Addressing the Zelazny canon of ‘Nine Princes’ brings you around to the pivotal redheads and their cabal. And finding a meaning there usually demands you ‘solve for’ the Fiona factor.
Does Fiona switch back to the ‘Pattern Loyalists’ because both Bleys and Brand are exposed and isolated? Or because the Chaosi turn out to be so much more effective than she wished? Or was she stunned by revelations from Oberon and Dworkin as to what might happen to Amber if the Pattern was brought down?
What did Brand do to provoke her to first imprison and then boldly try to kill him?
Was she always the ‘loyalist’ of the three redheads? Certainly Brand would not have been stopped without her help.
IMC, these events are canon, but only scratch the surface of Fiona’s complexity. As the eldest redhead she had plenty of influence on Bleys and the much younger Brand. But as the middle child of Oberon’s long line of children, she showed her sharp mind and good gamesmanship in taking opportunities that many of the princes did not see.
As a newborn, Fiona’s potential did not seem quite so different from other children of Oberon. Clarissa kept her hopes for Fiona’s potential hidden from Oberon and the little girl, while unusually small for an Amber child, was quite healthy by the standards of Clarissa’s world.
Fiona’s early childhood demonstrated her quick mind and desire to please her parents. She was an agreeable child with a quick delight in garnering adult’s attention.
The deliberate education of Clarissa’s children was central to her plans to gain power in Amber. The queen made certain that Fiona (and later her brothers) was oriented and eager for parental learning. The queen 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’.
Dworkin became interested in Clarissa’s sorceress talents. The queen cultivated that association.
Bleys was born when Fiona was five. While not the robust boy that Oberon expected, 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 assaying 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.
In Fiona’s childhood, two of her older sisters died violently. Oberon decided to hold his daughters closer to home after these tragedies, but Deirdre stood up to him and set a tone for female independence. Fiona watched this and admired the grace her older sister managed with her father’s iron will. The secret seemed to be never to oppose Oberon directly.
Fiona became a teenager that could think circles around most adults.
IMC, Fiona was maneuvered by Oberon, Dworkin and Clarissa to gain small advantages in their competing and conflicting views of Amber. Fiona became the person in the center of that struggle. While she understood her position, she did not always understand the intrigue. But she learned from it and decades later became the best manipulator her father sired.
Once Clarissa began to move Fiona as a playing piece and major leverage against the King, life for the teen got very complicated. Clarissa and Oberon fought frequently, if not openly, and Fiona sometimes bridged between them. Brand was born nine months after Clarissa’s passionate reconciliation with Oberon.
Fiona’s skills increased. She tried to teach Bleys trump but found her powerful talents were poor at pushing Bleys through demanding esoterica. Bleys wanted a physical life more so than an intangible one. He applied himself as an irregular student.
Fiona gave up teaching, blaming Bleys’ shortfalls on herself. But within a few years, Brand pestered her to take him as a student. Between her sessions with Dworkin and the clever mind of her youngest brother, Fiona managed to give Brand a good foundation in the secret arts.
Brand later used these skills to parlay more lessons from Dworkin.
The twisted intrigues of Clarissa during this period are detailed elsewhere. [Clarissa’s history in Amber]
But the eventual outcome was this: a bright winter day with Fiona, Bleys and young Brand watching their baggage unloaded from the caravan taking Clarissa into exile in Embre. Oberon forbade his children from traveling into exile with Clarissa. The era of Clarissa’s direct manipulations of her children ended with Oberon’s implacable decree.
But the redheads became closer because of this. Rarely did their intense humors hold them apart.
Fiona, shocked and disturbed by this harsh side of her father, fell deeper into sympathy with her mother’s cause. Later, when it was clear that Oberon had also imprisoned Clarissa behind strange shadow boundaries, Fiona spent years trying to unravel those chains. Bleys and Brand were some help on this. It became clear that Brand had hidden talents yet different from Fiona’s.
Fiona played dutiful daughter by day and mystic schemer by night. She became the de facto leader of the redheads—the cabal a direct result of Oberon’s banishment of Clarissa.
