Summary: Corwin relates a brief skirmish in which he and his squire battle creatures threatening Amber. Both the event and Corwin's telling take place before Nine Princes, so Corwin is younger and a bit more conceited.
I felt my steps were coming to an end and my destination was soon to arrive. A branch there, long dead leaves carpeting the forest floor with their rot, and a dampness, in the air, in the earth, in everything. It was the final touch.
Rein was keeping up with me, as we made our way through shadow and though he wasn't accustomed to it as I, as any child of Amber, he took it well. We had only stopped once when he had trouble coping with the air pressure.
I motioned for silence and he nodded. We crest the top of a berm and peered down.
It was as I thought.
In the valley that lay beneath us, amidst the dead and dying trees, was the Weirmonken camp, a dark spot in what was already brackish nightmare world. Things were shifting down below, in that mass of inky blackness, but the shapes weren't discernible from that distance.
"It chills the soul and sets my heart on needles and pins," Rein whispered from my left, eyes gripped by the scene below.
"Very poetic," I said, "And very cliché."
"You'll get it someday," I muttered as I vaulted over a dead log, cape trailing me in a flutter, and began my quiet decent. Rein followed.
We made our way slowly, cloaks about us. Mine, a night black, traced by silver. My colors. His was only a muddy grey.
We tread the slope carefully, our feet sinking into the composting ground as we moved, our eyes on the camp below as our feet found their footing of their own accord.
I couldn't but muse at Rein's last statement, and the many before it, that had fashioned a long string of embarrassments that no poet or lyricist should suffer. He was trying too hard. I pitied him. He had hoped to become a musician of the court, but at his current rate he would have been lucky for a solid position on a street corner. I had thought on it a moment and decided I would help him in the ways of composition. I decided to instruct my squire on writing a ballad for Amber's victory in the forthcoming battle.
We were nearer then, and I could make out the shapes of the enemy troops. My eyesight was very good.
The foot soldiers appeared as men, but I knew better. Weir, all of them. Tied up near the crimson red tents were steeds, not horses but scaled, green panthers. None of this caught my interest.
I focused on the central tent. There, entering it, was the tall, red hooded figure. One of the Mad.
Amber's war with Weirmonken, or rather, the reverse, was unprovoked and sudden. Being a shadow near to Amber herself, the dark things crept out and into the forests of Arden. Julian had been first to run into invaders with his hunting party. All were slain but him and he had barely trumped back to Amber. Coward.
It was later we learned that the enemy came out of Weirmonken, lead by a mysterious cult known as the Mad who swore death to Amber and all her children. The threat wasn't new, we'd heard it all before. This wasn't the first time some enemy had shown up at our doorstep prophesying our doom and it wouldn't be the last time we slit their throat and dropped them in a shallow grave.
It was then I felt the contact, like ice against my forehead.
"Benedict?" I asked.
"Deirdre," she answered and her image became clear to me.
Deirdre, skin pale and dark hair draping her shoulders, clothed in black and silver trim, armored by her jet platemail. At her breast, before her heart, a silver moon caressed by the Unicorn. Her eyes are blue and shine like mine, but much more beautifully. She is my sister.
"Deirdre?" I questioned, surprised but not unpleasantly so, "I bid you greetings, sister, but was it not Benedict who was to contact us to orchestrate the ambush?"
"He's been called back to Amber. I'm afraid its just the three of us now, brother."
"What, you mean you, I, and Random?" I said between my teeth, "That hardly counts for three."
This was not good. Had our goal been to fill the enemy soldier's boots with mud and prepare a meal of pidgin dropping filled tarts, fine, but this was a battle and my brother Random was hardly more than a boyish prankster. Why my father, Oberon, had assigned him to this task in the first place was beyond me. Unless he were planning our deaths, which come to think of it seemed probable given Benedict's return call.
"Are the men ready?"
"I think so," she responded, looking off to her right, then meeting my gaze again, "How bad is it, Corwin?"
"Nothing we can't handle, my dear," I exaggerated, grinning in full flourish.
She smiled then, and I was pleased.
"Have you spoken to Random?"
"Yes," She replied, "He's ready to sweep around with his troops as soon as the signal is given."
