ONE THIRTY EIGHT
Dreamily I watched the kestrel—if it was a kestrel. It hovered, wings going like a hummingbird’s, dropped, a yard or a league, and then stopped, still midair, with some dramatic flapping and tail wagging. Hovered again—then stretched its wings and soared to where it had been when it began—side slipped a little—began hovering again.
It was curiously hypnotic. As I watched I seemed to relax, whatever that meant in the circumstances. . . .
My leg was on fire on fire onfireonfireonfireonfire
I had to take my teeth out of Murac’s shoulder to gasp. I hauled some air into my lungs . . . and conked out again.
There was a group of people on horseback in a little clearing at what might have been the front of the Black Tower—how did you tell? Great big square-foundation tall black thing. Sort of the architectural version of the black thing with the sword that had tried to turn me into human sashimi. It wouldn’t have surprised me if the Black Tower didn’t have a door the way the sword-wielding black thing didn’t have a face.
I was used to estimating audience size but the horses would throw my guessing out. Very few horses attend SF&F panels at your local Ramada Inn conference center. More’s the pity. Maybe fifty riders here, I thought. I could probably just have counted them, one two three four five sixty-seven, but there’s a limit to the amount of arithmetic you’re up to while you’re hallucinating, especially when counting human bodies in a multi-media convention audience is about the top of your range when you’re awake and sober.
At a guess it was a military company; I could see weapons and chain mail. Three of the riders were in a little group to one side; the officers, perhaps? The rider in the center threw out one hand and shouted—by the sound of the voice, a woman. I seemed to be hearing the words but I couldn’t understand what she said—although I thought I heard the word ‘falcon’.
I looked up for the kestrel. It had disappeared, but in my looking away from the mounted company I was staring again into the room where a woman sat writing with a sighthound at her feet. She sucked in a breath sharply as if she had heard the rider’s words and understood them. If she had, it wasn’t good news. She bent lower over her desk and wrote faster, the nib of her pen rasping frantically across the page; she dipped for ink too hastily and drops flew, glinting in sun- and lamplight. I couldn’t read what she wrote any more than I could understand what the rider had shouted, but I could see the black scrawl of words, which was reassuring. The shining droplets might have been blood.
I could hear the wind in the leaves of the tired trees and as it blew the sound it made altered, as if the weather had changed or the trees had straightened up and shaken off their lethargy. I was watching the group of riders again; little bits of conversation blew my way, but they were talking only loud enough for the group to hear and I could pick out no words. Several of the horses had turned skittish, apparently in the wake of the colonel’s shout; my eye was caught by a red bay, a mare, I thought, although I couldn’t be sure, near the back of the company. (I had a vague idea that colonels usually commanded larger troops, but I wanted to call her the colonel, so I was going to, just as I was going to assume she was the head of the company). The red bay moved as if she might leap into one of Monster’s airs above the ground at any moment (had someone thought to look at Monster’s neck and loosen his girth) and her rider sat her as easily as . . . I might sit in my desk chair with my hands on my computer keyboard. The rider was a slight figure among larger ones, so she might be a woman. I performed the hallucinatory version of a sigh. The red bay and her rider looked a lot like a six-to-sixteen-year-old horse-crazy girl’s idea of real riding: sort of Alec Ramsey and The Black, only better, especially if it was a mare and a woman.
I had let myself be sentimentally distracted but the sound of the wind changed again, to a high, whining keen. I looked toward the top of the tower; its outline seemed to shiver as if with heat haze, but you don’t get heat haze in a heavy low overcast, and the riders were wearing thick tunics under the chain mail that looked like warmth, not protection. Now I was hallucinating from inside my hallucination, because the tower seemed to bend forward and its shadow widened, as if it were spreading gigantic wings. . . .
And the woman leaped to her feet, shaking little sparkling bits of ink-blotting sand from her page and shouted one word: Yarrah!
