Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author


Top Halloween Candy by State

From a candy distributor, so by golly they KNOW.

For over 11 years, we’ve been delivering tons of bulk candy around the country. As preeminent bulk candy dealers, we’ve got a lot of candy sales data to comb through. …

I am delighted to see that Missourians are too sensible to waste all their money on candy corns, when anyone knows that chocolate is involved in all the best kinds of candy.

Although I am absolutely shocked at the second choice in MO. I mean … really?

I will say, as far as I’m concerned, Alaska has the best top three choices, hand’s down. Twix is my absolute favorite.

Also, ha, look at this! Via File 770:

A vending machine that lets you exchange Halloween candy you don’t like for Reese’s candies you prefer!

Brilliant! (Even though I do not actually like Reese’s peanut butter cups, this is still brilliant).

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What scary book should you read for Halloween?

At Book Riot, another of those little quizzes: Based on your taste in horror movies, what scary book might suit you?

I don’t really like horror movies much (or horror novels), but I do like quizzes, so sure, why not?

One of my answers was chosen completely at random. “What horror movie from 2018 have you liked best so far?”  Um, haven’t seen any movies of any kind in 2018, so, who knows?

However, the suggestion I got at the end actually sounds pretty interesting: The Hunger by Alma Katsu, which blends a historical novel about the Donner party with a supernatural explanation of what happened.

As members of the group begin to disappear, the survivors start to wonder if there really is something disturbing, and hungry, waiting for them in the mountains…and whether the evil that has unfolded around them may have in fact been growing within them all along.

Probably won’t read it because, you know, horror. But on the other hand, historical horror does strike me as more inviting than many other kinds of horror. 

Whether you pick up a horror novel or not tonight, happy Halloween!

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The virtues in fiction

I saw this quote at The Passive Voice blog and shamelessly stole it to post here because I really like it:

Literature embodies virtue, first, by offering images of virtue in action and, second, by offering the reader vicarious practice in exercising virtue, which is not the same as actual practice, of course, but is nonetheless a practice by which habits of mind, ways of thinking and perceiving, accrue.

~ Karen Swallow Prior

I never heard of her before. Karen Pryor, the famous dog trainer, sure. She’s one of the most influential figures in the development of modern positive training methods, which naturally every dog owner should be using, though I guess some are still into the jerk-and-drag school of training.

But moving on to Karen Swallow Prior. She’s an English professor and a writer. Here’s another quote on the same topic, this one from her website:

Reading great literature well has the power to cultivate virtue. Great literature increases knowledge of and desire for the good life by showing readers what virtue looks like and where vice leads. It is not just what one reads but how one reads that cultivates virtue. Reading good literature well requires one to practice numerous virtues, such as patience, diligence, and prudence. And learning to judge wisely a character in a book, in turn, forms the reader’s own character.

I like that as well. Of course it ties into the idea that reading helps the reader develop empathy, or at least that reading good books ought to do so. 

All right, these quotes seem to be drawn from a book of Prior’s called On Reading Well, which evidently encourages readers to read and reflect on various literary classics. Let’s take a look at the table of contents via Amazon’s handy “look inside” feature … 

These readings are organized thus:

The Cardinal Virtues:

Prudence: The History of Tom Jones. Never heard of it.

Temperance: The Great Gatsby. Didn’t like it.

Justice: A Tale of Two Cities. Always regretted not having read that one.

Courage: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Good choice.

The Theological Virtues:

Faith: Silence by Shusaku Endo. Never heard of it.

Hope: The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Hmm. I don’t know. I’m thinking there are surely many books on this theme that include more actual hope. Though there is a spark of hope right at the end, so there’s that. Even so.

Love: The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Tolstoy. Haven’t read it.

The Heavenly Virtues:

Chastity: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. Haven’t read it.

Diligence: Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Haven’t read it.

Patience: Persuasion by Jane Austen. Good choice.

