One day I woke up and saw how filthy my cell had become. "Gross." I muttered, and then realized that I'd seen something. My eyeballs were finally growing back. Sweet.
Bit by bit I regained some ability to see. I was careful not to let on to the guard that anything had changed. Anyway, there wasn't much to see in that sad oubliette. Usually I would've admired myself, but the less said about my personal appearance after several years down there, the better.
Soon I had another stroke of luck, in the form of an unusual visitor. He was someone I didn't often think of, an eccentric man with a lean, cadaverous figure, but I actually owed my very existence to him, as I was to learn much later. I speak, of course, of one of the watchmen, Roger.
"How are things in the nether world?" he asked me. He held a lantern, and so he was the first person I'd actually seen in a long time.
"The usual." I said. The sudden exercise of my long-disused voice was a strain and provoked a sepulchral cough. "Pretty nethery. What've you been up to?"
“I am writing a philosophical romance shot through with elements of horror and morbidity." said Roger. "I work on those parts down here.”
"Fitting, fitting." I said. "What's it called?"
"Funny you should ask." he said. "I have just been cogitating on that. I want to make it plain that this piece is a work of fantasy, but I also want to give the title a little something unusual, so as to provide reassurance that I'm not just going to crank out another Lord of the Rings rehash. Any ideas?"
"Well, you could put the name of some well-known fantastic location in the title. That's a concise way to convey the flavor of the setting."
Roger pondered this as he lit his pipe. "Like 'Tír na nÓg'?" he said.
"No, don't be ridiculous. Tír na nÓg is real, in a manner of speaking. You want a place that's clearly not real."
"Good point. How about 'Avalon'?"
"Smashing. And then to get that unusualness, you could put in a reference to something that you wouldn't usually associate with fantasy or Arthur or whatever. Say, guns."
Roger frowned. "What's a gun?"
"Oh, right." I said, remembering that he'd spent his whole life in Amber, which Oberon had declared a gun-free zone ages ago. "Well, they're like swords, except much noisier…"
Roger listened eagerly. Overall he seemed fascinated with me and what I had to say, so I figured I might as well milk this for all it was worth. Every day he would come down to my cell and I'd tell him some more about what I thought should happen to the hero, who, I decided, might as well be me.
One day he said "Lord Corwin, I have a surprise for you." He passed me a thick stack of mimeographed sheets through the bars. The cover read "The Guns of Avalon".
"Finally!" I said, ecstatic. "Say, Roger, would you do me a favor?"
"Give a note to His Majesty for me." I said.
I scribbled "Eric—I'll be back. And I'm gonna bring these guns." I doodled a bicep next to it, to be sure he got the joke. As my time in the dungeon had not been wholly beneficial to my figure, I must admit that the drawing was somewhat aspirational.
With the note handed over, I concentrated on the first page of the manuscript. It said something about me leaving a ship and standing on a beach. I pictured the beach in my mind's eye…