Welcome to Bloody Rachel’s, friend. Just come off the boat, have you? You’ve got that look about you. Here, let me buy you a drink.
I know, I know. It’s overwhelming at first. You’ll soon get the hang of the place. Or you’ll go mad and they’ll ship you off to Saraat. Joking! I’m joking, calm down. Let me refill that glass and I’ll see if I can’t bring you up to speed, okay?
So, you’re from some nice little place off in shadow, am I right? Shadow? Shadow is everything that isn’t real – everything that isn’t Amber. Yes, I suppose it is a condescending term. But you’ll get used to that. ‘Real’ is relative, anyway. It’s something you can become, if you get noticed. Although some would say that getting noticed is not a good thing.
I’ll start at the beginning.
You’re from shadow. Shadow is infinite. No matter what weird little corner of it you came from, there are always weirder. Think of the universe as a giant whirlpool, and every molecule of water is an entire world. At the centre is Amber, and shadow is drawn to it. It’d be drawn in a lot faster, but there are walls in the way. To get to Amber, you have to go through the Golden Circle, and then you have to enter through certain places – they might not look like choke points, but ask any fool who ever tried to lead an army here…
So Amber is the centre of everything, the one real place in the universe. Everything that comes from Amber is better, faster, stronger. That’s why trade’s such a big deal – if you’re trading in Amber-made goods you can charge a premium because it’s honestly the best you can get. If you live here, you’ll have a longer life span, and you won’t get sick much. And if you happen to get noticed by the royals, you’ll do even better – though that’s a two-edged sword, to be honest.
Let me refill that.
The royal family. King Oberon and his brood might as well be gods. I suppose they technically are gods, given the king is also the head of the church. Son of the unicorn, and all that. No, I’m pretty sure that’s figurative. Wait, sorry, Queen. It’s Queen Erica now. We’ve had a king for two thousand years – it’ll be a hard habit to break, you know? No, I’m not that old, don’t be stupid. Even if you get the attention of a royal you’ll live maybe eight hundred years at most.
The princes are, to put not too fine a point on it, scary as fuck. If you ever run into one, just call him ‘your highness’ and leave the first chance you get. Okay, technically they aren’t all princes, because there were wives and mistresses, and there’s a second generation as well, but best to err on the side of politeness, eh? They get touchy about the whole ‘bastard’ thing.
A prince of Amber is always the most terrifying thing the room. You’ll notice them, don’t worry. They stand out. They can move through shadow – that’s how we trade with other places – the princes lay down Ways for others to follow. They can do this because of a thing called the Pattern, which is that funny symbol you’ll see on the churches around here. That symbol’s based on the big Pattern in the palace basement, which the royals walk when they come of age. Only the royals have the power of Pattern, and anybody who’s not descended from Oberon dies if they try to walk it. Sure, I’ve seen the Pattern. A sailor friend of mine saw a Rebman try to walk it once – burst into flames before he took three steps. Must have been quite a sight, watching someone burn to death underwater. Sorry, there’s more than one Pattern.
The Pattern in the palace is the main one, then there’s one in Rebma, one at Mt Caoranach, and one in Tir na nog’th. There’s a pilgrimage, if you’re interested. Takes a few weeks on foot, but you’re allowed to do it on horseback if you’re infirm. You start at the palace, then down Kolvir through the city and take a detour into Arden to the Grove of the Unicorn, then you follow the Oisin through the Vale all the way to Arras and on to Caoranach, then over the Saba pass to the coast, up the coast past Saraat to faielle-bionin and down to Rebma, then back up the seaward face of Kolvir to the Chapel, where you wait until a full moon so you can go up to Tir na nog’th. You can do Tir on a half moon, but it’s safest at full. And never do it if it’s cloudy – the city’s only solid in moonlight. Sure, I’ve done it the once. Planned to be a priest when I was a kid. Grew out of it.
Right, what else do you need to know?
Sorcery. There’s lots of that about, and anybody with half a brain can learn to do it.
Trump. You’ll see these every now and then – like playing cards with pictures on them. You concentrate on the picture and make a connection to it. If it’s a place, you can travel there instantly. If it’s a person, you can talk to them or travel to them. Or they can take over your brain. Swings and roundabouts.
Shapeshifting. You hear rumours about people who can do it. It’s pretty rare, and it can be mistaken for weir-taint, so if you’ve got it, keep it to yourself.
So. Three things to remember. One: Keep your head down and work hard and you’ll make a tidy fortune. No poor folk in Amber, except those who give it away. Two: Remember that you live at the centre of the universe. On the plus side that means you’ll be better at everything than a new arrival. On the down side, every now and then somebody tries to invade. And three: Never cross a prince. They’ve got long memories and short tempers.