ONE TWENTY SEVEN
Silverheart’s light went out like a bonfire that had had a bucket of water thrown over it—there was even a burning smell. I let my aching arm drop; my mouth fell open of its own accord. Mr TS wrenched his horse away from Monster, standing up in his stirrups and shouting. I could guess that the rustling, hustling noises around me now were of the people I’d seen forming up . . . to do what? There was a somewhat similar shout and seethe on my left—Galinglud, perhaps, if Mr TS was Tulamaro.
But no one shouted at me. No one told me what to do. Nobody told me to follow them. The muted but urgent noises were leaving a little empty space around me. I didn’t know where Murac was and it seemed . . . unsuitable, somehow, to turn and look. What if he was right there, staring at me? What if he wasn’t? I put Silverheart carefully back into her scabbard and straightened my back. I knew what was supposed to happen: I could recognise a story reaching its climax when I saw it. I just wished I was seeing it the usual way: from a desk chair, staring at a computer screen, my hands clamped around a cup of tea, and my vocabulary having just run away to join the circus.
Only the faint vibration through the reins as he tongued his bit and a silky-rough lash across my bare legs when he swished his tail told me that Monster was maybe a trifle worried also. But he stood perfectly still, ears pricked. Adventurer’s horse. Warrior’s horse.
I wanted to say something funny or throw-away, like oops, or oh well. But I didn’t have the heart. I hate letting other people down. I’m still haunted by Norah’s second daughter’s tenth birthday, when I’d promised her a hot-off-the-press copy of ZOMBIE MACAROONS, published by the tiny indie house that occupied a corner of my then-publisher’s giganticonormous offices . . . and forgot. I got it to her the next day, but it’s not the same, is it? Especially when you’re ten.
It somehow wasn’t making it any better right now that I was pretty sure no one in my immediate vicinity was ten years old today.
Monster swished his tail again.
I was supposed to say something memorable and heroic, wasn’t I? But with my vocabulary cleaning up after the performing elephants nothing occurred to me. And my range of available quotations was limited. Even when you’re curled up in your own bed with Joe the Doorman on guard downstairs and the need for heroism is limited it’s noticeable that Tolkien is short of valiant women. ‘But no living man am I!’ drifted apologetically across my mind: Eowyn had never been a satisfactory heroine because of that whole seeking-death-because-of-unrequited-love thing to which I had had a strong ‘spare me’ reaction even at the age of eleven. “ ‘Beneath the Moon and under star/ she wandered far from northern strands, bewildered on enchanted ways/ beyond the days of mortal lands. . . .’ ”
‘Bewildered’ was certainly apropos.
I sat there, breathing, listening to my ragtag army lining up behind its useless Defender. I had one hand on Silverheart’s hilt, one hand pretending to hold Monster’s reins. I could feel the faint throb of my heartbeat in my throat, in my bare thighs against the saddle flaps, in the thin skin of my wrist and forearm inside Glosinda’s firm but gentle grasp. My heart didn’t seem to be beating nearly as panic-strickenly fast as it should be, I thought. Maybe it was tired of the whole ‘about to die’ situation. About to die did seem to be grinding on rather.
Let me go out trying.
There were quite a few figures marching through the Gate, toward us, by now. Some of them were on horseback. Or on something-back.
I pulled Silverheart out of her scabbard again, with a satisfying ringing noise. She understood her business: she flared up immediately, lighting the harsh ugly empty slope in front of us. The front ranks of the marching figures were disconcertingly outlined in gold, and I saw several swords drawn in answer, although none of them shone with their own light.
Let me go out trying.
“YAAAAAAAAAH!” I howled, wrapped my legs around as much of Monster’s barrel as I could reach and squeezed. Warrior’s horse, Defender’s horse: his rear end dropped and his hind legs drove us forward as if he was longing to plunge into battle. You don’t expect a horse his size to be able to sprint; the only reason I didn’t topple off the back end when he barrelled downhill toward the approaching troop was because I had a good handful of mane in my non-sword-holding hand. And, faintly through the drumming of my huge horse’s huge hooves, the wind in my ears and the banging of my own heartbeat, I heard a YAAAAAAAAH behind me, and the clamor of another company—of my company—sending its horses into a gallop.
