I recovered from most of the concussion symptoms a few days ago, but all the bed rest required aggravated my spinal injury and gave me neck spasms. Now I am on a witch’s brew of Robaxacet and assorted pain medications, which are allowing me to function well enough to write a little, but not well enough to sleep all the way through the night. Last night I got up about midnight and wrote a chapter for the second episode of Where Angels Die. I post it here, as it might amuse some of my 3.6 Loyal Readers.
A myth of Färinor, taken from The Tower of Vargon.
The Loring poked the fire vigorously with a stick, making the flames leap on high and sparks climb dizzily into the night. His bald head seemed to glow in the sudden light, and his dark eyes glittered sorcerously. ‘Has nobody got a story to tell us?’
‘Old or new?’ asked Kataki.
‘Old, to be sure,’ said the Loring. ‘Tales and apples are bitter when picked unripe.’
Mazuj sighed. ‘My grandmother used to tell stories, but I don’t remember them well enough. Avel?’
‘I don’t remember my grandmother at all. I was too young when the reapers took her.’
‘Then it falls to me,’ said the Loring. ‘I never had a grandmother, but I can tell you a tale as old as I am, if that will do.’
Kataki laughed. ‘Were there tales so long ago?’ she asked archly.
‘There were deeds,’ the Loring answered; ‘they were made into tales later.’
Avel looked so eager that he almost seemed to smile. ‘Is it a true tale, Master Loring?’
‘As true as words will allow, child. It will not go easily into your speech, but I shall do the best I can.’ The old man stretched his limbs one by one, then sat cross-legged with his hands on his knees, facing the three children across the fire. ‘Hear and heed,’ he intoned, ‘while I tell of the Worm of the Ages.’ [Read more…]
For the Director of Music. A lafferty. Selah.
[Sender’s address redacted]
14 November 20xx
Customer Service Dept.
Leibniz Ideenfabrik AG
Herrenhäuser Straße 4
This morning I received shipment of order No. Z-25289150 from your firm’s Hannover warehouse. I wish to inform you that I am not altogether satisfied with your product as delivered.
I opened the parcel with some misgivings; from the description in your catalogue, I had been expecting something larger than a matchbox. The label on the inner package, however, assured me that this was indeed the Self-Organizing Monad (Cat. No. M-4202) that I had ordered.
Following the enclosed instructions, I removed the gel capsule from the box and placed it on a sterile Petri dish, to which I added the required drop of my own blood. For some time nothing appeared to happen, and I felt sure that I had fallen victim to a garden-variety mail-order fraud. But just as I was about to sweep the capsule into the waste paper basket, it began to swell with alarming speed, taking on colour and form, until I found myself face to face with a Prussian blue homunculus about a foot high. I am not sure whether it looked at me with an expression of haughty disgust, or whether that was the natural shape of its ugly little face. Either way, it did not seem pleased with its new surroundings, for it gave an angry snort and said:
‘Humph! Well, this isn’t much of a place. Where’s the welcoming committee?’
‘I beg your pardon,’ I said. ‘The manual didn’t mention any such thing.’
‘Come now,’ said the Monad. ‘I am, beyond any possible doubt, the most important thing that has ever appeared in this wretched little backwater. There should be a brass band, and a cheering crowd, and a mayor presenting me with the key to the city. And what do I see? Nothing! Not one whit of acknowledgement. Not a trace of gratitude that you’ve been permitted the glory of meeting Me.’
I could hear the capital M in the pronoun; the little creature seemed to grow a little taller when it said the word. I decided to be tactful, for the moment. ‘Well, I do apologize. I was never briefed on the correct protocol for greeting a Monad. Perhaps you would be so kind as to bring me up to speed.’
I had stopped to window-shop, then come in to price a bit of cheap jewellery. The proprietor must have liked the look of me, for he trusted me enough to take a display box of rings and gewgaws out from under glass and let me rummage through them on my own. While I was amusing myself with that, another customer came in, a bulging canvas bag over his shoulder. He was one of these adventurers by the look of him, and not an experienced one; he had on a lot of shiny new armour and other rubbish, more stylish than practical, probably sold to him by some huckster who spotted him for a rube and told him the yarn about how this stuff was just what he needed. This fellow was the counterpart to the first-time camper who goes ‘roughing it’ with six carts full of gear and all the discomforts of home.
