Summary: Corwin and Eric establish the beginnings of what turns out to be a great and lasting war.
The Ball Game
Julian beat him at the ball game again, and it was terribly unfair. Corwin grimaced and tried to bash his brother's teeth in with his forehead, but the servants came before he could do any serious damage. Julian laughed all the way to the doctor's, and while his bleeding nose was looked to poked his tongue at Corwin over the woman's back.
Then he looked queasy, and for the next three days stayed in bed and refused to see visitors. Corwin's nurse dragged him over to apologize, and he spent half an hour pouting at Julian's bedside while his brother (only a half-brother at that) stewed in silence.
That was the way with Julian. He'd never go right out and scream at anyone, but he'd do something nasty the next time he had a chance. Years younger than Corwin but he still managed to be a pest.
Corwin liked just about anyone better than Julian. Even Eric, who was stupid, would punch him straight out and then forget about it. He gave a mean right hook, but at least he was satisfied afterwards.
In fact, Eric did punch him out because as soon as Corwin was allowed to leave Julian's bedside he ran off sailing. The merchants were gathering for the morning's opening of the way for a shadow trip to the Midland Sea, and his nurse had left him unattended for a few minutes too long.
Consequently he skipped his morning and afternoon lessons and Eric had landed their shared tutors alone again (and Corwin knew how hard the man drove when there was only one prince to keep him occupied), so when Corwin got back home, exhausted and excited about his voyage, there was stupid Eric waiting at his bedroom door as if he'd sat there all afternoon, and as soon as they saw each other the fists went flying.
His nurse, unable to break them up, went and called their swordsmanship instructor, and they were both left standing in opposite corners of Corwin's bedroom. Eric glared at him for a little while, but after the instructor had left them in peace he helped Corwin climb out the window and onto Deirdre's balcony, conveniently located on the floor below.
They spent the evening hiding there, until Deirdre came back and the woman who was with her started shrieking about little hooligans. Then they had to relocate, and ended up spending the evening on the western beach, finally undisturbed.
It was boring, but at least no one came for them until dinner. Corwin collected sea shells while Eric built a fire against the coming evening breeze, and they spent an agreeable time staring at the waves.
Father found them half asleep against the sand. Corwin was surprised to see the man, he hadn't seen his father in ages. He was even more surprised when Oberon both remembered their names (and didn't confuse them like last time) and carried them both to the castle on his massive shoulders.
No one back home seemed angry anymore. Either that or they didn't dare show it. Corwin and Eric were given a real royal reception, and Father called them Prince Corwin and Prince Eric, and had them sit at his side during dinner.
Eric was all smiles and sweetness. He generally managed to make a good impression of himself if he pleased it (even if Corwin knew he was a miserable bastard). Everyone thought he was a pet and a dear, and called Corwin the hooligan, never mind that Eric got into just as much trouble as Corwin ever did.
Father liked them both though, and even if he still treated them like they were five, patting their hair down and asking about their studies, Corwin liked the attention. Eric was just sucking it up too, he could tell. His brother had something for being praised, after all.
In fact, it seemed like Oberon had spent some time studying all their names. He didn't mix up the girls any more, and he remembered who was Bleys and who was Brand. Everyone was assembled together, and Corwin realized for the first time that his family was quite large.
After years spent growing up largely alone, with only Eric's room down the hall and Deirdre's downstairs and occasionally a brother or two to play with, he forgot sometimes how many of them there actually were.
Not only that, but Oberon had brought a new wife, who sat at the other end of the table (she had brown hair and kind, sharp eyes) and some older brothers Corwin didn't remember. They all sat together at the other end of the table and didn't so much as glance at the younger children.
Dinner was a stupid formal affair, with everyone sitting at prearranged places and way too many courses. Corwin's nurse had warned him about being on his best behaviour in front of his father, but after the first hour he was intolerably bored. Some of the younger kids had gotten cranky and were taken away. Even Eric had started making funny shapes out of his mashed potatoes. They played with battle language across the table, trying to signal the rudest words they could think of.
Brand was just starting to look truly mutinous (he'd throw a wicked tantrum if given the chance) when the dinner finished, and surprisingly Oberon called for the children to come with him to a sitting room. He assembled the lot of them on comfortable couches according to age and mother, and spent some time examining them. The older boys, who Corwin assumed were also princes of the realm, all stared critically. The new Queen sat in the corner and placidly watched.
"Father, I do think you might make a decision in the matter." the eldest of the other boys said. That got a vague hmm response.
Corwin was starting to get bored and fidgety. Cain was right next to him, half-asleep. On his other side, Eric whispered that they were on display and not to embarrass the memory of their mother.
