“I’ll stay with you,” she said.
I did not tell her that I felt everything lay within my hands, but I have a feeling she knew and that for some reason she trusted me. I would not have, but that was her affair.
“You know how things might be,” I said.
“I know,” she said, and I knew that she knew and that was it.
We turned our attention to other subjects, and later we slept.
She’d had a dream.
In the morning, she said to me, “I had a dream.”
“What about?” I asked.
“The coming battle,” she told me. “I see you and the horned one locked in combat.”
“I don’t know. But as you slept, I did a thing that might help you.”
“I wish you had not,” I said. “I can take care of myself.”
“Then I dreamed of my own death, in this time.”
“Let me take you away to a place I know.”
“No, my place is here,” she told me.
“I don’t pretend to own you,” I said, “but I can save you from whatever you’ve dreamed. That much lies within my power, believe me.”
“I do believe you, but I will not go.”
“You’re a damned fool.”
“Let me stay.”
“As you wish… Listen, I’ll even send you to Cabra…”
“You’re a damned fool.”
“I know. I love you.”
“…And a stupid one. The word is ‘like.’ Remember?”
“You’ll do it,” she said.
“Go to hell,” I said.
Then she wept, softly, until I comforted her once again.
That was Lorraine.
I thought back, one morning, upon all that had gone before. I thought of my brothers and sisters as though they were playing cards, which I knew was wrong. I thought back to the rest home where I had awakened, back to the battle for Amber, back to my walking the Pattern in Rebma, and back to that time with Moire, who just might be Eric’s by now. I thought of Bleys and of Random, Deirdre, Caine, Gerard, and Eric, that morning. It was the morning of the battle, of course, and we were camped in the hills near the Circle. We had been attacked several times along the way, but they had been brief, guerrilla affairs. We had dispatched our assailants and continued. When we reached the area we had decided upon, we made our camp, posted guards, and retired. We slept undisturbed. I awoke wondering whether my brothers and sisters thought of me as I thought of them. It was a very sad thought.
In the privacy of a small grove, my helmet filled with soapy water, I shaved my beard. Then I dressed, slowly, in my private and tattered colors. I was as hard as stone, dark as soil, and mean as hell once more.
Today would be the day. I donned my visor, put on chain mail, buckled my belt, and hung Grayswandir at my side. Then I fastened my cloak at my neck with a silver rose and was discovered by a messenger who had been looking for me to tell me that things were about ready.
I kissed Lorraine, who had insisted on coming along. Then I mounted my horse, a roan named Star, and rode off toward the front.
There I met with Ganelon and with Lance. They said, “We are ready.”
I called for my officers and briefed them. They saluted, turned and rode away. “Soon,” said Lance, lighting his pipe.
“How is your arm?”
“Fine, now,” he replied, “after that workout you gave it yesterday. Perfect.” I opened my visor and lit my own pipe.
“You’ve shaved your beard,” said Lance. “I cannot picture you without it.”
“The helm fits better this way,” I said.
“Good fortune to us all,” said Ganelon. “I know no gods, but if any care to be with us, I welcome them.”
“There is but one God,” said Lance. “I pray that He be with us.”
“Amen,” said Ganelon, lighting his pipe. “For today.”
“It will be ours,” said Lance.
“Yes,” said I, as the sun stirred the east and the birds of morning the air, “it has that feel to it.” We emptied our pipes when we had finished and tucked them away at our belts. Then we secured ourselves with final tightenings and claspings of our armor and Ganelon said, “Let us be about it.”
My officers reported back to me. My sections were ready.
We filed down the hillside, and we assembled outside the Circle. Nothing stirred within it, and no troops were visible.
“I wonder about Corwin,” Ganelon said to me.
“He is with us,” I told him, and he looked at me strangely, seemed to notice the rose for the first time, then nodded brusquely.
“Lance,” he said, when we had assembled. “Give the order.”
And Lance drew his blade. His cried “Charge!” echoed about us.
We were half a mile inside the Circle before anything happened. There were five hundred of us in the lead, all mounted. A dark cavalry appeared, and we met them. After five minutes, they broke and we rode on. Then we heard the thunder.
There was lightning, and the rain began to fall.
The thunderhead had finally broken.
A thin line of foot soldiers, pikemen mainly, barred our way, waiting stoically. Maybe we all smelled the trap, but we bore down upon them. Then the cavalry hit our flanks.
