“Get your ass up here quick,” he said. “I need your advice.”

I stepped out into the corridor through the opening which remained in that wall, and I looked upward, Immediately I could feel the capabilities in the ring that I wore, responding like a musical instrument to my most immediate need. The appropriate line was activated as I assented to the suggestion, and I took the gloves from behind my belt and drew them on as I was levitated toward the opening in the ceiling. This, because it had occurred to me that Random might recognize the ring as having once been Brand's, and that could lead to a complicated discussion I'd no desire for at the moment.

I held my cloak close to my side as I came up through the hole into the studio, to keep the blade under wraps also.

“Impressive,” Random said. “Glad you're keeping the magical muscle exercised. That's what I called you for.”

I gave him a bow. Being dressed up made me feel vaguely courtly.

“How may I be of service?'

“Cut the crap and come on,” he said, taking hold of my elbow and steering me back toward the demibedroom. Vialle stood at the door, holding it open.

“Merlin?” she said as I brushed by.

“Yes?” I answered.

“I wasn't certain,” she said.

“Of what?” I asked.

“That it was you,” she responded.

“Oh, it's me, all right,” I said.

“It is indeed my brother,” Mandor stated, rising from his chair and approaching us. His arm was splinted and slung, his face considerably relaxed. “If anything about him strikes you as strange,” he continued, “it is likely because he has had a number of traumatic experiences since he left here.”

“Is that true?” Random asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “I didn't realize it was all that apparent.”

“Are you all right?” Random asked.

“I seem to be intact,” I said.

“Good. Then we'll save the particulars of your story for another time. As you can see, Coral is gone and Dworkin is, too. I didn't see them go. I was still in the studio when it happened.”

“When what happened?” I asked.

“Dwrkin finished his operation,” Mandor said, “took the lady by the hand, drew her to her feet, and transported her away from here. It was most elegantly managed. One moment they stood at the bedside; the next their afterimages ran through the spectrum and winked out.”

“You say that he transported them. How do you know that they weren't snatched away by Ghostwheel or one of the Powers?” I asked.

“Because I watched his face,” he said, “and there was no surprise. whatsoever upon it, only a small smile.”

“I guess you're right,” I admitted. “Then who set your arm, if Random was off in the studio and Dworkin occupied?”

“I did,” Vialle said. “I've been trained in it.”

“So you were the only eyewitness to their vanishment?” I said to Mandor.

He nodded.

“What I want of you,” Random said, “is some idea where they flashed off to. Mandor said he couldn't tell. Here!”

He handed me a chain, from which a metal setting hung.

“What's this?” I asked.

“It was the most important of all the Crown Jewels,” he said, “the Jewel of Judgment. This is what they left me. The Jewel part is what they took.”

“Oh,” I said. Then: “It must be secure if it's in Dwotkin's care. He'd said something about putting it in a safe place, and he knows more about it than anyone else-”

“He may also have flipped out again,” Random said. “I'm not interested in discussing his merits as its custodian, though. I just want to know where the hell he's gone with the thing.”

“I don't believe he left any tracks,” Mandor said.

“Where were they standing?” I asked.

“Over there,” he said, with a gesture of the good arm, “to the right of the bed.”

I moved to that area, feeling through the potencies I ruled after the most appropriate.

“A little nearer the foot.”

I nodded, feeling it would not be all that difficult to look back a small distance through time within my personal space.

I felt the rainbow rush and saw their outlines. Freeze.

A power line moved forth from the ring, attached itself, ran rainbow with them, passed through the portal which closed with a mild implosion. Raising the back of my hand to my forehead, I seemed to look down the line—

–into a large hall hung with six shields to my left. To my right hung a multitude of flags and pennons. A fire blazed in an enormous hearth before me...

“I see the place they went to,” I said, “but I don't recognize it.”

“Is there some way you can share the vision?” Random asked.

“Perhaps,” I replied, realizing there was a way even as I said it. “Regard the mirror.”

Random turned, moved nearer the looking glass through which Dworkin had brought me-how long ago? “By the blood of the beast on the pole and the shell that is cracked at the center of the world,” I said, feeling the need to address two of the powers I controlled, “may the sight be cast!”

The mirror frosted over, and when it cleared, my vision of the hall lay within it.

