Neither of us realized there had been  a  change until a halfdozen guys
tried an ambush.
     We had spent the night in the Dancing Mountains, Shask and I, where I'd
witnessed a bizarre game between Dworkin and Suhuy. I'd heard strange  tales
about things that happened to people who spent the night there, but I hadn't
had a hell of a lot  of  choice in the matter. It  had been storming,  I was
tired, and my  mount had become a statue. I  don't know how that game turned
out,  though  I  was  mentioned obliquely  as  a participant  and I'm  still
wondering.
     The next  morning  my blue horse  Shask and  I had crossed  the  Shadow
Divide 'twixt Amber and  Chaos. Shask  was a Shadow  mount my son Merlin had
found  for me  in the royal stables of the Courts. At the moment,  Shask was
traveling under the guise of a giant blue lizard, and we were  singing songs
from various times and places.
     Two  men  rose on  either  side of  the  trail  from amid  rocky cover,
pointing crossbows at us. Two more stepped out before  usone with a bow, the
other  bearing  a  rather  beautiful  looking   blade,   doubtless   stolen,
considering the guy's obvious profession.
     "Halt! and no harm'll happen," said the swordsman.
     I drew rein.
     "When it comes to money, I'm pretty much broke right now," I said, "and
I doubt any of you could ride my mount, or would care to."
     "Well now, maybe and maybe not," said the leader, "but it's a rough way
to make a living, so we take whatever we can."
     "It's  not a good idea  to  leave a  man  with nothing," I said.  "Some
people hold grudges."
     "Most of them can't walk out of here."
     "Sounds like a death sentence to me."
     He shrugged.
     "That sword of yours looks pretty fancy," he said. "Let's see it."
     "I don't think that's a good idea," I said.
     "Why not?"
     "If I draw it, I may wind up killing you," I said.
     He laughed.
     "We can take  it  off  your body," he  said, glancing to his right  and
left.
     "Maybe," I said.
     "Let's see it."
     "If you insist."
     I drew Grayswandir with a singing note. It  persisted, and the eyes  of
the swordsman before me widened as it went on to describe an arc  calculated
to  intersect with his neck.  His own weapon came out as mine passed through
his neck and continued. His cut toward Shask and passed through the animal's
shoulder. Neither blow did any damage whatsoever.
     "You a sorcerer?"  he  asked  as I swung again, delivering  a blow that
might have removed his arm. Instead, it passed harmlessly by.
     "Not the kind who does things like this. You?"
     "No," he answered, striking again. "What's going on?"
     I slammed Grayswandir back into the scabbard.
     "Nothing," I said. "Go bother someone else."
     I shook the reins, and Shask moved forward.
     "Shoot him down!" the man cried.
     The men on either side of the trail released their  crossbow  bolts, as
did  the other  man before me. All  four bolts from the sides passed through
Shask, three of the men injuring or killing  their opposite numbers. The one
from ahead passed through me without pain or discomfort. An attempted  sword
blow achieved nothing for my first assailant.
     "Ride on," I said.
     Shask did so and we ignored their swearing as we went.
     "We seem to have come into a strange situation," I observed.
     The beast nodded.
     "At least it kept us out of some trouble," I said.
     "Funny. I'd a feeling you would have welcomed trouble," Shask said.
     I chuckled.
     "Perhaps, perhaps not," I replied. "I wonder how long the spell lasts?"
     "Maybe it has to be lifted."
     "Shit! That's always a pain."
     "Beats being insubstantial."
     "True."
     "Surely someone back at Amber will know what to do."
     "Hope so."
     We rode on, and we encountered  no one else that day.  I felt the rocks
beneath me when I wrapped myself in my cloak  to sleep that night. Why did I
feel  them when I didn't feel  a sword or  a crossbow  bolt? Too late to ask
Shask  whether  he had felt anything, for he  had turned  to stone  for  the
night.
     I yawned  and stretched.  A partly  unsheathed Grayswandir felt  normal
beneath my fingers. I pushed it back in and went to sleep.
