I was born in Paris. Mom had favored Paris for most of the past century, stepping out whenever a war rolled through or popular opinion favored that rich people were too tall by a head. She gave me an old French name, Élodie. She might still use the diacritical mark in some contexts, though I haven't for a long time now -- except in France, of course, and even that has been a while. Some say it means "foreign wealth", which says more about her than it does about me. I favor her strongly in coloring and somewhat in features, though I make up for it with a very different temperament. I also maintain that bangs were my idea first and that she copied my hair style.
I was small and a bit sickly in those days, before the power of my blood asserted itself. I spent most of my time at our country home in Fontainebleau, away from the city air. I slowed Mom down a little, I think, though nothing could really keep her away from the social whirl for long. There were always more parties and salons for her to go to. And more lovers to take, though there is some debate as to just what relations she had with them. It seemed like a lot to me at the time.
For all the grief I've given Mom over the years, one thing I've never faulted her on is the size of her library. She has always maintained an excellent one, and I could usually be found in it. My detailed knowledge of Earth history and philosophy dates from those days. I speak of Shadow Earth, of course. I am aware that my family sometimes refers to their own world by the same name, but such is not my practice.
The Third Republic was proclaimed when I was at an impressionable age and improving in health. "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" was the order of the day, and I became deeply invested in it. Liberté is conventionally represented by a female figure, so I was a bit miffed when I discovered fraternité does not imply an equal solidarité féminine. I set my hand to correcting the problem. When the situation in Paris became too dangerous for me -- I love my countrymen, but they practice politics in a passionate and unrestrained manner -- I went to London to join the better established suffrage movement in progress there.
It was after the second time Mom decided it was probable that I would be released from gaol that she took me a bit more firmly in hand -- over my protests, naturally. She had always been a great supporter of monarchy, Bonaparte as much as Bourbon, so she took me to experience more deeply that Monarchy of whom all others are shadows. I had known for a long time, of course, that Mom was a Princess from a far away land -- hardly a unique situation in Paris in those days. And I knew that playing cards sometimes talked and that I shouldn't tell anyone. I must confess I wasn't very tempted -- if I had told my friends in the temperance movement they might never have forgiven me. I had met a number of Mom's siblings, whoever she happened to be on decent terms with that day. But none of it really seemed to matter all that much. She was an Amberite, and I was French.
It is said you never forget your first sight of the True City. I haven't, but I've seen better since. I made a point of looking for better cities for a while. Contrary to the opinions of the most of the family, I don't believe every city is a pale reflection of some part of Amber. Those who walk in Shadow can go anywhere they can imagine, so those whose heads are full of the love of Amber will never entirely leave it behind. Those who have filled their heads with the fantastic imaginings of thousand other minds on a hundred different worlds are more versatile. But that was much later.
I was bitter at being ripped out of my life on Earth, so I took every opportunity to point out Amber's shortcomings. I may even have exaggerated a bit. Mom leapt to its defense, naturally, and that was the beginning of our ongoing argument. She may have hardened her position since through long practice, but it was hardly a radical concept at any time. Most of my family feels that their ability to manipulate Shadows devalues the reality of them. Some would even say that we create each Shadow the first time one of us passes through it. For my part, I've never understood why they place so much value on a place where not only technology and magic, but even the powers of our blood are crippled.
I didn't fare well at court in those years. The protocol and ceremony was bad, of course, but the way family members spoke to one another was worse. They plotted against one another continually and openly. Almost every sentence seemed to be a move in some strange power game where information was hard currency. They go to considerable lengths to avoid granting apologies, even on such rare occasions when they believe they are at fault. My grandfather the King transparently played his children off against one another while they jockeyed for his favor. I made frequent disparaging comments, but being female and not Oberon's, I was shown a bit more leniency than the Elder Amberites would have gotten. Or perhaps they didn't entirely understand what I was saying. I had spoken some Thari from early childhood, but I had not spoken it often and I'm told I had a rather distinctive accent in those days.
I was highly motivated to improve my Thari, written if not spoken. Escaping to the library was critical to my continued sanity and I spent every moment I could either there or with a book I took with me. And so I learned fantastic tales of many lands, of strange creatures and powers, and of many ways of living. After such a remove of years, the bitterness has faded enough for me to say that the library made my first sojourn in Amber a worthwhile experience.
