Steed's Tale -
"Corwin's Pattern In Jeopardy"
Journal of Prince Major Jonathan Steed of Amber:
Based on a Scenario by Stratton Liberty - 1994
Written by: R. Cal Westray, Jr.
Steed's history was written in 1994.
"Extraordinary crimes against the people and the state,
need to be avenged by agents extraordinary..."
Mother: Flora of Amber
Grandmother: Dybele (deceased) Grandfather: Oberon (deceased)
Great-grandmother: Unicorn Great-grandfather: Dworkin
Personal History Time Line:
Time conversion: 4 Amber yr. = 10 Earth yr./4 Earth yr. = 1.5 Amber yr.
>Ages 0-10: (1922-1931) (2369-2372 d'L)
Born Jonathan Steed, on February 6, 1922.
Shadow Earth: in Berkshire, England.
>Ages 11-14: (1932-1935) (2373-2374 d'L)
Shadow Earth: Boarding school in Winchester, England.
Amber: Walked the Pattern at 12.
>Ages 15-18: (1936-1939) (2375- 2376 d'L)
Shadow Earth: Eton College, student.
>Ages 19-28: (1940-1949) (2377-2380 d'L)
Shadow Earth: British Royal Navy, title Major.
>Ages 29-32: (1950-1959) (2380-2384 d'L)
Amber Army, title Major.
>Ages 33-50: (1960-1977) (2385-2390 d'L)
Shadow Earth: Ministry of Intelligence, independent agent.
>Ages 51: (1978-1979) (2391 d'L)
Return to Amber after the Patternfall War ended.
Episode A1-1 - Feral Strangers
In which Steed is met by strangers
... and Mother has a gift.
I have been lost in thought all morning, studying this treatise on Medieval Warfare, "The Hundred Years War" by Desmond Seward. A fascinating account of war between England and France, the type of warfare that Uncle Benedict thrives upon. I found it to be a massive waste of human life, but the England I grew up in sprang from this history and other wars were just as brutal.
I get up from my black velvet sofa, to stretch my legs and set the book down on the bookcase. In the next room I can see the light from the windows over my bed. It looks to be a little after noon. Enough relaxation for now, I grow restless for some fresh air.
I can get a little riding in before the evening meal at the Great Hall. Maybe a quick stop for a drink at Bayle's Place in the uptown side of Amber, next to the Unicorn Shrine, then back again in time for dinner. It will take just a couple minutes to get into riding gear, pop off down to the stables, and I'll be off.
I usually wear my black three-piece wool tweed suit, with black silk tie, Oxford cloth dress shirt, black socks, and low black boots. My riding gear is very similar to my pedestrian clothing. I wear high riding boots and a loose fitting jacket. I check myself in the mirror in the bedroom opposite the clothes cabinet, nearly done. From the wall next to the mirror, I take down my traveling weapon. I better wear my sabre, it just wouldn't do to go anywhere unarmed.
Well, to be honest, I am rarely unarmed as long as I have my bowler and umbrella. I tap my forehead with my hand. My bowler responds by revolving on the golden oak roll top desk and falls to the floor with a metallic ring. Like a wheel, it rolls in my direction to stop by my feet at my side and then spins like a top, at heel like a faithful hound. I reach down and pick it up. Dusting it off, I put it on and tap it into place.
Next to the desk, is the umbrella stand. There are several there, but only one that I use. The 'brolly' I use is a special one. An anti-clockwise twist of the handle releases the enclosed blade of my sabre Shadowveil. I withdraw a few inches of the double-edged blade, exposing the design on the side. It crackles with energy and I click it back into place with a clockwise twist. It is a beautifully subtle weapon that I prefer to keep hidden.
That is why I wear the sabre with the scabbard, I can use it as well as any blade. There is no reason to draw Shadowveil, unless needed for serious encounters.
On the bookcase, filled with historical and heraldry tomes, I pick up a white Carnation and pin it to my lapel. It is a favor from a very special relative. It stays eternally fresh and is a constant reminder of her presence. It also provides a limited form of invulnerability.
To the left of the door is the black velvet couch. The wall above the couch and bookcase, is a collection of paintings that I am rather fond of. They are paintings by Rene' Magritte. A Belgian surrealist painter, who created some unique paintings of gentlemen wearing suits and bowler hats. I have the originals from one Shadow Earth, who will most assuredly miss them. In another Shadow Earth, it was I who was the model for many of them.
I leave the resplendently decorated room and lock the heavy oaken door.
I look down the well lit halls and see no one. To the right is a dead-end and top the left is the way to the stairs. Paintings, tapestries, mirrors, weaponry, and statues line the halls of the castle. I walk straight down the hall and to the stairs. Upstairs, King Random and Queen Vialle's quarters are near the Tudor balustraded stairs, where guards are posted everywhere.
I doff my bowler to the guards as I pass them to descend the stairs, my quarters are on the second floor. I step onto the floor of the main hall. Paintings, tapestries, and other works of art line the hall. The entryway to the Great Hall has large vases on both sides of the door, Grecian urns to be precise. The decorations and architecture, at times, seem to be a trifle over done.
I see my portrait opposite the entryway to the Great Hall. It is directly under an elder of Amber, my mother Flora. A beautiful lady of perfect features with the coolest of blue eyes, wearing a gown green as the sea. As described by Uncle Corwin: her long hair and low bangs, all of a cross between sunset clouds and the outer edge of a candle flame in an otherwise dark room. He knows so well how to turn a phrase. In mother's portrait, she has her Irish Wolfhounds at her side. They are well trained and extremely nasty.
Both portraits were done when I entered the Amber Army, serving under Benedict, by some young artist. A rather talented lad, whose name escapes me, who was kept busy for many months by mother to do endless portraits. She has many names from her centuries of living on Shadow Earth. She is also known as Florimel, by my Uncle Corwin.
Flora is the most possessive, irritating, demanding, manipulative, calculating, and fastidious person I've ever met. Regardless, I love her dearly.
She is always keeping secrets from me and constantly pestering me about any secrets I have. It is our main sport. Some secrets have been considered forbidden topics many years ago. The main one is about my heritage. You see, I haven't a clue who my father is. It is also a matter of pride that I don't ask the other relatives for help. My secret is my relationship with the Unicorn of Amber and how I met her. As long as she keeps her secret, I keep mine. I get my stubbornness honestly.
There is very little activity around the Hall, mostly staff preparing for the evening feast. Guards are posted at various places along the hall. I make for the main entrance, doff my bowler to the guards, and take my leave of Castle Amber.
A brisk walk to the right side of the castle, along the fragrant floral lane, around to the equally fragrant stables, and to '3 Mews'; the stalls where my horses are. It is a private little joke. My Westminster apartment on Shadow Earth in London, England is '3 Stable Mews', so my stable's address is '3 Mews'. To be fair, I didn't say it was a good joke, just a private little one. In the stalls are my rare Andelusian horses. One, is a beautiful golden-brown Bay mare. As I approach, she neighs mirthfully and starts prancing restlessly.
"Andrea, my dear, anxious for a little ride? Indeed you are." I hold out a couple of sugar cubes, that she greedily munches. It is time to prepare her for a ride. The saddle blankets are draped over the railing between the stalls. Taking the top two blankets, I drape the recently cleaned wool pads over Andrea's back, smoothing them into place. I take the English style saddle from the stand and position it on her back over the pad, making sure the leather of the flap and panel doesn't make contact with her hide. Now to comfortably adjust the girth around her belly to hold the saddle in place.
The bridle is hanging on the wall of the stall. The bridle was recently adjusted to fit comfortably on Andrea. It slips on easily and the bit fits well in her mouth. I can tell that she detests the bit, it seems that most horses do. However, she tolerates it just to get a chance to ride. The reins drape across her withers, in front of the saddle's pommel.
The stable groomsman did a fine job of grooming her with the currycomb. Her mane and tail have been curried and neatly trimmed. Her hooves have been recently cleaned as well. Ah, what have we here? The farrier has worked on her as well. The front hooves have new shoes, there is no wear on them like the back horseshoes. The stable master misses very little. He even did a fine job polishing the leather on the saddle. I can see myself on the flap and seat. The silver decorations and buckles are highly polished as well. A superb job, he is really dedicated to his work. I must thank him personally when I see him.
