in the Shadow of Greatness

 

May 13, 2004

IMC :: universe according to Rebma

Working up this as a single document—some of you out there are editors of keen eyesight—and I suspect this rambles in the lazy Arref style.

You'll find accumulated layers of things I've added to the House of Cards or Grand Affair twiki. There are also borrowings from these sources, for which we thank the GMs and Players of those two games for their cooperation.

Comment freely—especially to missing bits.

The Universe According to Rebma
Thoughts on the Enigmatic City and its people from the Eternal City campaign
Arref Mak and the Participants of House of Cards and Grand Affair

Forget what you've heard; Rebma was first. Rebma existed as a concept before Amber did. The concept without a name, being a cherished ember in the hearts of the unwanted nomadic Athanor* peoples, was nourished and kept warm for centuries by those Lost Tribes.

A place that belonged to no one but the lonely immortal orphans of shadow. A home without a name.

The name doesn't matter. The love matters.

. . .

In modern Rebma, the Athanor are not the only citizens of the Enigmatic City beneath the Restless Sea, but the oldest families of Rebma and their descendants of the founding blood are the worthy allies who followed Lir through shadow to add their strength to a rough patch of something held by a man not yet king: Oberon.

Many were the names of the Athanor. Lir is remembered with honor for speaking about the dream of Rebma and speaking so well that it was transformed from dream to substance. Descendants of Lir still keep Rebma strong and rule there. Moire is a direct descendant of the line.

For reasons not entirely known, Oberon called his land Amber once he had won the right of it by his hand. Oberon and Lir faced the First Chaosi Incursion to hold Amber and Rebma safe. Lir was acclaimed King of Rebma.

For every dead royal scion of Oberon who no longer even enjoys a memory in Amber, there are fifty fallen names celebrated in awe at honored family shrines in Rebma. These shrines are sacred places of love and reverie. Some of the original families no longer exist, but the shrines are still kept by those remaining nobles. The green flames that burn upon the beautifully written names of the Fallen will burn forever. These shrines validate the sacrifice and blood that founded Rebma: that kept Rebma a home against things out of shadow. Many died because of the need. It matters.

It always will, in Rebma.

. . .

"...my people have never owned anything for long that hasn't been taken away from us by those who fear us. I'm tired of running. Aren't you? So we're surrounded and outnumbered. I say, we stand. They only take this place if I'm dead."

—Lir, from "The Bloody Grievance"

Rebma is the mirror of Amber.

Just think for a long minute about the potential of that for stories and drama and personal relationships and Everything. Rebma is Amber backwards. Not darker. Not a subset. Not a gender-switched cliche.

The complimenting Other.

Folks say that Deirdre is a cardboard character and her "screen time" is too limited to know much about her. Maybe so. Here's Roger giving us a small conversation between two women who obviously know each other very well:

"What seek you here, outcasts of Amber?" [Moire] asked, and her voice was a lisping, soft, flowing thing.

Deirdre spoke in reply, saying: "We flee the wrath of the prince who sits in the true city—Eric! To be frank, we wish to work his downfall. If he is loved here, we are lost, and we have delivered ourselves into the hands of our enemies. But I feel he is not loved here. So we come asking aid, gentle Moire—"

"I will not give you troops to assault Amber." she replied. "As you know, the chaos would be reflected within my own realm."

"That is not what we would have of you, dear Moire," Deirdre continued, "but only a small thing, to be achieved at no pain or cost to yourself or your subjects."

"Name it! For as you know, Eric is almost as disliked here as this recreant who stands at your left hand," and with this she gestured at my brother, who stared at her in frank and insolent appraisal, a small smile playing about the corners of his lips.

—Zelazny, from "Nine Princes in Amber"

How intimate this small conversation. How quickly the stern Moire agrees to assist Deirdre. How fairly she then deals with Random, who has been part of a deep wound inflicted on her heart.

And how much Moire seems to know of them all before they even tell her...

To begin, Oberon crafts Amber from the raw material that Dworkin draws from a sea of night. Amber's first king is hard, uncanny, dauntless, demanding, magnificent and shrewd. He makes a kingdom of contests, secrets, glorious strengths, and intense hubris.

And Rebma is the mirror with a Pattern scribed in reverse, a woman of mercy on the throne, and with vision perceptive enough to see into the secrets of Amber—while being a mystery to Amber.

There is deep magic in Rebma. The water caresses and does not crush. The flames give light and do not quench. Fish wander past the pedestrians. A Rebman warrior can meet the gaze of a Prince of Amber and not look away.

Rebma is not immune to tragedy, but its tragedy is in association with Amber. There is certainly a subtle and long-felt bond in place between the cities. One might guess that Rebma is a blessed and protected place—even as Amber does not expect to be troubled by things out of shadow.

