Monday, November 26, 2012

Guest Author: Julia Dvorin

We are so happy today to welcome another sister at Hadley Rille Books, author Julia Dvorin. 

Julia is a woman of many hats and little sleep, who tells stories wherever she can. A proud graduate of the Viable Paradise workshop for speculative fiction writers, she fits her writing in while parenting two young boys and promoting a collaborative art project called “Fly Your Freak Flag High” (FYFFH). Julia holds an MA in Sociology from University of California, Santa Barbara, and has been a college lecturer in Sociology and Women’s Studies. She has also worked in consumer products licensing and sales, and has run her own web solutions business. In 2010, Julia’s novelette “Cupid For a Day” was published in the Renaissance Festival Tales anthology from Hadley Rille Books to high acclaim. You can visit Julia on her website:

At the end of Julia's post, we will have an excerpt from her novel, Ice Will Revealso please keep reading!

Prophecy, Destiny, and What Is Revealed

Prophecy. Whether religious or secular, we see it all the time in fantasy writing, and there are infinite variations on the concept. Mighty beings, wreathed in thunder and lightning, speak directly to the people. In times of greatest need, the mystic with a direct conduit to God(s) or Goddess(es) is given a vision with a message for the faithful. A previously unremarkable commoner has a single or recurring dream that turns out to be a divine revelation that sets them on a collision course with kings and wars. Secret messages from previous aeons are decoded and brought to light by intrepid researchers. Perhaps people believe the prophecy and it rules their lives, their culture, their everyday actions; or perhaps prophecy is discarded, scoffed at, hidden or forgotten. Sometimes a story lets us see the act of prophecy as it happens; sometimes the prophecy has already happened and the story we read is about the prophecy’s result, which is often the time when it comes true (or not). We find reluctant prophets, eager prophets, fanatical prophets, and persecuted prophets. Then there are those special people who are the focus of prophecy, the ones who will save the world (or possibly doom it): the One, the Chosen, the Foretold, the Named. We are warned about or against them; we must watch for, identify, find, encourage, or stop them.

Why such a fascination with prophecy and those involved with it? What’s that about? I would argue that fantasy literature is at its heart driven by the investigation of the ineffable, the unknowable, the mysterious and magical, and prophecy is something that allows us to access that through asking “where does prophecy come from?” Prophecy is also intimately related to the concept of destiny, another familiar and beloved fantasy fiction concept. Playing around with the concepts of prophecy and destiny allows us to explore the idea that even if it’s too mysterious or big to comprehend, there is a larger design that we are each a contributing part of, and that hopefully there is something or someone directing that design (regardless of whether that something or someone is obvious or hidden to us). Don’t we all want to be special, to be Chosen? Don’t we all want to be recognized for the unique contributions that we bring into the world? Personally, I find it reassuring to muse (to hope, dream and speculate) about my own place and purpose in the world, even if I don’t necessarily know their exact shape and parameters yet.

So when I started writing Ice Will Reveal, my first fantasy novel, I wasn’t that surprised to find the familiar (and personally compelling) concepts of prophecy, destiny and free will cropping up, even though it’s also an adventure novel with plenty of action and intrigue and monsters and even a little romance. Each of the main point-of-view characters in the book is in the process of struggling with her or his own destiny and purpose, and prophecy helps frame their experiences, but not prescribe them. Some characters act on faith in or obedience to something external, and some act on faith in their own internal sense of direction or morality. Some vacillate back and forth. Yes, I do talk a lot about “the Foretold”, and priests and priestesses receive “truevisions” from their Goddess, but the Goddess has also turned Her face away and become increasingly impossible to access, and visions are open to interpretation. The title refers to an ancient prophecy that serves as certain characters’ context for interpreting current events and provides those characters with reasons to set other events into motion. (Actually, the original title was The Augured, which got changed when a helpful soul pointed out that there was a double entendre possible there that I might not want. But I digress.)

