A Bane By The Spear's Blade

I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living...
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his godly ones.
Psalm 116:9, 15

Abigail got her wish. Between Earth and Sky, being sorely neglected for some time between editing Adamantine and other idle scribbles, has succeeded in jogging my elbow and getting in a word or two recently. Like a caterpillar it has been hard at work eating vast quantities of dubious plot ideas and, hopefully, having spent some time in its chrysalis state, it will begin to emerge with some semblance of What It Ought To Be.

But don't count on that.

Here, for those of you who care to peep, is a little bit of what I have been working on. Enjoy!

excerptitude of scribblish

Wing got up and stalked away, his flame-coloured mantle askew in the wind and the beaded ends of his braids flashing with the blowing light. Rede watched him go, a splendid, set-apart figure, then turned back to the burnishing of the spear that was in his hands.

It was a fine spear-head, heavy but thin, shaped like a shooting star with its fanning tail scrolled and etched in beautiful eddying patterns. The white light played wildly along the edges of the thing, and the sky, up-turned and watered blue, plunged into the blade-sides of it until it seemed he was polishing the empty blue and the clouds themselves.

“It is like the sky, and yet another sky.”

He looked up to see Red Branch watching him idly over the methodical movement of her needle, the fierce eyes gone soft under the long mare’s lashes. It was his hands that she watched, and it was all that he could do not to check them self-consciously, and to keep going. “Yes, my lady. I was thinking that too.”

She gave a half-moon smile and attended to her own work. “Sometimes I well believe, when I see my lord the Skylord at his burnishing, that it is another sky like ours, but where the blues are bluer, and the white clouds are whiter, and the gods walk there in country places far sweeter than our own. Yes.” She paused, lifting her head and gazing narrowly into the edge of the wind. It lifted the heaviness of her ginger hair and blew it softly round her face, and more than ever Rede thought with a pang of longing of his own mother.

“Yes,” she said, “it is the gods’ country, and the window into it.” She looked fondly on the spear’s head. “Fitting, I should think, that the window to the gods’ country should be the instrument of death.”

As the sea breaks on the rocky cliffs, the wind broke on the citadel of Ins, breaking and rushing upward in an angry roar, whipping up the grasses and the berry-beaded plants of the garden. Instinctively Rede braced against it, turning his head as Red Branch turned her head, away from the wind into the hollow of it where all things caught in a gale go to hide. If it had not been for the wind, he thought, and the horse-wise swinging into the hollow of it, he wondered if he would have considered her words seriously. The wind passed, the quiet settled again, but though the Dragon Lady took up her sewing again as if nothing had happened, he found himself staring into the up-turned sky in his hands, and wondering. It was quiet and blue and still in that reflection between blade and flat, the iron borderland between the living and the dead, as the back of the wind was quiet and blue and still—and perhaps it was mere marshlight fancy, but he thought it seemed familiar.

A strangely uneasy shudder ran through him that was very cold, and he hastily set to work furnishing the spear with its collar of heron’s feathers. It was ticklish work, threading the tiny beads onto the tiny cat-gut string, and threading the cat-gut through the miniscule slits of the feathers’ quills while the feathers jigged in the slightest wind; but as the thing came together it began to look beautiful under his hand, and the uneasiness wore away, replaced by a sense of satisfaction at a job being well done. Wing would be pleased, and that would please Rede.

They were both very quiet, and very intent on their work, so Rede was startled when Red Branch suddenly put aside her sewing and leaned down to take the spear from his hands just as he tied off the last knot of the thread. He gathered himself up, poised on the balls of his feet, watching her face as she swung the thing into the light and gazed at it, watching the leeward blow of the feathers. The half-moon smile was still there, but the softness had gone out of her eyes. The lashes shaded the eyes from the sun, but far down in their depths an amber light, like the amber light that played in her earrings, flickered like a cat’s tail.

“She is very beautiful, Rede,” she said finally, lowering it back into Rede’s waiting hand. “You have put the magic of yourself into her. She will answer to you now.”

Rede frowned. “She—it—the spear is Wing’s, my lady.”

“Oh.” Her arched look belied her surprised tone. “But it was you who polished the sky into her, and gave her the heron’s feather for swiftness and surety of flight.”

“Any man can trim a spear.”

“True. But not any man can trim it with the sky and the bird of the sky as you have done. It is more than an oiled rag and a handful of blue-grey feathers that you have put to the thing. You have,” she added, taking up her sewing into her lap again, “the way of it.” And then, with a more cunning glance, she added, “I think you know the sky and the sky’s bird more than you let on.”

Perplexed, Rede flashed his most disarming smile. “Do I have wings, my lady? I am as human as you, or Wing, or that man down there in the marsh.” He gestured with the spear at a solitary figure, far down among the purple and blue shadows of the flats, trekking along with a bundle of net over one shoulder. It was a strangely pathetic, human image: a man toiling about earning his daily bread. Rede could think of nothing more earthly than that.

“So, and yes,” said Red Branch patiently. “And you are serpent-cunning, but even a serpent cannot deny he has flown in heaven.”

This was rather more than Rede liked to deal with, and he frowned again, drawing back within himself, making as if to tend to the knots in his thread. To his surprise, Red Branch murmured, “I have upset you,” and she seemed genuinely distraught.

“No, my lady,” he said quickly. “That is—no, my lady.” And they fell into an awkward quiet. An angry wrestling began in Rede. He hated that he had denied Red Branch an answer, but of all people she was the least easy to speak with. Conory, Seamrog, even Wing, could take truth’s blow with equanimity. But his human ache struggled with his compassion, and almost he denied her an answer for the sake of keeping her comfortable; but he knew that, loath as he might disrupting the serenity of a lady, he loathed still more his cowardliness. So, with an odd little gasp, as if he had been stung, he said, “No, my lady, you are right—in a way. The sky is not unknown to me.”

Her eyes quickened with a strange excitement. “So… So! But you are not of my lord the Skylord’s house. You come from east over sea, from the Eagles’ country. Is it that the Eagles teach you how to fly in heaven?”

He quirked a smile and tried to hide it. “No, my lady. The eagle-people, they have had their wings clipped and they do not fly in the east over sea anymore. Here.” He held out the spear between them so that she could see the sky’s reflection in it. “It is this way. Suppose the reflection of the sky, as we call it, really were a world, the country of a god, where blues are bluer and the white clouds are whiter than they are here. Must that not be upward, and this sky—” he gestured overhead “—be downward? Perhaps it is we, and not the mirror of the spearhead, that are upside-down.”

She followed his words and his movements with a gravity of countenance, neither childlike as one might absorb any curious thing, nor sceptical as Wing might have been. She listened, and she weighed, and the eyes she turned on him at last were full of a serious fear.

“I suspected,” she said in a low, husky tone, “but I did not realize the depth of my suspicion. It is not mere heaven that you have flown in, Rede Wingsman—is it that heaven.” She touched with trembling lightness the blade of the spear. “It is the gods’ heaven you have been in. Little wonder…” And her voice trailed away. She stared at him fixedly for a long time while the cool wind played with the tendrils of her hair, teasing them in auburn curls across her cheeks. As caught in stone as she, Rede bore up under that searching, motionless gaze, feeling the desperation of her search as she struggled to peer into him. And as one thinking aloud, she said presently, “But you are firm, firm as earth. In all my years I have not known a soul as set as yours. You have come out west over sea from your land into a land you do not know and you are as though all earth were home to you, and a firmness for your feet. You know both the gods’ heaven and the footstool of their feet that is my earth.” The lashes splayed wide about the eyes, letting a wild, unchancy light into their depths. Rede knew them to be almost frightening, and yet the fear did not touch him. “You are like the heron, who fishes and who flies, and hangs between earth and sky. You walk among us as one who has passed through the valleys and sky-temples of the gods.” Of a sudden she jerked forward, earrings swinging with the violence of her movement, and almost clasped him by the arm. “Tell me!—are you dead?”

A giddy laughter shook loose inside Rede and very nearly escaped before he recovered himself. “Oh, my lady,” he said, and he had to crush his eyes shut a moment to quell the heady shining that was beginning to obscure the edges of his vision. “Oh, my lady, where do I begin? You have asked me the questions of everything, and I am afraid you have asked too much for me to tell in a single sitting.”

“But tell,” said she, drawing back into her seat, grave as one who is about to die herself. He saw that his hesitance confirmed for her the suspicion that he was dead, or at least had died—for was the blade and the death of the blade not the window to that other country, after all? And if he knew the upturned sky, he must know the blade that took one there. So she was grave, and quiet, and perhaps a little fearful, and his heart went out to her.

He settled back and folded his arms close across his chest, searching a moment for his words. “I will tell you, but you must listen to me as you were listening to words that are more alive than other words are alive, even as that sky in the spear’s blade is bluer than this sky above is blue. These are upside-down things, things out of God’s country, and they will not look quite as things from this country do, though they are similar.”

She passed her hand in a silent, inexplicable gesture through the air, and was still again.