After Clarissa’s exile, Fiona consolidated her position as Dworkin’s prime student and Oberon’s modern lens into Dworkin’s philosophies. Many of the Pattern’s secrets were just out of reach, but Fiona practiced patience. Her long study led to her excellent theoretical understanding of Pattern and Trump. Ironically, she was handicapped by the sharpness of her Orderly mind, since many of Dworkin’s essential teachings were based on the Chaotic origins of his perspective.
Fiona rarely found anyone in the family that really looked at things in as much detail or clarity as she did. For the first few decades of her life, Fiona did not realize how unique was her gift of perception. But in these scholarly years, she also discovered key secrets about herself. Her mother had always promised she was unusual and Fiona learned this was quite an understatement. Fiona slowly came to understand that even amongst her sibs there was not a psyche that retained information as effortlessly as she did. She was heir to primal talents. Fiona learned of ancient powers bruted aside by the Pattern’s creation. She saw the primal Eater of the Dead in herself and eventually rejected it.
But all this information, in combination with her family’s ways, left her uniquely alone.
But suddenly, Fiona discovered passion and lost her heart to an older man of wit and common birth. She kept this strange attraction secret for her family would have hardly approved. This affair lasted long past its benefit to either party and the ending of it harshly wounded her royal pride. Fiona vowed to never involve herself with love again. She cultivated closer ties to Deirdre, the wise older sister who exuded independence and vivacity. She took more interest in all her sisters.
At last weathering these growing pains, Fiona matured to appreciate the tremendous gulf of perception between Oberon and his captive sage, Dworkin. Oberon often looked for the leveraged advantage, the practical application of power. Dworkin saw most powers as temptations to error and conflict, and ascribed malice to many primal manifestations.
At a point where Amber’s influence expanded through the Golden Circle and Oberon’s new queen, Rilga, was turning the king’s eyes to new relationships and politics, Dworkin vanished from Amber.
Except Fiona found him in shadow and kept this confidence from her father. Dworkin played up Oberon as a demanding tyrant and himself as a tired old man. Fiona knew that Dworkin was far from an ordinary old man, but she did not know he was family.
It was a long time before Dworkin slipped up on that information.
Fiona found Rilga to be a very good influence on family and her father. Amber prospered. Years later, the news of Rilga’s illness caused Fiona to branch out into medical interests. She acquired degrees in medicine. She spent years seeking a cure for the wasting sickness that was to eventually kill Rilga.
And failing, she took a hard look at events and family relationships. Against the advice of Deirdre and Bleys, Fiona took vows with the Church of the Unicorn and concentrated on charitable works in Amber. The Church welcomed her with great excitement and she entered a convent that provided medical services to the poor. She did this not just from remorse at not being able to help Rilga but also from a sense that her own intrinsic differences set her apart from her closest sibs and on some strange path she could not define. She wanted a better understanding of contribution to ‘humanity’.
She wanted contemplation to consider her soul—or if she had one.
This period lasted only five years. Dworkin heard Fiona had become a nun. He returned to Amber and went straight to her to demand she reverse this decision. A week of long days and Fiona agreed to return to Amber castle as a royal. She had found neither the peace nor the meaning that she sought, and Dworkin told her she would not find these secrets among ‘common clay’.
He dared her to wrestle the universe for this special understanding, not seek it in mundane tranquility.
Amber still prospered after Rilga’s death, but castle life became ever more political. Fiona was a quiet pleasant presence in court and good at politics, until Oberon returned from shadow married to Paulette. Young Paulette was the antithesis of Fiona: passionate, sensual, vivacious and able to make Oberon laugh with little effort. Queen Paulette was no intellect and made no secret of it.
Fiona found the girl most annoying. It could be said she found her father’s amorous fascination even more galling. Fiona had the nerve to tell her father “he had never so married beneath himself.” Oberon seemed amused.
After less than a year of Paulette, Fiona left Amber to do extended explorations of shadow and only responded to trump calls from select family. It proved to be a good time for her. In shadow she found more variation of the humanity that seemed so foreign but fascinated so much. She discovered psychology and the works of medical thinkers regarding the function of minds. Fiona traveled extensively and apprenticed in numerous clinics, laboratories and hospitals. She enjoyed part of the pleasures of helping ordinary people and she also saw things in herself and her family through the mortal lens.