All set. I open the stall gate and lead her out with the reins. Close the stall, exit the stable, and close the door. I mount from the right side holding onto the rim of the pommel and reins with my right hand, the rim of the cantle with the left hand, and slip my right foot into the stirrup. Pulling myself up and over the saddle, I slip my left foot into the opposite stirrup. She moves readily as I get settled, anxious indeed. A gentle squeeze of the knees and she leaps forward. "Tally Ho, Andrea!"
She moves smoothly and silently down the road to the town of Amber. Time moves quickly and the distance seems insignificant to my mare. The wind is cool and comfortable. The sun is at it's peak. A lovely day for a ride, almost made to order. The only sound is the hooves on the cobblestones and the slapping of the sabre on the saddle flap.
Homes of dignitaries and noblemen, assorted trees, and countless shrubs line the roads to uptown Amber. The houses are tastefully done and constantly cared for by talented groundskeepers working the yards and carpenters working on the houses. Ornately designed carriages, smaller cale`che, and other horse-drawn vehicles are visible around many homes. Groomsmen and drivers are preparing the carriages for travel, possibly for a trip into town.
Fortunately, it seems I have the road to myself so far. Andrea keeps her head held high and snorts. In a few minutes, we are at the edge of town. We slow down as we pass the small tavern and she prances gleefully. She seems to be showing off for the locals, proud of carrying a gentleman of Amber, unlike the more common horses. Yes, she is definitely showing off.
"Good show, dear girl, let's give them a good view." I pat her neck and she seems to almost purr, a throaty neigh. A most uncommon of creatures.
Beyond the tavern, a ballroom and dance studio is on the right and the motel is on the left. The art gallery is past the motel and the council hall is past the ballroom. Peripherally, I see a horseman behind me. At the corner of the art gallery is a gentleman in a heavy gray cloak and green breeches. At the edge of the alleyway to my right at the ballroom is another gentleman dressed similarly.
Coming towards me is another horseman, wearing the same clothing. Very strange and heavy garb for such a comfortable day. My instincts are going off like Big Ben. My hand eases toward the hilt of the sabre. Steady, Steed. There is no obvious threat yet. Steady, old boy. Steady.
He passes my to my left and I see a glint of steel from a short broadsword. The two footmen move quickly, appearing unarmed. They have me surrounded, but no weapons are drawn yet. We are in front of the art gallery. There are escape routes ahead, behind, and to the left of the gallery.
"Are you Steed?" Inquires the horseman. His right hand at his side, his left hand holding the reins. I summon the image of the Pattern and examine my guests through it. The horseman looks normal, but the two on foot look a bit different. I startle with their almost feral image and glowing green eyes. My shock is brief.
"Why do you ask and who do I have the pleasure of meeting?" I inquire.
"Who I am is unimportant, I have a message for Steed of Amber." He is quite brief.
"Well done. You are very astute to have located him so efficiently. May we go to a place of privacy, say Bayle's Place? Maybe a little drink? I do so abhor carrying on business in the middle of a thoroughfare. Too many eavesdroppers, don't you agree?"
"Precisely, my thoughts. Shall we proceed?" He motions and his men lead the way to the stables to the left of Bayle's Place.
The stable is just on the other side of the Unicorn Shrine. As we pass it, I doff my bowler and sniff my carnation in reverence. To others, it seems as an affectation. However, it is done with deep respect.
We are met at the stable and our horses are stabled by the stable boy. A tallish slender lad with short cropped black hair. "Make sure she gets a bag of your freshest oats, laddie." I toss him a Crown Royal.
His jaw drops. "Yes, sir! I will personally give her a cleaning and rub-down while you are away, sir. She is a lovely creature, sir. Enjoy yourself, it will be a rare pleasure to care for her, sir." He leads her away. She is prancing again. I think she is fond of this boy. She so loves flattery.
The stranger's men have been busy. They are clearing the people out of Bayle's Place. This will cause quite a scandal at the Castle, when Random hears of it. We enter, the maitre'd looks distressed, he leads us to a table.
"A bottle of Napoleon Brandy, if you please, and a few glasses." I look at the stranger and incline my head. I place my bowler and brolly on the table in front of me.
"None for us, thank you. We don't drink. To the point, Steed, your father wishes to meet with you." He says levelly, observing my reaction. I try not to give him one.
There is an itch in the back of my neck. The beginnings of Trump contact. Not now, by the Unicorn, not now! Focus on the Pattern, concentrate Steed concentrate. The contact is too strong, I'm getting an incredible headache. I better open up to contact. Damn, where's that Brandy? "Yes, who is it?" My mind sees the image of the one I expected to contact me at the worst possible time. She is smiling.
"Steed, dear. Are you busy?" Flora, my mother. She is truly enjoying this.
"Yes, mother, can I get back to you?" I try to stay calm, my head is splitting.
"I suppose. Can I help with anything?" There is a definite smirk.
"No, mother. Just a private meeting, I will see you at dinner at the Great Hall later." After a drink and a few aspirins.
"Who are you meeting? What is it about? Are you sure I can't be of assistance?" She goes on interminably.
"Just some gentlemen who wish to negotiate some trade agreements and desire my influence. Nothing serious, it won't affect the Golden Circle Treaties. If there is a conflict of interest, I will route them to Random. They have nothing to bribe me with, so I am just their foot in the door, maybe. Nothing is certain yet. I will see you later, mother. Love."
I hope that is a smooth enough lie. A dear friend from Shadow Earth in England, once called me a genius at cribbing and coming up with quick lines. I have had to think on my feet and to try to stay one step ahead of mother. That is more difficult than it sounds with mother.
"All right dear, I will see you later then. Love." Contact closes.
I look around, the strangers have me surrounded. They are wondering why I went silent. "Gentlemen, I was momentarily distracted. Where are my manners? How about that Brandy, are you sure? Now, what did you say about my father?" My head is throbbing, thank you very much, mother.
"Thank you, no. Your father wishes to meet with you. Before I arrange it, he wants to know if you wish a meeting as well." He is studying me as his companions move back to the door.
"Pity. Certainly, my good man, when can I meet him? How is the old boy? It has been a long time."
"The meeting will be arranged for the same time tomorrow, here Steed. You can ask him yourself. We must leave, now that the arrangements have been made. Good day, Steed."
"Good day then, lads." Not very civil of them, not to stick around for a Brandy. They left rather in a hurry. The place is empty, except for the maitre'd. "Brandy, please?"
"It's ready, sir." He sounds rather shaken.
I breathe in the aroma, quality bouquet. Sip, smooth and exquisite! "Thank you, it is indeed a splendid Brandy. Well worth waiting for."
"Thank you, sir. Sorry for the wait."
"Not at all, my good man." As he leaves, I refill my brandy flask. I may need some on the road later, splendid brandy indeed.
Another itch. I'll wager, I know who it is. Let her wait it out. Concentrate on the Brandy, I feel another headache coming on. Let her wait. She is persistent, I'll give her that. It is worth a headache to make her wait. Enough. Open contact. "Yes, who is it?"
"Steed, dear, you knew full well it would be me. Is the meeting over?" She seems genuinely put out. Pity.
"Yes, mother. They have left. Once they realized I wouldn't be bribed, they decided to try elsewhere. Pity, they claimed to have the best of wines, but didn't bring a sample. Real merchants would have had a case delivered as a genuine bribe, I think they were just bragging. They don't even drink Brandy, imagine. Care to join me, mother?" I extend my right hand through a rainbow portal and take her hand.
"Certainly, dear." She steps through to me. I kiss her hand and motion her to the table and as she takes her seat, I slide the chair in. "What did your guests look like?"
"Nothing special, they wore heavy gray cloaks over green clothing. Does that suggest anything to you? They were a trifle overdressed for merchants, but they complained about the cold sea breezes." I pour her a Brandy. She blanches ever so slightly. She must have an idea who they are but will not tell. "Rather, a delightful Brandy, do you agree?" She sips it and smiles. She hands me a small knife. It looks rather harmless. I examine it briefly, the blade is silvered. How strange.
