Authors: Roger Zelazny


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Roger Zelazny




See one coronation and you’ve seen them all.
Sounds cynical and probably is, especially when the principal is your best friend and his queen’s your inadvertent lover.
But there’s generally a procession, with a lot of slow music, and uncomfortable, colorful garb, incense, speeches, prayers, the ringing of bells.
They are tedious, generally hot, and requiring of one an insincere attention, as at weddings, commencements, and secret initiations.

And so Luke and Coral became the sovereigns of Kashfa, in the same church where we’d fought almost-but, unfortunately, not quite-to the death with my mad brother Jurt but a few hours before.
As Amber’s only representative at the event-albeit of, technically, unofficial status-I was accorded a ringside standing place, and eyes were often drifting my way.
So I had to keep alert and mouth appropriate responses.
While Random would not permit formal status to my presence at the ceremony, I knew he’d be irritated if he heard that my behavior was less than diplomatically sound.

So I wound up with hurting feet, a stiff neck, and colorful garments soaked with sweat.
That’s show biz.
Still, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Luke and I go back through some of the damnedest times, and I couldn’t help but think of them-from sword’s point to track meets, from art galleries and into Shadow-as I stood there sweltering and wondering what would become of him now he wore a crown.
Such an occurrence had changed my uncle Random from a happy-go-lucky musician, footloose and degenerate, into a sage and responsible monarch-though I’ve only my relatives’ reports when it comes to knowing about the first.
I found myself hoping it wouldn’t mellow Luke out all that much.
Still-again-Luke was a very different person than Random, not to mention ages younger.
Amazing what years can do, though-or is it just the nature of events? I realized myself to be a lot different than I had been not so very long ago, from all that had happened to me recently.
A lot different than I’d been yesterday, come to think of it.

During the recessional Coral managed to pass me a note, saying that she had to see me, giving a time and a place, even including a small map.
It proved an apartment to the rear of the palace.
We met there that evening and wound up spending the night.
She and Luke had been married as kids, by proxy, I learned then, part of the diplomatic arrangement between Jasra and the Begmans.
It didn’t work out, though-the diplomatic part, that is-and the rest kind of fell by the wayside.
The principals had sort of forgotten about the marriage, too, till recent events served as a reminder.
Neither had seen the other in years.
Still, the record showed that the prince had been married.
While it was an annullable thing, she could also be crowned with him.
If there were anything in it for Kashfa.

And there was: Eregnor.
A Begman queen on the Kashfan throne might help smooth over that particular real estate gab.
At least, that had been Jasra’s thinking, Coral told me.
And Luke had been swayed by this, particularly in the absence of the guarantees from Amber and the now-defunct Golden Circle Treaty.

I held her.
She was not well, despite what seemed an amazing postoperative recovery.
She wore a black patch over her right eye and was more than a little reactive should my hand stray near it-or even if I looked at it for too long.
What might have led Dworkin to replace the damaged eye with the Jewel of Judgment, I could not even guess.
Unless he somehow considered her proof against the forces of the Pattern and the Logrus in their attempts to recover it.
My expertise in this area, though, was nonexistent.
Having finally met the diminutive mage, I had become convinced of his sanity-though this feeling in no way served to penetrate those enigmatic qualities that ancient wise men tend to possess.

“How does it feel?” I asked her.

“Very strange,” she replied.
“Not pain-exactly.
More like the way a Trump contact feels.
Only it’s with me all the time, and I’m not going anywhere or talking to anyone.
It’s as if I’m standing in some sort of gateway.
Forces are moving about me, through me.”

In an instant I was at the center that was the gay ring with its wheel of many-spoked reddish metal.
From the inside, here, it was like a great web.
A bright strand pulsed for my attention.
Yes, it was a line to a very potent force in distant Shadow, one that might be used for probing.
Carefully, I extended it toward the covered jewel she wore in her eye socket.

There was no immediate resistance.
In fact, I felt nothing as I extended the line of power.
An image came to me of a curtain of flame, however.
Pushing through the fiery veil, I felt my extension of inquiry slowing, slowing, halted.
And there I hovered, as It were, at the edge of a void.
This was not the way of attunement, as I understood it, and I was loath to invoke the Pattern, which I understood to be a part of it, when employing other forces.
I pushed forward and felt a terrible coldness, draining the energies I had called upon.

Still, it was not draining the energy directly from me, only from one of the forces I commanded.
I pushed it farther, and I beheld a faint patch of light like some distant nebula.
It hung against a background the deep red of port wine.
Closer still, and it resolved itself into a form-a complex, three dimensional construct, half familiar-which must be the pathway one takes in attuning oneself to the Jewel, from my father’s description.
All right, I was inside the Jewel.
Should I essay the initiation?

“Go no further,” came an unfamiliar voice, though I realized it to be Coral who was making the sounds.
She seemed to have slipped into a trance state.
“You are denied the higher initiation.”

I drew back on my probe, not eager for any demonstrations that might come my way along it.
My Logrus sight, which had remained with me constantly since recent events in Amber, gave me a vision of Coral now fully enfolded and penetrated by the higher version of the Pattern.

“Why?” I asked it.

But I was riot vouchsafed a reply.
Coral gave a little jerk, shook herself, and stared at me.