Eric was always saying stupid things like that. Corwin couldn't remember his mother, and would have bet that Eric couldn't, either. He had pictures of her, and nurse would tell him stories of her when he was ill. Otherwise, his mother did not exist.
Deirdre, having been sat on Eric's lap by their father, grasped Corwin's hand between delicate fingers and whispered that he had to look good for daddy.
"Really, Faiella's boys should be next in line…" the youth was saying. Father was nodding, and after a moment came over and kneeled to examine Eric. A huge hand tilted his head this way and that, and with a moment of contemplation proceeded to give Corwin the same treatment. Oberon left Deirdre alone.
"They've very young." He said, and the youth who had spoken shrugged.
"Such is the product of your labours. But if I may, I hope you will declare someone soon."
Oberon had gone on to examine Cain, and then Bleys and Brand, who was fidgeting as usual. Brand was terrible at keeping still, Corwin remembered. It was essentially the only thing he knew of his brother.
"Are you hoping for someone in particular, Benedict? You seem to give this more than your fair bit of thought."
Benedict. Corwin thought, and fixed the image in his mind. A tall, thin youth with a look that reminded him of Father, intense and inscrutable.
Father went on to examine all the boys, with brother Benedict occasionally reminding him of their names. Then he stood back, looked at the assembled Princes of Amber again, and swept out of the sitting room.
The three youths exchanged glances.
"You were awful pushy with this business. He'll not announce anyone now," one of them said.
"He aught to think on it though. With the war coming, it seems a good time to establish precedence. Imagine what would happen if all three of us died?" Said another.
The one called Benedict was looking at the children intently. After a moment, his eyes drifted and rested on Corwin's. Surprisingly, he seemed friendly.
"At the moment they are too young in any case, and afterwards… well, there is always the question of who's eldest. I believe it's one of those two, isn't it?" The third youth asked, pointing to Corwin.
"That's the younger. The black-haired boy's the eldest, I suppose he's first. There are inherent problems with the succession though. If you look at it legally there arise some complications…" Benedict answered.
"Well don't look at it legally then. I see no twins. Someone must be eldest here." The youth signed, and rolled his eyes. "I've had enough. I do think you're over-reacting." With that, he left.
"I imagine he's right in the end. It's no great matter at present, by the time they're old enough to care a precedence will have been set." The other youth said. Benedict nodded, and they exited together.
The new Queen was still sitting in the corner. After a moment of silence she swept up to the assembled children and examined them herself. Then she smiled and left as well.
Corwin sort of hated her. He had sort of hated most of his father's wives. Eric didn't bother with sort of. Occasionally he would say something about how their mother had been much better than all these new ladies. Deirdre, who had absolutely no memory of mother, thought all of Father's wives were wonderful. Everyone made a pet of her, she was so charming and sweet.
The servants had come to drag the youngest to bed and prepare the rest to follow in a few hours. Corwin and Eric were marched together to have their baths, and then left alone to play in Eric's bedroom for a little while. After years of the same old games they had gotten bored with trying to beat each other and tonight, with the excitement of meeting Father and so many new siblings and a new Queen, games didn't hold much attention.
"Did you hear, I'm going to be king some day!" Eric declared when they were left alone. He bounced up onto his bed and only just stopped himself from jumping on it, bouncing a little more as Corwin joined him.
"They didn't say that!" Corwin protested, but Eric was hopeless when he decided something. He always had to have things his way, and now he wanted to be King, too.
Corwin decided then and there to kill his brother, become eldest, and get the crown himself, just so Eric could go choke on it. He said as much.
"As if you'd beat me!" Eric announced. The next half an hour was spent furiously wrestling on the bed, and then trying to cobber each other when both pushed the other onto the floor.
Then Corwin's nurse came to fetch him for bed and glared at the both of them and wiped his bleeding nose. Eric was left alone in his bedroom, nursing bruises. Corwin glanced back once, before nurse shut the door, but Eric had turned away to find his pajamas.
Neither of them had really won the throne, but Corwin was sure Eric would forget it by tomorrow morning. He told his nurse as much, but she only asked why on earth he insisted on picking fights with his brother, and couldn't they for once play nicely? They were such sweet little boys when it pleased them.
Corwin tried to explain that he couldn't not pick a fight with Eric, even if it wasn't the throne of their kingdom or a new toy or some other thing. Eric was just such that they had to argue.
But his nurse only shook her head, as always without understanding, and sent him to fetch a book to read before bedtime.
I don't think he realized how serious these arguments would get… just to mention, I argued with my sister a whole lot, for no real reason, and our cousins got into fights just as bad as this. People generally grow out of it.
The other two elder brothers mentioned were Osric and Finndo, who both soon try to kill their father, fail, and die in the war. Benedict survives and the succession remains a sort-of moot point.