I wanted to write a book in which prophecy was a signpost, not a recipe; where what was happening or what “should” happen was not always clear or direct, and purpose had to come from within as well as without, because finding moments of choice was as valid and important as the willing submission to predestination. I tried to explore how people act and think in situations where “right” and “wrong” are suggested, not required, and vary based on perspective, and what it’s like to try to be a hero(ine) in that kind of “grey” context. These themes recur throughout the book, and surely reflect my own time, place and cultural zeitgeist as well as my particular life stage and personal intellectual interest. I plan on exploring them further throughout the next couple sequels to Ice Will Reveal, and heck, probably in everything I ever write. I can’t help it. Maybe it’s just what I was meant to do.

About Ice Will Reveal

There will be one I choose to turn the wheel

To use My gift to help the land to heal;
The One, the Gift, the Time

Ice will reveal.
Orphaned siblings Jarrod and Whisper Thornn grew up as “mercy kids” at the powerful Holy Temple of the One Goddess. Devout, law-abiding Jarrod became a loyal Temple Guardian, whereas restless, unscrupulous Whisper escaped to an apprenticeship with a rich thief as soon as she came of age. For years, they have barely seen or needed each other.

Then, Whisper accepts a dangerous mission to steal an arcane artifact wanted by the Temple. Meanwhile, the Temple has named Jarrod as the Foretold, the One who will heal the land and turn the absent Goddess back to Her people. But prophecy is open to interpretation, and the priestesses of the Order of the Sickle have named one of their own as the Foretold. Jarrod’s test: he and his companions must investigate a breach in the magical Boundary that has long protected the land of Caledendria from the apocalyptic influence of the Blight. 

When Jarrod and Whisper’s paths unexpectedly converge, Whisper joins Jarrod and his companions on a harrowing journey to seal the breach in the Boundary. Together, they must battle life-sucking wraiths and face loss and betrayal as they hurtle toward a fateful encounter at the Boundary. 

Excerpt from Ice Will Reveal

Jarrod took a long drink of his ale and set it down half-empty on the table with a sigh.

Burning with curiosity, Whisper couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “So?” she said. “What in the Goddess’ name is so important that you had to come all the way out here to see me on a night off? You do have the night off, right? You’re not here to tell me that you’ve left the Temple or anything crazy like that, are you?”

Jarrod finally looked at her, frowning. “No, I haven’t left the Goddess’ service. But I will be taking a brief leave of absence from the Temple itself . . . and I thought you should know, as my only kin.” He looked around as if to check for eavesdroppers, but no one in the crowded, noisy room paid them the least bit of attention. He leaned in closer toward her, putting his elbows on the table. “I’m being sent to the Blighted Lands,” he said in a low voice.

Whisper goggled in surprise, her own drink forgotten in her hand. Like other Myceans absorbed in their city, Whisper thought of the Blighted Lands as mostly a cautionary history lesson, not as an actual place anyone would ever go. “What?” she managed finally, sitting up and leaning in toward him.

“Yes, you heard me.” He nodded slowly and vented another big sigh. Whisper recoiled from the smell.

“Wait a minute . . . are you drunk?” She smothered a laugh. Now that she was close enough, she could smell more than just ale on his breath. In fact, he reeked of whiskey.

Hah! My oh-so-holy brother is sauced like a duck. No wonder he was so formal back at the house. I hope Mins didn’t notice.

“Not nearly drunk enough, I think,” he said solemnly. “But it’s still early. I thought you were going to bring back something challenging. . . ?”

Whisper chuckled. “Ohhhh, don’t tempt me, brother. Even though it’s a fully amusing thought, and one I’d like to pursue for real some other night, watching you puke your devout, virtuous guts out in the alleyway is not why I’m here. It’s been a long day for me, and from the smell of you, you don’t need anything more challenging than Warbler right now. So come on—what’s going on, Jar?”

Jarrod sighed again. Whisper leaned back, waving her hand in front of her nose in mock disgust. Refusing to rise to her teasing, Jarrod remained serious, saying quietly, “It’s complicated. The summary of the story is that I’m leaving in the morning with a few companions and going to the Blighted Lands, to do some reconnaissance there. But . . . there’s more to it than just that, I think. Do you remember that stuff about the Foretold, from when we were kids?”