She finishes the Brandy. "Keep this with you, you may need it. I have to get back, dear. I will see you at dinner. Au revoir, Steed." She gets up and has a Trump at the ready. She concentrates on it and a rainbow portal is open, I see her room in the background of the portal. She steps through. An old expression comes to mind, 'Beware of gift horses'.
"See you shortly, mother." She knows something.
I motion to the maitre'd again. "Excuse me, do you know the people who were ushered out?"
"Most of them, sir. I can locate the others, if necessary."
"I would like to make it up to them by buying them dinners. I will not be considered a lout or allow circumstances to cause ill feelings for our family."
"Certainly, sir. That would be quite generous, sir."
"I suggest it not be tomorrow night though, our friends will be returning for another meeting. Lets not jeopardize your guests safety, of course." I withdraw a pouch of Crown Royals, removing a few to pocket them. I hand him the pouch. "This should cover the expenses, agreed?"
"Of course, sir. Will there be any special requests or preparations, sir?" He is positively beaming, fondling the pouch.
"Have a bottle of Champagne ready, chilled, with two crystal goblets. It wouldn't do to let it get warm, would it? Also, have a few steak dinners ready. Make mine medium, with a fresh Caesar salad. Our guests may like their steaks quite rare, if I'm not mistaken. Keep the salads handy, if I am mistaken."
"Indeed, sir. Quite rare you say, sir? Very well, sir." He visibly shudders.
"Is Baron Bayle about, my good man?" I continue.
"No, sir, he is making his rounds at the other locations. Do you wish me to contact him, sir?"
"Not at all. Just give him my regards when you see him. Steed of Amber, he is an old and dear friend. I will get in touch with him later."
"Very good, sir. Will there be anything else, sir?"
"Thank you, no. I'll be leaving shortly. Good day."
"Good day, sir. Till tomorrow then." He saunters off.
"Indeed, my good man." I finish the Brandy, gather my umbrella, put on my bowler, and stroll to the door. My headache has gone away. Excellent.
At the stable, the stable boy has Andrea ready to go. Her coat shines from brushing. He is stroking her affectionately. "Good day, sir. She is ready for the road, sir. She is a pleasure to care for, sir. You will bring her back again, sir? Please ask for Willie, sir."
"Indeed, lad. Andrea seems to have taken to you, Willie. I will be back tomorrow, same time, thanks. And Willie, if you ever leave these stables, I doubt that the Baron will let you go, just come to the Castle stables and there will be a job at '3 Mews'. Got that?"
"3 Mews, certainly sir. Do you know the Baron, sir? He is a fine man, treats his people well. He has always been a pleasure to work for. I will remember, sir. Tomorrow, same time, sir. Good day, Andrea, see you tomorrow." He pats her shoulder affectionately and heads back to the stable.
"Good day, lad." I get positioned and mount Andrea. She is ready to go, she jumps nearly two feet vertically, before galloping down the lane, from the direction we came.
I doff my bowler and sniff my carnation in reverence, as we pass the Unicorn Shrine by the Art gallery. Off we go. "Tally Ho, Andrea!"
Episode A1-2 - New Guests in Amber
In which Steed has dinner at the family gathering
... and does some data gathering as well.
The trip back to the Castle is uneventful but refreshing nonetheless.
As I get back to the Castle, I run into Uncle Ge'rard and a stranger. "Uncle Ge'rard, it is such a pleasure to see you again. Have you gone riding lately? It was simply gorgeous weather for riding today." Ge'rard and I greet each other with handshakes and a pats on the shoulders.
"Good to see you, Steed. No riding today, just came from down at the docks and met Kurgen there. Where are my manners? Steed, this is Kurgen. Kurgen, this is Steed."
"Pleased to meet you, Kurgen." Kurgen, who looks like he stepped out of a Dr. No movie. He wears formal black Tibetan attire. He has the same slender build as myself. He is 6' 2" and around 190 pounds.
"I am on my way to the Great Hall for the evening dinner. Care to join me Uncle? Maybe a before dinner drink?"
"Excellent idea, Steed." He slaps me on the back and we proceed to the Great Hall.
As we near the Great Hall, we encounter Dame Margot. She is the Mistress of Protocol in Amber. Ancient but still beautiful, she wears her white hair under a veil. Her impeccable clothing is golden and white. I have spent many years of my youth with her, learning the gentlemanly arts which include: heraldry, dancing, courtesy, manners, poise, charm, sewing, healing arts and many other skills. I owe her a great deal and I cherish any time I can spend with her.
"Good evening, Lord Steed. I was just looking for you. Good evening, Ge'rard. It is nearly time for dinner, it would not do to be late." She takes her position very seriously, but she gives me a gentle smile.
I kissed her outstretched hand. "Greetings, my dear, Dame Margot. I so missed our tea, yesterday. Let me introduce a newcomer to Amber, Kurgen. Kurgen, you have the special honor of meeting our dearest lady, Dame Margot. Can you join us for dinner, my dear?"
"Pleased to meet you, my lady." Kurgen seems quite interested in the lady.
"Charmed, Lord Kurgen. Ge'rard, dear, nice to see you again. I cannot join you for dinner, gentlemen. We will have tea again soon, I promise dear Steed. Good day, my lords, I have other matters to attend to." She nods and departs silently.
We reach the Great Hall. It is a beautifully expansive room filled with tables, people constantly preparing and serving food, and the splendid aromas of the best foods in any Shadow.
I see Aunt Fiona, a lovely 5' 2", red haired, green eyed goddess. She is charming, subtle, highly intelligent, and perhaps the most powerful sorceress in Amber.
I take her outstretched hand and kiss it. Such a dainty thing to command such power. "Good evening, Aunt Fiona. You look positively radiant. How have you been?"
"Very well, Steed, thanks." She smiles, but is too smart to be charmed. Even from someone as sincere as myself. "I will need your assistance later."
"Absolutely, my dear. You can always expect complete cooperation and discretion from me, in all things." It is best not to lie to her, she can detect any deception.
"Understood, Steed. I appreciate your candor as always. We will talk later."
At the table, places are set for eight. This appears to be a small gathering, not a large banquet as I had anticipated. Chilled champagne and an array of other beverages are on the adjacent cabinet. I proceed to open the champagne and pour myself a glass. A fine vintage, indeed. Michael must be responsible, bless him, the dear chap. He must be elsewhere organizing the dinner and other things. A fine vintage, indeed.
I meet Kilian Spree, he came with Martin. Kilian is 6' 5" with his red hair and golden eyes. I overhear his claims to have walked a Pattern and then destroyed it. That is absolutely unthinkable! An almost preposterous story. I have serious doubts about his veracity.
We are met by Queen Vialle and Martin. She extends her hand, I take it and kiss it. "How marvelous it is, to be in your presence again, my Queen. Is King Random well?"
She smiles. "Thank you Steed, yes, he is well. He has pressing matters to attend to."
Mother arrives, fashionably late. She is greeted by the others. She is introduced to Kilian and Kurgen by Fiona. She finally greets me. "Hello again, dear. Did you have a nice ride?" She extends her hand, I kiss it.
"Splendid, mother, splendid. Will you join me for a ride in the morning? I have several horses that need the exercise. I can only ride one at a time. I'm starting to become partial to riding Andrea and that isn't fair to the others."
"Of course, dear. I will be delighted."
"Excellent. I will ride Lucy and you can ride Lucian. I can exercise Andy later. Thanks mother."
"My pleasure, dear." She moves to the table. She smirks, as I adjust her chair. Not that smirk again, she has something planned. That smirk means big trouble, unavoidable trouble. We get seated. Martin and Queen Vialle are at the head of the table. To their left, seated closest to furthest, is Uncle Ge'rard, Kurgen, and Kilian. To their right, seated closest to furthest, is Flora, myself, and Aunt Fiona. Ah, I am constantly surrounded by the loveliest of ladies.
There is pleasant dinner conversation.