Kindness: “Tenth of December” by George Saunders. Haven’t read it.

Humility: “Revelation” and “Everything That Rises Must Converge” by Flannery O’Conner. I have read these. They stood out to me among assigned readings because I actually liked them.

Okay, that’s interesting, but it makes me want to do this list over again, this time with works I’ve actually read and think embody each virtue. I was trying to think of SFF choices, but in fact quite a few literary novels leaped out at me. I’m not sure if that’s meaningful; surely plenty of genre novels would also be good choices for these categories. Yet here’s a list startlingly full of literary novels.

The Cardinal Virtues: 

Prudence: Sense and Sensibility by Austen.

Temperance: Not sure. Maybe a novel where a powerful character has to, and does, exercise considerable restraint at all times … I’m actually thinking that my first-person obsessive-experience WIP would work, but since it’s not published, it’s hardly fair to put it in here. Any ideas?

Justice: The Count of Monte Christo. You are not going to get through that one without thinking a great deal about justice and revenge and the difference between the two.

Courage: Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein.

The Theological Virtues:

Faith:  In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden. I love this book. You should all totally read it. It expressed to me what having a vocation might actually feel like, something I would otherwise find incomprehensible. Thus we see that reading the right books certainly can increase empathy.

Hope: The Chalion series by LMB.

Love: Perhaps one of the really good Beauty and the Beast retellings, probably Beauty by McKinley. Or do we want a broader, less romantic love here? 

The Heavenly Virtues:

Chastity: Um, coming up blank for this one. 

Diligence: The Steerswoman by Kirstein.

Patience: Cotillon by Georgette Heyer. I’m thinking of the male lead here, Freddy.

Kindness:  The Goblin Emperor.

Humility: Les Miserables. I’m thinking of Jean Valjean here, of course, but the bishop also counts as exemplifying this virtue.

If you have a great suggestion for one of the categories I filled in, share that in the comments as well! 

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Today from science —

A few headlines caught my eye today, including this one:

World’s largest deep-sea octopus nursery

How cool is that? 

Octopuses. Hundreds of them. Huddled on a rocky outcrop at the base of an underwater mountain.

“We went down the eastern flank of this small hill, and that’s when—boom—we just started seeing pockets of dozens here, dozens there, dozens everywhere,” says Chad King, chief scientist on the Exploration VesselNautilus.

All in all, King estimates that more than 1,000 octopuses known as Muusoctopus robustus were nestled among the rocks, most of which appeared to be inverted, or turned inside out. For this species, that inside-out pose is common among females that are brooding, or protecting their growing young. In some cases, the submersible’s camera could even spot tiny embryos cradled within their mothers’ arms.

Not to be picky when we’re talking about something as neat as a giant nursery of octopuses, but tell, me, did a particular sentence in the above paragraph make you blink? Here it is:

 …more than 1,000 octopuses known as Muusoctopus robustus were nestled among the rocks, most of which appeared to be inverted, or turned inside out.

The author, Jason Bittel, needs to decide whether it’s the octopuses or the rocks which are turned inside out. I actually laughed out loud. Quietly, but out loud.

Moving on:

The incredible seasons of Triton

Again, very cool headline.

frost continues to travel northward from the southern polar cap of Triton. The frost, which is generated by the sun heating and sublimating volatile material before it travels northward, has been observed since the turn of the century. However, the new findings help shed light on how Triton’s frost budget varies over the world’s full season, which lasts 84 years.

So, the cold season lasts 84 years, I guess? Or the full year lasts 84 years? Oh, Google says Neptune’s year is 165 years, so 84 years is just one season. Pretty snazzy to think about.

Closer to home:

Chocolate has a new origin story

New archaeological evidence suggests humans were cultivating and consuming cacao—the crop from which chocolate is produced—as long as 5,300 years ago, which is 1,500 years earlier than previously thought. What’s more, cacao was initially domesticated in the equatorial regions of South America, and not Central America.

