Brand and Dalt and the Deep Blue Sea
View From the Top
Sitting on the edge of the curtain wall he looks out over the vast deep blue sea. Under fluffy white clouds the ships can be seen taking sail to head off into shadow or taking in the sea sheets to raise smaller clothes to work the harbor breezes into docking. A small fleet under the banner of Tosa head out toward the eastern horizon to seek combat in other realms. A pod of dolphins cavorts around the great flag ship of the navy of Amber, much to the pleasure of it captain, Admiral Jopin.
Footsteps from behind cause the redheaded prince to turn slowly. He regards his brother approaching. Tall, wide, blond, and a stranger to him, thinks Brand of the Dungeons.
Dalt nods, basket in one hand. "Are you thinking of how to fly from Amber? Random tells me he isn't sure he can suppress all your magic. Think you could trump away, fount-style?"
Turning around fully, the prisoner prince of Amber smiles as he greets his brother. It occurs to him how strange it is to greet a brother with a smile. How strange it is to meet a brother after all this time.
Brand laughs under his breath.
"Is that an actual question, Dalt? Or are you teasing me? We don't know each other well enough for sarcasm yet. That will make verbal fencing tricky between us."
"Random mentioned it in passing." Dalt says. "Your protective detail mentioned that you were up here. So I raided the kitchens and decided to come check on you myself. As you said, we don't know each other well. Are you hungry enough to change that a little?"
Eyeing the basket of supplies, decked out in ribbons in the colors of Dame Margot, he nods. "Its a true fact that many a slow knife among our brothers has been sheathed over food and family gossip. I'll happily indulge in both if you managed to get anything good out from under Dame Margot's watchful eyes. Its strange that now that so many of the lost children of House Bariman have returned we can find blood kin we have spent little time with. We have spoken, twice, I believe. Once when I was newly arrived and not quite right in the head yet. Once at a family dinner where Caine dominated my conversational time. Benefits of Patternfall and the benevolent dictatorship of King Random that we have the chance to speak again at all. "
Chuckling Dalt ignores the jab over Patternfall and runs a hand in the basket contents. Withdrawing a trump deck and slipping it into his belt.
"I've grabbed a string of manticore sausages, a couple blocks of Feta and Munster, a couple loafs of Tyler's sourdough. I also stole one of her endless pitchers that is currently dispensing a fairly good port. And I brought my own jar of the Calrabon pepper sauce and their spicy mustard. Will that suffice?"
Brand grins, "It will indeed."
Twisting his hands in a stage flourish he conjures two silver tankards and a wrapped pack of four dark red cigars.
"See? My magic works well enough. Conjuration at least. I can trump as well, from the highest tower to the deepest dungeons. I certainly didn't walk all the way up here."
Dalt sets the basket in a downward cut of the curtain wall and fills the tankards from the pitcher. "Well, tuck in then."
For a time the two eat in silence. Customs vary from place to place in shadow but in Amber it is considered rude to speak to someone in a meal before they have taken the first sip of their beverage. Brand raises his first and tastes the dark Port brewed in the vineyards of the Bayle estate and sighs.
Wiping his mouth Brand says, "That was delightful.. Allow me to provide an after-dinner smoke in thanks for a fine lunch."
Hands the cigar to his younger brother and they both light.
Brand nods and waves the cigar while taking a chunk of cheese in hand.
"Alright Dalt... You wouldn't have hauled that up here or risked the ire of Dame Margot and her pack of culinary acolytes unless you had something on your mind. As you know, my agreement with the Poker King of Amber requires me to be of service to the realm. So, let me be of service and make sure you casually mention how cooperative I was to whoever will listen."
laughing he asks,"I am curious. We both have had our anger toward Amber. I was wondering how you are managing yours?"
Brand frowns, contemplatively. "Managing my anger? Tricky... My anger comes from the conflicts between my father and my siblings. Its the initial cause though others came in time. Mostly its daddy issues. You're interactions with Oberon were few I understand. He visited your caretakers over the years a few times and I gather those were contentious enough for you that you grew angry at Amber. My interactions with Oberon were ones of close proximity over the course of centuries. Millennia. My anger and my sadness toward him and Amber took a long time to sour."
