A Laughter Dark and White

This little piece, belonging to nothing in particular, spun itself out of my mind yesterday. I want to dedicate it specifically to Katie, because Katie has been sick as a dog for such a long time. I don't know if she is cognizant enough to even read it right now, but I mean it for her all the same.

* * * * * *

Martlet’s sleepy daze was disturbed sometime near of witching hour by the ringing tramp of mailed boots at the end of the corridor. Houndwise she opened one bleary eye, careful to keep perfect stillness, as out of the far dark loomed two figures. They had entered the hall and were coming wearily toward her. The taller of the two was speaking, and she recognized the voice as that of Phillip Cheval himself.

“The land is nothing to me fallow,” he was saying. “It has lain fallow long enough. Let him tend it. It will do the land good, and do him passing good as well. I am needing a tenant there, anyhow.”

By now they were nearly over her, pausing in the stairwell doorway. Martlet dared not breathe, dared not move, but lay bug-flat on the rushes in the corner of the corridor’s end.

It was Guy Rollo who replied. Martlet recognized his voice, rather too small for his brown-bull frame. “I know the land needs ploughing, Phillip—was I born yesterday? But is your choice of tenant wise?”

Phillip Cheval’s voice was laughing and strangely iron firm at once. “What slander! No, no, coz; for all his faults, the man can thrust a plough into the earth’s life-blood. Let him tend the land. In a hand-span’s time we will see that I am right.”

Guy Rollo spread his hands and rumbled back like a war-horse grumbling over his evening grain. The noise sparked Phillip Cheval’s laughter—dark lightning laughter, thought Martlet—and the two stepped together up the stairs. But as they did so something small and round fell from Phillip Cheval into the rushes. It fell without a sound, and only Martlet, her heart quickened to a pounding in her empty belly, saw it fall and where it fell. She lay in the tense stillness of death until the smothered ring of boots finally drifted up into quiet…then with a heron-dart her arm flashed out, her hand closed over the tiny object, and faster than thought she had rolled back into the shadows with the thing cupped close to her chest. In the little panting quiet she lay and looked at it.

It was round and made of metal, and in the darkness nearly coal-black. But in what dim light there was Martlet saw a kind of slumbering colour within, far down in and rich, which made her flesh tingle, though she could not say why. The thing was skin-warm on one side and had a great smooth hole in it through which she could put a finger.

Why, she thought, it is a ring!

The ring was battered, smooth with wear, and roughly made, but to Martlet, snuffing it houndwise, it was a thing of beauty. Never in her life had she touched such a jewel; never in her life had she been as close to such a jewel as she had been close to the high and lofty Phillip Cheval. Her head spun with it and with the hunger in her belly.

For a long while she lay with the ring clutched in both hands, her heart alternately quieting and quickening and quieting again. But after a time she gathered herself up laboriously, rolling over and getting to her wobbly knees, reaching as she did so with one hand for her crutches. In her other hand she clutched the ring as though her life depended on it. She got herself up on her wooden legs and like a lamed bird got herself into the stairwell. The stairs were agony; she crawled up many of them, desperate to be quiet, and fought every inch against the vertigo of height and hunger. Round and round, upward and upward she climbed, crawling against the downward flow of the dark around her as a fish might fight a current. She was breathless and shaking visibly by the time she reached the top. There was a blur of golden light before her but for a while it shifted on her vision like light on water and she had to lie still on the cold stone top of the step before it steadied. It was a torch, a single torch set in its ring high up above a door, and the knife-shaped flame of it was casting wild tiger-light all around the doorway and the guard who sat at attention there. With a little mewing whimper Martlet got herself up and stumbled forward.

The guard saw her coming long before she reached the pool of light. He watched her quizzically, fingers tapping from boredom. Her struggle against hunger and her crutches seemed to interest him until he realized that she was not going past his pool of light, and he pushed off from the chair, thunder clouding his brow.

“I don’t have any scraps, waif,” he said gruffly. He waved a hand. “Keep going. Don’t loiter.”

The effort to speak brushed a wave of nausea over Martlet’s vision. She fought it off, took a firm hold on her crutches, and drew herself upright. “Is this Phillip Cheval’s room?” she asked in a thin voice.

“No, this is Heaven, and I am Saint Peter. Go away!” He moved forward to urge her on.

Martlet gave a single piercing, warning shriek, like a cat which has been stepped on, and stopped the man in his tracks. She swallowed, shuffled forward, and began again. “I have a thing for Phillip Cheval. It is very important. He will want it back.”

The man regarded her for a while in silence, his lips pressed into a thin, uncompromising line so that the scruff of his ruddy brown beard stuck out menacingly like so many flame-tipped spears at the end of his chin. He had put his hands into his belt, and his two first fingers were playing idly with the cruciform buckle of his belt.

“Eh!” he said at last. “You don’t look like a murderer… If you have something for my Lord, hand it over and I will give it to him.”

But Martlet shook her head. “N-no, I must give it to him. It is too—too important.” Her right hand gripped the ring until she could feel the metal cutting into her skin.

“Splendour of God,” the man swore softly, and jerked his hands out of his belt. “Very well, I will ask him. Do you stand here and don’t fiddle—” he caught up his pouch which had been hanging on the back of his chair “—with anything.”

She could hear him muttering soft and fantastically under his breath as he turned around and raised a fist to the door. The sound of his knocking banged off the walls all the way down the corridor. There was a pause, then a voice called from within and the guard opened the door, sending dagger-points of yellow light into Martlet’s unprotected eyes. She squinted and grimaced, and by the time she could open her eyes again the guard had gone in and the door was shut again.

Like a lamed bird she moved closer and propped herself against the door, ear pressed to the wood. The guard must have been standing only just inside, for she could hear his words clearly.

“There is a girl outside, sir. She says she has something for you.”

The other’s voice came from a distance, and was a little sharp with bewilderment. “A girl?”

“A little waif.”

“Is that what the caterwaul was?”

The guard gave an admitting laugh. “Yes, sir. The little cat was most adamant about giving something to you. She said it was important and that you would want it.”

There was a long considering silence, which Martlet found agonizing. In the flickering light of the torch she looked down at the object in her hands. It was still drenched in the shadow, but she could just see the round form of it. It was still skin-warm to her touch.

“I wouldn’t have bothered, only she seemed insistent—” the guard began again.

But Phillip Cheval cut him off. “No, no, never mind, Chancy. Show her in.”

Martlet reeled back from the door just as the guard rattled it open again. She peered blinkingly up into his shadowed face. “Phillip Cheval will see you,” he said a trifle grudgingly. “Come on in.” And he added, as she shuffled past him, “And be respectful!”

She got herself into the room beyond and heard the guard Chancy shut the door. Somehow that was the worst sound of all, that door shutting on her, cutting her off from the long familiar tunnel of empty darkness, shutting her in on this firelit, crowded, rich world. Her eyes were wide in her head as she stared about her. Rugs of bearskin covered the floor and there was not a rotten straw in sight. The fireplace, which was lighting up most of the room, was faced in a cold white stone that had little blue veins in it, like a lady’s hand. Tapestries hung on the walls, sporting scenes of the hunt and the battle, with men and hounds and horses and falcons, limbs all flailing wildly after whatever sport they were about. The colours dazzled her. There was an enormous bed, a real bed, with rich red hangings and a mane of gold stuff dangling from its four posts. There were tables and couches, and off of everything, it seemed, the light was jinking and catching and lashing itself back. She was drowning. She was drowning under all that horrible bright splendour. She could not breathe. She could not move. She stood like a struck bird in the middle of the floor, surrounded by it, feeling her face blanching.