Shadow can be seductive to the seeker.
Life became much more complicated and interesting. A certain intellectual delight became part of Fiona’s life. In the societies she enjoyed now, the elite sought the latest scientific and mysterious truths. All knew that kings and presidents were subject to human foibles and irrational behavior. But someday the elite intellects would improve—perhaps rescue—the world even of its animal passions and impulses. How effortlessly Fiona saw these philosophies as a superior path: the worthy alternative to her family’s constant wrangles of passion, ego and excess.
And in this same period, every trip back to Amber proved the case.
Paulette had been publicly caught in an affair and killed herself in depression. Oberon had started talks with Darrheabarr for a young imperial, Lora, to sit as his queen and one day add her empire to Amber’s shadow reach. In the Golden Circle, Deela touted the twisted vision of Amber, the Shadow Tyrant.
Fiona found her brothers carousing in boorish competition except Julian, who while young, seemed to have a reserve and discipline that she encouraged.
Fiona made herself rare in Amber.
Out in shadow, there were new sciences, new thought, and new hopes to march the unruly masses forward to a better society. Entire worlds created themselves for her to explore:
Socialist utopias where serfs understood greater good.
Scientific Industry put material wealth in the hands of grateful middle classes.
Knowledgeable elites theorized the themes of evolution and mutation and survival of the fittest.
Religion and faith revealed under the light of harsh intellect as simple illusions for old thinkers of little curiosity.
Even philosophy itself was questioned as a system of assumptions that might obscure truth.
She traveled in ‘modern worlds’ where scholars were the leaders or through space-faring civilizations, which had perfected psionic disciplines in highly evolved minds.
And so shadow revealed to Fiona something her father had discovered many decades before: the reflections of true Amber held mysteries that stretched the assumptions of what was true or could be true.
Fiona embraced the framework of intellect. She celebrated her great mind. She became a highly focused savant. Every sort of problem solving system was mastered. Each branch of mathematics was devoured. Every kind of science became a puzzle of the whole. Her mind drank the information of worlds and never seemed to fill. The princess did not outright reject her passion so much as she elevated her intellect in mastery over any such impulses. Fiona discarded the animal impulses that were so terribly effective in putting her family in disarray.
Or so she believed.
And it was near to this point, where Brand brought her news from Amber: Oberon’s wits were failing with age. Their father wandered into shadow without warning or apparent plan. Oberon raged at Eric regarding long-dead Corwin. He rejected Lora as an equal, sending that worthy immediately back to the Empire of the Gleaming Banner in outrage and to break off relations with Amber. Golden Circle allies were worried.
Brand knew that Oberon still had a special regard for Fiona’s sharp mind. He wanted her to intervene now.
Fiona returned with Brand to investigate. She found all these things were true; her father seemed a changed man, a smaller man perhaps. His actions appeared prompted by urges rather than thought and intellect. As he suffered these passions, the kingdom trembled under doubts and stresses. The princes jockeyed for favored positions with each other. Eric was unpopular. Benedict was long gone. Caine styled himself very different from a prince for thrones. Bleys seemed a solid candidate to replace the dead Corwin.
Amber was ripe for a fall into catastrophe.
Brand and Bleys proposed a plan, but would not pursue it without Fiona’s support. Oberon would agree to a long trip through shadow, such as he had made before. In order to study the King and determine if he was failing, the three needed a quiet place where Oberon would permit this investigation. Bleys and Brand believed that only Fiona had the skills to get him to agree and probe their father’s health.
But Oberon put Fiona off when she proposed he submit to this idea. After a few more attempts, Oberon told her to go back into shadow if she was going to ‘natter like an old woman’. But Fiona’s own observations indicated that Oberon needed rest and more. He seemed worn down and distracted. He seemed old. All was not right at the center.
And what did this mean for infinite shadow? There had always been Oberon.
Dworkin was yet missing somewhere in shadow. Fiona could not find him now.
