Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Zelazny What If: Gerard as the villain in the Corwin Chronicles

Who: Gerard

And a big, powerful man regarded me from the next card. He resembled me quite strongly, save that his jaw was heavier. And I knew he was bigger than I, though slower. His strength was a thing out of legend. He wore a dressing gown of blue and gray clasped about the middle with a wide, black belt, and he stood laughing. About his neck, on a heavy cord, there hung a silver hunting horn. He wore a fringe beard and a light mustache. In his right hand he held a goblet of wine. I felt a sudden affection for him. His name then occurred to me. He was Gerard.

Why: Loyalty


 I could see Gerard as a villain out of loyalty to an individual (such as when he thrashes Corwin on Benedict’s behalf) or out of loyalty that places the ideal of Amber over the lives of the individuals.Consider what he tells Corwin in Guns of Avalon.

 "That is why, whether I sympathize with you or not, I do not recommend the present time for your efforts. The security of Amber must come before all else."

And later

 "Corwin . . . Wait. I'd like to ask you to reconsider. Do not hit Amber now. She is weak in all the wrong ways."

"I am sorry, Gerard. But I am certain I have given the matter more thought during the past five years than all the rest of you put together."

"I am sorry, too, then.

He’s slower than his mercurial siblings and more deliberate. Plodding, even. But not stupid. Recall that in the Courts of Chaos, Oberon keeps Gerard behind the defend Amber when everyone else is dispatched to the field. Gerard functions as an adversary for much of the chronicles. In some ways he’s harder to hoodwink than his smarter siblings, because he just won’t listen if he decides it’s time to pummel you. “Can’t talk now, Corwin. Bodyslamming you on some rocks now.”

He wouldn’t work well as the primary villain of the piece, because I think he’d be too easy to maneuver around but he’d make a terrifying, implacable enforcer. 
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Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Zelazny What If: Caine as the villain in the Corwin Chronicles

Who: Caine

Then came the swarthy, dark-eyed countenance of Caine, dressed all in satin that was black and green, wearing a dark three-cornered hat set at a rakish angle, a green plume of feathers trailing down the back. He was standing in profile, one arm akimbo, and the toes of his boots curled upwards, and he wore an emerald-studded dagger at his belt. There was ambivalence in my heart.

Why: Ambition.

How: Like Bleys, Caine’s story requires very few changes to make him the villain. When we first meet him, he is already allied with the villain of the piece in a plot to seize the throne. He betrayed Corwin by reneging on his vow to remove his fleet from the seas leading to Amber, framed him for murder, spied on him at great length and finally stabbed him in an attempt to kill him.

At the end of the chronicles, we have only his own words to prove that he was acting for the good of Amber. But really, what else would he say?

Caine, I never liked you and I still do not trust you. You have insulted me, betrayed me and even stabbed me. Forget that. I do not like your methods, though I cannot fault your loyalty this time around. Peace, then. Let the new reign begin with a clean slate between us.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Zelazny What If: Deirdre as the villain in the Corwin Chronicles



I returned to the cards, and there was Flora in a gown green as the sea, just as I'd remembered her the previous evening; and then there was a black-haired girl with the same blue eyes, and her hair hung long and she was dressed all in black, with a girdle of silver about her waist. My eyes filled with tears, why I don't know. Her name was Deirdre. 


Ambition? We see so little of Deirdre’s inner life that it’s difficult to speculate at what might move her.


I see two paths for Deirdre as the baddie

Eric's collaborator

Consider the circumstances under which Deirdre is first encountered.

It was the better part of an hour before we struck the camp. There were four men seated about the fire and two sleeping off in the shadows. The girl who was bound to a stake had her head turned away from us, but I felt my heart quicken as I looked upon her form.
    "Could that be ...?" I whispered.
    "Yes." he replied. "I think it may."
    Then she turned her head and I knew it was.
    "I wonder what the bitch has been up to?" Random said. "From those guys' colors, I'd venture they're taking her back to Amber."
    I saw that they wore black, red, and silver, which I remembered from the Trumps and from somewhere else to be the colors of Eric.
    "Since Eric wants her, he can't have her," I said.
    "I never much cared for Deirdre," Random said, "but I know you do, so.." and he unsheathed his blade.
    I did the same. "Get ready," I told him, rising into a crouch. And we rushed them. Maybe two minutes, that's about what it took,
    She was watching us by then, the firelight making her face into a twisted mask. She cried and laughed and said our names, in a loud and frightened voice, and I slashed her bonds and helped her to her feet.
    "Greetings, sister. Will you join us on the Road to Amber?"

Okay, let's be as generous as possible. We'll say that the six men are the survivors of however many were dispatched to retrieve Deirdre. She wasn't overcome by six nobodies. Rather, she killed a bunch of soldiers until those remaining overwhelmed her. That makes it a little less incongruous when manhandles a werewolf like an extra in Mortal Kombat a couple pages later.

That's not even the weird part. She was walking out of Amber in order to escape. It's not enough to assume that she had no Trumps, because Corwin acquired a set easily from the library. Instead, we'll assume that she had no one outside the city she felt she could trust. She never shows any particular closeness to anyone in the family other than Corwin.  I’d like to think that Gerard would help her, but perhaps she was concerned that he would go to Eric and didn’t want to risk it.

The first chapters take place over the course of several days, so it’s not unreasonable that Tir na-Nog'th is unavailable in the timeframe. We never examine why Deirdre is in Amber in the first place or why Eric wants to keep her there. Who gives a shit? We’ll assume that Eric wanted as many siblings as possible on hand for the coronation.

