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Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is the author of more than 25 solo fantasy and science fiction novels, including the 1989 Nebula award winning Healer’s War, loosely based on her service as an Army Nurse in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. She has collaborated on 16 novels with Anne McCaffrey, six in the best selling Petaybee series and eight in the YA bestselling Acorna series, and most recently, the Tales of the Barque Cat series, Catalyst and Catacombs (from Del Rey). Recently she has converted all of her previously published solo novels to eBooks with the assistance of Gypsy Shadow Publishing, under her own Fortune imprint. Spam Vs. the Vampire was her first exclusive novel for eBook and print on demand publication, followed by Father Christmas (a Spam the Cat Christmas novella) and The Tour Bus of Doom. Redundant Dragons is her newest exclusive novel in The Seashell Archives series and follows The Dragon, the Witch, and the Railroad.

WEBSITE: http://www.

Check out Ms. Scarborough's The Healer's War here!

Congratulations to Karen Gillmore, who has done the cover art for many of Elizabeth Ann Scarborough's backlist books with GSP, and for being in the 2012 Preditors and Editors top ten Artwork Category for her illustrations in Father Christmas.

2012 P&E Readers Poll Top Ten Winner
New Title(s) from Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
The Lady in the Loch by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Songs From the Seashell Archives Scarborough Fair by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Song of Sorcery by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough The Godmother by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough The Redundant Dragons by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough The Dragon, the Witsh, and the Railroad by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough The Drastic Dragon of Draco, Texas by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough The Harem of Aman Akbar by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough The Goldcamp Vampire by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough The Unicorn Creed by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Bronwyn's Bane by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough The Christaning Quest by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Phantom Banjo by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Picking the Ballad's Bones by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Strum Again? by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough The Godmother's Apprentice by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough The Godmother's Web by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Nothing Sacred by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Last Refuge by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Channeling Cleopatra by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Cleopatra 7.2 by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Order The Unicorn Creed in Print Today!
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Order The Dragon, the Witch, and the Railroad in Print Today!
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NEW Anthologies
9Tales O' Cats by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Shifty by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
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ORDER the EXCLUSIVE Shifty PRINT book Today!

The SPAM Books
Spam vs the Vampire by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Father Christmas by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough The Tour Bus of Doom by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
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ORDER the Father Christmas PRINT book Today!
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Note: If you are a beader (or interested in beading) the Unicorn Coat of Arms pattern displayed on the Drastic Dragon of Draco, Texas cover is FREE if you purchase the eBook!

Songs From the Seashell Archives Magic, Dragons, Unicorns, Dastardly villains and more! Songs of the Seashell Archives is a six book collection of some of the finest fantasy writing you'll ever read. Together as one set for a limited time only at this special price. Don't miss the chance to grab this collection at a great discount.

Word Count: 585959
Buy at: Smashwords (all formats) ~ Barnes and Noble
Price: $29.99
Scarborough Fair by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Scarborough Fair and Other Stories includes ten works by the author of the Nebula Award–winning The Healer’s War and many other novels. In “Final Vows,” Mu Mao the Magnificent, the feline bodhisattva from Scarborough’s novel Last Refuge, helps guide a reincarnated cat in solving the mystery of his own betrayal and murder. “Whirlwinds” takes place on the Diné Trail of Tears, when the US military force-marched ninety-five hundred Navajo people from their ancient, sacred homeland to the barren Bosque Redondo area surrounding New Mexico’s Fort Sumner. A coveted princess packs on pounds when a disgruntled suitor casts an evil spell on her in “Worse Than the Curse.” How is a plump princess to cope? And “Long Time Coming Home,” cowritten with Scarborough’s fellow Vietnam veteran Rick Reaser, is a story of the battles and ghosts many vets face after returning from the war. These and other stories capably demonstrate Scarborough’s breadth of skill.

Word Count: 83515
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Price: $5.99
Song of Sorcery by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough A portentous song sparks an unlikely adventure in this lighthearted contemporary fantasy by the Nebula Award–winning author of The Healer’s War. Colin Songsmith sings a song to an old witch who takes an unlikely revenge. The witch’s granddaughter rescues him from the dire threat of being eaten alive by the cat. She hears the song, which happens to concern her recently married sister and a gypsy. Convinced that she has to save her sister, she takes the minstrel, the cat, and her magical resources to Rowan Castle. The story is rich with descriptive details of setting and encounters with magical and fantastic creatures such as a talking cat, a lovesick dragon, and a bear prince. The characters speak in contemporary slang, which plays nicely against the traditional fantastic settings.

Word Count: 82133
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Price: $5.99
The Godmother by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s The Godmother puts a new twist on contemporary fantasy with the assertion that fairy godmothers exist here and now, and they have magical power that allows them to intervene in real-world problems.

What if someone wished a fairy godmother would help the entire city of Seattle? An overworked, overstressed social worker named Rose Samson does just that when she makes an idle wish on a mustard seed. Felicity Fortune of “Godmothers Anonymous” shows up to help. Rose Samson is neither fashion model beautiful, nor a twit, and she happily joins forces with Felicity Fortune, a “Godmother” who demonstrates that Grimm’s fairy tales are still relevant in our humdrum modern world.

Fairy godmothers are on a magical budget, so every possible way they can get human beings or animals to assist one another, they will try, rather than using up their magical means.

Felicity encounters many strangely familiar situations: a pretty stablehand named Cindy Ellis is mistreated by her cruel stepsisters. A rock star’s daughter, scared of the supermodel her dad married, runs away from home and meets seven Vietnam veterans at an encounter session and retreat. One of them might be a big bad wolf, who knows?

In all their experiences, Rose and Felicity try to blend their magical aid with realistic human initiative and social responsibility. Scarborough’s fully realized settings, with the humor built into the mix of magical solutions and grim reality, make this work an entertaining and compelling read.

Word Count: 100832
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Price: $5.99

The Godmother by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough ORDER The Godmother IN PRINT TODAY! (ISBN: 978-1-61950-362-5)

The Redundant Dragons by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Queen Verity is queen only because her mother has said she has to be. She agrees because, after all, somebody has to liberate the dragons who have long toiled in the boiler room bowels of the city. Now that they are free, nobody has any idea what to do with them or how to feed them.

Everyone is used to dragons being docile cogs in the machinery of industry, tamed into tranquility by food treated with a hypnotic tranquilizer, now largely destroyed, leaving a lot of huge hungry beasts roving the capital city of Queenston. Verity needs to act fast, before the dragons remember what dragons once did to feed themselves.

The crown has scarcely mussed her hair before her political enemies have her shanghaied and sold to an outward bound vessel, leaving the kingdom to the random mercies of her erstwhile assistant, Malady Hyde.

Word Count: 91845
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Price: $ 7.99

The Redundant Dragons by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough ORDER The Redundant Dragons IN PRINT TODAY! (ISBN: 978-1-61950-343-4)

The Drastic Dragon of Draco, Texas by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough Determined to become an author of western penny dreadful novels like her idol, Ned Buntline, a young San Francisco newspaper editor christens herself Valentine Lovelace (after a floozie acquaintance of her father’s) and heads east for the Wild West.

She finds it in spades in the Texas Big Bend when she is kidnapped from a mule train by Comanches and ends up the guest of a ruthless comanchero, a sort of wild west warlord, after the Comanches are distracted by a... dragon?

Fort Draco, as the comanchero fort is known, is as full of intrigue and nighttime carryings-on as a modern day romantic novel, but Frank Drake, the owner, is no hero. If Valentine wants to save herself and the less-guilty if not entirely innocent folks who live there, she must defeat heat stroke, gunslingers, a couple of fake rainmakers and their camel, hostile Indians, the voice haunting her dreams (not in a good way) and a dragon who not only is gobbling all the livestock and transportation in the area but is guarding the only water hole in fifty miles of drought-ridden desert. And she must do it all while taking good notes, of course.

This is a western but not as we know it and a fantasy set where we’re not used to it.
Word Count: 81,500
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Price: $5.99

The Harem of Aman Akbar by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
The Djinn Decanted:

By his genie's standards, Aman Akbar was a pervert. He was not content to marry his cousin, the beauteous Hyaganoosh, as custom demanded. Instead he chose three ugly foreign wivesa pale skinned barbarian Rasa, a sharp-tongued Chinese acrobat, Lady Aster, and the tall ebony skinned 100th daughter of the Great Elephant, Amollia. Just about the time the women were sorting out the whole polygamy thing and dealing with their new mother-in-law, Um Aman, Aman Akbar lost control of the genie and got turned into a white ass (it happens a lot in the Arabian Nights) at the wish of none other than Hyaganoosh. What's a foreign wife to do? The three women and Aman Akbar's mother have no choice but to seek a way to undo the spell and restore the fellow to his former shape and state but along the way they have some hair raising adventures involving monkeys, shape shifters called peris, the dangerous divs who make the djinn look jolly, and a rather nice elephant.

Delightful reading! Shades of Scheherazade and Sinbad in the sort of Scarboroughian treat that one is beginning to expect of this beguiling writer."   Anne McCaffrey

Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is the winner of the 1989 Nebula Award for Best novel.

Hanging by a Hair

As soon as I awoke I wished I had not, for I could feel in great detail the agony of my scalp as each hair in my head tried to rip from its native soil as it strained upward, and the horrible tension in my neck as my body was pulled in the other direction by its own weight. The red hot glaze before my eyes vanished briefly when I blinked and saw Amollia dangling just across from me. Her short curls would not allow her to drop as far from the iron ring to which they were tied as did my captive braids...

I saw a shutter fly open, and suddenly a stick was thrust forward, striking Amollia in the ribs, setting her swinging and shrieking. A moment later I too received a clout that tore loose part of a braid, so that blood and tears simultaneously coursed down my face as I rocked to and fro...

"Isn't that a shame?" Chu Mi's slimy voice hissed to Aster.  "Such nice little women. Such good friends of yours. See how much they hurt? Don't you want to give us what is ours so we can pull them in before they are quite bald and dropped into the river for the crocodiles to eat?"

Word Count: 96,000
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Price: $5.99

The Lady in the Loch by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
When a woman’s bones are found in the icy dregs of the noxious Nor’ Loch, newly appointed sheriff of Edinburgh, Walter Scott, is called upon. Are these the remains of a drowned witch or religious heretic, or are they perhaps linked to something more recent and sinister? For although Edinburgh is known to be the center of literature, science, and medicine, it is also the haunt of body snatchers who prey upon the living and the dead alike, selling their victims for study by the student physicians at the medical school.

When a band of Travelling People is forced to winter near the city, two young women are taken, one from her bed while she sleeps near her family. Justice from the settled people is rarely accorded to gypsies and the Travellers fear they will be murdered one by one by the ghouls stalking their people.

A young gypsy named Midge Margret is sure that Scott will care.  He befriended her family before and once more he promises to help find the murderer who prowls the snowy forest in a black coach.
When a patchwork woman with supernatural strength begins hunting the streets as well, Scott and Midge Margret know the crimes are rooted in bloody dark magic. In order to catch the killer, the butchered victims themselves must testify.

By Nebula Award winning author Elizabeth Ann Scarborough.
     Publisher's Weekly says, "Skillfully cross-stitching history, mystery and old-time urban legend... tension mounts steadily... an artful work.

SF Site
Word Count: 75,500
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Price: $5.99

The Goldcamp Vampire by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Pelagia Harper, aka Valentine Lovelace, published her memoirs of her time in Draco, Texas and became an established writerat least in her own mind. But when her father dies and her stepmother steals her royalties, she finds herself destitute. Also haunted. The ghost of her papa keeps popping up everywhere. When her father’s old flame, Sasha Devine, offers her a way out of her poverty, Pelagia jumps on it before she knows what’s involved. In 1897, the two ladies must travel North to the Klondike (the Wild West is a relative term as far as V. Lovelace is concerned) escorting the coffin of a man said to be Lost-Cause Lawson, a prospector.

It turns out the man beneath the coffin lid is not as dead as he was supposed to be and somehow, Pelagia ends up being accused of murdering a Mountie. Apparently the sensible solution to that is to fake her own suicide. The upshot is that when she finally does arrive in Dawson City with Sasha, she is obliged to take employment as a dance hall girl and a flamenco dancer (Corazon, the Belle of Barcelone). Her boss seems nice though. Very sociable, especially with all of his new female employees. It isn’t long before Pelagia learns that Vasily Vladovitch Bledinoff is giving the biting cold some competition. It isn’t until her friend Captain Lomax receives a new book from England, written by a fellow named Bram Stoker, that she begins to get a clue what exactly is going on with the mode for black velvet neck bands the girls are all sporting. Then there’s all of those really smart wolves, the threat of starvation and disease, and other strange and unusual wildlife.

This book is about what life was like for a female artiste in Dawson City as it was during the Gold Rushwhen everyone was there to strike it richexcept for the vampires, who were there for the night life.

Word Count: 98,000
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The Unicorn Creed by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
In Song of Sorcery, Book 1 of Songs from the Seashell Archives, hearthwitch Maggie Brown met minstrel Colin Songsmith and a unicorn named Moonshine while saving both her sister and the kingdom. All in a quest’s work for a girl who can magically do anything she can convince her power is housework. To reward Maggie, the king makes her a princess, and therefore a good catch for the local noble bachelors. Only problem is, she doesn’t want to get married. She wants to be with Moonshine, whose Unicorn Creed, as he understands it, forbids him to consort with anyone except a chaste maiden. It’s rather a touchy situation, and so Princess Maggie abandons her crown and with Moonshine, she and Colin set out to see if they can find a loophole in Moonshine’s creed. Of course, in the process they have to try to save the land of Argonia again, this time from a were-man, a revolutionary nymph, a town’s worth of zombies, an ice worm and an evil wizard.

“Gentle humor, deft plotting and a fine light-handed prose style, all combine to make THE UNICORN CREED a pure delight.” New York Daily News 

Word Count: 146,000
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The Unicorn Creed by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough ORDER The Unicorn Creed IN PRINT TODAY! (ISBN: 978-1-61950-258-1)

Bronwyn's Bane by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Sleeping Beauty had it easy. Her curse only made her take a nap when she turned 16. As if it wasn’t bad enough already that because of her frost giant heritage from her father the king’s side of the family she was 6 feet tall when she was only 12 years old, poor Princess Bronwyn (the Bold) of Argonia was cursed at birth to tell nothing but lies. With her father away at war and her mother heavily pregnant, Bronwyn is even more in the way than usual, so she gets packed off to Wormroost, her aunt’s place in the glaciers, and en route she meets her musician/magician cousin Carole , a not-so-brave gypsy lad, and a princess-turned-swan. The lot of them encounter monsters, sorcerers, sea serpents, mercenary mages and sirensmany of whom are related to them. Without quite intending to, they embark on a quest to end the war, heal a battle-ravaged land, end a ban on magic and lift Bronwyn’s Bane.

L. Sprague de Camp said, “I found BRONWYN’S BANE delightful reading. I wish I had her fertility of imagination in thinking up amusing twists, turns and business of plot.”

Word Count: 90,000
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Bronwyn's Bane by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough ORDER Bronwyn's Bane IN PRINT TODAY! (ISBN: 978-1-61950-259-8)

The Christening Quest by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Going on a quest with a handsome prince might sound like a dream, but Prince Rupert’s cousin Carole comes to feel that it isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Carole agrees to accompany her hunky cousin to Miragenia to christen his baby niece. But its really hard to even explain the situation to anyone: how the little Princess was stolen from her mother’s side by Miragenians who demand fifteen years of the first-born’s life in exchange for a bit of help during wartime. Or how the baby was taken before magical christening gifts could be bestowed upon her for her protection and character development.

The ladies surrounding Rupert (also known as Rowan the Romantic and Rowan the Rake) don’t care about some baby and don’t hear anything about the mission because theyre too busy sighing over him. Crowd control is an obvious problem, as is extricating Rupert from more than one involuntary engagement. When at last the two, with the help of dubious questing companions including a love-stricken pink and purple dragon, arrive at the theocracy of Gorequartz where the baby has been fostered out to a queen, they find themselves in trouble of a completely different complexion. Their most deadly nemesis is none other than a giant crystal “god” seemingly created in Rupert’s own image!
Word Count: 74,000
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The Christening Quest by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough ORDER The Christening Quest IN PRINT TODAY! (ISBN: 978-1-61950-260-4)

Phantom Banjo by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Praise for Phantom Banjo from Booklist:

“This book has just about every virtue one can reasonably expect in a contemporary fantasy tale, including a vivid portrait of the contemporary folk scene and a chilling emotional impact that makes many horror novels look pedestrian. Highly recommended.”

“Contemporary” in the above review means the world as it was in 1992 when the book was written. The rapid changes in recording and communications technology make it seem like a period piece now, which is entirely appropriate for the subject matter. This is a fantasy series about a bunch of folk musicians, good pickers and flawed but likable human beings, trying to reclaim songs destroyed by the evil forces (or devils, including but by no means limited to the Expediency Devil, the Stupidity and Ignorance Devil, and the Debauchery Devil) that want humanity to lose its humanity. Hauntings abound, as they do in the folk songs. It’s a good yarn to read at Halloween, whether or not this is the music that moves you. And sometimes it’s really funny. There’s a lot of cussing though. Well, the characters are frustrated and scared a lot, and they beg your pardon for their language but you might do the same if faced with similar catastrophies, disasters, travails, frustrations, and circumstances.

Word Count: 93,000
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Picking the Ballad's Bones by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough The ancient ballads of England, Scotland and Ireland are great stories to visit but nobody in their right mind would want to live there. There’s a high body count for every ballad and a happy ending usually involves boy meets girl and they end up sharing a grave. The musicians who go to retrieve the songs, with the help of the magic banjo, Lazarus, know this, but the fact is, the songs also contain a great deal of magic useful in defeating the devils who are out to dehumanize humanity by stealing the music. The Queen of the Fairies, aka the Debauchery Demon, Torchy Burns, makes them a deal they can’t refuse and the reluctant heroes find themselves thrust into the lives and deaths of ballad people they know are going to end badly. It’s enough to make a picker take up accounting!

Word Count: 77,000
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Strum Again? by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
What started in the States ends in the States. The song-saving musicians are back home, with heads and hands full of songs they saved with the help of the Phantom Banjo, Lazarus. The soul-destroying devils haven’t given up on killing off the music though, along with everything else that’s maybe a little fun or keeps people human and sane. Even the debauchery devil, AKA Torchy Burns, AKA Lulubelle Baker (of Lulubelle Baker’s Petroleum Puncher’s Palace in west Texas) AKA Lady Luck AKA, believe it or not, the Queen of Faerie, has fallen on hard times. Her fellow devils are willing to see her demoted to the lower levels of hell, where a girl can’t even get a decent mani-pedi. Her only hope is to convince one of the musicians~that would be Willie MacKai~to become her human sacrifice tithe to hell so she can get back her faerie kingdom. Once the magic banjo self-destructs, Willie decides to cooperate with Torchy. But the phone-in ghost of Sam Hawthorne and the music aren’t done with Willie yet, though it takes a ghost train full of cowboy poets and all of his friends to save him.

Word Count: 106,500
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The Godmother's Apprentice by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
“Dear Rosie,

Being an apprentice fairy godmother is complicated. Not only do I have to go out and find good deeds to do, but for a sidekick I have that hit man that Felicity changed into a toad. I wanted to take the cat but she seems to have had a big funeral to attend. Felicity isn’t around much. She keeps disappearing through a door in the guestroom that opens on the side of a hill. The swimming pool is weird too, and I could have sworn I saw someone dancing on the bottom. I am enjoying riding the flying horse and helping a boy who plays squeezebox and talks to swans though, so things areyou should pardon the expressionlooking up.” 

“SIMPLY ENCHANTING.” Publisher’s Weekly
“CHARMING...Scarborough mixes folklore, adventure, atmosphere, psychology, and whimsy into a thoroughly absorbing plot.” Booklist
“AN ENCHANTING BOOK.” Affaire de Coeur

Word Count: 101,542
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The Godmother's Apprentice by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough ORDER The Godmother's Apprentice IN PRINT TODAY! (ISBN: 978-1-61950-363-3)

The Godmother's Web by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Cindy Ellis knows about fairy godmothers. Her almost-stepdaughter is studying to be one and she is a close personal friend of Felicity Fortune, an Irish godmother. But she didn’t suspect when she picks up Grandma Webster that the elderly, seemingly lost American Indian woman in traditional dress was a magical godmother too. When a self-serving skinwalker/witch inflames tensions between neighbors and pits sisters against each other in the best fairy tale fashion, Grandma enlists Cindy’s help, along with that of a Navajo doctor, a Hopi rancher, and an unlikely champion, a dude who is related to coyotes and dreams of a home shopping network empire. Together they must defeat the evil that is threatening to destroy their world forever.

“Characterization, pacing, and folkloric expertise are all up to the series’ high standards, so Godmother-followers and others should greet this book joyfully.”Booklist

Word Count: 106,000
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The Godmother's Web by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough ORDER The Godmother's Web IN PRINT TODAY! (ISBN: 978-1-61950-664-0)

Nothing Sacred by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough In a world where unemployment is obliterated by putting all jobless people in the military to maintain the endless ongoing warfare, Warrant Officer Viveka Vanachek finds herself in a weirder place yet. Captured, raped, and interrogated she is finally exiled to a remote snow-bound prison camp where she is placed in solitary confinement. It seems like the end of the world when she also becomes too sick to eat and starts seeing ghosts and hearing mysterious chanting within the noises of the camp. But her dreams tell her there is more to her prison than there seems to be and soon her delusions and reality start trading places.

Word Count: 107,000
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Price: $5.99

Last Refuge by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
In NOTHING SACRED, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough took a detour from her humorous classic and contemporary fantasies to write her “obligatory science fiction writer’s end-of-the-world book.” The bad news is the world has ended. The good news is LAST REFUGE is the sequel.

Why does the end of the world seem so much more dire than the end of our own lives, since, according to modern non-theology based theory, we won’t know the difference one way or the other. Using the Tibetan Buddhist background of NOTHING SACRED, the answer to that was, if the Buddhists are right, when the end of the world comes not only will our own present lives be ended, but there will be no life forms left into which we may reincarnate.

The children of Kalapa compound, safe from the war and the aftermath as it is felt in most of the world, discover that the problems work in reverse in Shambala. Babies are born there at a deliberately amazing rate but no one dies within the borders. Consequently, in time, there are no unembodied spirits in Shambala left to inhabit the babies, cursing the poor children with a spiritual birth defect.

Heir to the duties of Ama-La, young Chime Cincinnati, as the guide to Shambala, cannot rest until she leaves the safety of the compound to lead refugees to it. She is helped in this by Mike, a young man who has always been like an older brother to her.

These two face all of the standard fantasy characters, but with a Tibetan twist——there is an evil wizard who is king of his own compound, a hideously evil demon who is enough to give anyone nightmares, a yeti, an American princess, and far too many ghosts, not to mention Mu Mao the magnificent, a reincarnated wise man who was good enough to finally be allowed to ascend to life as a cat.

Word Count: 105,000
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Channeling Cleopatra by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
“Get the past life of your dreams!”

Leda Hubbard, a forensic pathologist, gets the job of her dreams when an old school friend hires her to collect and authenticate the DNA of the famous Cleopatra. It’s all great fun for Leda until, during a massive disaster, her colorful dad, the dig’s security specialist, is killed by a group trying to hijack the precious material for a “blend,” a process in which the queen’s DNA is used to import her memories, personality, and character traits to a new host. They screw up, however, and get Leda’s dad’s DNA instead. To keep the queen from going to the murderers, Leda blends with Cleopatra herself, learning a lot more about Egypt than she ever wanted to know.

“A bright, sometimes humorous, often dark, but always innovative speculative fiction...Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is always a treat to read but with this novel, she takes readers where nobody has gone before.” BookBrowser

Word Count: 67,500
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Cleopatra 7.2 by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Cleopatra's back (again). This time she brought friends.

“A science fiction thriller that feels like a futuristic James Bond...The idea of two minds inhabiting one body is a fascinating premise. The way they blend together and respect each other’s personality makes Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s latest work a fascinating, often humorous speculative fiction.” Midwest Book Review

“Scattered throughout the narrative, Scarborough provides amusing asides from the viewpoints of the Cleopatras. The modern day is filled with marvels from the viewpoints of the ancient queens, and Scarborough does a marvelous job of giving the world we take for granted a new angle of understanding...[She] has done a fabulous job of researching the past, and through the observations of the two Cleos paints a heartrending picture of loss and yet at the same time presents awe-inspiring descriptions of wonders that have managed, despite war, neglect, and outright vandalism, to survive for millennia to the modern day.” SF Revu

“[An] exciting speculative thriller...Scarborough deftly weaves her suspenseful web and then untangles the threads with her clear and concise prose, preventing a plot with dual-identity characters from spinning out of control. The DNA-blending concept is fascinating...retains the breathless action, frenetic pacing, and dry wit, [of its predecessor] with homages to Elizabeth Peters and Indiana Jones, and will appeal to a wide audience.” 

Word Count: 95,500
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Spam Vs. the Vampire by K. B. Dundee as told to Elizabeth Ann Scarborough 

Spam and the other cats at website designer Darcy Dupres’ house are frantic with worry. Darcy walked out the door two (missed) wet meals ago and didn’t return or send anyone else to look after her beloved furry friends. The other cats think she has abandoned them, but her office cat and (unbeknownst to her) protégé, Spam, suspects darker forces are at work.

Darcy’s last project was helping a suspicious character who called himself Marcel deMontreal with a dating website for vampires and the women who dig them. Darcy thought Marcel was playing and besides, he paid her a lot of kitty litter to design the site.

But before she can finish, the self-proclaimed vampire announces that he is coming to visit, and Darcy disappears. That and the—duh—black billowy figure with the white face and red eyes peering through the window seem like a dead giveaway to Spam.

Using the computer knowledge he learned at his human’s side, Spam escapes to the world beyond his home to find Darcy and save his family. When the other cats are rounded up and hauled to the shelter, Spam’s only allies seem to be a hungry raccoon, some friendly deer, observant otters and the fact that Marcel happens to be allergic to cats.
  In-House Reviews
Word Count: 65,000
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Spam Vs. the Vampire by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough ORDER THE Spam Vs. the Vampire PRINT BOOK! (ISBN #978-0-9834027-3-2)

9 Tales O' Cats by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
In these stories a parade of fascinating felines tell tales of their lives. Guinevere’s cat, Gray Jane, tells what really happened at Camelot from her cats eye view atop the queen’s canopy bed. An Egyptologist’s cat, Shuttle, wards off a vengeful mummy by doing a favor for bastet, the cat goddess. A Scottish cat, Tinkler Tam, stalks body snatchers through a Gothic Edinburgh. Mu Mao the Magnificent, a bodhisattva cat who is the last tomcat in the world, searches for a mate in one story while in 3 others he assists his fellow felines during the transition to their next incarnations. A murdered cat named Mustard returns to avenge himself on his killer and protect his former household. The old soldier hero of a fairy tale discovers the secret of the 12 dancing princesses with the help of his trusty cat companion, Captain Shadow. these are the stories mother cats tell their kittens to provide them with role models, inspiring them to hold their heads and tails high.

Word Count: 60000
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9 Tales o' Cats by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
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Father Christmas by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Spam the cat thought he'd seen a lot of the world in his nine months of life. After all, he was the foremost vampire hunter of Port Deception, WA. (SPAM VS THE VAMPIRE)! This was his first Christmas, however, and from what he'd heard on TV, on Christmas all was supposed to be calm, all was supposed to be bright. The deer and Renfrew the raccoon had other ideas however. In an attempt to
keep Renfrew, aka "The UPS Bandit" from ruining a lot of Christmases, Spam begins a task that leads to his being the sole protection of a new mother and child, and a less-than-warm-and-fuzzy reunion with his feral father. Altogether, his first Christmas eve is a less than a Silent Night.