In casting about for solutions, the redheads held many sessions. Brand finally revealed there were bits of the puzzle even more dangerous. In tracking Benedict during missions given to their elder brother by the King, Brand had found a strange land at the very conclusion of reality. The resources of this bizarre empire seemed enormous and threatening of everything held to be true about Amber. Benedict had also been missing now for over ten years.
It seemed that Oberon had lost Benedict to an alien foe. The king was losing his touch.
Then Brand drew a narrative line through history with regards to many strange events and forces out of shadow that had threatened Amber from time to time across centuries. The redheads concluded there was an enemy that Oberon feared to even speak about. Certainly he was a man of secrets.
So the trio traveled south, investigated and discovered the Courts of Chaos. The Courts demonstrated a welcoming civility to the redheads that they did not mistake at all for kindness. And the more they learned of Chaos, the more peril they saw stalking Amber.
The redhead embassy continued for months. Were they captives now? Fiona launched herself into that alien society and began to impress. She matched her mind against the best of the eerie court under that broken sky.
Brand won some interesting information from a Chaos servant called Jasra: the Pattern was damaged by some experiment of Dworkin’s. There existed mysterious vulnerabilities now to Amber. Chaos was planning an attack on Amber ten times larger than ever mounted before.
Fiona had been a young woman at the last incursion of such dark alien forces into Amber. That same attack revealed now to be a single House of Chaos. There were ten such Houses ready to wage this new assault. And King Swayville had lent his approval.
Amber would be destroyed.
Fiona and brothers quickly put together a plan; they played upon their Chaosi hosts’ sense of might and grandeur. They styled themselves traitors, looking to place Bleys upon the throne as head of house after Oberon was thrown down by Chaos. These discussions became complex, but Fiona impressed the Chaosi at every turn. There were frank discussions where Fiona suggested secret resources that Amber had yet to use against its foes. Fiona could make certain these powers did not enter the war for Amber—if she chose.
Chaos agreed: if the Eye of the Serpent was returned to Thelbane after the war, Chaos would work with the redheads. The pact was sworn in blood and witnessed by three House leaders. The children of Clarissa joined the PatternFall War on the side of the enemy.
But once back in Amber, the redheads went directly to the Pattern and saw it was not damaged at all. They closeted with the king and told him of their southern embassy and the plans of Chaos. They questioned him about the Eye.
Oberon was furious and cold. He tossed the three from his office and promised that if they became further involved, he would have them in the dungeons for life and beyond.
Left out of Oberon’s plans, there were many unknowns for Fiona and brothers to solve. Was the Pattern damaged as the Chaosi claimed? Did their father steal a holy relic of Chaos? Could they play both their father and those Chaos powers to save Amber?
It was Bleys who actually suggested the next strategy: Oberon would try to fix the Pattern if it was damaged. If it wasn’t, the redheads need do nothing more but obey their king. They could return to Oberon’s good graces in time. But if Oberon moved to tinker with the Pattern, they would learn what they could do to stave off Chaos.
Certainly, Oberon did discover the Pattern was damaged. The king started seeking answers to this dire fact. He rarely consulted anyone, but he asked many times for Fiona’s best recollections of where Dworkin might be. She could not help him, but offered to travel with him.
He told her to stay out of it—she had “done enough”.
But Fiona and the redheads saw enough of his actions to realize the Chaosians were soon to press their war. Fiona made her biggest mistake: she reckoned her father too worn down by recent centuries to handle these issues competently. She and her brothers worked out a method of providing clues that would take Oberon from Amber seeking a solution to the damaged Pattern and into a series of shadows where Chaosi rivals to the War Houses would help them detain Oberon. The rival Chaosi did not wish to extend themselves too far—but they also did not want the Ten House Coalition to impress Swayville with war victories.
With time and energy Fiona felt sure she could administer healing graces to the King. Brand and Bleys could hold Amber steady in the meantime—even if Eric foolishly tried to press his claims to the throne.