"Alright. Things look good from my angle. Make the battle call when you're ready."
She nodded and the contact was broken.
"Where is Benedict?" Rein asked when he could see the contact was broken. He had been looking over my shoulder and obviously noticed my brother wasn't there.
"He won't be joining," I had replied, "A pity, but more heads for the two of us."
Rein swallowed nervously. Benedict is shadow-renowned as the greatest fighter and battle tactician who ever lived. His absence would be felt in the battle, regardless of whether we won or not.
The burble of a horn sounded. It was time.
The enemy camp roused below and a inhuman howl echoed over us. A surge of Amberites emerged from the trees on the east side and the Weirmonken loomed up against them, their fowl troops charging across the clearing. Those still in their human form propped spears against us, those who had abandoned that shape snarled and snapped their jaws as they bound into our lines.
Rein and I bolted from cover, our swords in hand as we sprinted into the enemy's unprotected flank. I lay low the first man in a single thrust before he even noticed me. The next man turned his head in shock before it flew from his shoulders from the swipe of my blade. Rein parried in sixte and then slew his opponent.
Meanwhile, I faced one of the Weir in full form. Eyes wired with bloody veins such that they glowed in the face of dark matted hair, lips peeled over ferocious canine teeth born in a snout large enough to swallow my head, breath hot bursts in the chill as it stared me down and raised a shaggy clawed hand to swipe at me.
I struck in quarte and cut deep, letting the beasts entrails spill steaming.
As Rein and I caused confusion within the enemy ranks, Random's patrol emerged on the west side, rushing from the nocturnal undergrowth. It was a benefit to me, as a small pack of the wolfish beasts had me suspended between them, but the chaos caused by dear brother Random caught their attention, awarding me a quick stab and dismissal of one of the them before taking on the rest.
Rein fared well, locked in a duel with an enemy swordsman. I watched through the corner of battle pricked eyes as he parried with his saber. He advanced, lunged, made a riposte and then executed a killing strike in quartata that I had taught him. He did my teachings well, I'm glad I had brought him along.
I could see then that the battle was in our favor. While Deirdre and Random's forces occupied the bulk of the enemy troops, Rein and I continued the dirty work on the sideline, slaying some in their battle dazed confusion and dueling with others that had their wits about them. No degree of wit kept them alive, however.
And then I spotted him, a distance through the fray over the heads of the combatants, the robed figure of the Mad, the enemy leader of this skirmish soon to be debacle. He stood higher than the rest, completely hidden in his blood dyed gown as he directed his soldiers. In my lust for honor I executed the man I had been dueling in sport with a deft flick and pushed into the crowd towards the mad one.
A grizzly of a beast lept from my flank and slashed me across the arm, tearing skin and drawing blood. It felt but a graze and I sent the Weir sprawling with a kick before slaying another. He let out a death howl as I stepped over him and zealously fought for the center of the enemy ranks where the mad stood. The thundering of my veins beat against my eardrums like war drums mixed with the sound of battle as I fought without tiring, thirsting for the kill. The mad one seemed to notice me because he had eagerly swept his heavy sleeved hands in my direction and push came to shove as the fodder piled between us.
I spat and lunged, thrust, and flayed the hides of those around me. None of Amber had faced one of the mad yet save Julian, who had run with his tail between his legs. I would be the one to kill one of the crimson sorcerers from shadow. My brothers would envy me, but mostly I craved to see the look on Julian's face. The humiliation, the fury.
It was wishful thinking, but the thought had struck me that even my father Oberon might consider naming me heir to the crown for my deeds. He'd yet to name a successor and I had considered myself pretty capable for the position.
This aside, I was the only one present capable to kill the cunning demon that sought Amber's destruction, and would reap the bragging rights. Random barely passed as a swordsmen and Deirdre, dear as she was to my heart, was hardly a fighter in comparison to myself.
My visions of glory fled as the cry of my squire met my ears from behind me. I turned my head for a split second to see him stagger backward off the blade of the shadow armored Weir. It didn't look vital, but from that distance and so brief a glimpse, that wasn't saying much. I parried a thrust and glanced ahead. There the mad one stood, taunting me.