His courage wavered, he gathered himself, and began. “It is true, I have passed through what you call earth, and through what you call sky. And I pass through them still. Here,” he waved his own hand, “it is a hard thing. It was not always through the spear’s blade that a man reached God’s country. There was a time when there needed to be no mirror-window, when country and country overlaid each other as the thin stuff of your mantle overlays the thicker. But man thought, ‘I will tear off the thick stuff, and I will keep just the thin, for God does not need anything, does he? He will not deny me the finer country, where the blues are bluer and the white clouds whiter than they are here.’ So he tried it, and he tore it. He did no damage to the thin stuff, for the things of God’s spirit are not damaged by any hand. But well he tore the thicker stuff, and lost the thin altogether, and so he won for himself a bane by the spear’s blade, for having undone what God had made so beautiful.”

“It is a large and unwieldy needle, the spear,” said Red Branch quietly, “with which to stitch up thin and thick together again.”

Rede gave back the other half of her moon-smile. “The little dark thinking folk from east of the Eagles’ eyries tell stories of men lost in Hell condemned to do tasks that they can never finish. There is a truth in that, if you care to look for a truth in that place. Man tore the cloth, and man had to stitch it up again, but man’s hands had learned to do the killing thing and could not learn to heal. It was impossible. So the spear-angel came for man, and many a man went away into the dark void between the thin and the thick where there is nothing but anger and regret and leanness of spirit, and no God’s-light nor hope of light.”

She inclined her gaze to the spear again. “And the window?” she asked. “The glimpse of heaven’s country? If you have been there, surely the glimpse does not mock—unless you are a god yourself.”

“It mocks and does not mock.” He held up the spear and let the blades of it catch the light. “By one side the spear-angel takes away hope forever, and by one side the spear-angel gives it. Divinity—that is a story for another day. But it was only divinity that could stitch up this ravelling cloth, though it was man whose task it was to do it. A high light is mercy, and a high deed to be merciful; so God, whose cloth all this is, took on himself the nature of man, and took on himself the bane of the spear’s blade: so that the two cloths might be stitched up in his body by his own hand, so that man’s task might be done, so that God might be honoured, and so that the thin and the thick might once more be put to right.”

He fell quiet, his throat gone suddenly thick itself, and the feeling in his brain alarmingly thin; it was Red Branch’s voice that brought him back. “It mocks and does not mock… How is it, if the thin and the thick have been stitched together again, that one blade is still the hopeless blade?”

“Because he divides—God divides—by mercy and by justice, and is honoured in both. It honours God—is that not answer enough?”

“It is answer enough.”

She looked away from him, and looked far away, he judged, by the way the darkness played idly in her eyes and under her brows, far into the north and the wind and the things which he had said. The ache came again, jangling like a physical wound, and he did not know why but that it was a desperate sort of ache.

“So,” she said, and did not look round as she said it. “Your thread has gone down into the thickness of earth, and into the thinness of heaven, and you have been stitched up with the spear-needle into the rightness of things. You have tasted death and seen the face of a god—which is death—and you are not dead.” A shudder ran through her, and she said, “What have we done…!”

Rede dropped his eyes. The light played with the wind in gold and amber, silver and blue, and they tasted like sadness to him. The ache had become a strange desolation, so it was like a blow when Red Branch said, softly, “I think that my son Wing must need you now.” And he could not argue, but he had to pick up his finished spear and go, leaving the Dragon Lady behind—the wind in his ears, the hardness of the spear-shaft in his hand, and a cold pit in his stomach.

Sometimes I Wish

sometimes the night was beautiful
sometimes the sky was so far away
sometimes it seemed to stoop so close
you could touch it but your heart would break
sometimes the morning came too soon
sometimes the day could be so hot
there was so much work left to do
but so much you'd already done

Sometimes I wish I was better at drawing.
But then I remember that I wouldn't do drawing justice if I tried to pick it up seriously.

Sometimes I wish I was a better writer.
But then I remember that it would be dull to not be able to read authors better than myself.

Sometimes I wish I was a better cook.
But then I remember that my husband loves my cooking.

Sometimes I wish I had a garden.
But then I remember that I have a black thumb.

Sometimes I wish I had flaming auburn hair.
But then I remember that it would cramp my wardrobe, and I have ginger traits anyway.

Sometimes I wish I was pretty.
But then I remember that my husband thinks I am, and that's enough for me.

Sometimes I wish my faith was deeper.
But then I remember how long it takes a mustard seed to grow into a tree.

Sometimes I wish I could visit Britain.
But then I remember that I love sunshine.

Sometimes I wish I had a stronger spirit.
But then I remember that God is working in me with a spirit that is even stronger than what I could hope for.

Sometimes I wish I was a better wife, daughter, sister, aunt.
But then I remember that my family loves me.

Sometimes I wish I had never existed, so I would never let my family down.
But then I remember that I would rather let them down once in a while, than to have never known them at all.

Sometimes I wish I didn't feel so alone at times.
But then I remember how alone Christ was for me.

Sometimes I wish I was more articulate.
But then I remember that I communicate through writing.

Sometimes I wish I could keep my big mouth shut.
But then I remember that I'm not very articulate anyway.

Sometimes I wish I was more knowledgeable.
But then I remember knowledge is nothing without wisdom.

Sometimes I wish I had more wisdom.
But then I remember wisdom comes from God.

Sometimes I wish I had lots of shoes.
But then I remember I have only two feet.

Sometimes I wish I wasn't discontented.
But then I remember that I'm defeating my purpose.

Sometimes I wish I had beautiful handwriting.
But then I remember that my writing is legible.

Sometimes I wish I was a faster reader.
But then I remember that no one is clocking me.

Sometimes I wish I didn't frustrate my sister so much.
But then I remember that she cares about me.

Sometimes I wish I was perfect.
But then I remember that I am hidden in Christ.

sometimes I wish...but then I remember

sometimes I think of Abraham
how one star he saw had been lit for me
he was a stranger in this land
and I am that, no less than he
and on this road to righteousness
sometimes the climb can be so steep
I may falter in my steps
but never beyond your reach

"What A Deal Of Starch!"

"There is but one cloak, and the moth in the hood of that one; but take this rug from the bed; it is thick and warm, and will serve well enough with your brooch to hold it."
The Silver Branch, Rosemary Sutcliff

I am sitting here listening to the cheerful strains of Aston's instrumental cover of Viva La Vida, breathing nail polish fumes, and dwelling on one of the world's most important features, a feature that defines region from region, people from people, personality from personality.

The Yankees and the Red Sox.

No, I am thinking, Mr. Cratchit, about clothing. I am very fond of putting together outfits from my wardrobe, but I don't consider myself very good at it. My imagination seems somehow cramped when I make an attempt. Still more does my imagination cramp when I approach my characters with the desire to outfit them. We are, of course, assuming that you all write stories that do not take place in those communities that do not have strict regulations on the wearing of clothes; we are, of course, assuming that our characters wear clothes. We assume this, but we don't just leave it at an assumption. We try to make something of it.

I have seen a good number of Polyvore collages on several blogs, chiefly as regards Beautiful People posts. This belies the understanding that clothing is more than just protection against the cold, more than just a mark of civilization. Clothing tells something about the person. The remark "Everything you put on your body tells the world how you expect to be treated" is true. If you spot a Strider in a dark and smoky corner, uh oh, he looks like trouble that was dragged by the stirrup through bog-country and got up with a temper. Maybe it isn't true beneath the surface, but what other impression is one supposed to take away from a dark, mud-bespattered, stubble-chin'd man in a dark corner? Clothing is important.

If you are writing in a current time, clothing is fairly easy. We all know more or less from experience what is in fashion these days. (I say "more or less;" fashion changes like New England weather.) If your setting is historical, have fun! You have studying to do. If your setting is of a fantastical nature, an other-world sort of story, then you have perhaps the hardest task of all: starting from scratch. I have wrestled with the beast of originality over fantastical stories myself, and in the end I come away feeling like hurling bolts of fabric at my characters and calling it a day. It is most horrendously not easy.

I am going to fixate for the moment on the problem of making up fashion. You all are on your own dealing with current fashion and historical fashion. You don't need any help with that. But yanking ideas out of the ether is hard. It's hard for me. So keep in mind a handful of things.

geospatial region

Where are your people on the map? Are they in a warm oceanic environment? Are they in northern climes where winter is rather more dire than otherwise? Are they on a chilly coast? Are they deep inland? These considerations will impact the overall design of your people's fashion. Clothing, besides being a means of modesty, is a way of tackling head-on the effects of the weather, and the weather and your clothing must be continually in a war of dualistic balance with each other.

urban or rural

Particularly in agricultural-based societies, the difference between those who work with the land and those who benefit from the merchandise of the land is vast. Not only that, there is a pervading snootiness which colours the attire of either sect: a city-boy is proud of his polished shoes and tailored suit; a farmer is proud of his rawhide gloves and reinforced cover-alls - and never the twain shall meet.

occupation

This is not quite so true nowadays, but again I'm still working with the idea of a fantastical, non-industrial culture. Any given occupation will often have its own "style." It can be as simple as a blacksmith's attire not including chiffon, or as subtle as the width of a Roman tunic's stripe to differentiate between classes. A person's occupation will heavily impact his or her wardrobe.

