Amber: Dynasty

Not quite the Wars of the Roses…

History

Any history of Amber must be highly subjective. Time flows differently through shadow, making it problematic to estimate  credible dates. Further, the difficulty of finding talkative eye-witnesses makes Amber’s early years almost impossible to describe with any certainty — chroniclers must be satisfied with a combination of hearsay, supposition, and myth.

Founding

Oberon and his court wizard, Dworkin Barimen, came to Amber some two thousand years ago. We do not know if Amber as a shadow was already here, or if they created it (followers of the Church of the Unicorn claim that the goddess led them here, showing them a safe place to settle after some great calamity forced them to flee their homeland). We do know that Dworkin drew the Pattern here, and that the addition of this great power to the shadow made Amber something far more than mere shadow. It is said:

“Of Substance, there is only Amber, the real city, upon the real Earth, which contains everything. Of Shadow, there is an infinitude of things.”

Oberon forged a strongly defensible shadow in Amber, both by restricting access to a few key choke points, and by building at its heart the castle atop Mt Kolvir.

Amber’s early years were punctuated by frequent military incursions, for the most part from the nearby shadows which would eventually become the Golden Circle. Amber became populated by a mix of shadow-dwellers brought there by Oberon as military troops or skilled workers, and those who chose to stay after finding their way there across the borders. Of the military forces brought to Amber during this time, the most notable were an elite force commanded by General Er Wan Venway, father of Cymnea, who became Oberon’s first wife.

Whether there were people in Amber before Oberon’s arrival is a matter for some conjecture. It’s highly probably that there were people here (though the Church of the Unicorn insist Amber was ‘pristine and untouched’). Certainly, the Rebmans claim to have a history that predates that of Amber’s, but they are notoriously uncooperative about sharing their knowledge.

The weirmonken

By far the most noticeable of Amber’s attackers were, and indeed still are, the weirmonken.

Generally, those who crossed shadow borders with intent to assault Amber were doing so to seize land. The weirmonken simply wanted to destroy. They first appeared around 400 years after Amber’s founding, causing a general panic amongst the population. The weirmonken were unlike anything that had crossed Amber’s borders before — they were shapeshifters by nature, incapable of human forms (or most unwilling to emulate them). Their first attack was very nearly Amber’s destruction, as many of Oberon’s troops broke at first sight of the terrifying, shifting mass of their army. The Venway troops however, proved much hardier, and with Princes Benedict and Osric as their generals, the weirmonken were routed, and the princes were declared national heroes.

The bodies of the fallen weirmonken were buried in hastily-dug mass graves, but soon had to be moved, as the foulness of their very forms began to poison the land around the inhumations. They were borne down the full length of the Vale of Garnath to the volcanic region beyond, and thrown into the lava of Mt Caoranach. Many of the workers who exhumed and transported the bodies later died from a strange disease that caused erratic bone growth — some even took on weirmonken shapes in their death throes, as bones began forcing their way through skin.

A small number of weirmonken were taken prisoner, but all died under questioning. Where they came from, and why they wanted Amber destroyed, remained a mystery for a very long time.

The noble houses

By the time Amber was seeing out its first half-century, four great families had risen to prominence in the city. These families became the noble houses we know today, and they have shaped Amber politics through careful planning, alliances, and not a little luck.

The first of these families are the Venway, who were brought to Amber by Oberon during the city’s early years to defend it from the plethora of forces bent on its subjugation or destruction. Karm and Bayle were among those who came to Amber as skilled workers and fortune-hunters, with Karm settling in the south along the Vale of Garnath, and Bayle taking over dominion of the northern reaches of Amber. Chantris came to Amber seeking political refuge from their home shadow, bringing with them unparalleled knowledge of shipbuilding.

The fifth and final noble house are the Feldane, who were made noble by Oberon so he could marry Clarissa, daughter of Marcelino Feldane. Until being created a Duke, Marcelino’s people had lived on Amber’s far southern fringes, mining in the haunted reaches of Mt Caoranach.

Consolidation and expansion

Thanks to the shadow-walking powers of the princes, Amber’s influence grew exponentially, and soon the realm forged alliances with nearby shadows. These alliances came in some cases after wars, and in some cases out of trading efforts, but eventually all became mutual defence pacts. These shadows became known as the Golden Circle.

The Golden Circle shadows are sovereign nations, though some are held as regencies of Amber, ruled by one of her princes (Ghenesh is one such shadow, ostensibly ruled by Prince Corwin, for the most part in absentia). They each became linked to Amber by shadow roads laid down by the princes and maintained through constant use. Although some were originally quite distant from Amber, repeated strengthening of the shadow roads has made travel times identical for all the Golden Circle shadows.

Rebma

One cannot speak of the realms of Amber without making mention of her sister-city, Rebma. The Rebmans claim that their city existed before Amber was founded, though if there is proof of this, the Rebmans have refused to share it. Remba enjoys a special status in Amber — it is not a Golden Circle shadow, nor is it in any way beholden to Amber. The two realms have a mutual defence pact, and each maintains embassies in the other’s city. In Amber’s annals, Rebma is first mentioned when Oberon announced that Queen Moins had borne him a daughter in 368.

Rebma’s own history must remain a matter for the Rebmans, who are traditionally reticent to allow air-breathers access to their records.

The realm of Chaos

The princes of Amber took after their father, and were great travellers and explorers. The chronicles are full of stories of strange shadows and stranger inhabitants. But by far the most disturbing stories were those of a place so strange it was called simply ‘Chaos’.