Fiona tells us about the attack on Corwin's Pattern and the increasing Shadow storms.
Vialle tells Fiona that this talk can wait until their meeting after dinner in the sitting room. I ask Queen Vialle if I can be of help. She invites me to the meeting in her sitting room as well. Kilian and Kurgen are also invited.
The rest of the dinner is uneventful. The food is excellent as usual. It is like dining in a gourmet restaurant every day. Although, I have noticed that some family members prefer the more mundane meals. They eat things, one would expect from fast food places from Shadow Earth. Poor Michael, he must be suffering horribly to be required to prepare that swill. The dessert arrives, what an extraordinary thing, he has prepared the most exquisite cheesecakes and Key Lime pie. When did Michael begin serving Key Lime pie? Decisions, decisions. Let us throw caution to the wind. I try both, half servings, of course. Rapture, it is simply incredible.
There is very little conversation and the dinner breaks up. People are leaving the Great Hall for other activities.
Fiona takes me aside before we leave for the meeting. "Do you know anything about Kilian."
"Nothing, except that story about destroying his own Pattern. That's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. Do you think there is anything to it?"
"I don't know. Could you keep an eye on him, and let me know if you learn anything about him?" I assume it is because he has red hair and she is trying to determine his origin, abilities, and loyalties. I guess that he is not a child of Fiona or she wouldn't enlist me to spy on him. Also, he must not be a child of Uncle Bleys, for the same reason. Those two are the closest of allies and they probably share their secrets.
That leaves one remote possibility that she wants to confirm or refute. He may be a child of Uncle Brand, their younger red headed brother, the traitor of Amber. If he is of Brand's blood and he is serious about destroying his Pattern, I can appreciate her concern and share her interest.
"Certainly, Fiona. How will I keep in touch with you?" She smiles and hands me a Trump of herself. I place her Trump into the hidden compartment inside my bowler.
She wraps her arm in mine and we head for Queen Vialle's sitting room for the meeting. "Thanks, Steed."
"Not at all, my dear, I'm only glad to be of service."
At the meeting, we get comfortable and Fiona informs us that Shadow storms are increasing between Amber and Corwin's Pattern. They seem to be originating from the Courts of Chaos, trying to cut off Corwin's Pattern from Amber. They may also be trying to upset the balance of power between Chaos and Amber.
The Nine are also involved, they are coming into play. The Keepers are also coming back into play. The Keepers are Delwin and Sand, brother and sister, the self-exiled outcasts of Amber. The Keepers hold the keys to the power of the Nine. It is said that Delwin has one of the Nine. A Spikard that can control the power of the others.
The Nine! Something I knew would happen eventually, but hoped would never occur. A secret that will be exposed. The balance of power may be dependent upon my ability to protect it. If Shadowveil should fall into the wrong hands, we could all be lost. Secrecy has always been my closest ally, my benefactor, my protector. I am about to lose that secrecy. Unlike my bowler, it will not return and I will miss it sorely.
I am to wait for Corwin to arrive in two days, to accompany him to his Pattern and help him defend it from the Courts of Chaos.
I tell Fiona that I am to meet some gentlemen tomorrow who were wearing heavy gray cloaks and green breeches. Two of them were feral in nature with glowing green eyes. Has she seen any people of Chaos that fit those descriptions?
"Not for years." Fiona replied. "Someone from the Council of Chaos, the Shadow of Senesure. It could be Lord Faton. In Senesure, he is omnipotent. There was also the contact for Oberon and now Random. He is a chap named Old John, or John Gaunt, or Chaney. He is also known as Grimjack. A sinister fellow."
I asked if Grimjack had visited Amber around the time I was born. He hadn't, but Amberites had visited there at that time. "Flora had left Shadow Earth and had been to Senesure around that time. She came back in a rather foul mood and disappeared for awhile before returning to Shadow Earth. I recommend extreme caution. Even more important, Flora should not know. You understand why, Steed?"
"Certainly, and thanks." That would have been around the time I was born. In England, of course, and mother tried to obscure the details of my origins. But why? The only explanation that occurs to me is that my father is a Lord of Chaos. Possibly Lord Faton or this Grimjack fellow. Possibly someone else entirely.
I don't know for certain how I feel about this. This would make me a Lord of Chaos as well. My own worst enemy, indeed.
The plan is to meet with the fellow who claims to be my father tomorrow, then Corwin the following day, and then who knows?
Kurgen asks me. "Would you mind if I come along to meet with these strangers? You won't even know I am there."
"Not at all. If things don't go well, it may get nasty. Hope you don't mind, old chap."
"It's settled then. I will see you there."
The meeting breaks up and everyone heads back to their rooms.
Episode A1-3 - Premonitions of the Nine
In which Steed dreams of the Black Unicorn
... and meets a Lady of quality.
It's morning. Mother's butler William, delivers a message with breakfast. She can't make it, she will see me later.
I eat and get cleaned and dressed for the ride.
My actions seem mechanical and distant in perspective.
I make it to the stable. I prepare Lucy with the saddle and bridle, she seems uninterested but cooperative. We leave the stable, destination unknown. How odd, I should feel more certain of my plans. I shift the environment around me to Shadow travel. To where? The shifting begins, more flowers along the path. The trees are thicker, more moss, and plenty of mistletoe. The sky is more variegated with pinks and blues. There are more butterflies, some violet and some tiger-striped. There is a stream with clusters of bluebells and Queen-Anne's lace. Frogs, snakes, and newts rush to the stream for protection.
I have reached my destination, I don't know why I came here. In the clearing, a figure emerges. Internal alarms go off in my head, something is wrong, seriously wrong. The figure is a black unicorn, with silver eyes and mane. Before I can react, it charges past me. I spin around to see an emerging Shadow storm. The form of a tornado. The unicorn attacks the storm and the storm breaks up into three smaller storms. Curious, but I must do what I can to stop these storms, and stop them now.
I pull the reins of Lucy and turn her around to charge. I reach for the brolly and twist the handle. I withdraw the blade of Shadowveil. Energy crackles as I hold it aloft. Lucy and I charge the storm closest to me.
Peripherally, I see the two other storms being attacked by Corwin wielding Greyswandir and Luke wielding Werewindle. The three of us charging with Three of the Nine. As we reach the storms, the black unicorn is injured in the attack and the unexpected happens.
The Three are ripped from our grasp. Shadowveil, Greyswandir, and Werewindle are pulled into the storms. The storms merge, and the swords also merge. From the merged swords, a form emerges. It is the Unicorn of Amber! How?
The Unicorn of Amber faces the Black Unicorn. A battle ensues.
I hear the voice of a lady laughing. Insane laughter. I do not recognize that laughter. It continues interminably. A kaleidoscope of images and sounds converge, images that Salvador Dali would love to capture on canvas. The universe goes black.
I wake up, I am sitting up. Bloody hell!
I am drenched with sweat, exhausted, and mad as hell! My bowler is in my hand, it sensed my need for a weapon and came to me while I was asleep.
I look around, everything looks normal. I get out of bed, go to the next room, and check the umbrella stand to the right of my desk. Shadowveil is still there. Excellent.
I bring up the Pattern in my mind. I examine Shadowveil and the knife from mother. I see nothing when I focus on Shadowveil. It has a psychic barrier to protect itself from psychic attacks, which is still effective. The knife is silvered as I thought earlier. It also has magical properties that I can't identify. I have my theories, but I would rather not have to prove them. Mother must have similar assumptions from my description of the strangers.
What a nightmare! There is no way to relax enough to go back to sleep, so I better get ready for the day. The nightmare was so vivid and realistic, I could not suppress the panic I felt from losing Shadowveil. I can't believe that it didn't actually happen. Who was the Black Unicorn? What does the Nine have to do with the Unicorn of Amber? Questions and no answers.
A knock at the door. I answer it.
"Good morning, dear. When are we going for the ride?" Mother is positively beaming.
"I was just, I mean I will be ready in an hour, mother." She doesn't need to know about my private hell. I have been having reoccurring dreams about the Unicorn being attacked, but nothing like this.
