Read The hand of Oberon Online

Authors: Roger Zelazny

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The hand of Oberon (17 page)

BOOK: The hand of Oberon
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I turned away and walked down the front slope to the road, recalling my last passage this way, half delirious. on my hands and knees, blood leaking from my side. It had been much colder that night and there had been snow on the ground and in the air. I passed near the rock where I’d sat, trying to flag down a car with a pillow case. The memory was slightly blurred, but I still recalled the ones that had passed me by.

I crossed the road. made my way through the field to the trees. Unhitching Drum, I mounted.

“We’ve some more riding ahead,” I told him. “Not too far this time.”

We headed back to the road and started along it, continuing on past my house. If I had not told Bill to go ahead and sell the place, the compost heap would still have been there, the Jewel would still have been there. I could be on my way back to Amber with the ruddy stone hung about my neck, ready to have a try at what had to be done. Now, now I had to go looking for it, when I’d a feeling time was beginning to press once again. At least, I had a favorable ratio here with respect to its passage in Amber. I clucked at Drum and shook the reins. No sense wasting it, even so.

A half hour, and I was into town, riding down a quiet street in a residential area, houses all about me. The lights were on at Bill’s place. I turned up his driveway. I left Drum in his back yard.

Alice answered my knock, stared a moment, then said. “My God! Carl!”

Minutes later, I was seated in the living room with Bill, a drink on the table to my right. Alice was out in the kitchen, having made the mistake of asking me whether I wanted something to eat.

Bill studied me as he lit his pipe.

“Your ways of coming and going still tend to be colorful.” he said. I smiled.

“Expediency is all,” I said.

“That nurse at the clinic . . . scarcely anyone believed her story.”

“Scarcely anyone?”

“The minority I refer to is, of course, myself.”

“What was her story?”

“She claimed that you walked to the center of the room, became two-dimensional, and just faded away, like the old soldier that you are, with a rainbowlike accompaniment.”

“Glaucoma can cause the rainbow symptom. She ought to have her eyes checked.”

“She did,” he said. “Nothing wrong.”

“Oh. Too bad. The next thing that comes to mind is neurological.”

“Come on, Carl. She’s all right. You know that.”

I smiled and took a sip of my drink.

“And you,” he said, “you look like a certain playing card I once commented on. Complete with sword. What’s going on, Carl?”

“It’s still complicated,” I said. “Even more than the last time we talked.”

“Which means you can’t give me that explanation yet?”

I shook my head.

“You have won an all-expense tour of my homeland, when this is over,” I said, “if I still have a homeland then. Right now, time is doing terrible things.”

“What can I do to help you?”

“Information, please. My old house. Who is the guy you have fixing the place up?”

“Ed Wellen. Local contractor. You know him, I think. Didn’t he put in a shower for you, or something?”

“Yes, yes he did. . . . I remember.”

“He’s expanded quite a bit. Bought some heavy equipment. Has a number of fellows working for him now. I handled his incorporation.”

“Do you know who he’s got working at my place-now?”

“Offhand, no. But I can find out in just a minute.” He moved his hand to rest on the telephone on the side table. “Shall I give him a ring?”

“Yes,” I said, “but there is a little more to it than that. There is only one thing in which I am really interested. There was a compost heap in the back yard. It was there the last time I passed this way. It is gone now. I have to find out what became of it.”

He cocked his head to the right and grinned around his pipe.

“You serious?” he finally said.

“Sure as death,” I said. “I hid something in that heap when I crawled by, decorating the snow with my precious bodily fluids. I’ve got to have it back now.”

“Just what is it?”

“A ruby pendant.”

“Priceless, I suppose.”

“You’re right.”

He nodded, slowly.

“If it were anyone else, I would suspect a practical joke,” he said. “A treasure in a compost heap. ... Family heirloom?”

“Yes. Forty or fifty carats. Simple setting. Heavy chain.”

He removed his pipe and whistled softly.

“Mind if I ask why you put it there?”

“I’d be dead now if I hadn’t.”

“Pretty good reason.”

He reached for the phone again.

“We’ve had some action on the house already,” he remarked. “Pretty good, since I haven’t advertised yet. Fellow’d heard from someone who’d heard from someone else. I took him over this morning. He’s thinking about it. We may move it pretty quick.”

He began to dial.

“Wait,” I said. “Tell me about him.”

He cradled the phone, looked up.

“Thin guy,” he said. “Redhead. Had a beard. Said he was an artist. Wants a place in the country.”

“Son of a bitch!” I said, just as Alice came into the room with a tray.

She made a tsking sound and smiled as she delivered it to me.

“Just a couple hamburgers and some leftover salad,” she said. “Nothing to get excited about.”

“Thank you. I was getting ready to eat my horse. I’d have felt bad afterward.”

“I don’t imagine he’d have been too happy about it himself. Enjoy,” she said, and returned to the kitchen.

“Was the compost heap still there when you took him over?” I asked.

He closed his eyes and furrowed his brow.

“No,” he said after a moment. “The yard was already clear.”

“That’s something, anyway,” I said, and I began eating.

He made the call, and he talked for several minutes. I got the drift of things from his end of the conversation, but I listened to the entire thing after he had hung up, while I finished the food and washed it down with what was left in my glass.

“He hated to see good compost go to waste,” Bill said. “So he pitched the heap into his pickup just the other day and took it out to his farm. He dumped it next to a plot he intends to cultivate, and he has not had a chance to spread it yet. Says he did not notice any jewelry, but then he could easily have missed it.”

I nodded.

