If I were the sort of person who believed in making rules to live one's life by, then I suppose I would start with this: never hold a grudge.
Admittedly, my brothers and sisters make this very difficult. Doubtless they would laugh at me if I said such a thing, which is why I never have. But grudges are a luxury one cannot afford if one is constantly being reminded of how unimpressive one's resources are in comparison to certain other people. It is so much easier to forget and forgive, I find.
Naturally when I say forget, I am speaking metaphorically.
I can remember perfectly well slights such as Deirdre laughing in my face after she defeated me repeatedly in one of those foolish strategic board games everyone was so fond of.
"What's so funny?" I inquired on one such occasion, perhaps a bit more sourly than I should have, but when faced with the definition of a sore winner one's feathers do get ruffled. "So you've won again. There's no need to rub it in my face."
"That," Deirdre said smugly, between her giggles, "is at least the sixth time I have beaten you using the same basic strategy. And you fall for it every time! My dear sister, you must admit that's at least a little bit funny."
"Not in the least," I retorted, having no notion of what she meant. "There is a certain graciousness expected of--"
"Spare me the imaginary high ground please, you'd gloat for years if it were you. You still tell that story about the time I accidentally damaged your precious Stradivarius or whatever it was. And you go around remarking that I must be colorblind and unoriginal to choose black and silver as my colors. Now, that's not very gracious, is it, dear Flora?"
Accidentally my right foot! Of the two of us, Deirdre is the elder-- considerably, I might add-- and entirely aware of her own strength. But as I say, I do not hold a grudge and merely mention the fact as an amusing anecdote and a demonstration of her true character. Like brother Corwin, she can be vicious when roused.
"Your choice of heraldry is not beyond critique," I said instead, because I knew that was the sorer of the two subjects. "All the colors of the rainbow at your disposal, and you avoided them? You must have known it would be taken as a statement."
"Yes," Deirdre said.
As far as statements went, it was never one I could understand. To use Corwin's colors and not select any mark of her own, to eschew individuality altogether and echo him always, Rebma to his Amber?
"If Corwin jumped off a bridge," I said, "would you?"
Her lip curled. "I sit before you the living proof otherwise. But by all means, Flora, use our brother's memory as a weapon against me if it makes you feel better about your utter stupidity."
And here I must pause to explain, for I am not quite as cruel and unfeeling as Deirdre believed me to be in that moment, merely somewhat thoughtless. You see, at the time of this argument I was fully aware that Corwin was alive and well and likely getting drunk with a coterie of dissolute poets somewhere in France.
But Deirdre had no way of knowing that, as it was a secret, and one I dared not divulge without Eric's express permission. She had every reason to believe Corwin was dead and gone, and that I was in effect waltzing on his grave.
For all these reasons, I hesitated for a moment. "He was my brother too, you know. I did not mean to make light of--"
I saw her hands grip her armrests with such force there was a soft crunching noise from the wood. "Are you deliberately being obtuse, sister Flora, or do you genuinely believe it's the same for you as it has been for me?"
I didn't like where this conversation was going, so I resolved to get out of it as quickly as possible. "I didn't mean to make light of his death. You know I often say silly things without thinking--"
"Often, at a low estimate."
"But now we are getting away from our intended subject, which is that it is every bit as hurtful for you to call me stupid as it is for me to call you colorblind!"
Deirdre laughed again, a harsher, uglier sound. I consoled myself by noting that at least she appeared to no longer in danger of destroying the chair. "There's no equivalency in those statements. To call me colorblind is a petty lie. To call you stupid is an observation of fact."
Conversations with Deirdre often deteriorated in this manner.
"Do you have any knowledge of why Deirdre has left Amber again?" Eric asked me, some weeks later.
"Out of all our siblings, you must realize I am the least equipped to explain Deirdre," I demurred. "But I will say she seemed quite upset when I last spoke with her."
"I see." Eric gestured for me to follow him into the library. "And you haven't the slightest idea why that was, of course."
"I imagine you did not discuss our brother Corwin at any point during this interaction," Eric remarked, passing by a set of Trumps that I had often thought might belong to the man in question.
"Naturally." I glanced at the Trumps. Corwin had not looked the way he did on his in some time, but I suppose that is what happens when you lose your identity. To be honest, the idea frightens me quite a bit. "She is still in mourning for him, I believe."
"That is to be expected." I felt Eric's large gloved hand on my shoulder and turned to meet his intent gaze. "Do you pity her, sister Flora?"
Again I hesitated, though this time it was because I was genuinely unsure of my real answer. "Why should I?" I said instead, hoping he would indicate his preferred response.