Mom couldn't stay away from Earth for too long, which proved good ammunition for me versus her insistence that Shadows don't matter. She had a manor constructed a little way outside New York City, in Westchester. There was a great deal of saber rattling in Europe and she told me she wanted to preemptively avoid it. Everyone could tell the Great War was coming, though it took another generation to arrive. It would be decades yet before I learned that most of her sudden and mystifying movements were for the sake of keeping track of Uncle Corwin.
For my part, I rather liked New York. There were good libraries and a number of womens' literary and debating sociétés. A bit off to the southwest of the city, my countrymen had recently provided the Americans with a copper colossus of our mutual goddess, Liberté. If I got especially homesick, there was even a strong Francophone community. I kept my hand in the suffrage movement off and on, though I mainly stayed out of trouble. And I went to college for the first time, at Vassar.
Uncle Random started showing up more often as the new century progressed, rather to Mom's dismay. He liked New York too, but a different New York than the one I was familiar with. He brought the most interesting people to the house. I was shy at first, but eventually I joined in on some of his escapades, spurred on by Mom's disapproval as much as anything. In a very real sense, Random taught me how to have fun. In case you haven't noticed yet, I used to be rather serious and dour. I never became any good at poker, but I eventually became quite skilled at whist, and not at all bad at playing ragtime on the piano. Later I would learn a bit of jazz as well.
I do not want to give you a false impression of Random. He was, at times, arrogant, selfish, untrustworthy, and unnecessarily violent, but he was an Amberite, so it came with the territory. I had a few illusions about him early on, but eventually I learned to take him as he was, and not as I would have him be.
We had been good friends for a few years when, during one of my rants about Mom, he asked me why I didn't just leave. It was a good question. I had always assumed I would leave someday - children do that, after all -- but I had kept putting off a true separation. Partly, I expected Mom to come for me if I tried to leave, as she had in England, but mainly, I think, I was waiting to grow up. I had long ago topped out at barely over 150 centimètres and my features remained soft and round, with dimples, not much different from today. My legal documentation generally claimed that I was in my early twenties, but I could more easily pass for sixteen. But Random, who I knew had several centuries on me, only looked a couple of years older, so really, what was I waiting for? I might never be taken entirely seriously as an adult in certain circles, but it was past time for me to live my own life.
The next time Random left New York I went with him. Mom was disappointed -- more, I think, because I was leaving with Random than merely because I was leaving. She issued him various threats and he responded with various reassurances, very few of which he followed through on.
And then we walked in Shadow.
It seems odd in retrospect, but I'm reasonably certain it was my very first shadow walk. Mom shifted shadow freely enough on Earth, but she strongly favored the Trumps for traveling between shadows, as far as I could tell. Eric had brought us to Amber the first time and Mom had waited until she knew Random was passing through to return. Random knew it was my first time, and he showed off more than a bit to ensure a magical experience. But there was greater magic yet to come.
We were, subjectively, about a week out from Earth the first time he took me hang gliding. I've never lost the initial sense of exhilaration from being in the air. It felt, oddly enough, like a homecoming. There were many similar experiences to follow -- balloons, airplanes, even bungee jumping -- each under a differently colored sky.
I traveled with Random for over two years from our perspective, hitting what seemed like every dive bar and gambling den in Shadow. To borrow a bit of Twain, they were no places for a properly brought up lady of La Belle Époque and I did not remain one very long. I never took up smoking or drinking myself -- allow me my quirks -- but I learned to wear pants when it was more practical, to ride a horse astride, to use a sword, and to fire both guns and bows. I also learned never to gamble with the intent of victory -- apparently my face is unusually mobile and communicative even if I never open my mouth.
In some ways I was an ideal traveling companion for Random -- he was never without a dance partner, an accompanist, or a wingman when entering a new town, and I never minded if he chose to leave a party with some other girl. There are plenty of Amberites who feel that three links of kinship is sufficiently distant a relationship to be romantically involved, but I never wanted to think of him that way, and perhaps I never trusted him that far.
A life of total dissipation is not ultimately fulfilling, just as my friends in the temperance movement had always claimed. My time with Random was fated to come to an end, if for no other reason than his unassailable status as the senior partner -- he could shadow walk and I could not. I asked him to take me to Amber and arrange for me to walk the Pattern.
My second stay in Amber differed greatly from my first. Now there was something I wanted from being there -- power, and both the freedom and wonder that came with it. So I behaved. I aped courtly graces, badly, and pretended to be a good little monarchiste. Mom was on the verge of thinking that, somehow, Random had been a good influence on me. Most of my missteps at court since then have been accidental expressions of my true feelings, rather than deliberate baiting.
