ONE FORTY FIVE
I didn’t see who led Monster up to me this time because I was busy panicking. Yes, I had survived my introduction to up-close-and-personal, the-bad-guys-really-will-kill-you-if-they-can battle, and I’d survived it wearing nothing but a nightgown, but I’d gone into it having absolutely no clue what I was getting into. Oh, sure, I’d written any number of tumultuous battle scenes, with blood and swords flying and dazzling feats of heroism and villainy on all sides, and if you’re going to do this well . . . never mind literary merit, let’s say evocatively or in a way to make your reader buy the next in the series you do need to engage with it, sitting in your comfortable apartment with the central heating and the air con and the well-stocked refrigerator, and Joe the Doorman downstairs stopping anything remotely resembling a bad guy before he (or she) has come three steps across the threshold.
However—big duh moment here—it’s different when it’s you having the interesting time amid the whirling havoc. Also, I’m like this about first attempts, although I’d never been through such a spectacular example before: I’ll dare all kinds of things that first time, before my over-vivid imagination has a chance to catch up with the rest of me. Once it does, look for me under the bed. You can figure out which bed by following the whimpering noises. My riding career was studded with these moments: first time off the lunge rein, trotting free around the ring I was thrilled, and I did it pretty well too. Second time I was a nervous wreck and upset not only my horse but my riding instructor. First time jumping over something bigger than a pole on the ground? Best moment of my life thus far, except I didn’t sleep at all that night and almost gave up riding forever.
Just as well I hadn’t, I thought fatalistically, as Monster stopped in front of me and Murac moved beside me, ready to throw me into the saddle again. I’d weigh more this time, with the chain mail, maybe flying through the air would be a little less like being shot out of a cannon, a little less alarming. I’d be grateful for something being less alarming the second time. Maybe he’d forget to allow for the mail and toss me like a skinny broad in a nightgown, I’d hit my head on Monster’s saddle and knock myself out. And then I wouldn’t have to ride back into battle with all these morons yelling Defender at me.
Putting off the inevitable a moment longer, I put my hand on Monster’s shoulder. All the whinnying stuff you get in movies is Hollywood, it’s not horses. Horses are mostly pretty quiet. It’s a big deal if your horse whinnies at you, and it’s probably because he’s hungry and hoping for food. But Monster turned his head—whoever was leading him was hidden on his far side, I could just see an arm through a loop of rein—and while he didn’t whinny, he put his ears forward and his nostrils flickered in an almost-whinny. Defender and Defender’s horse having a bonding moment. Monster clearly didn’t know that he outclassed his rider by about half a gazillion parsecs.
My hand still on Monster’s shoulder I turned, desperately, to Murac. He was standing way too close because he was waiting to toss me up. Way too close. His hair was still wet. His eyes were too steady on mine. “I—don’t know what I’m doing,” I said. I was conscious of the weight of the mail across my shoulders, draped several inches down my arms. It was heavy enough it would slow my own paltry strength, dull what physical instincts I had. Well it was Silverheart’s—and Glosinda’s—game anyway. They’d know how to adapt. Or this gang were going to need a new Defender really soon.
“I know,” said Murac, and stooped for my leg. My good leg, fortunately. He grabbed and heaved. I shot up into the air again but to the perfect height this time—the perfect height for managing to clear my bad leg before I came down with a thump. Monster stood like a rock, of course, his ears now tipped back toward me, although presumably war horses were trained to put up with being mounted from either side, in expectation of certain of the unpredictable exigencies of warfare. One of Flowerhair’s more exciting escapes had been dependent on her horse staying steady as she came blasting out of the shadows and dived for the saddle—from the wrong side. He did, but she didn’t wait to be fully astride—she seized a handful of mane and yelled Go! and he went. Circus pony stuff, with her dangling from his off side. But she and the Gentleman had been together a long time.
It wasn’t exactly news that Murac knew that I didn’t know what I was doing. It shouldn’t hurt. It didn’t hurt.
I rubbed a hand down Monster’s neck, feeling for the cut. There it was . . . it hadn’t been sewn, it had been glued together somehow. I sniffed my fingers: there was a strong green smell, like plant sap. Why couldn’t they have done that with my leg?
I was finally ready to look back at Murac who was waiting, apparently, for me to look at him. “We follow tha anyway,” he said.
I almost wrote ‘slash’ and remembered that this could be misinterpreted in Today’s Internet . . . I just now had a last crash, then, through last night’s reddit AMA, answering most of the latecomers and adding a few twirly bits to earlier conversations. If anyone’s interested. The Nice Man sent me some figures today and said that it was a good AMA and I’m glad he thought so because it seemed pretty good to me but then most of the posters wanted to tell me how great my books are and that does kind of sway a writer’s attitude. . . . Thanks again to everyone who posted, I enjoyed it too. But I’m also glad to be back to my footnotes.* The reddit formatting didn’t ALLOW footnotes. It’s about the only complaint I have.
