Dalt at the Gates of Dawn
Dalt at the Gates of Dawn
King Random has commanded me to write this. I am not a writer by bent but I can at least tell of what has brought me to this dour point bereft of the will to dominate and suddenly clasped to the very beating bosom of my dreaded and hated foe. I am a soldier, a mercenary, and the son of Oberon by his rape of my mother, Delee the Desecratix. I am Dalt of Aregenor, also of Kashfra. It has been my dedicated purpose to conquer and humble Amber before all the peoples of shadow, I the Lion, rending the unicorn unto death.
At least, that was the plan till I met Julian at the Gates of Dawn.
It is hard to call Amber my dreaded foe as I sit here on the Sea View Garden Balcony. Randis, a waiter I now know by name, just brought me a Cappuccino, a familiar earth coffee drink Luke said they make very well here. Luke? Call him King Rinaldo of Kashfra, a newly anointed Golden Circle King. I have a plate of bagels and onion spread on my left, lox and salami in a little tray on the right. Tabasco and soy in bottles ahead of me.
Bleys just walked by and told me he had a play opening at one of his theaters and said Sophia Urien thought I was 'just dreamy' and would love to accompany me. He left me tickets. Yesterday I was hunting in Arden with Julian. We each took a Manticore. Later today I have a security briefing with Benedict and Gerard. Afterwards Flora is taking me into town. There she and I will meet with carpenters and decorators who will be outfitting my rooms in Castle Amber and with a tailor who will prepare formal wear for court, and she wants to take me to this café that has mellow jazz. Tomorrow I am going sailing with Caine. He said he knows a place where the marlins are running and they are as big as great white sharks.
I sit dumbfounded. I have been in Amber for one week.
Fishing with Caine? Briefings with Benedict and Gerard? Theater with Bleys and Sophia? Hunting in Arden? Shopping with Flora? Calmly drinking coffee overlooking the sea?
What got me here? Fighting with Julian at the Gates of Dawn.
What I write is true, from my side, so if I portray my kinsman in an unfavorable light I hold they will give me some leeway. I have thought of killing them too often to let this new state of affairs seem real yet. Julian tells me he laughs when he reads Corwin's Chronicles because of his part in it. He says in it, "I enjoy slaughtering beasts and I think of my relatives often." As did I, Brother Julian, as did I.
But soon, at a formal court, I will render my fealty to King Random of Amber. That is if I can finish this missive. This Article of Submission
I have assaulted Amber three times. The first was a test, designed to note defenses. I did fairly well but when they finally sent Benedict against me I barely escaped with my life. The second time was part of a ploy of Rinaldo's, before he reconciled with felicity. The third was a true test, a force to be reckoned with, coming into Amber by stealth, assembled in secret, and poised to strike at the Gates of Dawn.
The Gates of Dawn are a series of wide arches, 100 feet tall, 300 feet wide, that sit in front of the city of Vale Eye in the North Vale region above the great city of Ober. I am told that Finndo caused them to be built during his brief reign to commemorate some forgotten foe. Dawn first strikes land at a little bump in front of Vale Eye.
I brought a force of 50,000 men to Amber, in pairs and trios, along tourist and merchant routes, shipping furs, spices, and linen to the city of Ober. My plan was simple. Sneak in the first 50k and establish a fort at the Gates of Dawn, take Ober, and begin shipping in the bulk of my army by trumps. 500,000 men and 400,000 support troops and auxiliaries were stationed in shadow, ready to transfer through 20 trumps, wielded by my Broken Pattern sorcerers. I had exquisite maps of Amber, as well as detailed residential information on Ober and the surrounding area.
We had planned a subtle attack. My troops were to spend as long as 3 years establishing housing, warehouses, dock space, even purchase available manor houses if possible. We had one, belonging to Lord Wildof Kien, sent off to live in splendor, in shadow, on my gold. We began stockpiling supplies, making maps. In two years over a thousand of my advance scouts became upstanding merchants in Vale Eye and Ober. I began assembling my advance forces. My other forces in shadow were well hidden, trained to a peak, and ready to come to Amber as conquerors.
