Mysteries of Amber :: Clarissa

Mysteries of Amber
Section 3.1.3 :: Clarissa

Dad did not remarry for many years after mother’s death. When he did, it was a redheaded wench from a far southern shadow. I never liked her. He began feeling the same way after a time and started fooling around again. They had one reconciliation after Llewella’s birth in Rebma, and Brand was the result. When they were finally divorced, he recognized Llewella to spite Clarissa. At least, that is what I think happened.

—Corwin, discussing Queen Clarissa

It was Clarissa’s lot served us best.
—Dworkin, speaking of Oberon’s children

Oberon managed many women and their children before Corwin came along.
Interesting that Clarissa drew sparks in the few canon comments about her.

Imaginative sparks fly regarding the redheads in Amber rpg and so likewise for their mother. The lady is given a powerful background (often Chaosi—a far southern shadow, after all) and figures large in explaining much about the redheads.

These events begin with Faiella’s demise. Oberon enjoyed his time with Faiella and did not turn his thoughts to children again for many years. In fact, it was while pursuing other matters that he first met Clarissa; or rather her father, the Mullah of Embre.

Oberon spent years exploring the edges of the Pattern’s immediate influence on Amber. Certain Rebman scholars and his own observations suggested that the irregular cycles of Tir-na Nog’th were due to a hidden force of power flowing through to Kolvir from that place. There was a secret tide.

Oberon took years to unravel this puzzle.

In part the culmination of that process was that Oberon found hidden Embre and was made prisoner at the Mullah’s fantastic court. In truth, this was a gilded cage, for the Mullah treated the visiting King as almost an equal. And over some years the Mullah tested Oberon with women, strategies, arcane tricks and sly temptations. The Mullah wanted Oberon’s secret of moving through worlds.
Oberon came to realize that everything in the Embre realm was intimately controlled by the Mullah’s amazing powers. The Mullah’s secret power was that of a canny god, the first that Oberon had ever contested with. If Oberon was to escape Embre, it must be by allowance of the Mullah; or adroit trickery.

One night after a glorious dinner and series of entertainments, Oberon manipulated idle talk that prompted the Mullah to challenge Oberon to a game of chaturanga. For almost a year, Oberon had made certain that the Mullah won more idle games than he lost. The Amber king also “lost his temper” when losing chaturanga, which secretly delighted the Mullah.

Embre was a place of competition and passion. Games were considered High Art.

As the challenged, Oberon chose the stakes, but rather than asking for his freedom, which he was certain the Mullah would not grant, he asked instead for a night of carnal bliss with the Mullah’s youngest of thirty daughters.

The Mullah laughed at this attempt to insult him and agreed. The youngest daughter, Clarissa (or more closely in her own land, Clarhissha of the Crackling Tresses), was shocked and infuriated by her father’s ego and largess. She stormed out of Court.

The two kings began this game with the Mullah offering to ‘spot’ Oberon a queen (making word play that handing over the red queen was as close as Oberon would come to his desire to win his daughter), which was certainly unwise and insulting to Oberon. Oberon refused this crutch and pretended immediately to lose his temper at the insult. The Amber king opened with a rough aggressive strategy.

After a few days of small play sessions, Oberon was behind in pieces.

Clarissa threw parties as news would reach her of Oberon’s every setback on the game board. She made witty taunts of Oberon’s ability to her circle and these were sometimes repeated in the Mullah’s court to great hilarity. Oberon played up this and made sure the challenge was an entertaining process for the Embri Court.

He needed the Mullah to be to comfortable enough to guard himself less well than normal.

And as it came to pass, on the fifty-third night of chaturanga, the gloves came off and Oberon won the game with a series of moves never seen in Embre. The Mullah was shocked and disappointed, but he still had Oberon a prisoner and he still had a chance to find out Oberon’s secret of walking between worlds.

But Oberon had planned for the next surprise.

Clarissa showed her furious temper once her father agreed to honor the wager. She insisted that if her father was going to honor his debt, that the Mullah must marry her to this king before the deed so she might keep her own honor. Clarissa assumed that Oberon would graciously forfeit rather than be married to her. The two strong personalities were obviously mismatched.

But Oberon agreed to marry when the Mullah asked the favor that Oberon wed the young daughter before enjoying her charms.