Very sensible of the people living 5,300 years ago, that’s what I say.

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When did that word appear in print?

Here’s a “time traveler’s post” from Merriam-Webster.

Some of these words have either since disappeared — without my ever noticing them — or are not in widespread use in the circles I frequent. I mean, what is “abandonware”? That term appeared in 2000, apparently. I kind of like the sound of it. It must be a computer term. I don’t remember ever hearing it, but I’m not into computers, so I wouldn’t have, necessarily.

Let me see, what words were introduced in 1990? Ah, nutriceutical! There’s one that’s become pretty common since that time. Also crytocurrency and malware and a bunch of others.

I question “archaea.” The three-domain taxonomic system was introduced, as I’m sure you all know, by Carl Woese in 1977. He defined the domains of Eukarya, Bacteria, and Archaea. Woese received the Leewenhoek Medal, given once every ten years, for his work in defining the Archaea domain and for his work on “horizontal” transmission of genetic information between organisms. Very famous guy in some circles, and some of us have been using Archaea as a taxonomic term since at least that time.

So I’m guessing this Merriam-Webster thing must refer to the first time a term is used in print … what, in the popular press, maybe? Except that’s not what the Time Traveler post says. Well, then, I don’t know, this entry is just mysterious to me. I think they must mean to exclude scientific use, or this simply makes no sense.

Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the words it says were introduced fifty years ago … oh, big list … let’s see … tough love, squeaky clean, pulsar — pulsar, really? — noninvasive, nonconfrontational — that one gets a red line under it, so WordPress doesn’t think it’s a real word even fifty years on. Oh, I see Goggle mostly thinks it should be hyphenated. Crytozoology, there’s a good one. Consciousness-raising, hmm, yes, 1968 seems like a likely year for that one to appear.

Well, it’s interesting. Take a look. If you immediately find an obvious explanation why this list thinks Archaea wasn’t used until 1990, let me know, because I’m stumped.

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What fairy tale should you read next?

Over at Book Riot, not normally a place I look for book recommendations, a moderately appealing list from Margaret Kingsbury: What should be your next fairy tale read?

This is actually an internet quiz! I enjoy silly internet quizzes, so sure, let’s just see what title gets tossed up for me:

Ah, looks like The Fox’s Tower by Yoon Ha Lee. Well, I don’t know. Foxes, check, fairy tales check, but this is a short story collection and I don’t generally l get very excited about short stories, except those connected to a universe I’m already into. I mean, I liked Patricia Briggs’ story collection that are all in the Mercy Thompson universe.

On the other hand, fairy tales might actually appeal to me in in shorter formats. I liked Robin McKinley’s short fairy tales. I wonder just how short Lee’s stories are … oh, they’re flash fiction. Well, probably not, then. Let’s try this quiz again. This time I’m going to aim to get The Girls at the Kingfisher Club. 

Yep, got it.

Okay, normally I’m all about shortening up a list — not fifty items, but ten. Not one hundred — for God’s sake, that’s way too many — but twenty. But for a quiz that’s meant to kick up a result that will appeal to you, I do think there aren’t enough choices here.  I think if you put in “historical fiction,” you’ll get The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, which is fine, but it would be significantly more fine if there were other options in “historical fairy tales” so that the rest of the quiz questions could have some influence on sifting through the crowd and selecting a book that would appeal to you.

Also, a quiz where you can check off multiple categories — SF, fantasy, historical, but not graphic novels or horror (for example). That would work better, probably.