So is Rebma sweetness and fey greens to Amber's brutally golden light? No. They have weapons, troops, justice for broken hearts, and women who can speak of love in front of men none the wiser.

Oberon was a man of Chaos. He forced the realm to his vision.
What canon we find on the royal line of Rebma is not as much.
It is a strong line. It has equality to Amber—and respect for it.
It is a mystery of beauty and eternal strength that is somehow as long-lived as Amber.

IMC, the city is founded by the first allies of Oberon, the Athanor. Before Oberon had a castle or scions or a pot to piss in he had the friendship of Lir and the uneasy hopes of the Lost Sea Tribes of the Athanor.

The Athanor were immortals, but not the fortified and uncanny immortals of Chaos. The Athanor were not even thought to be a true race, since they often sprang from mortal blood. They were homeless and feared gypsy immortals somehow anchored to the roots of shadow—and sometimes born of adversity. They had the lives of hermits, monsters, and pariahs.

Which fit so well with Oberon's own situation—thanks to Dworkin.

Lir was a clan chief and a speaker on the council of the Lost Tribes. When the hard days of making Amber work were finally well-started and Oberon had sons and daughters to build his line—Lir was acclaimed the first King of Rebma while Oberon was taking the crown of Amber. By then the two men had already turned back the First Chaosian Incursion: an army large enough to completely surround and siege Amber. Rebma has more than once been the difference between Amber surviving or being razed.

The rest is bright and terrible legend.

. . .

The royal line of Rebma has always been an ally to the royal line of Amber since the days of the Bloody Grievance. Random might have died by Moire's hand otherwise.

Rebma is the strong left hand to Amber's defense against the universe IMC. But long ago, Lir was Oberon's hardiest friend and cooler mirror. The two men were a fantastic partnership. Oberon's amazing ability to hold the line no matter what in the huge undertaking that was the raw Amber. Lir's ability to talk to people about "why" things were so important and get them to "buy in" to common efforts. Oberon had little skill with parlay—he had to learn that later. Oberon was the 'endurance'. Lir was the 'people person' with wisdom. When Lir died in battle protecting Oberon—many thought the Rebma/Amber alliance was finished. There were too many Rebmans who couldn't even have a five minute conversation with Oberon.

And Oberon never again had a friend like Lir. It could be argued he never had another friend at all.

In my game, politics surrounding Llewella's birth nearly ended the long standing (essential) alliance at three separate points. Much sadness surrounds her young life because of the politics and personal miscues. In a way, it is unfortunate that for most of recent history Llewella was the sole bridge that bound the two families together. Another child would have been a good idea.

. . .

What makes Rebma formidable?

Of course, it is the people.

Amber was founded by one man and his offspring. Rebma was founded by the Lost Tribes who were Oberon's first allies when he was almost nothing more than a vagabond outlaw Chaosi.

What keeps Rebma formidable?

We see several strong characteristics of Rebma that are "mirror reflections" of Amber but support 'formidable' elements.

* Women put forth a strong role in events
* The palace is very large, very ornate, and made of glassy rather than opaque material
* The city is larger and includes tall fragile seeming towers
* Justice in Rebma has a compassionate and pragmatic element
* Mystical solutions to breathing, pressure, lighting, warmth, and in the construction of Faiella-Bionin
* Soldiers and citizens who do not show obvious deference to royals of Amber
* Rebman society does not evidence the strong gender sexual taboos

Who represents the 'people sense' to us in the canon? Moire.

A woman sat the throne in the glassite room I almost recalled, and her hair was green, though streaked with silver, and her eyes were round as moons of jade and her brows rose like the wings of olive gulls. Her mouth was small, her chin was small; her cheeks were high and wide and rounded. A circlet of white gold crossed her brow and there was a crystal necklace about her neck. At its tip there flashed a sapphire between her sweet bare breasts, whose nipples were also a pale green. She wore scaled trunks of blue and a silver belt, and she had a scepter of pink coral in her right hand and had a ring upon every finger, and each ring had a stone of a different blue within it.

—-Zelazny, from "Nine Princes in Amber"

Formidable. Yes.

IMC, those ten rings are known as the Rings of the Lost Tribes and literally represent power accumulated from the original founding clans of Rebma.

Also consider this: Rebma knows the past of both cities better than Amber. Rebma has a better grasp of secrets than what Oberon allowed his scions. Queen Moins did not outlive Oberon, and Moire became queen when Llewella stepped aside. Young Moire then held her own with Oberon for over two centuries before Random ever came to the throne.

It is easy to see that Moire has more experience than Corwin and Random. The queen also has Llewella as a supporter, not to mention any offspring of the Amber royal line who might be raised in Rebma. This last negates Amber's traditional Pattern advantage.