     Following my morning ablutions, we rode again. Shask was taking well to
hellrides, as  well as most Amber mounts did. Better, in some ways. We raced
through a wildly changing landscape. I thought ahead to Amber, and I thought
back  to  the time  I'd  spent imprisoned  in  the Courts. I  had  honed  my
sensitivity to  a very high degree through meditation, and I began to wonder
whether that, coupled with other  strange disciplines I'd  undertaken, could
have led to my intangibility. I supposed it might have contributed, but  I'd
a feeling the Dancing Mountains were the largest donor.
     "I wonder what it represents and where it came from?" I said aloud.
     "Your homeland, I'd bet," Shask replied, "left especially for you."
     "Why did you read it that way?"
     "You've been telling me about your family as we  rode along. I wouldn't
trust them."
     "Those days are past."
     "Who knows  what might have  happened  while you were away? Old  habits
return easily."
     "One would need a reason for something like that."
     "For all you know, one of them has a very good one."
     "Possibly. But  it doesn't seem likely. I've been  away for some  time,
and few know I'm free at last."
     "Then question those few."
     "We'll see."
     "Just trying to be helpful."
     "Don't stop. Say, what do you want to do after we get to Amber?"
     "Haven't made up my mind yet. I've been something of a wanderer."
     I laughed.
     "You're  a beast after my own heart. In that  your  sentiments are most
unbeastlike, how can I repay you for this transport?"
     "Wait. I've a feeling the Fates will take care of that."
     "So be it. In the meantime, though, if you happen to think of something
special, let me know."
     "It's a privilege to help you, Lord Corwin. Let it go at that."
     "All right. Thanks."
     We  passed through shadow after shadow.  Suns  ran  backward and storms
assailed us out of beautiful  skies. We toyed with  night,  which might have
trapped  a less adroit pair than us, found a twilight,  and took our rations
there. Shortly thereafter, Shask  turned back to  stone. Nothing attacked us
that night, and my dreams were hardly worth dreaming.
     Next day we  were  on our  way early, and I used every trick I knew  to
shortcut  us through Shadow on our  way home. Home... It did feel good to be
headed  back, despite Shask's comments on my  relatives. I'd no idea I would
miss  Amber  as  much  as  I  had. I'd  been away  far  longer  on countless
occasions, but  usually I had at least a rough  idea as  to when  I might be
heading back. A prison in the Courts, though, was not a place from which one
might make such estimates.
     So we tore on, wind across a plain, fire in the mountains, water down a
steep ravine. That evening I felt the resistance begin, the resistance which
comes when one enters that area of Shadow near to Amber. I tried to  make it
all the  way but  failed. We  spent that night  at a place near to where the
Black Road used to run. There was no trace of it now.
     The next day the going was slower, but, more and more, familiar shadows
cropped  up.  That night we slept  in Arden,  but Julian  did not find us. I
either dreamed his hunting horn or heard it in the distance as I slept;  and
though it is often prelude to  death and destruction, it merely made me feel
nostalgic. I was finally near to home.
     The next morning I  woke before sunup. Shask,  of course,  was  still a
blue lizard curled  at the base  of a giant tree. So I  made tea and ate  an
apple afterward. We were low on provisions but should soon be in the land of
plenty.
     Shask slowly  unwound as the sun came up.  I fed him  the  rest of  the
apples and gathered my possessions.
     We  were riding  before too long, slow  and easy,  since there would be
some hard  climbing up  the  back route  I favored. During our first break I
asked  him  to become once  more a horse, and he obliged. It didn't  seem to
make that  much  difference, and  I  requested  he maintain it. I wanted  to
display his beauty in that form.
     "Will you be heading right back after you've seen me here?" I asked.
     "I've been  meaning to talk to you about  that,"  he responded. "Things
have been slow back in the Courts, and I'm no one's assigned mount."
     "Oh?"
     "You're going to need a good mount, Lord Corwin."