Alma and Deirdre were at the forefront of these expeditions. They went into shadow seeking the source of the weirmonken, but where others had stopped searching when the way became too hard, they fought on. Other princes had reported that, in walking through shadow, the further one travelled from Amber, the harder the way became, and that eventually the shadows became actively obstructive. Alma and Deirdre discovered that if one pushed beyond these ‘barrier’ shadows, the way became easier but far more disturbing — shadows no longer followed accepted laws of physics, or were simply antithetical to oxygen-breathing life. Eventually, at a point which Alma described as “Shadow gone so mad I thought it would take my mind with it,” they came to a kind of settlement. Here was the source and home of the weirmonken.

“It’s a trial to even describe it — there simply are not words to explain a place the mind can’t comprehend. There was nothing the eye could lay upon as solid, nothing that wasn’t shifting and changing the moment you began to understand it. I think the only reason we survived that place is that the longer we stood there, the more solid the world became beneath our feet. We, by our very presence, were changing that place. No wonder they hated us.” — Princess Deirdre

The knowledge brought back by the princesses informed the wars that followed, but no effort was ever made to take the fight to the weirmonken. It was simply too difficult to move an army intact through such unfriendly shadows. The weirmonken could only survive the experience because they were shapeshifters, and that talent was extremely rare in Amber.

The role of women in Amber’s wars

Amber’s many wars are well chronicled, providing a rich source of information for students of both warfare and general history. However, there are often enormous differences between the official court records of these wars, and the other extant documents such as reports by the various generals and eye-witness accounts. The most glaring difference is in the depiction of fighting women.

Records of the first weirmonken war award the greatest accolades to Princes Osric and Benedict, but say little of the Venway commanders, many of whom were women. The Venway were at their core mercenaries who valued talent irrespective of sex. It took centuries of social pressure to change their essentially egalitarian makeup.

In Amber’s first throne war, when Prince Osric attempted a coup against his father, the chronicles list King Oberon himself as the only general. Yet we know from Princess Erica’s own chronicles that she fought beside her father.

The second weirmonken war was similarly edited. Princes Benedict, Corwin and Theodric were lauded as heroes, while Erica and Deirdre were only mentioned in unofficial records.

The various wars fought to pacify surrounding shadows make much of the Princes and little of the Princesses. Even the war with Kashfa, which we know from the Chronicle of Jidrash was led and won by Princess Deirdre, is noted in the official Amber chronicle as having been commanded by General Koldo Bayle.

It is not until the 1200s that female generals are noted in official chronicles, and even then, their inclusion is couched in careful half-truths, perhaps to avoid annoying the King. The third weirmonken war accords Princes Benedict and Bleys as the heroes, with footnotes showing Princesses Erica and Deirdre were there in a ‘supportive role’.

In 1599, Prince Benedict broke this traditional reporting style by allowing his dispatches from the fourth weirmonken war to be read at court. In them he makes much of Princess Julia’s military prowess. As a result, the official chronicle of the war could not completely whitewash her role as co-general, but her actions were heavily downplayed.

Four hundred years later, when the official record of the fifth weirmonken war was entered into the annals, Benedict, Erica and Julia were given equal billing as generals — the first time women were treated as equals in Amber’s wars. It was also the first of Amber’s wars fought in the absence of King Oberon, and it is perhaps that fact alone that made their inclusion possible.

The second era

In 1914, King Oberon departed Amber. There was nothing unusual about that — like most of his children, he was often taken by wanderlust. As was usual, Prince Benedict and Princess Erica (largely uncredited) kept things running in his absence. As years became decades however, his absence was questioned. Over the next fifty years innumerable attempts were made to contact the king, none of them successfully.

When the fifth weirmonken war began and there was still no sign of the king, the noble houses began asking who was in charge of Amber. Many looked to Prince Benedict as the obvious choice for regent, but he pointedly deferred to Erica, noting that, like Deirdre, he had been formally removed from the succession. Erica made no formal announcement on the matter, and simply carried on as she always had.

The war proved a particularly hard one, and in the aftermath the people of Amber took up the noble houses’ concern about Amber’s empty throne. With pressure mounting, Prince Benedict absented himself from Amber, saying only that he did not wish to see another palace coup. This left Erica in sole command of the palace.

The years ticked by with little change in the situation. Erica kept the nobles at bay, refusing to declare herself regent or to make any move on the throne itself. King Oberon had not laid down any laws regarding his throne beyond saying who could not take it (those four children he had formally disowned). Three of the five noble houses (Karm, Bayle and Chantris) practiced male primogeniture, and they did not see Erica as a suitable candidate for the throne. However, Prince Corwin had been missing for longer than Oberon. Following Corwin came Bleys and then Caine (assuming the removal of the female candidates).

Matters came to a head with the 100th anniversary of Oberon’s disappearance. Prince Bleys, with the support of Houses Karm, Feldane and Chantris, attempted to have himself declared heir apparent. His siblings Fiona and Brand (in absentia) added their weight to the matter. Opposing them was Erica, supported by Julia, Gerard and Caine. It was Erica’s cabal, with their broader support base in Amber, that prevailed.

Bleys returned some months later at the head of an army, accompanied by the long-missing Corwin. Their coup failed, Bleys fell off the seaward face of Mt Kolvir, probably to his death, and Corwin was captured. Like Osric before him, Corwin was tried with treason and sentenced to death, but in her first act as Queen, Erica reduced his sentence to life imprisonment.

Today, Queen Erica celebrates her first anniversary on the throne of Amber.

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