I did say once or twice, questions I wasn’t answering during the AMA because my brain was melting under the strain, feel free to post them to the forum here–or for that matter Twitter or Facebook although I’m even less reliable** on both of those virtual-social real-timewasters than I am here. But if anyone reading this has a BURNING question, whether or not they’ve asked it 1,000,000 times before in a wide variety of media, you can try asking it again saying ‘the reddit AMA reminded me that I’ve always wondered blah blah blah’ or thereabouts and I’ll try to pay attention. Of course it’s always possible that I keep blowing you off because I don’t want to–or can’t–answer your question, but you might finally get that much out of me.*** Maybe. I’m really world class in the disorganised and absent-minded**** stakes.
Anyway. So long. And THANKS for all the fish. . . .
* * *
** I realise this is slightly mind-boggling. My unreliability pretty much starts in the negative numbers and approaches absolute zero with breathtaking speed.
*** I don’t know! You don’t want to know! Mercury is in retrograde! Please go away!
**** And whimsical. Or you could say cranky, but that would be unkind after I’ve just spent ALL THAT TIME answering questions.
Anyone in England who doesn’t stay up late, or anyone in America who has other plans for the evening, or anyone in [insert other part of the world] who can’t make the official AMA live time for whatever reason good and significant to you, you can post questions NOW.
Niall has convinced me I really need to go bell ringing tonight, but as the AMA intro says I’ll be back later to answer questions. Having a look at the ones already up . . . I may have blog material for the next several years . . . .
THANKS, ALL YOU ASKERS.
PS: And for those of you unaccustomed to internet society wailing brokenly about the need to create a reddit account to post a question–and I am totally with you on this: I only joined up because I’d agreed to the gig–the Nice Man says:
There is a link towards the upper-right corner of the page that says “login or register.” All they need to do is pick a username and password, and fill in the text thing to prove they’re not a robot. No personal information is needed; even an email address is optional.
Italics mine. Hey, I did the register thing. You can too.
I’m doing one of reddit fantasy’s Ask Me Anything, AMA, sessions this Thursday, the day after tomorrow [as I write during what is to me still Tuesday night]. The poor suck—the nice man who originally invited me and is attempting to shepherd me through the technical aspects of this gig** says that if you go here: http://www.reddit.com/r/fantasy
. . . while you’re waiting you can poke around*** and when the AMA session goes ‘live’ at approximately noon (American) Central Time on Thursday the link will go up on that page. The game plan seems to be that I (or rather the Nice Man, which means I have to have written it in advance for him to deal with) post(s) a brief introductory doodah at noon as part of the going-live process, and people post questions then if they feel like it. Perhaps I drift in during reddit’s idea of afternoon (my idea of evening) and answer any of these there are and maybe I don’t, but I do show up for live-ish keyboard interaction around 6 pm Central time which I think is midnight mine, and respond—I do not say answer—any and all questions then. I admit midnight is not particularly late by my standards [hey it's past 4 am where I'm sitting] but it is late to be articulate to/with a bunch of strangers.† If I were living in the same part of the galaxy as the reddit fantasy admin the AMAs usually go live at about 8 pm—as some of you, who’ve been to talk to other authors, already know—but it’s going to be early with me. If the conversation suddenly heats up at 2 am I’ll stay on, but the alternative, if people are absent-mindedly expecting it to have begun at 8 pm reddit time and show up after I’ve left to give the hellmob its final hurtle††, is to post questions anyway and I’ll come back on the far side of sleep and caffeine and answer them then.
One or two guidelines: I can’t tell you when PEG II or III will be out because I don’t know. I said pretty much all I have to say on that burdensome topic in the ebook-announcement post: I’m working on the rest of the PEGASUS story, sure, and believe me I’d finish it yesterday if I could. But I can’t. I am finding the writing experience lately like cleaning the Houses of Parliament with a toothbrush or watering the Sahara with a teacup. I’d rather prune Souvenir de la Malmaison††† without full body armour and a face mask than face the PEG II file. I’m getting calluses and tendonitis from clutching my forehead/chair/nearest hellcritter. So you can ask when PEG II and III will be out, but don’t expect a useful answer.
And, speaking of useful answers, there’s still no sequel to SUNSHINE. And there are at last count approximately three hundred and twelve Third Damar Novels, but I haven’t written any of them.‡
Some authors are more perverse than others. You might want to embroider that on a sampler. But do come round on Thursday at whatever o’clock and ask me about roses or dogs or bell ringing or life as an American expat in England or knitting (badly) or singing (worse) or even about suddenly and involuntarily converting to Christianity two years ago and coming all over social-welfare volunteering like a bad case of measles.‡‡ I’m still cranky though.
* * *
* . . . answers not guaranteed. But then you blog readers know that already.
*** It’s frelling HUGE. I keep getting lost.
† So, you know, please come hang out so it’s not all strangers.
†† And wave at passing patrol cars
††† Which in my tiny garden is presently about twenty feet by twenty feet and putting on a rather amazing autumn show for a rose known for not repeating in this climate. She is also implicated in the disappearance of several annoying small children and neighbourhood cats which insist on crapping in Third House’s flowerbeds, but we don’t know anything about that, except to say that a rose responds well to generous feeding and I’m delighted she has settled in so happily.
