25 November 2008

Amber: First Impressions (diary)

So, this is Amber. Amazingly I am impressed by the place, if not yet by the people - or how I got here: I still don't understand that. In all honesty today was baffling, infuriating, exhausting and belittling. And yet it was also inspiring, visceral and energizing, all in one turn of the solar cycle.

How can this be? Well, my midnight jaunt set the tone - body vanished and nothing with which to pin down that bastard brother of mine. Not that it mattered anyway as despite the fact I was certain I felt him nearby, he was nowhere to be found at the estate, and the servants were adamant that he left on a ride earlier that morning. Curse the oversleeping that my fruitless return to the village where we left Triaste brought on!

From that frustrating start, the day got worse before it got better. I resigned myself to a cold revenge upon my return and went to meet Roland and Berthold in order to set off for Amber, only to find the former in conversation with a bizarrely attired boy. At least - I had thought it was a boy; it turned out to be another "cousin", a fellow "Amberite" and a rather poorly attired woman. She introduced herself as Malice and the name fits - I was less than impressed with her attire and her personality and attitude produced the same effect. No doubt it is mutual, but I'll lose no sleep over that.

I may lose sleep over the weirdness of the journey though - Roland later explained it as moving through "shadow" worlds, changing a bit at a time, not that that made it any easier to stomach. The sky turned purple, I felt sick and dis-empowered, a child bound to the hand of Roland as "father" and completely out of my depth. I tried to return home with no luck - my new powers seem to have deserted me already. Such was the torment that I was almost glad when we found the body. I just wanted the journey to end.

I had an inkling that it would only be a stopping point and as such it both irked and relieved in equal measure - an ending, but one with the promise of more hell to follow.

But not until after the battle - it turned out by ill chance that the dead man was a soldier of Amber, or as Roland put it "a servant of the family", and the ringing of battle was audible on the wind. Malice, Berthold and Roland rode like buggery to the fight - citing duty. I was lost, alone in a strange place with my companions ridden off to die for all I knew. Unwilling to commit as they had, I circled, scouted - and I'm still itching as a result of those spines, they combine poorly with saddle-sores! - and gained vantage. Then another strange moment: my eyes locked even at range with a figure marshaling the defense and I saw him as if right close. It turned out later - once the fight was won - that he was "King Random" of Amber, personally overseeing the return of troops and wounded from some supposedly concluded war. He did not impress, not with personality, nor with tactics, or his personal involvement in what would seem to be a routine task. Admittedly it appeared from the carnage - in which I played full part in the end, smashing a weak point in the assaulting line and then leading a force to route the enemy archers (who posed the only real threat to the defense... apart from those hideous bat-like creatures) , but it leaves me not knowing what to make of this much vaulted Amber.

I swear that back home, however "unreal" it may be (and I am far from certain that I yet believe that line), no-one as puny or uninspiring as Random would last as ruler. Still he thanked us, greeting and accepting me as "cousin" though we had never met... perhaps what passed in that second of locked eyes was more than a trick of the light - it makes me shudder to think of it, yet the possibilities...

Sometime after the attackers - largely strange forms, black and... odd - were routed, Malice "disappeared" through an ice-shedding rainbow, only to reappear when we arrived in Amber itself (to a hero's welcome, to compound the strangeness of it all). She unnerves me, and not in a good way; she will need to be watched, if indeed it is possible to watch those who come and go like that. Roland and I arrived back by a more conventional route - on horseback - but it was apparently more "shadow shifting" that eventually brought us to Amber itself (by way of a buried stone giant which, I'm sure, must have been some kind of hallucination).

And in that arrival, the day's sheer joy - this city is a picture that makes the artist in me sing and buzz with enthusiasm. Architecture that looks familiar, yet varied too, and scenery that takes the breath away. If nothing else the opportunity to see the vista - with the giant mountain (Roland named it, but it escapes me in my tiredness) towering above, the castle dominating the town, and the deep greens of the surrounding forest contrasting with the vivid blue of the ocean. Breathtaking, glorious and simply beautiful.

I had little left to give after that - the approach to Castle Amber was twisting through parades on the street, as if Random's words of heroes had got back to the people and they had come out to welcome us home. Thankfully I was too tired to pay much attention, and shortly after we got into the castle - to be met as mentioned by Malice, attired in a way more befitting her gender at least - I collapsed in exhaustion and was shown to these chambers. That was last night, and now... a new day awaits in a strange yet beautiful city where everyone seems to think that I have "come home".

[Small portraits of Malice (unflattering), Roland, Random (bordering on caricature) and the vista of Amber accompany this entry]

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