Here are some other fairy tales that could be included to make this quiz work better:

Fairy tales that are also historicals:

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by G Valentine

The Wild Swans by P Kerr

Strands of Bronze and Gold by J Nickerson

Fairy tales that are contemporaries:

Roses and Rot by K Howard

Fairy tales that are nearly straight retellings:

Beauty by R McKinley

A Curse as Dark as Gold by E Bunce

Daughter of the Forest by J Marillier

Fairy tales that are less straight retellings:

The Princess Curse by M Haskell

Castle Behind Thorns by M Haskell

Fire and Hemlock by DWJ

Fairy tales that are SF

Jenna Starborn by S Shinn — granted this is not a fairy tale retelling; it’s a Jane Eyre retelling. But it’s a retelling and I’m including it because I dislike all the SF fairy tale retellings I’ve read so far.

Of Beast and Beauty by S Jay — which I haven’t read, but I wanted a second choice under “SF fairy tales.”

Fairy Tale retellings that actually deconstruct the whole concept: 

Ash and Bramble by Sarah Prineas

“Into the Woods,” which is of course a play, but I wanted another entry under this category as well and couldn’t think of another book.

Fairy tales that are original, not retellings:

Uprooted by N Novik

The Changeling Sea by P McKillip

The City in the Lake by R Neumeier

Of course there are zillions more. Especially relatively straight retellings that stick pretty much to the actual fairy tale — many, many of those.

I couldn’t think of another fairy tale with a contemporary setting, but there must be some.

Likewise for SF settings. I know, I know, Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, but I disliked those. I couldn’t finish the third book and can’t recommend the series.

I had trouble thinking of others that deconstructed fairy tales to the extent that Prineas’ novels do. Not sure there are any. 

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Nothing is taboo if you do it right

At Kill Zone Blog, a post by PJ Parrish: Is anything really taboo in today’s crime fiction?

Which is, of course, a question that applies equally to all fiction.

We often hear there are some things you should never do in mysteries and thrillers. … Here’s just a few of the no-no’s I know:

  • Don’t deal with abused children because readers can’t take it.
  • Don’t write about religion because it’s too personal.
  • Don’t write about politics because it’s too divisive and partisan.
  • Steer clear of graphic violence and sex.
  • And never, ever, kill an animal.

I still remember how amused I was in the movie “Up” when all the dogs got parachutes — something that the human bad guy did not get. Mind you, I agree with this taboo, basically. If an author kills a dog or other pet, I’m not likely to become a big fan, even if I finish that book.

However, the conclusion Parrish comes to is this: there are no taboos, but for heaven’s sake do not let your Message overwhelm your story. Parrish says:

I read a crime novel recently by an Edgar-winning writer. The writing was elegant, the plot set-up tantalyzing. I really liked the protag. But about halfway through, I found myself getting irritated. Why? Because the writer started shouting about the devastation of the environment and it was drowning out the story. … you have to deal with a touchy subject always with the idea that it must organically support the story. [emphasis mine].

Yes yes yes! That’s the important thing.

But even though I agree there’s no absolute taboos in fiction, including no absolute taboo against killing pets … honestly. Don’t do that.

Out of curiosity, is there death-of-a-pet in fiction that worked for you and did not turn you off? I can’t think of any examples for me. 

When the pet dies, but not really, that’s different. When Kathleen thinks Sirius is dead in Dogsbody, that’s sad, but Sirius was never actually a dog and does not actually die. Personally, that’s the closest I can come.

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Door Into Light

Pete commented that I posted the first scene of Door Into Light some time ago. True! But it was a while ago, so here again are the first five pages, for those of you who may not recall. This has changed just a little, but the fundamental scene is still the same.

Three weeks before the spring solstice, one week after the door to Kalches had first appeared in this whimsical, unpredictable, willful house where he had lived for the past month and more, Taudde stood before that door, his hand on the knob, recruiting his nerve to open it.

The door to Kalches, land of music and sorcery and the high winds that both cut like knives and sang like harps, stood in the long hallway of the house, between two high, narrow windows. Brilliant sunlight blazed through the nearer of the two; silver moonlight glimmered through the other. Between day and dark stood this door: solid, weathered, and ordinary, exactly as though it was a normal door and had always waited there for a hand to fling it wide. Though it did not match any other door in the house, somehow it did not look out of place. Its frame had been hewn roughly out of granite. The door itself was of common pine, the wood neither stained nor painted nor carved with any decorative figures nor even planed entirely smooth. When Taudde opened that door . . . when he opened it, he knew exactly the wind, fragrant with pine forests and the cold, clean scent of lingering winter, that would skirl out of the distant mountains and into this house.

