With a focus on the Sixth Weirmonken War, and the asymmetrical tactics involved in its prosecution
(all references also the Work of the Learned Author)
It started as a smudge on the horizon, as these things always do. A smear of black, a whirling as of birds, a shadow and a pall of fear.
But this was different. Black Roads had been seen before in Amber, crawling with Things out of Shadow, beings and minds antithetical to our life and our power. But never before had one been so to stretch so far as to make it within that Hallowed ring of realities that are our closest Allies and most trusted partners in Trade and War.
For the first time, the road itself could be seen from the highest towers, a base to launch raids, keeping Amber and its forces off balance while endless foes piled up within site of the Endless City.
I have it that Queen Erica set in motion her own spoiling campaign, and it’s a masterwork of Realpolitik* and effective Leadership. In a stroke, she addressed the growing threat, while expending little in the way of Resources, while also removing certain troublesome influences from the sphere of the Throne.
At the same time, she also put the latter – Prince Hagen of Venway, son of the late and long-departed Osric – into such a situation that his loyalty to Amber would put his reservations about her succession well into a secondary consideration.
And, of course, she could now say, with all honesty, that she was addressing the threat.
A Prince of Amber, even a grandchild, is a mighty asset in any warfare. Prince Hagen had proven himself both as an Agent of the Throne, and a Captain of its Armies. That he faulted Queen Erica’s assumption to the Purple was almost beside the point – he was a tool to be used.
However, against the enemies arraying themselves against Amber – as well as the Black Road, there was the lingering threat of the Children of Clarissa Feldane, the Red-headed Children of Chaos* – even a single Prince, or Princess, might be overwhelmed. Hagen knew this; his Strength was Unbending, Tireless, renowned among both Ambers enemies and her friends. Even so, he would need help.
This is one of those rare times where I must perform two roles in this history and essay. Not only am I its Author, but I am one of the Actors upon its stage. Lucifer, son of Alma; this was one of those rare periods where I was resident in Amber. For some time I had avoided court and some of those in it, but my researches into certain arcane possibilities had struck a dead-end in Shadow. At the same time, the first Anniversary of Queen Erica’s coronation was soon – being home would be… well, it would be pleasing to me.
I allow myself some measure of satisfaction that Hagen approached me. We had often ranged against Amber’s enemies together in the past, but since his incarceration and treason, we had not spoken. It was good to see my old companion of many Travails and Adventures; I had also just met one Emil, son of Brand, and since one of the tenets that I regularly refer to – that keeping one enemies close can at times work to one’s Advantage – I was content that Hagen recruited him, also.
And, it must be admitted, Emil is not without skill. He is, I have discovered, my better in terms of arcane power, if not studies. His fashion is poor, and the cut of his clothing lacks a certain gravitas, but he is one of Brand’s.
He had an errand, though, and it was certain that Hagen’s near year in the Dungeons of Amber Palace had taken a toll – one I felt certain I could singularly reverse. Hagen’s Curse combines with his Morality such that he will only sup on those lacking in innocence; thankfully, that is a fine resource in the lower reaches of Amber City, and I was able to secure a vessel, dope the poor Wretch, and effect Hagen’s recovery (see: Elixirs for Providing Recovery, and Vigor, in a Number of Rare Occurrences, Vol II).
We met with Emil again, but before we could set out, we were beset with a pair of ingénues. Which, I admit, may be unfair. But in terms of the conflict they were heading in to, and the fact we were only too ready to recruit them in to our cause… In this, though, we followed the Queen’s lead.
Never fail to use the Tools at your disposal.
So, in our ranks we had Sionad (sp), of Rebma. If one were to believe in mere coincidence, it would be remarkable – having just walked the Pattern in Rebma, which she had not expected to survive, she found herself in Amber City in the presence of the Redoubtable Captain of the City Watch, and he passed her on to Hagen. The pair seems to have an arrangement, not only in waifs but also the odd propensity for the vagrant, criminal population to mysteriously thin.
And again, with the coincidences piling one upon the other, Prince Caine, from the deck of his Flagship, calls upon me with a waif of his own – Lara, of an iteration of the Shadow Earth that I am unfamiliar with (see: On the Arts of the Sword from Around Shadow, Vol XI, Miyamoto Musashi, also known in some Shadows as The Book of Five Rings), and another Pattern Initiate, and therefore another Lost Cousin. It was also a more technologically advanced iteration, though it’s possible the Earth I know has also now moved on.
I have always found such places lacking in… well, lacking.
NOTES IN A MARGIN
Allow me, dear reader, a moment of reflection.
One of the curious truths of Our existence is that knowledge, power, and the Blood of Amber do not necessarily go hand in hand. I give you Lara: in her home Shadow a person of some puissance and skill, well-ranked in the hierarchy of a spy network. Learned, world-weary, and a woman that I would not want to cross paths with.
Which almost seems to suggest that I would rather cross blades with Sioned – which I would not. But even though she lives in such close proximity to Amber and the All, Sioned is… or was, at least, such a child. And I mean no criticism. But she had, then, a beauty and openness that I could only try not to take advantage of.
Ah, such bitter seeds.
One cannot help but see the Wisdom of Caine of in this.
Lara too had a problem, with a mysterious road of black, of beings that her superiors and the best minds in her Shadow could not fathom.
I do not believe in coincidence. The Unicorn is more subtle than we can ever know.
Yet if I did believe in coincidence, I would say that one of the greatest attributes of a great leader is to capitalise on it. To make random Chance an Asset. To grab at an Opportunity, and make it your Own.
So, the scions of Brand, Osric, and Alma, with two Neophytes of unknown origin and providence. But also, an opportunity to strike first a blow to the Weirmonken not where they might expect it, upon the Van of their advance on Amber, but in Shadow, on Lara’s Earth.
To say that we were unexpected is an understatement. It was also an apt Test of our powers, and the combination of Sioned’s surprising Ferocity, the steely Will of Lara, Hagen’s restored Strength, Emil’s Subtlety and Control, and, I will admit, some skill at Arms on my part, was more than adequate for the challenge. The Weirmonken leader was torn limb from limb, his minions bested, and the Black Road abolished from whence it came.
We took our ease in a nearby Shadow, something of an exotic, celestial feel, with strong liquor and something spicy to smoke. We sorted some curious matters of ancestry, opinion, and aims, and in a wider sense, we planned our next moves.
The five of us, like or not, were in play, pieces on a board; nominally we were the Queen’s, but even the most ignorant of Oberon’s get is no mere Pawn.
And against what player we now plotted, then, we could not yet tell…