Barring miracles this week’s KES will go up Sunday, not Saturday. This week has got away from me* and I’m Street Pastoring tomorrow night—Saturday—to cover for Eleanor, who covered my Friday for me last month when I had Sam training Saturday morning about five hours after I would have signed off Street Pastors. Meanwhile the Black Tower stuff came zapping in on me more or less from nowhere—I’ve told you the story of how Narknon didn’t turn up till the final freaking draft of SWORD, and what a gonzofest that was trying to stuff her into the story where she belonged, despite the fact that I’d been aware that there were little fuzzy places, as it turned out Narknon-shaped gaps in the story as it stood before her arrival—and tomorrow night’s KES needs more whacking into its Black Tower enhanced shape than I’m liable to be able to give it. I thought I was going to have some time off tomorrow afternoon, but Nina and Ignatius are coming down to help us get on with this moving house thing and I certainly don’t want to discourage them by any apparent lack of interest.
Oh and I’m singing on Sunday. Oops. I didn’t notice I had a late Sam shift on Thursday and Street Pastors on Saturday when I plugged in my usual fortnight on the rota. So it may be late Sunday. But not to worry. KES will appear.
* * *
* I’m a Sam! I’m a Sam! I’m a real working Samaritan! I had FOUR CALLS last night on my second duty shift!! FOUR! And since my mentor did not turn pale and saucer-eyed as she listened to my ends of the conversations^ nor, when I spoke to my day leader this morning^^, was she speaking in low carefully soothing tones about how perhaps I was not cut out to be a Samaritan and perhaps I would like to think about exercising my desire to do good in the world by knitting critter coats for the Battersea Dogs and Cats Rescue, which I can do quietly at home without disturbing anyone . . . I think I passed.^^^ Yaaaaaaay.^^^^
^ Conversations! Yessssssss! It’s what I’m there for!+
+ As a dedicated life-long phone hater, this is all very amusing.#
# Yes, well, this doesn’t count. Talking on the phone as a Samaritan is different.~
~ Also, I hear God laughing. Again.
^^ I was on the late shift last night. Usually you talk to your day leader at the end of your shift, but not when it would involve getting her+ out of bed, supposing she keeps what most of the world would call normal hours.
+ Or him, as the case may be
^^^ I admit I haven’t checked that I haven’t been disappeared off the Samaritan database. Me? Paranoid? Convinced of my inherent incompetence and worthlessness? Naaaaaah.
^^^^ And for my next trick I have to learn not to go home and worry about the people I’ve been talking to. Which is totally an occupational hazard, and is one of the reasons there’s all this support structure. It’s not a nice idea that you debrief/unload to both your colleague and your day leader, it’s REQUIRED.
. . . forever? Bad me. House move, worrying about husband’s health and well-being, Samaritan training, hellhounds giving up eating etc . . . are NO EXCUSE. And now it’s been so long I can’t find/remember where I left off. ARRRGH. Well, if I miss/repeat anything . . . I’LL BLAME YOU.* YOU SHOULD HAVE SAID, HEY, YOU HAVEN’T DONE A KES COMMENT ROUND UP IN TOO LONG.
Random thoughts: I like Watermelon Shoulders much better than Torpedo Shoulders.
I would guess so do we all. I do anyway. I will say that Torpedo Shoulders will prove to be a little more okay than you think. Like Murac, drat him. I had no intention of Murac becoming anything like either an important character or almost a hero sort of person. Or, you know, attractive, other than in a ramshackle sort of way that would appeal to deranged 11-to-15-year-olds. Arrrrrrgh. You see here an author hoist by her own petard. This happens regularly—right, EMoon?—in my case pretty much every frelling story about something or someone**, but it doesn’t usually happen in public. By the time the story hits print I’m kind of over my crisis about it/him/her/them and can pretend, or at least pretend to pretend or make a good story out of it, that this was the plan all along.***
I’m very glad we had so much time to get to know Kes in the ordinary, everyday world before she got tossed into the Defender role. It’s not that her personality doesn’t come through in the battle & just-before-or-after-battle sequences, but I like knowing that she likes muffins & is fairly good at making friends with good ordinary people. (I’m not sure I’m expressing myself well here.)