The proceeds of this book from whatever source will be donated to the Humane Society of Jefferson County for the benefit of the animal shelter. eBook COMING SOON!

Word Count: 24,544
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Father Christmas by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
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The Tour Bus of Doom (Spam and the Zombie Apocalyps-0) by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
As usual, a wonderful Scarborough—vintage, witty, clever, profound, touching, vivid...
—Kerry Greenwood, author of the Phryne Fisher series

The Tour Bus of Doom rolls into a small coastal town, spewing zombies to rampage down the main street. To the beat of eerie drum music, they loot, kidnap, and zombie-fy innocent citizens. Spam the cat, self-appointed feline defender of the town, watches in horror from the rooftops. When the zombies abduct Spam's jeweler friend and take over the nursing home, Spam is certain they are also responsible for the disappearance of his next-door neighbor Mr. Barker, partner of retired police dog, Officer Bubba. Then Marigold, Spam's half sister, reports that her human family, who went missing while on a mission of mercy to earthquake ravaged Haiti, has finally returned home, just long enough to take their valuables. And They. Don't. Even. Recognize. Her.

All of that is dire enough, but then the zombies go too far and take over the bodies of the owner and server at Spam's favorite fish'n'chips place. Searching for help from his vampire friend Maddog, Spam meets a new cat in town, the sinuous Havana Brown Erzullie, who arrived with the zombies. Aided (sort of) by her, Renfrew the raccoon, the urban deer cat taxi service, Rocky the vampcat, and his half-siblings Marigold and Mat, the heroic feline must investigate, before the zombie apocalyps-o destroys not only his town, but his home and his beloved Darcy.

Just when he thinks he may have the situation well in paw, the zombie hunters from Seattle arrive, responding to a bounty on the heads of the zombies. What they don't realize is that they have the wrong brand of zombies, the un-plagued un-dead, who could revive as long as they keep their heads.

Word Count: 67500
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The Tour Bus of Doom by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough ORDER The Tour Bus of Doom PRINT BOOK! (ISBN #978-1-61950-113-3)

Shifty by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
What you see (at first) is not what you get in this collection of nine previously published tales of shape shifting and transformation. An Alaskan student of wildlife biology finds it difficult to write convincingly about what she knows. A proud and beautiful princess loses her popularity when cursed (in a way probably familiar to many readers) by a wicked enchanter. A lonely Cajun fiddler has a close encounter with his royal but scaly ancestor. In the secret story of the railroad that transformed the American West, Chinese and Irish workers compete to complete the job with a little help from supernatural friends. A lowly jeweler creates a wondrous bauble for the sultan's favorite, but his reward, an exalted royal elephant, eats him out of house and home until he unlocks her secret. An Irish nurse discovers the identity of the lone fiddler who plays at the bedside of a critically ill patient. A middle-aged woman, suddenly invisible, improves her love and social life during Mardi Gras. And a predatory bill collector meets his match in a story so dark that the author even changed her name. In these shifty stories, you'll be wondering who happens next!

Word Count: 54000
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Shifty by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough ORDER THE Shifty PRINT BOOK! (ISBN #978-1-61950-164-5)

The Dragon, the Witch, and the Railroad by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Progress has transformed Queenston, capital city of Argonia. Once the land of witches, wizards, fairies, and other magical people and animals, since the Great War, the country has changed. Queenston, particularly, is now the city of contraptions and conveyances, including a modern international railroad.

In the Great War Argonia's dragons allied with the armies to push back an invasion. For their assistance, the beasts shared what food remained as the country rebuilt itself. But with the war won, the allies came to "recover" the war-torn country, bringing with them new ideas and inventions, most of which only needed a supply of iron and a reliable source of heat for their boilers. The dragons were again recruited, tamed, altered and virtually enslaved to power Progress.

Verity Brown is a modern girl. The magic of her witchy foremothers has become, if not actually illegal, highly unfashionable. The only magic that matters to Verity is her own curse, forcing her to know and tell the truth regardless of convenience.

On Verity's 16th birthday, a hot-air balloon crash kills her father. The balloon's dragon and wrangler rescue Verity, but are blamed and sentenced to be put to death. Her honorable quest to save them and find her father's murderer takes her straight into the den of the wild and ferocious Dragon Vitia.

Word Count: 101700
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The Dragon, the Witch, and the Railroad by Elizabeth Ann Scarbotough ORDER The Dragon, the Witch, and the Railroad print book! (ISBN #978-1-61950-252-9)


The Drastic Dragon of Draco, Texas

Paladins of the Prairie may very well exist on the prairie, but they have clearly drawn the line at carrying the Code of the West into the Texas desert. I know for a fact that muleskinners bear no resemblance whatsoever to either Saint George or to any of those other gallant knights who traipsed about rescuing damsels in distress. When I was abducted by wild Indians and subsequently menaced by a dragon, none of the fifty teamsters with whom I was traveling lifted a finger to rescue me.
Of course, forty-nine of them weren’t aware I needed rescuing, since the wagon in which I was riding had bogged down behind the others just before midday siesta and of course the mules had to be rested before we were dislodged and reunited with the rest of the train.

Not that my traveling companions were being intentionally neglectful. They were simply more accustomed to dealing with mules than with ladies. Had it occurred to them that I might be in some danger, one of them would undoubtedly have insisted that I join a wagon further up the trail in a more protected position. But, as usual, they were so intent upon their own routine they forgot me. I believe that they did so not so much because I am unmemorable as because my presence presented them with something of a dilemma. A frontiersman curses in front of a lady only at peril to his life and immortal soul. Unfortunately, cursing is an absolute requirement in the practice of the mule-skinning profession.

Since my objective was to sample the true flavor of the Wild West, I willingly accommodated myself to this benign neglect. Though but three days away from the cavalry outpost, I had already grown accustomed to the teamsters’ priorities. First animals, then equipment, and then people were tended to. When I inquired of Mr. Jones, the driver of my wagon, what might be a human ailment sufficiently severe to halt the caravan, he gave the various personal insects inhabiting his chin whiskers an affectionate scratch and replied, “Oh, I don’t know, ma’am. Indians—though there ain’t been that many bad raids since the menfolk got back from the War. But if there was, we’d stop, I reckon. Indians steal mules. And mebbe a panther”—(he said “painter”)—that’d be bad for the mules too. But strictly human—I don’t know, a bullet in the belly maybe, specially if a fella was bleedin’ real messy.”

I remained skeptical about the negligibility of the dangers of the despoblado, the great Texas desert. The cavalry wives at Fort Davis were also less blase’ than the muleskinners, especially regarding Indians. The tenth night I stayed at the fort, a minor earthquake shook the ground. While the men ran to their soldierly duties and the comfort of their horses, the women clustered together in one room and talked of how the earthquake had to be a sign from God that no decent person should live out here among the heathen, after which the conversation degenerated into morbidly grisly and graphic descriptions of past Indian raids.

Current style dictates that I should claim I was gathering wildflowers or something equally genteelly frivolous when the Indians captured me. Nonsense. I had awakened from my siesta half-melted despite the shade of the wagon above me, nauseated by the stench of mules and Mr. Jones and, by now, myself, begrimed and annoyed to have to stray from my nest even as far as the closest cactus large enough to provide a modest concealment.

I scanned the ground for snakes, not wildflowers, of which there are none in the middle of the desert in late September. Finishing my necessary errand behind the only sort of greenery around—the prickly kind—I stood, adjusted my skirts, and was about to return to the wagon when I saw the Indians.

I cannot report that I was instantly terrified. My first instinct was to shoo them away. There were only three of them, riding around our disabled wagon, poking through the canvas, and pawing through the contents. Earlier in my journeys I had encountered several members of the pacified tribes around Tombstone and Santa Fe, folk with a distressing penchant for examining other people’s property and begging a portion of it, when possible. My brain was still so befuddled with sleep and heat that I failed to make the distinction between those curiosity-seekers and the three painted, armed, and mounted warriors before me.

Therefore, I felt less alarm than vexation at Mr. Jones for being remiss about guarding his cargo. I fancied he was still enjoying his afternoon nap beneath the wagon. Though several hours past noon, the day was still far too hot to travel. At least for civilized folk. The Indians didn’t seem to mind, having adjusted themselves to the climate by wearing very little but scraps of skin, beads, and eagle feathers.

While I was fuming over Mr. Jones’s supposed laziness and contemplating native haberdashery, one of the braves rounded the wagon and spotted me. Those who fancy that Indians have no sense of humor should have seen the delighted grin on his face as he galloped his horse straight toward me. I had never heard of Indians killing victims by simply trampling them, but evidence seemed immediately forthcoming.

I would like to testify that it is not necessarily one’s life that flashes before one when death seems imminent. I saw nothing of my previous pallid existence. Neither my childhood nor the most stimulating of the duties I performed while ensuring that our newspaper functioned when my father did not intruded on my consciousness at that time. What I saw were the gruesome mental pictures my fertile brain had conceived while the cavalry wives were scaring each other silly with the histories of literally hair-raising Indian savagery.

I stood frozen for a moment, then flung myself down to one side, twisting to avoid a nasty patch of Spanish dagger. The grinning savage scooped me up beside him, clasping his hand over my mouth so that I could not scream and alert the wagons in the mule train preceding us.

My middle did not take kindly to being scooped. The air went out of me and my limbs flailed so that I bore some resemblance to a landed fish as I was hauled onto the horse. I squirmed in my captor’s grasp enough to straddle the animal, backwards, as it turned out, my seat facing the horse’s neck, my face buried in the Indian’s breathtaking chest, which reeked of rancid something or other and dead something else besides the natural odor of a very active man on a very warm day.

My new position amused the Indian further, for he now could gag and strangle me at the same time simply by holding my face against him with the crook of one arm. Only my eyes were free to stare across his shoulder as he and his fellows plundered the packs, extracted as many as they could carry of the whiskey bottles comprising a large portion of our cargo, and galloped back into the desert. As I was spirited away I saw the craven Mr. Jones, who had saved his own neck by feigning his absence while huddled between the wagon wheels. Now he peered out from beneath the wagon, his mouth working silently. I almost forgave him, knowing that I probably would have hidden too. As soon as we were far enough away that he could run to the other wagons, I prayed that he would engineer my rescue in time to save me from death and whatever it was that was supposed to be worse.

Meanwhile, of course, I had this splendid opportunity to apply my ability as a trained journalist and learn all I could of Indian ways.

Sad to say, the only Indian ways I was able to observe from my unusual vantage point were entirely too similar to the white men’s ways with which I was already more familiar than I wished to be. My captors broke the necks of the whiskey bottles on convenient boulders and proceeded to get very drunk.

Back to The Drastic Dragon of Draco Texas

The Harem of Aman Akbar, or The Djinn Decanted

In the second year of the reign of the Boy King, Aman Akbar commanded his djinn to begin casting into the ether for wives suitable to the station to which our illustrious lord then aspired. An ambitious yet kindly man with a taste for the exotic engendered by the fashion of the day, Aman specified to his djinn servant that a woman for his harem must be comely and well learned in wifely crafts and also be of noble blood among her own people, but must not be so beloved that loss of her would greatly grieve her kin.

Perhaps you will think that such an arrangement was all very well for Aman Akbar but detestable for the women involved. You would, for the most part, be wrong, though the error is certainly forgivable unless you, as I, had been the third daughter and middle child of the overlord of our tribe. We Yahtzeni are fighters first (by inclination) and herders secondarily (by occupation). Thus good men are a rarity among us, for the attrition rate is great.

Our foes are distant relations to my mother. They live primarily in the upper portions of the hills and raid every spring and fall, killing many men while stealing sheep and women. We try to raid back, but are not such good climbers as they, and lose even more men in such raids. Meanwhile, the women left behind still bear children, and these children have in recent years seemed more often to be girls than boys, so that the girls among us, by adolescence, have no marriage to look forward to, but a life of perpetual girlhood and servitude to their parents and the tribe. The only possible distraction any of us can as a rule anticipate is to be captured, enslaved, ravished and married only when we bear male children to our captors and are thus proven worthy of protection.

By the time I, as third daughter, was born to my father, he had begun to despair of sons and in his sorrow became unhinged enough to teach me to fight with the curved bronze dagger and lance, to hunt with bow and arrow, and to capture and ride wild ponies, as he would have taught a son. My mother thought him mad and kept telling him no good would come of it, and the surviving older men in the tribe taunted us both and regarded me as uncommonly wild and strange. Great was my mother's relief when she bore my brother and I could be tethered to the spindle, flocks and loom, and taught the healing potions and prayers she considered essential to a daughter's education. Still, my early training as my father's son stood me in good stead when the camp was raided, my father sorely injured and my sister—somewhat gratefully—carried off. My own distaste for my people's enemies' marriage customs was explicitly expressed with my dagger.

Thus by the time I first felt eyes upon me as I sat spinning, watching the sheep, I was already considered unmarriageable among our people and thought to be of an unnaturally fierce disposition.
Rain was sparse that season, and the sky, promising snow, looked like a felted blanket. Our sheep ranged far and wide to find forage and I with them. I'd found a comfortable rock, just high enough for my spindle to rest against my thigh. When I felt the eyes upon me, I stilled my spindle in mid-whirl and clasped it to my hip. The hills around my flock teemed with wolves and bear, as well as mother's disgruntled relatives. I set aside the spindle and grabbed my dagger, fearing the two-legged beasts more than the four. Had I known what was truly behind my unease, I would have been terrified beyond any comfort to be gained from the knife.

Later I would be glad that I had had to wear my new robe that day, for the tattered one my mother had sewn for me for my womanhood dance had been torn beyond repair in the last battle. Even before that, it had been worn to transparency in places so intimate I was almost embarrassed to wear it in front of the sheep. The threads for my new robe were finer spun than those in the old one, for my skill with the spindle had increased in the years separating the making of the two. I had dyed it a rich rust color by soaking it in a bath of iron wood. Escaping the camp to roam with the sheep put me in a festive mood. That and the chill sharpening the morning prompted me to add to my new finery the felted vest I had been embroidering for my sister before her capture—it had the fleece of a black lamb inside and the yarns were various yellows and soft pinks. Aman says that he found the contrast between my finery of that day and my ferocious aspect in battle most erotic— Aman talks that way sometimes. For although he has lived all his life in Kharristan, he has always been a keen watcher of the market place and also is the possessor of a vivid imagination. He finds the strange people who flock to that center of the civilized world endlessly fascinating and their diversity intriguing. Thus he was prepared to find me beautiful instead of merely odd.

I am told the djinn complained that I was unworthy— what noble woman, he protested, would be so careless of herself as to bind her hair into leather-held braids instead of twining it with pearls? Which shows how much the djinn knows about feminine adornment—my hair is almost white and pearls would ill-become me. He also deemed my substantial nose hideous—but this is typical of the djinn, who has lived a sheltered existence, for the most part, confined in his bottle. Therefore his views often tend to be prudish and conservative. Though a great one for taking others places, he has generally taken no part in the life of those places, thereby managing to stay relatively untouched and unenlightened by his travels. However, on the occasion in question, his priggish complaints fell on unheeding ears, for Aman replied, "Her nose is curved like the beak of the hawk and is a fitting complement to the glitter of her eyes—know you, o djinn, that the hawk is a noble bird and proud and also, I think, useful."

There was further discussion of the sort Aman indulges in when carrying out these quasi-poetic analogies of his, about soft feathers and delicate coloring but even when he is being smooth-tongued and soft-headed he can be acute. You notice he did not pick a frivolous bird to compare with me.

All that morning I felt skittish as an unbroken pony, disturbed, though I knew it not, by invisible scrutiny.

The new pasturage was a sloping mountain meadow and the way was long and tiresome. I quickly shed my vest, the pleasant coolness giving way to prickly discomfort as the sun and I climbed together. By the time I reached the stream where I planned to watch while the sheep grazed, sweat dewed my forehead and stuck my new garments to me at the armpits. The bubbling water looked refreshing and I smelled goatish. I did not wish to spoil my new clothing by stinking it up on its first day in use, so I shed it gratefully and waded in. The icy waters revived me for but a moment before I began shaking with a cold that struck through my body as though to cut flesh from bone. I shot from the water, blowing through my nose and lips like a horse, hugging myself and shivering in my blued hide.

"Who can account for the taste of my master?" a voice whined, seemingly from above. I looked up sharply and dove for my clothing, not to cover myself so much as to find my dagger, still tangled in the silken sash. Despite the unfamiliar accent, I feared I had been caught by our enemies and was determined to sunder as many as possible from their lives before they could sunder me from my maidenhood.

Back to Harem of Aman Akbar

The Lady in the Loch

The mother of the corpse wore solid black as she danced round and round the room to the lamenting coronach of the pipes. With her danced the father of the corpse, also in black. The attire of both showed signs of having been recently, hastily dyed for the occasion. Phantoms of the plaid fabric swam beneath the dye of the mother's gown. The mother wept as she danced and the father scowled. The corpse lay in the middle of the room, her claes deid, her funeral garments, concealing the thirty stab wounds in her chest and the dishonor her killer had subjected her body to before she died. All around the coffin, her brothers and sisters-in-law, her sisters and brothers-in-law, her fiance and her grandmother, all of them weeping, shuffled in their own awkward dancing. The neighbors danced and wept as well. And close by the coffin, the bound and gagged tinkler man was weeping too, less for the murdered lassie than for himself, he who was the accused.

The time was one minute until midnight by the grand-father clock standing in the candle-cast shadows draping the walls, festooning the ceiling and carpeting the floors. The flickering of these same candles lent astonishing expressions to the corpse's face and deepened the dread on the faces of the other celebrants, dancing, singing, eating, drinking, and weeping for the dead lass.

A danse macabre if ever there was one, Walter Scott mused from his chair in the center of the room, close to the girl's open coffin. Scott was excused from the dancing both because of his semi-official status in the investigation and because of his lame leg. In a way, it was quite thrilling, this lyke-wake, for it was the first he had attended. Lowlanders and Borderers such as himself, people raised in the strictness of the Kirk, did not practice such rituals, but the girl's family, the MacRitchies, were transplanted Highlanders. So on the one hand, this gave Scott a wonderful opportunity to observe a ritual of which he had previously only read. But on the other hand, there was the girl in the coffin, and though he had never known her, never heard her name, she was touchingly young, younger even than his own eighteen years. She should have been beautiful too, an Ophelia, a Lily Lady of Shalot, but she was actually rather ordinary-looking, robust even in death, the freckles standing out like blemishes on the waxiness of her skin, her eyes, at present, closed with coins, her red hair too festive for her own funeral.

The sheriff-depute of Selkirk, Scott's old friend Adam Plummer, stood beside him, both of them shivering, for the room was chill for more common reasons than the eldritch atmosphere that gripped it. The fireplace was cold, as it must be until the body was removed, and the door was still wide open for the moment.

As the clock gonged the first of its twelve notes for midnight, the dancing wound to a shuffling halt and the piped lament died a wheezing death. Plummer crossed the makeshift dance floor in two long strides and closed the door so that it was barely ajar. The mourners hushed, except for one man who continued, unheeding, to gnaw on the drumstick of a goose. As Plummer returned to the corpse's side, the clock struck its second gong. The mother, Mrs. MacRitchie, let loose with her eerie keening cry, the hullulu, as the Irish so accurately termed it, for that was the way it sounded, a long mourning-dove yell.

The MacRitchies' large, pleasant stone farmhouse was wrapped in the boughs of the Ettrick Forest, and both forest and farmhouse kitchen could be entered from the kitchen door. The house was not too far from that of Scott's old friend James Hogg, and his mother. Hogg had been with the search party that discovered the lass's poor body and also with the party that had flushed the tinklers from their camp in the woods and chased the young man through the trees. The murdered girl's fiance and her brothers had assumed, as had all the neighbors, that the tinkler lad, since he was in the area, was of course the perpetrator of the crime. Had it been left only to them, the young man would by now be hanged. But Hogg, who had some connections with and sympathy for the tinklers, told the accusers that if they proceeded, the current laws of this district would call them murderers as well, that it was best to send for the sheriff-depute and allow him to conduct a proper investigation. Recalcitrant as the younger laddies were, the elder MacRitchies prevailed and allowed Hogg to send a servant with a message to the home of Scott's aunt Janet in Sandy Knowe. Scott was visiting his aunt and uncle for the summer, far away from his studies at the university in Edinburgh. He and Plummer had been whiling away the early afternoon playing chess when the MacRitchies' servant knocked on Aunt Janet's door and told him of the lass's death (never calling her by name. One never called the deceased by name unless in court or kirk or on one other occasion, as the sheriff was soon to demonstrate). Plummer evidently was acquainted with the family, however, and had some idea that the lyke-wake was in order. He told Scott that this might prove a more interesting experience than most and urged the younger man to accompany him.

Riding hard, they had reached the farmhouse shortly after sunset, when the forest shadows gave way to the mist rising from the creeks and ponds, and that was joined by the smoke from the kitchen chimney, blowing a solemn ring around the house.

Plummer questioned Mrs. MacRitchie, who had laid her daughter out, about the girl's wounds. Scott was relieved his friend had felt no need to remove the funeral linens to see the wounds for himself, but he wondered why. Plummer questioned the tinkler lad as well, but the man refused to say anything except that he had done nothing wrong, and to shake his head stubbornly. The brothers and the girl's fiance, one Robert Douglas, the son of an even more successful farmer than the girl's father, wanted to "bate the truth oot o' the knacker," and in fact, it looked as if they had already made progress toward that goal before Plummer and Scott arrived. Hogg too bore a couple of visible bruises, although no apparent malice toward those who had inflicted them.

The clock gonged for the fourth time. Plummer began, "By the power vested in me by the Sheriff of Selkirk and through him the King, I will noo commence interrogatin' the victim of this heinous crime."

"What does he mean, interrogate the victim?" Scott asked Hogg, who had drawn near.

Hogg shrugged. "Used to be done whenever there was foul play, according to Mither," he whispered back. "Nowadays nane but the law know the way."

"Why's that?" Scott asked, but just then, one of the men screamed.

"No! Let her rest in peace! We hae Ma—my bride-to-be's murderer there. We should hang him and be done wi' it!"

"Haud yer tongue, man," Plummer commanded. "Let nane speak but her whose foremost business it is, the last witness to this crime. In the pursuit of this investigation, once more I invoke thy name, Mary MacRitchie," he said, in appropriately sonorous tones. "Rise up, lass, and accuse thy slayer."

Though he had never seen such a thing before, Scott had read of the dead accusing their slayers, but had thought it only superstition. He, with the other occupants of the room, held his breath, waiting, to see what would happen, what, if the victim indeed rose up, she would say.

Even the gnawer of the goose bone had finished all the flesh and, putting away his bone, realized that the room was now completely still except for his ever-more-cautious chewing and the echo of Plummer's invocation, and the heartbeats and expirations of all of those who were not now allowed to speak. The first sound other than those was a slight slipping, like jewels against a lady's velvet dress, and then a hollow clink as the coins fell from the girl's eyes and dropped into her coffin as if it were a wishing well.

Even the tinkler was still, as with a sussuration of the claes deid and a long, pain-wracked groan, the body raised itself, hands still bound across its chest, to a sitting position.

With the raising, Scott caught the stench of corruption emanating from her, washed and freshly dressed as she was. On such a warm summer day as this had been, her body had already begun to decay.

Back to The Lady in the Loch

The Goldcamp Vampire

Three days after my father’s funeral, his former mistress summoned me to her place of employment and proposed that the two of us distract ourselves from grief by accepting a rather bizarre proposition. “Meet me backstage at 12:15 and you will, as they say, learn something to your advantage,” her note read.

As very little had been to my advantage lately, I roused myself to accept.

It would be inaccurate to say I had been prostrated with grief. My father’s death was hardly unanticipated. He had been deliberately drinking himself to death since the demise of my mother thirty years ago, and since his second marriage to the sanctimonious Widow Higgenbotham, he had speeded up the process appreciably.

Considering his inclinations, the manner and location of his passing were as he would have wished it. When found, he wore a blissful smile upon his face as if he had discovered some new and particularly potent elixir that had carried him straight to heaven—assuming that was his destination. I felt guilty when I saw him to note how pale and drained he looked, for I so despised his new wife that I had seen him very seldom. But his happy expression and the fact that he had died just outside his favorite haunt, the Gold Nugget Opera House, consoled me.

Nevertheless, as I made my way to the backstage door of that establishment, I averted my eyes and held my skirts away as I passed the spot where he had been found.

With the mist creeping up to conceal the garbage and broken bottles, and the drizzle descending like unceasing tears, the alley was a depressing place to be. Even the pearl-handled derringer in my bag was cold comfort. This was a night the poet Poe might relish, except that ravens seldom frequented the alleys or San Francisco anymore. Pigeons perhaps. Pigeons with uncannily direct gazes, for as I turned back toward the lamplight flickering in from the main street, small eyes glittered down at me, then swooped aside. I grasped the knob of the backstage door and shoved.

The strains of the final chorus act met me even before I entered, but Sasha Devine’s numbers were over for the evening. It was her policy always to “leave them wanting more.” Her dressing room door was cracked open, for despite the midsummer fog and damp, the air was warm.

Sasha saw me reflected in her mirror even before I spoke. “Vahlenteena,” she said effusively, twisting in her chair to face me. “How kind of you to come to see me in my bereavement. You alone know how very dear Patrick was to me. And you, my dear Vahlenteena, have always been the daughter I never had.”

I would have been more moved by this declaration were it not for the fact that it was only since my novels began to sell that Sasha had learned my name—and at that she chose to learn my nom de plume, Valentine Lovelace, not my given name, Pelagia Harper. Although to be perfectly fair, I do recall that at times while I was in my teens, she was wont to refer to me as “Peggy.”

“Because of this sentiment I bear you and your dear departed father,” she continued, “and because you are a fellow artiste in what I understand are straitened circumstances, I have selected you to be my traveling companion on my grand tour of the Klondike. Expenses will be paid, of course, but you must wait for your salary until we arrive.”

My spirits rose immediately. I was, in fact, so elated by the chance to see the Klondike, that dazzling repository of gold of which everyone was speaking, that I failed to note Sasha s tone. It was identical to the one I had once heard her use when she parted my father from the subscription money that was supposed to support our newspaper for a month.

Instead, my previous caution vanished and I saw in her my deliverance from my problems. No matter if Jade Fan, Wy Mi’s grieving sister, sold her laundry—and my lodgings—and moved back to China. No matter if the Widow Higgenbotham refused to pay me the monies that Papa had promised me for the serialization of my latest saga in the Herald. No matter that the West was now all but won, and I had to dredge my dwindling memories of Texas for material for my popular-but-un-lucrative epistles. No matter that I would never again see Papa slumped over his desk, or hear him singing as he stumbled from his favorite saloon. Long since he had ceased telling me the stories of Cuchulain and Maeve. Wy Mi had not mentioned the Wind Dragons of his native China since I told him I’d met one. Life had become quite dull. And now lovely, kindly Sasha Devine, in all her beneficence, was going to take me away from all this.

My face must have betrayed my emotion. With a complacent smile, she turned away from me and began removing her stage makeup, smoothing the cream below the high ruffled collar of her dressing gown, which kept tickling her chin and threatening to get makeup and grease on its lace. I had never realized her complexion was so fair-pallid, one might even say. When she removed the whitening under her great green eyes, dark hollows appeared. When she turned back to me, her collar flopped away, revealing an angry insect bite on the left side of her still almost-perfect throat.

Even without the makeup, however, Sasha looked no older than I, though she had to be at least ten years my senior. Her hair really was that blond, but without the false curls of her fancy coiffure, it hung long and straight. She looked delicate when unpainted, rather like a fairy princess who might, with that sharp determined chin and those acquisitive green eyes, turn into a wicked queen with the least encouragement. Hadn’t I heard a rumor somewhere, no doubt started by Sasha herself, that she was descended from the royal house of some long-defunct Balkan country??

“I have been working very hard, and your father’s death has distressed me greatly,” she said. “Also, until departure time, I must continue to fulfill my contract here. You will be in charge of the practical details, booking the passage for me, yourself, and Mr. Lawson’s coffin...”

