All the shadows nearest to Amber, and a number further away, make up the trading alliance known as the Golden Circle the core of which is formed from those shadows linked to Amber by shadow paths down which non-Amberites can travel. Out in shadow these are a great many of these shadow paths, linking a vast number of shadows together in the Golden Circle and beyond until the paths fade away into unusability (the further one goes from Amber, the smaller and less stable the paths become). As one comes closer to Amber they converge into the twenty shadow paths which lead into Amber from out to sea and the twelve which lead to Amber via land routes through the forest of Arden. Each one of these thirty-two shadow paths is therefore the basis of a branching 'tree' of shadow paths which interconnect only at Amber - they do not cross-connect out in shadow.
The Golden Circle has expanded significantly since Random became King. Most of the shadows of the Golden Circle are inhabited by human or near-human beings, but not all:
"Then came a procession of truly bestial troops from a shadow with which Amber sometimes has commerce - heavy, scaled, taloned - playing upon instruments like bagpipes, whose skirling notes came to us with vibrance and pathos."
'The Courts of Chaos', Chapter 12
Some Golden Circle shadows trade in food, or magic, or technology; others trade in knowledge or expertise of many kinds. Not all Golden Circle shadows are inhabited. This is generally the case where the shadow is not on an important route, lacks anything of value that might bring people there, and is so inhospitable (e.g. a trackless desert) that all supplies would have to be brought in from elsewhere.
The more powerful trading shadows in the Golden Circle tend to be those situated at the points where the shadow paths leading to and from Amber branch, so that they are a junction point between Amber and two or more separate swathes of shadow out away from Amber. This is because they tend to become a trading centre, making money from taxing the cargoes going through them, as well as from providing docking and re-supply facilities for those who pass through. Shadow Diega from The Last Enemy is an example of this type of shadow.
The treaties between Amber and the Golden Circle states include a number of standard clauses, mostly involving military matters:
Most of them have embassies of Amber in their capitals, and embassies of their own in Amber.
No Golden Circle shadow has, or has laws of nature which allow, technology very much more advanced than that of Amber itself, or very strange/powerful magics. It does include some non-magical and actively anti-magical shadows. A few shadows in the further reaches of the shadow paths to Amber have primitive steam power and primitive gunpowder weapons. Essentially, no shadows near Amber allow military technology which cannot be handled by the militaries of Amber and the Golden Circle shadows. Only outside the Golden Circle, at least a weeks shadow shifting from Amber, do shadows with much higher technology and much more strange and powerful magics begin to be found.
A number of shadows, all the way to the limits of the shadow paths which run out from Amber, contain Amber Navy bases, where the ships of the Navy can be repaired and re-provisioned, and their crews rest between missions. Most of these bases are in otherwise uninhabited shadows, in defensible positions of various kinds. Some of them are large enough to be cities in their own right, and many of them contain shipyards where navy vessels are actually constructed using methods which do not function in Amber itself.
A smaller number of shadows contain parts of Ambers land forces (distinct from the Arden Rangers). These facilities tend to be smaller in size, and more temporary in nature, being moved around in response to the changing political climate of the Golden Circle shadows.
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.
Most of Amber's forces are such that they will function, and fight, anywhere in the Golden Circle. However, given their technological limitations, most could have problems further out in shadows. For this reason, there is a small Amber Navy expeditionary force made up of high-technology vessels (such as submarines and ironclads), kept in place in the further reaches of the Golden Circle in case of need under the command of Prince Caine.
It seems to be almost a law of nature that creatures, and sometimes entire armies, occasionally come out of shadow and attack Amber. During Patternfall the frequency of these incursions, and the distance from Amber where these creatures originated, both became greater, apparently due to the effects of Corwin's blood curse.
There seem to be as many shadows where the time flow rate is faster than that of Amber as there are shadows where time runs slower than Amber. It would seem that the average time flow rate measured across all of shadow is exactly the same as that of Amber itself.
Note that the type of magic and technology, and the way in which it works, varies dramatically between shadows. Although these variations may, to Amberites, seem to be fairly superficial differences, in most cases they reflect basic fundamental differences in the laws of nature which govern the nature and behaviour of matter and energy in each shadow.
It is possible to find individuals with very high (Amber ranked and above) statistics in shadow, but not races of such beings. Also, such beings will most likely have only a single statistic at a very high values, with all other statistics being much closer to the average for their home shadow (for example, a shadow mage might have a very high Psyche, but still only a Human or Chaos level in their other statistics). It is, perhaps, possible that the long-term control of a shadow might be able to produce a race of such superior beings, but even then there might be problems with their superiority being due to local shadow properties rather than something which works everywhere...
Note that the number of shadows there are rises very quickly the further one goes from Amber. There are less than forty shadows which adjoin directly onto Amber itself (that is, which only require moving through a single shadow veil to reach). However, two shadow veils away from Amber there are roughly four thousand shadows. Three shadow veils away there are four hundred thousand, and four shadow veils away there are forty million shadows, increasing in a similar manner the further one goes from Amber to the point where every shadow is adjacent to what is effectively an infinite number of other shadows. This means that defending Amber (or other places where there are Patterns, such as Corwin's Pattern) must be done very close to the Pattern itself, as otherwise the number of shadows which must be defended will soon become impracticably large.
Shadows from 'The Last Enemy' Shadows from 'Now These Her Princes Are Come Home Again' Other Shadows
Some Thoughts On Shadow Paths
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