Now it was Whisper’s turn to frown. Of course she remembered—it was an old and oft-fondled sore spot for her. She remembered the regular visits with Supreme Mother Corandonn and the priestess’ seemingly casual but endless questioning. She remembered the speculative looks and whispers from certain adults around Jarrod, and the rumors and teasing amongst the Mercy kids that had spread even to Whisper. She remembered all the special treatment over the cycles that Jarrod never acknowledged but that she’d felt all too keenly. Tunneling to the bottom of what all that had been about was the first mystery she’d solved, and it had given her an appetite for information-gathering that she’d never lost. Wasn’t she the one who’d first overheard the word “Foretold” applied directly to Jarrod? She remembered that moment clearly: she had been eavesdropping on a heated discussion between Supreme Mother Corandonn and Mother Noyennah from her favorite hiding spot in the high branches of the old elm tree in the Temple school’s courtyard. She was the one who’d run to tell Jarrod about it, and she’d led their careful investigations in the Temple Library.

But despite their figuring out that Supreme Mother Corandonn and the other adults thought Jarrod might be “the Foretold” of prophecy they’d learned about in school, nothing had ever come of it. Eventually the looks and whispers had died away, the teasing had moved on to different victims, and she spent less time around Jarrod, so she stopped noticing any special treatment. Even so, Whisper had always closely held the hurt of not being the special one, the chosen. And as Jarrod, so humble, so determined to be good and righteous and worthy, had grappled with his apparent destiny, she’d pulled away, acting out, becoming his opposite, hoping to be noticed as special, too, even if it was only as specially “bad”. But no one had cared about her or seen her as special until Mins came along and took her away from all that.

“Yeah, I remember. You think they didn’t change their minds after all, and now it’s finally time for you to save the world, huh? Should I bow to you or something?” Jarrod didn’t smile, just looked at her with that long-suffering pious expression she hated. “But I don’t get why they’d send their special boy to the Blighted Lands. Kind of cold and dangerous out there, last I heard. You’d think they’d want to keep you all warm and safe right there at the Temple.”

“Well, they are sending me, that I know,” Jarrod said defensively, and leaned back in his chair. “So I thought maybe I’d better tell you.” He gulped the rest of his Warbler and thumped the glass down on the table, then crossed his thick arms over his chest and glared at her. Whisper, attuned always to what people weren’t saying when they spoke, got a flash of the fear lurking behind his eyes.
He’s afraid he’s going to die out there, she realized. He came to say goodbye, just in case. She felt suddenly guilty for teasing him.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Why I Wrote Searching for Slave Leia

Back in March of this year, Sandra McDonald guest posted here on Heroines of Fantasy. That post sparked a story, know what? She tells it much better. I'm just going to welcome here here, and say how honored I am to have her once again guest on Heroines Of Fantasy.

Take it away, Sandra!
Remember that scene in the The Empire Strikes Back when Darth Vader, prior to interrogating Han Solo, strips away his clothing and leaves him shivering in only his little white Rebel Alliance boxer shorts? Or later, in Return of the Jedi, when the Emperor is ready to kill Luke Skywalker but first makes him put on a thong and some body oil? Probably not. Maybe I'm thinking of the blooper reel.
Or maybe I'm still annoyed at George Lucas for stealing away Princess Leia's perfectly good mercenary uniform in Jabba the Hutt's palace and sticking her in a metal bikini with a chain and collar around her neck. I didn't actually realize how annoyed, however, until I wrote a guest blog post earlier this year here at Heroines of Fantasy. My thoughts about the ridiculous costumes for science fiction and fantasy prompted some interesting debate and comments, and thank you to those who contributed.