Llewella is also one of the oldest of the remaining Amberites at the end of the canon and has Vialle's ear. Corwin remarks that the line of Oberon's children represents 15 centuries of his father's life. It would seem then that Llewella arrives in the middle of this lineage— between Bleys and Brand. Even if Llewella and Moire have little "shadow time" between them, Llewella should be nearly 800 Amber years old. It is also reasonable that Moire has been queen for at least half that time. Likely more.

Only Benedict, Corwin, Fiona, and Bleys have more years. Benedict is similarly conservative in his politics as we see of Moire. Moire makes a point of not adding to Eric's woes when Corwin arrives in Rebma looking for aid. She tells Corwin that she will not allow the strife of Amber to be reflected in her realm. Moire, like Benedict, has no desire to upset the stability of Amber. The Rebman Queen shows compassion and a practical sense of the twined destiny of Amber and Rebma.

As for other canon elders in a 'modern Amber':

Corwin is often absent from Amber and shows signs of becoming involved in distant matters (in the last of Zelazny's works). Corwin also seems quite taken by Moire's presence; certainly he would not forget her help in his dark days.

Fiona and Bleys would be an effective counter to the arcane knowledge of Rebma, if only they were not the least likely people for Random to trust.

Even without Martin added to the active Rebman supporters, Llewella and Moire have between them an excellent grasp of how strong Rebma is.

Random, like Eric before, is in a weak position in trying to maintain Moire as an ally, and there is personal history between the two rulers. To Random's aid, there is Vialle to consider. Random might well act for Rebma's interests through his Queen if nothing else; doing so can only help his authority.

Moreover, does the Queen of Rebma have a knowledgeable hand in Vialle becoming Queen of Amber? Can we suggest she has some special knowledge of whom the Unicorn might choose for Amber's King? Scrying the future? Guessing the winds quarters? Prophecy? How strange. How very interesting. How very Rebman.

Formidable? Rebma has its own allies.

Rebma has its own traditions, its own noble classes, and it has its own allies in the Seaward Kingdoms or the Sapphire League. These are the Shadows under the Restless Sea that regularly do commerce with Rebma. In truth, the history of Rebma encompasses many of the Shadows that it keeps alliance with. Among the Shadows reflecting the magnificence of Rebma are Bal-Sagoth, Lemuria, Arb-Mu, Atlantis, Tonga, Oceania, the Ethereal City, Yonaguni, R'lyeh and Tantalis.

Rebma controls access to Amber by water the way that Arden controls access to Amber over land. Anyone without Pattern trying to sail into Amber either on the Golden Circle or by forcing shadow veils would have to contend with Rebma. It is no stretch of imagination to say that even without Amber's well-trained naval forces that Rebma has advantage on the Restless Sea.

All that we see of the Enigmatic City suggests a strong military force.

Rebma is a place that values Art and Knowledge. This is an appreciation that the folk of Amber seem more casual about up to and including the royal family. The libraries of Rebma include works that predate the founding of the city. The oral history traditions of the nomadic Athanor compliment the more modern accumulation of metal and resinous books.

The great merchant houses beneath the waves are celebrated if they can bring back knowledge from undersea trading partners.

The Theatre Musica holds performances of musicians, whales, and other sea-life. The Rotunda makes regular presentation of Rebman Opera. The esoteric knowledge of Arcane Craft reflects in the lighting and special environment of Rebma. It is a very magical place and its own people reflect this skill and disposition as Amber does not.

The Fine Arts are celebrated in Rebma as essential paths to opening the senses to wisdom, intuition and mystery. A person can find a credible degree of status by being an Artist who has been noticed by society. Generally, the more of the senses required to appreciate the Art, the more potent and respected the practitioner.

Each of the Arts is also considered to be a good introduction to magic.
Many minor magics found in Amber: the fluidic street lights, cold food storage, extremely fine wire, bead, and metalwork come from Rebma. Something in the Artistic mystical strengths of Rebma is portable to Amber. The Crafts and Arts of Rebma tend to be a bit strange: fires that burn underwater, mirrors that reflect more light than strikes their surface, or foods that cook themselves.

All these in quantities low enough to use the stairs of Faiella-Bionin to trade goods with Amber, some twenty miles away from the striped sand beaches of Garnath.


Misconceptions and some Game Quotes About Rebma

While Rebmans don't wear much, they are neat about appearances and delighted by fashion. Jewelry and/or fine metalwork make up most of their formal fashions. Elaborate drapes, coifs, and robes are made of tiny metal beads with mail-like precision. Sometimes the beads are shaped as polygons and such exacting work is very expensive. Inexpensive copies will be made with sphere bead linkage through two axis, like netting. High quality beadwork will have at least three axis and if the artisan can provide five axis and gossamer connections, then their Art is toasted by the Elite of the undersea city.

"Ah, rebman women! Manipulative? Yes, but... Green, tasty goodness."