“Mr. Lawson’s what?” I asked.

“His coffin,” she said, slowly and distinctly, as if to the deaf. “Mr. Lawson is dead and requires one.”

“Excuse me,” I said. “Unacquainted with Mr. Lawson as I am, his demise had escaped my notice. If he is dead, why does he require not only a coffin, but passage aboard a steamer to the Klondike?”

She turned again, her actress’s eyes entreating me tragically. “Because Mr. Lawson’s partner is a man not only of exceptionally good taste, as he is an admirer of mine, but also of considerable sentiment. He and Mr. Lawson worked their Alaskan claim for many years without success. Even when my admirer temporarily gave up mining for bartending in order to earn a further grubstake, Mr. Lawson, it is said, worked with commendable determination throughout the winter in an attempt to find the mother lode. To no avail. This earned him the cruel soubriquet of Lost-Cause among his associates. Finally, his partner insisted that he come to San Francisco to recuperate from exhaustion and the illness that consumed him as a result of his efforts. When the gold strike was made in the Klondike, my admirer abandoned his bar, after standing a drink for the denizens in order to get a head start on them, and headed for Canada. The day Mr. Lawson died, my admirer made one of the richest strikes in the Yukon. But he is guilt-ridden about it. His partner must at least see the wealth that eluded them both for so long, he feels. The gentleman in question remembers me fondly from a night—a performance—two years ago, and dispatched a message containing a retainer and promising that if I would see to it that his poor partner was escorted to the Yukon, he would make me owner of my own establishment, which is somewhat better than a gold mine.”

“I see.”

“And you, you will get the experience of traveling to the most exciting place in the world. Later, when I have earned my reward, you may be my agent to summon my girls to come join me.”

“It’s a very kind offer, Miss Devine,” I said. “But I fail to understand exactly why you need me...”

“Because I certainly cannot be expected to do everything. You must see to collecting the body from the undertaker’s, to booking the passage, to acquiring certain papers assuring Mr. Lawson’s corpse of entry into Canada.”

She rose and faced me, one hand extended dramatically. “Vahlenteena, I ask you because I know that you are a person of integrity, and in my line of work one meets all too few of those. Do you think I failed to see how you kept your newspaper running when dear Patrick was unable? You are rather young, of course, and a woman, but I thought you might be——

She needed to say no more. I was hooked without hearing any of the particulars, which is, of course, always a mistake.

I asked to see the letter from her admirer, so that I might get a list of the tasks to be accomplished. I thought, from all the details in her story, that it must certainly have been a very long letter, or perhaps an entire series of correspondence. However, she responded that she had received just a note and she thought she had left it in her suite. She remembered it quite well, however, and went over with me the prodigious list of chores I needed to perform to secure our passage. The oddest of these was arranging for the disinterment of Lost-Cause Lawson from his tomb and his transport to the steamer.

This I determined to tackle the following day. I got a rather late start. I left Sasha Devine during the wee hours Sunday morning, when it was not yet light and the fog made the alley look like the smoking aftermath of a great fire. I have traveled the streets of my native city in what I fondly believed was perfect safety for most of my life, but in these early hours, I felt ill at case. The rain finished its demolition work on my mourning bonnet, which had not been especially crisp to begin with. My one good woolen coat had used the warmth of Sasha’s dressing room to finish permeating its fibers with damp, so that I was now chilled through. My spine was already curling itself into tight ringlets when the black carriage flashed past the alley entrance, drenching me to the waist as the wheels splashed through a puddle.

I shouted a few of the more colorful epithets I had learned in Texas at the denizens of the carriage, little expecting response, for half of my remarks were in Spanish, the vernacular being particularly suited for self-expression of that sort.

To my dismay, the carriage stopped abruptly and swung around in the middle of the street, the lamps gleaming off the coats of the horses and the polished ebony of the coach. Shadows shrouded the interior, but as the vehicle drew even with my dripping form, a low and melodious voice from within said softly, ‘Se lo reuego usted que mi disculpas con todo sinceridad, señora.”

“Oh, dear, excuse me,” I sputtered, wringing out my hem. Evidently, I had just had the honor of being splattered by a member of our local Spanish nobility. “I mean, I didn’t think you’d under—oh, never mind...”

“Ah, you are American, despite your bilingual fluency.” The voice sounded pleased. Its accent was foreign but not, I thought, Spanish after all. “Please, madam, permit me to offer the services of my carriage to conduct you to your quarters, where you may change your attire and present your other clothing to my man for cleaning or replacement, if the damage is too extensive.”

I peered into the shadows and alternated between feeling like a perfect fool and feeling very cautious about this disembodied voice. The man sounded like a gentlemen, but many gentlemen, I had found, were anything but gentle and had attained their wealth and high station by taking the position that everyone else was inferior to themselves and, therefore, fair game.

“Don’t trouble yourself, sir,” I said, inching away. “My lodgings are not far and my landlady and her family, who are waiting up for me, operate a laundry. Jade Fan will have my costume good as new tomorrow at no expense to me.”

And before he could say any more or possibly leap from his carriage and drag me in, as my overheated imagination began to suggest, I sprinted—or splashed—away
Back to The Goldcamp Vampire

The Unicorn Creed


When Colin Songsmith arrived with the royal party at Fort Iceworm, he scarcely recognized the place. Indeed, he scarcely could see the place, once he and the rest of Their Majesties' entourage had passed within the huge log gates, for it was crammed ten deep with people everywhere. Even now, in midsummer, when crops needed tending, animals needed herding, and peasants needed supervising, and in spite of Fort Iceworm's remoteness from Queenston, Argonia's capital city and center of both population and enterprise, no one wanted to miss the royal christening.

From all corners of the realm and the known world, the guests had already gathered—kings and statesmen, queens of faery, wazirs and wise men, gypsies, an unusually large number of assorted unattached noblemen, plus other noble people, ignoble people, were-people, half-people and even a few non-people. All had assembled to christen the baby Princess Bronwyn in the hall of her grandfather, Sir William Hood.

All visible portions of the castle's structure were layered with silken banners of every color, bearing every crest in the realm, fluttering less with wind than with the comings and goings of the throng. The meadows separating castle and village from the vast forest were strewn with guest pavilions, like huge overblown summer flowers, crimson, azure, golden and green of every shade and tint. From the topmost turret of Sir William's keep flew the King's own crest, a rowan leaf on a field of scarlet. Directly below it, as was proper, flew Sir William's own banner, an iceworm, blue, rampant on a field of white. Enterprising peasants hawked pennants bearing both emblems through the streets. Every cottager and holder for leagues around lodged at least twenty people in his small home, and at all hours elaborately clad servants came and went from the humblest of village dwellings. Never did the smell of cooking food, nor the sound of laughter and song, abate, for the entire week of festivities preceding the christening.

It was a good thing that His Majesty was so tall. Otherwise Colin, whose duty it was as chief minstrel to always be at the King's right hand, chronicling his regally witty remarks on the marvelous occasion, could never have found either the King or his right hand. Fortunately, His Highness was descended from frost giants, and was thus of conveniently outstanding stature.

Colin had less luck locating the other person he most wished to find at the christening, his old questing companion, Maggie Brown, Sir William's bastard daughter and Queen Amberwine's half sister. He knew where she was well enough, or where she had been, at any rate. It was Maggie's special talent, her hearthcraft witchery, which kept the entire christening from being a greater domestic disaster than it was. Hers was the power to perform all household tasks in the twinkling of an eye, and wherever she went she cut a swath of fragrant cooking fires, clean rushes, whitewashed walls, clean dishes, hot food, cold drink, emptied chamber pots, fresh linen, kindled torches and tidied beds. It was not an unpleasant trail to follow. Nevertheless, Colin had hoped for a more personal confrontation—a bit of a reunion, as it were—a chance to sing her his new songs, to tell her of his life at the castle, and perhaps to strut for her a bit in the rich apparel the King had given him. But somehow he never seemed to be free of his duties at the same time she was free of hers in the same room. Once he almost collided with her as he was coming in from a party at Sir Oswald's pavilion, but without looking up she'd brushed past him in a brown blur, automatically mending a small tear and cleaning a wine stain on his sleeve in passing. He was, for once, speechless, and after that had no more opportunities to seek her out, preoccupied as he was with his own duties of observing, chronicling, dancing, singing, entertaining and being entertained by his fellow guests.

So it happened that, although she was the first person he'd looked for, he never really saw her properly until the actual christening had begun and he took his favored place, slightly behind and to the left of Their Majesties' makeshift thrones inside the cow yard, which was the only area large enough to hold even the noble part of the assemblage.

King Roari and his queen, the exquisite Lady Amberwine, were flanked on one side by the most important of the royal guests, and on the other side by a smug and beaming Sir William, an equally proud Granny Brown, Maggie's irascible witch grandmother, and by Maggie herself. She was still dressed in her brown woolen skirt and tunic and manure-spattered wooden clogs, her apron splotched with a fresh grease stain, neglected in the excitement, her brown eyes darting restlessly around the courtyard, as if looking for tasks that still needed doing. Only her shining otter's pelt of brown hair was clean and neatly braided, and bespoke personal preparation for the historic moment about to take place.

As the Mother's Priestess lifted Princess Bronwyn from Queen Amberwine's arms, and carried her gently and ceremoniously to the mound of christening mud heaped high upon the white-silk-covered table in front of the throne, Maggie caught Colin's eye and grinned at him. It was her old grin, and full of relief, though somewhat nervous. He grinned back at her, trying to think how to signal her to wait for him after the ceremony, but then there was no time. The baby had stopped howling in the priestess's unfamiliar arms, and now gurgled happily as the woman tenderly smeared the small body with the Mother's life-giving mud.

The congregation cheered as the last of Bronwyn's shining pink flesh was blessed with another gooey glob, and the small Princess was borne away into the castle to be bathed before the gifting began.

Colin thought then he might step over to one side and snag Maggie before she disappeared again. But before he'd taken a pace, King Roari lifted his hand slightly, and the royal herald, standing just to Colin's right, blew a loud, whinnying blast on his trumpet. Colin winced.

The King rose majestically—he was very good at being majestic, being so large—and the trumpet-silenced assemblage knelt; not an easy task, since a kneeling person took up more room than a standing one, and the cow yard was already packed.
Back to The Unicorn Creed

Bronwyn's Bane

Bronwyn the Bold was still flushed from the heat of battle when the Lord Chamberlain found her in the small courtyard below the eastern wall of the Royal Palace. The courtyard was in ruins. Trees, walls, jousting dummies, the Queen's prize petunia patch, all were gouged, hacked and otherwise dismembered. The Princess knelt beside the wall, her short sword cooling in its sheath, her red carved shield close by her side. Evidently satisfied with the routing she'd dealt her enemies, she bent over the prone forms of her dolls, each of which was blanketed by one of her monogrammed handkerchiefs. “My lady," the Chamberlain began.

"What is it, Uncle Binky?" she demanded in a fair imitation of her father's regal roar. "Can't you see I've mortally wounded casualties on my hands? We need healers and medicine now!”

"Yes, my lady," the Chamberlain replied with a tone sober and a face straight from long and difficult practice. "I'll see to it personally, my lady..."

"A simple 'general' will do," Bronwyn said graciously, since she was actually very pleased to have someone to talk to. She hopped to her feet and took the Chamberlain's hand in hers, her action very like that of any normal child except that ordinary little girls didn't tower over adult royal retainers. "What news do you bring from behind our lines?"

"Your lady mother wishes a word with you, madam," the Lord Chamberlain replied.

"She hasn't—?" Bronwyn asked, jiggling his hand excitedly.

"No, madam, she has not. Nor will she deliver the babe for a month yet to come, as the Princess Magdalene has already informed Your Highness." And he clamped his lips tightly shut as if he were afraid she'd steal his teeth.

Bronwyn was quite used to having not only the Lord Chamberlain but everyone else who attended her adopt such attitudes when she tried to question or talk to them, so as usual she continued chattering at him as if he were answering each remark and paying her rapt attention. She supposed it went with her high rank to have everyone so in awe of her presence that they couldn't speak properly out of deference. Later, she decided that his silence was less usual than she'd thought, and smacked of the stoicism of a guard escorting his prisoner to the block—or into direst exile.

* * * *

Maggie, Lady Wormroost, paced the Royal sick chamber with an anxiety that was in no way relieved by the sound of her niece's big feet galumphing towards her from down the hall. At least this interview would be short, but it wouldn't be easy.

She glanced at the Queen—sleeping, of course, as she should be to conserve her meager strength. Except for the mound of belly drifted over with white satin coverlet, the Queen was more frail than Maggie had ever seen her, her bones sticking out like those of a plucked bird, her skin thinned to a ghost-like translucency, marbled with blue. Maggie loved her elder half-sister and wished there was something she could do for her besides keep her company when she woke and see to it that her chamber pot was kept empty and her bedding spotless.

For though Maggie was officially Regent, she knew only enough about government to know that it was best left in the hands of the few capable ministers the King had appointed to take charge of the war effort on the home front. Oh, she had used her hearth witchcraft, which allowed her to do all work connected with the home magically, to give a hand at readying the castle and surrounding city for siege. But she hoped the preparations she made, mostly consisting of magically expanding and storing existing food supplies beyond normal winter needs, would be unnecessary.

With any luck at all, King Roari's army would be able to head off Worthyman the Worthless and the Ablemarlonian forces and persuade them of the error of their ways. But it would not be easy. Worthyman was an unscrupulous scoundrel and a wastrel, but in one of his wiser moments he had chosen to squander a large portion of the treasury on a professional standing army of trained soldiers. Immediately thereafter, without bothering to try to forge a trade agreement, he had declared war on King Roari. He used the excuse that his country needed Argonian timber for its ship-building industry, which may have been true since, at his direction, Ablemarle's remaining forest land had been denuded and cultivated. However, the private opinion held by the King, Maggie, and a few others, was that Worthyman was actually hoping to find and eliminate his elder brother, the true Crown Prince, a focus of frequent Ablemarlonian rebellions even though he preferred to dwell quietly among the Argonian gypsies.

Whatever the reasons behind the war, Maggie wished it were over and she and Colin were safe back at Wormroost with their own daughter, Carole.

Which reminded her of her most immediate problem, one that concerned both Carole and Bronwyn. Too bad the King hadn't left her some wise minister to whom she could delegate this sort of domestic crisis, but unfortunately she and the Queen would have to muddle along by themselves.

If only Bronwyn weren't so bloody irritating. With her constant rattling nonsense, she was so provoking that Maggie never seemed to be able to talk to the child without snapping at her, even though she knew what annoyed her most was hardly the poor girl's own fault. Ah, well, Bronwyn was lucky Maggie was only a hearth witch and not a transformer like her Granny Brown or a really wicked witch like child-eating Great-Great-Grandma Elspat, or there were times when Her Royal Highness would have gotten worse than a snapping at...

"The Princess Bronwyn," the Chamberlain announced at the door.

"You think we can't see that for ourselves?" Maggie snapped. Damn! The girl was getting to her already. The Chamberlain beat a hasty retreat. Bronwyn gave her a shy smile that was ludicrous in such a strapping girl. Then, with her eyes still on Maggie's, as if anticipating a blow, she tripped sideways to her mother's bedside, stumbling at the last moment to fall across the sleeping Queen. Amberwine gasped and sat up, catching at her daughter's arm. Bronwyn held her mother by the elbow with one hand and with the other hand brushed at her, as if the contact might have dirtied her.

"Leave off, niece. You'll bruise her," Maggie advised as evenly as possible.
Bronwyn sprang away from the bed as if she'd touched the lighted end of a torch.

The frail Queen blinked her wide, green eyes twice and held out her hand to her daughter, who took it timidly. "How good it is to see you, my darling. How are you today?"

"Splendid, Mama. Extraordinary, in fact. I've just slain the entire Ablemarlonian army and the leaders have all been hanged in your name." Maggie groaned and Amberwine, had it been possible for her to have become any paler, could have been said to have done so. "Er, how kind of you, pet. You're such a thoughtful child. Isn't she, Maggie?"

Maggie shook her head and managed a faint, rueful smile. Bronwyn had her mother's eyes and chin, but she was otherwise her father's daughter entirely. A fitting successor to her paternal grandfathers, Rowans the Rambunctious, Rampaging, and Reckless respectively, she would have made King Roari a fine son. Pity. She was a dead loss at the womanly pursuits, and had gone through so many gowns her tiring women had finally given up and allowed her to go about in the simple undergown and armor she preferred. She clinked somewhat now as she perched on the edge of the bed, not quite resting her entire weight upon it, afraid she'd break her mother's bones if she relaxed. She was such a large girl—half again as large as either Maggie or Amberwine and uncomfortably aware that she had yet to gain mastery of her body. She knew she could cause irreparable damage to practically anything in the twinkling of an eye. If only she could be allowed to puncture something other than her own fingers during her earnest but ultimately painful attempts at needlework, perhaps the child would be good for something despite her—problem.

Amberwine caught Maggie's eye and said to Bronwyn, "Your aunt has a wonderful surprise for you, darling. Don't you, Maggie?"

Maggie felt another stab of guilt as a look of hopefulness and anticipatory pleasure dawned in the girl's eyes, and before it could turn into a full-fledged smile Maggie lost her nerve and tossed the conversational ball back to Amberwine. Sick, or not, the Queen was Bronwyn's mother. Let her be the one to break the news. "I think she'd rather you'd tell her, Winnie."

"Tell me what?" Bronwyn demanded in a childish parody of her father's boom.

She was a-wriggle with excitement now.

Winnie shot Maggie an injured look. "Why, that it's been arranged for you to have a nice trip in the country for awhile, dear. To see some of the rest of the kingdom and to meet your cousin Carole. It must be so dull for you shut up in the castle all the time and..."

"But it's not, Mama, really," Bronwyn protested, though, of course, it was.

"There's your duty too, young lady," Maggie said, stepping in before the child got out of hand. "To your mother, your subjects and Argonia. You will need to see more of your realm than the capitol sometime, and there's no time like the present."

Bronwyn started to protest, but for once Winnie was firm.

"Besides, I wish it. Maggie and I were such good friends as girls. You and Carole must learn to know and love each other too. I want you to have friends and—oh, darling, don't look like that! You'll have such fun! Tell her about the ice castle and the worm and the animals and the talking river, Maggie."

Maggie began talking very fast, tripping over her own tongue while describing the peculiar sights of Wormroost Manor, before the Princess could start crying or raise some other row that would further upset Winnie. It was unsettling enough to the Queen to be pregnant and bedridden while her husband was at war and her country under attack without worrying about Bronwyn. Not only was the girl a handful to have around at such a crucial time, but if the new reports of the enemy entering the Gulf of Gremlins were true, and by some ill fortune the King's forces could not stop them, the Ablemarlonians might soon be in Queenston Harbor. Bronwyn was Crown Princess and must be kept safe. Winnie was sure that if her daughter knew how potentially perilous the situation was, she would refuse to leave, although it was vital to national security that she do so. Maggie's view was that the girl had to grow up sometime, but then, Maggie wasn't Queen and very glad of it too. So she talked, wishing she had her husband's gift of gab and persuasive musical abilities to help her sound convincing.

Bronwyn interrupted her in mid-sentence, rising from her mother's bedside to stand at attention, her face set in a small painful smile not quite tight enough to control the trembling of her freckled chin.  "Thank you for your intriguing tale, my lady aunt. If my Royal Mama commands it, I am sure that I shall greatly enjoy my banis—fostering at your home. If I may be excused, I'll take my leave now and prepare for the journey." And she turned on her heel and left.

Maggie and Amberwine exchanged relieved sighs that Bronwyn had been so tractable for a change. It was a sign of their anxious preoccupation with other matters and the poor state of Amberwine's health that it didn't occur to either of them until much later that Bronwyn's seemingly sensible attitude was more ominous than any fuss she might have made. For the trouble with Bronwyn was that, through no fault of her own, the girl was incapable of telling the truth.

Back to Bronwyn's Bane

The Christening Quest 

Chapter 2

Banshee shrieks and shuddering moans pealed off the stone walls, bouncing from buttressed arch to arrow slot, lending the whole north wing all the peaceful charm of a dungeon. Rupert Rowan, prince and diplomatic trainee, winced and recrossed his long legs, sinking back into the velvet padded chair and trying to maintain his carefully cultivated serenity despite his sister's anguished wails from the other side of the iron-hinged door. He had wearied of pacing hours ago and now had settled down to present a good example to the occasional subject who passed by him in the corridor. Most of these subjects were women, and many of them pretended not to hear Bronwyn's caterwauling, which Rupert thought very decent of them. Bronwyn was supposed to be a warrior. Why did she have to choose a time when he was in earshot to give up stoicism??

A buxom wench with a pert face and a corona of golden braids smiled warmly at him, masking the expression he frequently saw in female faces with one of sympathy. "There now, Your Highness, don't worry. The hollering relieves the pains some, see? Every woman does it in labor. She won't even remember this when she holds the little one in her arms. You'll see."

He smiled at her, a bit pitifully, striving to present a visage that would inspire her to clasp it to her bosom. "You're very kind. Will it be much longer do you think?"

She smoothed the clean, white towels over her arm with one shapely hand. "Not much, I should think. Though the first always takes longer. Is it an Argonian custom to have a male relative in attendance, Your Highness? Forgive me, but we were curious, we girls, if you were here because Prince Jack couldn't be, being in Brazoria as I'm sure it's needful he be, though very hard on our young lady, your sister, it is. We think it ever so sweet that her brother should come be near her in her husband’s stead. None of his folk offered, not even the women." She blushed a pretty pink and covered her pretty mouth with her fingertips. "No disrespect intended, milord."

"None taken, I'm sure. We all know what gypsies are like. As a matter of fact I—"

A particularly blood-curdling bellow emanated from the royal bedchamber. The girl started, gave him an apologetic smile and a half-curtsy, and scurried off, banging through the door hip and shoulder first.

He had been about to explain to her that the last thing he intended was to be at Bronwyn’s bedside for her birthing. He had, in fact, only been stopping off on the way from his fostering in Wasimarkan, where he was learning diplomacy at the behest of his Royal Mother, Queen Amberwine. The Queen had rightly pointed out that with an elder sister as Princess Consort of Ablemarle (having lost the title of Crown Princess of Argonia when her brothers were born), elder twin brothers (one of whom, Raleigh, would be King, the other of whom, Roland, would be war leader), there was very little else for her fourth child to do that would be useful.

The Queen had declared with unusual forcefulness for a person of faery blood that she was not about to have a son of hers turn into a good-for-nothing knight errant bullying the populace and using his royal prerogatives to rape and pillage. It had happened elsewhere, and Rupert was no less fond of the phenomena than his mother. He was a highly peaceable and loving sort by nature—so loving, in fact, that by the age of twenty, when his frost giant ancestry caused him to be so unusually tall and well grown and his faery blood lent him an uncommon beauty and charm, he was a cause for alarm among the fathers and husbands in the Wasimarkanian Court. To the men he was called, behind his back (for it would never do to offend so powerful an ally as the Royal House of Argonia) Rowan the Rake. To the women, into whose eyes he gazed soulfully and whose hands he kissed tenderly, almost without regard for age, station, or pulchritude, he was Rowan the Romantic. He would miss those charitable and generous ladies, one and all, but his mentors, under pressure, had declared that with princesses of six major countries in a swoon for his attentions, he would need more advanced lessons in diplomacy than they had to offer. They referred him back to his own family for further instruction.

The stop in Ablemarle’s capitol to visit Bronwyn had been an impulse. His ship was docking to take on cargo. He had not seen Bronwyn in several years, and she had always been his favorite in the family. She was as good a fighter if not a better one than Roland—at least on the practice field—and she had had marvelous adventures when she was still much younger than Rupert. When Rupert tired of hearing of those adventures, which he sometimes did since he always wanted to learn something new, Bronwyn was most adept at making up tales to amuse him.

He almost failed to recognize the wild-eyed creature who greeted him and clung to his hand, her face so pale that every freckle stood out like a pock, her wiry red hair loose and straggling in every direction, her belly great with child. The self-sufficient big sister of his youth all but pleaded with him to remain until her child was born, as it was to be any day. She begged him to stay since her husband, Prince Jack, could not. Rupert had failed to understand any more than the pretty lady-in-waiting why any masculine family member should be a comfort to Bronwyn in what was first and foremost and unarguably woman's work, but he could not deny her. He had stayed.

A long, gasping cry ended in an ear-splitting scream, and was followed closely by another cry, this time the squall of an infant. Rupert jumped to his feet and strode to the door, leaving his rowan shield leaning against the door. All the Rowan offspring usually carried the shields made by their father as birthing gifts on their persons, for the rowan wood was proof against magic. But he was in his sister’s hall and far more excited than he had thought he would be at the advent of this new relative, and three strides was hardly an incautious distance.

The door flung back against him and the girl with whom he had been speaking bustled out, brushing against him, a whimpering blanketed bundle cradled against her breast.

"Wait," he said quickly. "Can I see?"

She lifted the triangle of blanket just above the crook of her elbow and showed him a wrinkled, red little face that began to screw itself into another scream. "It's a girl," the maid informed him. "Isn't she adorable?"

"Quite," he said, trying to sound sincere. "I'll just go congratulate Bronwyn."

"Oh, not yet, milord," she said. "She's getting her bath and then she must rest a bit. I'll be bathing this child to be presented to her when she wakes."

"A bath?" he asked blankly. "Oh, of course, the baby would be needing a bath. Well, um, may I watch? I've never seen a new child bathed before."

"I don't see why not," the girl said with a saucy, calculating look from under her lashes, "But you Argonians certainly have strange ways, if you'll pardon my saying so, sir."

"I'd pardon you almost anything, my dear," he said politely, and opened the door to an adjoining chamber for her.

The baby's bath was interesting chiefly in that Rupert thought it very convenient to be able to bathe an entire human being in a wash basin that barely fit his two hands. Otherwise it was rather messy. The maid herself was far more intriguing, and he proceeded to get to know her better while his new niece slept in her cradle, carved in the shape of a swan and newly decked with pink ribbons by the lady whose ear he was nibbling.

The enormous draft that blasted open the double doors took both Rupert and his companion by surprise, as did the fact that neither of them was able to do so much as raise a finger to lift themselves from the tiled floor where they had been flung. Indeed, Rupert could not so much as twitch his knee from where it undoubtedly inconvenienced his paramour, lodged in her midsection. He watched helplessly as a rather large rug whisked in on the blast. Two gentlemen with blue robes and bandages tied round their heads with blue cords lifted the baby from her cradle and onto the rug and whisked back out again. They failed to blast the door shut behind them and Rupert could hear doors banging, presumably all the way down the corridors to the main entrance, as the rug flew through unhindered.
Back to The Christening Quest

Phantom Banjo


A good storyteller, I have learned, does not make the whole entire story center around herself, as if she was the most important thing about the story. I've seen many a fine songwriter who once wrote and sang wonderfully understanding songs about the lives of ordinary people fall flat on his ass when he gets a little famous, gets away from regular folks, and pretty soon all he's able to write are songs about how god-awful it is to be on the road and how he is so a-lo-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-own.

So I want to make it clear that though I'm in it and I have a little part of it, this story is not about me. It's about me telling about what happened when certain parties decided to deprive the world and these United States of America in particular of what is broadly, inaccurately, and disputedly called folk music.

About these certain parties; lawyers would probably call them the parties of the first part, but I call them devils. For one thing, they are, as you will see in this story and the other two parts of it that follow, mighty powerful and also mighty evil. That fits devils down to the ground. More than that, they're mysterious and magical and we—my friends and I—only learned what happened on their end in little bitty pieces here and there most of the time and had to fit it all together as we went along. Because to begin with, I would say the common attitude among us was that we all were inclined to like magic without exactly believing in it, which was different from later when we were forced to believe in it but didn't like it much at all.

