If you’ve been keeping up with The Chronicles of Amber reread so far, we’ve gone through ten books—five each for Corwin’s and Merlin’s series. But Roger Zelazny continued the Amber adventures in a series of short stories that pick up from Prince of Chaos and seem to set up a new storyline in the Amber universe. Unfortunately, Zelazny died before he could complete the story, but here, at the end of the reread, we’re going to take a look at these stories which have been collected in the book, Manna from Heaven.
“The Salesman’s Tale”
“The Salesman’s Tale” picks up right after where Merlin’s series left off, with Luke left behind with the Pattern. If you recall from Prince of Chaos, the last we heard of Luke was via a Trump contact when he mentions that he’s spilled something. We soon learn that rather than blood it’s actually just iced tea, and Luke takes advantage of the Pattern’s confusion by Trumping through to the Junkyard Forest, one of the Trumps of Doom. All of the Trumps of Doom lead to places near the Blue Crystal Cave which is Luke’s true goal. Once there, essentially protected from the Pattern, he waits for his wounded hand to heal and works a spell to change his appearance.
In the cave he sketches a new Trump, though he doesn’t use it right away. First he uses Brand’s Trump, not to contact Brand, who’s dead, but to instead make contact with Brand’s sword, Werewindle. Just as Corwin was able to call Grayswandir to him, Luke is able to pull Werewindle through the Trump (taking it from Brand’s shrine in Chaos).
Luke then Trumps to Queen Vialle in Amber and fills her in on everything that’s been happening. Vialle creates an Oracle using her sculptures, assigning them positions and roles. When she questions the Oracle, we learn that eleven ancient powers are stirring, and that Werewindle and Grayswandir are involved somehow. Luke must seek the guardians and a self-exiled Prince of Amber is named. Vialle identifies him as Delwin and hands Luke his Trump. She also mentions his “stewardship of the spikards.”
Luke contacts Delwin who remains cagey. At the mention of Jasra, Delwin moves to break the connection. Luke tries to stall by offering to sell Delwin a microwave, but he still refuses. The story ends with both Luke and Vialle awaiting Corwin’s arrival as predicted by the Oracle.
“Blue Horse, Dancing Mountains”
This story picks up with Corwin (yay!) after he leaves Chaos. He rides a blue horse named Shask, a Chaos creature who can talk and change shape. Shask warns Corwin about the Dancing Mountains which lie between the shadows of Chaos and the shadows of Amber and are constantly shifting.
At night, Shask turns to stone (apparently a hereditary condition) and Corwin sleeps until he is awakened by a sound. He explores to find a depression in the mountain where two figures are playing a game. One figure is seated on the ground and the other hangs upside down in the air as they move pieces on the board. Corwin recognizes the seated man as Dworkin, his grandfather. His game pieces include a griffin, the Unicorn, and Castle Amber. His opponent is soon revealed to be Suhuy, Dworkin’s counterpart in Chaos. His pieces are a Fire Angel, the Serpent, and the Thelbane (the king’s home in Chaos). Neither man can see Corwin, but Suhuy mentions that Corwin won’t make it back to Amber in time to find the Hall of Mirrors and get the answers he needs. Dworkin warns Suhuy not to underestimate Corwin. Then the two men shift position and Dworkin moves a Chaos piece, a woman, which Suhuy objects to. He needs to study the move, so both men agree to reconvene in a few days before disappearing.
Corwin returns to Shask and when the steed awakens, Corwin asks if he knows what a hellride is. Shask does, noting its often harmful effect on a mount’s sanity. Corwin thinks Shask’s mind is up to the task. Corwin knows he has to get to the Hall of Mirrors quickly and so they prepare to depart.
“The Shroudling and the Guisel”
Merlin wakes in his room making love to someone he doesn’t know. After they are done, he conjures a light to look at her and sees that she is a vampire (or at least seems to be). She reveals that she is Rhanda, his childhood playmate that we saw briefly in Prince of Chaos. She’s not actually a vampire but rather a shroudling, a secretive race that feeds from “those the world might be better off without.” She also says she’s been watching Merlin her whole life.