"My siblings will all say Oberon was a distant, neglectful, and controlling father, yet each of us can point to periods of time, mostly in shadow, where we each spent long stretches one on one with him. Those were certainly times when we were directly under his thumb. He was naturally in charge. He casts shadows of people who have that natural knack of receiving deference. Yet during each of these times were many hours spent in conversation, over drinks, food, and cigars in many cases. Over corpses and womanly charms sometime. Bloodshed is a bonding experience and most of us shed blood beside our undoubted liege lord and father. So how did some of us become bitter? "
Oberon and his Three broods
"You know the rumor that he has 47 children? Well, He has three distinct Broods, and a little fourth one. The First brood he had no control over.
"The second he had massive control over. The third he didn't have the time or interest to exert control over. And the fourth is only three children of Queen Paula of Padua but they are important considering the current state of affairs. Some he drove off, some he lost, some he kept close to Amber, and those toward the end he had little time to use. When you consider my anger, my rebellion, my sins, bear in mind, there are at least three sides to every story and every side has powers of magnitudes worth of nuance. No tale of Amber is an absolute. Historians here drink a lot."
Dalt refills their tankards as he listens to the mad prince monologue.
"We each are iconic, dynamic, aren't we? He spent a long time deciding which icons he wanted to cast shadows from the center of things. Random does not have that luxury. Oberon rarely, rarely lost one of us he wanted close to the center of things. Each of those he kept betrayed him in some way at some point. Disappointed him. Each of us did something that made him proud, earned us treasures and accolades. Each of us served regencies, were trusted. "
Inhaling, he thinks a dramatic moment before exhaling.
"His treatment of us was purposeful. Bear that in mind when you look at that deck of cards. Consider what each one that he kept close to him brings to the tapestry around here. Benedict, Eric, Corwin, Caine, Gerard, Deirdre, Flora, Random, even Bleys, Fiona and myself all were kept close while at the same time he drove off Osric and Finndo, Elfwyne, Borlak, Evelyn, Llewela, Giovanni, Mirelle, and Philippe. The children he failed with, those who left despite his wishes, like Orsoloa, Delwin & Sand, are interesting absences. He eventually regretted their leaving but was too proud to bringing them back. "
Dalt asks, "What of Nina and Emilie? Considering their effect on the current politics, I wonder about them"
Brand nods, sipping his port for a moment. "They were before my time. There was something powerful about them that was beyond Oberon's ability to control. They somehow ensorceled Julian and Caine and it worried Oberon. So he took them and sealed them into that squiggle. The boys held that against Oberon even though they came back to serve him. Yet when the sisters were disinterred the boys ran to them. Oberon was right about them and I think Amber will rue their release one day. Oberon had good reasons to fear them. They had too much in common with the First Brood, I understand "
Brand continues his lessons. "Its not common knowledge that he had what he called his First Brood. We are his second brood. You, dear brother, I would set in the third brood. As well as Coral, Pierre, Hamilton, Kibar, Kundjiq, Joseph, Jacques, and the Eves. All siblings that either grew outside his control, if not outside his knowledge. All wearing the stain of his neglect. Some ignorant of their birthrights. Some willful enough to be uncooperative even to him. Some come too late to be useful."
"But its the First Brood that haunts him. They were born when he was young and had little or no power to control them. He sought initiations and rites in the young shadows of Amber and many were vastly powerful and wild. He had fathered children in those wild places. They were ruined in one way or another, broken things. Adrian, Fleece, AvReet, Eater, Vox, Hinarik, and Nalshik, To some degree Osric and Finndo and Benedict fit in this group as well."
