I didn't know whom should I blame in the first place. Caine? Julian? The guards? Lord Rein? Or possibly myself? Things went quite well till this very moment. Over four years ago I defeated my main enemy - Corwin, my full brother, by the way. It was really a big effort to have him captured alive. I decided not to have him killed, because his death would have made things very complicated. The problem was that my position in Amber was not quite clear, even if I finally decided to get crowned as the king. The former king - Oberon - my father disappeared some time ago and left no instructions about the succession or regency. We presumed he was dead, because all our attempts to contact him failed, but we could not be sure. I know once he told us that succession problems must not be solved by fratricide and I also remember that he favored Corwin. I've never wanted to imagine what will happen if Oberon comes back, I thought it was unlikely, but I did not want to do anything irreversible.
So I decided to have Corwin locked up in the dungeons. Princes and princesses of Amber have the possibilities to walk through shadows. It is very difficult to do it in Amber; nevertheless it is not completely impossible. There was also a danger that some of my siblings would decide to free Corwin and use him against me. Thus when Julian advised me to have Corwin blinded I found it a very good solution. A blind person cannot walk through shadows and would not threaten Amber any more. I've said I do not like doing irreversible things. Well, in case of a prince of Amber blinding is reversible. By the time Corwin grows new eyes my position, as the king of Amber will become unquestioned. I will be a successful ruler and Corwin will find no support for his possible plans to destroy me. At least that was what I thought until this very moment.
This very moment was when Caine came to me and said that Corwin disappeared from prison. Not escaped. Apparently disappeared. The door of his cell was locked all the time and when the guards noticed that the food had not been taken for a couple of days they decided to open the door. Then they found nobody inside. The mattress was half burnt so their first impression was that Corwin had self-cremated. But then should have been the remains of his body. The whole story looked strange.
"Have you seen the cell?" I asked.
"Yes" he said. "Julian and I examined it quite carefully. We also saw some strange pictures on the wall. Julian was sure they were not there last time when he went to take Corwin for the coronation anniversary. Very nice pictures, by the way. I think..."
I got really angry. Caine liked to be in good relationships with everyone, including those whose position is lower than his. I suspected him of hiding something.
"I am not in the mood to discuss art" I interrupted. "Who was on duty over the last four days?" I asked.
Caine showed me the whole list of the guards. I was looking for one name. The name of the man who was always on duty when Lord Rein was coming to visit Corwin and bring him some goods: food, drinks, clean clothes, cigarettes, nothing really dangerous. He did is secretly, but everybody, including myself knew what he was doing. I did not like the whole situation I wanted either have Rein arrested or - on the contrary - allow him to do it officially and this way keep better control over these visits. But Caine and Julian convinced me to keep things in the way they were. I do not remember their arguments. I just know that Caine spoke more against any repressive measures, while Julian convinced me why these visits could not be made officially legal. Now I could blame both of them, but I could not show it to Caine, because this way I would have admitted I was wrong to listen to them. After all I was the king of Amber and every decision was mine, eventually. I looked through the whole list and could not find the name of the guard I was looking for. So he could not be responsible. Was it possible that Lord Rein asked someone else to help in Corwin's escape? When I mentioned Caine about it he said:
"Lord Rein has been accompanying Gérard in his series of visits in the Golden Circle" he answered.
I should have known. I accepted the list of delegation participants, but I have forgotten who was on the list. Or possibly I didn't even read it. I have always tons of papers to sign. So I had to exclude the most obvious suspects. If there was a conspiracy among guards the others had to be involved. Of course none of them arranged Corwin's escape just because he took pity on him or wanted to make something risky. He must have been instructed by someone who wanted Corwin's release. And this person must have been one of us. I decided to interrogate every guard who was on duty when the escape took place. I did it personally and with no witnesses. I have an ability to find out whether a person is telling the truth, so I hope I would be able to find the guilty very quickly. Unfortunately every guard was saying approximately the same: "I saw, heard, felt nothing suspicious, everything looked perfectly normal." Only one guard mentioned he could hear some voices, but it is a usual thing that prisoners talk to themselves and no one pays attention to such things. My empathic abilities could not discover anything the guards tried to hide. It looked as if they were telling the whole truth.