This is why time-travellers have memberships with Kohl's.

age

This, too, is perhaps something we are not so conscious of today. The age of the individual will also impact the person's attire. A girl might not wear long skirts until her "coming out;" a boy, likewise, might wear shorts, or only a tunic and not breeches, until a certain age.

There are lots of other things to think about: evening dress, travel dress, mourning dress, seasonal dress. There is vast scope for the imagination, once you can kick the old gal into gear. But keep in mind, once you have spent all this time dawdling about daydreaming of interesting clothing that you can never have, that clothing is, and always has been, not cheap. Unless your character is gifted with a particularly prestigious position in society, he or she can't slough off clothing on mere whim and expect to have an endless supply of outfits to draw from. Your girl needs to ride a horse: too bad, she doesn't have a riding dress, and you don't have money to buy one, or time to tailor one. You will just have to make do. It's raining: blast, your character doesn't have a slicker so he's just going to have to get soaked and let's hope he doesn't catch pneumonia and die because that would really bomb the story. Even if a chain of events has left your character's clothing threadbare and people are offering him handouts thinking he is a homeless beggar (maybe he is, I don't know), you can't waltz into a clothing store and yoink a perfect outfit off the rack without expecting to pay through the nose for it. (You might be better off playing on people's charity and begging for clothing rather than food, but that's your character's call.)

I have one last warning to deliver, after all this enjoyable brain-storming. It is very easy to fall into the trap of focusing too much on clothing. Among several other faults, the novel The Shadow of Albion can be accused of this. The clothing - of men and women alike - was described in minute detail. Now, the knowledge of the author is commendable; she (or, rather, they) knew the material (no pun intended, but you can laugh anyway). Unfortunately, the detail to which the book descended regarding the clothing was almost inexcusable. I was almost tempted to scan, and I never scan when I read. But, on the other hand, the novel The Worm Ouroboros can go into detail as well - very deep detail. Yet the latter does not suffer from the same drudgery and gagging minutia as the former: if anything, it is exhilarating. What makes the difference?

The difference is that, in The Worm Ouroboros, the clothing is an extension of the wearer. The clothing tells you something. This is why many of you writers n' scribblers subscribe to Polyvore. Clothing is not mere material, clothing is part of the person's voice. When you read the description of Gorice XII's court apparel, you don't think, "Oh, for the love of heaven, get on with it!" you think, "Here is a splendid and uncanny creature, and I almost admire him, for all that he is wicked." In The Shadow of Albion, the detailed description of clothing is almost a means of showing off, and a sensitive reader might find it embarrassing. (I'm a girl, and I found it embarrassing - imagine how unbearable it must be for a man to read all that frilly detail!)

Eh, it seems like a lot of work, but I'm a visual sort of person, and I like to read and write very vivid scenery - this includes the character's outfit. Not only does this help round out the scene, it makes me more comfortable when I go to "look at" the character - I feel as though he is there in flesh and blood (and clothing) and not a mere ghost floating through the pages. If you like the vivid too, a bit of brain-storming about clothing will probably not go amiss. Remember that clothing is a detail, not the main thrust, of your story. It is an important detail, and I think the writer ought to spend at least a little time dealing with it, but while you deal with it never let it overwhelm the text.

After some consideration, he remembered that he had seen his wife in a rather wide Liberty tie, whose prevailing colour was orange. That, he felt, would do if he could find it. On her it had looked rather well; on him, it would be completely abominable.
The Haunted Policeman, Dorothy Sayers

Beautiful People - Rede Tuanic

“Something completely frivolous.”

The askance, with his usual deftness, had deposed the question, killed it, and instituted a statement in its place. I found this to be a promising sign, for if he were truly set against the idea he would have thrust the question back in my face without hesitation.

“Yes,” I repeated with feeling. “Something completely frivolous. Do you think you can handle that?”

He dragged his fingers through his hair with a rough sigh and threw a bookmark in Henry Scougal. “What,” said he, training his flyaway eyebrows on me, “do you propose as completely frivolous?"

That's right, it's time for Beautiful People again. As usual, the original Beautiful People posts are hosted on the blogs of Georgie and Sky. Check them out for Beautiful People backlogs. (That sounds vaguely lumberjackian.) Anyway, I almost didn't do this month's round because I almost couldn't find a character to do it with me. It turns out, I was practically sitting on him and that's why I didn't see him at first. Extremely sorry, very apologetic, won't happen again. Well, now, for the first time in Beautiful People history, a character from my work-in-progress Between Earth and Sky is going to take the limelight.

Rede Tuanic

1. What is his full name?

Rede Tuanic.

2. Does his name have a special meaning?

He came born with “Rede,” but his friends in Arregaithel gave him the name “Tuanic,” which means “of the stag” after a particularly successful elk hunt.

3. What is his biggest accomplishment?

Humanly speaking, his biggest accomplishment would probably be holding down his friendship with Wing the Skyprince. Proud and slippery as a kingfisher, Wing is a hard man to know and even harder to get along with.

4. What are his strongest childhood memories?

Rede doesn’t have many memories than stand out vividly to him. Looking back on it, his childhood seems like one long romp with his friend Allar. The summers seemed longer in those days, as childhood summers will. Everything melts together in his memory.

5. What is his favourite food?

Beef cooked over a campfire. The outdoorsiness gives it a very rich, satisfying flavour. His least favourite is salted fish, even if Uncle swears by it.

6. Does he believe in love at first sight?

If he were in a rational frame of mind at the time, he would say yes.

7. What kind of home does he live in?

Rede grew up in an old Roman house converted to the British style, but since removing to Arregaithel he lives in the royal dun of the Skylord along with Wing. The dun includes several buildings given over to the royal family, their living quarters as well as the main hall, the former being more private and quiet than the other.

8. What does he like to wear?

If given the opportunity to choose, Rede prefers simple dress, either warm or light, depending on the season. For lighter wear he prefers a tunic and breeches and his riding boots, all sturdy and simple, with his writing case on his belt in case he needs to write when he is out and about. In cooler weather he wears a long-sleeved tunic and a vest of sheep’s wool, woolen breeches, and boots with rabbit fur on the inside, all covered in a heavy tartan cloak.


9. What would he do if he discovered he was dying?

I am not sure. He might sit on the outskirts of everything and watch, partially to take everything in, partially to make himself a ghost in everyone’s memory; or he might sit and write furiously in the attempt to leave as much of himself behind as possible.

10. What kind of holidays, or traditions does he celebrate?

At the time of Rede’s life the Church follows the Catholic calendar—though it is a little difficult to do so in the backwoods of Arregaithel.

11. What do your other characters have to say about him?

Conory would call him a good man and be employing an understatement. Wing would call him a rum fighter and a decent fellow, for a foreigner. Rosawn would shudder and turn away, and refuse to answer. Red Branch would call him that piece of heaven’s mystery that lies at the centre of the eagle’s eye.

12. If he could change one thing in his world, what would it be?

He would never have gone back to Britain.

“So-o-o-o, hai! hai! ya-a-ah!” Rosawn whirled the whip over the mares’ backs; the heads came up and the chariot came to life as they sprang forward into the milling fray. The reins shivered, quick with life, the vehicle shuddered and bounced across the uneven turf; and Rede stood braced at Rosawn’s side, swaying to the movement, waiting for the moment to rip off the silk covering and let loose the thing in his hand. The stillness shattered as the line plunged into life over turf and bracken, between the early sprays of pink dogwood and white rowan. Horses squealed and trumpeted, whips cracked over the gathering drum of iron-shod wheels—and somewhere near the front of the ragged spear-head formation came the hen-harrier’s piercing yelp and the glimmer of the Skylord’s blue cloak.

Gingerune

I go and tell Liz that if she would post more This World excerpts on her blog, I would oblige by conjuring up more of my political story for her to read. And then I promptly lose all inspiration for it. (This is not to say that nothing will come of the promise of more excerpts.) Abigail mentioned that, when we were little, I was always the one to come up with the hare-brained and wild stories that we would act out. I realize that I still do that, but you and I aren't romping across the lawn with wooden swords on wooden horses.

So here I am, still coming up with stories for you to enjoy (hopefully). In keeping with my pathetically aggravating nature I have an excerpt for you which will plunk you smack-dab into the plot. I hope you brought a life-jacket. I hope you brought popcorn. I hope you left the rotten tomatoes at home. Here is a piece of a rapidly Hydra-fying fantasy that came calling upon me under the name of -

Gingerune

With one hand under the lip of stone, body pressed to the towering rock to keep myself from being caught by the wind and hurled off into the dusky owl-light far below, dashed against the crumbling heaps of Funderburk Keep—with one hand under the lip of stone and my breath caught in my chest, I slid my forward foot after Rowena’s heels, closer and closer toward the yawning black hole. It was the worse for Maslin, I thought grimly. His enormous bulk with its raven-wings of black coat snapping treacherously around him, was barely able to get purchase on the narrow rocky ledge.