A smooth, dark voice called to her, breaking through the suffocation. “Come here, child.”

She turned her gaze slowly from a rack of swords to see Phillip Cheval seated in a low-slung camp chair, his legs outstretched and crossed at the ankles, his arms draped idly over the arms of the chair. It was a picture of languid poise, but Martlet was not fooled. She heard the iron-dark edge beneath the voice and knew that this man, this long, dark man surrounded by all this richness and splendour, was a very terrible man.

It was with a kind of blind effort that she answered those summons. The low, smouldering, hawk-eye stare that was in the great one’s eyes did not waver from her, and somehow hers did not waver from it though she felt as though it peeled her very skin back so that she was all the soft redness and bone that was inside. It was a horrible feeling.

She stopped at the end of his feet and for a moment the silence and firelight and gloom was between them. The world to Martlet was that pale blue stare and the crush of metal against her palm.

At last Phillip Cheval spoke, and his speaking was as the release from an enchantment. “You don’t have the look of a murderer… What is it that you have for me?”

Balancing herself on her crutch, she stretched out her hand and peeled back her stiff fingers. “It is this,” she said. Then, feeling as though she ought to give proper account, “It fell from you when you were passing up the stairs, and I found it for you.”

Phillip Cheval folded himself back up into his chair, leaning forward to see the thing in her hand. His lips parted in surprise when he saw it. He took it from her and held it in his own hand—hers dropped once more to her side—and the terribleness that had been in his face was suddenly replaced by something tender. Martlet looked from his face to the ring-thing that he turned and turned in his fingers. In her hands it had been coal-black, but in Phillip Cheval’s it was of mottled gold and the slumbering colour that had been in the gem had woken now to a red and wicked light, winking in the depths, flashing off its faces like the red lightning of a dun-coloured autumn evening. She shuddered cold. Was that where he kept his terribleness, she wondered, and when he did not have his ring about him he wore the terribleness in his face?

Phillip Cheval laughed soft to himself through his nose and snatched up a glance at her. “So…! It is my ring.” Then his gaze became searching, and he asked, “Why did you bring it back to me?”

The ache in her belly, which had whimpered low until now, flared out again with a crippling power. She fought against the dryness in her throat and took the time to find the words for a thing for which there were no words at all. “The light was in it when I found it,” she said. “But it had gone down, and it said it wouldn’t wake until you had it again. It told me it wanted you.”

The eyes, which had turned terrible again, held her as though he had gripped her shoulder. The dark laughter which she had heard from him was in them, flickering back and forth, back and forth. She felt horribly small under that gaze.

“So…” he said, and he leaned back once more. “It is my ring, and it may be that you and I alone understand why such an old and battered thing is of worth to me.” He held it between thumb and forefinger and rolled it back and forth, letting the light play in the red gem and run widdershins around the bezel. “It is too small a thing for me,” he mused. “I was young when my father passed it on to me, and even then my hands were too large for it. It must be that my people were smaller once and finer-built.” He looked intently and tenderly into it, and Martlet could see the red reflection of it in his pale blue eyes. “They say it comes down from the Welsh war-lords, and maybe even from the kings of Rome. But that is a truth found on the other side of the Dark, and no one can find the truth there anymore. Still,” his eyes jumped to hers and he folded his fingers back on the ring so that it vanished from sight, “it is mine to me. I wear it ever on a chain because my fingers are too large for it. It must be that the chain-latch broke.”

He dug into the front of his leather jerkin, which even at this hour he had not put off, and fetched out from there a long fine chain of silver colour. Sure as he had said, as he held it up to the light, Martlet saw that the latch had snapped. “Hmm,” he said thoughtfully.

“I’ve seen the blacksmith,” Martlet prompted respectfully, “make chains with their links closed on each other. Mayhap Brix can make a chain like that for you, so that there is no latch to break.”

“Mayhap he?” mused Phillip Cheval. “Mayhap he will. Meanwhile a boot lace will do passing well for the task as any other thing.”

Martlet stood rooted to the spot—for if she moved, she feared she might fall—while the great man rose and crossed the room and began rummaging among his chests for the boot lace that he sought. Presently he found it, and she watched him thread the scarlet-speaking ring-thing on it, and lift it over his head. He seemed taller than ever as he did it, tapered as he was to the waist and broadened at the shoulders, like the post-man’s horse, which ran like the wind and cut the wind up as with knives around it. And he shook himself, horse-like, when he had put away the ring and swung back round on Martlet.

“Well, little waifling,” he said, resuming his seat. “What can I give to you for this?”

She stared back at him, her brain alternately hot and cold, groggy and clear. She felt the cat-shriek rising in her throat and, beyond it, with the clearness of a young thing which has not many years to its name, she remembered her father recalling the words of a poor monk. “A man mayn’t have much, but by God he’s got his dignity.” Her hungry frame felt like an autumn leaf, dried out, empty, lifeless, and the tempest of her rage shook her like an autumn leaf in a gale.

“I didn’t come in here for anything,” she blurted out, her thin voice cracking. “I come because I minded you would want the ring. Sir,” she added, remembering some semblance of manners at the last moment.

The great man held her gaze, the wayward forelock of his hair hanging between his eyes. But she did not feel the terribleness that was in those eyes because of the muffling anger in her brain. She held the gaze and shook, and shook and held the gaze, and the silence between them was a long silence. Then suddenly Phillip Cheval’s lips cracked into a smile, and the laughter that was in those eyes, Martlet realized, was a white laughter.

“Your pardon, little cat,” he said smoothly. “I did not mean to rub your fur awrong.”

Once more he rose, lunging upward in an oddly graceful way, and he swung over to the table which stood before the fire with the sea-rolling gait of a man who is blind-weary. With his words the fight had gone back out of Martlet and she stood draped on her own crutches, hoping that they would not lose their grip on the floor, and she watched the man rustle among the things on the tabletop without really seeing what he did. The anger had left her emptier than before, and now all she wanted was to get out before she fainted, because she could not have borne that. But she saw with clarity, out of the other things he moved, the hunk of peat-dark hard bread that he picked up, and the wedge of cheese. He took a leather sack off the back of a chair, a sack embroidered all over with lily patterns of scarlet and silver, and he dropped the bread and cheese inside. Leaning far over the table, he drew close a skin of wine and this, too, he put in the bag.

Martlet watched all this with her breathe bated. She did not dare to breathe, lest everything blow away and howl off down the narrow tunnel of light that her vision was becoming. Phillip Cheval returned and held out the bag idle-wise, as if it were nothing at all. “Marian is ill with the fever and can’t clear up tonight. It is a shame for this to go to waste.”

The roughness of the strap slid against Martlet’s palm, the one that the ring had bitten.

“I know it is late—it is beyond late—but I need you to find the time to take care of this for me.”

“Anything,” Martlet heard her own thin voice saying, though she stared and could not lift her eyes from the lily-pattern of the threads. “I would do anything, sir.”