After the blogging, I tried to let that bikini go. Believe you me, I have bigger things to worry about than a thirty year old costume decision. But, like a grain of sand in an oyster (or an Imperial thong wedged you know where), it continued to irritate. It spiraled me back in time to when I was a teenager in Revere, Massachusetts, standing in line to see Return of the Jedi after years of angsting about Han Solo trapped in carbonite. In a lobby surrounded by hundreds of other Star Wars fans, I looked up and saw a promotional display of all my favorite characters fully garbed except for one, who barely wore anything at all. I wasn't completely outraged by the display, but my disappointment grew during the movie. The leading heroine of the Star Wars universe is reduced to a sex object who is stripped, chained, sent to a hair and makeup salon, and put on display in front of her friends. Who even knows what Jabba does to her with that big slimy tongue?

Since 1983, Slave Leia – a demeaning epithet that Her Royal Highness and future Mrs. Solo (per the books) would probably not mention at Senate cocktail parties -- has entered into Star Wars canon as a symbol of sexiness and power. She persists in pop culture today. There's a Slave Leia Appreciation Society, Kim Kardashian's Leia costumeand Slave Leia PerfumeYou can make your own Slave Leia costume for under $30.  Or you can buy one on Amazon. I'll let you discover the dubious joys of Slave Leia fanfic on your own. I admit to enjoying Kaley (The Big Bang Theory) Cuoco's funny public service announcement about the preponderance of Slave Leia in cosplay over on YouTube. Slave Leia, it seems, isn't going to go away anytime soon.

Neither was that grit in my gut, which writers know is a sure sign to start typing. Soon I was hammering out a new story that incorporated not only my feelings about Star Wars but also my experiences as a woman who worked in Hollywood and my observations as a science fiction fan over the years. The result, Searching for Slave Leia, may at times be tongue-in-cheek, but it's also one of my most autobiographical stories. My father's car shows up, as does my favorite Boston movie theater and the first temp agency I worked for when I moved to Los Angeles. (It's gone now, replaced by an office building.) You'll also see CBS Radford Studios (now called Studio Center), where I worked with a producer in a development deal with Dreamworks. That lot -- that field of dreams -- is still one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. The title of the story is a reference to the excellent documentary Searching for Debra Winger, which examines the trials and tribulations of women "of a certain age" in the entertainment industry.

To my delight, Searching for Slave Leia sold quickly to the great magazine Lightspeed, and is being published this month in Kindle ebook and online. Lightspeed is also sharing it with the io9, one of the hottest and largest destinations on the net for sf and fantasy fans. Thank you to the folks here at Heroines of Fantasy for inviting me to do that guest blog and awakening the irritation within.  Everything is fodder for a writer, even gold metal bikinis. But I'm still waiting for that scene with Han Solo in his underwear.

Since her last post here, Sandra McDonald won a Silver Moonbeam award for Children's Literature for her gay YA adventure Mystery of the Tempest (written as Sam Cameron). Her story The Black Feminist's Guide to Science Fiction Film Editing is currently appearing in Asimov's Science Fiction magazine, and she has several other short stories and books forthcoming. Visit her at

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ruminations on reconciliation and the demise of the absolute...

I had a number of ideas percolating all week for this post: the trouble/joys of the do it yourself cosmology, the use of cataclysm as a plot device, the similarities and differences between political systems in genre fiction and the ‘real’ thing (hoo boy, now there’s a fantasy for you) and the evolution of a time honored staple in fantasy, good versus evil.
As much as I would like to ramble on about all of them, for I suspect they are all connected in some way, I think I’ll save that mess for another day and stick to asking a few pertinent questions about good vs evil in the world of fantasy.

I have questions because, increasingly, I think we live and write in a world where absolutes have less and less ground on which to stand. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing, but there are times when I grow nostalgic for a cleaner equation. It seems these days that everything is a qualified success or failure. One man’s good guy is another man’s terrorist; one man’s god is another’s devil. Honestly, I sometimes wonder if globalization hasn’t brought out more polarization rather than unification even as it knits together the various world markets and political systems.

And yet I also think the effect of the above on the realm of fantasy has been positive. In a way, I think our current evolving socio-political environment has sparked some interesting hybridizations of some of the old time genre absolutes. Giving the good guys some flaws is in and rightly so, flaws are interesting, humanizing and approachable. Who wants a genre filled with Percivals and Aragorns only? Why do you think Arthur has never gone out of vogue?