That still doesn’t explain how Deirdre wound up in Corwin’s path. Notably it happened after Julian (and therefore Eric) was aware of Corwin’s presence.  So they set things up, maybe perform a little bit of shadow manipulation to place her in his path no matter what route he takes (as Oberon did with Lorraine) and they waited. Sucks to be the soldiers guarding her, though, who probably had no idea what they were in for.

So, she’s working with Eric. She teams up with Corwin and they head to Rebma. Deirdre is no longer able to keep tabs on Corwin after he teleports out after walking the Pattern, so does the only thing she can and fills Eric in on what she knows about Corwin. Then Corwin is captured and imprisoned and he never meets with Deirdre again while Eric is still alive.

Corwin's collaborator

This would involve a significant digression from the books, but I could see Deirdre as Corwin’s partner in his quest for the throne. We could play it relatively straight, with the pair as partners or we could get into Corwin’s yearnings and cast them as “partners”.  Despite its historical precedent, I find that more than a little squicky so I’m not going to dwell on it.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Zelazny What If: Bleys as the villain in the Corwin Chronicles

Who: Bleys.

Then came a fiery bearded, flame-crowned man, dressed all in red and orange, mainly of silk stuff, and he held a sword in his right hand and a glass of wine in his left, and the devil himself danced behind his eyes, as blue as Flora's, or Eric's. His chin was slight, but the beard covered it. His sword was inlaid with an elaborate filigree of a golden color. He wore two huge rings on his right hand and one on his left: an emerald, a ruby, and a sapphire, respectively. This, I knew, was Bleys.

Why: Ambition and solidarity with his full siblings.

: What would we have to change to make Bleys the villain?

We’d have to implicate him in a conspiracy to overthrow Oberon. Let’s say he, along with Brand and Fiona, made a pact with dark forces from the Courts of Chaos to that end.


What’s that you say? That already happened?

Oh, in that case, how about a scenario where he manipulates Corwin shamelessly, with the intent of throwing him under the bus the moment he stops being useful?

"You are a fool," [Julian] finally said. "You were a tool from the very beginning. They used you to force our hand, and either way you lost. If that half-assed attack of Bleys's had somehow succeeded, you wouldn't have lasted long enough to draw a deep breath. If it failed, as it did, Bleys disappeared, as he did, leaving you with your life forfeit for attempted usurpation. You had served your purpose and you had to die…”
For such a smart guy, Corwin’s kind of a sucker where Bleys is concerned.

"Bleys," she repeated, and Bleys, I said to myself inside my head, Bleys. I like you. I forget why, and I know there are reasons why I shouldn't-but I like you. I know it.

The fact of the matter is that we would have to change almost nothing. Assume that Fiona’s contrition later in the series is nothing more than a matter of self-preservation. She and Bleys were in it just as deep as Brand. We could suppose that Brand’s claim that he was imprisoned because he was the one who tried to back out of the conspiracy is true, but

Bleys, you are still a figure clad in light to me—valiant, exuberant and rash. For the first, my respect, for the second, my smile. And the last seems to have at least been tempered in recent times. Good. Stay away from conspiracies in the future. They do not suit you well.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Zelazny What If: Random as the villain in the Corwin Chronicles

We’ll open with Who and Why and then drill down into details.

Who: Random

I began spreading them on the blotter before me. The one bore a wily-looking little man, with a sharp nose and a laughing mouth and a shock of straw-colored hair. He was dressed in something like a Renaissance costume of orange, red and brown. He wore long hose and a tight-fitting embroidered doublet. And I knew him. His name was Random.
Why: Resentment.

"Younger, smaller . . . he might have had it a bit rougher than the rest of us,"

"Nothing quite as useless as another prince when there is already a crowd of them about. I was as guilty as the rest. Bleys and I once stranded him for two days on an islet to the south of here..."

How: I think there are two distinct ways to use Random as a villain. The first is that he cultivated his image as the slacker younger brother. Don’t mind me. I’m off here slumming in shadows, drumming and hang gliding and playing cards.

“But Josh,” you say. “You handsome devil, isn’t Random already the king?” The argument could be made that this has already happened.  We’ll posit that Random manipulated everyone so cunningly that no one even suspects they were duped even years after kingship was reluctantly thrust upon him.

I guess it’s worth noting that I don’t give much weight to this theory. Random doesn’t seem to like being king very much. Sure, it’s nice bossing around your siblings, but as Corwin noted earlier on, the position entails a lot of dreary administration down through the centuries.  (Though, counterpoint, he could have desired it at the time, only to discover that it wasn’t what he expected at all.)

But still, deceiving your siblings, even the smart ones like Benedict, Brand and Fiona is different from pulling one over on the unicorn. Grammy Unicorn made the choice, and she saw deeper than anyone.  I don’t think Random could fool her.

The other possibility for Random as a baddie is that he’s not the brains at all. Vialle, as a kind of Lady Macbeth is the villain of the piece.  Moire is ambitious. We’re told that she attempted to have a number of her subjects walk the Rebman Pattern, and her encounter with Corwin had to be part of some breeding program. She’s the one who arranged the marriage and why would such a ruthless monarch care what happens to one blind girl with whom she has no obvious connection?

Vialle is rather unusual anyway. She doesn’t look like anyone else in Rebma, and that’s before we even get into the matter of her magical sculptures in the post-Merlin stories.  Who is she? She was cordial the few times we saw her, but we have no idea what lies beneath that. It could be anything.