“Yes,” said Phillip Cheval softly. Then, lifting his voice, “Chancy!”

The door cracked open with such speed that Martlet guessed the guard Chancy had been listening the whole while. And perhaps Phillip Cheval guessed it too, for the dark laughter was in his voice as he said, “Here is the little cat, Chancy. Mind her fur and take her off.”

“Yes, sir.” Chancy stood aside to leave the doorway empty for her, but Martlet, momentarily immobilized, stood staring at the leather bag that dragged so heavily against her arm. Chancy was waiting, Phillip Cheval was waiting. She felt her face going warm, but she could not quite move.

Phillip Cheval’s voice broke gently through to her. “I forgot to ask, little cat. Have you a name?”

She pulled her eyes from the bag. Had she a name? For a moment she felt rabbit-hunted, and her name a warren down which she wanted to scurry but she had lost the way to it. But then there it was, in the biting pressure of the crutches under her arms. “They call me Martlet.”

Phillip Cheval’s teeth flashed, white, with his laughter. “So they do? So they do… God be with you, little Martlet.”

She could go then, as though he had broken some enchantment over her. The clack-clack of her crutches were the only sound in the stillness as she shuffled along the floor and passed Chancy in the doorway. The guard rumbled a good-night to his lord, and the lord gave one back, and then the door swung shut and the two of them were standing in the corridor where the torch fought the shadows for dominance.

“You’re a rum one,” said Chancy roundly.

Wave after wave of dizziness washed over Martlet’s brain. “Mm, coo,” she said sleepily. Then, rousing herself with an effort, for she had still to make her way back down to her pile of rushes in the corner at the base of the stairs, she said, “He—he is very terrible, you know.”

Chancy’s lips pressed again into a thin line, plunging his bristled chin into shadow. He stood with his hands in his belt, fingers playing with the buckle. “He is terrible, I know, but such a one as men are wont to follow… Na,” he shook himself and broke off, waving a hand dismissively at her. “What would a girl know of that kind of thing? Get on, cat. I’ve got hours of boring guarding to do, and I want to do it undisturbed.”

Martlet shuffled off without another word, feeling the circle of torchlight drop away from her shoulders as it were some saffron fairy-cloak. She went, her body like a husk, her spirit too full for it. The only thing that seemed to keep her anchored was the weight of the bag in her hand. But at the head of the stairs she stopped and looked back. Chancy had resumed his position in his chair, elbows on his knees, leaning forward to peer into the dark. She pressed her lip forward, poutingly, thoughtfully, and murmured,

“No, but I do know of that kind of thing. The ring told it to me.”

Then, owl-like, she shook herself free and melted away into the dark of the stairs.

Out of This Far Country

The Dragon's tail twitched at the end. "Do I know you?" he asked, turning his great head to peer at the man more clearly with one eye. "You seem familiar."

"We have met," Prince Aethelbald said.

Heartless, Anne Elisabeth Stengl

It grabbed me by the throat today. It's funny, how you can be trucking along with life, doing passably, minding your own business, and it comes around the corner on you, grabbing you by the throat. It did that to me. I clicked an idle link on an idle blog, idly interested in following it because it said it would lead to a song by Andrew Peterson. And it did. But it led to more than that.

It doesn't just grab you by the throat, you know. It has horrible eagle-claws that dig into your chest and rout out your heart, too, if you have a heart to be routed out. Not everyone does. But somehow, I think I would rather suffer that sudden agony point by point, more and more, as the day draws near rather than be steeled against it. I would rather stare back at Deep Heaven and feel my smallness under it than go crazy and deny it. I would rather live and hurt than be dead and feel nothing. It's a strangely horrible, beautiful pain.

And it caught me by the throat today.

It was the song that gave it critical mass. I had been reading studiously earlier, finishing up a rather lovely fantasy novel that, with each word as I neared the ending, chipped away at my sleepless dullness. A little at a loss, for I am always a little at a loss when I finish a book, I wandered after the idle link and clicked on the song. It began to play: The Far Country. I felt the words reaching out to strangle me, because you can only reach it by dying. Images, memories of beautiful places real and conjured, the sound of waves falling, the sound of the wind in autumn leaves, the warm feeling of life in the earth under my feet, people's words - Christ's, Lewis', MacDonald's, Stengl's, even Sutcliff's - gnarled and knotted in my veins. The Far Country - the Far Country!

this is a far country, a far country
not my home

We walk in Abraham's footsteps through a strange land, and he walked in Christ's, and in every footstep that we leave there is a drop of grace. I hadn't forgot, but I wasn't remembering, and it sprang out at me like a panther. Maybe you have felt its claws too, and the way it leaves you disembodied like a leaf borne on a wind, a wind which no one knows where it came from, no one knows where it is going. Even the leaf doesn't know, just that where it is going is home.

and I long to find it
can you feel it, too?
that the sun that's shining
is a shadow of the truth

I'm reading Hebrews. It's funny, isn't it, how imperturbable God's conspiracy of sanctification is? I finished a book about a dragon-slayer who drank up death and lived to tell about it. I'm reading Hebrews, a book about the endurance of the saints through the shadow things of this world and the hope of those real things to come. I clicked on a song by Andrew Peterson, and a shining spear took me through the hollow of my throat. I remembered: I'm a stranger in a strange land. The books and the song made a part in the hedgerow, they were that mountain on which Christian stood, from which he gazed by spyglass far off and upward, catching a glimpse of the Celestial City. And it hurts, because there is so far to go, so many things to endure, so much loneliness and death-dark vales to go through. The Far Country is so far away. But with the wandering of Abraham is mingled the hopeful faith of the book of Hebrews. It doesn't lessen the pain - I don't know if I want it to. I know some people say faith is superstition, that this pain is neurological nostalgia, that the Far Country doesn't exist. I know why they say that: it takes eyes that see to see it and a heart that beats to love it, and only the Prince of That Country gives those things out. They don't grow in This World. In this dispirited, materialistic time I know that some of the things I know best are things I have never seen. They are the things that shod men's feet with iron, that set their faces like flint. They strengthen the cords of their hearts and strike fire inside them. They make us run the race with endurance. They carry us through the fight to the death - and beyond.

I was made to go there
out of this far country
to my home, to my home

I saw a glimpse of the Far Country today. I couldn't tell you what it looks like, save that righteousness dwells there; I couldn't tell you where it is, save beyond a death by burning. But I smelled it, and I heard it, and I swear I caught a glimpse of it, and I know it is there. We know it is there. We call it by many names, fantastical and otherwise: Elvenhome, the Far Country, Farthestshore, a New Heaven and a New Earth, the Sabbath... But whatever other names we use to describe it, we all use one together.


The Very Witching Time of Night

By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon named Night,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule -
From a wild clime that lieth, sublime,
Out of Space - out of Time.

Dreamland, E.A. Poe

I used to wonder what it was about the great artists that drove them so batty. Every single one of them, it seems, was either disturbed or depressed or insane. It makes people leery about being "artistic." Who would want to be pigeon-holed with that crowd?