I’ll take the flies in the ointment for two hundred, Alex.
But even more intriguing to me is the notion of giving flaws to our anti-heroes, with flaws meaning human qualities. It used to be that bad guys were bad. Castle uglies were truly ugly, evil, twisted creatures with no redeeming qualities. True, we are told Morgoth and Sauron were fallen deities, but all we get in their stories are the unmitigated evil intentions. How much better would Morgoth’s character have been if Tolkien could have injected some of the stuff Milton gave Lucifer in Paradise Lost? (And if a gifted director and actor could pull that off, think how cool a film that might make! Del Toro, are you paying attention?) Yes, I think the intriguing bad guy has been around a long, long time. I think old uncle Milty was on to something the guys who put the Bible together missed out on, and up until the current era, most genre writers missed out on as well. I am thinking of the host of Tolkienesque clones that flooded bookshelves in the late 60’s and 70’s. Some of Brooks’ early Shanarra stuff comes to mind (and more recently, sadly, Paolini’s tripe).  Incarnations of Sauron abounded, and I have always considered them cardboard targets against which writers threw their heroes, pinning the absolute bad with victorious, absolute good.
And this brings me to my point, such as it is. We have begun to see some great stories introducing us to the conflicted hero, the edgy good guy with flaws, some dark smolder and skeletons in the cliché closet.  Batman, anyone? That’s all good stuff but…

How about Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker? I refuse to give Hollywood all the credit for giving us shades of interpretation.  Is there room in genre fiction for the conflicted bad guy? The evil that is not quite as absolute as tradition might have expected but that presents more intriguing possibilities? Mordred, Gollum, half of Peakes’ cast in the Gormenghast books…come on folks add to the list.  

Frankly, I think the rise of the flawed anti-hero reflects more precisely the world in which we live and write. And as troubling as that is for some (cue responses to our most recent election season), I believe the end result will be the continued evolution of the craft into something better and approachable to folks in the market place. But even more importantly, I think it will result in a great new list of wonderful, redefining characters.

I’ll take absolutes with a dash of irreverence for a thousand, Alex.

~Mark Nelson


Monday, November 5, 2012

Guest Author: Heather McDougal

Hadley Rille Books has some great titles coming out this month, and today we'd like to feature one of HRB's new novelists, Heather McDougal, author of Songs for a Machine Age.
Heather was born in Northern California and grew up in a rural summer crafts school, where people from all over the world came to make things. As a result she received in-depth training in pottery, weaving, cooking, construction, and how to grow things. She has a degree in fashion design and eventually achieved an MFA in sculpture, where she learned to blow glass and weld. She has a long-standing fascination with automata and clockwork, particularly those of the 18th century.
After many international travels, she now lives in the same countryside where she was raised, along with her two daughters and her husband, and works as an educator and a writer. She won a Writers of the Future award in 2009 and has had work published in anthologies and magazines since then. Songs for a Machine Age is her first published novel.
Heather has provided an excerpt from the novel, so please keep reading after her guest post.
Welcome, Heather!

The idea for Songs for a Machine Age evolved from a robotics course I took for teachers. They were running the robotics course in the traditional way, meaning a problem-solving situation: you create the parts of the robot based on an assigned task, and then tried to do the task. So, if the task was to move an object from one side of a maze to another, people came up with, for example, an arm that picked the object up, or a flat blade that pushed the object ahead of it like a bulldozer.

I went along for awhile, but in the end the thing that struck me was how prosaic, how mundane the challenges had been. And, when it came to building our own robots, everyone came up with machines that spoke of industry, of tasks. They all did something useful.

I, on the other hand, wanted to experiment. I built a little 4-wheeled vehicle that had large and small tires kitty-corner to each other, so that when it changed direction it would also shift its center of gravity, making it waggle from side to side. It was a silly, floppy, dancing machine.

The others were interested in this machine of mine, its patently un-useful being. "What does it do?" they asked me, and I said, "It dances." And they all commented on how unusual it was. They scratched their heads and smiled.