He smiled. "You're an observer of people, dear sister. It is, perhaps, your strongest suit. And no one does anything well without having some feeling for it, in my experience."
At that moment I did not have the luxury to decide whether he was right about me or not-- the gazelle must not engage in introspective contemplation in the presence of the cheetah, if you will. "I am sorry that she is suffering, of course. I am not made of stone, and whether I personally enjoy her company or not, she is still my sister. But I do not entirely understand the depths of it, and I suspect I never will. Does that answer your question?"
Eric did not answer immediately.
I wondered if he was weighing the odds that I was still trustworthy. I would not have blamed him, nor taken insult, for it is exceptionally rare that we royal siblings of Amber put our whole trust in another of our own.
And we never show the entirety of our hand.
Still, Eric had no real reason to doubt me on this occasion. His position was the strongest, as any fool could see, and the only active opposition came from Clarissa's children. Perhaps if I believed they stood a real chance of overthrowing Eric I might have made a few overtures in their direction, but they three have always been rather clannish and insular so I doubt it would have made any difference, and doing so now could actively weaken my standing.
And when it came down to it, I never particularly liked Bleys, and Brand gave me a headache whenever we spoke. Fiona was acceptable company, but she was not putting herself forward as a candidate to rule Amber to my immediate knowledge.
"It will do," Eric said finally, squeezing my shoulder. "For my part, ideally I would like Deirdre's support, and so I do try to treat her gently when the opportunity arises. Unfortunately she appears to have taken our father's attitude towards me to heart, and that makes matters difficult."
"If she came across proof that Corwin lived…" I began, but he shook his head.
"It is a delicate situation, as you should understand better than any other. According to Caine, Brand is part of a cabal that wants control of the throne, and it seems they're on the hunt for new allies. I do not know if they would consider Deirdre valuable, but I do. For the time being her allegiance is not spoken for, but as she does not openly oppose me, that works in our favor."
"I understand that perfectly well," I said impatiently. "But surely a whiff of Corwin's survival would not drive her closer to Brand. And as there is still no indication that he has any idea of his own identity, it is unlikely he should take steps to mount his own campaign even if she did somehow manage to come across him."
"You are short-sighted, Flora." Eric frowned. "What's more, you fail to take Corwin's well-being into account. Any clue we leave Deirdre dramatically increases her chance of locating him, so for the sake of argument let us assume in that event she finds him. What do you think happens then?"
I shrugged. "Most likely he does not recognize her, just as he did not recognize me. This makes her emotional, but also causes her to realize you are no fratricide. Perhaps she even goes to you--"
"A hopelessly naive assessment," Eric cut in, "but before addressing that I should like you to describe the other scenario. There is a chance, however small, that he would recognize her."
"Which doesn't necessarily mean that he would recover all his memories on the spot--"
"But it would increase the odds of Deirdre making a successful effort to help him in that endeavor. In any case, all this flurry of activity runs a high risk of Brand and his cohorts wandering over to see what's going on. Should they do so, Corwin either becomes a corpse or their pawn."
I didn't like to think of that. "Be that as it may, you have not explained why the discovery of amnesiac Corwin would turn her against you."
"Because I did not tell her he was alive," Eric said.
I began to ask another question but Eric cut me off.
"Yes, Deirdre would know that I knew, and she would hold me responsible. And it is possible that she would do Corwin a great deal of harm, trying to restore him to himself."
I am not sure I believed it, even at the time, but I understood there was no sense pushing him on this point, not if I wanted to retain my position. And I had no desire to stick my neck out on Deirdre's behalf.
So I nodded seriously, and said, "In that case, I understand your actions perfectly."
The simple truth is that I was born too late to be considered significant by my brothers and sisters. I am only senior to Random, and I know he feels much the same way. We must be content either to exist in the shadow of our elders or to create Shadows of our own where we are simply who we wish to be.
I like to think I am a realist, as this is a quality far too often lacking in my family.
"I'm glad to hear it," Eric said, rather gruffly, and turned away
Taking that as my cue to exit, I did so.
I had not walked five minutes down the hall before I encountered Julian, who looked amused to see me. The feeling was not mutual.
"He grilled you about Deirdre too, did he?"
"That's hardly the way I would describe it," I retorted. "He asked, and once it became apparent I knew no more than he did the subject was dropped."
"Well, you were in there long enough." Julian kept pace with me as I walked, so it seemed there was more to this line of questioning. "I don't see what's so damnably important about her support, frankly. It's not as though she can persuade Corwin--"
"If he lives," I reminded him.