—-Random, from "Grand Affair"

Green hair is the Rebman equivalent of blond. Black and brown and purple hair are also standard colors, but there are no native blonds, or redheads. True that blonds are rare in Amber, and by Rebman standards, Random was very exotic.

"I'd always thought, frankly, that Rebmans had the same skin tones as those in Begma. That is to say, without the blues, olives, and greens one often hears described. And I am not being mocking when I say I honestly believed this 'coloration' was a perception of environment. You know, people are generally underwater when they see Rebmans. The more scientific part of my mind considered they may in fact emerge from Rebma green or blue, but after a good bath to scrub away whatever water-born algae had caused the color, they would look quite normal, and I would not be able to tell one from my neighbor, Jack."

"This turns out to be quite false. Rebmans are indeed of blue, olive and green skin, in addition to tones we may be more used to, and very clean, also. While there are some I could not tell from Jack, there are some with vivid emerald hair. I still find Rebmans deeply mysterious though, and have no idea how they write underwater - although I have many theories about that as well."

—-F.Didias, from "Grand Affair"

There are various everyday situations that will inject words peculiar to life under the sea. Rebmans are used to explaining these terms to 'topsiders' and visitors to Rebma. If a visitor is very important, or socially adept, the Rebmans will even curb the usage and sprinkle conversation with a few words and expressions from above to make the guest feel at home.

A moment later she was out of her tanga and into the robe. A minute more in front of the mirror as she adjusted the squibpoints to cling to the curves of her body from navel to neck and she was out the door, twisting the shield low on the lantern as she closed up. Gliding quick-step as only a member of the court could, she made a squid-line for the Daycourt gallery.

—-Celina, from "House of Cards"

Thari is the original language of civilization. It is the oldest and most prevalent language found in shadow—though most shadow versions of Thari are broken and distorted. There are many shadows where Thari is not spoken at all.

In Rebma, Thari is similar to Amber Thari and therefore descendant from Chaos Thari. Rebma Thari also includes many interesting terms and concepts adopted from Shadows of the seas. Various odd shadow inventions, or phenomena that are only pertinent to Shadow are transplanted into Rebma's language. It must be noted that Rebman Thari includes concepts that apply to deep sea adaptation and culture, while distorting a few concepts that are used by "topsiders", case in point. Words between Amber and Rebma may mean similar things but carry different cultural associations.

There are also some distinct word games involved because of the Rebman love of poetry.

"Well, I've thrown backs, and backed thrones, yet never have I thrown back life, and you are a woman of bright life, too soon thrown down by jealous selfish hearts."

—-Passel, from "Grand Affair"

Rebma Thari is spoken with the same cadence and inflection as Amber Thari. On occasion, members of the Rebman Royal Family will drop into a more archaic and formal form of common Thari.

Seaward Kingdoms nobility usually speak Thari—having learned it from their youth in addition to their native language. The many shadows of the Seaward Kingdoms have native languages associated with their dominant cultures. Nobles of the Seaward Kingdoms learn Thari alongside their own languages. Most undersea shadows speak some sort of distorted version of the various languages of the Seaward Kingdoms.

Horses are Exotic Topside animals with finicky digestive tracts, unpleasant personal habits, and no real comfort level in water. Horses must be specially trained to even go to Rebma. Bouyant chariots pulled by marine mounts are more common for athletic or young people. The rich and powerful travel by sedan cars carried by servants. Or you can go on foot. Or swim, although you'd be aware that swimming above houses and between hills is the equivalent of going from back-yard to back-yard over the fences—not a way to win friends.

"The sailors had many things to say of the Kingdom of Rebma—but I think some were teasing... they said that all Rebman woman can speak with Dolphins."

—-Netikerty, from "Grand Affair"

Rebmans are good friends with Cetaceans and Delphina breeds of the sea. There is a long alliance between the three groups. Those of sufficient vocal talent study communication through translation device or mimicry of the sentient marine languages.

"You, Lady, hold the power of the tides. I fear I am caught in your current."

—-Merlin, from "Grand Affair"

"She is. Quite charming, in fact. She's also a skilled diplomat and a cunning warrior. She is not to be underestimated. She is as dangerous as anyone here and more so than many."

—-Florimel, from "Grand Affair"

One of the Arts of Rebma is the pleasure of the sensual physique. Eric, Corwin, and Random are all known to have tried to interest Rebman women in personal relationships to varying degrees of success. Rebmans are known to be quite flexible and adventurous when it comes to sexual knowledge. The Tantric techniques have various schools and philosophies. Some of the Tantric studies do open paths into the arcane arts.

The legends of the seas being dangerous and full of women who can tame any man are reflections of Rebma.


*the Athanor as portrayed in my campaign owe complete inspiration to Jane Lindskold and her stories about the odd immortal flukes of earth's history.


Filed under : Amber, IMC at 13.05.2004