     "Yes, I'm sure."
     "I'd like to apply for the job, for an indefinite period."
     "I'd be honored," I said. "You're very special."
     "Yes, I am."
     We were atop Kolvir that afternoon and onto the grounds of Amber Palace
within hours after that.  I found Shask a good stall, groomed him, fed  him,
and left him to turn to stone at his leisure. I found a nameplate, scratched
Shasko's name and my own upon it, and tacked it to his door.
     "See you later," I said.
     "Whatever, Lord. Whatever."
     I departed the stables and headed for the palace. It was a damp, cloudy
day, with a chill breeze from the direction of the  sea. So far,  no one had
spotted me.
     I entered by way of the kitchen, where there was new help on duty. None
of them recognized me, though they obviously  realized that I  belonged.  At
least, they returned my greeting with due respect and did not object to some
fruit I pocketed. They did ask whether I cared to have something sent to one
of  the rooms, and I answered "yes" and told  them to send a bottle  of wine
and a chicken along with it. The afternoon head chef--a redhaired lady named
Clare--began studying  me more closely, and more than once her gaze  drifted
toward the silver rose on my cloak.  I did not want to  announce my identity
just then, and I thought they'd be a little  afraid to guess ahead at it, at
least for a few hours. I did want the time to rest a bit  and just enjoy the
pleasure  of  being  back. So, "Thanks," I said, and I  went on my way to my
quarters.
     I started up the back stairs the servants use for being unobtrusive and
the rest of us for being sneaky.
     Partway up, I realized that the way was blocked by sawhorses. Tools lay
scattered  about  the  stairs though there were no workmen in  sight--and  I
couldn't tell whether a section of old stair had simply given way or whether
some other force had been brought to bear upon it.
     I returned, cut around to the front, and took the big stairway up. As I
made my way, I saw signs of exterior repair work, including entire walls and
sections  of flooring.  Any  number  of  apartments were  open to viewing. I
hurried to make sure that mine was not among their number.
     Fortunately, it  was  not.  I was  about  to let myself  in when  a big
redhaired fellow turned a  corner  and  headed toward  me.  I shrugged. Some
visiting dignitary, no doubt...
     "Corwin!" he called out. "What are you doing here?"
     As he drew nearer, I saw that he was studying me most intently. I  gave
him the same treatment.
     "I don't believe I've had the pleasure," I said.
     "Aw, come on, Corwin," he said. "You surprised me. Thought you were off
by your Pattern and the '57 Chevy."
     I shook my head.
     "Not sure what you're talking about," I said.
     He narrowed his eyes.
     "You're not a Pattern ghost?" he said.
     "Merlin told  me  something about them," I  said, "after he effected my
release at the Courts. But I don't believe I've ever met one."
     I rolled up my left sleeve.
     "Cut me. I bleed," I said.
     As he studied my arm, his gaze appeared more than a little serious. For
a moment, I thought he'd actually take me up on it.
     "All right," he said then. "Just a nick. For security purposes."
     "I still don't know who I'm talking to," I said.
     He bowed.
     "Sorry. I am Luke of Kashfa, sometimes known as Rinaldo I, its king. If
you are who  you say you  are, I  am  your nephew. My dad was  your  brother
Brand."
     Studying him, I saw the resemblance. I thrust my arm farther forward.
     "Do it," I said.
     "You're serious."
     "Dead right."
     He drew a  Bowie knife  from his  belt then and looked into my  eyes. I
nodded. He moved to touch my forearm with its tip and nothing happened. That
is  to say,  something  happened,  but  it  was  neither desired nor  wholly
anticipated.
     The point of his blade seemed to sink  a halfinch or so into my arm. It
kept going then, finally passing all the way through. But no blood came.
     He tried again. Nothing.
     "Damn," he said. "I don't understand. If you were a Pattern ghost, we'd
at least get a flare. But there's not even a mark on you."
     "May I borrow the blade?" I asked.
     "Sure."