"If he lives," Julian agreed, "which is precisely my point. If he does live, we all know she'd jump ship on the spot."
"For the sake of argument, I propose we temporarily set him aside," I said, opening the door to an antechamber. "After all, we both know Eric has spent centuries accounting for Corwin's movements."
"He'd be a fool not to, but point taken."
I took the window-seat and Julian shut the door behind us before sprawling out across from me on a couch. "What you are not accounting for is Deirdre's popularity in Amber. I realize it's easy to lose perspective when you're perpetually rooting around in the Forest of Arden in the company of hunting parties and the odd spy, but the absence of Corwin has only increased the common people's affection for her. I daresay she could make a run at the throne herself if she wanted it."
Julian snorted. "And that might make a difference if Eric were notably unpopular, which my spies assure me he is not."
"You're taking it for granted that if Deirdre isn't on our side, she isn't going to side with Bleys either," I pointed out. "If she does, things will get ugly."
"Believe me, sister Flora, they already are. And I happen to know for a fact Deirdre hasn't been in contact with Bleys or Brand, so in fact I am operating with additional knowledge you don't happen to have." Julian crossed his arms and smirked at me. "Unless you're going to tell me you've proof Deirdre intends to move against Eric?"
"I don't believe you," I said sharply. "Are you tracking her?"
"I have my sources. They're not necessarily on the same team as us, but they wouldn't lie about a thing like that." Julian's smirk widened with the pleasure of having a secret to hold over my head.
One would think that the childish competitive urge would be lessened between scions of Amber who have joined forces for the same cause, but sadly that has never been the case.
For one thing, we're never quite sure our allies aren't about to stab us in the back in pursuit of a greater goal.
"Maybe so," I said, narrowing my eyes. "Still, the point remains. Eric does not wish for the thousands who adore our sister to view him with skepticism, and that is why he treats her with kid gloves. Nevertheless, I think you and I can agree his methods do not appear to be yielding much of a reward."
"It's not the proper approach to woo Deirdre," Julian concurred. "Especially not coming from Eric. Really, he'd have better luck letting someone else argue the case for him. Not you, obviously."
"Obviously," I said tartly. He was right, of course, but leave it to Julian to find the least tactful way to do so. "Although I hope you're not deluded enough to volunteer yourself."
"I can hardly volunteer for a position that's not open, can I? I'm simply saying that history suggests Deirdre finds me more tolerable than you or Eric."
I raised my eyebrows, holding in an unflattering snort of skepticism. "And yet most would agree you are still below the rest of our siblings in her esteem, so that's not saying much."
"Below Random?" Julian scoffed. "Coming from you, that's quite the insult."
"Of course if we were speaking of myself, I would place you far above him, brother Julian, seeing as you've yet to vomit on my chaise-lounge or leave cigarette burns on any of my furniture. However, where our sister is concerned I would wager she prefers a wastrel to a man who has such a long-standing grudge against her dearest brother." I smiled. "Irrational, but that's Deirdre."
He forced a thin smile and stood up. "At least you have taste, sister Flora."
"Perhaps that will be my epitaph," I said dryly, and that was the end of that conversation.
Time went on, and Corwin wandered. As things seemed to be settling down a bit in Europe, I decided to follow him and establish a few additional friends-of-friends to keep tabs on his activities.
The reports I received were often surprising. The man they spoke of was not the brother I remembered, careless and frequently spiteful, with a few redeeming qualities bolstered by his charm and charismatic manner. This man, this Cordell or Corey or whatever pseudonym he chose to go by, he was a man with a conscience. He tried to help people, and sometimes even succeeded.
I hardly recognized him, and it disturbed me.
Of course, I realized it was possible the fault was mine. Perhaps I had never really known brother Corwin and my assessment of his character was as superficial as our relationship. Or perhaps, in the time that had elapsed between his arrival here and my discovery of him, he had undergone experiences that had wrought changes in him of a similar nature to the ones I had observed in Eric.
But it was hard not to think that the real difference lay in who he believed himself to be.
Stripped of all identity, with no name, no homeland, no family or understanding of the powers he possessed, why should Corwin of Amber remain himself? The slate thus wiped clean, he set upon a different path, with different motivations and ideals.
Perhaps the question I should have put before Eric was not whether this man would recognize Deirdre, but whether Deirdre would recognize Corwin.
Then again, it was none of my affair. Even if Deirdre were, herself, to contemplate a few odd details in our conversations, having not yet given up hope, and find a thread of suggestion that I might possibly have come across evidence that our brother was not dead, it would make little difference to me.
It is well known that I never orchestrate anything of much importance.