I couldn't get this experience out of my head. I went home and kept thinking about it. I began to think about how much the Industrial Revolution has shaped the way our society approaches machinery -- how, in fact, it was the needs of industry that created machines, and we don't -- we often can't -- think of machines except as framed in terms of their usefulness.

This view is actually changing these days. Burning Man, the Maker movement, indie music and even playlist technology have had a huge effect on why and how machines are created and used -- the making of fun machines has increasingly gone from industry to the home, to the individual. And more and more, they are being made for art, for fun, and for creativity. But what would have happened if, somewhere along the way in the very beginnings of the industrial revolution, the whole industrial paradigm was subverted into one of art and creativity? What if some culture had rejected the industrial model -- if the Sabots in France had been successful -- and that mechanical knowledge had been rerouted into some different direction? What kind of culture would we have then?

In its origins, Songs was my attempt to answer that question.


Songs for a Machine Age

There is a place where fabulous clockwork Devices fill Festival streets with color and sound.

Where the Gear Tourniers, in their places of high learning, keep alive the memory of the cruel horrors of an industrial past, now overthrown.

Where the skill of the hand and grace of the body are markers of true belief...

Elena alkeson has been on the run for six years.  Wanted by the fanatical Duke of Melifax for witchcraft, nowhere in Devien is safe, as her gift for sensing impending disaster comes with a price: she can't keep her mouth shut.
...Until she meets Fen, who shares a similar gift: the gift of seeing inside mechanisms and knowing what they do.  Elena and Fen must flee for their lives, going to the capital City of Helseve to seek asylum, and, perhaps, a life in which their gifts can be used for good.  Amidst the machinery and the brilliance of the Autumn Festival, Fen and Elena find friencship, danger, and some powerful allise.
But Melifax and his sect, the dour Browns, are determined to bring the people of Devien into a new age, an age of moralism, conformity and mass production, ensuring that the beauty and pageantry of Devien and its Devices will be lost forever.
Excerpt from Songs for a Machine Age
Elena sat on a rock around which the vines flowed, looking out at the curving slopes, staring at the distant winking light that represented her enemy. The knowledge that they might be so close caught her in an old terror, making her shiver in the darkness; and yet, the light of their fire kept them distant. As long as the light remained, she felt she knew where they were.
Come midnight, she was still staring out at the blankness of the night and listening to the myriad scratchings and squeakings of the night creatures. The hours wore dully, and she blinked away sleep, aching with tiredness. The distant fire had long since dwindled to a dull mutter of light, and she had to pee. Rising and stretching her stiff limbs, she moved off among the vines to squat before she went back to wake Fen.
She had barely put her thumbs into the waistband of her leggings when she heard a sound: a faint, rhythmic susurration coming from downhill, somewhere among the many vines. Not the sound of horses or men walking, but rather, a smooth, mechanical sound, like a Device on Festival day. Curious, Elena squinted into the darkness, trying to see what could be approaching in the thin moonlight.
The thing passed ahead of her, a few rows along, only visible by a few silvery glints. Elena shifted, peering. It stopped. She held her breath. Then, above the shoulders of the vines, she saw something dark silhouetted against the starlit sky: something curved and many-pointed.
Antlers. Antlers made of brass.
She had seen those antlers before, had thought of them often over the years. They dropped down again, and the mechanical sound returned, shifted to a longer interval, and was gone.
Elena stood in the dark for a long time, listening, but the thing did not come back.
Percival? Here?
Why would Zander Alloway’s stag be here, passing where she sat? Was it a sign from the Gods, from Ula of the Grove, or perhaps Pomath, God of Hands and Making? What could it mean?
Memories rushed in, of days long ago, of another night like this one, another sighting of the stag.