     He  passed it to me.  I took it in my hand and studied it, I pushed  it
into my arm and drew  it along  for perhaps threequarters of an inch.  Blood
oozed.
     "I'll be damned," Luke said. "What's going on?"
     "I'd say it's a spell I picked up when  I spent  a night in the Dancing
Mountains recently," I replied.
     "Hm," Luke mused,  "I've never had the pleasure, but I've heard stories
of the place.  I don't know any  simple ways to break its  spells. My room's
off toward  the front." He gestured  southward. "If you'd care  to stop  by,
I'll  see what I can figure out about it. I studied Chaos magic with my dad,
and with my mother, Jasra."
     I shrugged.
     "This  is my room right here," I said, "and I've a chicken and a bottle
of wine on the way  up. Let's do the diagnosis  in here, and  I'll split the
meal with you."
     He smiled.
     "Best offer I've had  all day," he  said.  "But let  me stop back at my
room for some tools of the trade."
     "All right. I'll  walk you back,  so I'll know  the way  in case I need
it."
     He nodded and turned. We headed up the hall.
     Turning  the  corner,  we  moved  from  west  to east, passing  Flora's
apartments  and  moving  in the direction  of some of the  better  visitors'
quarters.  Luke  halted  before  one  room  and  reached  into  his  pocket,
presumably after the key. Then he halted.
     "Uh, Corwin?" he said.
     "What?" I responded.
     "Those two big  cobrashaped candle holders," he said, gesturing  up the
hall. "Bronze, I believe."
     "Most likely. What of them?"
     "I thought they were just hall decorations."
     "That's what they are."
     "The  last  time I looked  at them,  they  kind  of bracketed  a  small
painting or tapestry," he said.
     "My recollection, too," I said.
     "Well, there seems to be a corridor between them now."
     "No, that can't be. There's a  proper hallway just a little beyond--" I
began.
     Then I shut up because I knew. I began walking toward it.
     "What's going on?" Luke asked.
     "It's calling me," I said. "I've got to go and see what it wants."
     "What is it?"
     "The Hall of Mirrors. It comes  and goes. It brings  sometimes  useful,
sometimes ambiguous messages to the one it calls."
     "Is it calling us both, or just you?" Luke said.
     "Dunno,"  I  replied. "I  feel it calling me, as it  has in  the  past.
You're welcome to come with me. Maybe it has some goodies for you, too."
     "You ever hear of two people taking it at once?"
     "No, but there's a first time for everything," I said.
     Luke nodded slowly.
     "What the hell," he said, "I'm game."
     He followed me to the place of the snakes, and we peered up it. Candles
flared  along  its  walls, at either hand. And  the walls glittered from the
countless mirrors which hung upon them. I stepped forward. Luke followed, at
my left.
     The mirror frames were of every shape imaginable. I walked very slowly,
observing the contents of each one. I told Luke to do the  same. For several
paces, the mirrors seemed simply  to be  giving back what  was before  them.
Then Luke stiffened and halted, head turning to the left.
     "Mom!" he said explosively.
     The reflection  of an  attractive  red-haired woman  occupied a  mirror
framed in green-tinged copper in the shape of an Ouroboros serpent.
     She smiled.
     "So glad you did the right thing, taking the throne," she said.
     "You really mean that?" he asked.
     "Of course," she replied.
     "Thought you might be mad. Thought you wanted it," he said.
     "I did once, but those damned Kashfans never  appreciated me.  I've got
the  Keep now, though, and I feel like doing a few years' research here--and
it's full of sentimental values  as well. So as  long as Kashfa stays in the
family, I wanted you to know I was pleased."
     "Why--uh--glad to hear that, Mom. Very glad. I'll hang onto it."
     "Do," she said, and vanished.
     He turned to me, a small ironic smile flickering across his lips.
