Preface from _Pirate Writings_: This story takes up the second Amber
series where "The Shroudling and the Guisel" (which appeared in the
first issue of _Realms of Fantasy_) left off.  It shows the continuing
tale of Merlin's strangling cord, Frakir, while telling more about the
leftover guisel and the sorcerer responsible for the affair behind the
mirror.  Flora and the visiting Luke are drawn into the action.
     I have been using an occasional short story of late to tie up loose
ends I'd left hanging in previous Amber books and stories, as well as to
continue the overall narrative.  The first of these stories was "The
Salesman's Tale," featuring Luke and Vialle, which appeared in the
February 1994 (#6) issue of _Amberzine_, and the second was "Blue Horse,
Dancing Mountains," which will appear this Summer in the AvoNova
collection of gambling stories, _Wheel of Fortune_, edited by myself.
"The Shroudling and the Guisel" was the third Amber story, and "coming
to a Cord" is the fourth.
     So, if anyone has a burning Amber question, I suggest they send it
to me c/o AvoNova and I may be able to straighten the matter out in one
of these stories (I may not, also).  And to all you Amber fans, thanks
for hanging around for so long.
                         -Roger Zelazny
---------------------------------------------------------------

     It is no fun being tied to a bedpost when you are feeling under the
weather.  I phased back and forth between visibility and invisibility
uncontrollably.  On the other wrist, I felt my ability to communicate
beginning to return.  My increased sentience had remained with me ever
since my strange journey with Merlin in the place between shadows.  But
there was a shock on my return to this reality.  Slowly now, I was
recovering from it, though some of the symptoms were slower in going
than others.  Consequently, it took me much longer than it normally
would have to unknot myself.
     I am Frakir, strangling cord to Merlin--Lord of Amber and Prince of
Chaos.  Normally, too, he would never have abandoned me like this, in
the blasted apartments of Brand, late Prince of Amber and would-be Lord
of the Universe.  But he was under a mild spell Brand had actually left
about for his son Rinaldo.  However, Merlin has such a strong affinity
with Rinaldo--also known as Luke--by virtue of their long association,
that the spell latched onto him.  He must have shaken it by now, but
that still left me in an awkward position, with him doubtless back in
the Courts.
     I did not feel like waiting around with all the rebuilding and
redecorating going on.  They could decide to chuck the bed, with me
attached, and go for all new stuff.
     I finished unknotting myself.  At least Merlin had used no magic
when he'd tied me there.  On the other hand, it was a tight knot, and I
squirmed for a long while to get myself unlooped.  Finally, the thing
was loosened and I was able to undo it.  Once I had freed myself from
its subtle geometries, I slithered down the bedpost to the ground.  This
left me in a position to slip away, should a gang of furniture movers
suddenly appear.  In fact, it suddenly seemed a good idea to get out of
the fast traffic lane now.
     I moved away from the bed--out of Brand's room and into
Merlin's--wondering what had been the secret of that ring he'd found and
put on--the spikard thing.
     That it was extremely powerful and drew its energies from many
sources was obvious to a being such as myself.  That it seemed a thing
of the same order as the sword Werewindle was also readily apparent,
despite their varied forms to the eye of a human.  Suddenly, it occurred
to me that Merlin might not notice this, and I began to think that it
might be necessary he should.
     I crossed his room.  I can move like a snake when I would.  I have
no ability to transport myself magically like almost everyone else I
know, so I figured it were best to find someone who did.  My only
problem was that, in keeping with the family's general policy of
personal secrecy on everything from magic to souffle recipes, many of
them did not even know I existed.
     ...And for that matter I didn't know the location of their
apartments, save for Merlin's, Brand's, Random and Vialle's, and
Martin's--which Merlin sometimes visited.  Random and Vialle's would be
hard to reach, with all the work that was going on.  So I headed off in
the direction of Martin's rooms and slithered under the door when I got
there.  He had rock posters on most of his walls, as well as the
speakers for a magically powered CD player.  He, alas, was absent, and I
had no idea when he might return.
     I went back out into the hall and slithered along it, listening for
a familiar voice, checking under doors, into rooms.  This went on for
some time before I heard Flora say, "Oh, bother!" from behind a door up
the hall.  I headed in that direction.  She was one of the ones privy to
my existence.
     Her door was closed, but I was able to make my way beneath it into a
highly decorated sitting room.  She seemed in the process of mending a
broken fingernail with some sort of goo.