“Sooth!” gasped Rowena, after starting and catching herself again. Her husky laughter rang on the wind. “The Grimouder were thin folk!”

Maslin had positioned himself on the ledge, squatted by the hole while we inched toward him. With the wild tiger-slashed horizon behind him, he looked like a gargoyle. Chancy stray threads of light flashed in his spectacles at us. “Oh yes,” he said. “The Grimouder, the Dark Elf Folk, they were a lithe and tall people.” The lenses flashed up at me. “You have that of them.”

The wind rushed by us and I did not hear the thing that Rowena said back to him, so soft she said it. Then she was by him, perched with her legs dangling into the empty hole, and I was gripping the stone beside her, on my feet as yet. The hole was very black, as if the midnight bred from there and issued out at the height of darkness into the sky. I looked away, fetching a daring glance back over my shoulder.

The view was splendid. We were skirting the very highest of the Keep’s outbuildings, and the rearing spine of Funderburk stretched curving like the mossy sickle moon away from us, far reaching into the distance where, in the mingling darknesses, it ran up against the flat-topped bulk of Rilyfell that blocked much of the far horizon. The real moon, but a golden plover’s feather as it came down to its last showing of the month, hung above the fell in a rippled sea-sky of lavender and andalusite hue. And below all that, far below, below wind and thought where only the darkness moved, was the ruins of the Keep, its terraced slopes and weed-rank training grounds, its broken roads still decorated with the mangled triumphs of its conquests. The ravens were going to roost down there. The fox was calling to its mate. The royal dark was pulling up her mantle on the scene, and I turned with the last light of evening back to the hole at my feet.

Rowena was looking expectantly up at me. “Mauna?”

“Let Maslin go in first,” I said archly. “He has, after all, been down this snake’s hole before.”

Maslin ruffled raven-like. “Very well. Just give me a moment to strike the light and then hand down Winny after me.”

Rowena pulled her shoulder close to her cheek, looking surreptitiously down at Maslin’s work to make a light. She was one to learn the trick of things quickly, and she watched shrewdly as the alchemist chalked around his flake of tourmaline the horned figure of Mercury and the sharp angles of the fire. There was a little spurt of noise from him like a cough, an upward jerk of his hand as he dropped the lit match upon the combination, and in a moment a blaze of silver light had nearly blinded us.

I crushed my eyes shut against the wild spangles of light on my vision. Over the roar of the wind I heard Rowena ask, “Was there a possibility that we did not want people to know of us up here, and is there a possibility that anyone does not know now?”

“I am very sorry about that,” said Maslin. I opened my battered eyes to find him scooping the light into his hands. “I forgot about the contrast.”

“I hope that is all you have forgot,” I said. The success of our endeavour was rapidly diminishing in my mind. “Are there any creatures down below that you might need to remember?”

He swung a leg into the hole and looked up at me, pensive. In the magic light his face was ghostly pale. “Not that I know of, but if I think of something, I will be sure to tell you before it has killed me.”

I pursed my lips and did not reply, but watched as he yanked both coattails over the hole’s edge and began to swing himself down into the dark. Once he had got inside and was clinging to the rocky edge, he let go of the handful of light and we watched as it fell, straight as if on a plumb-bob’s line, down, down, down into the dark: a slender thread of light. With a thoughtful grunt, Maslin started after it. Rowena waited a few moments, then called down,

“I’m coming down after you. Mind that I can stand on your shoulders.” Maslin called back up, but I could not hear what he said. Rowena tossed back her hair and looked up at me. The night was complete: I could barely see the pale blur of her face. “I am going down. You are coming after me?”

“Of course. Be sure of your footing.”

She hefted her skirts into the hole and swung from handhold to handhold with nimble grace. With the thread-light on her face I could see her for a distance as she descended. Below her, I could see the wavering pale blot that was the top of Maslin’s head.

Then it was my turn. I slid down onto my knees, breathing the damp, unused scents that wafted up the hole. The light was waiting. Maslin and Rowena were waiting. But for a moment I knelt there in the windy outer darkness, alone on the fellside, strangely revelling in the lonesomeness. I stared, not out into the dark, but down that snake’s hole, and though I did not feel fear, I felt, inexplicable and loathsome, a sense of homecoming wash over me.

I swung a leg over and gripped at the hole’s uneven side with my toe. There was ample purchase: it seemed the shaft had been designed to take climbers, so that even with my skirts and the wild shadows that they cast I felt no hindrance. Looking down, it seemed as if the hole dropped into hell, but it was only a short time of climbing before my foot felt for purchase, jammed against a wide flat floor, and I stumbled unexpectedly back into Maslin’s waiting arms. I jerked away and righted myself, blinking against the pressing black.

“Shahou!” breathed Rowena. She drew her hands up and down her arms and listened to the taffeta-like rustle of it whistle around us. “We walk among the dead here.”

Maslin balled up the light and held it above his head. “Yes, there is that. Dead folk, dead deeds, dead memories…”

My daughter lifted her head, bird-like, and smiled a cunning smile. “Drift autumnal from the boughs of trees.”

“You know that song.” The alchemist looked unabashedly pleased.

Impatient, I gathered up my skirts and pressed between him and the wall, determined to follow the onward passage. “I sang it to her. Where does this lead?”

“Not—oh, not the way we want,” said Maslin, plucking hastily at my sleeve.

My annoyance was supreme, but better sense soothed the discomfort. It was quite likely that whatever lay down the passage before me was not meant to be unearthed after all these years, and might do us more harm than good. What evil wyrd, I wondered, turning back to Maslin’s gentle coaxing, lay on this wretched place? My better sense was careless of the knowing, but another part of me, that part which ran deep and red within me, wanted to know.

We went down the passage after Maslin’s leading, took a broken stair by virtue of his light, and entered into a low doorway, down yet another flight of steps, and so over the rotted remains of a door into a low, long chamber. By the silver-blue light Rowena and I stood and looked round on deserted table, on deserted chair—all heavily and beautifully carved—on empty candle-stands thick with the run-off of their last candles, on shelves which clustered thickly against all walls and the contents that clustered thickly on their slats. Everything was thrown about as if the Macabre Hunt had just torn by, and Morpheus, trotting in its wake, had cast his veil of gloom over the scene.

“See here,” said Rowena gently, touching at my shoulder. “We are not alone.”

Maslin and I swung round rather hastily. She was holding out her hand as if to introduce someone, but he was only a pain-crumpled skeleton in a sorry heap of bones near the door. The weapon was still lodged in his chest: I dared to bend and set my fingers over the sword’s hilt and draw it forth. I could not be sure of its colour in Maslin’s light, which drained all colour out of even Rowena’s hair, but I fancied it to be of silver hue, its hilt bound in what appeared to be blue metal, so that I thought the colour was truly green. Tiny clusterings of gems sparkled off the pommel and cross-pieces.

I turned and handed it to Maslin. “Rum luck it was that bound this sword with metal and not sharkskin, else it would have long rotted away by now.”

Maslin took it gingerly and turned it over, peering anxiously at it with his light. It struck me then that the sword might have been enchanted, for up here in the wilds of the Grimouderland any and all enchantments might abide. I shuddered to think that I had touched the sword without thinking first.

Rowena pressed close and looked over the bulk of Maslin’s arm. Her fingers reached out to dance lightly on the weapon’s blade as she might play her harpsichord. “I don’t know much about the sword,” she murmured, “but it looks rather blithe for a man’s bludgeon.”

I looked back at the bones. Who had he been, and what had he done? What knight or nightcraft had turned this room upside down and killed this man, and turned his Keep into a dwelling place for jackals? And why, I wondered with a sudden fierce pity, did I care?

Behind me, I heard Maslin swear, soft and beautiful. “This isn’t Grimouder. The Grimouder were over-fond of the patterned, watered steel. This is Pyrn-make, and very fine Pyrn-make at that.” He gazed with owlish eyes on the dead man. “The Pyrn won the taking of Funderburk Keep. Why would they have left such a pretty thing behind?”

Rowena broke off and began moving among the scattered articles of the room. She had got a bit of Maslin’s light, and with her free hand she was casting it over the tumbled sheaves of paper and books that lay roundabout. “They might not have,” she ventured. “Perhaps the dead is a Pyrnman, and a Grimouder killed him. If you have suddenly lost your weapon in a fight, the other man has a sword that you can use.”

I laughed somewhat callously.

Maslin ranged up alongside my daughter and began picking with her through the books. “Sometimes,” he said, “the things that come out of your mouth chill me.”