     "That's  one  of the rare  times  in  my  life  when  she's approved of
something  I've  done," he said. "Doubtless  for all the wrong reasons,  but
still... How real are  these things? What  exactly  did  we see? Was that  a
conscious communication on her part? Was--"
     "They're real,"  I said. "I don't know  how  or why or what part of the
other is actually present. They may be stylized,  surreal, may even suck you
in. But in some way they're really real. That's all I know. Holy cow!"
     From  the huge  gold-framed  mirror,  ahead  and to  my right, the grim
visage of my father Oberon peered forth. I advanced a pace.
     "Corwin," he said.  "You  were  my chosen, but you always had  a way of
disappointing me."
     "That's the breaks," I said.
     "True.  And  one  should not speak  of  you as  a child after all these
years. You've made your choices.  Of some  I have been proud. You  have been
valiant."
     "Why, thank you--sir."
     "I bid you do something immediately."
     "What?"
     "Draw your dagger and stab Luke."
     I stared.
     "No," I said.
     "Corwin," Luke  said.  "It could be something  like your proving you're
not a Pattern ghost."
     "But I don't give a damn whether you're a Pattern ghost," I said. "It's
nothing to me."
     "Not that," Oberon interjected. "This is of a different order."
     "What, then?" I asked.
     "Easier to show than to tell," Oberon replied.
     Luke shrugged.
     "So nick my arm," he said. "Big deal."
     "All right. Let's see how the show beats the tell."
     I  drew a stiletto from my boot sheath. He pulled  back his sleeve  and
extended his arm. I stabbed lightly.
     My blade passed through his arm as if the limb were made of smoke.
     "Shit," Luke said. "It's contagious."
     "No," Oberon responded. "It is a thing of very special scope."
     "That is to say?" Luke asked.
     "Would you draw your sword, please?"
     Luke nodded and drew a familiar-looking golden blade. It emitted a high
keening sound, causing all of the candle flames  in the vicinity to flicker.
Then I knew it for what it was--my brother Brand's blade, Werewindle.
     "Haven't seen that in a long while," I said, as the keening continued.
     "Luke, would you cut Corwin with your blade, please?"
     Luke raised his eyes, met my gaze. I nodded. He moved the blade, scored
my arm with its point. I bled.
     "Corwin--If you would...?" Oberon said.
     I drew Grayswandir and it, too,  ventured into  fighting song--as I had
only  heard it do on great battlefields  in  the past. The two tones  joined
together into a devastating duet.
     "Cut Luke."
     Luke  nodded and I sliced the  back  of  his hand with Grayswandir.  An
incision line occurred,  reddening immediately. The sounds from  our  blades
rose and fell. I sheathed Grayswandir to shut her up. Luke did the same with
Werewindle.
     "There's a  lesson  there somewhere," Luke said. "Damned  If I can  see
what it is, though."
     "They're brother and sister weapons, you know, with a certain magic  in
common. In  fact, they've a  powerful secret in common," Oberon said.  "Tell
him, Corwin."
     "It's a dangerous secret, sir."
     "The time has come for it to be known. You may tell him,"
     "All right," I said.  "Back in the early days of creation, the gods had
a series of rings their champions used in the stabilization of Shadow."
     "I know of them," Luke said. "Merlin wears a spikard."
     "Really," I  said. "They each have the power to draw on many sources in
many shadows. They're all different."
     "So Merlin said."
     "Ours were turned into swords, and so they remain."
     "Oh?" Luke said. "What do you know?"
     "What  do  you deduce  from the fact that  they can  do you  harm  when
another weapon cannot?"
     "Looks as if they're somehow involved in our enchantment," I ventured.
     "That's  right,"  Oberon said. "In  whatever  conflict  lies  ahead--no
matter what side you  are on--you will  need exotic  protection  against the
oddball power of someone like Jurt."
     "Jurt?" I said.
     "Later," Luke told me. "I'll fill you in."
     I nodded.
     "Just how is this protection to be employed. How do we lot back to full
permeability?" I asked.
     "I will not say," he replied, "but someone along the way here should be
able  to tell you. And  whatever happens, my blessing--which is probably  no
longer worth much--lies on both of you."
