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“Staring downward through the smoke, I caught my first glimpse of the sea. Beneath the deep blue, almost night-time sky, with that golden sun hanging up there in it, the sea was so rich – thick as paint, textured like a piece of cloth, of royal blue, almost purple – that it troubled me to look upon it.”
‘Nine Princes in Amber’, Chapter IV
Amber has seasons; its climate is that of a temperate latitude, with no real extremes (even if they were King Malcolm could use the Jewel to moderate them). Summers are warm, but not too warm; winters are cold, with some snow, but again no real extremes. The Amber year is 360 days long, divided into twelve months of thirty days each.
Amber is a low magic environment; nothing above the level of Power Words works there (spells cast with Sorcery work, but are reduced in power to the level of power words). However, as far as it goes all types of shadow magic work there, even ones which would seem to be mutually exclusive. It is also somewhat harder to use Trumps in Amber than it is in shadow; this difficulty increases the closer one goes to the Pattern, to impossibility (for place Trumps) and great difficulty (for Trumps of people) in the Pattern room itself.
Technology is also limited in Amber. No electricity works there other than that produced by natural storms. Steam power also does not work. Nor do things like balloons of any kind, though hang-gliders do. Springs, water wheels and simple machines do, up to the level of clocks, as do lenses. Disease also seems to be inhibited in Amber, and it is very rare for anyone to get a disease much more serious than a cold. Drugs are also limited, with unprocessed things usually working quite well, and processed not at all. This means that opium or willow-bark tea will work, but morphine or aspirin will not.
The non-Royal inhabitants of Amber are superior to the average shadowite, though inferior to the Royal family. Those whose families have lived in the city for a very long time are long-lived (well over a thousand years on average) but not unageing; families which have lived in Amber for lesser periods of time tend to have shorter lifespans. Like the Royal family, the other inhabitants of Amber have a lower rate of fertility than the average shadowite.
Mount Kolvir is the last, and tallest, of a range of mountains which run at roughly right angles to the coast. About halfway up it, on a large plateau, miles in extent, lies Amber City. The coastline runs roughly in a straight north-south line, with the sea to the east of Amber, so the city always faces the sunrise. There are several approaches to the city up Kolvir. The main one is the Grand Stair, a hundred foot wide marble stair leading from the harbour to the Great Arch, the main entrance to the city.
The city has been there for many, many millennia.
The coastline has many beaches, good for surfing, and some areas which are backed by cliffs of varying height, and others which back onto dunes. Beyond these are, to the south, the seaward edges of Arden and the broken staircase to Rebma; to the north are the farms and estates which partially support Amber.
“Amber was the greatest city which had ever existed or ever would exist. Amber had always been and always would be, and every other city, everywhere, every other city which existed was but a reflection of a shadow of some phase of Amber … often at night my dreams were troubled by images of thy green and golden spires and thy sweeping terraces. I remember thy wide promenades and the decks of flowers, golden and red. I recall the sweetness of thy airs, and the temples, palaces and pleasances thou containest … Amber, immortal city from which every other city has taken its shape.”
‘Nine Princes in Amber’, Chapter V
When King Malcolm came to power, Amber city had a population of more than a million people; in the years since then the city has grown in size so that now it holds more than two and a half million, and it is expected to top the three million mark some time in the next fifty years. These new people are housed in areas of the city built around the base of Kolvir to the north, under the plateau on which the old city stands.
The heart of the city is the huge harbour, divided between civilian and Naval sections. The plateau curves around the harbour, and from the points of which are built the harbour walls. All of the harbour is enclosed by these massive defensive walls, built of pale gold stone. There are only three entrances, the most heavily defended parts of the harbour wall. The central one is straddled by the Colossus, a gigantic statue of Oberon in some golden metal, gazing out to sea with a beacon in his raised right hand. The other two entrances are merely topped with huge metal arches. All the entrances can be closed by massive chains if necessary, and have lights for navigation. The western one is reserved for military use. The harbour is essentially perfect for shipping, and is always bustling with vessels of all kinds.
Around the harbour roughly at sea level are the warehouses and shipyards which make up the harbour facilities. This area also includes the customs houses, and a garrison of troops which patrol and defend the harbour, and in the military harbour, the Amber Naval Academy where all sailors are given at least some training before being sent to sea. The main land entrances to Amber also come in through here, along wide roads cut into the base of the plateau itself.