I told you it had been reissued: http://robinmckinleysblog.com/2014/02/13/dont-i-keep-trying-to-reinstate-short-wednesdays/ Almost any of Peter’s books, if you mention it suddenly and catch me off guard I will probably say, Oh, that’s one of my favourites! But in Emma Tupper’s case I’m telling the truth.
Here’s a new review by its very own republisher: http://smallbeerpress.com/not-a-journal/2014/04/16/reading-like-its-1971/ *
I was already distressingly near to grown up by 1971 and wasn’t hanging out in kids’ book sections any more. I knew about Peter Dickinson, but I knew him for his rivetingly bizarre murder mysteries. It would take several more years and a job at the children’s division of Little, Brown (as it then was), for me to learn what I had been missing. L,B had the back catalogue of its colleague Atlantic Monthly Press on its shelves too . . . including Peter Dickinson’s kids’ books. Including Emma Tupper.
If you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for? You don’t have to be told a third time, do you?**
* * *
* I wish I’d grown up on a Scottish loch side. ^
^ I’m keeping the five years in Japan though.
** Makes a good gift too.
Didn’t get a lot of sleep last night—so what else is new—last night was however aggravated by shooting awake every time a hellcritter sighed or got up to scratch its bed into a more salubrious shape. Siiiiiigh. There have been no further outbreaks today . . . although the night is young* the current digestive miscreant, having eaten his dinner, looks pretty crashed out. . . . That sound you hear is me crossing my fingers till they squeak.
More baby plants showed up in the post today and the Winter Table is full. There hasn’t been a proper frost in town this month I think, but baby plants, having been intensively reared in massive great commercial greenhouses, are fragile little creatures and you can’t just whack them in potting-on pots and plonk them outdoors. You have to ‘harden them off’ as they say which in practise, since my greenhouse is full of stuff and I have no earthly room for a cold frame, means that if we’re having a run of chilly nights I have to bring them indoors every evening and back outdoors again every morning.** Arrrrgh.
So, where was I, in my not-very-good-mood way last night? Aside from the prospect of a lot of moving of plant trays back frelling indoors while trying not to trip over the hellterror***, there had been a certain supernumerary force to my rushing outdoors into the garden yesterday afternoon†, aside from the latest stack of baby-plant-containing cardboard boxes arriving in the post, which, yesterday, was pretty well an avalanche. ††
What is it with people.
I regularly receive requests via email for help with the frelling papers people are writing about me and/or my books.††† The vast, catastrophic, overwhelming majority of them ask me the same blasted questions‡ . . . most of which would be answered far beyond the scope of any seventh or eleventh grader’s term paper requirement‡‡ with only the most cursory glance at my web site, let alone doing a little diving via the ‘search’ facility or the ‘topics’ list on this blog. I’ve ranted this rant to you before—several times in fact—how can all these jokers even arrive at my public email address WITHOUT HAVING NOTICED THE SUGGESTIONS THAT THEY READ THE FAQ FIRST. OR THE GENTLE REMINDER THAT I’M, YOU KNOW, BUSY AND THAT ANSWERING QUESTIONS TAKES TIME. But they do. In their relentless marching regiments they do. Yesterday I received a follow up from someone who clearly thinks that saying please and thank you is enough. Reading the FAQ is not necessary. This person is capable of writing me a sheaf of long, complicated questions and putting a note in their diary to follow up . . . without ever looking at the FAQ. First contact in this case included a plug from the kid’s teacher,‡‡‡ telling me how wonderful the kid is—and this kid may very well be wonderful, but they nonetheless need to learn to do their homework—and how (the teacher continued) my thoughtful informed answers were going to help this student chart their course through college and into their chosen career of professional writer. PLEEEEEEEEEEZ. This follow up, unannotated by the teacher, generously offers to answer any questions I may have. . . . §
Standard caveat begins here: Of course I want people to read my books. I need people to buy my books so the hellpack and I can keep eating. And I love fan mail: I looooove it when some reader takes the time, speaking of time, to tell me that they enjoy my books. A really warm and/or clever and/or funny fan letter (or forum comment or Tweet or dreaded-Facebook post) makes my day, and sometimes my week. But I will never learn not to mind that a lot of people out there don’t recognise me as a human being essentially like themselves with a life—and, furthermore, inevitably limited expertise even in my professional domain—and behave accordingly.§§
Today I got a fresh request for help on a school project. This one addresses me as ‘Mrs McKinley’ so I don’t have to read any farther to know that this person hasn’t made any attempt to do their homework. . . .