She purred soothingly and told him that she was a good girl and did not mean it. The gentle, condescending tones of Maslin’s conversation rumbled their echoes in the room as I began to walk the length of it, running my fingers over the cracked bindings of the tomes. How long had it been since the Grimouder had sat in this chamber and read their histories and lore? Nigh on thirty-four or thirty-five years, I reckoned. A new, dangerous thought pricked at my consciousness: had my own father stood here, looking round at the silent chaos, smarting for his people and plotting his revenge? I had always hated the thought of him and the thing that he had done to my mother, but I had never understood his reasons until now. Unwanted pity, which I beat back as fiercely as I could, struggled to rise inside me. Maslin had once asked me the name of my house, and I had not known it. I still did not know it by anything Maslin might call empirical, but the old blood in me woke to the Funderburk dominion with a sense of kinship so that I knew, without a doubt, that this empty shell of a kingdom was the mighty house from whose decrepit fall I had come down.

And so I felt my pity.

My eye fell on a little table in a secluded part of the room. The table was of fine make and had somehow escaped unscathed whatever tumult had happened in the room. There was a single letter on it and a dead candle, and something about its furtiveness called out to me. I glided up to it and turned it gingerly into the light to read the writing there.

But I was disappointed. The writing was so faded as to be nearly silver, and my touch on the parchment cracked it into shards. A stab of helpless fury lanced through me, but I quelled it to lean forward and carefully manoeuvre the broken pieces of paper into line again. The light was horrid, the writing was almost invisible, but with a steady eye and concentration, shutting out entirely the talk of the other two, I made out a seal imprinted at the top of the letter. Two figures stood rampant, and a little smudged, around an object that looked pathetically like a cooked egg. My heartbeat quickened: could it be the poppy? Two rampant figures of men, a single poppy bloom… I held my hands like an enchanter over the letter, wishing I had the power to magic it whole once more.

Biting my lip, I cast a glance over my shoulder. Rowena was on tiptoe, pointing to a high bookshelf while Maslin stood precariously on an old chair, trying to reach what she indicated. For some reason I loathed asking, but it was worth the try.

“Maslin.”

The shelf broke and quietly deposited its heavy contents into Maslin’s arms. He staggered, but managed to keep himself from falling by that uncanny grace which dogged his immense frame. His spectacles flashed over the tops of the books at me. “Did you find something?”

I dug my nails into my palms. “I think so, but I have need of that craft of yours. The paper has fallen to pieces.”

“Oh, papers,” said Maslin cheerily. He dumped his armload of books onto a table—which sagged beneath the weight—and lurched down off the chair to come striding up the room’s length to join me. The light which came with him sharpened all the shadows and came to rest, though I did not want it to, on my right shoulder as if it were a friendly bird. He did it, I was sure, to annoy me.

He pointed to the litter on the table. “Is this it?”

I nodded. “Before you do anything, tell me if you recognize the seal at the top.”

Maslin took off his spectacles and lifted the edge of his coat to rub them off, all the while gazing squintingly at me, as if he were not altogether pleased, as if he knew how much it galled me to ask him to use his alchemy for my sake. I hated it when he took off his spectacles. Somehow his otherwise jovial demeanour always came off with them, and he was something to be reckoned with underneath.

He put the spectacles back on and bent with Rowena over the parchment. I brushed the light off my shoulder and stood well back so as not to cast a shadow over them, watching his face keenly to see what he thought. His inexpressive brows hunched over his eyes; his forefinger picked carefully at the parchment. He uttered a single thoughtful grunt.

Rowena looked up at him, then slid her glance my way. A flicker of a frown passed over her face. “Two men and a flower…?”

I lifted my head in half a nod.

“If I am not—” began Maslin, but he broke off and dug in his pocket for his chalk. “I beg your pardon, this might take a few minutes.”

Rowena and I drew back to give him room. Presently he was seated in a chair, hunched over the table, busily scribbling white equations on the wood with the remains of the letter caught in a chalk circle that was nearly complete. We knew better than to disrupt him when he was doing his mathematics. In a husky whisper, Rowena said in my ear, “I can well understand a Pyrnish sword, for Funderburk was razed by the Pyrns. But the two men and the flower are the symbol of the Pyrn government—what would it be doing here?”

“Diplomacy,” I whispered back. “One doesn’t just start a war. One does a lot of talking first.”

“Still,” she said, drawing her arms around herself, even as I stood, and turning her eye on Maslin’s work, “there is an uncanniness that I do not like about it.”

No, nor did I. Perhaps it was the darker blood in us that felt there was a link in this broken piece of letter, even as I had felt its inexplicable importance calling out to me. I gave a foreboding shiver. “There is a curious wyrd about this place,” I confessed to her, “and I feel as if I am woven into it.”

She did not answer, but the quick, kingfisher look that she gave me told me that she felt the weaving too.

“And that is a two,” said Maslin, “not a seven.” He looked up at me, but as though he saw through me. “I don’t know why I am trying this under a dead alder-moon. Well,” he shoved back his chair and rose. “Here I go.” And, with a flourish, he closed the circle.

There was an angry yellow flash of light, much less than the blue gleam that had caught us unawares on the rocky ledge of the mountain, and a bad scent of burnt metal. When the light had cleared and I was able to breathe again I saw that Maslin’s craft had worked: the letter lay whole on the tabletop, as if it had been made yesterday.

Maslin picked it up. “I’m afraid I don’t have any atrament to bring out the writing.” With a sudden awkward hesitation, he held the parchment out to me. “Perhaps you had better look at it.”

I frowned at him, but took the letter all the same. That horrid feeling of familiarity once more overcame me as I held the paper in my hands and gazed hard at the silvery lines of writing. For a few moments it was very quiet in the room, the quiet hanging as if on a trembling thread. Both were waiting anxiously for my verdict.

I began to read aloud as the letters took shape under my eye with painful slowness. “It begins with a complex greeting. ‘To His Necromantick Person Roland, Grimouder-Lord of the House of Funderberk, greetings on this most auspishus day the New Moon of Midsummer.’ La da da, la da da… Here: ‘To which point I am come, that our days are finished together. I cannot hope to hide from you the deep distress that our courtship has caused me, nor can I hyde the relief I will feel when I have sygned this letter and delivered it to your door. For your hospitalie I muster as much gratitude as a I can, however I must return to my city on the morrow. For a man of your standing I am sure the blow will be easily endured. Poste Script: At your earliest convenynce, please return to me the turqyose ring I gifted you. Regards—‘ ” the words suddenly choked in my throat “ ‘—Anehawk, Rammerowt Queen of Pyrn.’ ”

The stillness of the room was stifling. I saw embarrassment on the faces of the other two, for the letter was cold as only a woman could be cold, disregarding the cutting edge of her words.

“It seems to me,” said Rowena quietly, “that she meant for it to sound that way.”

Maslin shivered visibly and took the letter back. “I should hate to have been Roland. Poor fellow.”

Yes, poor fellow. I watch the parchment be taken from my hand as if I were senseless, feeling detached from everything. What must it have been like to read those words for the first time, to have been played with in the name of courtship and then discarded? The pity struggled for supremacy again. Little wonder he so violently reacted. Anehawk my mother had asked for the temper of the Grimouder to come down upon her head. I could not condone him, but at last I understood.

Rowena set her hand upon my arm, drawing my gaze back to her. “Mauna?” The searching question was in her eyes.

“Anehawk.” I felt the name on my tongue. “I want to see her. I want to tell her she was a fool.” I raised my chin and looked Maslin squarely in the face. “I want to look at her and make her tell me that she was wrong, that angering the Grimouder was wrong, that hurling thousands of Pyrnmen at the gates of Funderburk was wrong. She has lived too long unchecked by her past. I am her past. I want her to know.”

Rowena, in her little way of telling me, slipped her hand in mine and we were one in this thing. There remained only Maslin, staring down bemusedly at me, expressionless, the letter hanging from his hand. At last he stirred, owl-like, with a rustling sigh. He put the letter down on the table and, absentmindedly taking off his spectacles again, tucked the Pyrnish sword under his coat.

“Well, Gingerune,” he murmured, fixing me with his naked eyes turned silver in the light. “It appears we must seek an audience with the Rammerowt Queen.”

A Different Incantation

A lot has been said, and argued, and wrestled with, regarding the unity of the Church. If you were to merely cast your eye over the Nicene Creed, you would be impressed with a sense of deep and inadvertently cohesive poetry. "We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, of all thing Visible and Invisible... And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds: Light of Light, Very God of Very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father... And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the Prophets..."

Whether they meant it to be lyrical or not, I don't know; perhaps it is merely my vivid and emotional imagination that conjures up this feeling of a bound whole when I read these words. Perhaps it is that: perhaps it is merely emotional. I had the misfortune of casting my eye just today over an article in the newspaper which started off unabashedly by talking about how the author of the article knew what both what the congregants and the men in the pulpit felt when the church was rocked with schisms created by immorality. I stared. He said it with such frankness, brushing over the fact of wickedness to garner the sympathy of the readers. He took the wickedness for granted. I was almost doubtful for a moment if he thought the wickedness really was wicked. But the disunity is a sad fact, and lust, his example in use, is not the only problem to break up congregations: the other six deadly sins have clawed happily through many a gathering before. So perhaps the lyrical script of that ancient creed really does produce nothing more than an emotional and unfounded reaction in me. Division, it seems, is inevitable.