Walking the Pattern was another thing which, in retrospect, should not have waited until I was, subjectively, more than sixty years old. From what I can gather, Mom had not arranged for me to receive my birthright out of fear I would not be strong enough to bear it. From a parent's perspective, who their child is now is always accompanied by the ghost of who they were long ago, and as I mentioned, I had been a rather sickly child.
I walked the Pattern, allowing it to inscribe itself into me and to some degree returning the favor. I traveled a good bit after that, sometimes with Random, sometimes alone, but more often the next several years I remained in Amber, seeking greater knowledge of the powers my family wielded. Dworkin was long gone and the King was a somewhat forbidding figure, but I applied myself strongly to the redheads, who I believe thereafter referred to me among themselves as "The Pest". I learned the most from Brand, but he was a Byronic figure even then, with his brilliance and charm offset periodically by strange dark moods. It was during this period that Trumps of me started appearing in a handful of family decks.
I heard from Mom that conditions on Earth were deteriorating rapidly, so I returned there just as America was entering the Second World War. I had been away for a while, and felt it was appropriate to take on a new nom de guerre, Melody Flaumel. "Élodie" was becoming rather dated, and Americans had never demonstrated any great facility at spelling it.
My adopted country was mobilizing for war to free my homeland from those who had handed us such a heavy defeat in my youth. There were other issues at stake, of course, but that's the one I felt most passionate about at the time. I went to work in a bomber plant. It was the first real paying job I'd taken in my life. I can't say my contributions to the war effort were indispensable, but the plant stayed ahead of schedule and under budget, and I think our bombers were a little better than ones from elsewhere, so I think I did my part, even though it required cheating a bit.
After the war, educational opportunities for women improved, so I returned to college for a while. I started in psychology, but profited little from it. The behavior of both Earthlings and Amberites remains mysterious to me much of the time. I fared better in aeronautical engineering, then physics, chemistry, and eventually biology, which I took the furthest. I wasn't the first woman in any of the departments I studied in, but I was the second on two occasions. But I had decided that I would be admitted, and so I was.
My life had a pleasant rhythm during those years and for a while after. I studied some, traveled some, spent time with such relatives as I got along with, flew when I could, and maintained some ties in both New York and Paris.
Then, rather rapidly, things started to deteriorate. Strange creatures began walking in Shadow and, much as I hated to, I started carrying a sword habitually while shadow walking myself. Oberon disappeared, and the dissension he had sown among his children reached full fruition. Amberites formed alliances, then armies. The price in blood was terrible. Eric was in the right place at the right time and came out on top. We had always gotten along, more or less, on the strength of Mom being one of his longtime allies, but I was disgusted with the choices he had made to gain the crown and was barely civil toward him. My complete political irrelevance protected me then, as it often has. But even after the ways to Amber were reopened, I avoided court, until Random pulled some imbécile stunt and let himself be captured. For a brief time, I felt I needed to be there to support him.
The straw that broke the camel's back was the evening when the guards dragged in Corwin, blind and chained, to join the family table at dinner. I rose in a fury, cursed Eric roundly -- I don't recall in what language, but probably one he knew -- and stormed out of the room. The guards at the door attempted to forestall my departure, so I decked them both, then Trumped to Westchester as soon as I was out of sight. I started receiving Trump calls almost immediately, so I headed deeper into Shadow until they faded away.
A few days later I arrived in Delphin, a lovely Shadow well into the weird and unstable lands where my family rarely ventured. Their cities are as tall as they are wide and everyone gets around using jetpacks. It was a brilliant place for me. They even spoke French, after a fashion. Their language was perhaps more reminiscent of some of the langues d'oui, but even among the descendants of Oberon, beggars cannot be choosers, n'est-ce pas? I spent a very pleasant few years there, trying to forget about my barbaric relations.
Then I received a very strong Trump call, one I wasn't able to resist. Benedict did most of the talking, but Mom and Fiona were backing him up to boost the signal strength -- a neat trick. If I had ever doubted Benedict's skill as a tactician, my doubts died that day. He disarmed all my anger and resentment with a few simple words. The Pattern itself was in danger from the legendary Courts of Chaos. All of Shadow was at risk of being wiped away. And so I cursed interdimensional physics, took up sword and bow, and joined the army of Amber as they marched.