* * *
* as I count young. But how can ‘one’ or ‘two’ or even ‘three’ not be young?^
^ Unless you’re a hamster.+
+ And you’re talking in years, not hours. A three-hour-old hamster is young. And one o’clock in the morning is MORNING and last night is dead. So—wait—‘the night is young’ has to start at like two o’clock in the afternoon. . . . Nights are never young . . . Hey, I’ve just invented a philosophy.#
# How did I get into this? And where’s the door?
** Given when I am staggering out of bed lately, they’re going to get distressingly etiolated if the nights don’t warm up soon so that I can leave them outdoors to greet the dawn and all those distasteful hours immediately following.
*** Who is very interested in people rushing back and forth in a purposeful way. Hellhounds know to crush themselves in the back of their crate and not stir till it’s all over.
† Well, I’d been outdoors kind of a lot already: it was such a glorious day I took both critter shifts^ on country walks which was self-indulgent but . . . fun.^^
^ A little old lady said to me yesterday, every time I see you you’re walking a different dog. There are only three, I said, but I mostly walk them in two shifts. Oh, said the little old lady, and I could watch the thought process in her expression: first she accepted the answer to this question that had been puzzling her and then, moving right along, this little old lady being a quick thinker, I could see the woman is mad dawning in her eyes.
^^ And since I won’t leave critters in a car because of the dog-theft problem, it’s also very time consuming.
†† Also aside from the fact that Outlook decided not to let me in yesterday afternoon. No. Won’t. And I don’t like your password any more either. Bite me. —ARRRRRRRRGH.
††† We’re already in trouble: the books are the books, they’re there, you don’t need me, and chances are very good that if you’re going in for literary criticism I’ll think your penetrating insights bear a strong family resemblance to mouldy root vegetables^, and you’ve got no business writing about me at all.^^
^ You know, really mouldy, when they’ve gone all squishy
^^ Yes, I read biographies. Your point would be?
‡ When’s the last time I got a blog post out of an interesting question from someone writing a paper on me? Exactly.^
^ Although the kid who wanted to know what it was like growing up with all those half-siblings made me blink a bit. I wonder who they thought they were writing about?
‡‡ And with luck will so derail under- or post-grad thesis topics that the students will decide to write about something else
‡‡‡ ie an adult with adult responsibilities. Plugs from teachers aren’t that uncommon, but they always depress me more.
§ The fact that this was the first email Outlook let through after Raphael told me how to make it behave was not destined to improve my attitude.
§§ You don’t walk up to a doctor at the supermarket and ask them to diagnose the rash on your leg. You don’t write a letter to a lawyer asking them what their daily schedule is and how and why it makes them a better lawyer. You don’t tell a blacksmith you want to borrow their tools because anyone can shoe a horse if they have the right hammer.
I had started a post about how much I loved gardens in the spring.
And then Darkness came and stared at me meaningfully.