“What happened?” she asked.

“You dozed off,” I replied.
“No wonder.
Whatever Dworkin did, plus the day’s stress ...”

She yawned and collapsed back on the bed.

“Yes,” she breathed, and then she was really asleep.
I pulled off my boots and discarded my heavier garments.
I stretched out beside her and drew a quilt over us.
I was tired, too, and I just wanted someone to hold.

How long I slept I do not know.
I was troubled by dark, swirling dreams.
Faces-human, animal, demonic, moved about me, none of them bearing particularly cheerful expressions.
Forests fell and burst into flame, the ground shook and split, the waters of the sea rose in gigantic waves and assailed the land, the moon dripped blood and there came up a great wailing.
Something called my name....

A great wind rattled the shutters till they burst inward, dapping and banging.
In my dream, a creature entered then and came to crouch at the foot of the bed, calling softly to me, over and over.
The room seemed to be shaking, and my mind went back to California.
It seemed that an earthquake was in progress.
The wind rose from a shriek to a roar, and I heard crashing sounds from without, as of trees falling, towers toppling....

“Merlin, Prince of the House of Sawall, Prince of Chaos, rise up,” it seemed to say.
Then it gnashed its fangs and began again.

At the fourth or fifth repetition it struck me that I might not be dreaming.
There were screams from somewhere outside, and steady pulses of lightning came and went against almost musical rolls of thunder.

I raised a protective shell before I moved, before I opened my eyes.
The sounds were real, as was the broken shutter.
So was the creature at the foot of the bed.

“Merlin, Merlin.
Rise up, Merlin,” it said to me-it being a long-snouted, pointed-eared individual, wellfanged and clawed, of a greenish-silver cast of complexion, eyes large and shining, damp leathery wings folded against its lean sides.
From its expression, I couldn’t tell whether it was smiling or in pain.
“Awaken, Lord of Chaos.”

“Gryll,” I said, naming an old family servant from the Courts.

“Aye, Lord,” it replied.
“The same as taught you the bonedance game.”

“I’ll be damned.”

“Business before pleasure, Lord.
I’ve followed the black thread a long and horrid way to come calling.”

“The threads didn’t reach this far,” I said, “without an awful lot of push.
Maybe even not then.
Do they now?”

“It’s easier now,” he replied.

“How so?”

“His Majesty Swayvill, King of Chaos, sleeps this night with the ancestors of darkness.
I was sent to fetch you back for the ceremonies.”



Well, okay.
Just let me get my stuff together.
How’d it happen, anyhow?”

I pulled on my boots, donned the rest of my garments, buckled on my blade.

“I am not privy to any details.
Of course, it is common knowledge that his health was poor.”

“I want to leave a note,” I said.

He nodded.

“A brief one, I trust.”


I scrawled on a piece of parchment from the writing table, Coral, Called away on family business.
I’ll be in touch, and I laid it beside her hand.

“All right,” I said.
“How do we do this?”

“I will bear you upon my back, Prince Merlin, as I did long ago.”

I nodded as a flood of childhood memories returned to me.
Gryll was immensely strong, as are most demons.
But I recalled our games, at Pit’s-edge and out over the darkness, in burial chambers, caves, still-smoking battlefields, ruined temples, chambers of dead sorcerers, private hells.
I always seemed to have more fun playing with demons than with my mother’s relatives by blood or marriage.
I even based my main Chaos form upon one of their kind.

He absorbed a chair from the room’s corner for extra mass, changing shape to accommodate my adult size.
As I climbed upon his elongated torso, catching a firm hold, he exclaimed, “Ah, Merlin! What magics do you bear these days?”

“I’ve their control, but not full knowledge of their essence,” I answered.
“They’re a very recent acquisition.
What is it that you feel?”

“Heat, cold, strange music,” he replied.
“From all directions.
You have changed.”

“Everyone changes,” I said as he moved toward the window.
“That’s life.”

A dark thread lay upon the wide sill.
He reached out and touched it as he launched himself.

There came a great rushing of wind as we fell downward, moved forward, rose.
Towers flashed past, wavering.
The stars were bright, a quarter moon just risen, illuminating the bellies of a low line of clouds.
We soared, the castle and the town dwindling in an eyeblink.
The stars danced, became streaks of light.
A band of sheer, rippling blackness spread about us, widening.
The Black Road, I suddenly thought.
It is like a temporary version of the Black Road, in the sky.
I glanced back.
It was not there.
It was as if it were somehow reeling in as we rode.
Or was it reeling us in?

The countryside passed beneath us like a film played at triple speed.
Forest, hill, and mountain peak fled by.
Our black way was a great ribbon heaving before us, patches of light and dark like daytime cloud shadows sliding past.
And then the tempo increased, staccato.
I noted of a sudden that there was no longer any wind.
Abruptly, the moon was high overhead, and a crooked mountain range snaked beneath us.
The stillness had a dreamlike quality to it, and in an instant the moon had fallen lower.
A line of light cracked the world to my right and stars began to go out.
There was no feeling of exertion in Gryll’s body as we plunged along that black way; and the moon vanished and light grew buttery yellow along a line of clouds, acquiring a pink cast even as I watched.

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