"I brought you some breakfast, dear. Oh, by the way, I invited someone to ride with us. She can ride Andy, I thought you might want to ride Andrea later and you wouldn't have time to exercise Andy today. You don't mind, do you dear?" The trouble I expected. She is trying to fix me up with some noble lady again.
"Not at all, mother. I will meet you both at the stable in an hour. Who is the young lady?"
"Teresa, the daughter of a noble. A true lady of Amber but not of the blood. She is extremely talented and intelligent. Oh yes, she is quite beautiful as well. Please be nice to her, dear." The smirk returns. I must look as bad as I feel.
"Mother, I will be a gentleman at all times. I will treat her as I treat all ladies. I would like to meet her before you make wedding arrangements, if that would be all right." I pick up the pot of coffee and pour a cup. "Coffee, mother?" I pour some cream and stir it anti-clockwise.
"No coffee, dear. Thank you. You do take all the fun out of matchmaking. She is absolutely perfect for you, I promise. See you at the stable, dear." She leaves, with that self-satisfied look on her face.
I get ready. How do I know I am not in another nightmare? I drink the coffee quickly. I want to be alert and in control of this next nightmare. I finish the pot of coffee. The cobwebs are clearing. I head down the hall for a quick shower and get dressed in my riding gear.
In a short period of time, I am ready and reach the stables. The stable master has our horses ready as per mother's instructions. Very good.
Walking Andy from the stall is a stunning lady, she moves almost cat-like. Her auburn hair falls at her shoulders. Her large brown eyes are mesmerizing. She is wearing a tan riding suit, well tailored to emphasize the contours of her body. Her smile is as warm as summer.
Lucian is led from the stall by mother. "Steed dear, this is Lady Teresa. Lady Teresa, this is my son, Lord Steed. Now that we have the formalities out of the way, we can relax and drop our titles. Steed, Lucy is ready." She mounts Lucian and rides out of the way, waiting for us.
"Steed, I am very pleased to meet you. Your mother has told me so much about you." More smile, mother has chosen well.
"Teresa, my dear." I doff my bowler, and kiss her extended hand. "I am very honored and delighted to meet you. Mother could not have done you enough justice. I hope mother wasn't exaggerating too much."
"Only good things, I assure you." She grins.
"She was exaggerating, then. I shall try my best to live up to her motherly pride. I know that I will greatly enjoy my ride, with such a splendid traveling companion. My lady, I am yours to command. Shall we go?" I bow deeply.
She stifles a wry chuckle. "Yes my lord, let us go." She mounts Andy and I turn on my heels to retrieve Lucy.
I walk Lucy from the stall and mount her as well. With a grin and a backhanded wave of my arm, I say. "Ladies first." They turn their mounts and head down the lane. Inwardly, I still see my nightmare unfolding. I try not to give any outward signs of my anger, fear, and frustration.
As we reach a suitable distance from Amber, I can begin to mold Shadow. Mother enjoys the subtle changes in scenery. She hates hellrides through Shadow and prefers me to shift Shadow on our quiet rides. Possibly, to see how skilled I am in traversing Shadow. I am as skilled in hellrides as well. Hellrides are faster trips through Shadow and more exciting. They are also more dangerous and generate an excess of adrenaline. This morning, I am shifting slowly to give Teresa "The Royal Way", a leisurely relaxing version of a Hellride. She picks up on the subtle changes in Shadow. The changes in the path, the changes in vegetation along the path, and the myriad life forms along the path. I enjoy the more exotic flora and fauna. It makes the trip more interesting.
I can honestly say, to myself, I am trying to impress Lady Teresa. From her reactions, she may not have traveled through Shadow before. I point out the various creatures that generate the most interest and amusement. She simply exudes wonder and excitement at the various sights.
We come upon a small pond and a clearing I was searching for. Perfect for a rest area, overlooking a field of flowers with the most brilliant colors. This is a favorite spot of mothers. She can show her around for a few minutes.
"This looks like a good place to rest. Mother, would you be so kind to give Teresa a tour? I will be back shortly."
"Certainly, my dear. Don't be gone too long." They dismount, tie the horses to a tree, and walk to the clearing.
I ride ahead. I Shadow shift more quickly to reach my desired goal. My carnation is becoming warmer as I reach my goal, the Grove is ahead.
The Unicorn emerges from the clearing. The Unicorn of Amber, not the Black Unicorn of my nightmare.
I feel her mind wash over mine. The anger subsides, total peace washes over me. I tell her about my nightmare, the current happenings in Amber, Corwin's Pattern, and my meeting with the man who claims to be my father.
She empathizes. "I could sense your pain, anger, and concern, my beloved child. However, I know nothing about your father. Soon, you will face some difficult decisions. It will be necessary that you face them without fear or reservation. You must be extremely careful and vigilant. It is imperative that you protect the Jewel and keep it out of the hands of the Serpent of Chaos."
The Jewel of Judgment! Also known as the Eye of the Serpent. Dworkin used it to create Amber's Pattern and Corwin used it to create his own Pattern, the one we will be defending. Who has it now? I assume that I will finally see it for myself. "Yes, I will do my best."
"In your nightmare, did you see what happened to the Black Unicorn?" She inquires in passing.
"I remember only the swords merging into you. You faced the Black Unicorn, who was injured from attacking the storms, the insane feminine laughter, then I woke." More confusion, what will happen and what does it signify?. She soothes my anger and pain.
"Thank you. Go now, with my blessing, my dear one." She departs and I am alone in the Grove. I feel empty without her presence, but refreshed.
I ride back to the Shadow where mother and Teresa are waiting. They were not aware of my departure. The time passed quickly where I was. More precisely, time moves slower in the Shadow where they waited. I am in much better spirits than before.
"Hello, my dear." Lady Teresa approaches me, certainly prompted by mother, tries to replace the carnation with another flower. "Please accept my favor, Steed." I swiftly and gently catch her wrist. She is startled. I slowly turn her hand to kiss it.
"My sweet lady, I cannot accept your flower, lovely though it is. However, I will be honored and delighted to accept any other favor from you. We can discuss it later if you wish, when we have more privacy." I nod toward mother's direction.
She smiles warmly. "Indeed, my lord."
We head back. I occasionally catch mother and Teresa smiling at each other. Sharing some private joke. Me, most likely.
We leave the horses at the stables.
We head back to the Castle. Mother leaves for urgent business with Fiona and suggests that I escort her to her room.
Teresa is quartered at Castle Amber during her visit. I escort her to her room. I am surprised to find out that her room is next to mine on the second floor. I wonder if she heard my shout when I woke? She smiles and invites me in for tea.
"I will have to leave soon, I have to ride to uptown Amber for a meeting in a few hours." Tea is delivered and we sit and talk. Those eyes, I have a weakness for large brown eyes. Her hair is soft and luxurious and she smells wonderful.
She is a fantastic conversationalist. The time passes too quickly. I will withhold any more information, a gentleman never discusses his liaisons.
Episode A1-4 - Ambush at Bayle's
In which Steed brings people together in a special way
... and Mother makes a special entrance.
Much later at the stables, I get Andrea ready. I feed her an apple I brought from the Great Hall. She munches hungrily. She is looking forward to another ride into town. There has been no word from Kurgen, maybe he will turn up later.
We ride to the town of Amber. A rather uneventful trip. As I reach the outskirts of town, I notice someone following my trail. The rider's colors were black, gold, and red. Red hair and tall in the saddle. Ah, perhaps Kilian Spree. "Andrea, lets wait to see what our pursuer wants." We wait.
The rider catches up. "Steed, do you mind some company?" It is indeed Spree.
"Not at all, there may be some danger, things may get a bit sticky."
"Good, I like things a bit sticky." He motions his horse ahead.
We ride on into town. The streets are rather quiet. No one suspicious around.
We reach the stables next to Bayle's Place.
Willie is waiting to receive Andrea. He takes the reins of both horses and leads them to the stables. His curry comb is in his back pocket. "Willie, remember the oats, lad." I toss him another Crown Royal.
He catches it with his free hand. "Thank you, sir. Good day, sir."