Dalt looks sly to his red haired brother,"Clymnea? "
Brand-'The Duchess of al Marat? Well, he certainly knew her well enough. well enough to have three children with her and make her Queen of Amber for a thousand years. Yes, discovering he had fathered her poisoned his relationship with Osric and Finndo. Benedict as well to some degree. Have you made a pilgrimage to see her yet?"
Dalt shakes his head, "No. Though I have received an invitation. "
Brand looks seriously at Dalt, "Guard your heart, soldier. She steals them for fun."
"When you consider who he kept close and who he drove off carefully consider our good King. He has a full sister and a full brother, born of a wildly corrupt mother. Yet neither Mirelle or Giovanni were brought to Amber when Oberon brought Random. Then once he was here Oberon all but ignored him. It was a critical time, he may have lost control of his passions and his plotting by then. Random brought Mirelle to Amber himself and she rests in a cell not far from mine. Mad and melancholic"
Dalt, waves his cigar, bringing the prince back to the subject at hand, "the first Brood?"
Brand-"Yes... horrors. Mistakes. I doubt he knew he had fathered Fleece. While he traveled with Adrian they were close enough in age that a century of travel made them companions more then father and son, and they traveled together in the early days of Amber for thousands and thousands of years. As for the others...He found powers and places and paid dark prices. The creatures were uncontrollable for him. When he settled down with Clymnea he tried to forget them. He sealed off huge sections of shadows in the hopes they would never have ambitions beyond them. Each in a destiny trap of their own. Yet he feared that each of them would one day be a danger to Amber. If he was right, then Good King Random will have the pleasure of their acquaintance. "
Dalt nods in agreement, "Yes, that's my understanding. I traveled with King Random to meet with Vox and the two seem on good terms. Such a dragon I never heard of before. I've not met Adrian or Fleece yet but I will be attending the king when his Progress takes to the Jeweled Road in a few weeks. What of the others?"
Brand casts a serious frown toward his own memories. "I have to admit I sought them out in my quest for power. Bleys and Fiona and I sat the Oracle of Night and it suggested I do so. Vox was conversational but shares his powers rarely. His is an amoral and narcissistic code. He may rule a land of dragons but he does not care overly much for their well being. Eater is a creature of mindless hunger. He has no reason and little intellect. Yet he has an animal cunning and a great force of presence. Creatures fall before him to be devoured."
"Hinarik is a walking corpse. A Necromancer of great powers. I spent some time with him and eventually had to fight him to not be made into a necromanic follower of his. It was a close thing. He has little interest in Amber since most of his powers function in realms close to Chaos. He is more like the great Chaos Lords then any the children of Oberon or Dworkin, yet he hates Chaos more then any of us do. Most of us had little interaction with Chaos till the drive toward Patternfall. Few of us achieved the State of Affairs to reach the Courts of Chaos. And when Bleys, Fiona, and I finally did, we regretted it almost immediately. I was in the whirlwind of my own personal angst and madness by then but I realized that I did not want unbroken Chaos to rule and my madness made me think my version of Order, my Brandenburg, would be a stronger bastion of Law then the fey thing Dworkin created with the Unicorn."
Dalt rises to pace, "What of Nalshik?"
Brand whistles, "The Spider Queen? She is a first class psycho crazy freakasaurus. Dread the day she comes to Amber. I think the primal spider resides with her. She is as crazy as I ever heard of. she seeks shadows of herself, binds them to her, rapes them, and sometimes kills them. He castle is lousy with braindead versions of herself. She is a nymphomaniac and the pleasure is all hers. She kills for fun, Tortures out of boredom. She rules thousands of shadows and each is a hell. That said she is east of Mandalay but close enough to be a threat to Adrian. If Adrian goes to war, Nalshik will start it."
"I think when you ask how I manage my anger, its a better question to ask how I abandoned my madness."
Dalt laughs knowingly,"Alright, I'll bite. How did you abandon your madness?"
The mad prince sighs, "Painfully."
Taking a deep draw on his cigar and exhaling the red smoke over the battlements above the seas of Amber.