He did not mean to step through the door, not yet. But this afternoon, weather permitting, he would finally step from this house into Kalches, crossing all the intervening miles in an instant.

He was not looking forward to that at all. Or he was, of course, in a way. He had been so long away; no matter how bitterly he would miss Lonne and the sea, he couldn’t help but anticipate his return to the stark, cold country that was his home. But his homecoming would certainly be . . . fraught. Taudde did not at all relish the thought of facing his grandfather and explaining everything that had happened. Or, really, anything that had happened.

Still, he dared not leave his return too late. Three weeks was little enough time.

He had asked leave from the prince of Lirionne to step through that door and into Kalches. Tepres had granted it, of course, exactly as he had promised. At noon today, Taudde would formally ask leave from the king of Lirionne himself, Geriodde Nerenne ken Seriantes. The king would also grant it. Taudde had very little doubt of that. Then he would open this door for the third time, and step through, from the spring of Lonne, the Pearl of the West, into the high, stark winter of Kalches.

With Leilis, so that was something, at least; no matter how little Taudde expected to enjoy his own interview with his grandfather, he did expect to enjoy witnessing the meeting between that stiff old man and Seathrift of Cloisonné House, which was the name Leilis went by when she put on the robes and manners of a keiso. He wanted to watch the old man try the edge of his tongue against her wit and unshakable composure. She would render his grandfather absolutely speechless, which was not something many people could do, but Taudde had no doubt she would do it. He looked forward to that very much.

But though he was resolved to go through, he thought he had better see how the weather lay on the other side of this door. This door opened into the mountains above the town of Kedres, not into the town itself, and storms were common in those mountains as winter turned to early spring. If the weather looked too difficult, well, that would be reason enough to put off his homecoming at least another day.

“Well? Will you open it, or do you merely mean to admire it as it stands?” inquired a light, quick voice at his shoulder. It was a voice that, to Taudde, was unmistakably underlain with an echo of the dragon’s voice. When ordinary men called Prince Tepres the Dragon’s heir, they were generally thinking merely of the king, the infamous Dragon of Lirionne. But ordinary men did not know of the true dragon beneath the mountain, and ordinary men did not possess Taudde’s trained ear.

Karah, Moonflower of Cloisonné House, the newest and youngest keiso in all of Lonne, stood beside the prince, her fingers twined with his. Though she had come to this house this morning ostensibly to visit her younger sister, Taudde’s student Nemienne, the romance between Prince Tepres and the beautiful young keiso was a very, very open secret throughout Lonne. Karah was far too honest to hide her feelings for the prince, and as his father did not disapprove, Prince Tepres also openly acknowledged his infatuation with her. Everyone looked forward to an eventual flower wedding. This gave the city a charming, pretty subject for speculation and gossip and helped take everyone’s mind off the coming solstice. Taudde was perfectly certain the king had thought of that, and would not have been surprised to discover that Prince Tepres was deliberately making certain public gestures of favor for the same reason.

Jeres Geliadde, the prince’s companion and bodyguard, stood behind them both. Nemienne hovered to one side, most of her attention on the door. She had long since accepted her sister’s romance with the prince and wasn’t much concerned with that; she was much more interested in doors and windows and the whims of the house. And in Kalches. Taudde had not yet decided whether he would permit her to accompany him to his home. He was almost certain it would be safe enough for her to come, but . . . he wasn’t entirely certain. None of them could be entirely certain about anything of the kind until the solstice came and went and did not give way to a summer of iron and blood and fire.