That was the plan. All plans have flaws and the careful general finds them and patches them. I have always been a careful general and a skilled patch-maker. It turns out, Benedict is a more careful general than I.
I was not bloodthirsty enough. I should have killed Wildof Kien. It turns out that the retired pensioner was not nearly the enemy of Amber he portrayed himself to be. He had hastened to tell Prince Caine right before I shipped him off to shadow, bedecked in jewels, and riding a cartload of gold and Mithril. Caine had begun infiltrating troops into my forces. They became the friends, business associates, next-door neighbors, and paramours of my troops. Caine, who as third in command of the Navy of Amber has the worst cover story for his real job of Spy-Master I have ever heard, had put at least two people to watch each of mine. My little manor had cooks, gardeners, and gamesman, hired locally, who were all on Caine's payroll. Benedict had a half a million men and 7 bloody starships watching my armies in shadow.
I was buggered from the moment I said Go. It was a disaster of the first water and I was the most buggered of them all. It looked so smooth on paper. The day before, though, I got a bird of desire from King Random. That should have been a clue. I keep the note he wrote in my wallet. It said;" I was thinking of you today. Lets talk at your earliest connivance. Random."
It turned out my earliest connivance was the next day. I rode out of Kien's manor; my troops assembled and began our march on Vale Eye. We came down to the Gates of Dawn and sitting between them, playing a lute, was the King of Amber, smiling.
I stopped. I knew it was over before he said a word. Behind him were my three generals who were supposed to be leading my troops in shadow. As were my commanders in Ober, Vale Eye, Forest Green, and Moins, as well as my insurgent commander and station chief in Amber itself. And there was Wildof Kien as well.
Did I know that Wildof Kien was actually Baron William Feldane, second spy of Amber and soon to be Chief of the elite Amber Guard? No, I did not. That fact had eluded me.
My kinsmen were there too. Benedict, stoic, Gerard, angry, Caine, scowling, Julian, smiling, Bleys, drunk.
They grabbed me before I could take my own life, the pistol yanked from my hand unfired.
The king approached me as the boys held me down. He looked at me, upside down from above my head. He chuckled slightly as he spoke.
"Well, me boyo, you be sure in a fine fix, now, ain't ya?" he mocked me with a lilting brogue. "We have a couple of ways to go here. One way you get to win big money, lots of prizes! Another way you get to flee and run with the hounds of Arden biting at your tail. Another leads you to that tree stump over yonder and a few brief moments watching the ax fall. You have to pick amongst these which you prefer?"
I said, "Kill me Bastard of Amber! I won't beg! I will die first. I will die spiting insults and damning your name and shouting my death curse on you all!" Suddenly Bleys peaked over my head and a grayish tape was placed over my mouth, sealing it. Two more followed, then they wrapped it several times around my head.
Bleys chuckled too. "Can't have that now, Brother. Can we?"
Gerard and Bleys held my arms, and pulled me upright, arms out. I saw Caine raise an assault rifle and chamber a round. I saw my death finally come. He took aim. I didn't get a last wish and I didn't get my death curse. At least when he fired I didn't soil my armor.
I didn't die either.
Random stood before me. "I assume I have made my point clear? I can take your life at any time. I don't need blanks and I don't need an executioner. Now, I have another idea but it only works if Rinaldo was right about you. He says you are a rough man but you are a man of your word beyond all else. That you will keep your promise come hell or high water. Is that true?"
I nodded forlornly.
"Here is the deal. I am going to let you go. You once played a game in my forest. You and Rinaldo staged a fight, winner take all. I liked that. So here it is. You fight my champion. If you win I let you go but you never come against Amber in arms again. You've lost that privilege. If you loose you come work for me. Rinaldo tells me if you make a promise you will keep it. He lying to me?"