As for the Patternfall War, what is there to say? War is hell, but we carried the day. Eric had already died, and good riddance. Oberon had returned, but died saving all of existence -- a worthwhile legacy, and perhaps better than I had expected of him. I attended his funeral in Chaos. Caine had been thought dead, but you can never entirely trust that in my family. Brand died, and though he was quite mad at the end, I mourned at the loss of the greatest intellect I had ever known, and for the one who had once been my second favorite uncle. Random became King with the authority of the Unicorn behind him, which was something of a dark fate for one of his nature, but he was happily married now, so his days of wild abandon were already past. The lesson I took away from his appointment is that those who do not seek power are the only ones who can be trusted with it. Skeptical of monarchy as I am, I pledged my fealty with the rest, and without doubt in my heart.
Ah yes, and France survived. That was one of the first things I made certain of, when I was able.
There were many from Amber in the Courts for a time after that. The Chaosians proved remarkably genial hosts, so I suppose there is something to be said for noblesse oblige. I rather quickly made friends with my cousin Merlin, who, like me, was of a scholarly turn of mind.
In that I proved more fortunately than some of my Amberite kin. Time flows erratically in the Courts. The day of the principal battle of the war stretched out for months, at least, in Amber, but Merlin had grown to manhood while, if I understand correctly, only two or three years had passed in Amber. The time variations among the tattered scraps of Shadow stitched together to form the Courts span at least four orders of magnitude. It's a wonder that their society functions at all under such conditions, but they remain remarkably calm about it. With the help of my native guide, I was able to stay longer and return sooner than many of the others.
Merlin and I talked a great deal. He was very curious about both Earth and Amber, so I told him what I knew. I've never met anyone else, save perhaps yourself, so willing to listen to long, drawn out stories. He seemed particularly captivated by my tales of college in America, which I wouldn't have thought were the more interesting parts of my life.
For my part, I was captivated by his remarkable powers -- the Logrus, sorcery, and shapechanging. He was able to teach me a few tricks with Trumps that Brand had not, but for the most part his powers were of an alien and unobtainable nature. I viewed the Logrus in its chamber and felt somewhat queasy afterward.
The Lords of Chaos change their bodies the way other people change clothes. The first time I saw one with wings -- vestigial, decorative wings -- I was transfixed. I had flown with flapping wings on some worlds where the atmospheric pressure was high relative to the gravity, both using muscle power and with the assistance of motors. But wings of my own flesh would be the ultimate freedom of the air, the greatest exhilaration. If Oberon had truly come from the Courts, as was said, might not something of that power lie dormant in his descendants?
Merlin taught me much of the theory of shapechanging, but I did not prove an able student. With his Logrus sight, he sensed a curious resistance in me -- psychological, he thought at first. When we were both sufficiently frustrated, he brought me to his teacher, Suhuy, who examined me closely. At length, the Keeper of the Logrus announced that order prevailed too strongly in my flesh for it to ever answer to my will. Without knowing my story, he predicted that I had an unusual natural facility with the Pattern, but that even any further aging would be denied me. Of course, he was wrong about Merlin not being able to take the Pattern, but it's a moot point now. I don't see why I would ever want to change again.
Not long after that, Random recalled me to Amber. The last few years had been difficult on the country and he needed anyone he could get to help with the rebuilding. The task he assigned me proved quite congenial and made excellent use of my scholastic abilities. And it gave me cause to consult regularly with my old friend, which was justification enough. Occasionally I would let him beat me at poker, for old times sake. I got to know Vialle, his wife, slightly. She was a very pleasant woman, a breath of fresh air relative to most of the family, and I think she was a good influence on Random. I was no more jealous of her than of a hundred other women I had seen him with, few of whom were such good company.
My nights were troubled by dreams of wings denied and I began to make plans to circumvent my pedestrian fate. If order prevailed too greatly in my body, then let it prevail indeed. After completing the necessary Pattern research, I set out into Shadow.
After a time, I reached a Shadow where the human condition -- I use the term very loosely -- was rapidly being redefined by rampant biotechnology. I did not judge that their civilization would survive its current technological crisis, but it would last long enough for my purposes. I brought with me a truckload of bismuth, which I knew they were running short of. Currency in hand, I approached a medical team with my proposal.
The doctors refined my design with the aid of engineers. We addressed issues of whether I could sleep comfortably on my back or side, how I would fare in water, how I would deal with chairs and doorways, and many others. Brand had told me much of his Pattern blade, Werewindle, and I had incorporated that knowledge into my design. I repeatedly assured my team that the pieces of Pattern reproduced many times over in the arrangement of nerves and blood vessels was strictly functional, though we reorganized them several times as a matter of biology.