Prince Tepres said drily, “If you are not inclined to open it, Taudde, I might lay my hand to it.”

Jeres Geliadde cleared his throat.

“Or, then, perhaps not,” the prince conceded, tilting a straw-pale eyebrow at Jeres. He did not touch the door, but half turned to give his bodyguard an ironic look. The prince’s thin, arrogant mouth seemed made for irony. He bent that look on Taudde. “Someone needs to, however.”

Taudde eyed Prince Tepres with resignation.

“Of course my father will give you leave to go, Taudde. Surely you don’t doubt it.”

Taudde steadied himself with an effort of will. “No. I don’t doubt your father’s generosity.”

“Your own grandfather’s, then?” the prince asked, more gently than was his habit.

A sudden hammering on the door interrupted Taudde’s attempt to frame an acceptable answer.

It wasn’t the door to Kalches; that would have been far beyond merely startling. This was merely the ordinary door that simply opened out onto the Lane of Shadows. Men did come to that door from time to time: mages who came to study bardic sorcery or the occasional tradesman daring enough to seek custom among the mages who lived along this lane. Prince Tepres, of course, or one or another of the young men who were his companions. Now and again, on a few memorable occasions, the king himself.

None of them had a knock quite of this sort. There was a disconcerting urgency to it.

Prince Tepres, quirking a pale eyebrow at the intrusion, stepped forward to answer that hammering. It was not his place to do so, but he might have meant to reprimand whomever was there for so rude a summons. Certainly whoever pounded roughly on the door would be embarrassed to find he had disturbed not a mere foreigner but the Dragon’s own heir.

Taudde, moved by an alarm he did not entirely understand, said sharply, “Wait!” just as the prince reached the door.

The prince, startled, turned his head, to look back at Taudde.

Jeres Geliadde, responding perhaps to the alarm in Taudde’s voice, thrust himself past Karah and Nemienne and strode suddenly forward, his hand dropping to the hilt of his sword.

The prince’s hand fell on the latch. The latch dropped and turned under the pressure of that touch.

The door slammed open.

For a heartbeat, that was all. There were men there, poised on the weathered gray stone of the porch, a crowd of men: a few in the black of the King’s Own and a handful in the flat red and gray of the army; two men in the black and white robes of mages, and, most fraught of all, three men wearing robes embroidered at cuffs and collar with the saffron-gold that no one in Lonne but those of royal blood had any right to wear. The one in the forefront was a man nearing middle years, heavyset and hard-featured, powerful and angry. The man a step behind was younger and more elegant, with a narrow mouth and small chin; his angular eyes cold with bitter triumph. The third was a younger man, well back, surrounded by soliders.

Taudde had never met the left-hand princes of Lirionne, but he knew at once who they must be: the youngest must be Prince Geradde, of whom he knew nothing but the name. The cold, elegant man must be Prince Telis, whom the folk of Lonne called Sa-Telis, the serpent, even to his face. He had a serpent’s look to him: a cold look. He was said to be mage-gifted and clever and dangerous to cross.

And the one in front had to be Prince Sehonnes, eldest of the king’s sons, but keiso-born and thus not his father’s heir.

Not the king’s heir so long as Prince Tepres lived.

Taudde’s flute, recently carved of driftwood he had gathered himself from the broken shore below the Laodd, was in his hand. It had come there as automatically as Jeres Geliadde had drawn his own sword. But it was not the same as his old flute, which Taudde missed suddenly and acutely.

But for a long, reverberating moment, no one moved or spoke. Jeres would have leaped forward, he had his hand on his prince’s arm, ready to snatch him back from danger. But Prince Tepres had flung up a hand to check him and by that seemed to check them all, so the moment drew out, tension singing in the air until it became all but audible.

Prince Sehonnes, too, held up his hand. He, as Tepres, might have meant to restrain his men. But there was something else in the gesture. Something ostentatious, something that was meant for display: Look at me, like a vain boy showing off a new and expensive bauble to his friends.