I looked at this man. He was short. I had never dealt with him myself. What I had heard of him spoke to his crafty nature and to his avoidance of the bloodthirstiness that characterized so many of my siblings. He had the wicked look in his eyes I had seen on pool hustlers or cardsharps and it occurred to me that he probably knew something of that trade. He was smiling, with a tight grin that told me he held a fine hand of cards.
He motioned to Bleys who painfully stripped the tape from my mouth.
"Doesn't sound like much of a deal. Sounds rigged to me. You call on Benedict to thrash me and it pretty much assures I lose. If you want to kill me just do it. Prove thy blood, monarch."
"Man you are a piss-cutter, Dalt. You have the hero syndrome for sure. That is a wasteful condition. I don't have enough kin that I can just off the ones who tick me off. I certainly could use another hero type around here. I have Gerard and Julian stretched pretty tight with the kingdom defenses. Ben runs the military; I run the rest. Flora, much to my chagrin, is doing a surprisingly good job keeping the nobles off my back. I believe I can find a place for you around here partly because I don't need grief from a guy pissed off at Oberon. The guy is dead and the show is mine. You got a beef with me; let me know and we can deal."
"Beef? How about Bleys killed my mother. Vendetta covers that."
Bleys moved near me. " That was business, Dalt. It was open combat, not a deed of stealth or malice. It was done on the field of battle in a time of war. Hell, she had it coming! She dared Oberon to act and he let her burn a shitload of Unicorn shrines, gak priests, kill followers and rape the sheep! What would you have done? You want to toss a punch at me you tell me when and where and I'll arrange for Pay-Per-View to cover it." He drew out a flask and pulled a long tug on it. I could smell that it wasn't his first of the day.
Random smiled coolly at me. "Tell you what. You take your pick. Any brother here except me. You name him and he will throw down with you. Fair fight. No weapons; no armor."
"What is to keep me from leaving then coming back against you, lost privileges not withstanding?"
Bleys answered for the king, "Have you met Baron William Feldane? William, get your ass over here!" The bastard came to regard me, hat crooked on his head, looking more like a longshoreman than a court baron. Here was Wildof Kien who took my gold two years before. He smiled and asked, "Can I have my manor back now, My king?" Random chuckled. Bleys added, "If you even consider coming against Amber, you will die badly the minute you tell more than 3 people. Think of it. No friends, no hangouts, nothing, just a blinding white light and a lonely death. Hell, I'll do it myself, I never got to kill a brother when I was assaulting Amber, neither do you. You think any of your kin will revenge you? Rinaldo maybe? Nope, He gets to be a Golden Circle King thanks to you."
Caine spoke, "Besides, you have to best one of us to even get the option to run."
I slumped; they sat me down. I withdrew a canteen and drank. I withdrew a cigarette and smoked. I withdrew my hopes and visions and despaired. I wished they had killed me. It really was over. All that was left was to try and gain something out of this mess.
"Very well, bastard. I accept. Pick your champion and lets get to it."
Random shook his head, "You pick. It's your face."
I looked at my brothers. I saw them, clearly, closely, not as cards or portraits but as men.
Benedict, the ancient weapon-master of Amber. His arm was nearly healed now, 20 years after Patternfall. But even with a gimp arm he was as fearsome a creature as walked or breathed in shadow. I had absolutely no hope of defeating him.
Bleys, who had fought his way up Kolvir, nearly conquered Amber, and was surely the second toughest man alive, was nearly as deadly. But he was drunk these days, I could see him sway as he stood there and when he had spoke he smelled of scotch. I gauged his steadiness. It occurred to me that I had seen drunks take terrible beatings and walk away from them. I didn't want to face a man who was that tough and couldn't feel pain to boot.
Caine, a possibility. Thin, wiry, fast, a master of the knife. I knew little of him because he was not the front ranker I expected to face, and as a naval man I had not expected to see him here. I realized then that he, more than the others, had defeated me this day. My troops infiltrated, subverted, captured, he had even arranged which manor I would buy, and whom my merchant-spies would do business with. I decided that he might have a trick or two I didn't know about. He was undoubtedly the master of the monastical martial arts and I had seen ninjitsu and karate masters kill with a simple touch.