We calculated that feathered wings would perform slightly better for me than membrane wings, but artistic renderings proved more decisive for me. The resemblance to bird wings is superficial - they bend in a few additional ways. Note my elevons -- they're part of what allows me to maneuver without a huge fanning tail. Feathers raised the challenge level for hygiene more than a little -- we had to take into account dirt, mold, mildew, parasites... Stop edging away from me! I'm quite clean I'll have you know.
I've always thought my family's practice of taking personal colors was a bit silly, but I know what I like and what I look good in, so there was no real debate in my mind about the colors I chose for my feathers. And if I've taken greater care in the years since that my clothes coordinate with my wings, well, what of that?
Even with Pattern reinforcement, simulations showed that hitting the performance parameters I specified across endless Shadows would require a wingspan of at least 3.5 mètres, preferably a little more. I can bend back the tips, like so, for maneuvering in tighter spaces -- or sitting down - but it limits my speed and endurance. My wings are not heavy or burdensome on the ground, but they are not readily hidden either. If they didn't arch above each shoulder, higher than my scalp, they would drag while walking. There are myriad shadows, I know, where such things would not be remarked upon, but Earth is not one of them. Very well. Sentimental as I can be, I have long believed that novelty is more becoming of our blood than nostalgia.
I took a month on Earth to say goodbye -- not so much to any individual, as those I had known before would have been almost as shocked by my continuing youth as they would be had I shown up with wings. Nor, really, to the rapidly changing culture, which bore increasingly little resemblance to that of a century prior. I said goodbye to certain ideas of myself, to Élodie Flamand of Fontainebleau and Melody Flaumel of Westchester. Though, in truth, whether serving the crown or soaring through unending space, I still sometimes feel more like those people than like Lady Elodie of Amber or Elodie Goldenhair of Gyre.
The operation was successful, obviously, and more pervasive than meets the eye, as much of the interior of my back needed to be adjusted, with new bones, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels to anchor and service my wings. Even my brain was tweaked -- don't look at me like that -- to alter my mental body map, lest -- and I cannot imagine it -- I reject them as something alien to me. And when it was done, my wings were my own flesh, cultured from my own cells, filled with the blood and heritage of Amber, and able to pass through the Pattern with me.
Thus equipped, I sought the Shadow of my desire. I had not set foot on solid ground for two days when I reached it. It was somewhat in the eye of a storm, for the crosswinds were strong and terrible in every neighboring shadow. It pleased me on some level that my new home was so remote and inaccessible to my family, deep in Shadows that, so far as I could discern, they had never explored.
Gyre is a beautiful world, composed of myriad boulders orbiting one another in an intricate three dimensional dance that has nothing to do with gravity. Some are smaller than houses, while others are miles across and honeycombed with caverns. There is no central planet, no vast flat plain of solid ground, though there is still, somehow, a universal sense of down and a cycle of day and night. Several more or less humanoid races dwell in Gyre, all winged and flying. It's a technologically sophisticated world, more so than Earth was when last I was there, but the lack of materialism obscures this status. I made friends quickly, then chose a convenient spot for a home. I lofted le tricolore outside, which some of the natives came to think of as my personal badge. They were, as I had chosen, far too sensible of a people to think me a god, to submit to my rule, or to follow me on any mad quests, but they were both sociable and scholarly.
I made only one Trump for Gyre and it is never far from me. It comes out only a couple of good wing beats from my home, but suspended above the infinite drop. Gyre is my world, and having seen the destructive potential of my relatives, I don't want them there without my supervision.
I visited Amber fairly often, and Shadow sometimes, usually at Mom or Random's request. But I dodged court functions and not many in Amber saw me. I heard scattered news of events, but gave it little mind, except when it bore on research I was doing for the crown. I think Mom was of the opinion that I was in danger of becoming a reclus, though from my perspective, I had never spent so much time around people, or done so to such profit.
I learned something of time while I was in Chaos, and so while I am usually reluctant to shift shadow in Gyre, I am more reluctant to miss out on the richness of life there, so I alternately push and pull the local time flow. I can linger there a long time before I am needed in Amber, yet I seem to be away only a short while whatever my adventures elsewhere.
When I heard that Random had been killed, I was again drawn deeply into the affairs of Amber. But that is a story for another day.