Prince Tepres was staring at Sehonnes, at his hand . . . at the ring he wore: a heavy iron ring in the shape of a dragon, with twin rubies for eyes. Their father’s ring. The ring of the Dragon of Lirionne. Tepres had paled. His thin mouth set hard and stern, and he put his shoulders back and stood very straight. He looked, in that moment, very like his father.

“Brother,” said Prince Sehonnes, grimly, and Sa-Telis added, sharp and urgent, “I want the sorcerer alive!”

Tepres tried to swing the door closed. The heavy gauntleted hand of one of the soldiers caught it, a booted foot came down to brace it open, a sword went up . . . Jeres jerked his prince back and caught that descending blade with his own shorter sword, closing with the other man to counteract the soldier’s advantage of reach, shoving the man back out onto the porch with his weight and the sheer force of his will. But Jeres was only one man, and the door was still open.

Tepres, unarmed, reached after a sword he did not have.

Taudde lifted his flute, meaning to get those men off his porch and sweep the left-hand princes after them – perhaps he would fling them all into the dark under the mountain; he thought he could and was frightened and angry enough to try. But the mages blocked him, Sa-Telis stepping to the side to get a clear view of Taudde. Of course the mage-prince and his allies had known Taudde would be here. Both those mages had actually studied with him – he recognized them now – they knew very little sorcery and pretended to scorn what little they knew, but they knew him a little, and they had plainly come prepared to counter his sorcery.

And Taudde, who had devoted considerable thought during the past winter to ways in which a bardic sorcerer might avoid being caught in a magecrafted net of silence, found himself, in the moment in which it mattered, unprepared to meet them. He had more or less trusted the Dragon of Lirionne; he had not expected the door of this house to open onto enemies and sudden battle.

So he was not quick enough to answer the attack when the mageworking set itself against him, binding him into silence so that his flute uttered no sound, so that his shout of frustration fell into silence and was utterly lost. Taudde found himself unable to unravel that mageworking as fast and as powerfully as the two mages set it.

Out on the porch men struggled, but Taudde, caught by a web of magecrafted silence, could not hear them. Jeres had killed one man. Another of his attackers, slashed across the belly, folded slowly down over his terrible wound. The man’s mouth was open, but if he was screaming, Taudde could not hear him, either. Prince Sehonnes’ mouth was open as well, but he seemed to be shouting rather than screaming. He was pressing straight forward through the melee, toward Prince Tepres. One soldier had gotten around Jeres – there were too many men, far too many, they were getting in each other’s way, but that wouldn’t last and anyone could see how this particular battle must end.

Tepres, unarmed save for a short belt knife, gestured urgently for Karah and Nemienne to get back and himself stepped forward to face his attackers. Nemienne was trying to pull her sister away, but Karah was clearly refusing to go without Tepres – the girl wasn’t actually wrong, the prince absolutely could not be allowed to sacrifice himself – Taudde started forward, meaning to grab the prince’s arm and haul him bodily back farther into the house, which after all was not an ordinary house – there was no need, even now, for heroic last stands, but with the silence on him he could not even say so.

Jeres Geliadde faced two more armed men, but another man, behind him, kicked him behind the knee, and Jeres collapsed to one knee. The man drew back his sword for a killing thrust . . . and Jeres, his face blank, lunged upward and sideways and whirled his sword around in a short, vicious arc. Prince Sehonnes’ hand leaped away from his arm, seemingly of its own accord, blood spraying across the gray stone. The left-hand prince staggered, his expression one of disbelief and anger rather than pain. At the same time, the man behind Jeres completed his thrust, and Jeres, his body fully extended in his own smooth attack, could not even attempt to counter that blow. He did not counter it, and the sword slid into him, stabbing from back to front so that several inches of the blade emerged from his chest.