It wasn't your little Tinkerbell fairies or nice old bats with magic wands, none of that stuff. Not even wise magicians like Merlin or witches like that woman with the twitchy nose who used to be on television. So though I could tell you they were goblins or gremlins or all-powerful wicked wizards, I think I'll just call 'em what my grandma from back in the Carolina mountains would have called them: devils. Not necessarily the hellfire-and-brimstone kind that get you if you don't believe a certain way. Buddhists have devils same as Christians, same as a lot of folks. Most everyone has something like that. So just say these were basic, generic, all-around-ornery devils who were opposed to anybody having any kind of belief or good feelings in themselves that helped them get by. That was why they hated the music so, you see. That was why they set out to destroy it.

And that is why it's been up to me, who never has been able to carry a tune in a bucket, to go before the others, back into where just about all the music has been pulled out by the roots. My job is to tell how it happened, to fertilize the soil, to make the people ready for when the songs come back, fresh cuttings transplanted from the old soil where my friends and I have spent these last harrowing years harvesting the songs from their own history, trying to save them from the oblivion where the devils sent so many of our own songs.

I don't go on the radio or TV talk shows, now that I'm home, or anywhere the devils can find me and keep me from talking to people. I use my gift of gab I got from bartending and the performance training I got from dancing plus what I learned from hanging around all those musicians lately, and I travel around among the ordinary people, the kids, the bums, the working folks—anyone who is bored or lonely enough to have time to listen. I turn myself into someone else, someone as fascinating as a snake charmer, someone who is a worthy enemy of all those devils, and I make myself heard.

What follows, written down, is the important part of what's been happening since I've been back, staying with a friend and with an audience as long as it seems safe, then moving on to carry the story farther, to break just a little more ground. It's not in my voice because mostly it's not about me except as I'm reflected in the eyes of other people. It's about them, what they say, what they do, what can be guessed from the things that happen and from the lifting of an eyebrow or a quirk of a mouth. And of course it's about the songs, which, when you hear them, speak for themselves.

So think of me, and of yourself, as if we were birds on a branch or flies buzzing in the air around that first schoolyard, where a funny old woman is talking to a bunch of kids, telling them about something that happened a few years before.

Chapter 11

"One time all the devils in the world had a meeting to decide what it was they could do to make folks even more miserable than they already were.

"First thing happened was the Chairdevil stood up and allowed as how they all ought to be congratulated for doing such a fine job so far." The woman paused to heighten suspense while the children who were huddled around her in the noisy schoolyard strained so that they wouldn't miss anything she might say next.

The children were fascinated by the woman, not only because of what she said, but because of how she said it. When she talked, she moved her face more than people usually did and she moved her body too, so that she seemed to be the Chairdevil calling a meeting to order. This was the second story—she'd told another, a short one, at morning recess, a silly one about animals, just to whet their appetites. The boy had been impressed then too by the way she spoke different voices with each character, seeming to turn into a new person as she spoke in each new voice. She never left out important words, even if they weren't suitable for children, and somehow, all of this combined to make her words come as alive in his mind as anything he had seen on TV. She moved more than he would have thought possible for such a small person, and all without shifting from her sheltered position in the middle of the group.

And she was funny-looking. Oh, you could tell she had once been pretty enough to be a corporate executive herself, but she'd let lines get in her face, though her eyes were still snapping bright and her cheeks red as apples after the grocer sprayed them with a hose. Her legs were still fine and shapely, the boy noticed that too, right off, but her waist was too thick. And her hair was a mop of gray, not white, not silver, not violet or blond, but plain old elderly gray curls. Nor was her voice quite what he was used to. When she wasn't pretending to be someone else, it had a snap and a twang and sometimes a sugary drawl. She didn't call them children, she called them kids, and instead of trying to learn their names, she carelessly addressed them all as hon or darlin' or kiddo. His mom would have a fit if she knew he was listening to someone like that. Everybody knew better than to talk like that these days. You learned better just listening to the educational shows on your TV. This crazy old woman might as well have been a spaceperson for all the similarity she bore to the women even his grandmother knew. He couldn't wait to hear what she was going to say next.

" 'We've made great strides in this century, fellow devils,' the Chairdevil said.'Why, our nuclear bomb, nuclear reactors, and all our other nuclear knickknacks by themselves can not only blow up the world and melt down into mass catastrophe but can make those greedy, hysterical suckers out there square off against each other like nothing has since the apple Our Founder sold First Couple.' A round of polite applause greeted this, but it was pretty much old stuff. The Chairdevil was a fairly conservative fellow in his way, and liked to stick with the tried and true.

"After a bit he waved his hands for the others to stop clapping and continued, 'And for those who have their heads too stuck in the mud to notice a little thing like world destruction, some of you enterprising souls have added teensy little wars in miserable little places. I'd mention them individually, but I can't keep track of them myself. Just let me say that just because the war you promote isn't a big budget job between major powers doesn't mean it isn't important. The little stuff adds up and I want you to know it is by no means overlooked.' The Doom and Destruction Devil and the Stupidity and Ignorance Devil exchanged knowing glances and settled back with sighs full of long-suffering and neglect. The Chairdevil theoretically did know that the cumulative effect of their very successful efforts to see hunger and hostility clamp down on one regime in one little country after another regime in another little country made all the difference—all the difference—in the world, but the Chairdevil just naturally went for the flamboyant. Simple things like astronomical death tolls didn't impress him. He liked things to go boom. In some ways, he was surprisingly democratic. He enjoyed seeing great civilizations crumbling, the rich and privileged, the sheltered and pampered, dying just as miserably as poor folks. It was one of his more endearingly infuriating characteristics.

"He departed from his notes then, laying them down and saying in a casual, off-the-cuff way, 'And I really like what y'all have been doing with the terrorism thing too. Very clever. Very tricky. Pick off the civilians. Pick off the so-called innocents. Why should they be left out? Keep reminding our minions that it's up to us to set the example. If our people commit one little suggestive atrocity, our lead will be followed and amplified tenfold.' He looked kind of humble and grateful after that and everyone else tried to look the same way." 'On the domestic front, I think the pestilence department should be congratulated on all those diseases that have made it more dangerous than ever for the livestock out there to reach out and touch anyone. I like the sanctimonious thing S&I has been promoting to go with it too.' The Stupidity and Ignorance Devil held up both huge hands and made them shake each other in the air like a prize fighter. Now he was one that always got a lot of pleasure out of the little things. 'And by the way, S&I should continue to be congratulated for inspiring all those enterprising people out there who even when there are no nearby minority groups of any sort for them to hate never forget to hate them anyway on general principle and continue to foster generations of hatred by never failing to beat their kids, their parents, and each other with enthusiastic ferocity.''

"All the other devils certainly agreed that they could drink to something like that and they clapped some more and said 'Bravo' and 'Hear hear' and so on, making an awful racket until the Chairdevil shushed them again.
Back to Phantom Banjo

Picking the Ballad's Bones

As if a night like that with the wind and fog and rain in an ancient monastery looking for a long-dead wizard wasn't Halloweenish enough for everybody, Gussie was trying to get used to sharing her body with a ghost. Hell, she hadn't shared it with a man on a regular basis for close to twenty years except for a one-night stand once in a blue moon. And this was a whole lot closer than being in bed together—it was like being pregnant with somebody else's homemade film, full of voices and pictures that weren't hers, even when Sir Walter wasn't talking. It made her giddy. Not that he wasn't as polite as he could be. It simply didn't give a lady much privacy. She had never been quite so close to anyone even before she ran her old man off.

She felt a little like a ghost herself with her cold wet feet and her stringing hair trailing water all down her back and face, her eyes wide from trying to see in the dark.

As she passed through the gate, reminding Sir Walter that they had to physically open the gate and go between the doors, not through them as he had been used to doing, she saw Julianne wafting ahead of them, like something out of a Wilkie Collins novel.

At Willie MacKai's back, the banjo was still playing that song and now more than ever the words came back—Gussie realized Sir Walter was feeding them to her.

        "Cold blows the wind o'er my true love
        And gently falls the rain
        I never had but one true love
        And in greenwood he lies slain
        I'll do as much for my true love
        As any young girl may
        I'll sit and mourn all on his grave
        For twelvemonth and a day."

But as they crept farther into the abbey, the song changed to a major key and the tune became the one that urged them to "Take it to its Root," the song that the banjo had taught Willie and Juli to write during the traffic jam from hell on the Oregon Trail. Willie stopped, listened, then continued on, stalking silent and wary, looking all around him like the soldiers on patrol in the war movies did. Anna Mae Gunn walked a little to his left as if she were on tippy-toe and if she were a cat her ears would have been swiveling all different directions. Brose Fairchild pitty-patted beside her with little reluctant steps, the irises of his eyes all surrounded by whites and his wiry red-gray hair seeming to stand on end more than ever.

"You seem ill at ease, good woman," Sir Walter's ghost intruded on Gussie's thoughts.

"I am," she muttered—no need to speak loud enough to wake the dead, so to speak, when the dead was right here inside her head, cozy as another pea in a one-pea pod. "I can understand how the atmosphere wouldn't especially impress you but it scares the bejeezus out of me. And I can't help wondering where that red-haired woman got herself to."

"Oh, as to that, who knows about such as she," he said, dotingly, Gussie thought.

"You evidently know her better than we do if you think she's worth bowin' over and so on," Gussie said.

"Aye. I know her," he said. Though he hadn't quite recognized her in the long-distance visions he'd had when he first arose from the grave, the moment he met her he'd known her for what and who she was. He had been a sheriff and a lawman in life and he had seen a lot of deviltry—enough to knock sense into any ordinary man. But he was also the biggest romantic of his age and lived more in his head than he did in the real world most of the time and a little thing like dying hadn't changed that. Gussie did not know what to make of the image he showed her of Torchy Burns with her red hair blazing under a golden crown with stars all over it and wearing a gown of velvet green decorated with silver trim and little silver bells. She just supposed that he liked redheads, which figured, him being Scottish and all, and that he was having the kind of fantasies about her that if he were a modern man, he would have dressed her up in a slinky evening dress and diamonds and maybe a mink coat. (Well, maybe not a mink coat what with the way people were reacting to those things these days. But most men having fantasies about redheaded women didn't worry about animal rights politics or much of anything else at the time.))

"Here it is," Julianne's toneless voice floated back to them, an echo that didn't repeat itself. "I found it," she said. "Michael Scott."

"Is he—uh—up?" Brose asked in such a small voice he had to repeat himself.

Faron and Ellie had been inspecting everything around them with interest but now that Julianne had found the tomb Ellie's eyes were big as saucers and Faron's Adam's apple traveled up and down, up and down. They had already encountered several ghosts in the course of their journeys but the ghost of a wizard was surely something special. Both of them were big fans of fantasy novels and they knew that the quintessential question when it came to wizards was a paraphrase of the one Glenda the Good had asked Dorothy Gale, "Are you a good wizard or a bad wizard?"

Neither of the Randolphs had shown less courage than any of the others when faced with actual ghosts, but then they hadn't had time to be afraid of the ones they'd seen before. The other ghosts may have appeared on atmospheric nights too but they didn't have the fanfare of being announced by a descendant who was possessing a friend of the Randolphs'. The Wizard Michael Scott might have been a great philosopher, scientist, and scholar but he was also, like all competent magicians, enough of a ham to know how to make an entrance.

Ellie scooted closer to Gussie. She was shivering so hard her rain-wet goose bumps stood up like white caps. "Gussie, ask Sir Walter what this Mike guy is like."

"He doesn't know. He never met him."

"But he's going to wait until midnight, huh?" she asked.

"It's only eleven," Anna Mae said. "God, I'm freezing."

 "Me too," Ellie said, jumping up and down vigorously to demonstrate her point.

"Maybe there'd be time to go back to Abbotsford for blankets or something," Gussie said. "I didn't lock up, Walt, did you? You don't mind if I call you Walt, do you? And you call me Gussie. Seeing as how we're getting so close and all."

"Seems imminently practical to me, dear lady. I doot mah dear wife would mind even were she alive, and would join me in begging you to call me what you will. Walter or Wat, as you would have it."

But his pleasant speech broke off abruptly and Gussie felt him stiffen and freeze within her, before with even more alarming abruptness she found herself turning and tearing back for the gate.

"Sir Walt—Wat, simmer down. What is it? Where are we going? You don't have to return to the grave at midnight do you?"

In her mind an anguished howl let rip. "The swine! The dirty swine have returned. They're after my bukes, Gussie. We maun save my bukes."

He headed her straight for the gate. "Whoa, Walt, if you're going that way you have to leave me behind. Even if we don't go through walls I can't run all the way back to your place."

"We must!" he cried. "I canna bide here trapped while they destroy m'life's work!"

Gussie was too involved with the distraught ghost to notice what the others were up to, but Ellie, who had been close by, grabbed Faron. "Come on, we'll drive you back."

"What about the wizard?"

"There's an hour. The others can stay here. Once we get back to Abbotsford Sir Walter can un-possess you and haunt the vandals into submission if we make it in time. Brose, you got thee


He tossed them and there was a clink as they hit the paving stones, then Ellie, Faron, and Gussie/Sir Walter piled into the van and drove like bats out of hell for Abbotsford.

A diesel eighteen-wheeler with the legend Circus Rom on the side was parked outside Abbotsford and the front door stood wide open.

"Oh, my God, Wat, I'm sorry. I should have locked up," Gussie said. "Might as well have printed an invitation."

But she was only able to aim the thoughts at him as she ran for the house. Sir Walter forgot that she was no longer young and he had been dead more than a hundred and fifty years. He took the walk up to the house like a sprinter and Gussie passed Ellie and Faron, and did not hear the scuffling from behind her when the young couple came abreast of the circus truck. But Sir Walter carried her along so fast she did make it to the door before something came down on her head and she crumpled on the threshold just as a bright orange light blossomed from the open doorway to the library
Back to Picking the Ballad's Bones

Strum Again?

The cowboy they called Ute didn't look Native American, Shayla St. Michael thought, but then you never could tell. As Shayla and the rest of the small band of Californian eco-feminists gathered around the campfire, Ute fixed them with a sardonic glance and continued sharpening his blue pencil with his pocket knife. He'd already cooked the women a nice vegetarian meal with a few edible non-endangered native plants and onions from the Valley, piñon nuts imported from New Mexico, and a little tofu imported from the soy fields of Kansas.

The smoke that rose, some might say fragrantly, to the sky, was authentically coming from a fire of dried unspecified animal dung. He used to tell the tour groups which animals, but that had proved unwise. Unspecified was safest.

Now, sated with their politically correct meal, the women sat around the campfire and watched the smoke spiral toward the moon.

"I think this is lovely. No television, no radio, no computers," began Barbara Harrington-Smith, a corporate tax lawyer.

"I disagree," said Shayla, who was a graphic artist for a large publisher. "I'm bored. We walked a great deal, true, but I miss my evening jog even though I do understand that we might trample indigenous wildlife of the fanged serpentine variety and be immediately chastised for our thoughtlessness. And I did as instructed and didn't bring any work."

"Also," added Heather-Jon Argulijan, "this fire stinks."

"I could tell you a mite more about the interestin' things that have happened on this ranch," Ute said in his quaint western twang. He was not offensively macho. Though the eco-feminist group had requested that their guide be a cowgirl, or more correctly, a cow-woman, the tour director explained that the cowgirls were all attending management seminars that week or competing for top prize money in the rodeos and wouldn't be available but assured them that Ute, while absolutely an authentic member of his profession, was also extremely progressive in his attitudes and in fact was the one who insisted on bumper stickers that proclaimed "ERA Will Rise Again" for all of the ranch's Jeeps and pickups.

"Oh, God, not another environmental impact statement," Heather-Jon moaned. "I'm sorry, Barbara, but I just can't take any more."

Barbara sometimes thought of Heather-Jon as the weakest link, but she was also usually a lot of fun, and fun seemed to be what was missing.

Ute grinned at Heather-Jon in a non-condescending, brotherly, and respectful way. "Why, ma'am, as important as such a thing is to all of us, I don't reckon I'd undertake to tell you women about it orally like. That's somethin' that it's only fittin' should be read carefully in big old folios of recycled hard copy. No'm, what I had in mind was to tell you the story of how an old hand on this here ranch and some compadres of his, includin' yours truly—"

"All men?" asked Shayla in a still-bored tone that indicated she was just sure they all would be. She inched a little farther from the fire and slipped on her wool socks and pulled on a poncho her roommate had woven for her from the wool of organically grown sheep.

"Hell no! Why, there was Sister Julianne Martin and Sister Anna Mae Gunn, Sister Terry Pruitt and Sister Ellie Randolph, not to mention Sister Gussie Turner, who did the advance work and told me most of what I'm about to tell you."

"Isn't this a little—you know, out in the sticks, as a place to start a movement?" Heather-Jon asked.

"Good as any, better'n most," he said. "There's songs in this story too, and as I sing 'em while I'm tellin' you about how they was used, I'd appreciate it if y'all would join in, especially if you can do some nice harmony or play a mouth harp or anything."

"Comb and tissue okay?" asked Mary Armstrong.

Ute's eyes, pale as prairie skies and framed by wrinkles only a little leathery since he was careful to use plenty of sunscreen, lit up. "That's fine, Ms. Mary. Fact is, I always have wished I could get the hang of a comb and tissue and never have. I'd be much obliged if you could maybe give me some pointers? I'd be glad to show you a thing or two about ropin' in exchange."

"That would be acceptable," Mary said gruffly, but she squirmed around a little, clearly pleased.

"Well, then, for your information, ladies—and I use the term 'ladies' as one of respect and admiration and in no sense as a restrictive or class-conscious kinda thing—I happen to be by profession a cowboy poet."

"What the devil is a cowboy poet?" asked Heather-Jon.

"I couldn't have put that question better myself, ma 'am, but if you'll bear with me, I believe I'd rather not say right now. In line with the amended Code of the West, I aim to show and not tell you all about it. First off, I want you to imagine a little woman about sixty, sixty-five years old, but quick on her feet and strong from lots of dancin' and a good judge of people and a way with 'em from years of bartendin'. She had thick curly hair that she just plain let go gray, as if there was nothin' wrong in the world with that."

"And do you think there is?" demanded Barbara, whose well-styled bob was salt and pepper.

"No, ma'am. Just shows she wasn't one to put all them chemicals into the water system. Besides, lotsa people pay to make their hair lighter. What's wrong with just lettin' nature change it, is what I always say. Anyway, this woman had gone through some tremendous changes in her life because she happened to enjoy a certain type of entertainment with which we cowboy poets are also in sympathy, which is how I came to hear this story. You see, there were a bunch of devils, and I don't mean only of the strictly Judeo-Christian brand, mind you, more what your Native American Indians might call the evil spirits. These folks decided to eliminate this particular type of entertainment—oh, hell, call a spade a spade. They used to call it folk music, though strictly speakin' that's not always an accurate term. Anyhow, these devils, who were rich and sophisticated and behind all the troubles in this world that people didn't dream up all by themselves, decided to take away the music that sometimes makes people feel a little better about themselves and their work. Gives 'em a kind of what we cowboy poets would call an eagle's-eye view of their situation, helps 'em get their lives back in control."

"Like a therapist?" Heather-Jon asked.

"Yeah, but you don't have to make appointments, and most folks could do it themselves even though sometimes they hired other people to do it for them, which is not as good but better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick (which was all the devils had for them). Anyhow, for a space there—and y'all may not be too well aware of it, but me and my compadres were—these devils by killin' and connivin' managed to get rid of most of the most important singers of the songs and make everybody forget the words to songs people had been singin' for hundreds of years.

“After a while, they even made people forget the melodies, so the songs were gone from memory in this country. Everybody forgot every song sung by every dead singer. When the great Sam Hawthorne died on the very day the Library of Congress folk-music collection got blowed up, almost all the songs in the country were wiped from people's minds. You notice I said people's minds. Sam had this magic banjo that he passed on before he died, and it remembered the songs, though nobody knew how come. Now, this magical banjo eventually passed into the hands of a very small group of people. One of them was this woman I'm tellin' you about, Ms. Gussie Turner. Others were the women I mentioned previously, Julianne Martin, Anna Mae Gunn, Ellie Randolph, and Terry Pruitt. All fine musicians except for Gussie and Ms. Randolph, who was a more academic kind of lady. Then there was Mr. Brose Fairchild, a gentleman of more than one color who was a crackerjack blues man and purveyor of Baltic ethnic tunes. And last but by no means least Mr. Willie MacKai, who used to work right here on this ranch where we are now working—though that's another story. These were the people who came together and ended up as the guardians of Lazarus, Sam's magic banjo.

"Well, Lazarus knew good and well that Gussie and Willie and their friends couldn't get back all those forgotten songs as long as they stayed in these United States, so the banjo helped them write a song in which it told them to go overseas to the British Isles, where the roots of much of American folk music were still dug in deep and sendin' out shoots. They went over there and with some help from a bunch of ghosts, includin' that of the famous writer Sir Walter Scott, his ancestor the Wizard Michael Scott, and a bunch of their kinfolk, they got back the songs. Then they went after songs from other places than Scotland, such as Ireland, France, Spain, and the like.

"In the meantime Ms. Gussie, who had become a hell of a storyteller by virtue of bein' possessed—though mind you in a very respectable and respectful way—by the ghost of Sir Walter, came back here to do a little low-profile advance publicity.

"Now there was one of these devils, a redheaded user of many aliases, who was a little more complicated than the rest of them and tougher to figure out. She was the chief devil in charge of debauchery. Among other things the musicians learned in Scotland, one was that she used to be the Queen of Fairyland and had come down in the world since then. So she was the one who both helped them and hindered them when the musicians wanted to go into the ballad world to reclaim the old songs that would help them release the rest of 'em. Of course, as a devil she was bound to uphold what the rest of the devils wanted, which was to try to keep the musicians from living through the songs, making them their own, and bringing them back to this country to revive all the other songs with the powerful magic contained in the oldest and strongest ballads.

"However—as she told the other devils—as the official Debauchery Devil she was in charge of wine, your less enlightened and self-respecting kind of women, and song. Musicians were some of her best people, and she was always a little ambivalent about the whole devilish operation to kill them off along with the music. Also, she was always a little wild, as if she was high on some of her own stuff. It seemed to Gussie that the redheaded devil's unpredictableness made her the worst devil of them all—she was like the old mule who'd be nice to you for two weeks just to get a chance to kick you.

"So Gussie was wary when this carrot-topped character plucked her off a nice reliable bus to give her a wild ride in a fast red sports car."
Back to Strum Again?

The Godmother's Apprentice

The Princess and the Toad

Once upon a time there was a princess who refused to live happily ever after. Having survived a difficult childhood, the death of her mother, an arrest for possession of illegal substances and the perpetual adolescence of her father culminating in his marriage to a woman who made three attempts to murder her, Snohomish Quantrill felt far older than her fourteen-going-on-fifteen years. She decided that instead of marrying a prince, which she was too young to do anyway, she wanted to be a fairy godmother when she grew up.

Marrying princes was not all it was cracked up to be. She knew that. Her father, Raydir Quantrill, had been the Prince of Punk before he became the King of Rock, and she definitely was not ready to take on somebody like him. Besides, she had been through enough counseling to know that you had to get your own shit together before you interfaced with somebody else's kingdom and all of its headaches.

The way she decided to become a fairy godmother before she was even a mother was through a counselor friend of hers, in fact.

Almost being murdered, once by a hired hit man, twice by your own stepmom, made you ponder on the meaning of your existence in a way that was difficult to communicate to most people.

Her classmates at Clarke Academy had welcomed her back with girlish squeals and touchy-feely hugs. They were so sorry she'd been hurt and were so genuinely glad she was back, and had the hit man, like, raped her or anything? It was too creepy the way they drooled over the details they'd gleaned from the media. Some of them, she knew, were really, truly pissed at her because they'd been looking forward to attending her funeral and giving tear-choked statements for the six o'clock news. They acted like what had happened to her was some lurid splatter movie instead of her own life for the last month or so. But she had very real scars to remind her of the last attempt on her life, which had landed her in the Harborview ICU for two weeks.

Her dad wasn't exactly a pillar of strength either. He'd extracted his head from his ass long enough to join the search party looking for her, but in the process had found someone else as well. He fell in love with his fellow searcher, Cindy Ellis, hired her as his own stable manager to keep her around, and lately had spent most of his time trying to convince Cindy that he could change, he really could.

Cindy was nice, and she too had had a wicked stepmother, but Sno couldn't help being less than thrilled with her for taking up so much of Raydir's attention.

She didn't know what to do or where to turn. She was what they called marginalized. Way marginalized. On the surface, she seemed okay, even better. Her testimony, at her stepmother Gerardine's trial, was clear and unshakable enough to swathe that fashion slave in prison coveralls long enough for her wardrobe to go out of style and in again.

Meanwhile, Sno's grades improved because she didn't have any real friends anymore. Drugs had almost killed her, and she had no use for them. What she longed to do was to go back into the woods with the seven Vietnam veterans who had tried to protect her. They understood what it felt like to have your life threatened, to be wounded, hunted.

There was just one problem. They weren't in the woods anymore. They'd returned home to their own lives and their own wives and daughters, who would take no more kindly to some outsider like Sno horning in on their relationships than she took to Cindy Ellis. So she spent a lot of time writing reports on World War II concentration camp victims, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bosnia, Somalia and the new gulag in Uzbekistan, until her teachers stopped being delighted by her industry and became concerned about her thematic choices.

The teachers spoke to Raydir, who in turn sent forth an invitation summoning Sno's former social worker, Rose Samson, to dinner one night. Rose brought along Felicity Fortune, a woman with long white and silver hair and a shimmery, floaty, asymmetrically hemmed, much-scarved outfit that looked like something the ghost of a 1930s movie star would wear to dinner on Rodeo Drive. Felicity was, Rose said, a bona fide fairy godmother.

Rosie went on to tell her a fairly complicated account of what she and Felicity had been doing while Sno was hiding out in the woods. They had helped a street kid, Dico Miller, by giving him a talking cat, Puss, which helped him get more handouts. Rosie and Felicity had also confronted the Asian gang harassing Dico and turned the gangbangers into helpful citizens. The gang leader, Ding, and Dico had even become friends and had discovered a mutual musical talent. Dico was supposedly pursuing his studies of the flute in Waterford, Ireland, while Ding wrote an account of his parents' experiences in the Vietnam War. Rosie and Felicity had helped Cindy Ellis when her wicked stepmother and stepsisters tried to take all her money and make her lose her job. They'd been instrumental in Cindy's meeting Raydir and rescuing Sno. And, while trying to help two neglected children who had been picked up by a child molester, Rose had renewed her acquaintance with a nice cop named Fred, and they had fallen for each other. Rosie and Felicity had been very busy and had done so much and helped so many people that Sno lost track of all the details, except that now Rosie was her own department head and there was a big shake-up in the state and city government and social services organizations because of what she and Felicity had done.

This was all a revelation to Sno. Before she was kidnapped, she had classed fairy godmothers with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Given her recent experience, however, all it took was Rose's word and a peek at the creature Felicity carried in her pocket, and she was a believer.

Admittedly, it was all a little surreal.

"You recognize him, then?" Felicity Fortune asked, as if asking her to identify some microscope slide for an oral exam in microbiology.

Sno peered carefully into the pocket Felicity held open and looked into the popped eyes of the toad staring back at her with an extremely in-your-face expression. She hadn't actually seen the face before, of course, or the expression, but the attitude behind it was frighteningly familiar, even on a toad. "Nooo..." she said, taking a quick step backward.

"How about if she puts a little teeny motorcycle helmet on me, kid? Could you finger me then?" a voice said inside her head, a voice unlike her own, one she would never forget, menacing and mocking. Of course, all she heard the actual toad say was "Reedeep."

Still, she stumbled over an end table in her haste to back away.

"I'm sorry, my dear," Felicity said, quickly closing her pocket again. "No need to be alarmed. As you have so sensitively perceived, your original assailant, the "executioner" Robert Hunter, has been rendered harmless and now inhabits this toad's body."