     We bowed and said thanks. When we looked up again, he was gone.
     "Great,"  I said.  "Back for less than an  hour  and  involved in Amber
ambiguity."
     Luke nodded.
     "Chaos  and Kashfa  seem  just  as bad, though,"  he said.  "Maybe  the
state's highest function is to grind out insoluble problems."
     I  chuckled  as we moved on, regarding  ourselves in dozens of pools of
light. For several paces nothing happened,  then a familiar face appeared in
a red-framed oval to my left.
     "Corwin, what a pleasure," she said.
     "Dara!"
     "It seems that my unconscious will must be stronger than that of anyone
else who  wishes you ill," she said. "So I get  to deliver the best piece of
news of all."
     "Yes?" I said.
     "I see one of you lying pierced by the blade of the other. What joy!"
     "I've no intention of killing this guy," I told her.
     "Goes both ways," Luke said.
     "Ah, but that is the deadly  beauty of it,"  she said. "One of you must
be  run  through  by the  other for the survivor  to regain that  element of
permeability he has lost."
     "Thanks, but I'll find another way,"  Luke  said. "My mom,  Jasra, is a
pretty good sorceress."
     Her laughter sounded like the breaking of one of the mirrors.
     "Jasra! She was one of my maids," she said. "She picked up whatever she
knows  of the Art by  eavesdropping on my work. Not without  talent, but she
never received full training."
     "My dad completed her training," Luke said.
     As she studied Luke, the merriment went out of her face.
     "All right," she said. "I'll level with you, son of Brand. I can't  see
any way to resolve it other than the way I stated. As I have nothing against
you, I hope to see you victorious."
     "Thanks," he said, "but I've no intention of fighting my uncle. Someone
must be able to lift this thing."
     "The tools themselves have drawn you  into this," she said.  "They will
force you to fight. They are stronger than mortal sorcery."
     "Thanks for the advice," he said. "Some of  it  may come in handy," and
he winked  at her. She blushed, hardly a response I'd have anticipated, then
she was gone.
     "I don't like the tenor this has acquired," I said.
     "Me neither. Can't we just turn around and go back?"
     I shook my head.
     "It  sucks you in,"  I  told him. "Just get everything you  can  out of
it--that's the best advice I ever got on the thing."
     We walked on for perhaps ten feet, past some absolutely lovely examples
of mirror making as well as some battered old looking glasses.
     A yellow-lacquered one on Luke's side, embossed with Chinese characters
and chipped here and there, froze us in our tracks as  the  booming voice of
my late brother Eric rang out:
     "I see your  fates,"  he said with a rumbling laugh. "And I can see the
killing ground where you are destined to enact them. It will be interesting,
brother. If you hear laughter as you lie dying, it will be mine."
     "Oh, you  always were  a great kidder," I said. "By the  way,  rest  in
peace. You're a hero, you know."
     He studied my face.
     "Crazy brother," he said, and he turned his head away and was gone.
     "That was Eric, who reigned briefly as king here?" Luke asked.
     I nodded. "Crazy brother," I said.
     We moved forward  and a slim  hand emerged  from a steel-framed  mirror
patterned with roses of rust.
     I halted, then turned quickly, somehow knowing  even before I  saw  her
who I would behold.
     "Deirdre..." I said.
     "Corwin," she replied softly.
     "Do you know what's been going on as we walked along?"
     She nodded.
     "How much is bullshit and how much is true?" I asked.
     "I don't  know, but I don't  think any of the others do either--not for
sure."
     "Thanks. I'll take all the reassurances I can get. What now?"
     "If you  will take hold of the other's arm, it will make the  transport
easier."
     "What transport?"
     "You  may  not leave  this hall  on your own motion. You will be  taken
direct to the killing ground."
     "By you, love?"
     "I've no choice in the matter."
     I nodded. I took hold of Luke's arm.
     "What do you think?" I asked him.
     "I  think  we should go," he said, "offering no resistance--and when we
find out who's behind this, we take him apart with hot irons."
