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Roger Zelazny

The Hand Of Oberon

Chapter 1

A bright flash of insight, to match that peculiar sun...

There it was... . Displayed within that light, a thing I had only seen self-illuminated in darkness up until then: the Pattern, the great Pattern of Amber cast upon an oval shelf beneath/above a strange sky-sea.

... And I knew, perhaps by that within me which bound us, that this had to be the real one. Which meant that the Pattern in Amber was but its first shadow. Which meant-

Which meant that Amber itself was not carried over into places beyond the realm of Amber, Rebma, and Tir-na Nog'th. Meaning, then, that this place to which we had come was, by the law of precedence and configuration, the real Amber.

I turned to a smiling Ganelon, his beard and wild hair molten in the merciless light.

'How did you know?' I asked him.

'You know I am a very good guesser, Corwin,' he replied, 'and I recall everything you ever told me about how things work in Amber: how its shadow and those of your struggles are cast across the worlds. I often wondered, in thinking of the black road, whether anything could have cast such a shadow into Amber itself. And I imagined that such a something would have to be extremely basic, powerful, and secret.' He gestured at the scene before us. 'Like that.'

'Continue,' I said.

His expression changed and he shrugged.

'So there had to be a layer of reality deeper than your Amber,' he explained, 'where the dirty work was done. Your patron beast led us to what seems to be such a place, and that blot on the Pattern looks to be the dirty work. You agreed.'

I nodded.

'It was your perceptiveness rather than the conclusion itself which stunned me so,' I said.

'You beat me to it,' admitted Random, off to my right, 'but the feeling has found its way into my intestines- to put it delicately. I do believe that somehow that is the basis of our world down there.'

'An outsider can sometimes see things better than one who is part of them,' Ganelon offered.

Random glanced at me and returned his attention to the spectacle.

'Do you think things will change any more,' he asked, 'if we go down for a closer look?'

'Only one way to find out,' I said.

'Single file, then,' Random agreed. 'I'll lead.'

'All right.'

Random guided his mount to the right, the left, the right, in a long series of switchbacks which zigged us and zagged us across most of the face of the wall. Continuing in the order we had maintained all day, I followed him and Ganelon came last.

'Seems stable enough now,' Random called back.

'So far,' I said.

'Some sort of opening in the rocks below.'

I leaned forward. There was a cave mouth back to the right, on level with the oval plain. Its situation was such that it had been hidden from sight when we had occupied our higher position.

'We pass fairly near it,' I said.

'-quickly, cautiously, and silently,' Random added, drawing his blade.

I unsheathed Grayswandir, and one turn back above me Ganelon drew his own weapon.

We did not pass the opening, but turned leftward once more before we came to it. We moved within ten or fifteen feet of it, however, and I detected an unpleasant odor which I could not identify. The horses must have done a better job of it, though, or been pessimists by nature, because they flattened their ears, widened their nostrils, and made alarmed noises while turning against the reins. They calmed, however, as soon as we had made the turn and begun moving away once again. They did not suffer a relapse until we reached the end of our descent and moved to approach the damaged Pattern. They refused to go near it.

Random dismounted. He advanced to the edge of the design, paused and stared. After a time, he spoke without looking back.

'It follows that the damage was deliberate,' he said, 'from everything else that we know.'

'It seems to follow,' I said.

'It is also obvious that we were brought here for a reason.'

'I'd say so.'

'Then it does not take too much imagination to conclude that our purpose for being here is to determine how the Pattern was damaged and what might be done to repair it.'

'Possibly. What is your diagnosis?'

'Nothing yet.'

He moved along the perimeter of the figure, off to the right where the smear-effect began. I resheathed my blade and prepared to dismount. Ganelon reached over and took hold of my shoulder.

'I can make it myself-' I began.

But, 'Corwin,' he said, ignoring my words, 'there does appear to be a small irregularity out toward the middle of the Pattern. It does not look like something that belongs...'

'Where?'

He pointed and I followed the gesture.

There was some foreign object near the center. A stick? A stone? A stray bit of paper... ? It was impossible to tell from this distance.

'I see it,' I said.

We dismounted and headed toward Random, who by then was crouched at the extreme right of the figure, examining the discoloration.

'Ganelon's spotted something out toward the center,' I said.

Random nodded.

'I've noticed it,' he replied. 'I was just trying to decide on the best way to head out for a better look. I do not relish the notion of walking a broken Pattern. On the other hand, I was wondering what I would be laying myself open to if I tried heading in across the blackened area. What do you think?'

'Walking what there is of the Pattern would take some time,' I said, 'if the resistance is on par with what it is at home. Also, we have been taught that it is death to stray from it-and this setup would force me to leave it when I reach the blot. On the other hand, as you say, I might be alerting our enemies by treading on the black. So-'

'So neither of you is going to do it,' Ganelon interrupted. 'I am.'

Then, without waiting for a reply, he took a running leap into the black sector, raced along it toward the center, paused long enough to pick up some small object, turned and headed back. Moments later, he stood before us.

'That was a risky thing to do,' Random said. He nodded.

'But you two would still be debating it if I hadn't.'

He raised his hand and extended it.

'Now, what do you make of this?'

He was holding a dagger. Impaled on it was a rectangle of stained pasteboard. I took them from him.

'Looks like a Trump,' Random said.

'Yes.'

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