Well, you’re expressing well enough for me to agree with you and to say I’m glad that this is how you’re reading what I’m writing. Yes. It depends on the story, of course, but in this case Kes needed to be really clearly and emphatically a more or less normal modern woman—okay, a New Yorker and a fantasy writer, not absolutely normal†—for the high fantasy stuff to work the way I wanted it to work. It’s not like what I’m doing is original—LEST DARKNESS FALL is the book that pops first into my head, and probably a lot of other people’s heads for modern people dropped in ye olde time††, and you could go back another generation or two to THE TIME MACHINE if you wanted to, and there have been gazillions since—and Kes isn’t trying to invent a printing press or alter any courses of history††† or make sweeping political statements in allegorical form‡ she’s just having an adventure. But for the adventure to go ping whap YIPE in the way I hoped the two worlds have to be vividly incompatible.
At least Flowerhair was still alive. Yes. I was keeping her alive. What—or who—was keeping me alive? Hello?
::giggle:: And suddenly the story gets a bit meta.
This is me having some fun. There’s a lot in KES, starting with Kes herself as a fantasy writer, that I would NEVER EVER have put in a book that started life as something I was expecting a publisher to pay me for.
. . . SOMEWHERE someone asked me if the colonel of the Falcons might by any chance be Flowerhair. Have I answered this? I can’t remember/find answering this. If I did, this is what I would already have said: What a great idea. No. Rats. The thing is, Flowerhair has stayed alive partly by keeping a low profile. I’ve told you, haven’t I, that I’m going to give you the first chapter of the first FLOWERHAIR book, one of these days? I know what happens‡‡ and I know how she got started on this mercenary thing, and why, and also why she distrusts the formal military. She’d also hate being in command although privately, as her author’s author, I think she’d be good at it. She’s put temporary gangs together occasionally to bring off some feat she couldn’t pull alone. Eh. Maybe while Kes is resting up after Part One finally comes to an end I’ll mess with Flowerhair a little more.‡‡‡
I’m glad Silverheart seems to be determined to help Kes out both with being Defender & convincing other people that Kes has some small right to inhabit her heroic role.
Well . . . this is also just McKinley’s preoccupation with ordinary people rising to extraordinary occasions. Kes is a bit more tongue in cheek than, say, Harry, but it’s the same story arc, from MEEEEEEEP, to . . . Oh, well, if I have to. . . .
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
But Eowyn faced the ring wraith lord when all around her had fallen and for that I loved her. Besides, there was really only her and Galadriel who could possibly be role models for a 10 year old girl reading LOTR, and Galadriel did a lot of standing around looking stately while doing not a lot, which had no appeal at all. Get out there and DO something woman!
I agree, except for the fact that it’s not enough. I went through the tortures of the damned as only an introverted book-mad ten, or, in my case, eleven-year-old girl who WANTS HER OWN ADVENTURES can go through if she’s of a Previous Generation and when she was eleven years old LOTR was what there was, full stop. Robin McKinley, Elizabeth Moon, Patricia McKillip, Tamora Pierce, Diane Duane, Patricia Wrede etc hadn’t been invented yet. Eowyn does beg to accompany Aragorn into battle because she’s a shield maiden not a wet nurse, and in fact that scene rings very true to me and it interests me that Tolkien—manifestly not a bloke who gets it about women—could write it. But he then, as if horrified at his own ability to understand a woman’s desire for action, undermines the flapdoodle out of her for that famous scene with the Nazgul captain: she doesn’t kill him. Merry does. Which is probably why, when my eleven-year-old mind had to have a GIRL in there somewhere, decided that Merry was a girl really.
And Galadriel is a wet. Just by the way. The most interesting thing about her is that she’s a bigger deal than her husband, which is another of those oopsies from Tolkien the Bloke. Hey, pack her off to the Grey Havens before she spreads. And for utter iconic girlie uselessness I give you Galadriel’s granddaughter . . . Arwen.§
* * *
* Readers are great. I love my readers.^
^ Mostly. Except the ones who think they and I are twin souls and/or want me to collaborate with them on their great novel.
