In the Shadow of Red Wine
It was dawn and it was red. It seems my memories are always tinged with red wine at dawn.
I walked to the back of the car and and tossed the shovel into the trunk with a casual flip. It rattled a crate of empty bottles. Clive shut the lid, sealing the glass and the instrument of death together.
He asked, "What the flipping frig was that thing? Will it stay dead this time?"
"I don't know. Probably not. But its buried 8' down with 30 hungry rats. Hopefully it will stay dead long enough for them rats to eat enough to inconvenience it. Of course when it wakes it will suck the rats dry and escape" I answered with a tired drawl.
"Well that's the rat's problem, Warren. Now what was it?" he lit a cigar against the smell as he climbed in the passenger side of the coupe. Pulling a wine bottle up he took a long tug of the rotgut we brew. Sometimes wine is not found in wine bottles.'
"Clive, you really don't want to know what that thing was. Really. I promise you will sleep better not knowing."
"Sleep? are you mad? I'm never sleeping again! Usually when I shoot a guy he has the courtesy to fall down. Not leap through the air and rip people's heads off!" He tugged again. The potent brew not meant to be drank straight pulled tears from his eyes that mass murder couldn't
I drove on into the morning air. Hungry, though i new that was a cold-blooded thing to think about after the night i had had. "you hungry, clive?"
He looked at me like i had sprouted horns. Or perhaps long wicked canine teeth. Thinking a moment, he nodded, "Ya, i could eat... "
I had been traveling in shadow. I think that is how many stories in Amber begin. I was young, and had newly walked the pattern of Amber. Avalon was my first. Amber came second.
Before that there had been nearly a century spent in the wildest wilderness one could imagine. Corwin had taken me to deep places in his realm where no creature with memory had ever walked save he. In those places i learned of sword and spell, gun and lens. I was taught history, philosophy and, shall we call it, comparative religions.
The place he had built, or rather caused to be, in this deep place was a log cabin despite a hundred rooms and running water. Hall after hall was filled with tomes he said had arrived at the same time that the trees and the mountains, at the act of creation, during his mad rush to chaos before the consuming wave of creation caused by Oberon's repair of the pattern. He said he had remembered a place he had stayed once, a travelers' lodge, a retreat. A place of quiet, learning and books.
The act of pattern creation, being a process that pulled his brain apart, had multiplied the size of that memory and made this lodge. It had added indoor plumbing and electric lighting, and filled the shelves with copies of every book, letter, tome, digest and laundry list his eyes had ever glanced over.
This was the House of All Known Things.
I was steeped in lore. Magic swam about me in a daily flow like a whirlpool, wild with light, cool as ice. I read long legends and deep acts of magic. My education was filled with knowledge of a dozen magical disciplines and rites, and a thousand worlds.
But in the long hours before dawn, away from Corwin's watchful eyes, i would sneak to a musty corner and delve into legends Corwin never showed me and grew to love a time and place.
Chicago. I read of Dillinger, Capone, Murder Incorporated, Dutch Schultz and Louis Lepke, and dozens of other. Rum running, Gin mills, and speakeasies. I read both the facts and the beloved fiction. The fiction of Dashel Hammett and Mickey Spillane. Oh how i loved it.
And when the time came, when i was free, when Corwin had taken me to Amber, to pledge my fealty to Random, and i had walked the pattern of amber to its center, that's where i had gone.
As i swirled hash browns in the yellowy yolk of an egg i pondered how much to tell Clive. On the one hand he was a friend. After the night he had had he deserved to know the truth. Most of it anyway. On the other hand he was a mortal, and a shadow creature. How much would destroying his world's view make him sleep easier.
"Clive, i owe you a lot, especially after last night. Are you sure you really want to know?"
Then again, it seems all the members of my family have a dangerous sidekick.
"Very well, Clive. At first, all was Chaos, unbroken void."
Standing beside the house on border crossing at Wild Horse, north of the border into Montana, i shared a flask with a man i had gotten to know as Dunal. He didn't want to tell me his last name because dependability is key in these kinds of transactions. Clive was bringing 10 trucks down from Medicine Hat filled with good Canadian whiskey destined for Chicago swells. They paid top dollar for the good stuff and the best stuff snuck across the border from the cold north east.
The crisp air was clear today, but wicked cold, not that i minded. I had slept in glacier caves on the side of Mount Cadalin in Avalon for months at a time. Of course at the time, i didn't know any better.
Nodding to the road from the north, Dunal pointed out the caravan as it came down the road. Tightly swaddled against the cold,