To what shall we liken the Kingdom of Heaven? It is like a man who had two sons... The creed takes a man back to what is believed: of God, of man, of life, of death. The creed is that script written down by the hand of a man from the heart of a man, telling the world what he knows in his heart is true. But there is another step back to take, an inscription that predates the Deep Magic, written by another hand by another heart on another wall. It is an inscription that can affirm or deny with authority every "I believe" that man has ever or will ever or can ever write.

...we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to his purpose...

For some time now a portion of my own congregation has been studying the many "one anothers" of Scripture. "Be of kindly affection to one another, be of the same mind as one another, love one another, receive one another, admonish, salute - so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members of one another." We have raged long and studiously over these words, and many more like them, but the simple truth is that only two words in that brokenly quoted passage are important. They are, quite frankly, the cornerstone on which all the others rest.

in Christ

You may believe in the creeds of the Church written down in the blood of the martyrs. You may hold fast to sound doctrine, abstaining from evil, walking in righteousness, and all this is merely the right conduct of a servant of God. But the heart of man is desperately wicked, and in the heart of man even good conduct can cause schism and division, breeding such hateful terms as "carnal Christians" and "holier-than-thou." Whence unity? In Christ - in Christ. Listen to those words: they ring through Scripture. This takes the concept of Equality by the Divine to a whole new level of existence. It is not by man that man is made at one with God and man and creation - it is by the God-Man Jesus Christ. There in the physical body of Christ, in the breath that goes in and out of those physical lungs by which a man receives the Spirit of God, there is the firstfruits of unity. By decree, not by fiat, but by legal decree, a man is inscribed in the Book of Life - which is to say, in Christ.

It is by adoption, not merely by creed, that a man enters the Kingdom of Heaven. Not all who say "Lord! Lord!" will enter. Oh, we love our neighbour...but what of keeping our brother? With a kind of fierce and laughing glory the Word spelled out the answer to that question all across a nation's history and signed it with a bloody flourish. In cultures older than our own (in cultures within our own) family meant something. These cultures did not spend long evenings discussing what it means to keep one another (though we are stupid, and must be reminded from time to time): you stuck to family, you looked out for family, family was everything to you: one of the worst sins a man could commit was to become a "kinslayer," a murderer of his own blood people. And this tie was not by virtue of anyone's personality or creed (though, naturally, these play a part in families) but by the simple virtue of being of the same family.

"We...are one body in Christ, and every one members of one another." After all our talks about unity and all our struggles to make believers act like believers, what does it boil so restfully down to? Adoption. The irreducible minimum of the Body of Christ is the legal act of adoption. Within any family, despite the endearing moments that are bound to occur, it is generally understood that, until a certain age, children are not very helpful and often troublesome. I have a young niece and nephew. I know this. But I understand, and most people usually understand too, that usefulness (or lack thereof) is not what makes an individual a family member. If he is born in the family, he is part of the family. Just so with the Church, a person's membership is not determined by how competent or useful he may be (although these aspects are important) but by whether or not Christ's legal, and rather gory, act of adoption has his name written on it. "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God who justifieth." It seems almost escapist, but - Good Lord! - it isn't, and that's the beauty of it. This is the foundation on which unity itself is built, and the acknowledgment of this irreducible minimum forces the competent creedsman to suffer with charity the incompetence of other believers, and urges the incompetent on to greater solidarity of spirit.

On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

Dante's Wood

Death could scarce be more bitter than that place!
But since it came to good, I will recount
All that I found revealed there by God's grace.
The Inferno

“Hullo!”

I snatched a glance over my shoulder to see him jogging down the lane, breath steaming in the golden autumnal air, his grey scarf blowing along behind him. Crunch! crunch! crunch! his boots dug impressions into the frosted ruddiness of the track: an otherwise sweet, comfortable noise to me, but “I’m not in the mood for it,” I muttered.

He pulled up beside me. “Hullo,” he said again, pantingly. He bent over with his hands on his knees, trying in the cold air to regain his breath. He had never been much of a runner after the accident. I waited with mute rudeness, hands in my pockets since I had forgot my gloves. What was the matter with clothing designers, who made the pockets in girls’ jeans so abominably small? I could barely get my hands in, and my hands are accounted small.

He fetched a quizzical look up at me under his brows. “Well, moody?” he asked. “What is it to be?”

I flopped both shoulders. “I don’t know. I’m just walking.”

“Well, you might get some place that way.” He straightened and held out an arm for me. “Then again, you might not. It depends on what road you are on.”

I wasn’t in the mood for booted feet in frosty ruts, I wasn’t in the mood to take his arm and let him walk with me. I wasn’t in the mood to take my hands out of my ridiculous pockets. But he had a way about him, and the next thing I knew I had my arm in his and we were strolling along together down the empty country lane. The wind was up and roaring in the nearby wood, whistling across the barren fields, snatching at our clothing. My companion’s scarf was going wild behind us; he kept his free hand firmly clamped over his cap to keep our lady North Wind from thundering off with it. For some time we walked in our own silences. His, I knew with a pang of jealousy, was country-born—a fresh, sweet kind of silence that swelled with the beauty of a year come down into its twilight; mine was the silence of a wolf-thing at the back of its cage, angry, hurting, waiting.

The lane took us down to a crossroads, where, without debate, my companion lifted me over a stile and we continued on down the narrow track that lead through a field toward the outflung tawny darkness of the wood. The wind was in its tops, sounding as with the ocean: I fancied the watered sky was the sea upturned and pounding against the trees as waves against rocks. It hurt: each rush of wind whistled into my crevices and thundered in the empty places of my soul. Each time the wind broke away I longed as with the longing of the flighting birds to be after it. But I couldn’t go. My arm was linked through my companion’s; my feet were firmly on the ground.

He stopped when we reached the middle of the field and indicated—as if I had not already been looking at it—the untamed sprawl of forest. “Rather glorious, don’t you think?” he shouted over the boom of the wind.

I stuck out my bottom lip irritably. “You know I don’t.”

His look was searching when he glanced at me. I wished he wouldn’t look, because I could never hide things from him. But truth be told I wanted him to ask, because I wanted someone to talk to. But for a few moments it was only the wind roaring between us while I stared down the silver throat of it, and he stared across the blade of it at me.

“I was thinking ‘show him the sun on the autumn fields,’ but you look more like ‘the dark wood fell before me.’ What has made you come all untuned?”

His words were spoken gently, but no matter how gentle he may be, the surgeon’s knife still cuts. I burst into tears—howling, frightened, angry tears that shook my little frame like a leaf in a gale. He put his arm around me and let me cry into the lapel of his coat, and all the while I told him what was wrong in broken, raging sentences.

“I don’t know what is wrong with me! I feel sick inside. I feel cut off from everyone and everything I love—even autumn is too far away. I feel cut off from everything: I feel adrift. I feel like everything good and beautiful is whirling by me and I am just a ghost that nothing can touch. I ache. I ache. I ache…”

I said all this over and over and roundaboutly, until at last I faded off into soft sobbing. Even the wind had dropped away a little; the sounding murmured in the distance. I felt nothing better for having cried my guts out; if anything, I felt emptier than before. It had been stupid and senseless of me to cry. The selfishness, the vanity, of tears made me sick.

My companion sniffed peremptorily. Adjusting his cap a little, he observed, “You wear your skin somewhat thinly.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I wonder…” He took his arm down and put my hand in his, and pulled me gently after him across the field. The knife-edged wind was cutting here and there around us with no real purpose. We walked into the face of it in an idle way as we had walked down the lane, and I wondered if anything would change for the better. I didn’t realize then that the cry had done me some good, and that our walk was bringing me some place important.

We were coming to the end of myself.

Where the woodshore washed up to meet the rugged scape of the field we paused, for a moment standing in a little tunnel of quiet where the wind could not reach. The scarlet of berries twinkled at us from the tangled growth of the forest. Far down the way I saw the elusive glint of tawny that was a fox’s coat.

“Don’t let go,” I said suddenly, staring unseeing after the fox. “If a wind comes, I might blow away.”

“Only to the back of it,” he said mildly.

But I gripped his hand harder, all the same, and continued to stare as one in a trance so that his next words came to me as if from a long way off.

“ ‘ If I ascend into heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, you are there. If I take the wings of morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall uphold me.’ ”

“If I take the wings of morning,” I murmured back.

He smiled wanly: I could hear it in his voice. “There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.”

For a moment something lovely with the loveliness of silver hung before me, like a plover’s feather caught on the wind—then it vanished, and I shivered through and through. “I am cold with wearing my skin so thinly.”

“Amphibious girl!” he said, giving my arm a rough rubbing. “What do you think you are doing, trying to live in the empty dimension? Because that is what this is really about. There is no light in That Dimension; no light, no space, no room, no food, no air to breathe.” His gaze—I had not been aware of looking round into his face—became suddenly dead serious. “You are starving yourself. What do you mean by it?”