     I crossed the room to her side, maintaining my invisibility, and
wrapped myself about her right ankle.
     _Hello,_ I said.  _This is Frakir, Merlin's friend and strangling
cord.  Can you help me?_
     Following a moment of silence, she said, "Frakir!  What's happened?
What do you need?"
     _I was inadvertently abandoned,_ I explained, _while Merlin was
under the influence of a peculiar spell.  I need to get in touch with
him.  I've realized something he may need to know.  Also, I want to get
back on his wrist._
     "I'll give his Trump a try," she said, "though if he's in the Courts
I'll probably not be able to reach him."
     I heard her open a drawer, and moments later I listened to her
fumbling with cards.  I tried to tune in on her thoughts as she
manipulated them, but I could not.
     "Sorry," she said, after a time.  "I can't seem to get through to
him."
     _Thanks for trying,_ I told her.
     "When did you get separated from Merlin?" she asked.
     _It was the day the Powers met in the back hall,_ I said.
     "What sort of spell did Merlin get caught up in?"
     _One that was hanging fairly free in Brand's quarters.  You see,
Merlin's and Brand's rooms being next door to each other, he'd entered
out of curiosity when the wall fell during the confrontation._
     "Frakir, I don't think that was an accident," she said.  "One Power
or the other probably arranged for things to be so."
     _Seems likely when one thinks about it, Princess._
     "What do you want to do now?  I'll be glad to help," she said.
     _I'd like to find a way to get back to Merlin,_ I said.  _He's had a
general aura of danger about him for some time--to which I am
particularly sensitive._
     "I understand," she said, "and I'll find a way.  It may take a few
days, but I'll figure something."
     _All right.  I'll wait,_ I said.  _I've no real choice in the
matter._
     "You're welcome to stay with me till that happens."
     _I'll do that,_ I said.  _Thanks._
     I found a comfortable-looking table and wrapped myself about one of
its legs.  I went into stasis then, if one needs a word for it.  It is
not sleep, as there is no loss of consciousness.  But there is no
thinking in the conventional sense either.  I just sort of spread out my
awareness and _am_, until I am needed.
     How long I lay coiled in this position, I have no way of telling.  I
was alone in the sitting room, though I was aware of Flora's breathing
next door.
     Suddenly, she shrieked.  This time, I just loosened myself and
dropped to the floor.
     As I began hurrying toward the room I heard another voice.  "Sorry,"
it said.  "I am pursued.  I had no choice but to drop in without
invitation."
     "Who are you?" she asked.
     "Well, I'm a sorcerer," he said.  "I was hiding in your mirror, as I
have every _night_ for a long while.  I have this crush on you and I
like to watch you as you go about your business."
     "Peeping Tom--a voyeur!" she said.
     "No," he said.  "I think you're a really nice-looking lady, and I
like watching you.  That's all."
     "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.
     "What, then?"
     "No time now.  I can feel its approach," he said.
     "What's approach?"
     "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.
     I had felt the menace it exuded some time before.  But then, that is
my job.
     Now I got a glimpse of the thing.  It was big, and wormlike,
eyeless, but possessed of a shark-like mouth, a multitude of short legs,
and vestigial wings.  It was twice again the length of a human, and
black, having crisscrossing red and yellow stripes.  It slithered across
our reflected room, rearing as it came on.
     "You imply," Flora said, "in your quest for a hero, that it will
make it through that interface and attack us?"
     "In a word," said the strange little man, "yes."
     _When it does,_ I said to Flora, _throw me at it.  Wherever I hit
I'll stick--and I'll go for the throat._
     "All right," she said, "and there's one other thing."
     _What's that?_, I asked.
     "Help!  Help!" she cried.
     It began crawling out through the silver, flower-bordered mirror.
Flora unwound me from her ankle and threw me at the thing.  It had no
real neck, but I wrapped myself about its upper extremity below the
mouth and began tightening immediately.
     Flora continued to call out, and from somewhere up the hall I heard
the sound of heavy footfalls.
     I tightened my grip, but the creature's neck was like rubber.
     The sorcerer was moving to exit the room when the door burst open
and the tall and husky, red-haired form of Luke entered.
     "Flora!" he said, and then he saw the guisel and drew his blade.
     On my recent journey with Merlin in the space between shadows I had
gained the ability to converse at complex levels.  My perceptions--which
seem quite different--also became more acute.  They showed me nothing
special about Luke, the sorcerer, or the guisel, but Werewindle now
burned of an entirely different light.  I realized then that it was not
merely a blade.