** NOOO. NOOOOOOOOOO. —Author.
Oh, do shut up and write. —Story.
*** ::muffled gurgling noises::
† All my New York friends are going HEY!
†† Anyone wants to suggest there’s no magic in LEST DARKNESS FALL . . . um. No overt magic. But one dorky little guy TOTALLY TOTALLY TOTALLY CHANGES HISTORY I MEAN TOTALLY? Uh huh. De Camp just decided not to mention the magic wand.
††† And since 1939 when LEST came out they’ve kind of decided the Dark Ages weren’t all that dark after all.
‡ Uggh. The Story Council sends me one of those and after I set fire to it I’ll start lobbing plastic bags of dog crap through their windows.
‡‡ I think I know what happens.^
^ Murac. Grrrrrrrrrrr.
‡‡‡ Mainly I have to get on with PEG II a little more briskly.^
^ Although, speaking of messing around, I’d like to know a little more about Aldetruda. And Kes, in a bit of wish fulfilment, writes a lot faster than I do and has at least one other serial heroine and some one offs lurking, any of which might make an interesting digression or digressions.
§ And no, I cut Peter Jackson no slack for trying to jazz her up a little.
It was going to be a really bad day.** The ME is using me as a punching-bag again*** and I got out of bed in stages, saying, it is Monday, and I am going to my voice lesson. I am going to my voice lesson. All I have to do is crawl to the car, unlock the door, and put the key in the little hole. Wolfgang knows the way.
It has been a really bad week for—not for singing, see previous about singing for sanity, but for attentive practise, so that I don’t feel a total fool going to sing for Nadia.† After my voice slammed shut on me last Monday—which was actually rather alarming—I gave it two days off anything but folk songs and Leonard Cohen†† . . . and then I had stomach flu and all those deep breaths and gut-disturbing diaphragm action for singing seemed like a pretty bad idea, although I could (maybe) stop worrying about the slamming shut, which was probably germ related. †††
I did sing over the weekend—a little—and I noticed at church last night that I was making a noise.‡ But this morning, warming up, I felt like I’d Never Seen Any of This Music Before in My Life‡‡ and did not set out for my lesson in a very positive frame of mind.‡‡‡
But fate and body parts are often perverse little creatures. I don’t even know how to explain what happened; if I try it’ll sound like gibberish to non-singers and will probably make those of you who would understand what I was talking about if I could explain it properly fall down laughing. The point is I made what Nadia herself called a Technical Leap Forward having to do with waking up the ‘mask’ sinuses and persuading all the various bits and pieces—tongue and soft palate in particular—to clear out of the way and let the sound resonate. Gleep. And she took me up to the high B-flat I need for both Batti, Batti§ and I Want to Be a Prima Donna—I didn’t know it, of course, although I knew we were getting up there—and which I do erratically have at home when I’m focussed on not paying attention and shutting myself down because I Can’t Possibly Do That, so I know the frelling thing exists. And as she pointed out, grinning, I sang it with no strain and no muscle tension. It’s the lack of tension that was so astonishing—she said, yes, your support has come a little adrift, but we can fix that.§§ You’ve made real progress today.
And . . . golly . . . you know . . . I may yet make a singer.
* * *
* Although everything is relative. See next footnote.
** It’s been a bad hellhound day for weeks. With the very, very occasional exception, Darkness more often than Chaos, neither of them is eating. The only reason they haven’t starved themselves to death by now is because I keep force feeding them. They haven’t eaten a scrap of anything today, voluntarily, for example. This is utterly demoralising for me even when the ME isn’t bad. It’s not the taste of the drug; they get three meals and only two of them are dosed. If they are having a unique nauseous reaction to this stuff—nausea which lasts through the third meal—that would explain it, but I doubt it’s that simple, and neither the vet nor I can ask them how they feel or why they’ve decided food is the enemy.^ Meanwhile although their output is improved it’s still far from . . . um . . . a neat pick-up so we persevere. Wearily.