We wheeled, and the fighting began in earnest. It was perhaps twenty minutes later… We held out, waiting for the main body to arrive. Then the two hundred or so of us rode on…
Men. It was men that we slew, that slew us — grayfaced, dour-countenanced men. I wanted more. One more…
Theirs must have been a semi-metaphysical problem in logistics. How much could be diverted through this Gateway? I was not sure. Soon…
We topped a rise, and far ahead and below us lay a dark citadel.
I raised my blade.
As we descended, they attacked.
They hissed and they croaked and they flapped. That meant, to me, that he was running low on people. Grayswandir became a flame in my hand, a thunderbolt, a portable electric chair. I slew them as fast as they approached, and they burned as they died. To my right, I saw Lance draw a similar line of chaos, and he was muttering beneath his breath. Prayers for the dead, no doubt. To my left, Ganelon laid about him, and a wake of fires followed behind his horse’s tail. Through the flashing lightning, the citadel loomed larger.
The hundred or so of us stormed ahead, and the abominations fell by the wayside.
When we reached the gate, we were faced by an infantry of men and beasts. We charged.
They outnumbered us, but we had little choice. Perhaps we had proceeded our own infantry by too much. But I thought not. Time, as I saw it, was all important now.
“I’ve got to get through!” I cried. “He’s inside!”
“He’s mine!” said Lance.
“You’re both welcome to him!” said Ganelon, laying about him. “Cross when you can! I’m with you!”
We slew and we slew and we slew, and then the tide turned in their favor. They pressed us, all the ugly things that were more or less than human, mixed in with human troops. We were drawn up into a tight knot, defending ourselves on all sides, when our bedraggled infantry arrived and began hacking. We pressed for the gate once more and made it this time, all forty or fifty of us.
We won through, and then there were troops in the courtyard to be slain.
The dozen or so of us who made it to the foot of the dark tower were faced by a final guard contingent.
“Go it!” cried Ganelon, as we leaped from our horses and waded into them.
“Go it!” cried Lance, and I guess they both meant me, or each other.
I took it to mean me, and I broke away from the fray and raced up the stairs.
He would be there, in the highest tower, I knew; and I would have to face him, and face him down. I did not know whether I could, but I had to try, because I was the only one who knew where he really came from — and I was the one who put him there.
I came to a heavy wooden door at the top of the stairs. I tried it, but it was secured from the other side. So I kicked it as hard as I could. It fell inward with a crash.
I saw him there by the window, a man-formed body dressed in light armor, goat head upon those massive shoulders.
I crossed the threshold and stopped.
He had turned to stare as the door had fallen, and now he sought my eyes through steel.
“Mortal man, you have come too far,” he said. “Or are you mortal man?” and there was a blade in his hand.
“Ask Strygalldwir,” I said.
“You are the one who slew him,” he stated. “Did he name you?”
There were footsteps on the stairs behind me. I stepped to the left of the doorway.
Ganelon burst into the chamber and I called “Halt!” and he did.
He turned to me.
“This is the thing,” he said. “What is it?”
“My sin against a thing I loved,” I said. “Stay away from it. It’s mine.”
“You’re welcome to it.” He stood stock still.
“Did you really mean that?” asked the creature.
“Find out,” I said, and leaped forward.
But it did not fence with me. Instead, it did what any mortal fencer would consider foolish.
It hurled its blade at me, point forward, like a thunderbolt. And the sound of its passage came like a clap of thunder. The elements outside the tower echoed it, a deafening response.
With Grayswandir, I parried that blade as though it were an ordinary thrust. It embedded itself in the floor and burst into flames. Without, the lightning responded.
For an instant, the light was as blinding as a magnesium flare, and in that moment the creature was upon me.
It pinned my arms to my sides, and its horns struck against my visor, once, twice…
Then I threw my strength against those arms, and their grip began to weaken.
I dropped Grayswandir, and with a final heave broke the hold it had upon me.
In that moment, however, our eyes met.
Then we both struck, and we both reeled back.
“Lord of Amber,” it said then, “why do you strive with me? It was you who gave us this passage, this way…”
“I regret a rash act and seek to undo it.”
“Too late — and this a strange place to begin.” It struck again, so quickly that it got through my guard. I was slammed back against the wall. Its speed was deadly.