‡ Please try to remember that I can only write what I am given to write. The Damar stories are there—like PEG II and III are there—like the frelling sequel to SUNSHINE is there—but I can’t write them because they haven’t come to me in writable form. It’s like one of those scenes out of Dickens—or Frances Hodgson Burnett—when the main character is standing on the wrong side of a window watching other people having a good time. You can see what everybody is wearing and eating, you can see the champagne sparkling in the glasses, you can see who’s flirting with whom, you can maybe even hear a faint echo of the live music. But you can’t go in because you weren’t invited. And besides there doesn’t seem to be a door.
‡‡ Which also makes a change occasionally from staring at the frelling blank page . The eleventh commandment: Do what you can.
ONE FORTY FOUR
Claim me! What the—what the—claim me! I was going home! They were going to get me to the—the multiplicitous Gate and I was going through it to where Sid was waiting. And I wasn’t coming back here for six months out of every year either, whatever happened to Persephone.
(All right, multiplicitous isn’t a word. But it should be.)
I surged to my feet, thus discovering I could. It was a somewhat wavery surge as my wounded leg attempted to do its fifty percent of the bipedal situation leg thing and almost managed it while my brain clattered to a halt when my blood stayed sitting down as the rest of me lurched upward. But my mouth was already moving and my brain would have to catch up when it could. “Claim me!” I said, or possibly howled. “What the rancid effing scrambled bulltweeting horseradish has the last—the last—has all this been about!” and I threw my arms out to include the blood and the dirt and the horses and the people and everything else, most of it undesirable, in our immediate vicinity. Especially the blood. (Throb throb said my leg.) “If you haven’t blistering claimed me yet! What’s my bonus then! Do I get a free toaster and ten percent off my next order!”
Murac looked started. I thought perhaps his insta-translate was having trouble with ‘bulltweeting horseradish’. Pustular, offered mine delightedly. Feculence. “So you hadn’t got round to claiming me yet! Do you pick up random confused strangers regularly to lead you into battle? If you wanted blood, couldn’t you have just pricked a finger? And I’ve been hungry since—since—” I had no idea how long I had been wherever it was that I was. Long enough to work up an appetite. Pitched battle will do that to you, even when your sword is doing all the heavy work.
Maybe he was looking startled because my grand gesture had made me drop my blanket. Pustular feculence. I bent (carefully) and picked it up (ow ow ow ow ow said my leg) and wrapped it around me again with as much of a flourish as I could manage. Think Greta Garbo throwing the end of a cape over one shoulder. No, don’t. Bela Lugosi maybe. On a bad day. But it was hard to be flashy with an old horse blanket (going by the smell. And the hair. I wasn’t complaining. An extra embedded layer of hair is warm.)
“And fuuuurthermore,” I said, sneezing horsehair, “you can’t claim me, you—um—” It occurred to me it would not be in my best interests to alienate Murac, appalling as this awareness was. “You can’t claim me, you said so yourself. I’m on the wrong side of Ga—of the Gate, and you want me on the right side. I want me on the right side. I never dog-eared-and-red-tailed wanted to be your flaming Defender,” I said, starting to lose my don’t-alienate-Murac focus again, and then I was going to start crying, I was not going to start crying. I was not going to start crying. I sneezed again. Violently. If my tear ducts exploded that would neutralise certain weak places in my self-control.
“Defender is stronger, tied to Gate by blood and bread.” I muttered something about there not having been any bread on show recently but I’d been ready to eat maggots and pencil stubs, I might not have noticed mere bread. “Tha’ll not forget us, now. Tha’ll not leave us behind.”
“Oh yes I will,” I said grimly, shivering in spite of the warm hairy blanket. “I’m moving to California. Tomorrow.” Northern California. Sid was too furry for the south.
“Gate’ll come with tha,” said Murac. “Wherever tha go. And if we call, tha’ll hear us, and come.”
I may have moaned. My blood was circulating comprehensively enough again for my brain to produce a few flailing thoughts: which was the decision I had made that was the wrong one, that if I’d made some other one I’d be sitting in front of my computer with a hot cup of tea right now, finishing FLOWERHAIR THE UNHINGED on time? But if I went back as far as not poking a pin in my old paper atlas, Sid would still be sleeping rough . . .
There was a shout. The Falcons. The Falcons can hold alone no longer. The Falcons’ line is breaking. . . .
Murac took two long strides forward, picked up the heap of clothing at my feet and shook it out. I let my blanket fall, blank-brained and numb again, and he dropped the linen shift over my head. Leather followed. There were linen trousers too, with a drawstring to keep them up, and leather britches over. Long stockings pulled up above the knee—a pad Murac produced from nowhere over the sewed-up slash on my leg—boots on immediately and laced in place. The boots were a surprisingly good fit. Throb, went my leg, but it seemed a long way away.
The chain mail went clank, and weighed a ton.
Defender, went the shout. The Falcons call for Defender.