I still don't know what it was about those men (mostly men, but some women too) that drove them so crazed. Was it, as the Green Lady of Perelandra said, that living under the naked spread of Deep Heaven drives man's mind to madness? Is it his pursuit of the Muses, his unrequited love for beauty, that makes him so unnatural? Is it his very Godlessness, his lack of any moral foundation as he pokes among spirits of a different sort? Is it his looking for that which he does not know that makes him mad? I still don't know. And quite possibly I don't want to know. But I do know that the passion that can take an artist of any medium can be almost too much to bear. I am thankful to have that firm foundation, to be able to look at Deep Heaven and not fear it, to know what lies back of all the beauty in the world. I have the rudimentary beginnings of a sound mind. But I am an artist - I'm a time-traveller, a conjurer, an instrument that I am trying to tune and play at the same time. Like Scrooge I feel immaterial and silent as the grave passing through histories and images, scraps of song, lines of poetry and prose, anxious above all else to take them in and share them with others but feeling so helpless to do so. I am an artist and it's tiring.

I've begun a new novel, as you know: Plenilune. It came on me with an unsporting but necessary suddenness and I have been thinking about it almost constantly, running with it for all I am worth, afraid that if I slow down I will lose momentum and drive. I'm prone to laziness, a trait that a writer cannot afford. I haven't always been writing, but I have been thinking and thinking and thinking. I feel like my poor centurion Amadeus.

"My Lord Count, this past year and over a year I have thought for Britain and I have fought for Britain. Now let you see to affairs of state, and let me bury my British dead."

I am not a good sleeper. I am by nature very high-strung and tense - I associate myself rather closely with Ginger of Black Beauty fame. Most nights I am combating the aching tension in my neck and shoulders that my personality inflicts, which doesn't bode well for a good night of sleep. Plenilune has thrown into that mix a mind moving so quickly that I swear you can hear it hum. I can usually find a calming image, such as a cat curled up asleep (is there anything more comfortable than a cat curled up asleep?) and, focusing on that, I can wander off hand in hand with Morpheus until about three in the morning. Not so the past several nights. My mind has been given an involuntary flogging and has been running flat out through the long dark hours of night wherein there is nothing else to do but lie away and stare at the ceiling, thinking and thinking and thinking until I feel close to going mad. At the time I write this my cup of tea stands empty, having barely nicked the groggy muddle in my head; my plate of breakfast-lunch stands almost eaten; the mellow glow of my lamp mingles with the rainy atmosphere outside my window. I am tired, overrun by my own story, and I am barely out of the starting gate with it. This is what it is like, being an artist, I suppose.

I hope there is some method in this madness. I have said before, it is not all tiresome. I am a cross gingersnap when I don't have a quarry to chase. I am glad for Plenilune; heck, I'm of proud of Plenilune! Maybe it is not method, maybe it is more madness, but as a "creative person" I am not happy without this grueling work. For whatever reason the "great" artists went mad, I imagine "thinking God's thoughts after Him" is apt to drive a man rather mad too.

Seems I've imagined Him all of my life
As the wisest of all of mankind
But if God's holy wisdom is foolish to man
He must have seemed out of His mind
God's Own Fool, Michael Card

And, in my small way, that is what I am doing. So here I am, tired, crazed, full of my plots and characters and countrysides and wanting badly either a nap or a hot bath. Welcome to my life.

Beautiful People - Margaret Coventry

Margaret could feel [his] gaze upon her constantly, from whatever quarter, like a cold shadow gone widdershins and revolving around her, always touching her skin. She held up her best and did not shudder, but as they passed from open fellside into a deep hand-splay of glens where the horses had to fight for the gang with bush and tree and sudden purl of water, the pressure worsened. So it was almost a relief when [he], riding close and ducking to avoid the scarlet embrace of a mountain ash, murmured to her,

"It is an ill thing for me that you look so like the Huntress - unless I be Orion."

"Orion died," said Margaret, turning a cold and rampant brow on him.

Shadows and the shadows of shadows flickered swiftly across his face before, as they emerged into a sunlit meadow, it cleared again. "Then mayhap we will rewrite the story," he said, "and Orion will not die."

Welcome to the September installment of Beautiful People here at The Penslayer. Last month I chose to do Rede Tuanic from my novel Between Earth and Sky, and he was a real sport about it. But this month I would like to do a post for the heroine of my fantasy novel Plenilune. She is still coming into her own, and I thought you might like a tiny glimpse of who I am working with these days.

Margaret Coventry

1. Does she have any habits, annoying or otherwise?

Margaret is a paragon of good behaviour. She has worked hard to become a model young woman, though on occasion her behaviour seems forced, which can grate against the nerves, and her personality is often cold and reserved, which is not a wholly commendable trait in a young woman.

2. What is her backstory and how does it affect her now?

Margaret is the eldest daughter of a sonless family and a great deal depends on her marrying well. Having watched the behaviour of her two sisters and cousin nearly ruin those chances completely, Margaret feels the weight of her responsibilities very keenly, the keenness helped in no small part by the constant reminders of her mother. As a child she was always quiet, reserved, and introspective, to which she added a touch of resentment and, incongruously, a rough kind of justice and mercy as she came into her adolescent years.

3. How does she show love?

A cold and constant sort of hate is an emotion Margaret is more accustomed to showing. She is not one to lose her temper easily in any direction so that it takes a great deal to draw out passionate love or hate from her. What she hates she is liable to hate until she dies, what she loves she is liable to die for without stopping to count the cost.

4. How competitive is she?

Margaret is extremely competitive, but she doesn’t choose her battles without being sure of some hope of victory. When she is faced with a challenge (i.e. marrying well) she rises to it with grit and poise.

5. What does she think about when nothing else is going on?

At home she keeps her mind busy with needlework and reading, and in particularly good weather she will go out for a ride on horseback. Abroad, Margaret spends her time taking walks in solitude and waging her own private war with the torn soldiers of her emotions and convictions.

6. Does she have an accent?

As a girl Margaret had a local Lancashire accent, but she has struggled hard to replace it with the southern and more refined accent of the Home Counties. As a result, her voice nestles comfortably and a touch alluringly between the two.

7. What is her station in life?

Margaret Coventry comes from an old Saxon family which originally settled in the Midlands; around the reign of James I a branch of the family moved to Northern England and settled down comfortably, which branch Margaret is from. Her family has contained anything from petty earls to landed farmers; her father is the benefactor of her grandfather’s mill investments and they enjoy a well-to-do middle class estate.

8. What do others expect from her?

Margaret’s family, and Margaret herself, expect her to marry well and continue to support the social and financial dignity of the family. For this Margaret has no complaint, if only she were not pushed so, and she resents the difficulty the very personalities of her family members present her as they push her to make a good match.

9. Where was she born, and when?

Margaret was born in the northern English town of Aylesward in the Year of Our Lord 1822.

10. How does she feel about people in general?

In general, Margaret does not usually expend any emotion on people. On an individual level, she thinks of people in extremes, though she may not show it. This cool, subconscious fa├žade is taxed rather sorely in her travels abroad and her temper is worn thin both for and against people, but her basic opinions, once founded, rarely change.

First Impressions

K.M. Weiland on Wordplay recently wrote a post on what constitutes a good opening sentence in a story. Having gone through that grueling exercise in English class of making "hooks," as well as being an author, I know how hard it is to make that first impression really count. I found her post to be very insightful, and I certainly recommend it. But what jumped out at me was the curious realization that once you have got past that killer first sentence in a story, you don't usually remember it. Think about the last good book you read: can you remember the opening line? Well, I'm bad at memorizing anyway, so I like to think I'm exempt. Maybe. But I did wonder: what are the opening sentences of the books I love most? So I thought I would figure out.

