HER BROTHER'S KEEPER
a Chronicles of Amber fic
Notes: Written for amberite for Yuletide 2012.
Summary: Fiona has always taken care of her brothers.
Fiona remembers being an only child. Vague stories of half siblings far away hardly count. All she knows is the wide swing of her father's arms as he lifts her high, and the warm embrace of her mother's arms as she cradles her close. She blooms in the attention they lavish upon her, absolute centre of their world.
It is only later that she learns the centre of the world has been somewhere else all along.
Fiona never asked for a little brother. Squalling and red and useless, yet an endless source of wonder to the adults who cluster around him. "His name is Bleys," her mother says, and the unbearable thing is, her mother is now his mother too. "You have to look after him. Because you're his big sister."
"I don't want to be his big sister," Fiona says.
"It's not something you can choose, dear one," her mother says, stroking her hair. "Family is forever. And blood is thicker than water."
Things get better when Bleys grows old enough to start walking and talking. He tumbles over his own feet and springs up again laughing, delighted at his own cleverness. He babbles about everything he sees, and Fiona corrects his words with patient superiority. She discovers she likes having someone to order about, someone who will listen to her and follow her lead.
By the time Brand is born, Fiona is ready for another little brother. There are games you cannot play with two people. You really need three.
Bleys is not quite tall enough to see into the crib. But Fiona stands on tiptoes and reaches through the bars, to the red-haired baby who gazes back at her. He curls his small hand around her fingers and holds tight.
They run wild over the hills, climbing trees and building forts, collecting pebbles and chasing butterflies, naming landmarks in their own invented language. Fiona is always first and fastest. But sometimes she stops and lets her brothers catch up.
Fiona hides under the bed with her brothers, as her parents fight, listening to their thunderous shouts, like gods warring in heaven. She hates the twisty feeling in her belly, wishes she could sneak out the window and lose herself in the hills. But when Brand starts crying-too young to understand fully, but knowing the world is cracking apart-Fiona grabs his hand and says, "It's going to be fine. I promise." She holds onto the words like a wish. And Brand holds on to her.
Later, when the storm subsides, Fiona ventures forth. The house is in disarray, valises lying open, as her mother yanks clothes from the wardrobe.
"Are you going away again?" Fiona asks her father, boldly.
"Yes," he says, ruffling her hair. "But this time, you're all coming with me."
Fiona never forgets her first sight of Amber. The great green forest on the skirts of the mountain, the shining white peak lit by the sun, and the castle itself crowning the summit. It is like the distilled dream of a kingdom. She suddenly understands why her father keeps leaving.
"This is your home now," he says.
It is not only her home. She meets her father's other children, for the first time. A girl named Deirdre, sad and solemn, a few years older than herself. Three boys, Eric and Corwin and Caine, curious about the new arrivals, but inclined to be occupied with their own contests and quarrels. And the eldest, Benedict, already a man and a warrior, whose quiet intensity intimidates Fiona. They are all of them tall and dark and imposing, grown up here together, with their own hierarchies.
They are not fond of interlopers. They do not like her mother, her brothers, or her self. But Fiona learns she is better than they are at trading barbed remarks. She lets their subtle insults flow off her, smiling silkily. It makes them wonder if she is bluffing, or only pretending to bluff. Either way, she draws their fire, and dispels it.
This forest is too perilous to play in; this mountain is too dangerous to roam. Fiona and Bleys and Brand are confined to the castle. And so they explore it, from the dungeons to the battlements, away from the savage brawls of the boys and the tempestuous outbursts of their parents.
Fiona likes to explore the library, a sanctuary free from unfriendly eyes. Some books are written in scripts she cannot read, though magic whispers its promises beneath her fingers. One day, she meets a strange little man, when he steps right through the wall.
"How did you do that?" she demands, in astonishment.
"I drew a picture," he says.
Fiona learns many things from Dworkin: pictures that take you elsewhere, spells that change your own shape, the balance between Order and Chaos, first causes and final consequences. She asks "Why?" over and over, and he answers, perhaps amused at the temerity of this child, perhaps pleased to have an eager audience.
Her brothers, naturally, grow interested too. All Fiona has to say is, "Watch this," and Brand will say, "Show me how."
Her mother finally decides to return home, tired of waiting by an empty throne while her husband seeks his pleasures elsewhere.
"I suppose you will want to stay here," she says to Fiona. She knows well the allure of Amber, one true world at the heart of all worlds, knows her daughter is carving out her own place in it.
"I'll visit, I promise," Fiona says, embracing her. And she keeps her word.
But when she thinks of family, she thinks of her brothers.
The day Fiona comes of age and walks the Pattern is the day she understands that, in all ways, Amber is in her blood.