Gerard? No. Not in a fist fight. I had never realized just how big his arms were till now.
That left Julian. I thought about him. Corwin had defeated him. He was strong, surely. Arrogant, undoubtedly. But he relied on animals and archery for his hunting. As guardian of Arden he had rangers and foresters defending the realm. He always wore that armor too. That meant he might fear for his own safety. He would be strong, but so was I. He would be determined but so was I.
If I could defeat him at least I could find a place of my own in shadow, someplace that had never heard of Amber. I could raise an army to travel shadow, create domains wide and long, like Borlak had. That could be a good life, even if it meant abandoning my ambitions here.
So I walked to Julian and thumped him on the chest. He smiled at me, cold, and I knew that any choice here was a mistake. I looked to Random, smiling, and realized I had done exactly what he wanted me too. The Bastard just smiled at me and nodded. He had even wanted me to pick who I did.
Julian stripped off his armor and I saw rippling muscles under his polished white breastplate. He stripped down to his underclothes, removing even his boots. I followed suit.
There was little in the way of fanfare. It just began.
We wrestled first. I had expected more punching but he went for my legs. I splayed them and fell on top of him. I unleashed a mighty blow into his kidneys and he didn't even grunt. I took an arm hold and he spun, viciously clubbing my head with his elbow from behind, smashing the front into the ground. A pebble was where my cheekbone landed and I heard a little snap.
I spun out of his grip by twisting his thumb till it nearly broke. He let me go, but swept my legs, I jumped the sweep to meet the swinging arms like steel bars crashing into my throat. I went back down, flipped away to stand and was rewarded by a foot following my movement, crushing into my testicles, and the world swam to black.
I awoke. Julian was standing over me. He reached out a hand and I let him raise me, ready for his attack. Instead he handed me a water bottle. "I had some while you were sleeping. Let me know when you want to start again." I took the bottle, sniffed it. Water, cold. I drank.
After a few moments I tossed it aside and nodded my readiness. This time I would be more careful.
To list the details would take too long, and I have court later.
Let us say we fought, for hours. I saw the sun peak at noon when I had come upon the Gates of Dawn at dawn. I was bathed in blood and sweat, flesh torn, clothes gone. We both stood naked as birth, swathed in the fluids of life. There had been water at times. The sun began to fall, and torches were lit against the dark.
We continued. It was bloody.
As the moon rose Random called a break. Food was brought. Julian and I sat.
Random handed me some bread. It was light and fluffy, sweet. He spoke, "So, about that bastard bit. I'll have you know I was born fully in wedlock, in Italy of the 1500's. Oberon was an inattentive father but he doted on my mother, the poor frail thing. She bore him three children then died. Then we were in Amber."
"Three? You and Mirele I know of."
"The other was a man named Giovanni. Big, like you, tough, a soldier too; but not bright, not exactly stupid just not real swift. We lost track of him. Oberon once told me that after he assayed the pattern, and transported into shadow, he never returned. I will find him one day. I will find them all. I will make peace with all of them if I can, and kill the ones I can't. Mark me, Dalt. If I thought you and I could not come to terms those blanks would have been real rounds. Oh, by the way, the rifles, grenades, and rockets you brought? Worthless. When Oberon reforged the pattern the jeweler's rouge of Avalon stopped being an explosive agent. Of course I found another, but I keep that ammo close to the vest, even from my brothers."
I looked over my kinsman again. They didn't have hate in their eyes. What was it I saw? Cool regard from Benedict. Appraisal from Caine. Open longing from Gerard. From Bleys, humor, and maybe even empathetic understanding of the moment when all one's ambition is washed away. From the king, an indomitable air of preordained victory and his legendary poker face.