From the Fosse Way westward to Isca Dumnoniorum the road was simply a British trackway, broadened and roughly metalled, strengthened by corduroys of logs in the softest places, but otherwise unchanged from its old estate, as it wound among the hills, thrusting farther and farther into the wilderness.
The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliff

On a blustery autumn day a galley was nosing up the wide loop of a British river that widened into the harbour of Rutupiae.
The Silver Branch, Rosemary Sutcliff

The thing happened with the appalling swiftness of a hawk swooping out of a quiet sky, on a day in late spring, when Freya was not quite five.
The Shield Ring, Rosemary Sutcliff

Hear me! we've heard of Danish heroes, ancient kings, and the glory they cut for themselves, swinging mighty swords!

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
(Okay, I can remember this one.)

Once upon a time there was a little dog, and his name was Rover.
Roverandom, J.R.R. Tolkien

My dear Wormwood, I note what you say about guiding your patient's reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend.
The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis

I seemed to be standing in a bus queue by the side of long, mean street.
The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis

As I left the railway station at Worchester and set out on the three-mile walk to Ransom's cottage, I reflected that no one on that platform could possibly guess the truth about the man I was going to visit.
Perelandra, C.S. Lewis

There was a man named Lessingham dwelt in an old low house in Wastdale, set in a gray old garden where yew-trees flourished that had seen Vikings in Copeland in their seedling time.
The Worm Ouroboros, E.R. Eddison

First, I shall undertake the proof and defence of the great truth that the affairs of the saints in this world are certainly conducted by the wisdom and care of special Providence.
The Mystery of Providence, John Flavel

The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it.
Black Beauty, Anna Sewell

The primroses were over.
Watership Down, Richard Adams

It is quite untrue that the Minnipins, or Small Ones, were a lost people, for they knew exactly where they were.
The Gammage Cup, Carol Kendal

In the last days of Narnia, far up to the west beyond Lantern Waste and close beside the great waterfall, there lived an Ape.
The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis

Marley was dead, to begin with.
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

They are all of them (I find) fascinating, inspiring, puzzling. You want to follow the Fosse Way into the Devon wilderness. You want to find out what on earth a hobbit is. What about Lessingham, and what's so important about an ape? And they all, to varying degrees and with varying kinds, contain a sort of magic - either jarring or enchanting or bewildering - that draws me in. And the magic is twofold: maybe I don't recall the opening sentence, but as soon as I read it again, all the enchantment of the story that I read before wells up at me out of that single introductory line. Not to put any pressure on writers, but that line is so dreadfully important. Beginnings are probably the hardest thing I have to write. Not only does the beginning have to lay the correct groundwork for the story (on a basic, pragmatic level) but the beginning has to yank the reader in head over heels and hold him under until he succumbs to the medium of my writing.

That sounds more sinister than I meant it to.

I know I'm not the only one who likes these books, and subsequently these opening sentences, so these authors must have known the trick of it. It's an enormous challenge, but I rather like it, and find myself rising to it - though it may be only the combined effects of my tea and "Moving" by The Secret Garden. I dare say they conjure a somewhat war-like attitude.

How about you? What are the opening sentences of your favourite books that draw you in to dance among the written word?

Do post!

A Sort of Phoenix Requiem

Beneath the skies of hueless make,
Through tigery midsummer’s brake,
Wi’ hoofbeats and the thunder-quake,
Through swimming heat, the air a-shake,
Rode down the Hawthorn Moon.
Beneath the skies the dales a-teem
Wi’ horses and the trumpet’s scream;
And on his fell brow an argent gleam:
The Lord of Plenilune.
jennifer freitag

It really is rather alarming how similar my life is to Abigail's. I keep thinking we really were meant to be twins. Of course, if we were twins, we might have both killed each other by now. Or one of us would have killed the other a la Romulus and Remus and the survivor would now be establishing a new world order and trying to conquer Gaul. So I guess you all can be happy that we're five years apart. So anyway, as I was saying, similarities. Abigail just celebrated passing 100,000 words on her historical fiction The White Sail's Shaking, and I just celebrated the long-awaited, extremely grueling, much put-off completion of Adamantine's second draft.

No hyperbole were hurt in the making of this post.

With only a few misgivings still fluttering bat-like about me as I stride victorious out of the veiled gates of Hades, I can say that I have finished that most horrendous of drafts, the monstrous second one, in which all the gnarly bits of thought and jagged plot-points that have fallen into some kind of order have to be hammered more perfectly into place. I went through much the same process with The Shadow Things, though Adamantine, being so much bigger, was a good deal more grueling and required a lot more from me. It took longer, it took more out of me: I had a much bigger world, a much bigger plot, and only a single me to play all three Norns. But boy, was it gratifying, though I know there is still more to go, being able to sit there at the end of the manuscript, having finished the second draft. That weight was gone. I thought I ought to have felt giddy, but instead I just felt...still. I felt as if all the thunder and crash of a battlefield had finally drifted away and a curious woolen silence pressed against my mind. But I was happy. I sent the Furies and the manuscript to my sister-in-law for further perusal for another pass, but for now I've won the breach and held it. Mine own familiar story: we've pulled through the worst and we've got only to get perfectly sound on our feet.

But one thing got up out of the ashes of the fight. It had lain long and quiet and mostly unnoticed in my mind until I chanced across it again as I wrapped up my editing. The Shadow Things, first novel, Lord willing, of many more, was designed with something more in mind, a kind of small portal to a much larger scene. Adamantine, on the other hand, is turning out to be one of two twin doors. For a few minutes my desk chair was a rock on a high place overlooking a quiet, windy dale that had been tawny and was now red. I sat in that woolen silence. Presently I would get up and reassemble my mind to finish up the last few things of Adamantine's campaign, but before I could do that one last horn called in the quiet distance: another story, another long fight, another campaign looming on the horizon.

"There's always someone left to fight."


And Gareth Said

"Full pardon, but I follow up the quest, despite of Day and Night and Death and Hell."

I posted once on a character in a book I am reading, a Brandoch Daha, who was a strange, proud, fantastic figure walking lightly on the page. There is another character among a host of characters in my book a little snippet of which I want to share. I like the cool prancing cat-sort character, but equally as well - if not more so - I like the trodden fellow who looks at life with a philosophical smile, the guileless player in the background. Among many reasons, this is why I like

Lord Gro of Goblinland

The Lord Gro lay back, clasping his slender hands behind his head. "Stand, I pray thee," said he, "o' the other side of me, that I may see thy face."

She did so, still threatening him with the sword. And he said smiling, "Divine lady, all my days have I had danger for my bedfellow, and peril of death for my familiar friend; whilom leading a delicate life in princely court, where murther sitteth in the wine-cup and in the alcove; whilom journeying alone in the more perilous lands than this, as witness the Moruna, where the country is full of venomous beasts and crawling poisoned serpents, and the divels be as abundant there as grasshoppers on a hot hillside in summer. He that feareth is a slave, were he never so rich, were he never so powerful. But he that is without fear is king of all the world. Thou hast my sword. Strike. Death shall be a sweet rest to me. Thraldom, not death, should terrify me."