Clarissa was white with fury. She confronted her father and unloaded a stream of barbed insightful attacks. The Mullah shortly was returning fire with his own observations. The repartee hit epic proportions and the Mullah finally silenced his daughter by taking away her mouth. In other words, he lost to Clarissa.

In three days, Oberon and Clarissa (still mouthless!) were wed. It was a monstrously extravagant affair. The gifts filled a small palace. Clarissa’s obvious silent fury was spice to the Mullah’s public defeat by her.

After the wedding night and for her insults to the Mullah, Clarissa was banished from Embre. Oberon departed with his bride (the Mullah did owe him a favor after all, and Clarissa was only one daughter.) The couple returned to Amber and began the strangest and stormiest relationship Oberon had ‘enjoyed’ to that point: fights were so common that castle staffers actually began to wear protective clothing in Clarissa’s presence.

And yet, in the bedroom, the sounds of battle were just as intensely pleasurable.

Little Fiona arrived soon. Queen Clarissa seemed to settle down and become less the termagant.

Her thoughts had turned to new strategy.

She planned to steal Amber from Oberon.

Some years past Faiella’s death, Oberon returned to Amber with Clarissa of an unknown shadow said to be located south of Amber near to Chaos. Years and research have proved this claim to be typical of Oberon’s handling of information and his skill at misdirection. It is likely that Oberon found Clarissa in a shadow of unusual properties, since we know that all of Clarissa’s scions show decidedly unnatural qualities.

—a Brief, on the distant monarchy of Amber, recognizing descendants of the Outlaw Blaspheme, on through Oberon, First King of Amber, as delineated by the Sinister, House Jesby

The deliberate education of Clarissa’s children was central to her plans to take Amber. The queen made certain that Fiona (and later her brothers) was oriented and eager for parental learning. She also secretly demonstrated time and again to Fiona that she was not like “these human people” and that the little girl would have a ‘special immortal destiny’.
Clarissa was a strong sorceress when she attuned to Amber. She turned out to be the first person to find a working calculation for performing modest sorcery in Amber. Dworkin became interested in this. Clarissa cultivated that association.

Bleys was born when Fiona was five. While not the robust boy that Oberon was used to having for sons, Bleys soon prospered and proved energetic.

In two years, when Fiona was seven and showing remarkable maturity and phenomenal intelligence, Clarissa encouraged Fiona to act as scut and scribe for Dworkin. Within a year of that relationship, Oberon approved Fiona taking on apprenticeship with Dworkin.

Dworkin had never found a student so different from himself, yet so clever with the concepts of Trump, Pattern and Inspiration. He began to lay great tests on Fiona. She rose to those challenges.

Clarissa adroitly encouraged.

Oberon became watchful and soon realized a bit of where Clarissa expected to undercut his throne. He took surgical steps with Bleys and Fiona to counter Clarissa’s subtle machinations without exposing his understanding on the Queen’s plans.

The bedroom battlefield changed a bit through these years. Oberon began to play a different sort of strategy. His appreciation of Clarissa as a danger actually enhanced the sexual tension between the two; and her plans about his eventual defeat did the same for her.

In some ways, they were a well suited couple.

Fiona became a sorceress and Trump artist at fourteen. Clarissa arranged for a mother/daughter tour of shadow. Over several months gone from Amber with a hand-picked devoted escort, Clarissa explored options for hiring mercenary sorcerers and instructed Fiona in the ‘grand scheme’. The queen cemented the bond of ‘otherness’ the two shared separate from Amber folk. Clarissa shared more than a handful of secrets.

Fiona learned of Embre’s powers, of Clarissa’s plans to return to that clandestine land as conqueror, of the Mullah and the fateful chaturanga wager. Clarissa also told Fiona unpleasant “truths” about Oberon and the harsh tyranny he was capable of concealing from his children. Clarissa wept and confided the horrible sexual slavery that Oberon held her to. The queen embellished these things in calculated fashion to her audience.

Fiona fell in with the scheme.

When Clarissa returned to Amber, everything was in place for a coup when Bleys reached an age to lead troops (perhaps ten years away.) In ones and twos, foreign sorcerers loyal to Clarissa began to arrive via the ship trade and find quiet lives in town.