^ Although if it were that simple, anorexia in humans would be less scary and less difficult to treat. I remind myself of this sometimes, on my knees beside the dog bed, stuffing cold sticky food down recoiling hellhounds.
*** I did survive^ my first official Samaritan duty shift, thank you for asking. It was a relatively quiet night which given that I was not at my best is probably just as well,^^ although I need some demanding shifts to get through the list of things your mentor has to support you through before you’re turned loose to function mentor-less. I did write a few texts^^^—and I hope you eventually get over that initial shock of, oh, you poor thing, let me give you a cup of tea and a biscuit.#
The next fortnight is going to be a little unnecessarily exciting however since I’m still at the tremulous beginning of learning Sam weekly duty-shift stamina and I’ve got Street Pastor shifts two weeks in a row too. This is from the swap with Eleanor—she took my Friday night before a Saturday-morning Sam training in June and I’m taking her Saturday in July while she’s touring great swathes of America with her husband. Meanwhile the ME needs to clear off.
^ . . . I’m here. I’m writing a blog entry. This is not the new Zombie McKinley. Breath on the mirror and everything.
^^ And I’m going to assume that hang-ups are not in response to my American accent.
^^^ My mentor, whom we will call Pythia, has a very good line: if you had written what this person has written, is this the response you’d want to read? —Since ‘I have a magic wand and I’m about to make it all go away’ is ineligible, like the cup of tea, if for different reasons.
# Tricky, of course, since they could be texting you from anywhere. New Guinea. Mars.+
+ A CUP OF TEA AND A BISCUIT?? I’M SO BRITISH.~
~ I have no idea what the cup-of-tea-and-a-biscuit equivalent is in either New Guinea or Mars.
† Although I continue to be tempted to take . . . probably Matty Groves in to Nadia. Some folk song with drama. I told you, didn’t I, that I asked her how you sing a maddened nobleman who is about to off both his wife and her lover when you’re a soprano? And she said it’s all in how you release the consonants. And. Glory. Yes.^
I may not have told you since I don’t remember admitting that I’m not a big Sandy Denny fan^^. I know. Heresy. I am, indeed, so lost to all finer feelings that I wonder if the Sandy Denny cult might be somewhat based on the fact that she died young. Nice enough voice but . . . eh. Give me Maddy Prior or June Tabor or Norma Waterson. The Matty Groves take that makes my blood beat hard and my hair stand on end is Fairport Convention after Sandy Denny, with the blokes singing. And they can roar, which is not an option available to a soprano.
But I think I’m still not quite up to eating the scenery for Nadia. Maybe a few more weeks. Months. Years. . . .
^ ‘ . . . And I shall Strike the very next blow, and I will Kill you if I Can.’
^^ But when the ME is this bad I don’t have any memory either.
†† Famous on twenty-three continents^ for having a vocal range of two and a half notes, and tends to write songs accordingly.
^ This includes Mars
††† Your Body Is Your Instrument. Why didn’t I stick with the piano?
‡ I mean . . . singing. Melodic. More or less. Probably. I wasn’t in the band this week so it didn’t matter.
‡‡ Mozart? And he was—?
‡‡‡ Although the presence of non-eating hellhounds in the back seat, looking forward to their Monday afternoon post-lesson walk somewhere interesting, probably was not helping. They like me wrecked by ME: I’m much more willing to noodle along while they investigate every clump of grass for the recent presence of other dogs and/or fascinating pieces of litter.
§ Oh—that Mozart
§§ She also said that if I can’t do this free resonating thing at home this week—don’t panic. But that I should only sing new music—stuff I’m working on for the first time now—if I break out Che Faro, for example, which is absolutely my longing and desire, I’ll just revert to old habits. Wait a little now, she said. We’ll go back to Che Faro later, I promise.
Fuzzy weather drama photo courtesy of our neighbor’s iPhone. Fortunately it wasn’t as close as it looks.
Prairie weather is never boring. We call it the Sky Show.