"Yeah? What happened to his own body?"

"It currently houses the toad-body's original personality and is safely hopping around the psychiatric unit at Harborview Hospital, though I suppose a more long-range institution may be necessary at some point."

"Cool," Sno said.
Back to The Godmother's Apprentice

The Godmother's Web


Beauty and the Menagerie

From the North comes the sun-haired maiden. She is changed from a mouse. She is changed into a far-flying she-eagle. She lands in Flagstaff and is changed once more into a maiden.

Her skin is made of white shell. Her eyes are made of deep waters. Her mouth is made of cornelian. Where the sun kisses her cheek, the white shell changes to cornelian. Her hair is the color of rabbit brush blooms. Her hair is the texture of rabbit fur.

Her body sits straight as a lance. Her touch on the rein is gentle as a warm breeze, but firm as the red rock rising around her. A valuable blanket made of soft wool and rainbows cushions her saddle. She is riding the sun's own blue horse.

In beauty she rides along the flowing highway. The cars flash like wish-granting fish among the eighteen-wheeled leviathans. The darting minnow motorcycles weave it into a single undulating fabric of noise and motion, this highway along which she rides.

The highway's banks are studded with turquoise and silver placed on bright blankets in flimsy wooden stalls by sleepy Native Americans. They have just left hogans and trailer houses down rutted paths from the stalls. Signs of painted wood that say "Half price!" "Buy here!" "Navajo made!" "You've Gone Too Far" and "Nice Indians" fish the highway for silver and green tourist money.

To the south are the cities of Flagstaff and Sedona, and the land where the blue horse was born. To the west are the sacred mountains. To the Anglos and the Mexicans, they are called the San Francisco Peaks. To the Navajos they are the Sacred Mountains of the West, Light Always Glitters on Top, and are made of abalone. To the Hopi they are the place from which the kachinas dance, bringing rain and corn and other good things to the Hopi, who by and large say nothing of such matters to those who are not Hopi. To the north lies Seattle, whence the maiden came.

To the north also lies the Grand Canyon. Within it are the Colorado River, the images on many postcards, the footprints and less fleeting reminders of many tourists, and the place where the Hopis originally came into this, the Fourth World.

To the east are what is left of the lands of the Navajo, the Dinéh, the People and what remains of the land entrusted by the gods to the Hopi.

To the east the maiden is looking with her deep-water eyes. To the east she is guiding her blue horse with her warm-breeze touch.

Then from the west, where the abalone peaks stand sentinel, an old woman strides across the desert.

She is dressed in velvet, despite the heat. Her skirt is like yellow corn pollen and does not show the dust of the desert at its bright hem. Her moccasins and her silver-trimmed blouse are the red of the canyon walls. Her hair is black obsidian and streaked with strands of white shell. With white yarn bindings it is tied into the shape of a bumblebee. At her ears, wrists, waist, fingers, and neck are strands and nuggets and beads of the purest sky-colored-turquoise. A rainbow-colored blanket is folded over one of her arms and in her hand she carries a spindle.

Across the shimmering sands she walks, and her small moving draws the attention of the sun-haired maiden on the blue horse. The sun-haired maiden thinks the woman from the west must be nuttier than a piñon stand in Santa Fe, for, although it is late autumn, the air is hotter than a red chili ristra.

However, the maiden has learned that some old women are not what they seem. Some of them can change Harley Davidsons into horse trailers. Some of them can create from thin air crystal horseshoes that cure a favorite pony's lameness. And besides, the sun-haired maiden is a kind girl. She does not like to see someone's grandmother walking in the heat like that, and she worries.

Later, she knows she was right to worry. The old woman is a great deal of trouble, even for a sun-haired maiden on the sun's own blue horse.


The sun-haired maiden’s name was Cindy Ellis. She was neither Navajo, nor Hopi. She was not a citizen of the state of Arizona, the state of Utah, the state of New Mexico or the state of Colorado. Nor, strictly speaking, was she a maiden.

In the lore of the dominant culture, her story might begin: Once upon a time there was a young woman who was as good as she was beautiful. It probably would not say that many people found such a person damned annoying, and sometimes so did Cindy. She was blessed with both a modest disposition and an embarrassment of riches of the nonmaterial sort that, in the olden days, it would have taken an entire fleet of good fairies to bestow upon her at her christening.

It was not just that she was a good rider, a fine artist, had perfect pitch and sang like an angel. It was not merely that she was graceful as a doe, gentle as a dove, kind and thoughtful. She was good at other things too. She had a gift for languages and no math block. She could wire a house, fix the plumbing, put up sheetrock, make a cake from scratch and a wedding dress by hand.

She also had a handsome prince. Princes don't get where they are by being dummies and Cindy's beauty, courage, versatility, good humor and intelligence had drawn the attention and affection of Raydir Quantrill. He was not only a prince but the King of the Alloy Rock.

Her beauty and goodness did not annoy Raydir, of course. He was far too self-involved to be annoyed by anyone who didn't, for instance, screw up his sound system during a recording session. But some of the less lovely females in his entourage found his new stable manager-sweetheart a bit hard to take.

"Cindy," said the young woman's social worker friend, Rose Samson, when they met for lunch to discuss Rose's bridesmaids' dresses for her forthcoming nuptials, "it's a classic case of you reliving your family drama, except now that your wicked stepmother and stepsisters are out of the picture you're doing the same thing with the women in Raydir's entourage—trying to please them instead of making them look at their own stuff." Rose could sometimes be very firm about what other people needed to do.

But Cindy had to admit her friend probably had a point. Trying to get her stepmother and stepsisters off her back was how she had acquired so many of her skills. There was no need for them to hire anything done when they had a live-in slave to torment.

Cindy's love of horses and counseling from Rose had eventually helped her escape their clutches, but she was beginning to feel she'd jumped out of the barbecue and into the four-alarm chili, as her old stable boss, Pill, used to say.

She had no friends at Raydir's estate except Raydir, and though he had many good points and made her heart pound like Silver's hooves when the Lone Ranger was riding to the rescue, he could also be a major pain. Plus he was gone a lot.

One morning after her second riding lesson, she tripped lightly between the rows of rhododendrons, madronas and weeping willows that lined the palatial estate. In her hand was a posy of wildflowers for her love, who surely would be awake by now, as it was well past his usual crack of noon rising time.

Raydir was indeed awake. Bejeaned and bare-chested in their bower, he was hastily stuffing leather pants and T-shirts into a piece of luggage with lots of pockets. "Hi, babe," he said, tossing in a hand-beaded vest and a pair of custom cowboy boots.

"You're leaving?" she asked. "I thought your gig wasn't until the sixteenth."
Back to The Godmother's Web

Nothing Sacred


Late September, 2069.
DAY 11?

The guards gave me this paper with instructions to write about my career as a war criminal, starting with my life at age eight. This is fairly standard practice in these places, according to what I've read, and to what the Colonel told me when I first got here. He also said they "haf vays off" not only making you talk, but making you believe it after a while. So before my brain gets too well washed, I am saving out some of this paper to keep a true record of what happened, just to keep it straight in my own mind and give me something to fill up the time. The Colonel and the others told me some of the jargon the interrogators like to have included in a confession and I think I get the drift. It behooves the smart prisoner to indulge in a lot of verbal self-flagellation before the authorities decide to flagellate said prisoner in a more literal sense. There's a very strict prose style involved. No problem, though. I'm a good mimic and can write the most incredible bullshit as long as I don't have to keep a straight face.

My name is Viveka Jeng Vanachek. I am currently, albeit reluctantly, a warrant officer in the North American Continental Allied Forces, 5th Cobras, attached to the 9th New Ghurkas at Katmandu. I was captured September 15, 2069, following a plane crash near the Kun Lun Mountains while on a mapping mission. Not that I am this great cartographer, but I do know the section of the file in the program that allows the computer to reconfigure existing maps while scanning the countryside from an eye in the bottom of an XLT-3000 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. Anyway, I'm trained to use that knowledge, although that flight was the first actual mission I've been on. Right up until the crash, I'd been having the best day since I sold out and joined the military.

Major Tom Siddons was a very nice guy, and I think he must have enjoyed working with me as much as I did with him. I suppose he got as far as he did in the military just by being relatively good-natured and an exceptionally good pilot. Unlike the other pilots, he could express himself not only in words rather than in long strings of symbols and numbers, he could even express himself in words of more than one syllable. He also liked poetry, and I think he liked me chiefly because he was impressed with my ability to recite dirty limericks in Middle English and translate Chinese verses.

I hadn't been in Katmandu very long, but I had already told him over a beer how much I hated the monotony of knowing one section of one file of one program. Each of the other warrant officers in Katmandu with the same rating knew another section of the same file of the same program. If anyone was transferred, died or committed suicide, he or she was replaced by a brand-new specialist in the same section—specialists were never cross-trained, so the left hand never knew what the right hand was doing. It made me feel like a not-very-expensive microchip. Here I had spent almost twenty years, off and on, studying the humanities and what do they do with me? Stick me in computers, because I'd once taken a class to fulfill a math requirement. My art history background and the one drafting class I'd gotten a C in qualified me for the mapping section. I told Siddons all of this and he sipped his beer slowly and nodded in most of the right places.

I forgot all about griping to him until one morning when he strode into the hangar office, decked out in a silver suit with so many pockets he looked like a walking shoe bag.

"Grab a flight suit and your kit, Ms. Vanachek," he told me. "We have us a mission."

It didn't occur to me to bring a weapon. I'd been in what was technically considered a combat zone for the best part of six months and had yet to see more than a fleeting glimpse of an indigenous civilian, much less an enemy.

I gawked through the canopy as we climbed to 19,000 feet, then settled down to the keyboard and punched up my section. Siddons had explained that the plane's computer would do just as mine did back at the hangar, except that while the computer in the hangar usually had to make do with adjusting data, inputting new topographical information from a graphic mock-up to existing map data, this one had a special adapter that translated the terrain passing through an eye in the bottom of the plane into a graphic image and instantly altered the corresponding map data accordingly.

We need map updates frequently because the terrain constantly changes so that it no longer conforms to earlier maps. And while our hangar-bound graphics adjustments are fine for recording the changes our own side wreaks on the local scenery, our allies and our enemies are not so conscientious about informing us of all of their destructive activities. Furthermore, the war precipitates natural disasters; earthquakes, avalanches and floods that also make unauthorized and, worse, undocumented alterations.

We overflew the pass, into the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The more heavily populated areas had been kept up to date, but the whole central plateau was still a battleground. New valleys are dug daily and mountains of rubble make strategic barriers that need recording.

The problem with fast travel through or over any country, of course, is that it so thoroughly objectifies what you're seeing that you might as well be looking at a holovid screen. The landscape of Tibet, vast plains with mountains pinched up all around the edges like a fancy piecrust, seemed highly improbable to me and I returned to my screen after about fifteen minutes of admiring the view.

Siddons wasn't about to let me ignore it. His voice crackled into my headphones saying, "Nah, don't bury your nose in your goddamn graphics yet. Take a gander out there at the real world."

I stared down over and through a swath of cloud. The tail end of the cloud snagged on the ragged snow-splattered tops of raw-rock mountains, but beneath it spread a lake covering—I checked my screen—twenty square miles. It cupped the plane's shadow in waters that looked like a huge opal, milky with shots of blue and red fire reflecting off the surface. "Gorgeous," I said. "What makes it look like that?"

"Poison," he said. "Check your coordinates. This is where the PRC dumped its toxic wastes before some of our forces helped India shoo the bastards back behind the border again. The lake's Tibetan name is Lhamo Lhatso. It was sacred. The holy men saw the birthplace of their last spiritual leader in it."

With an innocent-looking twinkle, the lake passed under our starboard wing and away.

"We're going to veer over India way now, toward Karakoram Pass. Between the avalanches the saturation bombing triggered and the floods this spring, the area is useless to ground troops."

"Not to mention a little tricky for the local inhabitants," I said.

"There aren't a hell of a lot of those left, except guerrillas," Siddons said. "And they're tough bozos who play their own game and don't kiss anybody's ass."

"Sounds like you admire them."

"Well, hey, when you have been in the service of our beloved organization as long as I have, little lady, you too may come to admire anybody who doesn't basically sit back and leave all the fighting to our troops wearing their patches. The Tibetan guerrillas have to be about the only people on the face of the planet fighting anything worse than a hot game of Parcheesi who don't have NACAF allies specifically assigned to them, evening up the odds manpower and firepower-wise."

"Major, I had no idea you were such an idealist."

"Doesn't mean I won't blow the little buggers off the face of the earth if I get a chance, you understand. There's no need to get sentimental about it. If we blow up our fellow AmCans who are working for the PRC or the Soviets, I see no particular reason to extend professional courtesy to anyone else."

I watched the high wild mountains sweep past our belly and noticed how often the bomb pocks and avalanches showed up on the screen as a major change in the landscape. I remembered that before NACAF entered the three-sided conflict among China, India and the USSR, with all the territory in the middle, including Tibet and the Himalayas, as the battleground, Mount Everest had been the highest mountain in the world, instead of the fourth highest. I told the major, "I once took a course in myth and folklore. Did you know that in the old days, Tibetans never climbed their mountains much? They were afraid of disturbing the demons of the upper air."

"Well, we got those demons good and stirred up now," he said.

Soon we were past one range and once more flying over a vast flattened plain, flyspecked with the ruins of villages and monasteries, the jagged hills bursting from the plains at times like the work of some giant gopher. The flatlands were as pocked as the mountains, the earth blasted and sickly tan, the whole thing treeless. NACAF-made planes, NACAF pilots or pilot trainers, NACAF defoliants and NACAF bombs made it all possible.

"Hey, maybe they meant us," I said to Siddons. "Maybe they foresaw us."


"The old-time Tibetans with those myths. Maybe we're the upper-air demons."

"Don't let the scenery give you an attitude now, Warrant Officer. We didn't do all of that by our lonesome, you know. This little old country's been a stompin' ground for a good hundred years now for all kinds of people who didn't like the way the local pope ran things."

"Dalai Lama," I corrected, remembering Comparative Religion and Central Asian Soc.

"Yeah, I knew that," he said, grinning back at me. His grin was as jerky as a stop-motion film clip as the aircraft hopped from air pocket to air pocket in a series of stomach-churning dips and bumps. I took a deep breath. My digestive tract preferred ground travel.

"Anyhow," he continued, "one thing good ol' NACAF does do is keep it all a clean fight. You got any idea what we need all these updated maps for?"

"Making sure whichever rock the enemy hides behind doesn't move before our side finds it?" I asked.

He ignored that. I think he began to feel at that point he was setting a bad example for a junior officer. So he said, "Nope, so we can still locate any possible covert nuclear devices, no matter when or where they were hidden, and send crews to disarm them. Fighting for Peace, just like the recruitment ad says."

I would like those words to be remembered as the major's last.

The XLT-300 model aircraft we were in flew very far, very fast and changed altitudes with very little difficulty. Ask a pilot why and how, or an engineer. All they paid me to know was that my Ground-Air-Geocartography program, or GAG as it was affectionately called, was specifically designed to keep up with the plane. We covered the plateau within about an hour and when we took the hit, were on the far side of the Karakoram Pass, headed east for the Kun Lun Mountains. Radio transmission this far from base was damn near impossible, satellites or no satellites. The mountains didn't get in the plane's way, and they didn't get in the satellite's way, but they sure got in Ground Control's way.

The wind was fierce that day, and blew the little jet around as if it was a paper airplane instead of a real one. So when we took the hit, I thought for a moment it was just another gust of wind.

Siddons caught on quicker, and I saw his hands fly across the switches and buttons on the control panel.

Suddenly the canopy popped and all those upper-air demons I'd been thinking about roared in and snatched us from the plane. Something kicked me in the rear. My seat bucked like the barroom bull-riding machine they keep in the Cowboy Museum my grandparents once took me to in Tacoma. Except that this bronco didn't come down again but blasted me through the shrieking wind, up and over the body of the jet. I screamed, not of my own accord but as if the scream was ripped from my vocal cords by the velocity of my plunge to earth.

When I haven't had worse things to dream about, I still see the bolus of flame spewing from the underside of the geometrically precise angle of the starboard wing, and I spin to face a maw of rock and snow yawning like a fast forward of some boa's jaws as it swallows prey. I bolt awake as once more the feeling of the automatic chute opening reminds me of being plucked from midair by a giant bird and I try to come fully awake before Siddons's body, twisting beneath a burning chute, plummets past me.

But my actual landing must have been a testimony to the parachute maker's technology. For though I had a bad case of vertical jet lag, my mind skipping a few beats between ejecting and landing, when I came to myself enough to take inventory, everything was intact—no broken bones or missing teeth. Encouraged, I attempted to stand, but the force of the wind complicated matters, billowing my chute against me so it molded to my face, blinding and smothering me within a wave of blue, red and white silon. I yanked the suffocating fabric from my head. The stench of burning metal, wiring and flesh pricked my nostrils before I focused sufficiently to visually locate the smoke.

Pulling off my helmet, I divested myself of the yard or so of chute attached to it and scanned the horizon for a telltale plume, but it was as if I was still swathed in some larger, grayer fabric, a bolt of wildly swirling gauze that obscured everything.

The ground on which I stood was indistinguishable from the air in front of me. I was standing on some mountain plateau then, shrouded with cloud. Vaguely, near the toes of my boots, ghostly tufts of grass emerged and vanished as the wind whipped the ground cover. But I saw no sign of Siddons.

 I've dreamed of his death since then, so I must have seen it, but I honestly don't remember seeing him die other than in the dreams. Shock probably. I tried calling to Siddons, but my words vanished in the cloud before they were out of my mouth.

As I gathered up the chute and uncoiled it from my legs, the wind whipped away a corner of the mist and I saw four people jogging down a mountain path toward me, carrying rifles. They all appeared to be Asian but I wasn't alarmed by that, since many of our NACAF troops are American or Canadian of Asian origin, or Asian allies. I even felt a small surge of relief, thinking perhaps we were being rescued. The rifles didn't alarm me either. There's a war on. Of course they carried weapons.

 I waved a cautious greeting and would have shouted at them but they didn't return my wave. That was when I began to realize that the crash might be more than a temporary setback. Even if these were our people, I didn't know any passwords. They pointed their guns at me and one barked an order. He must have been used to talking over the wind or else the wind had died down because I heard him very well. He was speaking in Han Chinese, of which I had learned a smattering in Intro to Chinese Dialects 101. Before I could try to puzzle out exactly what it was that he'd said, the man who'd spoken pushed me down while a woman rapidly scooped up my helmet, then gathered the rest of my parachute. When she finished, the first man prodded my ribs with his rifle, forcing me to stand again, while a third covered me with another rifle, presumably to make sure I didn't overpower the guy with the gun in my ribs. A fourth man trotted through the mist toward us carrying two winter kits, slightly charred and smoky around the edges. A pair of jump boots were slung from his shoulder by their laces and bounced in rhythm with his gait.

Siddons' helmet—I could read his name in black block letters across the front—dangled from one hand.

The woman tied my wrists together. I stared at them stupidly. Right then the tangible evidence that I was a prisoner cut through the shock of the crash. We had had a frightening little lecture about enemy torture in basic training, but the only advice about getting captured I was able to recall was "Don't." Each of us knew so little about each piece of equipment that almost everyone was expendable. People in my grade who got captured fell into the category of "acceptable losses." 
Back to Nothing Sacred

Last Refuge

Section One KALAPA

On the morning of the last birthday Mike would ever celebrate, the first changeling was born.

That day, Mike was officially twenty-one years old and an adult. He awoke before dawn and slipped out of the communal housing compound. The soft gray light of morning outlined the onion-shaped dome of the chorten against the snowy backdrop of the horned peaks of the guardian mountain, Karakal.

Prayer flags fluttered from lines strung between the chorten's dome and nearby buildings, the wind carrying the prayers to the heavens. Mike bowed to the chorten, in memory of the heroes it represented, and turned to walk down the steep path winding from the uppermost point in Kalapa—the chorten—through the compound built on the ruins of the ancient mystic city. The old city and the current compound were located on a small mountain set within a valley ringed by ranges of larger mountains, the largest of which was the horned guardian Karakal.

From the dining hall and kitchen issued muffled cooking noises and the aroma of baking bread and yak butter tea. Farther down the path the open walls of new stone buildings being constructed from the boulders of the Great Avalanche waited for the day to begin and workmen to come and add more of the raw-cut boulders and boards lying nearby. Beyond the buildings, the lushly planted terraces of the communal garden stepped down the mountainside.

Mike loved this time when the moon, as if waiting for the sun to give it permission to set, hovered just above the mountains. Even on ordinary days, when he was not having a birthday and had no momentous events to look forward to, Mike usually rose early to enjoy this quiet time and take long walks before the paths were thronged with people. He loved feeling the wings of Karakal rising behind his back, even when he was not looking at the mountain. He savored the sweet damp smell of the mist rising from the waters of Kalapa's sacred lake, the sight of the lake's blue-green waters lapping the lower garden and nourishing the roots of the rhododendron jungle.

Mike stood by the lake for a moment, watching the water shimmer and listening to the breeze in the branches of the rhododendrons, making them clack softly like tiny looms at work. The lake was fed by artesian springs and hot springs, and bled off down the valley in a pretty stream winding through the grove. The trees foamed with pink, purple, and white flowers snowing petals into the stream and carpeting the ground beneath whenever the softest breeze tickled the air.

His ears picked up the cry of the eagle owl and the distant grumbling of one of the snow lions musing to itself as it retired to the den for the day. And always, any time of the day or night, if you listened closely you could hear the cracking and creaking of snow and ice shifting on mountainsides, punctuated every so often by the boom of an avalanche.

This morning there was another sound as well, a low murmuring that had a distinctly human note to it. Rounding a bend in the stream, Mike saw the source, sitting cross-legged by the bank, dark fingers describing little O's as they poised against bony knees, tight black curls thrown back as the childishly rounded golden-brown face sought the dawn through the upper branches of the trees. "Ooooom," she said one more time, closed her eyes, lowered her head for a moment, then calling him by his childhood name said, "Hi, Meekay," and sprang to her feet, brushing away petals that had fallen onto her face. "Happy birthday. Are you on your way to see Nyima too?"

"Yes, of course. She's supposed to give birth to her new baby any time now. Have you heard anything, Chime Cincinnati?" he asked, hiding his dismay at her unexpected interruption of his journey.

"Not yet," she said.

He accepted her company with as good a grace as he could muster. She was a weird kind of girl, but his sister Nyima seemed to like her, and more important, so did her beautiful friend Isme. Thoughts of Isme had kept Mike lying awake nights, thinking of things he could say or should have said, things he could do or should have done, presents he might yet offer to convince her that she should take him as her first husband.

Although Isme and Chime Cincinnati were the same age, both nearly eighteen, they were as different as night and day, and not just because Isme was gracefully tall and blond like her mother, the mountaineer Tania Enokin, while Chime was short and dark. Isme was already a desirable grown woman, with gentle, womanly ways, and Chime—well, Chime just got odder all the time. She didn't go to school with the other kids, or play the same games. Instead, she studied and meditated and mumbled to herself and made odd remarks.

The other kids had not ever been unkind to her, but they hadn't wanted much to do with her either. Mike, who was three years older than Chime, had tried to look after her when they were both younger, before he went to work with his father in the underground excavations of the buried portions of Kalapa. He'd always felt kind of sorry for her, but he'd felt perplexed too. How could anybody grow up in such a great place as Kalapa, lucky enough to be one of the last surviving people on earth, and seem so—well—unsettled? Dissatisfied. He couldn't figure her out.

"I didn't know you meditated here," he said.

"I don't usually," she told him. "My favorite place is just beyond the chorten, facing Karakal, but I thought this morning I'd wait and walk with you to Nyima's. I knew you'd want to check and see if the baby might be coming in time to share your birthday."

"Yes, she promised to name the baby for me if it's born today," he said, pleased but a little daunted by the thought of having a niece or nephew born on his birthday, carrying his name. This child would have a special bond with him and would require a special gift from him. The only thing he possessed that was special enough was the set of hand-copied books he had hoped to trade for a bride gift, a certain silver necklace with blue enameled birds, and a length of blue silk that would reflect blue eyes.

"Isme's already there," Chime teased, with a sly note in her voice and laughter in her sideways glance up at him.

"What are we waiting for?" he asked, prodding her to her feet. "They'll be needing someone to help keep my other nieces and nephews out from under foot."

"It's good to see so many new babies after all the years of destruction," Chime said, falling in beside him though he had quickened his pace a little to keep the heat in his own face from betraying his thoughts. She sounded as if she personally had witnessed the world's destruction, although he knew she had lived her whole life in Kalapa, as he had. It was one of the things that he and everyone else found so strange about her. Some of the adults, including his own parents, treated such remarks with respect—but then, his father at least treated every utterance of every resident of Kalapa with respect. Other people found Chime's pronouncements strange and a little frightening, sometimes annoying. Mike tried not to be annoyed, to ignore the implication and just respond to what she actually said.

"Yes, and more are being born all the time. It's a very good thing, of course, all of this new life, but I'm worried about the haphazard way new families are filling up the valley. We need to make plans so that people don't cut into the rhododendron grove to make room for more houses. After all, people can live in the next valley over too, can't they? Everybody doesn't have to live right here in Kalapa."

"The elders were so busy coping with having our generation," Chime mused, "that they didn't think ahead enough to what would happen when their children grew up and started having children. Since any woman who comes to Shambala before her childbearing years are ended may continue to have children here, between our mothers and ourselves we have been doing a good job of repopulating at least our small corner of the world." She took his hand and swung it back and forth in hers, as if they were still children. "Don't worry, Meekay. I remember when Kalapa was much more crowded than this."

Oh boy. There she goes again, he thought.

is thought must have showed on his face because she quickly added, "I mean, I don't remember exactly, but that's what your father tells me that my previous incarnation told him anyway."

"Chime Cincinnati, you're just thinking of the story Auntie Dolma tells the children."

"You'll hear a different version tonight, Meekay, at your birthday celebration," she said, suddenly very serious. On a person's twenty-first birthday, after the general festivities were over, the adults held a private initiation ceremony. During it, Mike knew, the elders retold the story of how Shambala, Kalapa, and the world came to be as they were now. In the ceremony, however, they added all of the personal memories, histories, predictions, and insights that pertained particularly to the person being initiated into adulthood, sharing all of the information they possessed about his or her heritage and the circumstances of his or her birth. More than the presents or the special meal, Mike was looking forward to this ceremony.

What would they add about him particularly to the basic story?

“Know, O best beloved, that you are privileged to be the children of Shambala, which connects heaven and earth and which is located at the precise joining of the two.”

Auntie Dolma, who was the one who told the story best and who loved the works of Rudyard Kipling, insisted on the "O best beloved" part. Mike thought it added something reassuringly cozy to the story, which was otherwise rather too sweepingly grand and timeless for comfort.
Back to Last Refugee

Channeling Cleopatra


Cleopatra looked at the snake. The snake, its tongue flicking, stared back at her. She apologized to the creature, the emblem of her queenship and the end of it. "My lord, if only Octavius were as trustworthy as you are, there would be no need to disturb you with our concerns. But alas, my protectors are all dead, my beauty faded, and even my hairdresser and handmaiden have offered their flesh to your fangs for my sake, so I have no choice. If I live and flee, Octavius will avenge himself upon my children. If I live and submit, he will degrade and humiliate my person and position in his accursed Roman triumph, dragging me in chains through the city where I should by rights have ruled as empress. Then he will kill me and destroy my body and my hope for the afterlife. Oh yes, my lord," she said in her tender, singsong voice, the voice of a natural-born snake charmer. The snake swayed, half uncoiled to strike, its hood majestically fanned around its face.

