The courts of chaos (1978) – the chronicles of amber (5) – roger zelazny

Chapter 1

Amber: high and bright atop Kolvir in the middle of the day. A black road: low and sinister through Garnath from Chaos to the south. Me: cursing, pacing and occasionally reading in the library of the palace in Amber. The door to that library: closed and barred.
The mad prince of Amber seated himself at the desk, returned his attention to the opened volume. There was a knock on the door.
“Go away!” I said.
“Corwin. It’s me – Random. Open up, huh? I even brought lunch.”
“Just a minute.”
I got to my feet again, rounded the desk, crossed the room. Random nodded when I opened the door. He carried a tray, which he took to a small table near the desk.
“Plenty of food there,” I said.
“I’m hungry, too.”
“So do something about it.”
He did. He carved. He passed me some meat on a slab of bread. He poured wine. We seated ourselves and ate.

/> “I know you are still mad…” he said, after a time. “Aren’t you?”
“Well, maybe I am more used to it. I don’t know. Still… Yes. It was sort of abrupt, wasn’t it?”
I took a large swallow of wine.
“It is just like the old days. Worse even. I had actually come to like him when he was playing at being Ganelon. Now that he is back in control he is just as peremptory as ever, he has given us a set of orders he has not bothered to explain and he has disappeared again.”
“He said he would be in touch soon.”
“I imagine he intended that last time, too.”
“I’m not so sure.”
“And he explained nothing about his other absence. In fact, he has not really explained anything.”
“He must have his reasons.”
“I am beginning to wonder, Random. Do you think his mind might finally be going?”
“He was still sharp enough to fool you.”
“That was a combination of low animal cunning and shapeshifting ability.”
“It worked, didn’t it?”
“Yes. It worked.”
“Corwin, could it be that you do not want him to have a plan that might be effective, that you do not want him to be right?”
“That is ridiculous. I want this mess cleared up as much as any of us.”
“Yes, but wouldn’t you rather the answer came from another quarter?”
“What are you getting at?”
“You do not want to trust him.”
“I will admit that. I have not seen him – as himself – in a hell of a long time, and…”
He shook his head.
“That is not what I mean. You are angry that he is back, aren’t you? You hoped that we had seen the last of him.”
I looked away.
“There is that,” I finally said. “But not for a vacant throne, or not just for it. It is him, Random. Him. That’s all.”
“I know,” he said. “But you have to admit he suckered Brand, which is not an easy thing to do. He pulled a stunt I still do not understand, getting you to bring that arm back from Tir-na Nog’th, somehow getting me to pass it along to Benedict, seeing to it that Benedict was in the right place at the proper moment, so that everything worked and he got the Jewel back. He is also still better than we are at Shadow play. He managed it right on Kolvir when he took us to the primal Pattern. I cannot do that. Neither can you. And he was able to whip Gérard. I do not believe that he is slowing down. I think he knows exactly what he is doing, and whether we like it or not, I think he is the only one who can deal with the present situation.”
“You are trying to say that I should trust him?”
“I am trying to say that you have no choice.”
I sighed.
“I guess you’ve put your finger on it,” I said. “No sense in my being bitter. Still…”
“The attack order bothers you, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, among other things. If we could wait longer, Benedict could field a greater force.