“I'll be damned,” Random said. “He took her to Kashfa. I wonder why “

“One day you'll have to teach me that trick, brother,” Mandor commented.

“In that I was about to head for Kashfa,” I said, “is there anything special I should do?”

“Do?” Random said. “Just find out what's going on and let me know, will you?”

“Of course,” I said, uncasing my Trumps.

Vialle came up and took my hand as if in farewell.

“Gloves,” she commented.

“Trying to look a little formal,” I explained.


“There is something in Kashfa that Coral seems to fear,” she whispered. “She muttered about it in her sleep.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I'm ready for anything now.”

“You may say that for confidence,” she said, “but never believe it.”

I laughed as I held a Trump before me and pretended to study it while extending the force of my being along the line I had sent to Kashfa. I reopened the route Dworkin had taken and stepped through.

XII

Kashfa.

I stood in the gray stone hall, flags and shields on the walls, rushes strewn about the floors, rude furniture about me, a fire before me which did not completely dispel the dampness of the place, cooking smells heavy on the air. I was the only person in the room, though I could hear voices from many directions; also the sounds of musicians tuning and practicing. So I had to be fairly near the action. The disadvantage of coming in the way I did rather than using a Trump was that there was no one on the spot to show me around and tell me what was going on. The advantage was the same-that is, if there were any spying I wanted to do, now was the time. The ring, a veritable encyclopedia of magics, found me an invisibility spell in which I quickly cloaked myself:

I spent the next hour or so exploring. There were four large buildings and a number of smaller ones within this central walled area. There was another walled sector beyond it and another beyond that-three roughly concentric zones of ivy-covered protection. I couldn't see any signs of heavy damage, and I got the feeling Dalt's troops hadn't met with much resistance. No indications of pillaging or burning, but then they'd been hired to deliver a property, and I'd a feeling Jasra had stipulated that it remain relatively intact. The troops occupied all three rings, and I got the impression from a bit of eavesdropping that they'd be around till after the coronation. There were quite a few in the large plaza in the central area, making fun of the local troops in their fancy livery as they avaited for the coronation procession. None of this was in particular bad nature, however, possibly because Luke was popular with both groups, though it did also seem that many individuals on both sides seemed personally acquainted.

The First Unicornian Church of Kashfa, as one might translate its title, was across the plaza from the palace proper. The building in which I'd arrived was an ancillary, all-purpose adjunct, at this time being used to house a number of hastily summoned guests, along with servants, courtiers, and hangers-on.

I'd no idea exactly when the coronation was to take place, but I decided I'd better try to see Luke in a hurry, before he got too swept up into the course of events. He might even have an idea where Coral had been delivered, and why.

So I found me a niche with a blank-walled, neutral background even a native probably couldn't recognize out of context, dropped my invisibility spell, located Luke's Trump, and gave him a call. I didn't want him to think I was already in town because I didn't want him to know I possessed the power to drop in the way I had. This under the theory that you never tell anybody everything.

“Merlin!” he announced, studying me. “Is the cat out of the sack or what?”

“Yeah, the kittens, too,” I said. “Congratulations on your coronation day “

“Hey! You're wearing the school colors!”

“What the hell. Why not? You won something, didn't you?”

“Listen. It's not as festive a thing as all that. In fact, I was about to call you. I need your advice before this goes any further. Can you bring me through?”

“I'm not in Amber, Luke.”

“Where are you?”

“Well... downstairs,” I admitted. “I'm on the side street between your palace and the building next door that's sort of like a hotel at the moment.”

“That won't do,” he said. “I'd get spotted too quick if you bring me down. Go on over to the Unicorn Temple. If it's relatively empty and there's a dark, quiet corner where we can talk, call me and bring me through. If there isn't, figure something else, okay?”

“Okay. “

“Hey, how'd you get here anyway?”

“Advance scout for an invasion,” I said. “One more take-over would be a coup-coup, wouldn't it?”

“You're about as funny as a hangover,” he said. “Call me.”

Break. So I crossed the plaza, following what seemed marked out as the route of the procession. I thought I might meet some trouble at the House of the Unicorn and need a spell to get in, but no one barred my way.