The Zeal of Thy House

This story is for Daddy. He asked me the other evening what something would look like in a story, or how it might be written, and saying something like that to me is a kind of strike the bell and bide the danger kind of thing. I wanted to try it. My mind started racing, and here is one piece of the several scenes my mind has managed to produce in twenty-four hours. I don't want to tell what his question was specifically, because, you know, that would be telling. I am sure that thinking this hard in such a short amount of time can't be good for me, especially since this is Sunday and Sundays, by virtue of their being packed with teaching, require a good deal of thinking from me already. I seem to be all right, though. I hope you enjoy this little haberdashery piece, Daddy - and I hope the rest of you do too.

"...you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands..."

With these thoughts on his mind Prosper turned a corner at the head of the street and came out of them with a jolt, drawing to a halt. He had been wanting, out of a strange, almost obsessive curiosity, to get a good look at the man and perhaps even have a conversation with him; and there he was, seated to one side in the nearly deserted square on a low block of rough-cut stone, bent forward, drawing with one finger in the dirt. It was not the image Prosper had expected of the White Necromancer at all; it was wholly tame, almost embarrassingly personal and boyish, that figure, leaning quieting to the rhythm of his art-work, caught up in the silent hum of his creativity. Prosper did not want to break him from that oddly lovely reverie, but he knew that if he tried to turn around he would only be walking back a moment later. Best, he thought, to get it over with.

He walked up to the seated figure and let his shadow slide over one bare knee. In the glare of sunlight Prosper saw the man’s tunic was dusted with a light covering of red dirt and the hand which lay idle over one thigh was calloused and grimed with red—and raw at the fingertips, as if he had been burnt. “Excuse me,” he said, coughing a little.

The White Necromancer switched a little curl in the dirt with the nail of his littlest finger. “Good afternoon, Prosper.”

It sent a sort of cold thrill down his spine, but somehow Prosper was not surprised that the man knew his name. He was the sort of man to know—he was the sort of man to know without being told. And now that it came to the point, Prosper was not sure what to say. How did one address this cool, knowing sort of man, this homeless street-performer, this man who played with fire as one might play with a pet? The form of this man was something Prosper could not quite get a hold of, and he felt the man slipping through his fingers before he had even tried.

“You know my name,” he said at last, lamely, and knowing he was lame, “but I don’t know yours.”

“No,” the White Necromancer said, still drawing in the dirt. “I haven’t told it to you yet.”

Prosper dropped his eyes to the drawing. It took him thoroughly by surprise. For a dirt drawing, it was magnificent. He found himself looking up a long and vaulted corridor, each column etched in detailed precision, each high, gabled window pricked out with care. Each flag of stone—were they marble?—on the floor was cut so sharp as to be almost life-like. It was beautiful. And, furthermore, Prosper would have bet his very life that it was a real place. The detail, the precision, the clarity, all spoke of a place the White Necromancer had known and was calling up from memory. What a memory! Prosper thought. Then, with a twist of pity, I wonder if that was his home once.

With a gusty sigh the man made to finish the drawing and climbed to his feet. He was startlingly tall up close, towering almost a head above Prosper, his crown of wild ginger hair burning against the colourless sky. Even in the shadows there was a light flickering in his dark eyes, a cool and dangerous light like lightning coming out of summer thunder. The posture was intimidating; the shadow that fell from him was cold.

“My name is Felix,” said the White Necromancer, and unexpectedly touched the tips of his fingers to his forehead and inclined forward in a gesture of friendly salute. Prosper, rather awkwardly, copied the gesture and wished the fellow were not so devilishly hard to pin down. Once they had both straightened, Felix added, “Your hand—I believe it appears burnt.”

Self-conscious, Prosper could barely keep from jerking the hand behind his back. “It is not very bad,” he said, suddenly not sure how to explain the accident.

“Not very bad?” said Felix in a tone that Prosper found almost annoying. “Here, let me have a look.”

Feeling ridiculously like a child, but unable to resist, Prosper held up his left hand and showed the red angry blaze of burn across his thumb and two middle fingers. They still throbbed a little, though by now Prosper had learned to ignore the pain rather well. But looking at the marks again, and thinking back to his stupidity in reaching for the little piece of feather, made the pain redouble with a vengeance.

“Hmm,” Felix grunted. Then his dark eyes flickered up to Prosper’s. “I can heal that, if you like.”

“Oh? You’re a surgeon too?”

The eyes remained steadfast, almost daring, but Felix said nothing. A hot wind blew around them, raking through the man’s hair until it looked like candlefire.

Prosper relaxed his shoulders. “If it isn’t a bother. They do sting a bit, especially when I have to use them.”

“Touch them together,” said Felix, and he put his hands confidently into his belt.

Instinctively Prosper snapped his fingers together, and braced for the raw pain. To his surprise, no pain came. He opened his clenched hand to find it hale as ever, and he gave a little yelp of bewildered discovery. “How did you do that!” he cried. He touched them together again to be sure it was not an illusion.

“They call me the White Necromancer,” Felix said coolly.

Prosper rubbed his fingers into the palm of his other hand. There was no pain, only the delicious and inexplicable sense of health. It could be only an illusion conjured by this wild young man, but even so he thought he would rather keep it. At least he could tie up his boots now without suffering agony.

With a little conscious jerk he remembered his manners. “Thank you very much. I certainly didn’t come over to bother you.”

“What did you come for?”

Coming from anyone else, Prosper thought it might have sounded rude. And maybe it was a little rude, but somehow the question made him shrink in on himself until he was what he thought his real size. It was a nasty feeling, far more than mere rudeness. Felix was tall enough, and rather splendid enough, without making a man feel any smaller. Wanting to be angry, and not quite conjuring it properly with the mixed feelings running in his mind, Prosper asked quickly, with a little jerk of one finger toward them, “Your hands are burnt. Why not heal them too?”

Felix smiled, and it made Prosper all the more uncomfortable.

Struggling with a rising temper, struggling to be polite, struggling to like the fellow for reasons he could not explain, the young man tried again. “I heard some people say that you were an architect. I’ve planned a few things myself—just a few byres and baths. Is that true—that you were an architect?”

“I am the architect,” he admitted, with a sort of laughing gravity that made Prosper wonder if he really understood.

Prosper gazed down at the drawing between their feet. The wind had not touched it; it remained intact, pristine; he felt eerily as though he might set a foot on it and suddenly fall through into the dun-coloured evening of a king’s palace in some world altogether other. He dragged his eyes away from it, the spell of it still lingering on him. The last traces of his cross attitude were gone. “You must have designed some fine buildings. This one, for instance—” he pointed to the drawing. “There are great homes for the rich and shack homes for the poor, and as-you-like-them homes for the middle class, but this is different.” He stared at it again, feeling Felix’s eyes on him. The man had not moved while Prosper went on, feeling more and more foolish, yet more and more determined to say what was in his mind. “It’s splendid—it’s fit for a king—but it’s…it’s honest. I don’t know. There is a sort of purity about it. I don’t know… It’s honest. Only an honest man could live there.”