There are two routes up to the plateau itself. The first is the Great Stair, Ambers equivalent of broken Faiella-Bionin in Rebma, over one hundred feet wide, one end of the Royal Way, which zigzags up from the harbour to the Great Arch, the eastern entrance to the city. The Arch is large, shines like gold, and is carved with scenes of people and animals, including the Unicorn. This stair is always busy, even through the night, lit by globes of perpetual fire atop the pillars which are set every fifteen steps along its seaward edge. The other is the Eastern Stair, a small (one or two men wide), little-used stair which zigzags up the face of Kolvir, joining the Great Stair a hundred yards or so from the Great Arch.
It is also possible to reach Amber by climbing over Kolvir and coming down from above. This is a harder route, but also quite heavily travelled. The Western Stair, a relatively large set of stairs, comes up and over the shoulder of Kolvir and down to the smaller Western Gate of the city.
The old city spreads for several miles in all directions, covering the entire plateau, apart from up Kolvir, where it stops at the Castle. There are no walls around the plateau – its face is considered defence enough; however, there are occasional watch towers which look out and down, built of the same pale gold stone as the harbour walls. These are still fully functional. However, they are somewhat prettified with plants trained up them. The only defensive barriers are the gates themselves.
Closest to the Castle are the townhouses of Ambers noble families (many with spires and towers, and many tiled in green and gold, some in solid colour, others in swirling patterns), and the Cathedral of the Unicorn, the largest of the many churches and shrines of the Unicorn scattered through the city and beyond. This is built of the same pale gold stone as the city walls and the castle, and looks something like a huge version of Kings College Chapel at Cambridge University (in the UK). This area also holds the embassies of Rebma and the shadows of the Golden Circle. The buildings of this area lie on broad, clean streets lined with trees of many kinds. Note that depending upon one’s take on Amber and the Golden Circle, the ambassadorial quarter of Amber could be very large. If there are one thousand shadows in the Golden Circle and ten staff per embassy, then that is ten thousand diplomats in Amber at any one time. And of course some embassies will be bigger than that (in particular, the Rebman embassy is the largest and oldest but not very well represented any longer). This implies that Amber could be a hotbed of Golden Circle intrigue…
Just below the houses of the nobles are the assorted Banks of Amber, run by several of the Amber noble merchant houses. They are backed by the Bank of Amber, based in the castle.
Further away, the social class of the inhabitants decreases with altitude through the little winding side streets, the many markets, shopping areas (with some shops by Royal Appointment) and assorted districts of the older parts of the city until the centre of the plateau is reached. In most places the lower social class areas extend from here to the edge of the plateau but in some places the upper and middle class areas extend all the way to the edge, because of the views to be had from there. The main streets, however, run directly from the castle down to the city gates, and are the main arteries of the city. The largest of these is the Royal Way, running from the main gate of the castle to the gates of the Military Harbour via the Great Stair, within the city this is wide and lined with greensward and trees on both sides.
Under all the churches and shrines of the Unicorn spread throughout the city lie the vast catacombs in which the many dead of Amber are interred. Depending on the area of the city, these catacombs can vary from crude niches in the rock of the plateau to finely carved vaulted rooms and tunnels. These catacombs are vast, going down and down, with the oldest dead near the surface, and the newest in the deepest areas. In some areas the catacombs from two or more shrines link into a single network of tunnels.
Most streets are sign-posted.
Many marketplaces and main streets have poster boards and the like on which news, advertisements, information and the like are pinned.
The architectural styles of the buildings in the city vary widely, from classical Greco-Roman, to Tudor-style half-timbered buildings, to Gothic-style. Basically anything up to early 19th century Earth can be found somewhere in the city.
Essentially there is no kind of ship, food, restaurant or entertainment establishment (showing things from all of shadow) which cannot be found somewhere in Amber City. Similarly the people, though mainly European-Caucasian types, include examples of every conceivable, and a few inconceivable varieties, not all of them strictly human in appearance. For this reason most of the citizens of Amber tend to be fairly cosmopolitan and non-racist.
It is rumoured that Queen Kaia acts as anonymous patron to many musicians in the city. Whether this is true or not, there are certainly more musicians in Amber than there were during the reigns of Kings Oberon or Eric.
The new city spreads out from the base of the plateau to the north of Kolvir, and is, currently, un-walled. There occasional protests that so many people are left unguarded, but King Malcolm is of the opinion that it is pointless to build new walls until the city has stopped growing.