     "I like the way you think," I said. "Deirdre, show us the way."
     "I've bad feelings about this one, Corwin."
     "If, as  you  said, we've no choice in the matter, what difference does
it make? Lead on, lady. Lead on."
     She took my hand. The world began to spin around us.
     Somebody owed me a chicken and a bottle of wine. I would collect.

     I awoke  lying in  what seemed a glade under  a  moonlit sky. I kept my
eyes half-lidded and did not move. No sense in giving away my wakefulness.
     Very  slowly,  I moved  my eyes.  Deirdre  was  nowhere  in  sight.  My
rightside peripheral  vision informed  me that there might  be a bonfire  in
that direction, with some folks seated around it.
     I  rolled my eyes to the left and got a glimpse  of Luke.  No one  else
seemed to be nearby.
     "You awake?" I whispered.
     "Yeah," he replied.
     "No one near," I  said, rising, "except  maybe for a few around  a fire
off to the right. We might be able to  find a  way out and take  it--Trumps,
Shadowalk--and thus break the ritual. Or we might be trapped."
     Luke  put a  finger into his  mouth, removed it,  and raised  it, as if
testing the wind.
     "We're caught up in a sequence I think we need," he said.
     "To the death?" I said.
     "I don't  know. But  I don't really  think we can escape this  one," he
replied.
     He rose to his feet.
     "Ain't the fighting, it's the familiarity," I said. "I begrudge knowing
you."
     "Me, too. Want to flip a coin?" he asked.
     "Heads, we walk away. Tails, we go over and see what the story is."
     "Fine with me."  He  plunged  his  hand  into  a  pocket,  pulled out a
quarter.
     "Do the honors," I said.
     He flipped it. We both dropped to our knees.
     "Tails," he said. "Best two out of three?"
     "Naw," I said. "Let's go."
     Luke pocketed his quarter, and we turned and walked toward the fire.
     "Only a dozen people or so. We can take them," Luke said softly.
     "They don't look particularly hostile," I said.
     "True."
     I nodded as we approached and addressed them in Thari:
     "Hello,"  I said. "I'm Corwin  of Amber and this is Rinaldo  I, King of
Kashfa, also known as Luke. Are we by any chance expected here?"
     An older man, who had been seated before the fire and poking at it with
a stick, rose to his feet and bowed.
     "My name is Reis," he said, "and we are witnesses."
     "For whom?" Luke said.
     "We do not know their names. There were two and they wore hoods. One, I
think,  was a  woman.  --We  may offer  you  food  and drink  before  things
begin..."
     "Yeah," I said, "I'm out a meal because of this. Feed me."
     "Me, too," Luke added, and the  man and a couple of his cohorts brought
meat, apples, cheese, bread, and cups of red wine.
     As we ate, I asked Reis, "Can you tell me how this thing works?"
     "Of course," he  said. "They told me. When you're  finished  eating, if
you two will move to the other side of the fire, the cues will come to you."
     I laughed and then I shrugged.
     "All right," I said.
     Finished dining, I looked at Luke. He smiled.
     "If we've got to sing  for our  supper," Luke said, "let's  give them a
ten-minute demonstration and call it a draw."
     I nodded.
     "Sounds good to me."
     We put aside our plates, rose, moved to the fire, and passed behind it.
     "Ready?" I said.
     "Sure. Why not?"
     We drew our weapons, stepped back, and  saluted. We  both  laughed when
the music began. Suddenly, I found myself attacking, though I had decided to
await the attack and  put my first energies into  its  counter. The movement
had been thoughtless, though quite deft and speedy.
     "Luke," I said as he parried, "it got away from me. Be careful. There's
something odd going on."
     "I  know," he said  as  he  delivered a formidable  attack.  "I  wasn't
planning that."
     I parried it and came back even faster. He retreated.
     "Not bad," he said, as I felt something loosened in  my arm. Suddenly I
was fencing on my own again, voluntarily, with no apparent control but  with
fear that it might be reasserted at any moment.