After a long, painful pause he looked up at Felix again, disliking rather keenly that he had to look up, though Felix could hardly help that. Felix had not moved, but the danger had gone out of the eyes and there was a curious softness there. Prosper felt, in his crude, rambling way, that he had unlocked the secret intent of the artist, and that the artist was pleased. But he was not prepared when the White Necromancer said, very quietly and calmly,

“You are not far from living in such a house yourself.”

“You—” Prosper impulsively touched his tongue to his dry lips. The man did not move. The man could have been cast in a sort of living stone, for all he knew. He stood relaxed, head upraised to the sky, slender and splendid as a racehorse. Suddenly he seemed very far away, as though Prosper could reach out to touch him and miss, though they stood only a pace apart. “You are building?”

“I am.”

He looked back at the drawing. “What sort of house are you building now?” His voice, too, seemed to come from a distance.

One of Felix’s booted feet moved outward, smoothing the dirt over and killing the drawing. Something wrenched horribly in Prosper’s middle, as if he had just seen someone’s face blotted out. “I am building a house that will last,” said Felix, and when Prosper finally pulled his eyes back up the fierce light was back in the other’s eye. It was the light of determination: it was the light of a madman.

Without warning Felix lifted a hand and brought it down with a snap. There was a crack, a flash, a curl of pale smoke, and the White Necromancer was simply gone. The square was empty and the scent of wood-smoke and lavender lingered on the air.

Prosper sat down heavily on the stone, the breath knocked out of him.

“How does he do that?”

Tell Anthonius We're Building a Wall

...not making a tessellated pavement.

I meant to go home. I was going to go home. But I got stuck at the office. I help my mother-in-law run her business, and I was putting in my hours on Thursday, same as always. But when my husband came to pick me up after having the oil changed in the car and having the tire patched and replaced, our afternoon was shot to pieces by the fact that the mechanic had not put the wheel on right. My husband and his father spent upwards of an hour on the thing while I kicked about looking to entertain myself.

On this particular occasion, I had neglected to bring Veiled Rose with me, thinking I wouldn't have time to read it between having lunch with my mother- and sister-in-law and the little ones, and having to work. Gee, was I wrong. Thankfully I had brought along an armload of books for my homeschooling sister-in-law to look at for my niece, and I had Everyday Life in Roman and Anglo-Saxon Times on hand. I wanted to read it, and a dead afternoon seemed like as good a time as any.

La dee da, introduction, Rome has had a great impact on Western Civilization, Britain was nothing before Rome came, the whole shebang I've heard it before, and then...Chapter Two. Chapter Two: Calleva Atrebatum. (Oh, and other towns.) But Calleva! You may know it as Silchester. I know it as Calleva, seat of the Atrebates, a fluidly Romano-British town, and the home of some of my very best friends. I was perched in a nice folding chair, very Roman itself, in a patch of sun, staring in a kind of paralyzed delight at the aerial view of the town. She was laid out on a grid pattern, but somehow comfortably haphazard for all that. I said, "Hello, old friend," to myself, so that no one else would hear, and for a while I kept reading.

But by the time I was led around to the West Gate and shown up by the authors to the entrance, I had to get up. There was an ink illustration of the gate with its timber bridge over the ditch under the shadow of the looming stonework wall, and in the text were all the dimensions. I'm bad with numbers, they simply don't speak to me, but when I was given the dimensions of the ditch I found something I could work with. I jumped up and ran for the garage where I was hoping my father-in-law kept a spare measuring tape. I found one. It was for twenty-five feet. With a little disapproving grunt that would have sounded better coming out of Eikin's nose and not mine, I shuffled around the gravel driveway for rocks. I could do this. It would be primitive, but primitive was my style.

Doing some exceedingly awkward math in my head, I chose out four of the larger rocks and trekked with no explanation to anyone up to the road. I stood at the head of the drive and set down a stone, and stared down the length of the street.

Eighty feet.

What did that look like?

I began marching, doling out tape as I went. It was a ticklish business, rattling out the steel measurements on the asphalt, catching the steel tongue of the tape on the littler rocks, trying always to keep the darn thing straight. I measured out twenty-five feet, dug a rock out of my pocket, and put it down at the twenty-five feet marker. Then I began again, careful not to dislodge my marking rock from its place as I went. Cars drove by, keeping warily to the far side of the road. "Hello!" I muttered. "Don't mind me. I'm a writer." Twenty-five feet, fifty feet, a third stone gave me seventy-five feet and I had a little length of five feet to go. With a gesture of triumph I dropped the fourth stone in place and yanked up the tape, and turned to gaze at my marked-off length of eighty feet.

The ditch around Calleva bloomed before my eyes. Eighty feet across, and there I stood on the brink of it, the asphalt and white marker-rocks shifting dream-like in and out with the image of the timber bridge and the stone- and earth-work walls of the town.

I'm afraid my first thought was, How many bodies would it take to fill that ditch?

I stepped on the end of the tape and ran it up as high as I could. Another two cars drove by, and this time I was feeling more than a little foolish waving ten feet of measuring tape in the air, but I didn't want to let on about it. Unfortunately, my just-barely-five-foot frame can't maintain a measuring tape at ten and a half feet, let alone the height of twelve feet that was the depth of the ditch. I let the tape fall over on my head, content with the general idea that the ditch was rather deep.

Trotting back across the yard to deposit the measuring tape in its accustomed living space, I wondered if you could take the average volume of a human body and the whole length of the ditch to figure out how many bodies it would take to fill it. I don't think the grimed and oily men working on the three-legged car appreciated my proposal. I decided that was math for another day.

What do you do for research?

Uncle Aquila lived on the extreme edge of Calleva. One reached his house down a narrow side-street that turned off not far from the East Gate, leaving behind the forum and the temples, and coming down a quiet angle of the old British earthworks - for Calleva had been a British dun before it was a Roman city - where hawthorn and hazel still grew and the shyer woodland birds sometimes came.
The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliff

Guest Post By Minnow and 'Quila

See the kitten on the wall,
Sporting with the leaves that fall,
Withered leaves, one, two, three
Falling from the elder tree,
Through the calm and frosty air
Of the morning bright and fair.

See the kitten, how she starts,
Crouches, stretches, paws and darts;
With a tiger-leap half way
Now she meets her coming prey.
Lets it go as fast and then
Has it in her power again.

Now she works with three and four,
Like an Indian conjurer;
Quick as he in feats of art,
Gracefully she plays her part;
Yet were gazing thousands there;
What would little Tabby care?

William Wordsworth

Mommy is busy today making the house clean, so Aquila and I thought we would make a post for her. She went in to put her hair up in some turtle-looking thing on the back of her head with little squiggly things and a rainstorm of that awful-smelling - (expletive removed by Aquila) - spray stuff. But the turtle and spray stuff aside, she's a cool girl, so we thought we would make a post for her since she is so busy.

We're cats, so, you know, our days are packed. At dark-thirty we get Daddy up to make sure he feeds us, and then dutifully pester him while he gets his own breakfast and pulls all his gear and papers together for The World Beyond the Glass. We haven't yet figured out what he does there all day. I take samples off his shoes every time he comes home in the evening, but Aquila still hasn't managed to buy a microscope off the
(word removed by Aquila) so my samples are useless. All I can say is that he is so full of smells, I barely know where to start. I would put a camera on him, but Aun Tabby's camera battery died, so there goes that plan.