It is a mix of quickly put up slums and higher-quality buildings, including a few low-rise apartment buildings (up to about six stories tall). Slums are often being knocked down to make way for new, higher quality buildings, which sometimes causes protests and riots among those displaced.
The military of Amber is divided between the Navy, the Army and the Arden Rangers. The Amber Navy is huge. However, only a small percentage of it is in Amber at any given time, the rest being spread throughout the shadows of the Golden Circle and beyond. The fighting ships of the Amber Navy are mostly large metal-hulled clipper-like vessels, armed with rams, catapults and ballistae, though there are wooden-hulled ships used too, for certain duties. The sails of all ships of the Amber Navy are emblazoned with the flag of Amber – a white unicorn on a green ground.
The Amber standing army, apart from the Arden Rangers, is quite small. It consists mainly of a core command and training structure (with which Lords Chantris and Feldane are involved), the Amber Castle Guard, and a number of specialised units (for example, cavalry, mountain troops and the marines who operate on or from the ships of the Navy) onto which shadow forces are ‘built’ as required for a given task. Within Amber City itself, law enforcement and the like is carried out by the City Watch, a separate organisation which performs a far less military role.
Because of the way in which the army of Amber depends on shadow forces to make up its numbers, people from the Amber military are often rotated out into shadow to train and increase the compatibility between the militaries of Amber and shadow. Likewise, military commanders from shadow are often rotated into Amber to train and learn at the Army Academy in the Castle or the Naval Academy at the military harbour.
All parts of the city have parks (in various states of upkeep), squares and plazas, many with statues (of Oberon, King Random and assorted heroes and nobles of Amber; some of which are very old and weathered) and/or flower-beds. Those parks which lie on the edge of the plateau have railings and viewing promenades on the very edge, affording wonderful views out over the sea. In the parks games resembling many of those known on Earth are played. There are a number of intra-city competitions, and teams from the Rangers, and Army, the Navy, the Castle Guard, the City Watch, the merchant houses and the like all take part.
There are a number of hospitals scattered throughout the city; their quality varies considerably. The Naval Hospital and the Castle Infirmary are considered the best of them. Likewise, schools are scattered throughout the city, again of variable quality.
The city has some public museums, and many more private collections in the hands of various noble houses. The public museums include the Amber Museum of Arts and Antiquities, the Merchants Museum (commemorating the various merchant houses of the city, and the many goods and curiosities brought into the city by them), the Sailors Museum (commemorating the deeds of Ambers Navy and Merchant Marine), and the War Museum (commemorating the many wars and enemies with whom Amber has been involved down the centuries).
In order to assist those who can’t help themselves, there are Workhouses scattered throughout the city (mainly in the poorer areas) which house and give work to those who have fallen on hard times. These are all administered by the city government. The workhouses are one of the innovations of King Random continued by King Malcolm, replacing the previous system of indentured servitude (essentially slavery) which existed in Amber.
A number of newspapers are published in Amber City. None of them are particularly extreme in any way; papers that become so have a tendency to be shut down. Current newspapers include:
The Daily News.
Although generally for the upper classes, some of the newspapers pin up the current issue on notice-boards outside their offices for general public consumption.
There is an Amber Postal Service; though not particularly efficient, this does carry messages throughout the Golden Circle, for a price.
The city is run by a Mayor, usually appointed by the King from one of the Amber noble families, and who works from his offices in Castle Amber.
Out from the city, far inland to the north, away from Arden, stretch the farmlands which partly support the population of Amber City. Mostly these are the estates of the noble houses of Amber, but there are free farms and estates out there too. Amber is not self-sufficient in food, and despite King Malcolm’s best efforts to expand Ambers farmlands Amber still depends on food shipments from the Golden Circle and beyond.
Likewise, Amber imports a large percentage of its manufactured goods, although this percentage, too, is falling.
Twenty shadow paths lead into Amber from out to sea, while another twelve lead to Amber via land routes through the forest of Arden. These shadow paths branch out as they go away from Amber, to link a vast number of shadows together in the Golden Circle and beyond.
Amber has assorted public holidays; these include the Unicorn’s Day (a religious holiday commemorating the drawing of the Pattern), Remembrance Day (remembering the War, and those who lost their lives in it; these celebrations last several days), Oberons Birthday (which also marks the end of the year), the King’s Birthday, and the Merchants Carnival (showing off the merchant houses, and all the produce of shadow).