The coils of its body lay still upon the folds of the yellow, red, and white linens of the Isis robes covering Charmion's corpse. Iras lay beside the altar containing the body. Charmion also wore the Isis crown and what was left of the crown jewels. Iras had dressed her fellow handmaiden's head in the black Isis curls Cleopatra customarily wore when assuming the guise of the goddess. The queen herself had employed her considerable skill with cosmetics to change faces with her look-alike maid. Now, dressed as Charmion, she explained herself to the cobra. The cobra did not mind her humble robes. It knew who she was. She was Egypt, its home, its mother, and finally, its prey.

She spoke to it to clarify her own mind before her death and to delay that same death, for she had long loved life and was loath to leave it, even under the circumstances.

"Yes, it's true. I have it on the best authority. Isis in her compassion has sent me a dream so I may save my body and thus my immortal soul. Whatever lies he tells my people, Octavius intends to burn me after my death—before it, if he is given the opportunity, I'm sure. So I have chosen my own time. My eldest son has fled the country, and as for my younger children, I am unable to protect them, and moreover, I provide cause for Octavius to do them harm. Perhaps without me to spite with their suffering, he will spare them. And so you must give me my last kiss, my lord. My priests, who know our little secret, will do the rest. In exchange, I grant you your freedom from your duties as guardian of this tomb and temple."

She took a deep breath, broke eye contact, and quickly, so as to startle the fascinated snake, thrust her arm at it. Having had its part so considerately explained to it, the cobra performed its last state service and struck her with a force that staggered her back, away from the altar.

Unhooded and blending with the dust, the snake then slithered out through an open window.

The pain subsided, quickly replaced with numbness. Soon she knew paralysis and death would follow. By that time, Octavius would have received her message begging him to bury her with Antony. She knew he would not, but the message would serve to seal in his mind that the body in her robes was her own. He would expect to see her there, and dead, and that is what he would see.

The stage was set to perfection, except the cobra, in striking, had pulled Charmion's wig askew. Slowly, with a sense of detachment and amusement, as if she had had too much wine, Cleopatra rose and stretched out her other hand to adjust it.

Which was how Octavius and his soldiers saw her when they burst into the room.

She felt Octavius staring hard at her, and she thought for a moment the ruse had failed. Then he said, puzzled, more to himself than to her, "Is this well done?"

The bastard was trying to figure out if her death was to his advantage or not.

She felt herself ready to fly to the afterlife, but she had never been able to resist a good exit line. "It is well done," she said, her voice unrecognizably husky with the dying, "and fitting for a princess descended of so many royal kings."

And so it was that the body of Charmion, dressed in the robes of Cleopatra, was displayed to the people as proof of her death. Later, as Cleopatra's dream had warned, Octavius publicly said she would be interred with Mark Antony but privately, to his lieutenant, he said, "Burn the bitch. The brats may watch."

The bodies of the handmaidens were removed afterward by the priests. Cleopatra's public tomb, stripped of its glories by Octavius, lay empty, as she had somehow always known it would. But it secretly connected, through a long and twisting passage with many stairs and a maze of tunnels, with a private tomb concealed deep beneath her palace. In some ways, the tomb was very bare, her special coffin, sealed within three others, the simple alabaster canopic jars with her cartouche and titles and seals of gold, some clothing and toiletries, a prettily carved inlaid table and chair, a bed, a wealth of lamps. The tomb was for one person only. No place for husbands or children or even trusted servants. Iras's body had been removed to her family's crypt. Instead, the side rooms held Cleopatra's greatest treasure, one that Octavius and other conquerors lacked the wit to covet. But to the queen, for whom the love of erudition was more fundamental than her love of either of her Roman husbands or even her kingdom, her burial hoard was of the most valuable nature possible. It contained the originals to the best, the rarest, the most informed and fascinating of the manuscripts collected by her own great Museon, the Library of Alexandria.


For Leda Hubbard, attending the International Conference of Egyptologists was the next best thing to personally participating in a dig. When she found a ticket in her mailbox, she was giddy with joy but curious and also suspicious about who would treat her to such a thing. For the cost of one of those tickets, you could almost buy a plane trip to Egypt.

Most of the attendees who were not presenting papers or teaching seminars had corporate sponsorship. Nonetheless, Leda recalculated her budget six times until she came up with almost enough to go. Then the urgent need for a root canal and a new radiator for her car gobbled up her ticket money.

Cinderella she wasn't, but nevertheless, some mysterious benefactor, secret admirer, fairy godmother, or possibly a stalker, decided she could go to the ball.

After enjoying a splendid day filled with intellectual delights, Leda was finally ready to turn into a pumpkin. It was not yet sunset, much less midnight, but the showroom had closed, the lectures were over, and her feet felt like they actually were encased in something as agonizing as glass slippers, which could not have been comfy.

The Portland Convention Center was huge, and she had walked the equivalent of a marathon attending seminars, checking out the goodies in the showroom, and searching for favorite authors of scholarly tomes. She hadn't met any princes, true. But she now had something that was in her opinion much better: a rolling suitcase full of books about pharaohs (and related topics, such as how to identify said pharaohs), now autographed. The only thing better than that would have been to be the autographer instead of the autographee.

Alas, she, who had entertained full-blown H. Rider Haggard/Elizabeth Peters dreams of being an Egyptologist while still an undergrad at Heidelberg, had never fully realized her ambitions.

She had achieved the Ph.D. in forensic anthropology and was a by-Bast doctor-not-of-medicine, though she had probably handled more cadavers than the average M.D. But she had not been able to squeeze in the additional studies necessary to specialize in Egyptology with the time and money allotted her.

The Navy, while debating about paying for her graduate degree while she was on active duty, suggested in their cute little bureaucratic way that Egyptologists were less likely to make it through school without being called into a war zone than, say, their useful colleagues who studied corpses of more recent vintage. In the charming phrasing of the Graduate Studies in Continuing Education financial assistance and career counseling officer, "This is a weird sort of thing you want to study, Chief Hubbard, but the Navy does have a certain limited use for forensic scientists. What we need are people who can put pieces of dead troops back together so the remains can be identified. Most of these troops will not be of ancient Egyptian stock; therefore, if you wish to study any of that elitist crap, you can do so on your own dime. The Navy has no job openings for Egyptologists. Do I make myself clear?"

She had sighed, batted her lashes, and said in the sultry voice that had made her voted by her senior class "most likely to succeed in a career in the telephonic sex industry," "I just love it when you get all butch and masterful, sir."

The officer had blushed. He was about twenty-four. She was thirty-six at the time. A career that had until that time been spent aboard aircraft carriers and submarines dealing with matters that required a top security clearance made her feel much much older.

But the kid had been right about one thing. There were, until very recently, few job ops for Egyptologists who were not Egyptian. This was as true of civilian life as it had been in the Navy. These days, she worked in the Oregon state laboratory, mostly helping law enforcement agencies gather evidence to identify anonymous remains.
Back to Channeling Cleopatra

Cleopatra 7.2 


The Book of Cleopatra's Reawakeningg

Herein do I, Cleopatra Philopater, Queen of Upper and Lower Egypt, the seventh Cleopatra of the ruling house of Ptolemy, set down the circumstances pertaining to the discovery of my tomb. This I do at the behest of my soul's companion in this life, Leda Hubbard, who asks it so that a play may be made of it and the story told to the world thereby. For this we are to be endowed with, if not a queen's ransom, at least the price of a modest palace.

To begin with, I was awakened from the dead.

This was done by means of a magic uncommonly known even in these years of miraculous happenings. Quite simply, a portion of my body still connected to my ba, or body spirit, was used to connect my ba to another body, that of Leda Hubbard, a woman of low birth but high intellect. This magic is called a blending. Leda and I first blended as we dreamed. I learned that she, like myself, grieved for her father and had suffered betrayal. I knew of her love of books and words, her search for knowledge. But I also knew, even as she slept, that we were in immediate mortal danger. We awakened to our peril aboard a ship owned by our enemy. With the aid of Leda's allies and our combined strengths, we prevailed and vanquished our enemy.

When we were safely ashore in what had once been my beloved Alexandria, I began to understand that, although I once more breathed and tasted, saw and smelled, was able to touch and to feel touch, the life I had ended with the cobra would in no way continue. No longer would I be concerned with the fate of the Egypt I knew, for it was either gone or buried beneath many generations of sand and captivity.

Octavian, who continued his dominion of both my lands and his as Augustus Caesar, this viper who murdered Caesar's own son, my Caesarian, is dead. That Marc Antony is lost I knew before my own death. His son, my Alexander Helios, was murdered like his half brother by Octavian. My other children, Selene and Ptolemy Philadelphus, were banished from Egypt and died in foreign lands without the benefit of an Egyptian burial. Thus I had no hope that they might enter into this afterlife as I have with the aid of that odd little magician, Chimera.

Alas, Leda's body is not capable of childbearing so there will be no more children for me, even if there are in this new age men worthy of fathering them. All that I loved, all that I lived for, is gone. Thus is my life ended, and so it begins again, without husband or children, title or lands or wealth of any consequence, great beauty or great power.

Still, Leda's loyalties are as strong as my own, and I find some comfort that the people whose fates concern her do seem to be worthwhile.

However, she has not been a queen and was not reared believing she was born to greatness. Her goals are as modest as her means, and this I must change.

We made a beginning by changing history as Leda's contemporaries have known it. We had no tension within us at this time, for our thoughts and longings were in unison. Both of us wished to revisit my tomb and learn what remained.

I imagined I would be able to go straight to it. During my lifetime, I had visited it clandestinely for years, secreting the most precious of the scrolls I saved from the burning of the great library. Later, when Antony gifted me with scrolls looted from the library in Pergamum, I had them copied and personally deposited the originals in the vaults within my second tomb.

Why a second tomb? Leda asked. But she answered her own question almost immediately. Grave robbers, of course, were the first reason I chose to have a secret place of interment as well as my public mausoleum. Anyone who has strolled through the marketplace has beheld the property that was supposed to be taken into the afterlife with long-dead pharaohs and other people of substance. Their tombs were built more for grandeur than for security. Looters broke in and stole their funeral goods and dismembered the mummies so carefully and expensively laid to "eternal" rest. I value my privacy and my dignity far too much to allow that to happen to me.

So, though no one knew but myself and one old childhood friend who became my most trusted priest, there was concealed within my mausoleum an underground passageway.

I have now watched many films and read many books and articles that claim to be about my life. Some of them say that I am a traitorous and disloyal person. They base their evaluation on the evidence that I had my brothers and sisters killed, disregarding the fact that my beloved sibs would have done the same for me had I not, as Leda says, "beat them to it." The truth is that I have always been a very loyal person and a true friend to those who do not try to murder me or betray me.

And Anoubus was always, if unobtrusively, loyal to me. He understood my true nature. I wonder what became of him under Octavian??

Ah well. Anoubus and I discovered the passageway and the tomb when we were children of perhaps eight and six years. It was within the palace quarter, naturally, or I would not have been allowed there. We found it while playing in a disused part of the harem. Father did not keep as many concubines and wives as his forebears, perhaps because he loved wine and song far better than he loved women, with the possible exception of me.

The passageway was exciting for us, a secret to be shared, but even more exciting was the tomb at the end of it. I knew in my heart it had been one of the early tombs of my own ancestor, Alexander. Of course, it was empty then, but by the light of our lamps the marble walls still gleamed, and the spaciousness of the rooms rivaled that of my father's own private chambers. We scuffed away the sand to reveal a fine mosaic on the floor, the colors of its tiles bright even by our flickering lights.

Throughout my childhood, I escaped there often from my older sister, who hated me because Father preferred me, and my brothers. When I thought of it, I held my breath, fearing that some new building project would clear the entrance to my private haven, but this did not happen. When I assumed the throne, I myself cleared the area and had my mausoleum built over it; under the supervision of my friend.

As intimately as I had known it, when Leda and I tried to find it again, I doubted we ever would. My beautiful white-columned city, with its wide streets and its great monuments, might never have been. Now it lies buried beneath tall and ugly buildings, short and ugly buildings, and the streets are filled with noisy machinery, tearing along at speed far greater than that of any chariot or natural animal I have ever seen in all my life before I awakened with Leda.

I knew approximately where the palace quarter had been only from the shoreline of the Eastern Harbor, and even this was much altered. Leda and I pored over maps from many time periods. None was more than someone's guess at the layout of the city of my birth, my youth, my reign, the city I gave to Caesar and to Antony, the city whose people, treasures, institutions, customs, and monuments I protected with every skill and wit I possessed.

Leda showed me the artifacts retrieved from the harbor when it had been drained for excavation. Soon the sponsors of this excavation and the current government will attempt to reconstruct the shore line as I knew it, to rebuild some semblance of my palace and the monuments of the time. This will be done not to house a new pharaoh or even a president, but for foreign visitors called tourists. It is a worthy project and I approve of it and mean to have Leda and myself consulting so that we may instruct the builders on the correct installation of each feature and structure.

But I digress. We examined these artifacts, most of which were large chunks of stone that were mere suggestions of the intricately carved and colored statuary and columns, building blocks and fountains that had once adorned my home. These items, more than any other thing, including the monstrous modern city, made clear to me how much time has passed since last I walked these streets. Not that I can walk them now without risk of being crushed by one of the speeding conveyances.

I saw a blunted and water worn statue of myself I had commissioned as a gift for what we hoped would be Caesar's coronation. The cheeks were pitted, the tip of the nose and part of the chin chipped off. The details of hair and crown, clothing and jewels were mostly lost, however. It looked, it was, thousands of years old. Many pieces of the colossal statues of my Ptolemy ancestors whose images had lined the harbor and stood sentinel beside the great Pharos Lighthouse hulked among the cases and explanatory plaques. The bones of my past.

They saddened me, caused me to shudder. Though I had coolly faced the enemies who were my kin and the enemy who was the death of my family, as well as the cobra who was my ultimate deliverer, I was shaken with disorientation, with vertigo. How strange it was to be there viewing the scene of my former life as if from the wrong end of a telescope that saw through the distance of time rather than space.

Even so, another part of me, the part my father had trained in the ways of all of the pharaohs and satraps before us, was reading the plaques. I mentally restored and replaced the objects to their original installations. Seeing where they had been found from the maps and plaques, I calculated how far they might have tumbled during the mighty earthquakes that were my city's ultimate conquerors.
Back to Cleopatra 7.2

Spam Vs. the Vampire 

There was no indication when Darcy left the house that morning that she was going to get herself snatched by a vampire and wasn’t coming back. She left our dishes half full, the litter box un-scooped, our fountains running, the TV set on the Critter Channel where we like it and the desk top computer on “sleep.” If I had known what she was going to do, I’d have stopped her, even if it meant peeing on something vital or the ultimate sacrifice, acting sick enough for an emergency trip to the vet. But none of us had any idea she would just go away and stay away and none of us even thought to look for clues until the first day and night passed.
I, at least, was plenty anxious to see her. Even the night after she left, I ran from window to window, jumping onto the broad sills and looking out to try to see her coming. Usually I could hear her footsteps several minutes before she arrived but this time, she stubbornly continued to not appear.

When neither she or anyone else showed up to open our cans, fill the kibble bowls or clean our trays, as one or two of her friends had done before when she was gone for more than one feeding, naturally everyone began to speculate. Except for the ones who were busy panicking.

“Okay,” Rocky said, his half-tail jerking with agitation. “It’s finally happened. Darcy’s abandoned us, or else she’s dead. Either way, we’re finished. We’ve had it pretty good here but we’re on our own again. Pretty soon the animal control van will come, we’ll be hauled off to the so-called shelter and be forced to take the long dirt nap.”

“That’s if anyone even finds us before the food and water run out and we starve to death,” BearPaws cried as if he had already started starving. Darcy had been gone long enough for us to miss two wet food meals by then and BearPaws was in mourning. He really loved his wet food.

“It’s the storm,” my mother said sensibly. “She must have got caught in it and hid somewhere till it let up.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Board!” Max told her, raising his gray and white face from his paws. “Darcy’s not like us. Humans don’t get caught out in storms.”

“Yes,” said Cleo, who used to have a gift shop until the owner died and she came to live with Darcy. She’s very sophisticated, Cleo is. “They go into shops and eating places and wait and talk with other humans. Often they buy things if you twine around their feet and act friendly. That gives them the chance to ask the clerk about you and the clerk a chance to ask them what they want to buy without seeming pushy.”

 “Are you suggesting she is neglecting us in order to go out and pet other cats?” My mother demanded.

“It happens,” Trixie said. “You know it does. I’ve smelled her hands when she comes home after patting other cats. There’s no getting around it. She’s a sucker for a kitty face.”

“Lucky for us,” Max said. “That’s why we’re all here.”

“The point is,” Mother said, “We’re here but where is she?”

“Can’t you find out from her ‘puter, Spam?” my sister Bitbit asked.

“I don’t think it tells you where people go,” I said. “Anyway, we know that, don’t we? She went out. Like she usually does.”

“To pet other cats,” Trixie said.

“Maybe, but she does it almost every day, sooner or later. She says she has to leave the house and see other humans. Yesterday she was going to meet that guy she’s been building a website for.”

“How do you know that?” my brother Byte asked.

“She said so. She said her client was going to pay her and she should be able to bring home treats.” She didn’t really say anything about treats but I thought it would make the others feel better if she had. And I was sure she meant to say that. Her good luck was always our good luck too. “Then she put her ‘puter pad in her backpack and put that on over her outer coat, the black leather one, and walked across the street into the woods, like always. You all saw her. It was yesterday morning just before the storm started.”

“Was he handsome? Maybe she stayed with him,” Fat Mama suggested, sighing as she plopped down onto her belly. Fat Mama has had a lot of kittens in her day, most recently Coco, Mojo, Jojo and Cookie, who all live here too. All but Cookie are black, like Fat Mama.

Cookie is orange striped, like me and my brothers and sister, and half the cats in town, according to my mother. She told us our feral sire is an orange tabby. She says his hobby is making copies of himself.

“How would I know?” I asked.

Rocky jumped on his three good legs to the windowsill and peered out between the curtains. I’d been there off and on for the whole day too, watching the storm, listening to the wind as it moaned around the house, sometimes shaking it and making things rattle. It whipped the trees into a leafy hula dance and flattened the grass with the rain. Now it was almost dark again and the security light kept coming on, showing the depressingly empty yard.

“It’s wild out there,” Rocky said. “They were saying on the news that this is the worst storm since ‘76, when it lasted for six days. There are trees and power lines down all over the highway and the news dude said the bridge is closed. I’m guessing a tree bopped Darcy on the head and killed her outright.”

Everybody started crying, me included. Rocky looked smug. Life sucked. He knew that and he was always glad when he was proved right, even if it meant our human mom might be dead and we’d all starve to death before anybody remembered about us.

“You and your news!” Mother said. “Why can’t you watch the Critter Channel like the rest of us?”

“Because there’s no bed to hide under in the living room, and Mojo and Coco are always playing under the couch is why,” Fat Mama said. “Rocky’s a big ‘fraidy cat. That’s why Darcy leaves on the TV in her bedroom for him, so he has company in the dark. You better hope the power doesn’t go off, Mr. ‘Fraidy Cat!”

“Darcy is not dead,” Mother said firmly. “If she was, someone would come and take care of us.”

“Unless they didn’t know she was dead,” Rocky said. “Coyotes might have got her.”

Mother popped him one across the ear.

Darcy couldn’t be dead. Dead was what Popsicle was when she laid all stiff and still on the rug in front of the stove, her fur getting cool and her scent—well, changing, and not in a good way. Dead was when you went to the vet and never came back again.

 “I bet the tree knocked her out like one of those tranquilizer darts they use on TV,” Trixie said. “She couldn’t tell anyone to come and feed us,”

“Or a coyote got her,” Rocky said.

“Coyotes don’t get people. Only cats,” Mother told him.

I left them arguing and returned to my place in the desk chair. When Darcy was here, she used the chair seat and I sat on the back and supervised, but I knew what was happening on the screen and although she didn’t realize it, I know how to use the keypad too.

I may be a young cat who looks like most of the other young cats in town, but I have skills. And the laptop was still here. I am a whiz with the tablet that’s her new portable because it responds easily to a paw touch but I’ve had more practice with the desktop. It’s always on except when she goes to bed.

Darcy doesn’t know I can use it but I practice every time she takes a break or goes away. Even though I’m only half grown, the other cats all know I am the one who helps her with her work and I know what I’m doing. Mom says I probably picked up my talent because she had me and my littermates in the gutted case of an old CPU. That’s why Darcy named us all computer names—Mom is the mother Board, ha ha, and there’s Bitbit, my sister, and Byte, Shifty, Alt and Escape, my brothers, but Darcy said she was darned if she was going to call me Delete. Since I looked so much like all the other kittens in town, she named me Spam.

She held me in her lap even before my eyes opened and I suckled, you might say, on the electronic impulse. When my eyes did open, instead of rough-housing with my littermates, I sat on her shoulder or lap or the back of her chair, or, when she wasn’t looking, right beside the keyboard, watching and learning. She thought my brothers and I took turns sitting with her because she couldn’t tell us apart then but nope, it was always me.

Of course I checked to see if the ‘puter would tell me where she was. I tapped the news feed, but nope, no stories about cat owners getting bopped by trees.

I tapped on her projects in progress, a website for the grocery CO-OP where she gets our food, one for a local nursery and the “vampire dating site” she was creating for the guy from Montreal she called Marcel. He was the one she had been going to meet. Mew hoo! He even went to the library two or three times so he could video chat with her. It was always in the evening. She put on red lipstick before she talked to him and her voice changed. I gave her moral support by sitting on her lap. Her hands trembled when she petted me and I knew this was not just another client.

They did talk about work a little. He told her questions he wanted her to use to interview the prospects. I thought they were kind of odd. Especially the one about blood type. She laughed and said that would be the kind of question a vampire date would ask. He also wondered about family members living—or buried—near them and that sort of thing. Darcy told him she had no one, which wasn’t true of course. She had us.

It was nice we had work, and I am all about getting kibble in the house, but I didn’t like the look of this guy or the way Darcy acted when she was online with him.

She’d come here, I heard her telling her friend Perry, our sometimes-cat-sitter, to get away from a bad relationship. The male she’d been involved with had started taking drugs. I couldn’t understand that. Drugs are the same thing as medicine like you get at the vet and why someone would take them on purpose is beyond me! But she said her habit had always been to pick guys who seemed nice but turned out to be mean, married or addicted to something so she had moved to Port Deception to get away from all that and from now on, the only males in her life would have tails and pointy ears.

I wanted to remind her of that when she talked to Marcel. But he wasn’t bad looking if you like human males, I suppose, all of his head fur was dark and kind of curly and his eyes were sort of hungry-looking, He had an oddly soothing voice—it almost put you to sleep, but I found him hard to understand. He didn’t say his words the way Darcy did but she seemed to like the way he did it.

The last time they chatted, when they finished, she scooped me up and hugged me to her, kissing the top of my head. I learned long ago that resistance was futile, so I purred instead. “Maybe my luck with men has finally changed, Spammy. I think Marcel’s really into me. Good thing for us he doesn’t like the more public social networking sites and hired us instead. He’s a private kinda guy, it sounds like. And hot. And—er—maybe rich?” She sighed, hugged and kissed me again then tossed me to the floor and started her magic fingers flying across the keyboard. She checked a couple of accounts and winked at me. “The first $500 just hit my bank account. Just like that.”

The next day she drove to the grocery store and returned with five bags of canned food and two thirty pound bags of kibble—plus canned salmon all around.

That was two weeks ago. I checked her mail trash and her send box and found an email from him saying, “I expect to be in Port Deception tomorrow night. Give me directions to your place.”

But apparently her good sense kicked in then because she said, “I’d rather meet in the morning. Maybe at Bagels and Begonias Bakery?”

“Okay. I suppose I can find something to do in the meantime. I cannot wait to meet you,” his email said. “But as it is a business meeting, for now, bring all of your work and your computer. Maybe you can give me a lesson?”

And that was the last entry. I wasn’t sure what else to try. So I took a nap and waited some more.

The whole first night passed and then a morning and a long windy afternoon soon followed by the beginning of another wild windy night and still Darcy didn’t come home. The kibble dwindled to a sprinkling in the bottoms of the dishes and the water dispensers burbled the last of their wetness into the basins. Her scent wasn’t nearly as strong in the chair or on the keyboard as it had been. I rubbed my face against the keys and tried to nap but kept waking up and jumping onto the windowsill long after the other cats had settled down to sleep. Rocky passed the office door.

“Get used to it, kit. She’s not coming back. You were born in captivity. You haven’t been out in the world and learned what humans are really like yet.”

 “Rocky, she has never been anything but nice to you and all the others. If you had been born here like I was, you’d know it’s not captivity, it’s how cats and their people are supposed to be.”

He gave a little growl and limped away.

 I huddled against the cool windowpane after that, watching the wind blow and waiting for the jingle of her house keys in her hand as she approached the kitchen door.

I was so sad I was almost convinced I’d never hear that sound again when I did. The house keys. There they were. The clink of keys tapping together, a smaller sound but very distinct against the wind.

But there was something wrong. I’d heard no footsteps. The security light hadn’t gone on and though I peered back toward the kitchen door, I couldn’t see Darcy.

Barking exploded from next door. Angry, loud barking so scary I flew off the windowsill as if someone had shot me.

A key clicked in the kitchen door. Well, I hadn’t seen her but it had to be Darcy. Didn’t it? Or maybe Perry, come to cat sit since Darcy was gone. I had to see anyway. I sprinted to the office door.

The kitchen door creaked then slammed open with the wind. My mother and littermates, who usually sleep under the kitchen table, streaked past me in a blur of fur. Other drowsy heads snapped up and the living room, where some of my housemates had been dozing, was suddenly catless.

Who could it be? I slunk toward the kitchen, ears flat and whiskers quivering. I did not smell Darcy, not unless Rocky was right and she was dead. The wind drove the scent through the kitchen and into me. None of it was anything like Darcy.

The dog barking up a storm in the middle of the storm, that was familiar too. Had it been just last night when I was aroused from my nap on Darcy’s pillow by Darcy rousing from her pillow and looking out the window? The dog was barking then too, and there was the same rotten stench and something flapping outside our window—at its center was a bright white oval face with red glowing eyes.

I crept toward the kitchen, my curiosity strengthened by the memory. The dead something had flown into the night, and Darcy lay down again, sleeping as if she had never come all the way awake, and nothing unusual had happened. After awhile, I did too. End of close encounter of the weird kind
Back to Spam Vs. the Vampire

9 Tales O' Cats


My first cat story for Andre Norton’s Cat Fantastic series of cat anthologies, this story was dedicated to Lady Jane Grey, a delicate and diffident tabby.

I’ve held my silence long enough and see no reason why my story cannot now be told. My children are grown, everyone concerned save only my lady and me has passed beyond, and though you’d never know it by looking at me, I’m getting on in years. So is my lady, drowsing now beside the fire. Her hair—that smelled so like wild violets I delighted to roll in its spring-bright strands during those long months when her lord was campaigning and we lay together for comfort...Ah her hair—where was I? Oh yes, (how one does wander as one gets on in years).

Her hair is now white as that cold stuff—snow, it’s called—that sticks to the paw pads and inevitably comes around whether it’s wanted or not.

Just like some people I could mention. But more about them later.

As I was saying, it’s peaceful here in this simple, quiet place, and although it is drafty, my fire. Of course, the idea is that we live here with the sisters because my lady has been humbled, you see, and they, she and the sisters, are supposed to be all the same, but snobbery springs eternal and my lady’s rank gets us our little fire and the choicest morsels and never a cross word about me even if I choose to sleep in the chapel. A queen—even a former queen, even a disgraced queen, is still top cat.

Not that we haven’t made many sacrifices. This is not as nice as the palace with its lovely fresh rushes twice a day and the delicious fur coverlets to nuzzle and knead and that little velvet cushion just for me. Not that I ever actually used the thing, mind you, but I appreciated having it reserved for my exclusive occupation nonetheless.