Your true hero goes out with a flint and steel and a case-knife, and comes back with a hoard of treasure and a rescued princess – if he wants them. I knew one once, such an old hand that he didn’t even trouble with the flint, and only bothered with princesses if he could score a brace of them. He said it was no more trouble to rescue two at a time, and a lot more sporting to try and bring them back without having them scratch each other’s eyes out. Princesses are a jealous lot, and give the lie to the old yarn about breeding equating to good manners. If you want to see worse manners than wildcats fighting, just stir up two princesses with the same dress on, and set them down in a room together. It needn’t even be dresses; your more particular sort will start up if they both have the same colour of eyes. Jade-green and violet are the worst; especially the ones with tip-tilted noses—
But I digress. This raw young kid with about a hundred pounds of gear on his person, not counting the bag, sauntered in as if he was somebody and heaved the bag up on the counter. I kept still and listened. It is always good to see a skilful tradesman at work, even if he is only a pawnbroker; and this one was a master. He said:—
‘Can I help you?’
‘It says Cash for Treasures, Old and Rare,’ said the kid, referring to the sign outside. ‘If you’ve got the cash, I’ve got the treasures.’ [Read more…]
Some of my ‘auditions’ are not full stories or even full scenes, but tableaux, flashes of action, bits of dialogue. Sometimes they run together until they actually make up a scene. This bit, if it fits after editing, is for the ‘Orchard’, otherwise known as Where Angels Die.
A silly squib. The idea has been kicking round in my head for years, and this seems as good a time as any to flush it out.
‘—Not exactly a ghost story,’ said the Middle Management Devil, between slurps at his tea. ‘They are not, aha, ghosts when we have them Down Below.’
(Never let anyone tell you that devils are witty or urbane. Only their P. R. department believes this, and a P. R. devil will believe anything. Devils are uniformly hideous, ill-mannered, awkward, and smelly. Imagine the worst science fiction convention you have ever heard of, and then imagine that the common interest binding the people there is not rocket ships or rayguns, but terrorism and torture. The very most polished devil is not quite as urbane as a farting contest at a NASCAR rally.)
‘Go on,’ I said, not because I meant it, but because there was no point in saying anything else. The stranger had slouched into my booth at Denny’s uninvited, taken a seat (now covered in slime), and struck up a tedious conversation, all without a word or glance of permission from me; and he had shoved a grimy business card at me—
B. FLYSPECK FLIVVERPUFF, M. M. D.
—explaining, as if it were something that tickled him all over with pride, that the initials stood for that title which I gave in the first sentence above. He was clearly one of these mad monologuists that you see at diners after the bars have closed, and there was nothing for it but to hold fast and let him talk himself out.
‘Yes,’ he was saying, ‘the passion of vengeance is, aha, very good for business, you understand, but we know better than to indulge in it ourselves. The essential work of Middle Management would go completely to pieces. It’s enough to do to tyrannize one’s subordinates and backstab one’s superiors, when one does it in a purely professional and disinterested way. If one did it because of a petty personal grudge – now, I ask you: is there anyone in Hell that you would not hold a grudge against? Nothing would ever get done; nothing at all. The damned would pile up like cordwood, humiliated perhaps, but not actually tormented. Lower Authority would never stand for it.
‘Now this one fellow we had, oh, some centuries back, was absolutely eaten up with that very passion. Revenge, revenge, revenge. [Read more…]
From time to time, characters from my stories turn up unbidden in my mind, and perform scenes for me that they think I may wish to include in my books; or new characters turn up for the first time, and show me what they can do, and ask me to find them a place. The character you are about to meet is one of the first kind. I have known him for many years; he comes in at the middle of The Grey Death, the long-delayed second book of The Eye of the Maker.
He is a little fellow, not much over four foot high, with a marvellously shabby and scruffy beard, a mass of tufts pointing in all directions; he insists that he is a Dwarf, of the ancient and legendary mountain people, though of course all right-thinking folk know there are no such things as Dwarfs, and he is merely a midget with delusions of ancestry. His name is Droll Yocrin. The first name is tolerably obvious, and seems to suit him somehow; the second name is thoroughly obscure. There is a folk-etymology to the effect that ‘Yocrin’ is derived from ‘yoke-ring’ (for the O is long), but what on earth a yoke-ring may be, not even the folk-etymologists can tell me. Droll himself insists that it is a Dwarfish name out of the ancient mountain-language, but that his father did not teach him enough of that tongue to interpret it properly.
I hope you like him. He invited me just lately to visit him in his workshop – for he is a jeweller by trade – and see how he passes his Yule holiday. Yule in Pyrandain is more like the Scottish Hogmanay than anybody’s Christmas; it is the eve of the New Year, and an occasion for various festivities to break up the long cold darkness of deep winter. But there are glimpses here and there of something more—
Thanks to my 3.6 Loyal Readers for your kind remarks. Comments, as always, are more than welcome.