They make the fateful choice, the three of them: to overthrow their father and rule Amber themselves. To achieve their goal, they will stand in dread alliance with the Courts of Chaos. But to open the way, they will need to deface the Pattern. To defile it with family blood.
It is a problem with no easy solution, although Fiona is bent on finding a way.
"Who do you like the least?" Bleys says. "I vote Eric." He is probably not joking. Eric has ambitions of his own. He is the one most likely to stand in their way.
"That's actually tempting," Fiona says. Everyone knows he is the one who slew Corwin. "But no. It would attract too much attention. Any of them."
They are, after all, family.
Brand says nothing, but he listens.
Brand summons Fiona on her Trump, to the Primal Pattern. She takes his hand, and realises it is wet with blood. And blood stains the Pattern around him, dark as a ripe bruise.
Her first thought is that he has done himself a harm. She scans him up and down, pulse racing. But he chuckles. "Relax, sister. It's not my blood."
Unease prickles her spine. "Then whose?"
He hands her a torn Trump. It shows a young man with blond hair, a faint smile upon his sharp features. He seems oddly familiar. A swift glance at Brand, who confirms it. "Yes. That bastard son of Random's. No one has seen him in years." Brand smiles. "Except for me, just now."
"Brand," she says, unable to think what else to say. She had intended to make this a ritual of the three of them, one third each of their blood, their triumvirate bound together forever by this shared sacrifice.
"It's the perfect solution," Brand says. "No one will miss him."
Martin, she recalls, has no sisters or brothers.
"No, I suppose not," Fiona says at last.
Brand weds a sorceress named Jasra, after a sudden courtship. Fiona and Bleys are both invited to the private ceremony at the Keep of the Four Worlds. No one else knows. "It's a secret," Brand says. "And a surprise."
Jasra has red hair and sparkling eyes. She is laughing and clever and fierce. They might actually be a match. Fiona is watching her little brother grow up.
"I'm happy for you," she tells him. "Finding someone you love."
"Love?" Brand echoes. He smiles. "It's an alliance that suits us both very well." He rests his hand against the wall. It thrums with ancient power. "And this place suits me very well."
The next time Fiona sees Brand, he has undertaken the ritual of the Fount, and Jasra is no longer laughing.
"Bleys," Fiona says one night. "We need to talk."
"About Brand," he says. Not a question.
None needed, between them.
"Where is this place?" Brand says, as soon as he cracks an eyelid open.
"Your new home," Fiona answers, from the other side of the cell door.
It has taken all her cunning, all her skill, to devise this prison. Brand is chained to the wall with manacles of iron, sigils mark every stone of this tower, monstrous guards patrol its gates, and a shining serpent encircles it. Fiona has learned to build fortresses.
Brand must do no more harm. Not to others. Not to himself. Even now, Fiona sees the faint glimmer within his hands, where flesh has been transmuted into pure energy. How much can a man lose, how much of himself can he trade, before he is no longer human?
He has remade himself. And he desires no less than to remake the universe.
Brand watches her through the bars of his cell.
"Fiona, Fiona," he says, shaking his head, pacing towards her. "Are you jealous of my triumphs? I have excelled beyond your imaginings, gone where you fear to follow. You never thought I would surpass you. Do you really think your wards can hold me?" Brand flexes his hands against his chains. They smoke, but they hold.
"You should know better than to underestimate me," Fiona says. "I am still your elder sister."
Brand reaches his hand through the bars. But Fiona turns away.
Everything changes when Corwin returns, a conquering hero with his armies and his questions. He is getting closer to the truth. He will expose all their plans. Corwin knows that Brand is a prisoner, thinks that Brand saved his life. Now Corwin has gathered all his brothers and sisters in the library of Castle Amber, determined to summon Brand back, to free him from his shadowy captors.
Fiona gazes at the Trump of her brother, a portrait painted when Brand was young. Dworkin has perfectly captured that restless questing heart, that fierce joy and aching discontent. Fiona gazes at the lines of resolution and rebellion warring upon his face, knowing how they have been shaped by her choices.
Some say you can read your future in the cards.
Fiona wonders what it would have been like if she had been more like her sisters: if she had chosen to pursue war like Deirdre, or love like Flora, or solitude like Llewella. Instead, she took the road less travelled, into the secrets of the universe, the hunger for hidden lore, the path of sorcery and power, where her brothers followed.
What would it have been like if she had settled for an ordinary life instead? She could have been running through the green hills forever, Bleys and Brand by her side.
Her brothers and sisters think Brand is a hero. But soon they will find him, and then they will all know: what he has done, what he has become. And their admiration will sour to revulsion.
Fiona slides out the dagger in her sleeve.
She can still look after him.