After Daddy leaves, Minnow and I wait for another half-hour or so before waking up Mommy. When I think she is sleeping in too late, I try calling for her, and sometimes I even bang on the door if it's an emergency. I kind of think Mommy is a little deaf. She doesn't usually listen, anyway. Minnow, it's my turn to type -

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So on today's docket Mommy has sweep kitchen, take out trash, wash dishes (boring!), feed the dragon (what the - ?), fold the laundry, vacuum living room. Full schedule! Personally, I would put a nap in there someplace, but Mommy gets really cranky for some reason when she tries to take naps. She can never seem to get comfortable, even though I've given her all the tips and advice I can.

I'm going to be looking out for doves in the back yard, and for the squirrel. The squirrel is making me anxious. I think he's on to us.

Did you say Mommy is going to vacuum?

If I'm lucky, Mommy will be too tired to finish the list of things she wants to do, and she'll come back to the computer and work on a story. Then I can get my own nap in on her lap, though goodness knows she's always getting up and down and up and down and it's very hard to concentrate on sleeping when your pillow is constantly leaving.

She's going out to check the mail! The World Beyond the Glass! Run!

On a typical day, Aquila and I greet Mommy when she gets up, and then spend about an hour while she gets dressed and makes her tea and breakfast running around the house pummeling each other to tick her off until she opens the French door blinds. After that we are usually content to take turns looking out of the back door and the spare room window while she works on the computer or reads. After that we usually nap, which is really hard work, especially since Mommy is always going back and forth and wakes us up all the time. She's really cool and I love her, but sometimes she's such a nuisance.

That's a typical day. Today she has all this junk written down to do around the house, and lately she's taken to filling the bathtub up with water and making some kind of evil-smelling witch's brew in it, and getting into it. She doesn't take anything to hold onto, she doesn't take a flotation device. I keep a close eye on her, just in case anything goes wrong, and thankfully so far nothing has. But it still worries me.

I watch too, but sometimes she splashes and pokes me in the face with water. Watching after her is really hard sometimes.

No joke. And you wonder that we sleep so much. Mommy is really hard to look after sometimes. I hate to admit it, but when she goes away to The World Beyond the Glass, I sit at the garage door and wait for her until she gets back home. But she says she doesn't have to go anywhere today, so I don't have to stand guard. Which is great, because standing guard is a pain.

This is 'Quila and me, and a slightly less typical day at the Freitag house. I have a sock to chew on in a minute, and 'Quila to beat up after that, and possibly dust-bunnies to chase after on the kitchen floor. I hope your day will be as fun as ours (butIdoubtitwillbe).

The washer stopped! Can I close the post? Good-bye, everyone! It has been really fun guest-posting (even if Minnow hogged the keyboard) and maybe we can do it again soon. I'm writing a Gotham-city-romance type thing. Maybe I can tell you about that.

It's sappy as all get-out.

I just want to say, Mommy is really cool and read her book! Even though I haven't yet. I'm a terrible cat.

That's why I'm due to pummel him shortly. Mommy says we're just like this and that it's a good thing we can't do "alchemy." I'm not sure what she means by that.

I get to close the post! Love you guys. You make Mommy's day.

Between Earth and Sky: the Haggard

I began this morning's session of writing with a brand new chapter for Between Earth and Sky. At first I was a trifle at a loss, for starting new chapters is always a little difficult. By midmorning I was aching in my back and broke off to give it a soak in the bath. I find it very difficult to read in the bath, because the threat of dropping my book in the water is ever-present. So I plugged in my CD player and popped in a CD that I had neglected to listen to - "Our Daily Bread: Celtic Hymns." I was very pleased with the music, and I found it fitting for my story. Crawling out of the bath, I plunked myself back down at the computer, set the CD to play again, and opened a new document.

I decided to come at the chapter from a different angle. Oh, the chapter itself that will wind up in the novel will be with Rede. But I needed more than Rede. I needed to look at the opening scenes from another character's point of view entirely to get the feel just right, otherwise I knew I was going to be floundering. So with the jaunty tones of "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say" filling my little spare room/cubby-hole/hideaway, I scribbled the following little piece for the background of Between Earth and Sky: Chapter, The Haggard.

* * * * *

Autumn was in the air that morning. Swathed in a blanket of early morning fog, the August turf smelled of an autumn which had not yet quite come. Far up beyond the clouds the eagle-sun still flew, switching his eye back and forth across the clouds, looking for a crack through which to plunge his merciless gaze. But in the valley where the great tuan walked, stately by the burn, there was no sun, no summer’s heat, only the freshness of an autumn morning and the cool rush of water.

Dew beaded on his great velvet nose as he snuffled among the long grasses. There was a scent of hare here, and in the bole of a wet alder tree there was the unnerving scent of mouse-blood where an owl had made its kill the night before. The tuan stepped carefully among the red fern, his massive hooves lifted and placed like a dancer’s, his enormous rack of horns twisted delicately from side to side to avoid the tangled alder boughs. Branches of alder, high-growing fern, clusters of red currant scraped along his seal-brown hide as he descended the bank and stood with his forefeet in the cold rocky bed of the stream, his grey and black reflection staring back at him.

For a long while he drank, a lone figure on the river, his coat steaming softly as the fog turned to mizzle and his reflection broke up as the winds drove the water off the trees into the river below. There was a scent of fox on that wind, which disturbed him none, and a scent of clean upland grass, which would interest him presently. For now he drank, and lowered his lids over his great languid eyes as he revelled quietly in the coolness of the high stream.

At last the long drink was over. Heavy with water, encumbered by his horns, the tuan turned about, churning up the murky river bed, and heaved himself with a crash back up through the bank-scrub, shaking red currant out of his rack and coat. The little berries flew wild, scattering on the grass like drops of blood. Snorting, stamping, gouging up the turf, the giant stepped away, emerging from the fog-laden riverbank into a little clearing of steely grey. He moved his ears about, their soft white insides dampened by the rain; he distended his nostrils, pulling in with a great rushing noise the scents of the dale. He could no longer smell the fox, but he could hear an angry grouse calling from the hilltop. He took a delicate step forward, rocking with the chanticleer stride; one last sniff, forehoof raised as if to hold the world still for one last moment, and he was sure that all was right with his kingdom.

His hoof returned to earth and he turned about, ready to follow the scent of grass up the cool aisles of fog and rain and sunshot mist to where the world was high and lifted up, where there was nothing but grass and wind and sky and the whole world was under his feet. But of a sudden his vision clouded and he stumbled, uncertain. Ears up, tail up, poised in midstride, the tuan swung his head around, rack etched menacingly against the clouded sky. The creaminess of his breast was brushed up, like the hackles of a wolf.

Far down the burn, faint but certain, came the telltale sound of a dog on the trail.

The great beast lowered his hoof to earth once more and stood with limbs stiffened, nostrils straining for the scent. But in his ears the grouse’s call had dropped to a consoling warbling, the wind still carried the scent of clean grass, and there was no fear in the downward inclination of his eyelids and the sleepy spark that woke and burned beneath them. He stood on the alert, his body tensed, his nerves relaxed, attended by the animal’s knowledge that today was his last day, and this fight his greatest fight of all.

Autumn was in the air that morning.