But those days have long since passed away, as soon shall I and my lady as well, though not necessarily in that order. Just in case I’m someday left alone I’ve taken as my protégée Sister Mary Immaculata a common but cheerful young calico who loves to hear of life among the quality. As well she might. For who came closer to any of them than me? Who knows better the truth behind the dreadful events that preceded the fall of Camelot, and who else fully realizes why anything or anyone worthwhile was salvaged from the entire mess? Who knows with more claw-bearing conviction than I the true villain of the piece??

And who besides myself and my lady knows the deepest, darkest, most private secret of the great and fearless Sir Lancelot DuLac himself? No one, that’s who. And so no one else is aware that this weakness in the great warrior is the crux of the entire matter. Ordinarily I would never cast aspersions on such a seemingly flawless reputation, but willy-nilly there’s no tampering with the plain and simple fact that Sir Lancelot was allergic to cats and it was this weakness that was the undoing of Camelot and the salvation of my lady.

When I say allergic, I do not mean dislike leading to the genteelly martyred sniffles some affect in my presence. Oh, no. Blew up like a toad, he did. Broke out in spots the size of mouse droppings. Got so itchy he looked like he was trying to dance a pavane in a seated position. Sneezed loud enough to be heard halfway to Cornwall. And his eyes, usually so clear, swelled shut as if encased in two red pillows.

And me? I was crazy about him. He was like catnip and cream to me. Something about his scent, I expect. But particularly when I was younger, I simply could not stop myself. No sooner did he walk in into the room than I twined around his ankles. No sooner did he drop his hand to the arm of a chair than I began grooming his fingers. No sooner was he seated at the Round Table than I leapt upon his shoulders and ran my tail beneath his nostrils, rubbing my face against his hair, purring like a chit of a kitten.

The other knights laughed at us and my lord, the king, looked rather sad that I had never so favored him, for he was very fond of cats and had given me as a kitten into my lady’s service, but I was shameless. My mother always told me it is a wise creature who knows her own mind and I knew that I wanted to be with Lancelot. Not that I ever got to spend a great deal of time with him. My lady would always come to pluck me away, though often I brought with me a bit of fabric or a strand of hair for a souvenir, to purr over at some later time. Lady Elaine, my lady’s minion, once tried removing me and all I will say about that is that she never tried again. Lancelot was too polite and too afraid of offending my lady to swat me. Also, I am quite sure he admired me from afar, for as events revealed, at one time he was fond of cats, despite his malady. My fur is very soft and my purr is very soothing, as my lady so often has said. I used to hope one day his iron will would overcome his unfortunate reactions to my presence.

Alas, we never had the chance to find out, for my lady, at the instigation of that beastly Elaine, shut me up in the privy tower whenever Lancelot was in the vicinity. After the time when I almost fell into the hole and had to be rescued after hanging on by a clawtip and screaming for hours before anyone heard me, I decided that my attraction to Lancelot was merely a superficial one, and whatever silly problems Lancelot had to overcome, he would have to find some other cat to train him out of them.

Never let it be said that I am anything but generous and patient to a fault, but I had my position to think of and my lady could not be expected to do without my services for long periods of time just because a mere knight, no matter how worthy, had what was really a rather comical reaction to cats.

So I hid. I hid in the little hollow of the crown at the top of Arthur’s throne, under the Round Table, and on nice days in one of the arrow slits overlooking the moat. I particularly liked the top of the canopied beds because I couldn’t be got down before I made sure the tapestries, as well as arms and faces, suffered, and I knew very well how much Lady Elaine hated mending. After awhile, they forgot to look for me, and I once again assumed my rightful duties as my lady’s chief confidante concerning the supervision of the business of the castle.

I could have told them never to let those two in, Mordred and that so-called cat of his. Any cat worth the water to drown her in could have told them that Mordred was the sort of boy who torments cats with unspeakable indignities (and I should know), not the sort to share a morsel and pillow and a bit of companionship with one of us. That alone should have warned them, as I could not, but since it did not, they should have realized what those two were up to at once when that so-called cat snuggled up to Lancelot and he didn’t even sniffle.

That should have told the humans, poor things, that something distinctly fishy was brewing and it wasn’t chowder. I knew at once, of course. The creature’s accent was dreadful and her manners worse.

I was in the garden when they arrived, Mordred riding his golden steed, that creature in a basket in front of him. I was engaged in efficiently rearranging the piled leaves the gardeners had gathered and paying no attention to traffic. My lady, His Majesty, and Sir Lancelot played dominoes on a nearby bench. Mordred, sweet as pie, dismounted, lifting down the basket more tenderly, I swear, than he ever did anything. To no avail. The nasty creature hopped out, landing with a plop in the middle of my leaves, where she sat as if she belonged. Naturally, I hissed at her and told her whose territory she was invading before giving her a pawful across the nose. She did not even do me the courtesy of hissing back. She did not raise a hair, did not arch her back. She merely flipped her tail as she deftly avoided my paw, rose, and sprang straight onto Lancelot’s lap.

I crouched expectantly, quick thumps of my tail sending the leaves flying like so many gold and orange birds flushed from the gorse. Soon she would get her comeuppance as he sneezed and swelled. I was not greatly surprised that no one stirred a finger to remove her. It had been some months since I had made my private, privy-bound decision to leave the man alone in his poor cat-deprived existence. I’ve noticed people have very short memories when it comes to who suffers what ailments, and a good thing that is, too, I suppose. But when, after several minutes, the knight’s long fingers strayed to stroke her sleek black-and-red mottled fur, and his eyes didn’t swell and he did not cough or sneeze, I confess I was quite insulted. To all appearances, he was unperturbed by the newcomer. To all appearances, therefore, he was not allergic to cats in general, but to me in particular.

Not that I cared, mind you. I’d given up on the man as hopeless already. I sat washing the fur of my stomach with great concentration whenever he glanced my way. But he did not glance my way. While Mordred charmed Their Majesties with soft words, the tortoiseshell slitted her sly gold eyes at my lady’s Champion and purred in a disgustingly ingratiating manner. And Lancelot, normally so intelligent and perceptive, called her la petite minou and fondled her ears while smiling like a total ninny.

I entertained myself listening to Mordred, who was attempting to convey greetings from the exiled witch, Morgan le Fey, the King’s sister. His Majesty did not want to hear about it. I had heard rumors that the witch was exiled for plotting the King’s murder. I have also heard rumors that she once stole Excalibur and arranged for the disappearance of the king’s old tutor, the wizard Merlin. Whatever the king’s true reason for her banishment, to him it was an urgent one: that brave and kind man’s brow sweated at the mere mention of her name.

My lady the queen nodded politely at everything Mordred said, but stretched out her hand to the newcomer in Lancelot’s lap, who arched so that her head butted my lady’s palm. Well! That was enough for me. I bounded from my leaf pile, not that anyone noticed, and twined about my lady’s ankles, plaintively reminding her who was her trusted associate and who was not. I was poised to jump up when Lancelot, the traitor, began sneezing and snotting and, though I couldn’t see for my lady’s skirts, swelling, I am sure. To my great satisfaction the tortoiseshell horror was dumped from his lap and I did a bit of swelling myself and lashed for her with my front paws. Bat-a-bat-bat! I would give her, mincing her nose. That would teach her to bring it interfering into the business of others.
Back to 9 Tales O' Cats

Father Christmas: Spam the Cat's First Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring; not even a mouse. Rats! While I’d been out chasing vampires and zombies, my furry housemates had hunted all the fun prey. Now my fourteen feline roomies were all asleep, our human mom Darcy was gone for the weekend leaving us on our own with just a cat-sitter coming in to feed us, and I felt restless. I was nine months old, and this was my first Christmas.

It felt like something ought to happen. It felt like something was going to happen, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be in my boring house with my boring friends and relatives.

On the other hand, it was snowing outside. We were having a white Christmas. Bah, humbug. Bad weather is what it is, the kind that clots white cold stuff in your paw pads. Unacceptable. I would wait until the weather humans came to their senses to go out, I had decided.

That was before I heard the prancing and pawing of each little hoof, apparently coming from up on my roof. I sat down to think, curling my tail around my front paws, my calm pose betrayed only by a slight flick at the creamy end of my plumy appendage. There were stockings hung by the propane stove with care, but a trip down that chimney would be disastrous for anybody, since they’d just end up inside the stove and wouldn’t be able to get out. I considered waking my mother for a further explanation of the powers of Santa Claws. But then I thought that if anyone would know what was going on, it would be Rocky. I jumped onto the kitchen counter and stood against the corner cupboard. I am a very long cat, even without taking my tail into account. My front feet could just reach the top cabinet, where Rocky liked to lurk during the day. Inserting my paw beneath the door’s trim, I pushed. It smelled like vampire cat in there, but not as though the vampire cat was actually in there. Rocky was out. Well, it was night. He wouldn’t mind the snow.

Some more scrabbling on the roof, and I suddenly thought, what if Rocky has Santa Claws and is feeding on him? He might. He was my friend, but he was definitely no respecter of age, gender, or mythological belief system.

I bolted out my private entrance. Only Rocky and I were able to come and go through that new cat flap that had been installed for me since my last adventure. I had a chip in my neck that activated it. Rocky had my old collar containing a similar chip, the one I’d worn before I went to the vet and got tagged.

The cold air hit me with a shock, and the snow wet my pink paw pads, though the heavy tufts of fur between them formed natural snowshoes. I was a very convenient breed of cat for this climate, actually. Maine Coon cats, or their undocumented relatives like me, were built for cold and wet and according to the Critter Channel, used to be ships’ cats on Viking vessels. I didn’t mind a nice trip around the bay on a nice day, but this snow stuff wasn’t my cup of—well, snow.
Back to Father Christmas

The Tour Bus of Doom (Spam and the Zombie Apocalyps-o)

Chapter 11

First came the vampires. After all the movies promoting our neck of the woods (the Olympic National Forest, to be exact) as being ideal for the undead, out of town vampires arrived. I helped deport some of them, since they were Canadian, but even I’ll admit Spam, Vampire Deporter just doesn’t have the sound bite—pardon the expression—that slayer does.

When the Tour Bus of Doom pulled up in front of Elevated Ice Cream, I felt no sense of dread or foreboding, but instead hightailed it to my favorite bench on the back deck. Some of my best friends are tourists. Travelers lonely for their cats at home bribe me with whipped cream and melted ice cream, hoping to cop a pet. Unless they are very young and their hands are very sticky, I graciously oblige. I love imagining the frenzied rubbing and marking the tourists are in for when they return home and their feline housemates get a whiff of Spam.

I’ve made lots of new friends in the last few months. For a while, after the whole vampire thing, I was worried about our human mom Darcy, but she needed me less than I thought she would. In fact, since I rescued her, once she recovered from the shock, she started hanging out with—of all people—Deputy Shelter Dude, the sheriff’s deputy who used to take care of the shelter! That made all of us cats nervous, especially Rocky, though now that he is a catpire (or vampcat if you prefer) he sleeps in the cupboard most of the day so isn’t too aware of what happens then.

The first time Deputy Daryl was still there when the sun went down, Rocky took one look at him—no, one sniff—and rocketed out the cat flap to which only he and I have keys. Maddog, who seems to be sort of Vampire Law and Order South of the (Canadian) Border, installed my private entrance after he helped me rescue Darcy. He recognized the kind of cat I am. He also noticed that Rocky, trying to defend our house, had become a bloodsucker like him. Darcy hadn’t figured out that Maddog and Rocky were both vampires, which was a good thing because after her last experience, she was sick of them. But even she realized I am no ordinary housecat.

Having had a taste of the great outdoors, where I made quite a few new friends, I had no desire to return to being housebound, even to oversee the office, which was my former career. I became an unusual creature in Port Deception, an outdoor cat. Not a stray, not feral, and not lunch for coyotes, thanks to Rocky’s new hunting habits as Vampcat the Coyote Slayer, but an emancipated cat, with my own entry to my house and the freedom to come and go as I wished.

In the long bright hours of summer when the grass smelled sweet and the light sea breeze kept my fur coat from being too hot for comfort, I definitely wished to be out. Not only was there my network of four-legged friends-who-were-not-cats to maintain, I had on my previous expeditions encountered several of my half brothers and sisters, as well as my father, and I wanted to deepen my family ties. This puzzled my mother and my brothers, who couldn’t care less about the old man’s other litters.

But there were some good practical reasons I wanted to be connected to them. For a cat with an exhaustingly wide-ranging if transitory territory, having many siblings who might be prevailed upon to share a napping spot and a food dish when said cat grew footsore and hungry was a good thing. Besides, seeing my lookalike half-brothers and sisters gave me a sense of what my life could have been like. Not that I wanted to trade. I was just, you know, curious.

Most of them fared pretty well, as gorgeous orange tabby cats such as ourselves are apt to do, but Marigold, the last one on my rounds tonight, was so upset I could hear her crying from the street. I don’t have that many lookalike sisters, as for some strange reason cats of our coloring tend to be male. However, Marigold looked just like my brothers and me, except for the girly bits. If it hadn’t been for me, she wouldn’t be alive now. I’d met her and her mother right after she was born at Christmas and kept the owls and coyotes off them till they were rescued by humans and eventually found nice homes. Deputy Daryl told Darcy it was love at first sight between Marigold and her little human girl Amy, less of a cat mom and more of a kitten-sister.

“What’s the matter, Sis?” I asked through the mail slot. “Is someone standing on your tail?”

“Nooo, but my family’s gone and left me and I don’t think I’ll ever see them again,” she cried. “They’ve been gone so long and I tell you, Spammy, I’ve got a terrible feeling about this.”

“They covered the important parts though, didn’t they? Someone comes to feed you and change your box?”

“It doesn’t matter! They’ve been gone weeks and weeks. Even the sitter says they’ve been gone a lot longer than she agreed to take care of me. She wants to go away too! I want my own people back. NYOW!”

“You said they went on vacation, a cruise to some island somewhere?”

“They would not leave me to go play. They are on an important relief mission to help hurricane victims on some wretched island. They think those people need them, but I need them too. And I had them first!”

I really felt I should do something about her situation, but there was a mail slot between us. “If I could come in, I would show you how to work the computer,” I told her. “Then you could maybe go online and find them, since you can’t get out.”

“I know how to use the computer,” she said. “I’ve played video games till I have carpaw tunnel syndrome.”

“I am,” I told her. “Let me know if they show up. I know how upsetting it can be to feel abandoned by your human.”

Since I couldn’t make her feel better, I decided to try instead to make me feel better and proceeded down the hill and into downtown, making a sharp left at the second intersection, pitter-patting across the street and walking boldly into the ice cream store.

My friend Amanda had the counter alone that night, while Eric the ice cream maker worked in the back. Elevated Ice Cream is the best place in town for a nocturnal critter like me, since they are open till 10 to accommodate people who come in to get goodies after the movies and ball games.

Even so, on weeknights when there is no game at Memorial Field, the town is mostly quiet as the evening rolls on. You can hear the bugs buzzing the streetlights. They would be in real trouble if cats could fly! A few people still wandered the sidewalks, but not a soul sat in the red plastic booths opposite the freezers full of cooling flavors or the patio chairs set around little tables in the back.

Nevertheless, I was not allowed to remain on the premises. Amanda and I had worked out a deal. I meowed to let her know I was ready to be served. She came around the counter and knelt down to give me a couple of pets, held my face in her hands and looked into my eyes, “Your usual,  sir?”

“Meow,” I said, affirmatively.
Back to The Tour Bus of Doom



I wrote this story for Werewolves, an anthology edited by Jane Yolen. I was attending the University of Alaska Fairbanks at the time, as you can probably tell from the content. Later in the book is another story that was published under a very similar title so I kept the title for this one and changed the title of the other one.

“Come in, Ms.—um—Garou,” Professor Forrest said, checking the name on his appointment calendar. “Have a seat. I could have left your paper with the secretary, but she said something about you wanting to talk about your future.”

“Right!” the girl said as she bounded in and pounced on an unsuspecting chair. “I’ve wanted desperately to talk to you about it for just the longest time. And, oh yeah, of course, I want to talk to you about my paper, too.” She shot him a sly look. Her brown eyes looked like dark holes in her fair-skinned face. Her eyelashes and brows were both almost white, lending her an expression of bald astonishment.

He was somewhat taken aback. She seemed insufficiently nervous about her term paper, which was the one and only basis for her grade. And he didn’t remember her as being one of his brighter students, the sort who had nothing to worry about. In fact, he barely remembered her at all. But then, his classes were large and full and his memory for two-footed vertebrates was not as keen as it was for the four-footed variety. Still, those startling white braids should have caught his eye at some point.

“Ms. Garou, perhaps you’ll refresh my memory. Which of my classes did you attend?”

“Life Cycle of the Wolf,” she said. “I was there the first two classes and got the assignment and when I saw it, I rushed right out and started my research. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Professor Forrest. You’re supposed to be the best furbearer biologist in the state of Alaska. And I just have to be the very best wolf biologist there ever was.”

This last announcement was accompanied by a rise in the pitch of her voice that elevated it to an irritating whine. “I sort of figure you could be, like, my sponsor.”

“That’s what you figure, is it?” Forrest really had no time for this, not now. He had already put in a long day and was ready for his Christmas vacation. He was not spending this one in the field as he had found necessary to do early in his career. No, this Christmas he would be studying on the beaches of Hawaii, where he would forget the cold (25 below zero!), the darkness (it was scarcely four p.m. but already the full moon was the only illumination in a pitch-dark sky and he would have a long, cold, dark walk to his car on lower campus), the University of Alaska, and students like this girl.

The biology department was full of earnest young persons who lived in wood-heated, waterless cabins on the outskirts of town. Like this one, they all dressed like lumberjacks and smelled like forest fires.

As he shuffled through his stack of unclaimed papers, the girl pulled off her ratty, duct-tape-patched parka with the matted fake fur ruff. Sparks of static electricity jumped between it and the chair. Underneath, she wore overalls over a multi-colored wool sweater that spoke less of good taste than Goodwill. Her blue and white stocking cap remained pulled tightly over the tops of her ears, covering her brow and making her long, plain face look even longer. A blonde, yes, but hardly a glamorous one, he thought. A bit of a dog, really.

He wasn’t finding the paper. “What—uh—what makes you so interested in our department and in wolves particularly, Ms.—?” he asked, stalling while he continued to hunt.

“Just call me Lucy, sir. I guess you could say my whole family has always been into wolves. Why, I remember even when I was little, Mama couldn’t bear to read me fairy tales without changing the endings. The other youngsters used to think I was strange when I’d do book reports about ‘Little Red Riding Hood and the Big, Beautiful Wolf.’”

Back to Shifty

The Dragon, the Witch, and the Railroad

Chapter 20

“Be still, lady, and be quiet. Screaming won’t do you any good, you know, and it is annoying.” The man sounded exasperated. She didn't recognize him from the train so perhaps he came from above the avalanche. Now he tested the knot with which he had bound her arms. What did he have to be cross about? She was the one who’d been abducted!!

“So is being tied to a stake!” she bellowed at him. “I’ll stop screaming when you untie me and take me back to the train!”

“Train is gone now,” the man said. Although the sack had been removed from her head, she couldn’t tell what he looked like because his coat and hood covered most of him and the hood’s ruff, his hair, beard, mustache, and eyebrows were iced over. He'd stood a bit behind her when they watched the dragons working so she hadn't seen him clearly then. Of course, there didn't appear to be any help coming who would require a clear description of her attacker so it probably didn't matter.

“It can’t have,” she said hoarsely. Screaming against the wind was hard on the voice. “My aunt wouldn’t let them leave without me.”

It wasn’t a lie, of course, but she did have doubts. Ephemera could still be napping with her shells in her ears. She might not have realized Verity was missing until the train was well on its way. But Verity was unclear about how much time had passed since she'd been taken—it couldn’t have been long, surely? Maybe he was lying about the train leaving. She screamed again, loudly enough that surely if Ephemera had missed her she would hear and pull the cord to the emergency brake.

“My apologies,” the man said. “I am sorry about this, truly. You seem like nice girl, but Dragon Vitia is demanding sacrifice and is best if it is no one we know. Besides, Queenston man paid plenty for avalanche to stop train and you to be taken for Dragon Vitia. It worked out neat for everyone. Man needs girl gone and dragon needs girl. Elegant solution to problem. Is nothing personal."

"That is absolutely not true!" she yelled. "Being consumed by a dragon will be very personal to me!"

"Maybe she not eat you—or not much of you. Villagers say she only do this sometimes—many years in between. They give her sheep, cows, but sometimes she lets them know, she wants girl, too. Maybe she will save you for later. Maybe she needs virgin and you not virgin?"

"I won't dignify that with a response!" she snapped.

"Maybe if not, she doesn't eat you. Nobody speaks of her spitting anyone out once she takes them, though." He looked up, said, "She comes. I go, now. Rest in peace, you."

He ran off, galumphing in snowshoes at a surprisingly rapid pace.

Other snowshoe tracks surrounding her marred the snow’s pristine surface. A detached part of her wondered, if she was supposed to be sacrificed, why hadn’t someone stuck around to do properly whatever they were supposed to do, sacrificially speaking? If they were going to make her a ritual sacrifice, they ought to at least have the grace to see to it that the ritual was performed properly, oughtn't they??

An ear-splitting shriek accompanied by a whole orchestra of drums, “boom, boom, boom,” was followed by a gale, carrying the stench of rotten eggs.

Her captor continued to bound like a bunny, as far from her as he could go.

Very well, she thought, if her fate was decided she might as well face her doom. She gasped, only partly in fear. The creature was magnificent. Not a sooty drudge like Auld Smelt or the locomotive’s beasts. The moon reflected off the snow and glinted against the monstrous wings. The wingspread must have been as wide as one of the train’s cars was long.

It zoomed in, circling her stake, and held her gaze with its enormous golden eyes, each bearing a black pit in its center.

That was probably fortunate since otherwise she might have fixated on its big yellow teeth and the fangs with the puffs of smoke billowing from between them. She couldn’t recall if wild dragons, the old time ones before they were all properly tamed, were said to cook their meals before they ate them or not. Either way, getting eaten by one was bound to hurt a lot.

Although she was sure she was still screaming, she could no longer hear herself. She heard nothing but the “whup-boom-whup-boom,” of gigantic wings as the dragon continued to circle. The wind from the flapping blew her hood back.

Then, in a heart-stopping moment, the dragon swooped down so close its scales grazed her face as its great jaws clamped shut...on the stake. Which it grabbed and pulled out of the ground, with her attached.

Wonderful, she thought. I’m to be toasted like a marshmallow on a stick.

But not yet. First the stake was hoisted aloft, and whereas before she had struggled to loosen her bonds from the stake, now she clung to it.

Suddenly the dragon dropped her. Her heart and body parted company for the eternity between the time the beast released the stake from its teeth and when it caught it in its great claws.

The dragon’s claws wrapped completely around her, stake and all. The beast was so huge she could not see from one wing tip to the other without shifting her gaze. Palaces are that big, not animals. Or so she had believed.

Behind her, down the hill, were the train tracks, and on the cliff top below her was a castle, a village, some pastures, and farmsteads. But coming closer with every boom of the dragon’s wings was a cratered mountain, a cone with the top bitten off.

Sheep and cattle, out for a quiet graze, scattered as the dragon soared over them. Pigs squealed in their pens. Verity could empathize completely.

The dragon, attracted by the squeals, swooped. Suddenly a blast furnace erupted in front of Verity's face, the heat searing her closed eyelids. When she opened her eyes again, surprised that she could, she saw two charbroiled pigs’ heads bobbing between the dragon’s front teeth.

Were the pigs a mere snack??

Apparently so, for the great beast casually climbed higher while still carrying the cooking pigs in the oven of its mouth. Its breath now smelled more like bacon than rotten eggs.

The rolling fields dropped away and the sheer rocky face of a mountain rose up before her. The dragon flapped her great wings up and down, up and down, and with each flap she scaled another vertical mile of mountain.

Verity concentrated on refraining from regurgitating, a perfectly natural thing to do with hard claws wrapped around her middle as she imagined her gruesome death, all the while shooting straight up the side of a volcano. She knew from her geographical studies that conical mountains with hollow bits at the top were almost always volcanoes. The way her luck had been lately, this one was no doubt active. A heavily seamed rock face relieved only by narrow outcroppings fell away beneath them as the dragon climbed. Verity caught glimpses of what certainly looked like human skulls and bones sticking out of the crevices in the cliff face. These could have been the bones of previous sacrifices, disposed of by the dragon after it had picked them clean.

The dragon realigned its flight to a horizontal plane in a nauseating change of direction, then glided into a broad grassy bowl. Cattle and sheep had been grazing there but stampeded in every direction, although there was nowhere for them to go. The sides of the scooped out mountaintop were far too steep.

A small lake in the center of the crater mirrored the cold white sky. The dragon flew over it, to the far side of the bowl. Toward the top was a small black hole far too small for any part of the dragon to enter, but when the dragon was upon it, it turned out to be much larger than it had appeared. The dragon drew in its wings and plunged straight down into darkness that its flame suddenly exposed as rippling black rock.

Verity got sick then, all over herself and the dragon’s claws. Fortunately, her captors had not gagged her.

The dragon dropped her and she fell...for about two feet. The stake dug into her back. The impact of landing loosened her ropes, and it took only a tug at her bonds and she was free! Free to be eaten at last. The dragon exhaled a brief flame and in it she saw once more the great beast’s eyes, sly, assessing, no doubt trying to figure out which parts of her were the best cuts, although that hadn’t concerned it with the poor pigs.

Verity closed her eyes and made fists of her palms, hoping the beast would kill her with one blast of flame so she wouldn’t feel its teeth.

Whup. Whup. Whup. She opened her eyes. The dragon was gone. That dragon anyway. As the whupping died away, high-pitched screeches replaced it. Twin flames, one on each side of her, zipped past as scaly bodies cannoned into her, ricocheted off the walls and turned around to do it again.

So, she thought, the dragon didn’t want her for itself—or probably, herself. She must figure a human woman would make good baby food—no tough hide or fur to worry about, though one good thing about this particular sacrificial rite, at least, was that it allowed the victim be offered wearing their cold weather gear rather than, for instance, being naked, which would have been not only embarrassing but extremely chilly.

By the gas-lamp sized flames sputtering out of the mouths of the dragon babies, she saw that the floor was littered with rounded pale slabs of something that resembled very thin broken china. These, she conjectured, were the shells in which the young dragons had arrived in this world. There were other plate like objects lying around too, but she was too busy fending off dragon assaults to identify them.

Dodging a pass at her head, she stepped sideways. One of the dragonets flew past and its flame illuminated a dark abyss on the far side of her left boot. She pulled her foot back and wind milled her arms to drive back the dragons while she flung herself at the nearest cave wall.

Huddling there, she tucked her face into her knees and wrapped her arms around them.

Screeching drilled into her ears as dragon bodies butted her from both sides. Hot flames singed her skin. Her sleeve caught fire followed by her hood. However, from working with her Papa, she was used to fires and burns and knew how to deal with them. She slapped out the flames and rolled sideways on the cave floor. “Go away, you little horrors!” she commanded—shrieked, actually. She had quite a good shriek.

When she raised her head again, the twin flames showed the dragonets had turned their backs on her and were tearing into a carcass that lay next to the opposite wall, a calf from the look of it. It didn’t smell too ripe so she thought the dragon must have brought it for them before fetching her. So if she was not food why, other than to be driven mad by these little attack-torches, was she there??

And when was the mother dragon returning to finish her off??

The young dragons gobbled down the calf and started lapping at a wall in the far corner. By the dragon light, Verity saw water glittering in a fan-shaped pattern against the stone, a little indoor fountain.

She rose as the dragonets turned toward her. They were not yet actually flying, as their mother did. They were simply bouncing off the walls like most small children. She had gradually become convinced that she was not an item on their menu—for the time being. Plenty of cow remained from what she could see.

When their bellies were full, they returned to examine Verity. They clawed at her legs, not to rake but simply to command her attention. She reached down very carefully and patted one on the head. It butted its skull into the palm of her hand.