"Dalt, whatever you or my other siblings and kinsman may think, I have paid for my crimes. not entirely, and not in a coin they can understand to be sure. Deaths happens and a trillion souls can shuffle off and swap themselves between bodies every day and not reflect a fraction of the amount of sorrows experienced. The fault for them can be spread around a lot too. Certainly trillions died, this time, due to my ambitions but the next day something else caused new deaths. So who is to blame for my crimes? I am. In the end I accept the blame for them. I don't expect forgiveness just understanding. The Oracle of Night warped my already potent arrogance. Lords of Chaos fed my ambitions with dreams of glory and acts of power. they taught me deep secrets. They fed me lies and I was eager to believe them. They showed me Bariman Way, hanging ancient and empty in the stuff of Chaos. Dworkin once ruled there. It waits filled with potent artifacts and ancient servants waiting for the return of their Master, whomever he may be. They told me they would recognize my realm and my people as Allies."
"In the end, I brought war to my kin . Maneuvered Oberon off his throne. Convinced brothers and sisters to support me in treason. Led the forces of Chaos in war till they pushed me aside. Allowed my capture. Too much...too much happened...for naught. In the end I was struck in the throat by a silver arrow and fell into the abyss. There I suffered as few might ever know. I lived ages of torment. I was sacrificed to the Serpent. Flayed, slain, revived, and sold as chattel in the slave markets of the Abyss by creatures beyond description in their horror. I saw things that put the crimes done by me or by my father in perspective."
"Once I clawed my way out of the Abyss I was a broken thing. My mind was lost, moment to moment. I dragged myself through shadow suffering indignity after indignity. I might have a few minutes of comprehension to organize my effort to survive before my self-awareness faded away. I went toward Regor and found sanctuary in my mother's empire. I convalesced for centuries in the deep shadows there, regaining my mind. Those years I was smothered by the Czarina of Regor. I'm not sure which was worse; the Abyss or Clarissa."
"I was angry at first when Vander captured me in Regor and brought me here. I was certain my fink brother would put my neck below the ax. Any other brother, or sister almost certainly would have. Caine sank a knife in my stomach the first time he saw me here, before he had heard the King's ruling. Benedict watched me like a hawk, from far away, out of the range of my rhetoric, ready to swoop and kill. Gerard embraced me, said he was sorry for my pains, then kneed me to the groin...hard. Corwin told me that the moment he saw me away from Castle Amber was the moment I would face his wrath. All my local siblings have come to give me their rarely kind regards."
"Carissa, Gerard's girl, came and expressed her ire over my treatment of her in her youth. Gerard was fairly pissed about that too. A duahgter of mine, Laravela came all this way from the Courts to tell me she lived and to cast her derision on me. Vance, Delwin's son, came and asked me some extremely detailed questions about life in the abyss. Benedict has spent a lot of time here discussing the military might of Chaos and the Black Zone worlds. Delwin himself, has spent time at my cell discussing the esoterica of power magics. Random has even included me in his private council, taking my advice on numerous topics.
"I've decided that spending a thousand years in the deepest dungeons of Amber and under house arrest in Castle Amber is by far the easiest prison sentence ever. I have access to the cellar's wine and brandy without having Margot taint my supply with vinegar or worse. I can ride a horse around the training grounds and in the horse trails within the walls. I can dine in the Sea View Gardens. I can attend the Court of Commons Cause and hear King Random dispense High, middle, and low justice. The ratfink even had a chair with short legs put on the dais for me to sit uncomfortably within range to advise him in need. "
Dalt chuckles and nods, "Ya, Gerard cut the chair legs down himself. Bleys suggested a jester's suit but Droppa took offense at the suggestion of competition for the role of Court Fool."
Nodding Brand says, "Figures. Ours is a overly clever family."
Prospects of Freedom
"Do you expect to ever be freed?" Dalt asks.