Darkness has had diarrhoea—again—every day for the last four days.* It had been the sudden mid-afternoon eruption schedule: this afternoon’s eruption didn’t happen so I was stupid enough to think that was hopeful—since the hellhounds’ digestion has never made any sense, it’s always just living from one crap to the next. And then tonight we moved into the multiple-geysering-across-Hampshire-at-the-hurtle stage.
I’m not in a good mood.**
* * *
* After a nightmarish fortnight about a month ago with both the hellhounds streaming constantly . . . what the bleeding doodah happens in March: it was last March when everything went horribly, horribly wrong . . . I thought we had settled down again. No. No.
** Also: hysterical. I do need to be able to leave home for more than an hour at a time occasionally. Samaritans training begins next week, for example.
APOLOGIES. I have a lovely guest blog series waiting in the wings . . . which I managed not to send to Blogmom to set up in hangable form. ::Beats head against wall:: All right, it’s the day after KES: let’s catch up on a few comments. Whimper.
Okay, I would feel slightly abashed that my first question after this post has to do with Kes’s choice of sleepwear, but since it’s obviously an issue which intrudes quite frequently into her own thoughts I don’t feel too bad about asking:
Can we expect Kes* to make it a priority to adopt sleeping attire more appropriate for the occasional nocturnal interruption of sword-wielding, thing-hacking, horseback-riding adventure**?
No. She’s going to get home (finally) and TRY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY* HARD TO PRETEND THAT EVERYTHING IS BACK TO NORMAL AND NOTHING HAS CHANGED. Since you posted this question I’m pretty sure Kes has made some remarks about sleeping in black leather and Kevlar but she’s joking. She’s trying, somewhat urgently, to keep her spirits up in a situation rather designed to smash those suckers flat.
*Assuming that she makes it out of this alive and sane^
^This is a McKinley story, after all, and the Hellgoddess, while a lover of cliffhangers, nonetheless would never hang her heroine out to dry
Well, not for very long anyway. This is a McKinley story. I have every intention of bringing Kes safe home**, although she’s going to have to get used to the lack of normal and the disturbing existence of change. I don’t know if the bloodstain in the front room is permanent or not, but Kes is going to have a major problem with funny creaky-old-house noises, you know the kind that you and I say ‘mice’ or ‘hellcritters’ or ‘dream’ and put a pillow over our heads or turn the music up in response to? Kes won’t be able to. Or anyway she probably better not. . . .
**Kes might prefer the term “horror”
And she can start by learning to say ‘adventure’ rather than ‘horror’. Poor woman. I’m so with the hiding-under-the-bed impulse.
. . . the thing that I am MOST enjoying about Kes is that it’s episodic. I remember reading A Tale of Two Cities, my first Dickens, and wishing for that possibility to read something in installments. . . . given that I can, if I want to, read whole new books all in (roughly) one go — the 800-900 word nature of Kes is exciting. . . .
Are you too young to remember the . . . uh oh, this is not an easy google search so we’re going to have to rely on my memory. BAAAAAAAD. Well, when I was a young lass, ANALOG used to run serials. This would have been in the ‘60s, because I was introduced to both ANALOG and their serials by my First Boyfriend in junior high. And they made me crazy.*** I don’t know if ANALOG still runs them—I was just looking at the table of contents of the current issue†—and I don’t see anything that overtly says serial but that’s not definitive. And I can’t remember if F&SF did (or do) serials too? I can’t begin to keep up with my book TBR piles, I stopped subscribing to fiction mags decades ago, the idea of a steady, relentless additional few hundred pages arriving every month makes me cry, although I’m perfectly capable of buying or ordering several hundred more specific-book pages every month, and usually do. And if I’d been alive back when Dickens was publishing HOUSEHOLD WORDS I would totally have had a subscription.
. . . [Kes] doesn’t want her life to go High Forsoothly. YES. In spite of my fondness for fantasy and fae and all that . . . I don’t really believe any of it exists. And I do have a way deep-down fear that someday it will show up and prove me wrong.
