Five Things That Never Happened To Martin
a Chronicles of Amber fanfic
Some nights his da hit the drums on a smoky stage, crowd cheering as the sticks flashed silver, while his ma cradled Martin on her lap, and he played with the long green braid of her hair. Some nights his da hoisted Martin up on his shoulders, while they watched his ma swaying at the mike, her voice a siren call, like the lullabies she crooned over his cot.
Some nights they had friends over, playing cards until the moon was high, while Martin crawled under the table and built towers with poker chips. When he got bored, he explored the pockets of his da's leather jacket, and found another packet of cards. Martin laid them out carefully on the wooden floor. They were smooth and shiny and cool to touch, painted in bright colours: men and women with handsome faces and enigmatic eyes.
His da reached down and plucked the cards away. "Nope, those aren't for playing with." He scooped Martin up onto his lap. "You're a little rascal."
Someone said, "Like father, like son."
His da laughed and ruffled his hair. "Guess so."
Later, Martin drowsed in warm contentment, as his da carried him off to bed. His ma said, softly, "Do you ever miss it?"
His da gathered them both close, the circle of his arms as big as the world. "To hell with Amber. I've got everything I need right here."
Martin ran down the pillar flame stairway of Faiella-Bionin, silvery fish flickering out of his path. He passed the great doors of the palace, whose guards saluted him, and swerved through the mirrored halls, where servants bowed greeting. He finally stopped before the chambers of the royal princess. He knocked before entering, his prize hidden behind his back.
His mother sat by the balcony, her green hair flowing loose in waves over her embroidered dressing gown. She smiled at him, over her cup of kelp tea. "Good morning, dear."
"Happy birthday, Mother," he said, and presented her with his gift. The plant sat in a glass jar of earth: a delicate cluster of leaves, crowned by a white flower with seven petals, head bowed like a bell.
Her mouth curved. "A moonflower! However did you find one?"
Martin had asked Aunt Llewella, who had asked Uncle Gerard, who had asked his fleet captains, who plied their trade through the waters of Shadow. "It's a secret," Martin said, smiling back, knowing she probably knew.
She stood, kissing the top of his head, nearly up to her shoulder now. "Thank you, Martin. It's lovely. Let's put it in the garden, shall we?"
Hand in hand, they stepped off the balcony, and floated down through the waters of Rebma. They planted the moonflower in the west corner of the royal garden, between the dragonlily and the cloudblossom. His mother had taught him all their names, and told him which distant lands they came from. He knew that once, long ago, she had walked the Shadows herself, with the father he had never met.
"When I grow up," Martin promised, "I'll walk the Pattern and take you anywhere you want to go."
She laughed and hugged him close, the scent of her hair enveloping him. "My dear Martin. Whatever you do, I'll be proud of you."
Stars streaked across the midnight sky, bright against the black. Dozens of them, blazing as they fell, leaving their imprint against the eyelids long after they vanished. Martin had never seen so many in his life. No falling star had ever plunged into the deeps of Rebma.
"It's ready," Brand said, behind him. Martin scrambled to his feet, stiff from the chilled stone of the tower roof. Brand caressed the golden telescope like a treasure, and gestured Martin to the eyepiece. It stood angled to the north and east of the meteor shower, where a new light shone in the sky.
Martin bent to look. Through the lens, blazing brighter than any meteor, burned the red comet. Its tail flared out like a veil of sparks.
"They call it Firebringer," Brand said, low in his ear. "Once a generation, it appears, and it heralds the death of kings."
"I thought you didn't believe in omens," Martin said, amused. "You told me a man makes his own destiny."
"Some men." An odd note in his voice made Martin look over at him. Brand had a grave expression on his face, so unlike his usual brilliant mirth, that Martin was afraid to ask him what was wrong.
"Out there," Brand said, "on the edge of the solar system, comets dwell in a frozen cloud, greater in number than stars in the sky. Every so often, one is drawn into the orbit of the sun, and strays too near a planet, plummeting to its doom. Its shattered body generates new life. A world is born. The comet is destroyed."
He made it sound like a calamity. Martin smiled, in relief and reassurance. "Well, there are still many more comets out there."
Brand did not answer for a while. "Yes. And no." He paced, stopped, sighed.
"Martin," he said. "I've a confession to make."
They lay in the dappled shade of the wood, Dara curled in the crook of his arm, her head pillowed on his chest. Leaves of light floated on her bare shoulders. Martin kissed the freckles that dusted her cheekbones. "It's not too late to change your mind. If you still want to see Amber."
"I've lost my taste for power." She traced the scar that ran over his heart, only the faintest white line still visible. "My son would only be a pawn in their games."
"You're still a princess of Chaos. I'm just the bastard son of a youngest son. Not a worthy match for you, with my tainted bloodline."
"Maybe I would have thought so once. Before I met you." Dara stroked his cheek. "There's nothing tainted about you, Martin. Believe it."
Martin turned his head to look at her, at the shade and light patterning her skin. She who loved him for his own sake. Who had found him broken, and made him whole.
Tomorrow, they would cross the black road and depart into Shadow, leaving the scarred landscape behind them.
The Starburst tilted in the sudden squall, sails dipping dangerously close to the water. Martin shouted warning, but Luke already had the helm, and Gail hauled on the ropes singlehanded, infernal strength making it look easy. A burst of energy calmed the wind, flowers falling like rain.
"You'll have to show me where you learned that trick," Merlin said to Julia.
She swatted him on the ass, smirking. "You think you're the only one who can invent spells?"
By all logic, Martin should feel like a fifth wheel, but he had never known anywhere else so much like home. They could sail an endless summer, and still return to college in the fall. Not long until graduation. Merlin and Luke talked about setting up business; Julia and Gail wanted to study deeper sorcery. Martin thought they could combine both, and probably would.
Merlin joined him at the rail, and they watched gulls swoop low in search of fish. After a while, Merlin said, "When I dragged you along to college, did you ever imagine this?"
Martin shook his head. Shadow Earth had been challenge enough, with its cars and computers and class schedules. But he had never expected to glimpse the son of Brand across the quad at orientation, or for a ty'iga from the Pit to implore him for help to break its geas, or for the girl Merlin was dating to demand the truth about magic.
Whatever fate had brought them together, Martin was too thankful to question it. They made a strange kind of family: a renegade demon, a fledgling sorceress, a prince of Amber, a prince of Chaos, and him. And here they were, embarking across a new sea: salt spray misting the air, blue sky arcing overhead. There were a million worlds in Shadow, but maybe this was the best of all possible worlds.
"You ever think about going back?" Merlin said.
Martin smiled. "To hell with Amber. I've got everything I need right here."
- fin -