I walk to the Unicorn Shrine to pay my respects. I doff my bowler and sniff my carnation at the Shrine. "Thank you, great-grandmother, I will be careful. I promise to do my best to protect the Jewel of Judgment and Shadowveil." Spree watches me curiously.
We head over to Bayle's Place. The maitre'd is expecting me. "Good day, Lord Steed. Your table is ready." He leads us to the same table as yesterday. The champagne is in a silver bucket of ice. The table is set. No one is around, save for us. I wonder when Kurgen will show? No matter.
I find a strategic location to observe the room. Spree takes the adjacent seat, also strategic. Unfortunately, there are still nearby windows, on my right and Spree's left. I place the bowler and brolly on the table in front of me. I memorize the surroundings for anything of strategic importance.
The maitre'd opens the bottle and pours for us. He then excuses himself to check the work in the kitchen. I can smell the steaks cooking.
I examine the champagne, smell and sip it. Excellent vintage! I raise my glass to Spree. "Fly right, bottoms up, liquor down. To Amber! To our absent host Baron Bayle for a splendid vintage!" Another sip.
He raises his glass, drinks, and smiles. He returns to surveying the room.
Now we wait.
Fortunately, our wait wasn't a long one. I finished my first glass of champagne and pour another as someone walks through the front door.
"Random, what is going on? Eh, what is this?" He seems startled that King Random wasn't here and looks at us. "Who are you?"
"I am Steed. Steed of Amber. I am here to meet someone who claims to be my father. This is Kilian Spree of Amber. Who are you, old chap?" I try to keep an air of nonchalance.
"I am John Gaunt, here to meet with Random." He surveys the room.
"It seems as though we have been brought here under false pretenses, old boy. The question is, who arranged it?" I am also surveying the room, internal alarms begin to trigger hyper sensitivity.
At that moment, Gaunt is followed into the room by three men, who are changing into werewolves. At all the windows and doors, others are entering the room. One enters through the window behind me and another climbs through the window behind Spree. Four others enter from other places in the room.
"This is where the party begins." I comment casually.
The three wolves attack Gaunt. He somersaults over them and from behind withdraws a large shotgun. Pulling the trigger, the blast bowls over one of them. One down.
Rather! I was certain that guns aren't functional in Amber. Gaunt has somehow circumvented that particular law of nature. A handy trick indeed. I keep guns on hand, but they aren't guaranteed to work in every shadow. I would rather not depend upon them.
Back to the werewolf that leapt through the window to my right. I reach into my coat pocket and withdraw Flora's silvered knife. I throw it backhanded to my right with considerable force. He moves enough for me to miss any vital area. It strikes his left shoulder, missing his heart by three inches. At least I've marked him well, he is howling in great pain. I survey the immediate area for items that can be used as weapons. Charming! Heavy oaken chairs. How marvelous of the maitre'd to provide only the best. I pick up the chair in front of the werewolf and smash it into his face. It shatters into splinters and he is flung out the window he came from.
Spree is also faring well. He draws a sword, trying to decapitate the werewolf to his left. Instead, half of the face is cleaved away. Howling in agony and anger, it attacks Spree, who finally is able to finish the job.
One of our attackers sprint across the room toward us. I reach for my bowler and fling it backhanded at him in a smooth line. He drops under the throw, but not quick enough. It slices into his neck and shoulder. Another score. How is Spree doing? Fascinating! That is one use for expensive silverware. He is throwing forks and knives at the werewolves. Doing quite well. Spree's opponents are looking like furry pin cushions and howling in pain and frustration. Many have fallen. Spree even finished off the one injured by the bowler.
"Good show, Spree!"
I tap my forehead and the bowler spins and rolls toward me, it will follow and catch up to me soon.
How about Gaunt? He is still outnumbered. I pick up my brolly and make my way to even the odds. I reach one who has his back to me. I tap him on the shoulder with the back of the handle of my brolly. As he turns around, snarling, I reach down and hook the handle around his ankle and pull. He sprawls on his back and I pin him to the floor with the point of the brolly.
"Be a good chap, and keep still. I have a few questions for you." I fix him with a level gaze and give him a solid jab to emphasize my point. "Everything under control, Gaunt?"
"Certainly, Steed. By the way, what is your shadow doing?" He glances at the table, where I was sitting.
At the window, I see the werewolf I tagged with the silvered knife. He had gotten back in through the window and there was my shadow hovering over it. Repeatedly stabbing the werewolf, quite a strange way for a shadow to behave. Another handy trick. Good show! "It doesn't usually behave in that manner, Gaunt."
They finish off the rest of our attackers, while I keep our prisoner pinned to the floor. Nothing left but a little cleaning up. We regroup around our prisoner.
"I say. This place looks positively squalid." I observe my shadow moving toward us and takes on the form of Kurgen. "Good show, old boy." Realization sinks in. "By the way, would it be uncivilized for me to ask how long you have resided as my shadow?" I think back to my time with Lady Teresa. My bowler reaches me and spins like a top, waiting for me to pick it up.
"Not at all." He turns, smiling and ignoring the question, and takes over guarding our prisoner. "Maybe I can get some information from him." He begins mind contact with our prisoner.
"The leader of this group must not be present. The one who organized this meeting is not here. He may be waiting outside to see how we fared." I look around.
"I will go look around outside." Spree leaves.
As Spree leaves, I get a Trump contact. I close my eyes and concentrate. It must be mother again. Who else contacts me at the least opportune moment? I look around for a section of the room where there was no carnage.
"Trump contact, Steed?" Gaunt notices.
"Yes, it must be mother. She will not be happy about our meeting." I find a good spot. My head is throbbing. I open contact. "What is it, mother?"
I am not disappointed, "Steed, dear. Is everything all right?"
"I am just fine, mother. Why do you ask?"
"You have been using my knife, and not on steak. Bring me through, now!" She is genuinely concerned, and quite angry.
"It is not necessary, mother." Damn, I knew that carrying that knife was a mistake, gift horses and all. She must have been using it to alert her when it is being used, especially on werewolves.
"Now, darling!" She is persistent, once she makes a decision.
I reach through and bring her to me. "Everything is under control, mother."
She surveys the area and freezes. Her jaw tightens. She moves past me, visibly upset beyond anything I have ever seen before.
"It has been a long time, Flora. It is nice to see you again. How have you been?" Gaunt smiles and slightly bows.
"What are you doing here?" She is fuming.
Kurgen volunteers. "Steed is here to meet someone who claimed to be his father, we tagged along. Gaunt, not suspecting meeting us, was here to meet Random. We were set up. We were all attacked by these werewolves, who we finished off, save one. Is that about the size of it?" He smiles broadly, waiting for the fireworks.
I think that the fireworks will be soon. "Thanks, Kurgen, that about sums it up quite nicely."
Before anyone can react, mother swings and decks Gaunt. He sprawls on his back and begins to massage his jaw that begins to darken. Without another word, there is the rainbow shimmer and she leaves.
"She always knew how to make an entrance and an exit. I take it you two know each other, Gaunt."
"It has been awhile." he replies, getting back up. "What is this about me being your father?"
"Someone arranged a meeting with me. I was intrigued to meet someone who claimed to be my father. You see, Flora never saw fit to tell me, so I was curious but not optimistic. Talking with Fiona, I somehow expected to see you or someone else from Senesure. I can only assume that Flora never told me because she left my father on less than amicable terms." I wait for a reaction.
"It's possible, but I don't know. She never told me. You know how she is, when she won't discuss something." He sounded irritated at that.
"Most assuredly. I am sure she will be even more tightlipped for quite some time, after all this. Back to current events, someone set us up for an ambush. It may be connected with events occurring around Corwin's Pattern. I am meeting with him to accompany him to his Pattern. I thought I could resolve this situation before I leave. It is still unresolved, you are most welcome to join us if you wish." I try not to sound too encouraging, but there are possibilities left unexamined.
"I have to go back to Castle Amber and brief Random about the situation. It's possible that he may send me there. We'll see. Thanks for your confidence, Steed."