This has been easy since she and the others of her race live in the mirrorworld, the land behind all mirrors, and that the danger that currently threatens Merlin is threatening her and her people. Merlin replies that things are good for him now, that he’s reconciled with Dara, Mandor, Jurt, and even Julia. Rhanda says that Julia has already used that “reconciliation” to try to arouse Jurt’s jealousy, that she’s been playing everyone. Rhanda claims that Julia wants to be Queen of Chaos.
She also mentions that there are seven others contending for the throne. Merlin replies that there are only six (pretenders who apparently appeared post Prince of Chaos). Rhanda clarifies that there is a hidden one—someone who Merlin saw in Suhuy’s pool—who has been using the mirrorworld.
This hidden one found a guisel, a horrible creature from out of shroudling myth, a winged eel with many clawed legs. S/he set it on the rivals to the throne and now it’s after Merlin and waiting behind the mirror, but luckily Rhanda has locked it. Merlin asks if they could sneak up on it from another mirror.
They head for another mirror and Rhanda warns that guisels can absorb both spells and physical force. Before he can sneak up on it, it appears and attacks. As warned, Merlin’s spells are useless. They only slow the guisel down momentarily before it consumes them. It bites Merlin’s sword off at the hilt, so he uses the spikard.
The spikard slows the guisel down but doesn’t hurt it. Merlin summons another sword and reaches for Ghostwheel. But Ghostwheel can’t reach the mirrorworld and the contact is soon broken. Other shroudlings appear and start singing, which reminds Merlin of something. He cries out in the fashion of his youth, summoning another childhood companion, Kergma, a living equation. Kergma assesses the guisel while Merlin continues to hold it off. It tells Merlin that the vorpal sword, from his brief visit to Wonderland, will work against it. With Kergma’s help, Merlin gets the vorpal sword and begins using it to cut off pieces of the guisel. When that is done he asks Kergma to help him create a new guisel to send after the hidden one.
Rhanda warns him that this will make Merlin target number one, but that’s what Merlin was counting on. He suspects Mr. Hidey will leave the mirrorworld, too. Kergma says goodbye, then, and Rhanda and Merlin return to their, er, earlier activities. The story ends with Merlin knowing Rhanda will be gone when he awakens.
“Coming to a Cord”
This tale picks up with Frakir, Merlin’s strangling cord, which he left hanging from the bedpost in Brand’s room in Castle Amber. It seems that contrary to Merlin’s belief, Frakir retained her sentience but temporarily lost the ability to communicate, which she finally regains.
Frakir helpfully explains that Merlin fell under the power of a spell that Brand left for Luke. Frakir also mentions that the spikard resembled the sword Werewindle, in essence if not form. She thinks Merlin should know and so goes to find him.
Her first step is Martin’s room, but Martin isn’t there, so she then finds Flora. Frakir climbs onto Flora’s wrist and asks her to contact Merlin. Flora is unable to reach Merlin by Trump but offers to help Frakir however she can.
Frakir hangs out in Flora’s room until she hears Flora shriek. Someone surprised her by stepping out of her mirror, someone with a guisel after him (sound familiar?). The guisel follows and Flora throws Frakir at it as she screams for help. Luke answers the call, bursting into the room. Frakir remarks that Werewindle isn’t just a sword anymore and the strange sorcerer explains that Werewindle can defeat the guisel, as it has virtually a limitless supply of energy to draw on. Also, that “it isn’t really a sword.”
Frakir knows exactly what it is and while Luke is hacking at the guisel she crawls onto him. She tells him Werewindle could draw enough energy to destroy a world and Luke uses some of this energy to destroy the guisel. Frakir also tells him that before it was Werewindle it was the spikard Rawg.
Luke disposes of the guisel but the sorcerer gets away, through the mirrors. Frakir stays with Luke, thinking she might get to Merlin via the approaching Corwin.
That’s it for now, but there’s still one last story to go. Tune back in next time for our last post with the remaining story and the commentary and speculation for these stories. Hope you’ll join me!
Rajan Khanna is a writer, narrator and reviewer who loves every opportunity to dive back into Zelazny’s Amber universe. He is a regular columnist for LitReactor and his narrations have appeared on a variety of podcasting sites. His first novel, Falling Sky, will be out from Pyr in Fall 2014. You can follow him on his website, and he tweets @rajanyk.