“If I can borrow a flashlight, I had better get moving.”

“Sure. I will drive you out,” he said.

“I do not want to be parted from my horse at this point.”

“Well, you will probably want a rake, and a shovel or a pitchfork. I can drive them out and meet you there, if you know where the place is.”

“I know where Ed’s place is. He must have tools, though.”

Bill shrugged and smiled.

“All right,” I said. “Let me use your bathroom, and then we had better get moving.”

“You seemed as if you knew the prospective buyer.”

I put the tray aside and rose to my feet.

“You heard of him last as Brandon Corey.”

“The guy who pretended to be your brother and got you committed?”

“’Pretended’ hell! He is my brother. No fault of mine, though. Excuse me.”

“He was there.”

“Where?”

“Ed’s place, this afternoon. At least a bearded redhead was.”

“Doing what?”

“Said he was an artist. Said he wanted permission to set up his easel and paint in one of the fields.”

“And Ed let him?”

“Yes, of course. Thought it was a great idea. That is why he told me about it. Wanted to brag.”

“Get the stuff. I will meet you there.”

“Right.”

The second thing I took out in the bathroom was my Trumps. I had to reach someone in Amber soonest, someone strong enough to stop him. But who? Benedict was on his way to the Courts at Chaos, Random was off looking for his son, I had just parted with Gerard on somewhat less than amicable terms. I wished that I had a Trump for Ganelon. I decided that I would have to try Gerard.

I drew forth his card, performed the proper mental maneuvers. Moments later, I had contact.

“Corwin!”

“Just listen, Gerard! Brand is alive, if that is any consolation. I’m damn sure of that. This is important. Life and death. You’ve got to do something fast!”

His expressions had changed rapidly while I had spoken-anger, surprise, interest . . .

“Go ahead,” he said.

“Brand could be coming back very soon. In fact, he may already be in Amber. You haven’t seen him yet, have you?”

“No.”

“He must be stopped from walking the Pattern.”

“I do not understand. But I can post a guard outside the chamber of the Pattern.”

“Put the guard inside the chamber. He has strange ways of coming and going now. Terrible things may happen if he walks the Pattern.”

“I will watch it personally then. What is happening?”

“No time now. Here is the next thing: Is Llewella back in Rebma?”

“Yes, she is.”

“Get hold of her with her Trump. She’s got to warn Moire that the Pattern in Rebma has to be guarded also.”

“How serious is this, Corwin?”

“It could be the end of everything,” I said. “I have to go now.”

I broke the contact and headed for the kitchen and the back door, stopping only long enough to thank Alice and say good night. If Brand had got hold of the Jewel and attuned himself to it, I was not certain what he would do, but I had a pretty strong hunch.

I mounted Drum and turned him toward the road. Bill was already backing out of the driveway.

 

Chapter 11

 

I cut through fields in many places where Bill had to follow the roads, so I was not all that far behind him. When I drew up, he was talking with Ed, who was gesturing toward the southwest.

As I dismounted, Ed was studying Drum.

“Nice horse, that,” he said.

“Thanks.”

“You’ve been away.”

“Yes.”

We shook hands.

“Good to see you again. I was just telling Bill that I don’t really know how long that artist stayed around. I just figured he would go away when it got dark, and I didn’t pay too much attention. Now, if he was really looking for something of yours and knew about the compost heap, he could still be out there for all I know. I’ll get my shotgun, if you like, and go with you.”

“No,” I said, “thanks. I think I know who it was. The gun will not be necessary. We’ll just walk over and do a little poking around.”

“Okay,” he said. “Let me come along and give you a hand.”

“You don’t have to do that,” I said.

“How about your horse, then? What say I give him a drink and something to eat, clean him up a bit?”

“I’m sure he’d be grateful. I know I would.”

“What’s his name?”

“Drum.”

He approached Drum and began making friends with him.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll be back in the barn for a while. If you need me for anything, just holier.”

“Thanks.”

I got the tools out of Bill’s car and he carried the electric lantern, leading me off to the southwest where Ed had been pointing earlier.

As we crossed the field, I followed the beam of Bill’s light, searching for the heap. When I saw what might be the remains of one, I drew a deep breath, involuntarily. Someone must have been at it, the way the clods were strewn about. The mass would not have been dumped from a truck to fall in such a dispersed fashion.

Still . . . the fact that someone had looked did not mean he had located what he had been seeking.

“What do you think?” Bill said.

“I don’t know,” I told him, lowering the tools to the ground and approaching the largest aggregate in sight. “Give me some light here.”

I scanned what remained of the heap, then fetched a rake and began taking it apart. I broke each clod and spread it upon the ground, running the tines through it. After a time. Bill set the lantern at a good angle and moved to help me.

“I’ve got a funny feeling . . .” he said.

“So do I.”

“. . . that we may be too late.”

We kept pulverizing and spreading, pulverizing and spreading....

I felt the tingle of a familiar presence. I straightened and waited. Contact came moments later.

“Corwin!”

“Here, Gerard.”

“What’d you say?” said Bill.

I raised my hand to silence him and gave my attention to Gerard. He stood in shadow at the bright beginning of the Pattern, leaning upon his great blade.

“You were right,” he said. “Brand did show up here, just a moment ago. I am not sure how he got in. He stepped out of the shadows off to the left, there.” He gestured. “He looked at me for a moment, then turned around and walked back. He did not answer when I hailed him. So I turned up the lantern, but he was nowhere in sight. He just disappeared. What do you want me to do now?”

BOOK: The hand of Oberon
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