Later that same year Oberon spoke to Bleys (now almost ten) and Fiona (nearing fifteen) and told his children of Clarissa’s plans. He also spent most of a day laying out the various responses he could make to the queen’s plans. Then the king delivered the coup de grace and asked for their advice in Clarissa’s punishment for treason (with death leading the list.)

Fiona and Bleys frightened and yet admiring their father’s confidence and planning, tried to live up to his trust. In truth, Clarissa’s children demonstrated strengths combined and greater than both their parents in many things. Oberon’s boldness in consulting with Fiona and Bleys was the first catalyst in furthering an independent streak in the children’s thinking that would slowly undermine Clarissa’s hold on them.

But the children eventually consulted Clarissa before returning answer to their father. Clarissa covered her shock well. She turned the matter into a dialogue and worked with the children to resolve the situation quietly. In the course of this, she made sure that Fiona and Bleys saw how cold Oberon could be. The queen also agreed to the children’s plan for Clarissa to take another “tour of shadow” to allow conflict between the parents to cool down.

When Fiona and Bleys presented their plan to Oberon, they also included that they had their mother’s unstated accord.

Oberon agreed to the arrangement.

Clarissa left Amber after a ‘trumped up’ argument with Oberon. And again, she had a plan to further her ends. She would gather shadow allies and test Oberon’s ability to get along without the queen’s spectacular bedroom drama or challenging presence. Would he languish for desire of her? Clarissa was certain he would.

Indeed, she found herself brooding for want of him during her travels. The discipline involved in staying away from Amber and Oberon proved considerable.

Yet, to drive home her point and reprove Oberon further, Clarissa spent almost five years away. There was minimal Trump contact between Clarissa and Amber through Fiona. Fiona came and visited her mother in shadow on a regular basis. Bleys came to see his mother much less because he was involved in so many lessons and because Clarissa deliberately wanted it to appear that Bleys was less her champion. But once Bleys reached fifteen, Clarissa scheduled her return.

Clarissa’s arrival back in Amber was a public triumph.

Oberon had genuinely missed her. The couple had something of a whirlwind season for months after her return. She even considered setting aside her plans to destroy him. She became pregnant with a boy.

Then she found out about four year-old Llewella. Oberon had cheated on her in her absence with a Rebman.

So Clarissa prepared to deliver a child and resume her schemes.

Brand was born. Bleys was fifteen. Fiona was twenty. By carefully balancing her own attraction for Oberon against her hidden agendas, Clarissa made a good queen for Amber and kept up appearances. From both the town and noble point of view, it seemed that the marriage had finally reached working rhythm.

Clarissa studied Oberon as the key to everything she wanted to accomplish. She masked her intent to such extent that even her children no longer saw the grand plan inching forward. She concluded that Dworkin, as bright as he was, did not have the stamina and great ruthlessness that made Amber a power to be feared. Clarissa became a secret student of Oberon’s methods; his victories and especially his setbacks.

For almost fifteen years she played down her ambitious fires and displayed queenly charisma as she tried to alter the balance of power in favor of her children. She was energetic, alluring and friendly with Oberon’s grown scions except for Llewella. That Rebman teen was not usually present in Amber. This worked well for Clarissa, for she could barely tolerate the reminder of Oberon having a child with someone of status to rival her own.

Clarissa was completely clueless as to how Moins felt about Oberon at the time.

Eventually, the royal confrontation came, but not at Clarissa’s timing. The luster had worn on the sexual relationship. Oberon was tired of the hidden games and he offered Clarissa a quiet departure from Amber as he had Cymnea. Clarissa hid her surprise that he had not accepted she’d put aside such plans. She had learned much from him, and clinging to a broken plan was not in her nature now. The couple negotiated, wrestled with various ideas that satisfied neither of them and finally Clarissa persuaded Oberon to take her back to Embre where she might challenge her father and lead that court. She would go quietly if he gave her that much.

He agreed, after all, he had years before concocted the “far southern shadow” story to keep the sensitive knowledge of Embre from even becoming a question. He planned that others not know of Clarissa’s true origins.

But there was yet another surprise for Clarissa, upon packing up everything and being selective about what assets of Amber her children would take with them, the King of Amber denied Fiona, Bleys and Brand his leave to go with Clarissa.

He was adamant. Clarissa went alone.