     Suddenly,  I  knew  that  we  were fairly free and it scared  me. If  I
weren't sufficiently  vicious,  I  might be  taken  over  again.  If I were,
someone might slip  in an  unsolicited  move at  the  wrong moment.  I  grew
somewhat afraid.
     "Luke, if what's happening  to you is similar to what's been  happening
to me, I don't like this show a bit," I told him.
     "Me neither," he said.
     I glanced  back  across the  fire. A pair  of hooded individuals  stood
among the others. They were not  overlarge and there was a certain whiteness
within the cowl of the nearer.
     "We've more audience," I said.
     Luke glanced back; it was only  with  great difficulty that I  halted a
cowardly attack as he turned away. When we returned to hard combat, he shook
his head.
     "Couldn't recognize either of them," he said. "This seems a little more
serious than I thought."
     "Yeah."
     "We can both take quite a beating and recover."
     "True."
     Our blades rattled on. Occasionally, one  or the other of us received a
cheer.
     "What say we injure each  other," Luke said, "then throw ourselves down
and wait for  their  judgment on whatever's  been accomplished. If either of
them come near enough, we take them out just for laughs."
     "Okay,"  I said.  "If you  can  expose  your left  shoulder  a bit, I'm
willing to take a midline cut. Let's give them lots of gore  before we flop,
though. Head and forearm cuts. Anything easy."
     "Okay. And 'simultaneity' is the word."
     So  we fought. I stood off a bit, going faster  and faster. Why not? It
was kind of a game.
     Suddenly, my body executed a move I had not  ordered it to. Luke's eyes
widened  as the blood spurted  and Grayswandir passed  entirely  through his
shoulder. Moments later, Werewindle pierced my vitals.
     "Sorry,"  Luke said.  "Listen, Corwin.  If you live and I  don't, you'd
better know that there's too  much crazy  stuff  involving mirrors  going on
around the castle.  The  night before you  came back, Flora  and I  fought a
creature  that  came  out  of  a   mirror.   And  there's  an  odd  sorcerer
involved--has a crush on Flora.  Nobody  knows his name. Has something to do
with Chaos,  though, I'd judge. Could it be that for the first time Amber is
starting to reflect Shadow, rather than the other way around?"
     "Hello," said a familiar voice. "The deed is done."
     "Indeed," said another.
     It  was the two cowled figures who had spoken. One was Fiona, the other
Mandor.
     "However it be resolved, good night, sweet prince," said Fiona.
     I tried to rise. So  did Luke. Tried also to raise my blade. Could not.
Again,  the world  grew dim,  and this time I  was  leaking precious  bodily
fluids.
     "I'm going to live--and come after you," I said.
     "Corwin," I  heard her say faintly.  "We are not as culpable as you may
think. This was--"
     "--all for  my own good, I'll  bet," I muttered  before the world  went
dark,  growling  with  the realization that I hadn't gotten to  use my death
curse. One of these days....

     I woke up in the dispensary in Amber, Luke in the next bed. We both had
IVs dripping into us.
     "You're going to live," Flora said, lowering  my wrist  from taking  my
pulse. "Care to tell me your story now?"
     "They just found us in the hall?" Luke asked. "The Hall  of Mirrors was
nowhere in sight?"
     "That's right."
     "I don't want to mention any names yet," I said.
     "Corwin," Luke said, "Did  the Hall of Mirrors  show up a lot when  you
were a kid?"
     "No," I said.
     "Hardly ever, when I was growing  up either," Flora said. "It's only in
recent  years that it's become  this active. Almost  as  if the  place  were
waking up."
     "The place?" Luke said.
     "Almost as if there's another player in the game," she responded.
     "Who?" I demanded, causing a pain in my gut.
     "Why, the castle itself, of course," she said.

_____________________________________________________________________

     Last modified 3/19/9

Популярность: 19, Last-modified: Mon, 22 Mar 1999 22:17:26 GMT