Peter Dickinson stories
Peter’s TROLL BLOOD is the above-the-title headline story in the Sept/Oct issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/ *
You definitely want to read it. Here’s the beginning:
Mari was a seventh child, by some distance — an afterthoughtlessness, her father was fond of remarking. Moreover she had the changeling look, as if she had come from utterly different stock from her parents and siblings, with their traditonally Nordic features, coarsely handsome, with strong bones, blonde hair and winter-blue eyes. Mari was dark-haired, slight, with a fine, almost pearly skin that burnt in the mildest sun. Her face seemed never quite to have lost the crumpled, simian, look of the new born baby. Her mouth was wide, and her eyes, which might more suitably have been brown to go with her colouring, were of an unusual slaty grey.
This look, though only occasionally manifesting itself, ran in the family as persistently as the more normal one. There were likely to be one or two examples in any group photograph in the old albums — a grandmother, a great uncle killed in the resistance in the Second World War, somebody unidentified in a skiing party way back in the ‘twenties.
There was a story to go with the look. Thirty-odd generations ago a young woman was bathing in a lake when a troll saw her and took her to his underwater cave. Her handmaiden, hiding among the trees, saw what happened and carried the news to the young woman’s father. Her mother was dead, and she was his only child. He at once ran to the place and dived into the lake carrying an inflated goatskin weighted down with his armour and weapons. Breathing from the bag through a straw he found the cave, armed himself and fought the monster until it fled howling. Then he brought his daughter safely home. Nine months later, while her father was away, the young woman bore a son. . . .
TROLL BLOOD will also appear in
http://smallbeerpress.com/forthcoming/2012/05/15/earth-and-air/ which is available for preorder now
. . . with several other excellent stories. For example:
Varro escaped into the desert, as many, many slaves had done before him, whose bones now bleached among the dunes. Not his, though, or possibly not. It depended on the star maps.
Six weeks earlier, as part of the seven-yearly ritual cleansing of the household, he had been switched from his normal job in the stables and told to go and fetch and carry in the library, and there he had found the book. It was in Latin, a language few of these barbarians had bothered to learn – even Prince Fo’s librarian had little more than a smattering. He hid it aside, and in snatched moments – the librarian evidently detested the cleansing and kept no discipline – he read it.
It purported to be a geography of Timbuktu and the region around it, compiled from travellers’ accounts. Of course it was full of nonsense about Sphinxes and Sciopods and such, but here and there were patches of realism, details of trade routes and currency, descriptions of customs that Varro knew well from his five years in the city, and so on. The trade routes were no use to him. They were efficiently watched. The only hope was the desert. If you got a good enough start the bounty-hunters wouldn’t come up with you before they needed, for their own safety, to turn back. You could plod on, until the desert killed you.
To his astonishment and terror he found what he wanted, details of a forgotten route across the desert, far shorter than the still-used route around it, to one of Timbuktu’s distant trading partners, Dassun. Most of the account was sensible, apart from the odd absurdity about a demon-guarded spring. There were neat little star maps. Varro studied the pages, his throat dry, his heart pumping, his palms chilly with sweat. He was a saddler by profession. Five years ago he had come to Timbuktu to explore the possibilities of trading his wares in the city, to the displeasure of the local guild, who had had him arrested on a false accusation of debt. Not only all his stock but his own person had been sold to pay the imaginary sum, the judge openly pocketing a third of it. As he had stood in the slave market he had vowed to Mercury, god of travellers, that if the opportunity to escape came he would take it. This was his first true chance.
. . . “Look.”
He brought his hand out, moved to the lamp and cradled the fluffy scrap of life between his palms. It gaped up at them, blinking, apparently unalarmed. Euphanie craned over and studied it.
“A little scops owl, I think,” she said. “Where did you find it?”
“In the House of the Wise One.”
“You went there! And on a new-moon night, almost! Are you crazy?”
“I don’t know how I got there. I was drunk, remember. I’d no idea where I was. It was blind dark and I just finished throwing up and there was a flash of lightning and I saw this bird. It was only afterwards that I realised I was in the House, and I’d been leaning on the Bloodstone to throw up. Look, it’s hungry, what do owls eat?”
“Mice and voles and beetles and things,” she muttered, not thinking about it. “They swallow them when they’re hunting and cough them up for the babies when they get back to the nest.”
And then, after a pause, and more slowly, but still in a hushed voice, “Yanni, the owl, the scops owl, is the Wise One’s own bird. I think she brought you to her House. I think you were meant to find it. And look.”
She showed him the thing she had been about to throw into the dark when he had come home. It was a dead mouse, one the cat must have brought in, as it often did. . . .
He waited till Euphanie had lined a small bowl with bits of rag and then settled the owl into it . . . he sharpened a knife and with still trembling fingers skinned and gutted the mouse, filleted out the larger bones and chopped up what was left what was left. Not good enough, he decided. He didn’t think he could actually swallow and regurgitate the food, but he spooned some of it into his mouth, chewed it up bones and all, spat the mess into his palm, took a morsel between finger and thumb and eased it into the gaping beak. The owl simply looked at him, waiting, so with the tip of his little finger he poked the mess as far as he could down the gullet. Now the owl closed its eyes and its beak and with a look of extraordinary blissful smugness gulped the mess down and gaped again. When it had eaten all his first chewings he repeated the process. Euphanie, normally fastidious about everything they ate, watched without protest.
“Do you think it will live?” he asked her.
“If the Wise One sent it,” she said, broodingly. “Yanni, Nana Procephalos kept an owl.”
“Lots of people do.”
“Not any longer. Not since . . .Yanni, don’t tell anyone you’ve got it. If they find out, don’t tell them where you found it. Say the cat brought it in.”
Yanni was scared. . . .
He was thinking about Nana Procephalos, and what had been done to her.
I will post a few more seductive snippets when the book is available.**
* * *
* As I link this, the July/Aug issue is showing. Be sure to order the right one. Or buy both, of course.
** Ditto as the backlist starts being reissued. Yaaaaaaay.
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