He was angry with me. I could always tell when he was angry because he became inexplicably gentle in his tone in just a certain way; something jabbed painfully at the inside of my throat.

“I—” I sniffed. “I met a man called Laziness. He was going this way and asked if I wanted to follow.”

He pulled his head back with the gesture of an affronted horse. “You are hardly a John Bunyan. Did you inform him that you had a date with someone else rather important and you couldn’t keep him waiting?”

I tucked my lip between my teeth and did not answer.

He sighed. “What am I going to do with you…” He took away both hands and put them in his pockets, and stared frowning terribly down the length of woodshore to where the sinking sun was coming through with its last blaze of brilliance to turn his eyes uncanny gold. “You have no one to blame but yourself, you know. You feel cut off and betrayed, as if everyone and everything you loved suddenly turned against you. The truth is, my dear, you turned against them. You are starving your own self and cutting your own self adrift. If you take a searching look you’ll find your initials written down under the question ‘Who planted Dante’s Wood?’ ” His tone, which had grown rather hard through all this, softened again. “You are digging your own grave. Wouldn’t you rather like to come out of it now?”

I nodded miserably.

He held out his hand again between us, palm upward. “Draw nigh unto God,” he said, “and he will draw nigh unto you.”

I stared at the palm. He had gloves on, beautiful black doeskin gloves with a polished steel button at the wrist of each. It was stupid. The simplicity of it was stupid. Something in me rose up against it with the threat of insane laughter. I was dying like a flame out in the airless black, and I had only to look at the light to keep burning. I was starving without food, and all I had to do was pick it up and eat it. I was floating adrift from everything I loved, and all I had to do was reach out and touch it. It was stupid. I was stupid. Everything was plainly and simply stupid.

With a shaky, sobbing burst of laughter, I put my hand in his.

“There!” he said, swinging my arm as he pulled me back up the slope toward the lane. “The Infernal Bureaucracy has no idea the trick is that easy.”

Our feet crunched comfortably in the frozen grass. As we went, I risked a glance over my shoulder at the dragon-spiked view of the wood. The early autumn twilight was already going, leaving the trees a tangled mass of darkness. “I’m glad to be away from it now,” I said.

“Oh, never fear,” said my companion softly. “We will stand under its eaves again.”

We had forgot about the strength of the wind. Almost upon the instant his words were out of his mouth, a big gust of it hit us sidewise and North Wind tore away his cap. We drew up short, watching it go far above and out of reach, dwindling into a grey spot in the distance on the golden glory of the sky’s canvas.

I said disappointedly, "I liked that hat."

“Huh!” he mused. “So did I.”

Cerialis of '62

After a day of cooped-up-ness, doing laundry, editing Adamantine, and alternately reading The Worm Ouroboros and Letters to a Diminished Church, I needed to make something last night. I was fidgety and cross and in need of something creative. So, contrary to reason, I hauled out a political-based piece that has been kicking around literary Limbo in my mind and decided to play with a section of it. It was contrary to reason because I won't be tackling this story seriously for quite some time yet, but when you have inspiration it is best to let it out.

I wrote this mostly for Liz, because Liz is awesome and because Liz likes politics. She is working on a piece right now called This World, which sounds very intriguing, and since she was kind enough to post an excerpt, I thought I might return the favour.

My stories, no matter their state, usually come with some sort of name attached. Whether I mean to keep the name or not usually remains to be seen, but most come with labels. This one didn't. It was very rude. I call it "my political story," which sounds silly because politics do impact my stories in some way or another. I suppose "my civil war story" might be a better title (though not much better) as the premise of the story to date is the death of a king, the seizing of power by the queen, the refusal to recognize the crown prince, and the falling out of the crown prince and princess with their mother, throwing the country into civil war. Here is to you, Liz: a little glimpse into "my political story" and the characters I seem to have found in there.

* * * *

There was something oddly comforting about the rain and the way it seemed to close everything in. In the warm familiar bubble of the tent Brandyn stood at faintly slacked attention, gazing down the length of the saffron-lit table with its piles and piles of topographic maps. It was not his way of seeing things, but it was the princess’s way. He saw the land in successive images of hills beyond valleys beyond pastureland beyond hills. She saw the land as an eagle might, hanging overhead on the wing. He saw the land as smooth galloping country, or rabbit-holed parks were a horse might break a leg. She saw the country as a man might see a chessboard.

There was a little model of a Valossian charger on the tabletop. Through the encroaching grey haze of weariness on Brandyn’s vision, he noticed that.

“Nugent,” Geneva was saying, “should be licking his wry carcass as we speak.” The black gem of her signet ring woke to blue fire as she spread her hand over the two nearest maps. “We have done well today, but I am not particularly pleased with our distance; our supply lines are still vigorous—I feel we should move farther up the saddle. The last thing we want is a loophole through which they can spur into the heart of Aidan’s—”

She broke off midsentence, bringing everyone’s head up from the map with the suddenness of her pause. With a strange inward expression she was staring at the wine glass in front of her, eyes focusing, unfocusing, focusing. She inhaled deeply and straightened, still eyeing the vessel, fingertips pressed to the lip of the table.

“Marshall,” she said quietly, “ please bring me the maple box.”

Marshall paused in the act of placing a mug of coffee at Brandyn's elbow. There was a baleful gust of wind that shook the tent, and a brief look Brandyn thought was terror darted across the manservant’s face. Then the man was whirling away into the shadows to return a few moments later, staid-faced again, bearing a foot-long wooden box embossed on the lid with a large maple leaf. The latch clicked loudly as Marshall unfastened it and pulled back the lid.

No one spoke a word, but Brandyn's heart slammed against his breastbone and Howell, standing across from him, drew in a sharp breath as if he meant to speak. The war-born weary grey haze was gone now. Like clear-cut emerald the box was padded and lined with deep green velvet, and in their little niches gleamed a row of a dozen syringes. The sight of them turned Brandyn's stomach cold iron.

Geneva turned from the table as though she were taking coffee from Marshall and removed a syringe from its bed. Brandyn knew he ought to look away—he had to look away—but somehow he could not do it. The princess shifted away from the table into the fuller light and put the needle firmly into the muscle of her thigh between the two gold bars of her riding breeches. Her thumb depressed the syringe and, finished, she released a tense breath.

The lamp guttered, flickering the shadows about. A horse called up from the picket-lines. Though he did not look around, Brandyn felt that everyone else was as stiff and white as he. He was aware of Marshall slipping the syringe out of Geneva's hand and melting into the shadows. He was aware of his own tense, sick feeling in his stomach that comes from a very close shave.

But most of all he was aware of the pain in the princess’s face.

“My lady.” Brandyn heard his own voice breaking the quiet. “Would you like a chair?”

She took her hand away from her tiny wound: there was a single spot of scarlet on the tip of her forefinger. She frowned at it before looking his way, and the fierceness of the fighting thing was still in her eyes when she caught his gaze. "Yes, Captain Oliver. We are much obliged."

As he stepped out of the ring to fetch a chair the wind bore the swift sound of hooves to them, intermingled with the noise of spattering rain. Howell let out that breath he must have been holding until now.

"It sounds like a dispatch, your Highness."

Now. Yes, of course a dispatch would come now. Brandyn swung the chair around the end of the table and stood aside for Geneva to lower herself into it with dignity. He wished he could will away the dispatch. There was still a tell-tale greyness in her face and a pinched look about her lips, though the eyes and brows and eagle’s nose were wick as ever.

“Mercury stops for no man at no hour,” she said.

He ought to have stepped away, just as he ought to have looked away, but something kept him a pace beside the princess’s chair, apprehension knotting his belly. Mercury might stop for nothing, but there was something in the wind that whistled overhead, full of rain, that felt like dark portent. They were all listening: there was a muffled shout, the squeal of a mount from a near quarter, and after a pause the inner flap snaked back on its rings and the guard ducked in, announcing in one hurried breath—

"His Highness the Crown Prince Aidan Sinclair, my lady."

Brandyn was aware of Geneva’s hands tightening on the arms of her chair.

The Crown Prince Aidan came ducking in, straightening, still clad in his rain-slashed gear and looking lively and furious and very much as though he had not slept much recently. The wind had blown him into high dudgeon, so that he looked like a great black winged thing on the threshold of the tent, the light of the lamp dragon red in his eyes.

“What,” he demanded in a low, shaking tone, “do you think you are doing?”

“I am saving your kipper, Aidan,” snapped the princess.

The prince’s tone rose a notch. “Did it ask for saving?”

“Nugent—” Geneva thrust herself forward in her chair “—is at your back door and I am the only thing standing between him and your backside. We just spent the day thrashing him into giving us a breathing space and my men were on a forced march all last night just to get here. To save you.”

A hand flashed out, theatrically taking in the flurry of maps. “I expressly told you to keep to the dale country, Geneva. We have to keep the dale country.”

“Damn it, Aidan!” she cried, bringing the flat of her hand down with a bang on the tabletop. Maps scattered under her fury like chickens and the lamp guttered wildly. “I’ve just been poisoned.”