Damn, I hissed. I'd make Rein wish he'd died there on the battlefield if he lived through this. I stripped my cloak in a swift circle of my arm, casting it at my enemies as I danced backward, silver blade arching and guarding my retreat.
Rein, clutching his side, rolled as the armored wolf brought his sword down, an over sized snake of wounds that bit the earth venomously.
I was tired now, I felt it everywhere. Somehow the thrust of rescuing my squire was less than the invigoration that came with a chance to derogate my brothers. Still, I blundered on, my sword clashing and clanging threw the crowd. Somewhere along the way, I lost my grip in the hordes and earned a number of nicks and a deep cut to my thigh for it.
"Hey," I called, gaining the behemoth Weir's attention and Rein's safety, "You look like the right sort who gets vanquished by the hero of this epic."
The mongrel giant lowered its head and let out a throaty roar as it took a heavy step toward me. I feinted right and he took the bait, swinging a lopping blow that would have decapitated the more foolish. But I split left, rounding on the creature, grabbing the hairy wrist with one hand and snapping the humerus with the other.
An unearthly yelp met my ears as the creature bent back, trying to round on me. I went for the Weir's own sword but another of his kind, of much shorter stature, came to the defense of his shadow brethren. Unfortunately for him, it was me that he aided, and I picked him up in both hands and flung him at my foe.
It worked as I'd planned, knocking the greater beast over. I was at his head in an instant, wrapping my arm around his muzzle and twisting with both hands, a harsh crack my reward.
When I looked up, I saw her. Deirdre, in all her beautiful glory, looming above the battle as if on a stage with the mad one. She raised her silver axe and cleaved with a vengeance.
Bitch. I'd hate her if she weren't my favorite.
And so it was. Amber triumphed and Deirdre dropped the head of the mad one at our father's feet once we returned to Amber. Oberon was pleased and showed her unusual favor for the deed, not so whimsically as to name her his successor, but she did get an honorary feast.
Down below they ate and made cheer at the grand table and above, in my quarters, I sat ripping at a broiled chicken and guzzling wine.
I was happy for her, proud of her accomplishment. I'd given up any feelings of resentment. Even so, it could have been mine and should have been mine. Deirdre hadn't stolen the opportunity from me, I had given it up. And for what?
Rein lay in the infirmary, two broken ribs and a nasty gash where the sword had pierced him. Damn fool. Both of us. Him for whatever blunder he made. Me for going back for him.
It was an action I couldn't explain. I liked Rein, sure, but he was an average swordsman and a lousy poet. He could be replaced.
And what of it? I could find another Rein in another shadow, if I struck up the will to, and he'd be this Rein's better.
Something itched on the far side of my mind as I bit into the chicken and I couldn't quite place the thought. Perhaps I was growing soft. I laughed. Perhaps I was growing drunk.
I corked the wine, lit a cigarette, inhaled deep and sighed.
Rein, the skinny kid who hung around as the brunt end of a joke. Somewhere along the line he picked up a lute and began to play alongside my ballads, seemingly oblivious to everything said at his expense. Ignorant sap, but I had valued the dedication. I taught him to use the saber and he took to eagerly but with little skill. With a battle on Amber's doorstep, I made him my squire, having no one more useful around. And there I was, saving his life.
I suppose I just liked the guy. Or pitied him. Maybe it was all the same.
There was still about a third of the chicken left. I picked up the bottle and my leftovers and headed to where the injured soldiers were treated.
Rein didn't deserve it, but hell, I wasn't going to finish it.
The wounded weren't considerable, numbering around half our three hundred man ambush. I ignored them as I headed for where I knew Rein bedded.
"Sire," he exclaimed, stirring upright and trying to hide the pained grimace on his face.
"Hows the injury?" I asked, tossing him the chicken and placing the wine bottle at his bedside.
"Faring well, thank you sire, I'll be on my feet with sword in hand in no time, sire."
"See that you do, we'll be mobilizing toward Jones Falls soon."
I stepped away to leave and his voice halted me momentarily.
"Corwin, sire," I turned to face him. "Thanks, for saving my life."
I shook my head. "Shut up, I don't need the reminder."