The story so far:
The Food of Demons
They set out at a brisk trot, hurrying to put the hill-country behind them before they could be ambushed again. But those same hills delayed them; the road kept doubling back, chasing its own tail. An hour’s hard riding took them little more than a mile, as the crow flies, from the place where Lim died. In that bleak terrain, the enemy’s signals, one band of Taken shouting to the next, travelled faster than horses.
‘If the demons want this place,’ said Revel sourly, ‘I say we let them have it.’
‘It was green and pleasant when I was young, Surin,’ said Jandi. ‘There were such deer in the hills then, a hunter would give a season of his life to catch one. All gone now. They fled at the touch of this winter.’
Revel glanced up at the livid sky. ‘So would we, if we had any sense. How do they work this weather, anyway?’
‘All of Anai asks the same question, Surin. Had we such lore, we could fight them without help. This only we know: wherever the demons go, the sun is hidden and the snows follow.’
Another keening cry rose and fell, closer this time. ‘How far to the Cleft of Bones, Jandi?’
‘Not far, Surin. The river lies just beyond that ridge.’
Ridge, thought Revel, was hardly the word for it. A sheer face of cracked and weathered rock barred their way northward, impassable except where the road passed through a narrow notch and over the storm-scoured crest.
‘They’ll try to stop us.’ The Badger pointed at the notch. ‘There or nowhere.’ [Read more…]
A preview of my serial in progress.
The story so far:
A Battle of Souls
Jandi pressed the dagger harder against the Taken’s throat, drawing a drop of wine-red blood. ‘These monsters destroyed my village.’
‘He’s not a monster,’ the Badger said sharply. ‘He’s a human being. Getting possessed by a demon wasn’t his idea.’
Revel pinned the grey man’s right side, hands on shoulder and thigh, knee on the captive’s wrist. ‘I’m sure you mean well, Badger-brock, but this isn’t exactly the place I’d choose to deal with it.’
The Badger knelt to the grey man’s left. ‘Who said anything about choosing? —Hold his legs, Jandi, and put that toy away. You take the dice the way they fall, Revel. These horses won’t carry a possessed man. Would you kill him in cold blood?’
‘I would,’ Jandi muttered, but the Badger ignored him.
‘Have it your own way,’ said Revel. ‘Fix him if you can. But how will you keep him from going toes-up as soon as the demon is gone? Who’s going to give him his own life back? That’s an Angel’s job, and much as I’d like to say otherwise, I haven’t got one hidden under my cloak.’
The Badger eyed the younger man disapprovingly. ‘What babies the Order is sending out nowadays! Never done it in the field, have you, boy? Put a demon in a nice clean circle in a nice quiet room, with nice neat wards and an Angel standing by, and you can play knucklebones with it and make it jump through hoops. Well, this is how we did it in the last war, and you’ll do plenty more like it in this one. You stand in for the Angel.’ [Read more…]
A preview of my new serial, now in progress. I posted a teaser (call it that, rather than a prologue) earlier.
The first snow fell on the fourth day out from Suranaya, just before midday, though the calendar insisted that it was still early autumn. Three men on sturdy bay horses rode slowly up the zig-zag road towards the northern mountains. A wintry mantle had already settled on the jagged peaks. In full daylight they would have been dazzling white, but they looked like tarnished silver under this livid and sunless sky.
The riders went single file, but drew up three abreast when the leader halted at a bend in the road. He pointed at a deep, narrow rift in the mountain range on the northern horizon. ‘Sai Jilon,’ he said in his own Anayan tongue, his voice as dull and grey as the clouds. Then, for the benefit of his companions, he translated it into the speech of the Commonwealth: ‘Cleft of Bones.’
The other riders looked up at the cleft uneasily. ‘Charming name,’ said the younger of the two, a lean, dark youth with close-cropped hair. He wore a plain woollen riding cloak with brown boots and gloves, and a cynical expression that fell just short of being a smirk. He looked like the sort of person that is always being told to take that look off his face.
‘Take that look off your face, Revel,’ said the third rider, throwing back his hood. He was dressed like the younger man, except for a bright blue sash round his waist, but there the resemblance ended. He was taller than his companion, broad-shouldered, with a wide, honest face that seemed equally ready for anger or laughter. Though he was no more than thirty, his hair was marked by two white streaks, running straight back from the corners of his forehead.
‘You take it off, Badger-brock. I’m not going up there till our friend tells us whose bones it’s named after.’
‘Not bones of men,’ said the Anayan. ‘Come. Dangerous to stop here.’ [Read more…]