I looked at Julian, sitting beside me; bleeding, sweating, with both eyes puffed out and red, his face a hash the shade of raw meat. His mouth was ripped and ragged, needing stitches. His hair hung loose and rumpled and his legendary cool was marred by a rare smile.
He was going to win. He was going to take everything I threw at him just to bring me into the family. I realized he could have taken me several times and what I thought were escapes had been releases. He was drinking in my hate, my woe, my loss, and my last ounce of ambition, to make me able to serve Amber. What had Rinaldo called it? 'Taking one for the team'?
My brother was doing this. He was doing this for me. Who was it I was mad at? Him? This man, ready to die to make me his brother, because surely a lucky punch might kill him. Was it the king? The man who ruled Amber with an iron fist in a satin glove? Who had beaten me on the field of battle two years before I stepped on it? Was it Bleys, who had killed my mother? Truth to tell I was not overly fond of her myself but a son simply can not let his mother be slain and not seek vengeance. Then again I had sought it, and lost, repeatedly. Besides Bleys was right; it was a deed of open conflict in a time of war.
Was it Oberon? I considered my mother, coldly, maybe clearly for the first time. Oberon, who if nothing else, was a fine figure of a man, probably didn't have to do much to convince mom to lay down for him. Hate can be a powerful aphrodisiac. Hate Sex can be a fierce experience. Suddenly I could plainly see my mother rolling on her back, daring him, hating him, wanting him, cursing him. I could see him taking her, hating her, hurting her, using her. I could even see them lounging together afterwards, cloaked in sweat, sanctifying their hatred of each other with intimacy. I saw it unmistakably. I knew I would seek out oracles to confirm it but I was certain. A boy knows his mother.
It was over. I had lost and I had won.
I looked at Julian. He motioned to the field, ready to continue. I shook my head.
"No thank you, brother. Your point is well taken."
I extended my bleeding hand to him and he clasped it, firmly, with one hand, then another. I felt a sigh escape his lips, and I saw the tension leave his face. I looked at Random, who nodded. Gerard, whose ear to ear grin did not overshadow Benedict's slight smile, showing just a flash of perfect pearly white teeth. Caine, standing, appraising still but with a less wicked light, turned to go give orders to the troops of both sides, now one side. And Bleys, drinking from a flask, looked at me with what I might swear was a tear in his eye. He coughed and handed me the flask. It was sweet and potent, the whiskey of Amber.
I rose and looked at my commanders, my soldiers, and now, my home. Julian stood next to me.
He spoke first, "Let's find some place in shadow to nurse our wounds. Then we can come back and I will take you hunting in Arden. There are many frolicsome beasts, worthy of the sons of Amber."
I looked to Random who said, "Good idea, Julian. You look like hell. Go get some rest. Have him back in a week though. He has a date with me to render his fealty. Oh yes, tell him about his writing project while you are at it."
So we left. My commanders understood their new allegiance and even as I sit here they are off in shadow being run ragged by Benedict's drill instructors. As I sip my cappuccino Rinaldo has just come out to the balcony, in formal regalia of a Golden Circle king. The nobles here rose to great him, taking in his newly minted medallion that denoted his status. He saw me and he smiled as he walked over.
"Well, Dalt, was I right?"
I nodded, "You were right, nephew, but it had to be beaten into me to convince me."
He laughed then said, "Come on, big guy, the King awaits."
And so he does. But one last thing remains to tell. When Julian and I went hunting in Arden, I had taken a Manticore and was dressing it for transport to the hunter's camp. Just Julian and I. I looked up and there was the unicorn herself. We rose to regard it. I removed the medallion that had hung beneath my clothes and I tossed it before her. IT was of a lion rending a unicorn. She scooped her horn through the chain and looked at me while the medallion swung dependent from her brow. I would swear she smiled at me, forgivingly, before she bolted into the depths of Arden.
So here it is. This is my testament, King Random, my submission, and to my own surprise, those stains at the bottom are my tears. So where they drop, I sign my name.
Prince Dalt of Amber
5/12/5223 In Amber