Who else remained? Someone had to unlock the door and lock it again and do it so quietly that guards could not hear anything. Or simply someone could trump Corwin out. Our family had such abilities, so it was not surprising. Julian and Caine supported me and did not like Corwin. Gérard would not risk any trouble for Amber. Flora would have no courage to do such thing and she always supported the one who was the strongest ant it was not Corwin at the moment. Fortunately Random was imprisoned, so he had no possibility to do anything. Bleys, Benedict and Brand were missing and it was unlikely that they even knew about Corwin's imprisonment.
Fiona could be the option, unlikely though. The most likely to be behind Corwin's escape was Deirdre. She loved Corwin and was ready to help him, even without looking at her own interest (very rare thing in Amber). Unfortunately she was out of reach. She was in Rebma and I did not want to do anything that would compromise my relationships with this kingdom. The only thing I could do was to check (not openly of course) if Corwin was not in Rebma. If he were ever there after his escape, he was not there any more, or at least his presence could not be proved.
Finally I found all the efforts to find the guilty counterproductive. The same with the efforts to recapture Corwin. For some time I tried to convince myself that Corwin escaped to enjoy freedom, but the lesson he got in Amber discouraged him from coming here for the next two centuries at least. I know it was absurd to think like that, but I felt much better this way. One day something happened that ruined my illusions.
A black bird, raven I think sat on the ledge of my window. Ravens usually do not come so close, so it looked strange to me. When I looked more carefully I saw a sheet of paper attached to the bird's leg. Not thinking much I removed it and read the text written on it. It stated: "Eric - I'll be back. Corwin, Lord of Amber." He didn't have to sign it. His handwrite was very distinct. It was obvious that his sight has returned, too. The handwrite was too neat to be written without a possibility to see the letters. I also remembered the pictures scratched on the walls of his cell.
I felt devastated. Of course I thought that once he escaped he would try to regain power. If I tried to think in a different way I cheated myself, but it is something different to suspect or even be convinced that something bad will happen than when it actually happens. Actually happens? Nothing really happened yet. Should times be different I would simply keep my kingdom ready for the attack. My brother wants another defeat and he will have it. This time, however I will not spare his life. He will simply be killed on the spot once he tries to attack. This would look even better than anything I did to him in the past. He will die in the battle and no one would blame me. All this was possible in the past, not nowadays. Nowadays Amber can merely cope with the attacks from the Black Road. Strange things are coming from shadows and fighting both Corwin and these things would be too much for us, at least I cannot take such a risk.
I decided to do something I would never do in normal circumstances - to negotiate with Corwin. I decided to use his Trump. I remember our last conversation via trump, which was not very pleasant for me, but this time I felt better prepared. Unfortunately I failed to contact him. I tried several times and it was always the same: feeling the beginning of the contact, but then nothing. This is typical of someone refusing to contact you.
After several counter-productive efforts to contact Corwin I decided to write a letter to him. Of course, the problem was how to deliver such a letter. I thought about asking someone else to contact Corwin and give him my letter, but he kept refusing all the contacts via Trump on a very early stage, before he really could recognize the interlocutor. I suspected some members of our family could have direct contacts with Corwin, but I did not know who they were and whether I could trust them. After all I did not want to show that I have any problems with Corwin. I did not want any mediators.
Finally I found the way of making my message reach Corwin. My brother was always quite sentimental. He liked his house on shadow Earth. I was there once just after having him imprisoned. I simply wanted to make a search there, but I did not want to tell anyone about it. I was looking for possible correspondence with all those he could involve into conspiracy against me. Maybe I shouldn't have expected anything, conspirators rarely leave notes, nevertheless I could not miss the opportunity of finding something potentially dangerous for Amber. I did not find anything, but I noticed a picture on the wall. It was a woodcut depicting two warriors. I liked it very much. It was something annoying. You usually want your enemies to be completely different from you. And Corwin and I are so alike! Our tastes are so similar! Well, I thought that the picture would be useless for Corwin for a long time, so I took it off the wall and brought to my chambers.
This time I decided to give the woodcut back to Corwin. I was sure Corwin will visit his house on shadow Earth, even if he was busy with preparing the assault on Amber, he would not miss the opportunity to visit places once he loved. He would be happy to see the picture in its place and he will want to check the content of his safe box just behind the picture He will find an envelope with my letter. Will he read it? I don't know, but I could not find any better idea. I simply would like to have a feeling I did everything to prevent him from attacking Amber, at least at the moment when she was facing some other attacks. Even if I lose I should be able to say or rather other people should say: "Eric could not have done anything more to prevent the tragedy".