I have a deep-down fear that it won’t show up and prove me . . . um . . . right? Although if it involves wielding a sword—which I know as little about as Kes does††—and riding to battle in my nightgown I’ll pass. So would Kes, of course, if she didn’t have a mean author jerking her around. I’m sitting here wondering what I can safely wish for, in terms of some manifestation of magic in this our real world, you know? Be careful what you wish for. Is there anything that is both undeniable and harmless?
I can totally understand the act of closing eyes to force reality to come back. . . . . But I’ve also dealt with GMs before, and I know full well that you never break in the middle of a mind-frelling (and/or battle) bit.
I’m really worrying about ‘GMs’. Gastric Mucosa? Grandiloquent Mayhems? Giant Metatarsals? Gorblimey Maelstroms?
Plus which, like TheWoobDog, I’m assuming this will not end with Kes a smear and Murac saying ‘Gah, wenches’
::falls down laughing::
or something of the sort.
I think ‘gah, wenches’ will do nicely.
I *am* worried about Sid. I’m getting close to pulling an entitled reader moment
Hee hee hee hee hee hee. Try it. Go on, try it. Hee hee hee.
and demanding to know where she is! Too many episodes without Sid!!!
Mwa hahahahahaha. Hint: there may be barking soon.
And that twisted strap thing? If Kes doesn’t fix it, it’ll turn into a nasty. I’ve been there, and I know.
While I am a partisan of Murac . . . I would like to point out that “A man who takes good care of his horse can’t be all bad.” is kind of a bad way to judge him. As a fantasy style mercenary his horse is his very close to his life, livelihood, and continued good health. Taking good care of his horse is an important business/survival practice and (possibly) has nothing to do with goodness or badness.
We-ell. Point taken, but I don’t think really effective partnerships between Person and Horse are made if the person solely looks at the horse as a means to an end. I don’t think the horse is going to put itself out for the person without some kind of, you know, relationship bond, even if the feeding regime and stable management are sound—which as a mercenary’s horse they won’t always be. So you have to be the kind of dude who can fulfill this charge. Which means you have some spark of positive emotional connectedness behind that leathery exterior. Whether or not this has any effect on your attitude toward other human beings is, however . . . unpredictable.
But I can understand how Kes is grasping at straws here after that “at least they’re not going to rape me” moment. (Although I think Flowerhair would not be undecided on the Good vs. Bad issue if Murac were a known rapist there still remains the unknown.)
If Flowerhair knew him to be a rapist she would (excuse me) have cut some salient bits off. But, you know, The McKinley Story thing can be relied on here too. If Murac were that kind of total scumbag, he wouldn’t be getting the air time. Remember that KES is for fun. I don’t say there won’t be some genuine thorough-going villains . . . but Murac isn’t one. Although personally I don’t want to invite him over for a cup of tea and a chat about world politics either.
Somehow the comment about Kes’ younger self “She might even have thought Murac was romantic in a ramshackle sort of way.” made me think of her as an Agatha Christie heroine momentarily.
Snork. Well, I read a lot of Agatha Christie in a very short space of time when I was young and impressionable. Possibly these things Will Out.
So, on another topic, tangential to Katsheare’s comment… I’ve been wondering if there’s a new kinship with serialized authors such as Alexandre Dumas (and others) developing?
Elizabeth Gaskell maybe. Or Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Or Frances Hodgson Burnett. Or George Eliot, if you will allow SCENES OF CLERICAL LIFE to count as serialised. Or as a novel.
TO BE CONTINUED. . . .
* * *
* Very to the ten to the whatsit power. Very to the max.
** And if the Story Council should be so indiscreet as to attempt to get in my way I will WHACK THEM.
*** So did he, but that’s another story.
† The internet really is amazing.
†† I took some fencing lessons, but with a modern sabre—nothing like the practical hacking-and-hewing items that Murac and his lot carry, or that Silverheart, for all her superior breeding, is also built for.