“Nice dragon,” she told it. “Lovely, gentle, kindly dragon, aren’t you? Yes, you are!” It hiccoughed in surprise and caught her hair on fire again, but she was convinced it was awkwardness, not malice.

She tried to pat out the fire with one mitten and to distract the dragons, lobbed a bit of shell over the edge of the abyss. “Catch!” she cried, running to stick her stinking sizzling hair under the water running down the wall. It flowed into a little basin and fortunately that was deep enough to dunk all of the burnt bits.

She was going to have to find a way to protect herself before the little monsters killed her accidentally, if not on purpose.

A terrible squawking and whining issued from behind her and she turned to see both dragons with their little wings unfurled and their feet right on the edge of the ledge, looking down into the depths of the cave. They wanted to chase the fragment of shell, but she had sent it where they couldn’t go. Fledglings, they were not yet ready to fly. Surely the adult dragon didn’t intend that she teach them to do so??

“No matter, little horrors,” she told them, scooping up another bit from the floor. It seemed to be scale rather than shell. This time she threw it toward the entrance tunnel. Both of them darted to it and struggled to claim it.

She threw another one, a little closer and they both pounced on it. It seemed hours that she played fetch with them, until her arms were aching and her back was burning with pain.

“Very well,” she said at last. “If you’re going to eat me, now would be the time. I’m too tired to do this anymore.

Followed by more squawking and whining, she collapsed near the water basin, removed her mitten, scooped a handful of the cold water and drank. It had a very strange flavor, no doubt from the minerals in the wall, but it seemed pure enough. Besides, she doubted she would live long enough to die from poisoned water.

The flames of the young dragons traced dizzying circles while they darted about a few more times, then they too came to the fountain and rested beside it, wings folded, heads tilted questioningly as if to say, “Now what are you going to do, you strange excuse for a meal?”

One of them belched up a flame that came perilously close to her nose. She clapped her hands, and said, “Stop that!” using the same tone with which she had once admonished the kitchen cat’s boisterous kittens, the watchdog’s puppies, or her horse when he tried to stand on her foot or brush her off on a tree. The dragonet swallowed its flame at once and looked up at her from under surprisingly long curly eyelashes. Adorable, if one liked that sort of thing. And rather pathetic. Perhaps the mother dragon wasn’t very maternal. She seemed to have dropped off the snack and left the little ones on their own.

“You must be sleepy,” Verity said aloud, but very soothingly. It wasn’t a lie. It was a prayer. She was tired and hungry and the flame-seared cow had begun to smell edible, if not exactly appetizing.

The little dragons’ eyes were slightly less bright than their flames. Maybe if they liked her, as something other than a menu item, when their mother returned, she would refrain from eating their new playmate. They folded their wings and settled down on either side of Verity.

She wondered where their mother had gone and when she was coming back. Evidently, they required her to do something, and they did not seem to require her to cut their mangled cow up into smaller pieces.

Perhaps a lullaby was in order? Under normal circumstances she had a pleasant enough voice, but some animals liked singing and some didn’t and actually, she couldn’t remember any lullabies, which tended to consist of the minutes of various public meetings and bits of official legislature set by long-ago minstrels to snore-inducing tunes. The dirge from her father’s funeral was freshest in her mind, but she was afraid it might convey the wrong idea to her hosts. She hummed and sang snatches from Madame Louisa's cabaret show, which were jolly and bouncy but effective.

As she sang, Verity's eyes became adjusted to the dimness and she realized that the cavern was not quite as dark as she had first thought, but glowed with a slightly greenish light. Aha! Bioluminescence. In a less—er—enlightened—time, they no doubt had deemed it magic, but she knew it to be a natural phenomena, caused by little plants growing on the walls, unless in this case it was the chemical interaction of certain minerals? Her papa had explained it to her, but there was more than one type. She never realized it cast so many different colors of light, however. It was sparkly without the need to reflect sunlight to make it so.

The dragon’s children were asleep, but Verity was more alert than ever, inspecting her surroundings. The interior—if one could call a space with a thousand foot drop off on one side an interior—of the little ledge was wildly disordered and full of bone fragments and other things she had not wished to consider before, even had she had the time. From the reaction of the fledglings when she threw the shell over the edge, there seemed to be no way down from their perch other than jumping, so she tried not to think about it and examined her more immediate surroundings.

Other humans had been there before her, as she could see by what seemed to be drawings on the walls, though she could not see them well in the dim light. From the shell fragments littering the floor and some other, darker, flatter plates of material, she guessed that there had been previous litters of dragonets as well. Something poked her hip and she cautiously tilted to one side and pulled it out from under her, careful not to disturb the dragon baby whose head was resting against her arm. The dragonets obligingly shifted so they were leaning on each other instead of her. She stood, very cautiously. Her muscles were cramped from sitting so long. She was sleepy, hungry, and thirsty, but the cow was not as tempting as it had been. Scooping her hand in the little basin, she sucked up more of the water.

The article she had pulled from under her was a piece of greenish-brown (though it is difficult to see precise shades and tints of color without sufficient light) scale too large to have belonged to either of the small dragons.

It was as big as a platter and if she could rig a handle in the back, she might be able to use it as a shield, to protect herself from the fires of her ledge-mates. Dragon scale had to be fire-proof, didn’t it? The scale didn’t seem as big as the ones on the mother dragon so she imagined it probably belonged to an older and larger brother or sister dragon from another clutch. She devoutly hoped he or she wasn’t off at dragon school and would not want to come home to the cave for an after-school snack—her—any time soon.

The young dragons were rather sweet in a terrifying sort of way, but she had to leave. Going down the way she came up was out of the question, but perhaps she could go further up on the crater’s edge at another point and then go down—more gradually??

The possibility bore further exploration.

The entrance to the passage from the crater was open. Fresh air and a spot of sunlight or even a snowy night would be refreshing at any rate.

Verity was quite sure that if anyone were going to rescue her, it would be her. She couldn’t expect much help from an elderly aunt and a train full of strangers and nobody else would know until the train reached civilization again, would they? Civilization could be defined in this sense as being somewhere that the locals did not tie other people to stakes and wait for dragons to carry them off.

The tube-like passage was steep, but climbable. It was an old lava tube, left in the mountain from the days when the volcano was active. She'd read about them in geology texts.

The floor of the passage was quite slick, but fortunately her moose hide soled boots were made for walking on the dry Argonian snow, and were not at all slippery. It took much longer to climb up it than it had to be carried down it, however. But at last, and it seemed that it had been weeks instead of only hours, she stood at the entrance, reveling in the open airr

The sky had darkened to steely gray with dirty clouds lurking on incredibly vast horizons. Almost at her feet, the lake spanned much of the crater’s bottom. It seemed even bigger now than it did when the dragon soared over it.

She needed to see what lay under the lip of the crater where it dipped to its lowest point. The walk was much farther than it had looked, but there appeared to be a path along the side of the bowl, skirting the lake. That made sense. Unless the dragon had hauled each and every cow and sheep up the mountain, someone had to drive them up, which meant they needed to climb back down again—probably very quickly.

But looking down the side of the mountain, she saw only the impossibly steep drop into the valley below she had seen when the dragon flew up. It was far too sheer for her to climb, especially without equipment. No wonder the passage from the dragon nursery to the outside had been so easy. It wasn’t as if she would be able to go anywhere from the only outside area she could reach.

The path dwindled to nothing near the crater’s lip. Who had put it there? Surely not the dragon. Unless she’d made the path to give her babies easier access to the herd, which might mean she wasn’t returning to help them.

Loathe to return underground and resume being a living target for ballistic young dragons, Verity walked along the shore of the lake until the sky grew darker and it began to snow. She might not find her way back to the cave. She might die of exposure. If only there were some way to signal any possible airships flying overhead, a vain hope. The dragon could have swatted one out of the sky with her tail. Airship dragons, any tame working dragon, would be no match for her. If the area were devoid of air traffic, a signal fire would be futile. It would attract only the attention of the savage villagers who’d staked Verity out to begin with. They’d probably take a signal fire for the dragon’s flame as the beast barbecued her.

Nearing the cave mouth once more, she spied a flash of something that caught the last rays of the setting sun shining off the lake.

A rustling noise issued from inside the cavern’s passage. The dragonets squealed up the long passageway and crowded around her. They seemed to have missed her.

Then they saw the cows and sheep. She was glad it was getting dark so she need not witness the details, but in the end, she had to find a stone to finish off the sheep the dragons had managed to wound the worst. She hated it, but she couldn’t bear to watch the poor animal suffer any longer. The dragonets were messy killers. She hoped even more fervently that they were now her friends. At least they had not seriously attempted to kill her. Yet.

So she dragged the sheep up to the cavern entrance and down the corridor, hindered by the eager “assistance” of the dragonets.

The last thing she wanted was for the mother dragon to return, but honestly, what could the creature be thinking, flying off like that and leaving her babies to fend for themselves when they were obviously so bad at it?

Back to The Dragon, the Witch, and the Railroad

The Redundant Dragons

Chapter 1: Dragons At Large

The controversial new queen watched from the battlements as the former drone dragons made their presumably joyous exodus from their workplace dungeons. More than one blinked nervously, poking its head out to look up and down the city streets. Then, claw by claw, each slunk out of its industrial den, abandoning the familiarity of the only home it had known for many years, if not its entire life.

‘Hooray, the dragons are free at last!’ thought the truth-and-justice side of Queen Verity, followed by the more realistic thought. ‘Oh dear, the dragons are free. Now what?’

Malady Hyde, the queen’s personal assistant, her predatory eye keen for signs of weakness in her monarch, swooped in to stand beside her. The crumbling gray stone of the castle’s jagged roof had recently been reinforced with a lacework of wrought iron studded at intervals with the latest distant-viewing apparatuses.

“Just look at what you’ve done now!” Malady said. “Liberating dragons is all very well, but the next question is who will liberate us from the tyranny of dragons once they figure out that without the kibble, they have the upper claw.”

Malady was a stranger to truth as Verity knew it, which made their relationship even more antagonistic than it would have been solely because of their differing worldviews, but in this case the queen very much feared that Malady had a point.

Verity had a feeling that the rest of the population of Queenston, whom she supposed she ought to think of as her subjects, were less than enthusiastic about the turn events had taken since she was recognized as the first royal to reign in four generations. Her feeling, as usual, was not wrong.

Verity knew she wasn’t good at queening. Her mother had assumed that Verity’s ability to tell the truth and be able to detect lies would be an asset in a leader. In fact, it made it almost impossible. The problem was that in politics, everyone was lying, all the time, in such tangled webs of interwoven falsehood that she couldn’t say who was being untruthful about what since it all gave her an unbearable, raging headache. The pain had never been so bad in her life. Malady, appointed her assistant by the same troublesome mother who had appointed Verity queen, kept going to court in her stead, since lies were her native tongue.

In the politics of dragons, however, Malady was missing something. The dragons were no longer dependent on the kibble, but neither would they have anything else to eat for very long. The wild game was already much depleted in a matter of a few days, and the head of the Cattleperson’s Association had begun complaining of livestock predation. “It’s not like we’re made of coos,” were his exact words.

When Verity consulted dragon-wrangler Toby, and his dragon Taz about the matter, Taz flew off and conferred with some of the other dragons.

“They say that’s too bad,” Taz relayed via Toby. “But the humans made their living on dragon backs for long enough and it’s no good complaining now that the tables are turned.”

“Well, yes,” Verity said. “I’d be the first to agree, except that humans have to eat, too, if they are to raise food for dragons. If dragons take whatever they like whenever, everyone will be starving very soon. I begin to appreciate the genius of the kibble.”

Meanwhile dragons darkened the skies and crowded the streets. Actually, just one good-sized dragon was enough to crowd almost any street. Dragons lurked atop every building, like so much menacing architecture. Fire strobed overhead from dragons whose jobs had dictated timed releases of flame. Now that they were free, they couldn’t quite kick the habit of firing according to their old schedules.

Horatio and Myrtle

“Why don’t they go back where they came from?” complained Horatio the Hair, the Queenstreet barber, casting a glance of indignation not untinged with fear over his shoulder as he entered his shop. A grayish drake the size of a coach met his eye with a glare from a baleful yellow one.

“I’m afraid that’s exactly what they’re doing, but perhaps you’d like to be the first to suggest it to them?” his wife Myrtle, replied.

“The government should be doing something about this,” he said.

“Perhaps that new lass, whatsername, the queen, will sort it out,” Myrtle said soothingly.

He snorted. “From what I hear, she’s to blame.”

Her Majesty’s Disability

Verity was of the same opinion. She was indeed to blame for the dragon situation. Toby, the dragon-wrangler, and his scaly partner, Taz, had instigated most of what he called a strike on the part of dragons suing for better food and working conditions. Even prior to that, they had, perhaps rather impulsively, destroyed most of the kibble formerly used to control the dragons through their diet, and disrupted the breeding program.

Verity’s mother, who had missed being queen by a hundred years or so before insisting that the burden of the crown become Verity’s, had also been responsible. But it was the queen’s job to take the blame for unfortunate ramifications of events she set in motion. Someone better at the job could have made the consequences look like part of a plan. Verity not only lacked the talent for such pretense, but was constitutionally incapable of it, due to her curse.

Once her mother had forced everyone who was anyone in Queenston to acknowledge and honor the royal succession, she’d disappeared, off traveling, even time traveling, although Verity had not a clue what that actually involved, It had to be a real thing, or her curse would have let her know.

Nor was her father any help. Since his near-fatal accident, he had undergone a radical transformation involving a fish tail and a musical career, and thus far did not seem to remember who she was.

Her mother’s old traveling companion, the family solicitor, N. Tod Belgaire, was out of the city supposedly locating an old history teacher to tutor Verity in the ways of royalty. The country hadn’t had one since her grandmother, Queen Bronwyn, sat upon the throne at the beginning of the Great War. Since that time, Argonia had become a commercial client nation of neighboring Frostingdung. Verity’s return to the throne was supposed to break the chains of Frostingdung’s economic hegemony over her land. The breaking of those chains, both real and metaphorical, was to begin with those that bound the dragons to industrial servitude.

It was a good plan, but she had failed to foresee that the solution to that problem could create many other, possibly worse ones.

Her views were not undisputedly popular and received no validation from anyone, least of all the Crown Council, particularly the members who had owned interests in kibble production.

“I do not know what to do,” she confided finally to absolutely the worst person possible, Malady Hyde.

“Of course, you don’t, you idiot, um, Your Majesty. You have no aptitude for this any more than you did for needlepoint when we took Introduction to Ladycraft at school.”

Verity still had no idea what she had ever done to her mother, absent for the best part of her life, that her un-maternal maternal parent would foist Malady on her as an advisor.

“You don’t think she’ll give me good advice, surely?” she’d challenged her mother before they parted.

“No, but you’ll know the difference and can just do the opposite from what she advises. I have my reasons.”

That made sense, up to a point, but although she had never been wounded badly enough to know how it felt having salt poured into a wound, she suspected it must have been much like she felt about Malady.

The worst of it was, the advisers and nobles all listened to whatever Malady said and in general seemed to get on with her in a way they did not get on with their queen.

Verity’s initial meeting with them had made that abundantly clear.

Back to The Redundant Dragons

Scarborough Fair


Once upon a time in a beautiful city by the edge of the sea there toiled a young woman who did not believe in fairy tales. Fairy tales, she said, had no relevance to her life and none to the lives of the children she knew. She and the children she knew inhabited another realm altogether. “More like a soap opera,” she explained. “You know, boy meets girl, boy and girl have children, girl quits job to raise children, boy loses job, boy loses girl, girl meets second boy, second boy abuses girl’s children by previous marriage, children abuse themselves and their children unhappily ever after.”

“You don’t believe in happy endings, then?” a friend asked.

“No, I believe in happy moments,” she replied, for she was even wiser than she was beautiful. Much wiser, as a matter of fact. “Which is why I love to come in here.” Her gesture took in the interior of the shop, a place filled with rhinestone tiaras, Himalayan silver rings and silk kimonos, Indian saris sewn with golden thread and brilliantly colored gauzy Arabian thwabs. Not to mention the Victorian and Edwardian antique paisley shawls and velvet smoking jackets, the bustled skirts and flounced nightdresses that were the import stock making Fortunate Finery the most intriguing shop in Pike Place Market and by far the best vintage clothing shop in all of Seattle. “That white ruffled skirt is absolutely gorgeous. I don’t suppose it’s a fourteen, is it?”

“I thought you didn’t believe in fantasy,” chided her friend, who was the proprietress of the fabulous establishment where the young woman liked to spend her lunch hours and much of what she laughingly described as her disposable income. “It’s a three.”

The young woman sighed and turned her attention to an ebony Chinese shawl embroidered with peacocks in emerald, cerulean, aquamarine and gilt threads. She draped it across her upper body and admired her reflection in the mirror. The greens in the shawl made her eyes look emerald instead of merely hazel, and the black brought out the reddish glints in her curly dark brown hair. By no stretch of the imagination did she look like a Chinese empress, but with her dimples and clean-scrubbed, open, heart-shaped face, she could have passed for a character in a Victorian novel. Not the tragic governess. The good-hearted cook maybe, or the nice, but slightly boring, well-off school chum of the heroine.

“Oh, no, I never said that,” she replied, reluctantly replacing the shawl around the shoulders of the mannequin. “Fantasies are essential. Escape is essential, or life would be unbearable. It’s when you start believing in your fantasies that you run into trouble.”

“Did you learn that in school?” her friend asked.

“No. In school they taught us that we would be able to make a difference. They tried to inspire us with the notion that by helping a single junkie, prostitute or wino we would make Seattle a better city and the world a better place to live in. To the best of my knowledge, that’s a fairy tale.”

“Had a hard day, have we, Rosie?” the friend asked.

“I’ve had a hard day ever since the new governor took office, cleaned house in the administration and implemented her idiotic idea of a budget. So has everybody else working in the social sector. Our staff has been cut by half, our budget is down to zero and our new supervisor is a complete idiot. Of course, we’re not suffering half as badly as the clients, except that they’re quite used to suffering and if we don’t watch out, we’re going to be competing with them for street turf and cardboard condos.”

“Oh, my, you are down. Here, have a chocolate. They’re Dilettante.” She referred to Seattle’s premier gourmet chocolatier. She always kept a dish handy for her customers and her other guests, among them the panhandlers who brought her their pets to board when they had to go to hospitals or treatment programs—or got itchy feet. The city of Seattle would allow stray people to wander the streets, but animals found doing the same would be taken to the pound where they, unlike the people, would be fed and housed for a few days before being euthanized, if not claimed. Rosalie Samson had first met Linden Hoff because of the street pet shelter, back when Fortunate Finery was between Pioneer Square and the International District. Linden treated customers, street people and pets pretty much the same, and everybody was welcome to a bit of chocolate.

“I know, Linden,” Rosie said, taking a bite from a truffle. “They always are.” She sighed, half with resignation, half with bliss, as the truffle touched her tongue. “I should be jogging or walking or weight training on my lunch hour,” she added after demolishing the morsel. “It would be much healthier, and less expensive.”

Linden Hoff, who had heard it all many times before, clucked at her and opened the door to the ugly-brown clad UPS lady, who hauled a dolly full of boxes into the tiny portion of the shop that wasn’t covered in racks of frilly, colorful, exotic, or merely amusing vintage clothes. “From England, Linden,” the UPS lady said. “Don’t sell everything before I get back, will you? Sign right here.”

“I’ll save you something special to make up for having to wear that godawful uniform, Lenore,” Rosie’s friend promised. As soon as Lenore and the dolly left, Linden pulled a box cutter from her pocket and went to work.
Back to Scarborough Fair

Song of Sorcery


If it hadn’t been for Maggie’s magic, the eggs would have tumbled from the basket and shattered when the panting barmaid careened into her. The automatic gathering spell barely had time, as it was, to snatch the eggs into the container before they were spilled back out again as the distraught young woman began tugging at Maggie’s sleeve.

“Come! Be quick now! Your old Granny’s at it again!”

“Be careful!” Maggie scrambled to keep her eggs from breaking, trying at the same time to snatch her sleeve from the girl’s grasp. “What do you mean?”

“Some poor young minstrel was singing a song, and just like that she starts ravin’ and rantin’ and changes him into a wee birdie, and commenced chasin’ him and callin’ on her great cat to come eat him up! Oooooh, I hears the cat now—do be quick!” This time she had no occasion to do further snatching at the sleeve, but slipped instead on the forgotten trail of egg mess left in Maggie’s wake as she galloped across the barnyard and through the tavern’s back door.

Wood clattered on stone and fist on flesh as the patrons of the tavern rudely competed for the front exit, tripping on overturned chairs and trampling table linens underfoot in their haste to be gone. Only three of the most dedicated customers remained at their table, placidly sipping their brew, watching the commotion with far less interest than they watched the level in their flagons.

Granny’s braid was switching faster than the tail of a cow swatting blowflies as she ran back and forth. She showed surprising agility for one of her age, and for all her leaping about was not too out of breath to utter a constant stream of hearty and imaginative curses. With the grace of a girl, she bounded over an upturned bench and then to the top of a table, whacking the rafter above it with furious blows of her broom.

“Come down from there this instant, you squawking horror, and take what’s coming to you!” Granny demanded, black eyes snapping, and body rocking with the fury of her attack. “Ching!” she hollered back over her shoulder. “Ching! Here, kitty. Come to breakfast!”

It was fortunate for the mockingbird that Maggie saw him dive under the table to escape the broom before the cat spotted him. Just as the cat gathered himself for a pounce on the low-flying bird, Maggie launched herself in a soaring leap and managed to catch the cat in mid-pounce, retaining her grip on him as they landed with a whoof just short of the table.

Struggling for the breath their abrupt landing knocked from her, Maggie clasped the cat tighter as he squirmed to escape. “Grandma, you stop that right now!” she panted with all the authority she could muster from her red-faced, spraddle-legged position on the floor.

“I will not!” the old lady snapped, taking another swing at the bird as it landed safely back in the rafter above the table. “No two-bit traveling tinhorn is going to gargle such filth in MY tavern about MY in-laws and get away with it.” She jumped down from the table, looking for another vantage point from which to launch her attack.

“Whoever he is, Gran, change him back,” Maggie insisted, setting the cat free now that the bird was out of reach on the rafter, quivering in its feathers at the slit-eyed looks it was receiving from both broom-wielding elderly matron and black-and-white-spotted cat.

The old lady glared at her granddaughter and primly adjusted her attire, tucking her braid back into its pin. “I most certainly will not.”

“You most certainly will,” Maggie insisted, noting with some consternation the set of her grandmother’s chin and the anthracite glitter of her eyes. “Grandma, whatever he’s done, it’s for Dad to dispense justice—it just isn’t the thing these days to go converting people into supper for one’s cat just because they displease one. What will the neighbors think of us? It isn’t respectable.”

The old lady made a rude noise. “As if I cared about that. But all
right, dear. Only wait until you hear what he did—wait ’til your father hears! That birdbrain will wish Ching had made a meal of him before Sir William’s done with him!”
Back to Song of Sorcery

The Godmother

Final Vows

At first he thought the candleflame above his ears was the white light he’d been chasing, trying to get within pouncing range. But now, as he pried his encrusted eyes open, he saw it was just a candle.

He lay there dazed, among the waxy smoke of candles and the tinkle of windchimes, a cool breeze rippling his matted, fever-soaked coat.

Hmm. He no longer felt too hot or too cold. Stiff though. He could barely sit up, his muscles were in such a rictus. He took a long horizontal stretch, avoiding the candles and keeping his tail well out of the way, then stood on his hind paws and stretched upward, batting with his front paws at the curling candle smoke before dropping again to all fours.

Wherever this was, it wouldn’t do to lose his self-respect, and he began setting in order his striped saffron coat, white paws and cravat with short, economical licks. He wrinkled his nose and lifted the outer edges of his mouth at his own smell. He had been to the vet. Dr. Tony and his wife Jeannette were lovely people and really knew how to pet a fellow, but their establishment reeked of antiseptic and medicine, and Mustard did not like medicine.

When he looked up from cleansing the underside of his tail, another cat sat there, a female, surgically celibate, as he was, clad all in black from nose to tailtip, ear points to claws. “Finally awake, are you, lazybones? About time. Come along now. It is high time you met The Master.”

“I do not have a master,” Mustard said. “My personal attendant is female.” He looked around him and considered the stone walls, the tiled floors without so much as a rug to warm the belly on, the ceiling so high birds tantalizingly flitter through the rafters, cheeping and leaving droppings on the floors and furniture. His home was a log cabin with his own private solarium (though his junior housemates had made free of it as he couldn’t always be bothered to run them off. Besides, they were bigger than he was, all except the kitten. She had been a rather sweet little thing who begged him for hunting stories and when he growled in annoyance, would flop purring beside him.). His house was set in a large yard with a strip of forest in the back where he caught many tasty adjuncts to his, the healthful but monotonous diet of low-ash kibbles his attendant provided. His last happy memory was of sitting at the picnic table being petted by his old friend Drew, who had stopped by to visit.

“Don’t look now, but we’re not in Kansas anymore, Red,” the black-robed female told him.

“My name is not Red, it is Mustard,” he said. “And I do not live in Kansas. I was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska but for the past ten years have resided in the state of Washington. It is warmer there and I may go outside and it is altogether more congenial. Are we there still?”

“Your questions will be answered at length,” she said. “When you’ve met The Master. And don’t fret about a little nicknaming. You’ll have to take a new one when you join the Order. I was formerly known as Jessie Jane Goodall, but now am known simply as Sister Paka, which is in the Black Swahili tongue the name of our kind.”

“Humph,” Mustard said. “Affected. I’ve fallen into some cult, haven’t I?”
She turned her new-moon dark tail to him and she waved it for him to follow. Since he wanted answers and had nothing better to do, he graciously obliged.

He was not, however, prepared for how weary he would be or how long the corridors were—miles and miles of them, stone walled or pillared, lined with trees and bushes—his favorites, roses. He was mortally shamed and self-disgusted to have to pause to rest from time to time on their journey, which felt more like a quest of many days’ length from the way it taxed his strength. Normally he was light and spry, even though well advanced in years for one of his kind. He considered himself merely seasoned, toughened, tempered, but today he felt every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year of his life.

He expected impatience and jeering from the so-called sister, but instead she simply squatted on her haunches, closed her eyes and wrapped her tail around her front paws until he pronounced himself ready to carry on once more.

At last they padded up a long, long flight of stairs, high into the rafters, by which time even the flitting birds could not hold the exhausted orange cat’s attention. The lady in black scratched at an enormous wooden door, partially open, and from within an unusually deep and sonorous voice, a voice like the rumbling growl of a big cat—the kind Mustard had once seen in a television movie—bade them enter. Mustard straightened his white cravat and remounted the three steps he had backed down upon first hearing that echoing tone.

Sister Paka pawed and pawed at the door but couldn’t get it to swing further open. Mustard meanwhile, had regained his breath, and with a deep sigh walked to the door, inserted first his nose, then his head, shoulders, and upper body, and walked in. She entered grandly behind him, tail waving, as if she always sent her messengers to announce her entrance. She bumped into Mustard’s behind immediately.

He could go no further straight forward, because a big hole took up most of the floor space, about an inch from his front paws. Hanging above the hole was a gigantic metal thing, a bell, as he recognized from the tinier versions he’d entertained himself with on various overly cute cat toys. That had to be why the so-called Master’s voice sounded so deep and sonorous—it was bouncing off this humongous piece of hollow iron. Cheap trick. Mustard repressed the urge to growl himself. That hole was so deep it made the sound of his breath and heartbeat echo back up to him. And the edge was very, very close.

Sister NL sat back on her haunches and swatted at his rump. “Kindly move forward, please. The Master must not be kept waiting. Do you think you’re the only soul he must counsel today?”

Back to The Godmother

Songs From the Seashell Archives

See the excerpts above for the books: Song of Sorcery; The Unicorn Creed; Bronwyn's Bane; The Christening Quest; The Dragon, The Witch, and The Railroad!
Back to Songs From the Seashell Archives