So I sat at my writing. Suddenly I realized that I was not really sure what I should write. At first the only words I should think about were the ones not really recommended to be used, especially when you wanted someone to ... Good question. What did I really want from my brother? I had to answer this question for myself. I had to reject all my emotions and think in a pragmatic way.
Maybe first I have to explain the reasons I was so harsh in dealing with him or even I should apologize? Of course I would never apologize to anyone and especially not to my brother who would kill me on the spot if he had the opportunity to do so. That's a good point! To kill. That's the only thing I should have done. Why didn't I? As I already said - my situation was not as clear as I wanted everyone to recognize. But that was not the only thing. I wanted make him feel that he was defeated and that his most hated brother is the king of Amber. This was also the reason I wanted to have him at every anniversary of my coronation. I enjoyed watching him humiliated and clearly having a kind of mixed feelings. These were these rare moments he was able to be clean, wear clean clothes and eat good food. The price for this was his mental suffer when he knew he took part in a celebration in honor to his worst enemy. These were the only moments I regretted that I had him blinded. It would be much more enjoyable to see him looking at me and other family members and seeing them happy.
It would not be the wisest thing to do if I wrote about it in my letter. On the other hand, even if I felt any regret and expressed it, he would never believe me. Like other Amberites, he would be more likely to trust me if I put it clearly that we are still enemies, but the situation forces us to work together. So, after many attempts to put my thoughts together I wrote:
"I will not apologize for what has been done. My only regret, actually, is I that I did not kill you when I should have. Vanity it was, that played me for a fool."
I was wondering if I did not exaggerate. After all I want Corwin to read the whole letter and not to tear it apart in the middle of reading, so above these lines I inserted a phrase about the necessity of being honest. Then I decided to write something that might please my brother. He always liked when attention was paid to him or to things he had made. So I think he would be happy to learn that I still have his letter "I'll be back". He liked if his words were taken seriously - so I've decided to write that I anticipate his return.
Now, the most important part of the letter: what do I expect him to do? I am sure he has already managed to collect an army to attack us. Why not to ask him straight forward to use this army to help us instead? I know, it sounds absurd, but Corwin sometimes appreciated people who had courage to ask for absurd things. I am much the same. I remember when Random came and tried to assassinate me. That time I was already the king and the only possible sentence for Random was death. Everyone in Amber understood this. So I believe the trial would be just a formal thing. Then I felt someone trying to contact me by Trump. It was Llewella. She told me that Moirë would be very angry if I hurt Random, because he is married to her subject. I was really amazed with her courage and not only I spared Random's life, but also left him under house arrest instead of having him locked in a dark damp cell in the dungeons. Later on people started saying that I was lenient because I wanted to marry Moirë.
For a moment I thought what would happen if Corwin really comes back to Amber. According to the law he would still be a criminal. Of course, he must be pardoned, but still this would be far from a satisfactory solution. I have to grant him something more to make him likely to come back. So I wrote:
"If you elect to assist I will require no homage of you, simply acknowledgement of my leadership for the duration of crisis. You will be accorded to your normal honors"
For a moment I thought: "What will happen when the crisis is over?" Shall we fight a duel? Corwin would like this. I was always better than him, but recently things might have changed. I'd rather not put forward this idea if not asked. Shall we ask our siblings to decide about the future rule in Amber? Here, I believe most of them will be in my favor, but would Corwin recognize the choice of the others? Will I be able to accept it if the choice was not in my favor? No, I would not be able to become Corwin's subject. I do not want to go to any shadows, no matter how similar to Amber, either. Maybe it would be better to step down and give the throne to a third party. Let say Gérard. He is not too intelligent, but he was always loyal to Amber. I think Corwin would also be able to accept him. I tried to think of other possible courses of events, but I did not like any of them. Even the one apparently most beneficial to me - Corwin's heroic death on the battlefield - was not something I really wanted - for a simple reason - no one would believe that I did not help in the development of such a scenario.
I decided not to think of any possible further development, because there were problems that had to be solved right now. However, I should bear in mind some most acceptable solutions for both of us in case Corwin reaches me by Trump. By Trump? Does he have any? I decided to enclose my Trump in the letter. Just in case he wanted to check me if I am not lying. At least if I were in his shoes I would definitely try a conversation. We were always able to diagnose each other whether he was telling the truth or not.
I looked at the blueprint of my letter. All I have to do is to make some small stylistic corrections and re-write the letter neatly.