Brand shrugs..."Maybe, but not for an age of the world. Not till Random's reign is secured by loyalty and experience not just trust in the Unicorn's choice. I don't really want it either. If possible i'd like to include house arrest at my estates east of Yaj or my island down in the Far Isle. Even my quarters at the family compounds in Acadia would be nice. To be able to feel the water beneath my feet would be pleasure. But I don't expect it nor need it. Random offered to let me have a suite built up in this very tower because my quarters in the family wing of the castle would cause me to be a little too close for comfort for some of my kin. I declined. My cell down below is satisfactory. It is comfortably appointed, well stocked with provisions, and I can sleep there without the fear that some relative of mine, or a relative of one of the trillions dead in the Black Road War will come and try their hand at murder. Assassination is too often a talent of those of the Blood of Chaos for me to walk to far from safety. Besides, the pattern is doing something to me. Sorting out the knots created by power and ambition and family relations. "
"Doing something funny? That sounds ominous'
"It is a bit macabre. Sort of like having group therapy while receiving electroshock. Are you familiar with the Pattern's ability to generate ghosts of those who have walked the pattern? Yes? Well they are like reading backed up versions of books that you wrote and have since massively revised. So the pattern has been taking great pleasure showing that it more then passes the Turing Test. It generates multiple versions of me to crowd up my cell,argue family gossip and power politics, eat up all my food and smoke all my cigars. It generates versions of my kin to argue with me. It also is doing some kind of unknotting of repressed fears ad angers using some kind of psychic E-Meter thing to audit my thought process. Its like the worst Scientologist ever arguing the chicken and the egg with me. But its been interesting to see how others saw me at various times. I'm not sure id recommend the experience to others but its been effective for em. Keeps me from being lonely."
Finishing his tankard and refilling another he motions to Dalt.
"You know how this game is played. So its my turn. How have you managed your anger?"
Dalt chuckles, "Painfully"
Brand agrees, "That does seem to be a common theme in the growth of an amberite's life"
"For me", Dalt goes on, "it was Julian at the Gates of Dawn[]."
Refilling his tankard he takes a deep drink before continuing.
"I'm sure you read all of our Articles of Submission. Mine tells of how the king worked out my issues using Julian's fists. It took a lot of pummeling to see that Random wasn't Oberon. You know my story i'm sure. I was born in Eregenor. As you certainly know that's a bridge shadow between Kashfra and Begma and its traded back and forth so much that it has a lot of partisans either way. Its a lush, green, growing place with a climate for all kinds of produce. A breadbasket land of grains and orchards. Since Begma and Kashfra are both dry, ocean side areas with marginal growing seasons, lands like Eregenor has been a important food source and trade route."
"Being a productive growing place it has also grown a lot of very vocal and dedicated partisans with ancient family connections to Bergma and Kashfra, as well as lesser numbers of Diagan. Kasharola, Tringa, and Drixt. They have fought over it for years. Its an oddity of their warfare that they avoid harming the orchard lands, sticking to the rocky and sandy places to not damage what they are fighting over. So there are a number of battle plains. My mother was a Unicorn priestess till Amber sided with Begma one too many times. She soured hard. I was raised to hate. To hate amber. I saw battle before I could walk. I was blooded by the forces of Amber before I could ride. One of my earliest memories is a horseman in Amber colors driving a spear through my nanny and myself. I knew no other way to think other then to hate Amber. It was a big part of my view of the universe."
"War is war of course, and few soldiers one either side are innocent. But I grew up with hatred and anger with my oatmeal. I was 10 when mother was slain by Bleys but I turned all my anger on Oberon. once Oberon was gone I was sort of unsure what too do. I eventually found out he had raped my mother. I ignored that my mother was a monster in her own right. I looked around for other opportunities."
"I had walked the pattern when I was young. As you noted Oberon visited me periodically as I grew up. Our conversations were forced. Uncomfortable. Adversarial. I hated him more each time he left. I ignored that during those meeting he taught me some impresive sword techniques, card trick, leather work, archery. Sure I know a lot of that stuff already but he taught me new things. I had little aptitude for magic but he showed me a lot of it."