Despite that terrible blow, Jeres, in a smooth continuation of his own movements, as though stepping through the choreographed movements of a dance, caught Sehonnes’ amputated hand as it descended and flung it with deadly accuracy past half a dozen startled soldiers and through the door of the house. Where Prince Tepres, as though the move had been practiced in advance, put up his own hand and caught it.

For a moment that seemed frozen in time, everyone stopped.  Prince Sehonnes, face twisted, clutched at his maimed arm. Even the serpent-prince hesitated, his dark eyes narrowed, to all appearances unmoved, but his attention momentarily fixed on his stricken brother.

Taudde, feeling as though he had been somehow caught in a play, was seized now by a wild desire to laugh. He seized Tepres’ arm in a hard grip and pulled him, resist though he would, back down the hall, sweeping the girls with them, and the pause shattered. In perfect silence their enemies came after them, rushing forward – too many and too well armed and nothing to laugh at, so that Prince Tepres yielded at last and backed up willingly, shoving Karah behind him, but it was impossible, anyone could see they would not be able to get clear. The soldiers rushed forward, and in that instant, without thought, Taudde seized the knob he found ready under his hand, flung open the door, and snatched Prince Tepres and Karah sideways out of the house and out of Lonne entirely, into sudden dazzling cold. The mage-prince strode forward, his mouth open in an inaudible shout, but Taudde slammed the door shut between them, staggering with the force of that motion and with footing gone suddenly uncertain.

Prince Tepres, staggering also, jerked himself free of Taudde’s grip, shoved Karah away toward safety, and whirled back toward the door to face his brothers, lifting Sehonnes’ amputated hand as though he might fling it at their faces in a macabre gesture of defiance.

Only the door was not there. Where it should have stood was only brilliant light pouring down a steep knife-edged ridge and into the empty gulf beyond, light glittering off an equally steep cliff rising on the other side: light and naked stone, empty air and blowing snow, here in the heights where snow would linger all through the short northern summer.

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If you follow me on Facebook, you might have seen this yesterday, but this is why posting has been light so far this week. The picture below was taken just a few months ago. 

I will add, since most of you no doubt recognize the name, that when he was younger, whenever you called his name, a few minutes later he would stroll up as though by purest chance. Probably he was in fact a sorcerer in disguise. He always had kind of that look.

Chrestomanci, ??-??-2000 — 10-23-2018

Eighteen years ago, Chrestomanci strolled out of the woods and moved into my home. He was completely unfazed by the dogs. He spent his whole life being completely unfazed by everything.

Except the vet. He had “bad cat” in red ink on his chart — with four exclamation points. Fortunately he never got sick or injured.

Naturally he wasn’t a “bad cat” at home! I could always pick him up or pull him out from under furniture or lift him out of whatever cabinet he’d opened — he could open all the cabinets. When I was gardening, he’d ride around in the wheelbarrow or sometimes on my shoulder.

Chrestomanci always had great patience with all my dogs. He never once swatted a rude puppy with his claws out. He would tease puppies to chase him, then go up a tree — or if a tree wasn’t handy, he’d just stop and sit down, letting all the dogs skid to a halt around him.

When Chrestomanci was on the stairs, none of the dogs could go up or down. They’d stand and bark for me to make him move. When he occupied the giant dog bed, sometimes a brave dog would creep onto the edge of the bed and share, but mostly the dogs would bark to try to get me to move him so they could have the bed.

Once when the dogs found a black snake in the yard, they all barked hysterically and lunged forward and leaped back. Chrestomanci sat on a tree stump nearby with his back turned to the whole circus, embarrassed to even watch their hysteria.

He was a young cat for 17 years. But this year he started showing his age and gradually losing weight. Recently he started failing in some indefinable way, and last week I realized he had gone blind. On the morning of 10-23-2018, I lifted him onto his favorite windowsill so he could enjoy the sunshine. Then I went out and dug a grave in the woods, not far from the place where he appeared eighteen years ago.


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