three ghosts, Benedict had said, and had been on the brink of saying more ere his face had smoothed and he’d turned away.

Which meant he’d recognized the one he’d seen.

So had the lamplighter, before the ghost that slew him caught up with him and burned his skull bare, from within.

Coln had died, before that, and one of the cooks. Seven maids, or more by now, since.

Then they started on us. Flora had almost fallen to one, and then Julian. Almost.

We’re tough meat, we of Amber.’

[ natt

er natter natter ]

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