None of the redheads were happy, but they reconciled that there would be Trump calls and visits. So Clarissa returned to the Mullah’s court in Embre.

Clarissa wasted no time in challenging her father for his throne. Oberon advised the Mullah he had no part in this and departed before the formal duel. Clarissa, wise with years of techniques from shadow and challenges in Amber, took up the primal powers of her bloodline, killed her father in honorable combat and became the god-ruler of Embre.

And then she discovered that Oberon had sealed the shadow tight behind his departure. There was no route to Amber. There would be no Trump calls or visits. And a furious Clarissa realized that she wanted Amber more than ever.

There was no joy in being god in a ‘cage’.

Suspecting it would avail her nothing, Clarissa spent time gathering crafty power users and wise men to her court. The style of magic in Embre was largely who had the most passion and will and could bring that force to bear in the most regimented fashion.

Sages and inspired folk like Dworkin or Fiona were hard impossible to find.

Her freedom from Oberon’s shadow-closure eluded Clarissa for years that became decades. She proved to be a more dangerous ruler than the old Mullah—her whims were often edged with the pain of her captivity.

But after a long time, Fiona found the path to Embre. Daughter and mother were reunited in a tearful embrace. Fiona believed fully that she was equal parts her mother and father. She respected them both tremendously. And many things that Clarissa had told to Fiona as a child proved remarkably true: there was something different and inhuman about Fiona. There existed some personal puzzle that she couldn’t solve with all her discipline. She was her mother’s daughter: tempered, beautiful, calculating and quite charismatic with folks not easily impressed.

Yet Fiona could not stay in Embre and did not have the Pattern knowledge to unseal that place. So she returned to Amber leaving Clarissa hope of eventual change in fortune.

Hope can cut so deeply.

Centuries of this imprisonment passed. Clarissa found her every desire, except regular visits from her children and the freedom to test herself against Oberon. Back in Amber, Fiona became a valued asset to Oberon. Bleys became something of the king’s favorite troubleshooter, solving difficult problems like Deela and maintaining contact with estranged kin. Brand was erratic in his achievements, being more inspired and less dependable, but he did reach to esoteric and artistic insights that escaped Fiona and Bleys.

And ever so slowly, Clarissa sought to wear down her cage. When the PatternFall plotting arrived, she had still made no progress against the Pattern energies binding Embre.

May we assume that the conspiracy of the redheads did not have everything to do with the throne? Is it possible that they moved to weaken Pattern for reasons having to do with Embre?

Clarissa’s exile did not end with Oberon’s death. Neither did the Pattern bindings become more accessible. Random took the throne and began to repair damages done to Amber. When Clarissa pressed Bleys and Fiona to give Random only enough allegiance to put the new king off his guard, Fiona and Bleys gave Clarissa the news that broke her mind: her children had sworn certain oaths to Random.

And even more disturbing, they would do no further work on the Pattern bindings on Embre until consultation with Dworkin. It turned out that Dworkin was Oberon’s father.

Clarissa hid her shock at these events, but long were the nights in Embre after Fiona and Bleys returned to Amber. Inhuman were the screams that never sounded beyond Tir-na Nog’th.
What Amber would learn in due time was that Clarissa, with her rage and brilliance, would become a deadlier thorn-in-the-side of Amber than Brand. And the Embre ‘cage’ might also work as a defensive fortress for Clarissa’s schemes and attempts to pull apart Amber’s foundations, allies and secrets.

Setting Clarissa free seemed no sane option, and going to that hidden shadow might prove fatal—especially for her ungrateful children.

—Oberon, lost king of true eternal realm
Who lit these fires within me
Used me so basely to work your will
Ne’er shall my heart rest
Or my hand stay
’til your works lay cindered around me—




  1. It is fun to see the parallels and conflicts of these places/people that Zelazny never really touched.
    For all the mystery, Clarissa is actually mentioned about three times in the canon, I think.

  2. Hi Arref,
    Re-reading this, I am inspired by my own ideas about what happened when Oberon “pressed the reset button” and re-drew the Pattern. Its a bit spoilerish for SB, but I might speak in general terms about it.
    But given this, without any more, I know precisely what your Clarissa, if I used her, would do and find in the Post-Patternfall world…

Comments are closed.