"When I was approach 30th year he showed up and took me on my first shadowwalk. I wanted to object but I knew enough that I wouldn't get home without him. We went to a place where Chaos had been making tracks into shadow, ones that eventually got consumed by the Black Road. We fought. I was by his side for almost a year acting as his squire. I wanted to flee but isolation in shadow and I believe his overpowering psychic power kept me loyal. In the end he knighted me on the field. I was conflicted but my hatred was still strong. He took me back to Eregenor"
"Soon after I was approached by a powerful sorceress; Jasra of the Font. She had married you and bore your child. He was nearing 10 and was fairly wild. She asked me to help tame him. I don't believe you had ever seen him. "
Brand interrupts, "Oh I had. I had seen him as a child and taken him through part of the experience of the Font of Four Worlds. I had recently taken a child of Gerard's, Carissa, and held her while I walked the pattern. I wanted to see if like certain artifacts, carrying a child through the pattern would either call down the lightning or imprint them with the pattern. I figured if I had to escape I could and, well, p..r..o..b..a..b..l..y save the child. As it was it worked. She had the imprint. So I took Rinnaldo though it. His mother was pissed. She wanted to know which pattern I used but I refused. A man needs some secrets. "
"You know where a non-public pattern is?" Dalt asks.
"oh... that would be the secret part now wouldn't it? Go on...."
Dalt nods, his part unpaid yet.
"As it turns out I know what pattern you speak of. If you have not spent much time with him you wouldn't know what a fucking salesman he is, even as a kid. He could come up with a good reason to explain anything. He and I stopped being boy and ward and became friends. I taught him swordsmanship, horsemanship, athletics..In time he had vivid dreams and they were driving him nuts. One day he got so angry and rode away from me and I had a hard time keeping up with him. But I managed to follow him as he fled into shadow, untrained. I was afraid he and I would get lost and never find our way back. "
"But I was wrong. He found his way to the pattern you bore him through. Before I could stop him he was walking it. I ran and in one of the luckiest experiences in my life I put my foot on the pattern right where one starts to walk it. The magic was powerful, as you know, and for an untrained walker it was horribly difficult. But as I took a second step I heard a voice. Looking I saw a Dworkin. I didn't know who he was of course. but he had the voice of command. He told me to stop and not move. He then came close and we spoke. He told me I was walking the pattern and apparently I had the blood, therefore the right to do so. he told me what to do. When I reached the center Rinnaldo has already left. But Dworkin and I spoke for quite awhile. He gave me a deck of card, places mainly, one of Rinnaldo as a young adult. One of a gaunt looking man. Another of a big bodied warrior. The rest were places. He told me about shadow walking, how its done. Told me what not to do.. You know the speech."
Brand nods, "A gaunt man? A Warrior? Finndo and Osric? "
Dalt chuckles, "one out of two"
Brand frowns, "Really? Do tell? Which and which?"
Dalt smiles widely, "that sounds like new information and would end my debt in this game. Do you want me to go on or to tell you the name?"
Brannd, "Oh brother, humor a penitent felon, tell me both."
Dalt laughs.."Ill tell you the name but nothing else. Then I will return to matters i'm sure you can reason out since they are mostly public knowledge. It was Dworkin's son Vincent. I met him in time, and he taught me many things of life."
Brand, "oh, you bitch!! You met Vincent and won't tell me what you learned!? His children? His world? ah...damn...That was a whopper....its my turn isn't it?"
Dalt nods, "I'd like to think so, yes..So... tell me about Regor or Azcala. I gather you know more then you are telling."
Brand and Regor
Brand scowls, "Azcala... I don't really know much about it. It was sealed for eons...Just rumors.. What I know of them is mostly from books Arloxedra, the little fink, had. Though i do know this much. Azcala is close to Chaos. Maybe even in the Black Sway. They had conflicts of some kind with sections of the Black Zone worlds. Its a full squiggle and that means it was created with the Jewel of Judgment. Ask Oberon about it some time."
"Regor though, that i know about."