     As Luke moved to position himself between Flora and the guisel, I
heard the sorcerer say, "What is that blade?"
     "'Tis called Werewindle," Luke replied.
     "And you are...?"
     "Rinaldo, King of Kashfa," Luke said.
     "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."
     "What is it then?"
     "Sorry," the sorcerer said, regarding the guisel, which was now
moving toward us.  "Out of time.  Got to find another mirror."
     I could tell that he was, unaware of my presence, really teasing
Luke, because I had figured it out for myself and knew it would take
only a moment to tell him, if one could speak.
     Then I was disengaging and dropping as fast as I could, for Luke was
swinging Werewindle, and I'd no desire to be severed.  I really did not
know what would happen if this were to occur--if both segments would
wind up as wise, witty, and conscious as myself; or, perhaps, whether I
would be destroyed in the process.  And having no desire to learn this
information firsthand, flight seemed most prudent.
     I hit the floor before the blow fell.  A section of the guisel's
head also dropped, still writhing.  I squirmed toward Luke's nearest
ankle.  Flora picked up a heavy chair and brought it down on the thing's
back with considerable force, despite her broken fingernail.  And she
swung it a couple of more times, with some effect, while Luke was in the
process of cutting it in half.
     I found my way to where I was headed, crawled up, and caught hold.
     _Can you hear me, Luke?_ I tried then.
     "Yes," he replied.  "What are you?"
     _Merlin's strangling cord, Frakir._
     Luke swung at the hind section then as it whipped toward him, tiny
legs clawing.  Then he whirled and halved the attacking forepart.  Flora
struck its rear end again with the chair.
     _I know what the sorcerer knew,_ I said.
     "Oh, what's that?" he asked, slicing off another section and
slipping on its gooey exudation as he retreated.
     _You might well be able to draw enough energy through Werewindle to
destroy a world._
     "Really?" he said, struggling to regain his feet as a section of the
creature thrust itself upon him.  "All right."
     He touched it with the point of his blade and it withdrew from him
as if shocked.  Then he rose to his feet.
     "You're right," he said.  "There's something to it."  He touched the
attacking segment again and it vanished in a burst of blue fire.
"Flora!  Get back!" he cried.
     She did, and he proceeded to incinerate the section that had been
about to attack her.  Then another that came at him.
     "I'm getting the hang of it," he said, turning to get another
segment.  "But I'm not quite sure why it works this way."
     _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?"
     _Exactly._
     With rapid moves then, Luke disposed of the rest of the guisel.
     "Thanks, Frakir," he said, "for telling me how the thing worked.
I'd better try a quick search for that sorcerer now, though I've a hunch
he disappeared into the nearest mirror."
     _I'd guess that, too._
     "What was his name?"
     _He didn't say._
     "It figures."
     "Flora," he continued, "I'm going to look for that sorcerer.  I'll
be back in a bit.  Good show."
     She gave him a smile and he departed.  Needless to say, the sorcerer
did not turn up.
     "Wonder where he came from, beyond the mirror," Luke asked.
     _I've no idea,_ I replied.  _I think I might be more interested in
the person who sent that thing after him._
     Luke nodded.
     "What now?" he asked.
     _I guess we tell Flora that her Peeping Tom has hit the road,_ I
said.  _You're a sorcerer.  Any way of fixing her mirrors so he can't
pull that routine again?_
     "I think so," Luke said, moving to the nearest window and looking
out.  "I'll fix them in just a bit.  What about you?"
     _I'd like to get back to Merlin._
     "I can't send you through by Trumps if he's in the Courts--and I
suspect he is."
     _What about Werewindle?_
     "I still don't know exactly how it works.  I'm going to have to
practice some with it."
     _Uh--why are you here?_ I asked.
     "Had to talk to Vialle about a number of things," he said, "and she
told me that Corwin might be by soon--and she offered me room and board
if I wanted to wait for him for a few days."
     _Well, if you can wear me till he gets here maybe I can persuade him
to take me with him.  I've a feeling he'll be seeing Merlin again soon._
     "I might, too, but it's hard to say at this point."
     _Okay.  We can work it out when the time comes._
     "What do you think is going on, anyway?"
     _Some horrible Wagnerian thing,_ I told him, _full of blood,
thunder, and death for us all._
     "Oh, the usual," Luke said.
     _Exactly,_ I replied.

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