Brandyn saw her words hit the prince like a slap. A throbbing stillness filled the tent, like the last harp-string throbbing from the last harp-note… Then Aidan, looking much less the wind-blown dullahan, broke it, gently. “Have you taken anything?”

The hands tightened to white on the arms of the chair. “Yes. I took something just now.”

Now the prince’s gaze flickered like a shadow over the rest of them, searching, weighing. It was hard to hold up under that gaze, but when it came to be his turn Brandyn found he could do it—and that the gaze suddenly softened on him. Plucking at the brooch of his cloak and stepping in out of the windy entryway, Aidan said, “Might I suggest that, if you had stayed in the dale country, this would not have happened?”

Geneva’s laugh was biting. “Might I suggest that, if I had done as you told me to, I would be fighting with Mama over your carcass?”

“You might,” he said lightly. He tossed his over-things to Marshall and dropped into a chair. “If you please…” He gestured to the others and everyone, with little deferential jumps back to consciousness, bowed and, grabbing their own cloaks, plunged out into the stormy night. Brandyn was loath to go, but Geneva gestured them gently away as well and it was not the time to argue with either; so somehow he managed to pull himself away from the princess’s side and go out with the rest, glancing back only to see Howell, who was the last to go, stopping to set back on its legs the little bronze statue of the Valossian horse.

“Cerialis of ’62.” Aidan’s voice came from behind him as he ducked out of the tent. “Mama knows it is your favourite vintage.”

And Geneva’s voice, wry but thin with the distance: “Mama is knowing altogether too much.”

With the tent flap swinging shut behind him, blocking out a glimpse of the warm chamber, and the full glory of the rain-lashed wolf-dark in his face, Brandyn paused and took a deep breath, feeling as if he had just come up from a plunge in water. The figures of the others dwindled into the night along the row of tents and, for the moment, it was only himself and the windy dark, the guard, and the now indistinct murmur of voices within.

“And how did that go?” asked the guard presently.

Brandyn shot the man a wry smile. “I am not yet certain which has the worse temper.”

With fingers spread-eagled, the guard said with cheery pessimism, “Fifty on the princess.”

“Get on with you,” said Brandyn. “That’s scouting pay.”

“You never know. She favours you.”

Brandyn checked in the act of hitching up his belt, which rode low under the weight of his horse-pistols. It was almost impossible to see the guard’s face in the whirling, rainy light of his single little lantern, but Brandyn thought he looked serious. Serious and, with his arms crossed, rather expectant. Despite the jerk under his breastbone, Brandyn was not about to be baited. “Get on with you,” he growled again, giving his belt a violent tug. “Get pneumonia.”

“Good-night, captain,” said the guard cheerily.

He waved the guard off and shook himself free of the tent’s shadow, striking out into the blowy wild of the night. But as he went, the little jerk that had begun under his breastbone became a constant throb. The prospect—it was little more than a prospect—of becoming a scout was invigorating. But more than that, the guard had set the bait, and Brandyn found he had already been in the trap to begin with.

He walked along with his head bent to the rush of rain, thumbs in his belt, teeth on whistling edge as he tossed idle notes into the stormy air.

Nostrum est interim
Mentem erigere
Et totis patriam
Votis appetere…

A Gathering of Days

Our fantasies are what most closely resemble us.
Victor Hugo

Today, combining day fourteen and day fifteen, is the conclusion of Lerowen's charming writer's challenge. I'm a trifle sad to see it go because it has been enjoyable, albeit a little difficult at times, but too much of a good thing, you know, is too much.

day fourteen: your favourite quotes about writing

As with books about writing, I had difficulty culling out of my meagre stash of poems and quotations those that had to do with writing. I enjoy a good piece of poetry, though I am rarely poetic myself: I have spent my time studying prose, I'm afraid, and poetry is still an unlocked mystery. Still, I keep an old notebook that fills with extreme slowness with poems and quotations, and in its dog-eared depths I found those quotations that have struck me over the years as regards writing.

He who uses his words loosely or unsteadily will either be not minded or not understood.
John Locke

Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will.
Goethe

A good novel tells you the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells you the truth about its author.
G.K. Chesterton

Daddy says you really aren't allowed to quote someone until they are dead, but in conclusion I must give a quote by my husband to myself:

You need to write. You are always happier when you are writing.

And now for the very last subject of the fifteen-day challenge. It would not let me go off without a desperate squeeze through the bottleneck, I dare say, and today's topic is certainly a challenge.

day fifteen: your favourite song to write to

I am one of those dreadfully annoying people who can listen to the same song back-to-back all day, sometimes all week, if I enjoy it enough - and yet I could not tell you what is my most favourite song. As for writing, music definitely conjures up moods, and every mood needs a different sort of tune. Music impacts: music once impacted a whole nation to violence. So the music has to be fitting to the scene. No one song will do. These may not make a great deal of sense, and may not seem to have to do with what they say that have to do, but then...it is my own mind to me.

The Pastoral: Storm (Fernando Ortega), This Good Day (Fernando Ortega), If I Stand (Rich Mullins), Romantic Flight (How To Train Your Dragon)

The Traveller: The Traveller (Fernando Ortega), If I Stand (Rich Mullins), Marco Polo (Loreena McKennitt), Let Mercy Lead (Rich Mullins)

The Fight: Kingsword (Heather Dale), Brother, Stand Beside Me (Heather Dale), Creed (Rich Mullins), While The Nations Rage (Rich Mullins)

The Aching: I've Seen Hell (North & South), Thornton's Walk (North & South), Elysium (Gladiator), Toy Soldiers (Carbon Leaf) Hold Me, Jesus (Rich Mullins)

The Quietude: A Place On The Earth (Fernando Ortega), Sleepless Night (Fernando Ortega), Cymbeline (Loreena McKennitt), Vanilla Twilight (Owl City)

A Kind of Everything: Now We Are Free (Gladiator), Extended Serenity Theme (Serenity), The Celts (Enya)


if I stand let me stand on the promise
that You will pull me through
and if I can't let me fall on the grace
that first brought me to You
and if I sing let me sing for the joy
that has born in me these songs
and if I weep let it be as a man
who is longing for his home
Rich Mullins, If I Stand

Day Thirteen {Concerning Writing}

"There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about 'isms' and influences, and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said."

day thirteen: your favourite book about writing

Thus C.S. Lewis introduces Athanasius' On the Incarnation, and, while I am not an English Literature tutor by any means, I am inclined to say he is right. I went through a literature class, and you would be surprised how very little literature was to be found in those literature text books. It is all about the style and the form and the reason behind the writing. Rubbish. You might as well go through the detailed biological makeup of your wife to tell someone that she is pretty. You cannot kill the goose if you want to have more golden eggs.

Number one, has it ever occurred to those literature teachers that any book may have been written for the sole purpose of creating a good story? Number two, writing is the sort of skill that must be taught by practice chiefly, and by study additionally. You can read volumes on the history and build of a gun, but until you get out in the firing range and wield the thing you will not know how to use it.

As regards writing, I went out and did what Lewis suggested - though I can take little credit as I had no idea his suggestion existed at the time, nor did I realize quite what I was doing. I went out and read. I had no books about writing (and they would have been dull as dullness anyway if I had) I merely had tomes of good writing to hand. So I read them. Just as a worker in a minting factory can pick out fakes or flaws at a glance having studied the real thing, I learned rubbish by acquainting myself with good literature. This is not to say I could write anything other than rubbish: just because you know how a gun goes together and works does not mean you can peg a target in the chest. (I always aim for the head anyway.) I had to work at acclimating myself to the skills I had learned.

I learn by imbibing. I am not the sort of person who can be given a book of bullet points on how to go about writing a decent novel. I won't understand it, and it will only irritate me. I had to immerse myself in decent novels. I had to meet well-written characters to learn how a well-written character works. Writing isn't merely putting words together to make a story, it's knowing which words convey the precise meaning, have the precise impact, and tell precisely what you want. It's an art. It's an art of language. And, like any language, the best way to learn it was to go listen to people who spoke it. I learned the potent play of words in passages like

"I only want my rights. I'm not asking for anybody's bleeding charity."
"Then do. At once. Ask for the Bleeding Charity."

and the way natural beauty can be portrayed through figures on ink with such power in passages like

Astern, great clouds bridged the gates of day, boiling upwards into crags of wine-dark vapour and burning plumes of sunrise. In the stainless spaces of the sky above these sailed the horned moon, frail and wan as a white foam-flower blown from the waves. Westward, facing the thunder-smoke of dawn, the fine far ridge of Kartadza was like cut crystal against the sky: the first island sentinel of many-mountained Demonland, his top-most cliffs dawn-illumined with pale gold and amethyst while yet the lesser heights lay obscure, lapped in the folds of night.

I never had a book to teach me how to write; my books were my teachers. There is something to be said for natural raw talent, of course, and I think I had that: but more than that my tutors were masters of the craft already: I was their apprentice.

I rather hope to do them proud.