I look at Kurgen to see his progress. The werewolf is convulsing. What have we here? Something is coming from his ear. It is a silvery fluid. The creature becomes still and the fluid hardens. Looking closer, "There appears to be some self-destruct mechanism that was activated. It released liquid silver into his brain. Rather nasty."
"I didn't learn much." Kurgen states coldly.
"We better check on Spree, he hasn't come back yet." I state while picking up my spinning bowler. I clean it off on the clothes of the deceased prisoner. I put it on and tap it into place. "Is the knife still around? Flora is probably using it to monitor me somehow."
Kurgen cleans it off and he hands it back to me. I put it away. I am sure that he doesn't want Flora monitoring him.
"Steed, Kurgen, I'll see you later." Gaunt leaves for Castle Amber.
"Time to go, and we will have to miss an excellent steak dinner." I sound disappointed. "There may be more activity outside waiting for us." I finish my champagne quickly.
There was some activity near the stables. The Constable is talking with a crowd of people. This looks promising. I motion to Kurgen, he nods in agreement.
"What is going on, Constable? This is Lord Kurgen of Amber and I am Steed of Amber, may we be of some assistance?"
"Lord Steed, Lord Kurgen, how nice of you to offer. This gentleman says that his horse was stolen. A very tall fellow with red hair said he needed it and rode off. He said something about official business, very confusing." The Constable seems to be a very caring man.
"Indeed, which way did he go? He may be trying to catch someone behind an attack. Inside Bayle's Place is nearly a dozen dead people who attacked us. Handle them carefully, they were lycanthropes. It got rather messy, you can send the report to King Random, including damages. The gentleman who took the horse was Lord Spree, if we fail to retrieve it, have the gentleman contact the court with the report. I will personally replace it if necessary."
"That is very generous of you Lord Steed, he went into the Forest Arden. Good luck, my lord. We will take care of Bayle's Place." He seems not at all concerned about the werewolves.
"Thanks, Constable." We head for the stables.
Kurgen resumes his shadow form. I get Andrea from Willie, who is still brushing her. "Thanks, lad, for taking such good care of her."
"My pleasure, sir. Good day, sir. Good day, Andrea." He heads back to other work.
I mount Andrea and we head to Forest Arden at a full gallop. We are certainly ten minutes behind Spree, hopefully we will not lose the trail.
Five minutes later, we see a trail of dust in the distance. We are catching up but not by much.
Another five minutes, the dust is not as visible. They must have stopped, we still have some riding to do before we catch them.
Ten minutes later, we catch up to Spree. He is handling, quite well, the stranger who orchestrated the meeting that led to the ambush. Kurgen resumes a normal form and approaches them. It looks as though Spree has broken his arm. I hear the name 'Frost' mentioned. The name is not familiar, I certainly have done nothing to prompt him to try to kill me.
"There is a mental block and any incursion causes incredible pain. The pain is all that registers." Spree tells us.
"Maybe both of us can get through." Kurgen suggests. They are both concentrating on him. The expressions on their faces confirms what Spree has explained already. They both seem to be in a great deal of pain.
Frost seems to smile in a psychotic manner. A real psychopath. Maybe if he is unconscious, they may have better luck. I walk around him, take off my bowler and tap him on the head. He slumps forward unconscious. I put it back on and tap it in place.
They are still grimacing, there must be some other factor involved. I bring up the Pattern in my mind and examine Frost. I can visualize the energies of Primal Chaos in his brain, like a tumor or possibly some Chaosian implanted construct. Quite powerful.
Kurgen and Spree discontinue their probe.
I check for confirmation. "I detect the energies of Primal Chaos in his brain. Either a brain tumor or some powerful implant. What did you see?"
"That is right. Even unconscious, he generated enough of a block that we could not break through the pain. An implant seems the best guess." Spree confirms.
"Do you mind if I try something? Maybe I can damage it without killing him." I admit that I am uncertain about this. If he dies, well he shouldn't have attacked us. I tend to take that rather personally.
I hold the handle of my brolly with my right hand and the body of the umbrella with my left. With a twist, I release the catch and pull the handle. Then I withdraw the blade of Shadowveil, the energy of the Pattern of Amber crackles in the air. The markings on the edge of the blade represent the piece of the Pattern inscribed there, the image of the "Final Veil" from the Pattern. The energy from limitless Shadows empower the blade. Thus, "Shadow-Veil", the Avenger, is drawn. My cousins are watching intently, wondering what I am planning.
I point the tip of the sabre at the location of the Chaosian implant. I slowly release the energy of the Pattern at the implant. It reacts in kind. Tremendous energies are unleashed between Shadowveil and the accursed implant. It begins to absorb the surrounding matter. This implant seems to be powered from numerous Shadows as well.
I stop my attack, hoping it stops as well. It continues to absorb matter, including Frost. Instantly, his body is consumed, leaving only the implant. There is no guarantee that Shadowveil will successfully destroy the implant without further external damage.
Kurgen casts some spell that seems to imprison the implant. "So much for Frost."
I sheath Shadowveil back into the brolly. Now there are two more who know my secret. I hope they can be trusted. I mount Andrea, quite despondent.
Some figures enter the clearing on horseback. Morganstern, the horse who has no equal, ridden by the master of this forest. "Uncle Julian, greetings."
"Steed, what are you doing in Arden and who are these men?" Julian looks quite somber. My guess is that he is concerned about possible encroachment from the Courts of Chaos.
"They are my cousins, Kurgen and Spree. They were with me in town. We were attacked at Bayle's Place. We followed the leader into Arden. We tried to question him, I inadvertently killed him. We were going back to the castle to brief Random." That about covers it.
"I see." He turns Morganstern who snorts and heads back into the forest. He is a man of few words, and fewer manners. However, he is the loyal protector of his Forest Arden and Castle Amber. That makes him a man to be respected and admired.
"We better get to Castle Amber to let Random know what happened. This may have some bearing upon the present situation." Random will not be pleased, for the same reason that I am not. Not because Frost was killed, I have killed before. Because I was unable to destroy the implant that still may be a danger. I may have destroyed a large piece of real estate attempting it or triggered a vast Shadow storm in the attempt. Someone else, with more finesse, will have to destroy it.
"I will take the horse back to town." Kurgen volunteers. He mounts it and heads off. Spree claims Frost's horse for himself. He mounts it and heads to Castle Amber with me.
The ride back to the castle is uneventful. Andrea is put back into her stall. The stable master instructs his staff to care for our horses. I pat Andrea on her neck. "Thanks, old girl, you gave them a merry chase. Good show."
The stable master's staff stare at Spree's horse. It doesn't seem to react like a normal horse. I thought it was just my imagination, but there is something uncommon about the horse. I hope Spree's gelding doesn't cause problems with the other horses.
We walk to the castle. We encounter the guards that line the entryway into the castle.
"Where can we find King Random? My good man." I doff my hat. "Lord Spree and I wish to see him."
"He is in his private chambers, in a private meeting, sir." He is standing at attention.
"Thanks, old boy, jolly good of you. Good day." I twirl my brolly and we briskly head down the hall to the stairs. Up the stairs, past more guards, turn right around the stairwell and right to Random's private chambers.
Two more guards blocking the door. "We would like to see King Random, my good man. State business and all that, you understand."
"Sorry, sir. King Random gave orders not to be disturbed." He seems rather pleased to be guarding that door, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and all that.
"We will wait for a few minutes, then." But only a few minutes.
Two minutes later, that is quite enough. Around the corner is a familiar figure. "Uncle Corwin! How splendid to see you again, I heard you wouldn't be here until tomorrow."
"Hello, Steed. Let's see Random." He pushes past the guards.
"But, sir. King Random said he was not to be disturbed!" The guard was losing his edge on the situation.
Corwin looks at me rolling his eyes and motions us forward. As we enter, we see the rainbow shimmer of a Trump portal and the figure of Gaunt stepping through quickly to leave.
"That's all right guards, I was expecting them. Keep everyone else out." King Random looks like he needs a break.
The guards return to their posts.
Corwin briefs us about the situation. He confirms what we already knew and matters are getting much worse. That is why he is here earlier. "I took a few shortcuts through Shadow to evade Shadow storms. We have to act quickly."