Unexpectedly, Fiona had a short trump conversation with Dworkin. He asked for immediate help but seemed confused. But in this single contact, Fiona learned the Pattern had been damaged by Brand with Martin’s blood; that Brand had been talking to the Chaosi much earlier than the young redhead had suggested. In shock, Fiona quickly recalculated how deeply the redheads had strolled into black treason.
But contact with Dworkin broke off.
Fiona immediately went to the Black Zone to free Oberon. In attempting his release, Fiona found that the ‘rival Chaosi’ were also in on the war plans—as part of the Ten House Coalition. She barely escaped the Black Zone with her life.
Dark times for Fiona.
Fiona and Bleys struck at Brand with no warning. They imprisoned him. Under Fiona’s examination, Brand’s mind showed stress and deviations of an odd kind. Fiona needed time to unravel this disaster of family. She saw now how much her ‘superior perspective’ had led her to not question important data provided by Brand. Her trust in her brothers and herself was broken now.
And so even more went wrong. Corwin arrived from the dead. The long-lost older brother brought cold anger and harsh plans. Adding himself to Bleys’ efforts to stalemate Eric the Usurper, Corwin was an ally they didn’t want, but couldn’t afford to ignore. Bleys modified plans to distract Eric into a full-scale invasion of Amber that could not hope to work. The attrition battle plan became an over-committed invasion fiasco—all to keep Corwin a known factor.
Bleys would have died if not for a timely assist from Llewella. But Llew kept Bleys out in shadow after his rescue from the cliffs.
Now Fiona remained in Amber with no support and an intense need to oppose the Chaosi. She faced her sibs in the castle library scene knowing already how far she had come and what wrongs she had done. She’d already betrayed her father and king to Chaos. Further she’d betrayed Brand. Eric was dead. Caine was dead. When the family decided to ‘rescue’ Brand, she despaired. Even at the darkest limit of her personal resources, Fiona feared Brand’s illness enough to make a desperate attempt to kill him before he could rejoin his Chaos allies.
But again, she did not esteem her sibs in measure to share these burdens. She asked for no help. She acted alone.
Fiona was young enough to respect much of the family legend that came before her, and old enough to understand some of the strongest relations of the scions born after her. Fiona had first-hand perspective on the trials and successes of Llewella, Julian, Gerard, Florimel, Random, Mirelle, Delwin, and Sandmorel. Less so her appreciation of the origins of Dalt and Coral, but those youngers were trivial to the forces affecting Amber now.
In the family Tarot deck, Fiona was the Magician, looking at all tools and wisdoms from new and old sources. The Magician worked alone and in secret. And if the Magician crafted in error or hubris, the Tower would be struck by disaster.
Fiona failed to kill Brand with the blade. Gerard was too quick that day.
Brand returned and was protected. Fiona fled Amber, seeing no way to bring the regent, Corwin into her confidence. Brand told the tale and set events in motion again.
But neither Fiona nor Brand anticipated Oberon’s escape from the Black Zone with assist from Martin and Dara.
Fiona was not redeemed, but she and Bleys came back to Oberon in shame and offered what resources and secrets they knew of Chaos. Oberon tasked them heavily and told them there would soon be a new king that they would answer to. He did not forgive them.
The same great mind that rejected destructive passions now allowed Fiona to focus on doing as much as she might for Amber. She set powerfully to the tasks Oberon and Dworkin compiled and the Pattern was repaired. Her father, the man who might understand her best, died that day. Fiona wasted nothing on misery or blame.
That analysis would come after the war was over. Long after she begged Brand to desist his conflict in front of her sibs. After she held her dear Brand tightly leashed while arrows struck his throat, heart and eye. While she felt him fall into the Abyss and as her favorite sister screamed and fell tangled with him.
And King Random did not forgive her later, but allowed her clandestine request to put herself to the throne’s service, refusing no task—on pain of death—for as long as she had lived thus far: a judgment of indenture for nine centuries.
Fiona’s remarkable psyche held all these truths clear and flawless and will do so until the day she dies.
casting to consider :
Dr. Macro hosts Myrna Loy for Eternal City
Diana Rigg for House of Cards
Alyssa Milano for A Common Disaster
Julianne Moore for Strange Bedfellows
Marcia Cross for ?trump unknown