She remembered the center of the meadow: the shape of a stag, alert and cautious, shining eerily in the moonlight. She had tiptoed closer, her pain forgotten as she watched his many-pointed antlers swing first this way, then that; the pale light ran across his shoulders with a watery gleam, as if he were made of ice, standing in that great lake of moonlight.
He had leapt off, bounding through the shadows with a movement like liquid silver, and she heard something odd: the sound of machinery, quiet and regular, a metallic slithering. The stag itself was a Device, a Created thing. The beauty and precision of it amazed her.
In the small cottage later, after her collapse, the tall, knotted-looking man with red hair and stern eyes whose hands had nevertheless been very gentle with her wounds, had drawn up a chair and gazed at her with his queer, unsmiling face pulled down in thought.
“What’s your name, and where did you get those wounds?” he wondered aloud. She was sipping broth and, as too tired and grateful for caution, her mouth gave her away.
“My name is Elena Alkeson, and I—” Elena’s mouth snapped shut. His grim countenance cracked into a grin.
“Cautious, eh? Not surprised, with those welts on your back.” His grin disappeared as he observed her curiously. “Seems as if you came across Percival last night, doing his nightly rounds. Gave me quite a start, it did, when he came back.”
She had to stop herself leaning forward. “Oh, was that your stag? He’s wonderful! Did you Create him?”
It was his turn to snap his mouth shut. She felt a perverse urge to laugh, but it quickly turned into a wince, and he leapt up to help her get comfortable before excusing himself while he fetched the water.
She had lain in bed, watching the sun move across the beautiful quilt and wondered who this man was. The broth tasted delicious, the bread crusty and fresh. On sleepy impulse, she reached up to a shelf just alongside her bed and carefully took down one of the little wooden boxes that were stacked there, higgledy piggledy. It was about the size of her palm and made of some pale wood, with reddish corners where the sides had been carefully box-combed together. The number two had been carved delicately on the lid that opened beautifully on tiny hinges.
Inside, on the clean wooden surface, rested two dozen or more tiny machine-parts, gears or cogs of some sort, glistening as they rolled unevenly around on their pegs. She reached in with a finger and pushed them around: they were hard, sharply-cut little things, that stuck to her finger like the tiny beads her mother used to sew onto collar-edges…
The sense of warmth and security that came with this memory nearly undid her. As she squatted, she felt tears begin to drip down her cheeks and off her nose, to water the grapes along with the water from her body. Lifting her leggings, she wiped her eyes and, after a few more minutes of staring into the dark, went back to Fen, who lay rigid under his blanket.
“Fen,” she whispered, “Wake up.”
He sat up immediately, letting out a long breath. His face was shadowed in the wan light, but his shoulders sagged with relief.
“There you are! I’ve been awake for a half-hour or more, wondering where you’d gone.”
“Fen, listen, I just saw something. Something wonderful! It may have been an accident, but I think it was a sign we are going in the right direction.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The stag, Zander Alloway’s stag! I saw it, out among the vines.”
“Zander Alloway’s…what?”
“When I was escaping the Duke, it was Zander Alloway who helped me. Yes, the Zander Alloway. He had a Device, a beautiful stag, who appeared in a field and led me to his house. I wouldn’t have found him otherwise.”
“And you just saw this Device again?” Fen shook his head. “Are you certain you didn’t fall asleep and dream about it?”
“No! I had just got down from where I was sitting to relieve myself, so I wasn’t even sitting. It was Percival, I’m certain of it. I’d know that sound anywhere.”
Fen shook his head again, as if to clear it. “But that’s just so…”
“Strange, I know. Fen, it’s not the first time I’ve seen him, in the distance, at night or early in the morning. I don’t know, maybe he’s checking up on me.”
“A Device, checking up on you?”
Elena stared off into the darkness. “Never mind.” She sighed. “I suppose it’s hard to believe if you’ve not seen it for yourself. Listen, their fire’s gotten bigger again, down there. Can you take the watch, please? I think I need some sleep.”
Fen nodded and went off into the vines a ways, disappearing from view. Elena lay down gratefully, taking refuge in her blanket as she settled into the grass at the end of a row of vines, the dry leaves tickling her face.
Percival! Here!
She smiled in the darkness.
Hail Pomath, hail Ula. The Gods are watching.