Random fills us in on the rest. "I anticipated that and sent Gaunt ahead to check things out. He will be expecting you soon."
I tell Random about Frost. He asks about the location of Frost. I tell him. "He is just a teeny bit dead."
Random frowns at that. Kurgen shows him the implant that remained from the encounter.
"I used Shadowveil to attempt to destroy that implant, but the implant devoured Frost." I explain.
"Next time, leave it to the experts." Corwin seems irritated.
"I will, as soon as I find one. It still needs to be destroyed. It should be destroyed soon. We have no idea just how dangerous it still is. Besides, I see no reason to be remorseful over the death of someone that tried to kill me. I tend to take that sort of thing rather personally." I respond defensively.
"I will destroy it, by throwing it into the Abyss, if necessary." Kurgen volunteers.
The guards burst into the room, "Lord Benedict wishes an audience, my lord King." Uncle Benedict pushes past them.
"Random, the attacks are growing worse." Benedict states without emotion.
"Thank you, Benedict. Corwin and the rest will leave shortly. Good luck." Random nods and Benedict leaves.
Before the door closes, another disturbance. "But, sir. You can't enter now. The King is in a private meeting." The guards are pushed aside and Kurgen enters the room.
"That is all right. He is the last person I expect to arrive. Back to your post." Random looks like he lost all hope of maintaining order. The guards look harried.
"I got here as soon as I could, did I miss anything?" Kurgen smiles slyly.
"Kurgen. You and Spree will accompany Corwin and his party. Corwin, Luke, and Steed will be expected to face the Shadow storms and the forces of Chaos. They carry Three of the Nine. They will need your help in this battle. Protect the Three and Corwin's Pattern at all costs. Good luck. You have my sincere blessings." Random gives us a much needed blessing.
He continues. "Prepare yourselves to leave within an hour. The stable master will prepare your horses. Guard, send the word to the stables. These men will let you know which horses will be needed. That is all." Random rises and departs.
We look at each other. Corwin nods. Kurgen smiles. Spree shrugs. I doff my bowler. "Good luck to us all, lads. I'll see you later in the Great Hall. Guard, please have them prepare Lucian, in 3 Mews, thank you old boy." A slight bow and I leave.
I walk from Random's chambers, turning left to the stairs. I descend to the second floor. I turn right towards my room. I can see clearly down to the intersecting hallway. Nothing but the guards near the stairs. Further down the hall, I turn right to face the door of my quarters. Before I unlock the door, I listen for sounds. Nothing. I bring up the image of the Pattern in my mind and focus it on the door and beyond. Nothing out of the ordinary.
I unlock the door and enter.
I have less than an hour to get ready. I pull out the desk from the wall. In the back, there is a sliding panel. A hidden cache reveals a pouch of Crown Royals and a small handgun, a black Walther P5. There are also a few clips of 9mm ammunition. They may work on some Shadows, so it may be of some help. I take off my bowler and open a pocket. I place the gun in the pocket of the bowler, unloaded. The Trumps are there as well: Flora, Random, Vialle, Ge'rard, Julian, Eric, Fiona, Benedict, two of my own, and the Unicorn Grove. I place the ammunition clips into my right inside coat pocket. If I need it, I can take it out with my left hand to load the gun held by my right hand. It helps to be mentally prepared for the proper procedure. It is almost automatic in nature, to prepare step by step. The silvered knife of mother's is in my left inside coat pocket. I am still wearing the Carnation.
A plate of food is sitting on the desk. Sandwiches for the road, still warm. I realize how hungry I am and I quickly devour them abandoning finesse, my time is too limited and there is too much to do.
There is a bottle of Napoleon Brandy and a glass on the bookcase. One glass for the road. I open the bottle and pour a glass. Closing the bottle and putting it away, I lift the glass in a silent toast. "To Amber! To the Unicorn!" Excellent Brandy, warm and smooth.
Putting away the glass, I have some last minute details to attend to. Things that can wait no longer.
I reach into the pocket of the bowler and remove the Trump of Fiona. I concentrate upon the image of her lovely form. Almost immediately, she responds, almost startling me.
"Steed, dear. What can I do for you?" Fiona sounds genuinely charming.
"Fiona, my dear, I have a limited amount of time and I thought I better brief you on the current situation. Do you have a few minutes?"
"Certainly, Steed, continue."
"We will be leaving shortly to Corwin's Pattern. We may meet John Gaunt there. He was the gentleman who met us at Bayle's Place. He was expecting Random. We were both set up, and that is when a group of werewolves attacked. The leader was outside. Spree tracked him down. It was a fellow named Frost. Spree and Kurgen tried to mentally extract information from him, but only sensed pain. We detected some brain tumor or implant that contained Primal Chaos. I tried to destroy it, but only succeeded in killing Frost. Kurgen has the implant now. I think that it is still extremely powerful and dangerous. It should be destroyed, but I have no clue how to do it safely."
I continue. "Regarding Spree, he is extremely resourceful, persistent, and rather quiet. Quite unlike myself." I can see Fiona smile at that. "We work all right together, but there are still a few rough edges. Is there anything else you need from me or is there anything I need to be aware of?"
"Not at present, Steed. Thanks. Regarding the implant, I will give it some thought." Her brows knit together in puzzlement. "Be careful, Steed."
"Thanks Fiona, I will." I smile as charmingly as possible as we break contact.
I put away Fiona's Trump and withdraw another. I can only hope that matters can be smoothed out. I would hate to depart on bad terms. I concentrate on this Trump. Another beauty, it is a shame that I didn't inherit those blue eyes. Trying to establish contact is easy if the person on the other end cooperates. However, this one is not. I guess I only deserve it, as much as I keep her waiting when she calls. I continue concentration, on the verge of a headache, trying to break through. She doesn't want to be contacted, but I am just as determined to break through. The headache is becoming more intense, like a tension headache above the neck and behind the ears.
She finally opens contact. "Who is it?" She sounds quite terse.
"Mother, I wanted to talk to you before I leave with Corwin."
"We have nothing to talk about, dear."
This will be more difficult than I thought. "Yes there is, mother. I had no intention of upsetting you, I was pursuing a natural curiosity, with no expectations. That is something quite inherent in all Amberites. Meeting John Gaunt was unexpected. If you don't wish to discuss him, I won't. I took plenty of help with me to Bayle's Place, we were up to the task of defending ourselves. If you don't wish to discuss them, I won't. We have skirted around the other issues before. If you don't wish to discuss them, I won't. Furthermore, I would like to clear things with you before I leave. I would prefer that you were not angry with me when I left. If I am killed, you will most certainly be more cross with me than you are now. So, can we either discuss what is bothering you or at least put it aside?" This is almost futile.
"All right, dear. I will contact you soon. I am not upset with you. Please, be careful in Shadow." She seems pleased with the effort that I put forth. Mothers enjoy using guilt.
"All right, mother, I will." We close contact.
I pour another Brandy to help remove this nagging pain in my neck.
With everything secure, I lock up the room. One more stop before I go downstairs. Around the corner, I turn left to the first room on the left. I think mother intentionally placed Teresa in these nearby quarters. I knock on the door. No answer. I was hoping to say good-bye before leaving, it would look ungentlemanly for me to leave without a word. I will have to leave word with her later.
Heading for the stairs, it is about time to leave. I reach the Great Hall. Corwin, Spree, Kurgen, and Luke are already there. I doff my bowler. "Gentlemen, I see I am right on time. Should we get started?" We make a rather impressive retinue.
The guards are notifying us that the horses are ready outside the Castle. Outside, there are saddlebags on the horses with plenty of travel rations and a sleeping roll.
Lucian is prancing eagerly. "Lucian, old boy, how splendid to see you again!" I pat his shoulder and give him a few sugar cubes. He munches them eagerly. "Good, lad. Are you ready for some action?" He neighs mirthfully. "Excellent, then lets get a move on." I mount Lucian. My travel companions mount theirs as well. Their horses look quite sturdy and ready for a long ride.
The weather is quite suitable for riding. However, that will change as soon as we start traveling through Shadow.
To be Continued . . .?