I entered. It was big and all decked out for the ceremony, with a great variety of pennons on the walls and flowers all over the place. The only other inhabitant was a muffled woman up near the front who appeared to be praying. I moved off to the left into a somewhat darker section.

“Luke,” I addressed his Trump. “All clear. Do you read me?”

I felt his presence before I caught the image. “Okay,” he said. “Bring me through,” and we clasped hands, and he was there.

He clapped me on the shoulders.

“Well, now, let me look at you,” he said. “Wonder whatever became of my letter sweater?”

“I think you gave it to Gail.”

“I think you may be right.”

“Brought you a present,” I said, tossing back my cloak and fumbling at the side of my sword belt. “Here. I turned up your father's sword.”

“You're kidding.”

He took it into his hands, examined the sheath, turned it over many times. Then he drew it partway, and it hissed again and sparks danced along its tracery and a bit of smoke drifted upward from it.

“It really is!” he said. “Werewindle, the Daysword-brother to the Nightblade, Grayswandir!”

“What's that?” I said. “I didn't know there was any connection.”

“I'd have to think hard to remember the full story, but they go back a long way. Thank you.”

He turned and took several paces, slapping the weapon against his thigh as he walked. Abruptly he returned.

“I've been had,” he said. “That woman has done it again, and I am peeved to the extreme. I don't know how to handle this.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“My mother,” he explained. “She's done it again. Just when I thought I'd taken the reins and was riding my own course, she's come along and messed up my life.”

“How'd she do that?”

“She hired Dalt and his boys to take over here.”

“Yeah, we sort of figured that out. By the way, what happened to Arkans?”

“Oh, he's okay. I've got him under arrest, of course. But he's in good quarters and he can have anything he wants. I wouldn't hurt him. I always kind of liked the guy “

“So what's the problem? You win. You've got your own kingdom now.”

“Hell,” he said, then glanced furtively toward the sanctum. “I think I was conned, but I'm not exactly sure. See, I never wanted this job. Dalt told me we were taking over for Mom. I was coming in with him to establish order, claim the place for the family again, then welcome her back with a lot of pomp and crap. I figured once she had her throne back, she'd be off my case for good. I'd hit it out of here for more congenial turf, and she'd have a whole kingdom to occupy her attention. Nothing was said about me getting stuck with this lousy job.”

I shook my head.

“I don't understand at all,” I said. “You got it for her. Why not just turn it over to her and do as you planned?”

He gave a humorless laugh.

“Arkans they liked,” he said. “Me they like. Mom they're not so fond of. Nobody seems that enthusiastic about having her back. In fact, there were strong indications that if she tried it, there would indeed be a coup-coup.”

“I suppose you could still step aside and give it to Arkans.”

Luke punched the stone wall.

“I don't know whether she'd be madder at me or at herself for having paid Daft as much as she did to throw Arkans out. But she'd tell me it's my duty to do it, and I don't know-maybe it is. 'What do you think?”

“That's a hard one to answer, Luke. Who do you think would do a better job, you or Arkans?”

“I honestly don't know. He's had a lot of experience in government, but I did grow up here, and I do know how the place is run and how to get things done. The only thing I'm sure of is that either of us would be better at it than Mom.”

I folded my arms, and I thought hard.

“I can't make this decision for you,” I said. “But tell me, what would you most like to do?”

He chuckled.

“You know I've always been a salesman. If I were going to stick around and do something for Kashfa. I'd rather represent her industries abroad, which would be sort of undignified for a monarch. Probably what I'd be best at, though. I don't know.”

“It's a problem and a half, Luke. I don't want the responsibility of telling you which way to go.”

“If I'd known it was going to come to this, I'd have smeared Dalt back in Arden.”

“You really think you could take bim?”

“Believe it,” he said.

“Well, that doesn't solve your present problem.”

“True. I've a strong feeling I may have to go through with this.”

The woman up front glanced our way several times. I guess we were talking kind of loud for the surroundings.

“Too bad there are no other good candidates,” I said, lowering my voice.

“This must seem like pretty small beer to someone from Amber.”

“Hell, it's your home. You've got a right to take it seriously. I'm just sorry it's doing such a job on you.”

“Yeah, most problems seem to start at home, don't they? Sometimes I just feel like taking a walk and not coming back.”