And then it raised its hand and made a sign, and I had a vision of the Courts of Chaos come upon me — a vision that made my hackles rise, made a chill wind blow across my soul, to know what I had done.
“You see?” it was saying. “You gave us this Gateway. Help us now, and we will restore to you that which is yours.”
For a moment I was swayed. It was possible that it could do just what it had offered, if I would help.
But it would be a threat forever after. Allies briefly, we would be at each other’s throats after we got what we wanted — and those dark forces would be much stronger by then. Still, if I held the city…
“Do we have a bargain?” came the sharp, near-bleat of the question.
I thought upon the shadows, and of the places beyond Shadow…
Slowly, I reached up and unbuckled my helm…
Then I hurled it, just as the creature seemed to relax. I think Ganelon was moving forward by then.
I leaped across the chamber and drove it back against the wall.
“No!” I cried.
Its manlike hands found my throat at about the same instant mine wrapped about its own.
I squeezed, with all my strength, and twisted. I guess it did the same.
I heard something snap like a dry stick. I wondered whose neck had broken. Mine sure hurt.
I opened my eyes and there was the sky. I was lying on my back on a blanket on the ground.
“I’m afraid he’s going to live,” said Ganelon, and I turned my head, slowly, in the direction of his voice.
He was seated on the edge of the blanket, sword across his knees. Lorraine was with him.
“How goes it?” I said.
“We’ve won,” he told me. “You’ve kept your promise. When you killed that thing, it was all over. The men fell senseless, the creatures burned.”
“I have been sitting here wondering why I no longer hate you.”
“Have you reached any conclusions?”
“No, not really. Maybe it’s because we’re a lot alike. I don’t know.” I smiled at Lorraine.
“I’m glad you’re very poor when it comes to prophecy. The battle is over and you’re still alive.”
“The death has already begun,” she said, not returning my smile.
“What do you mean?”
“They still tell stories of how the Lord Corwin had my grandfather executed — drawn and quartered publicly — for leading one of the early uprisings against him.”
“That wasn’t me,” I said. “It was one of my shadows.”
But she shook her head and said, “Corwin of Amber, I am what I am,” and she rose and left me then.
“What was it?” asked Ganelon, ignoring her departure. “What was the thing in the tower?”
“Mine,” I said, “one of those things which was released when I laid my curse upon Amber. I opened the way then for that which lies beyond Shadow to enter the real world. The paths of least resistance are followed in these things, through the shadows to Amber. Here, the path was the Circle. Elsewhere, it might be some different thing. I have closed their way through this place now. You may rest easy here.”
“That is why you came here?”
“No,” I said. “Not really. I was but passing on the road to Avalon when I came upon Lance. I could not let him lie there, and after I took him to you I became involved in this piece of my handiwork.”
“Avalon? Then you lied when you said it was destroyed?”
I shook my head.
“Not so. Our Avalon fell, but in Shadow I may find its like once more.”
“Take me with you.”
“Are you mad?”
“No, I would look once again on the land of my birth, no matter what the peril.”
“I do not go to dwell there,” I said, “but to arm for battle. In Avalon there is a pink powder the jewelers use. I ignited a sample of it one time in Amber. I go there only to obtain it and to build guns that I may lay siege to Amber and gain the throne that is mine.”
“What of those things from beyond Shadow you spoke of.”
“I will deal with them afterwards. Should I lose this time, then they are Eric’s problem.”
“You said that he had blinded you and cast you into the dungeons.”
“That is true. I grew new eyes. I escaped.”
“You are a demon.”
“This has often been said. I no longer deny it.”
“You will take me with you?”
“If you really wish to come. It will differ from the Avalon you knew, however.”
“You are mad!”
“No. Long have I wished to look upon that fabled city. After I have seen Avalon once again I will want to turn my hand to something new. Was I not a good general?”
“Then you will teach me of these things you call guns, and I will help you in the greatest battle. I’ve not too many good years remaining before me, I know. Take me with you.”
“Your bones may bleach at the foot of Kolvir, beside my own.”
“What battle is certain? I will chance it.”
“As you would. You may come.”
“Thank you. Lord.”
We camped there that night, rode back to the keep in the morning. Then I sought after Lorraine. I learned that she had run off with one other former lovers, an officer named Melkin. Although she had been upset, I resented the fact that she had not given me the opportunity to explain something of which she only knew rumors. I decided to follow them.