Authors: Mercedes Lackey
Praise for Mercedes Lackey’s
“This is Lackey at her best, mixing whimsy and magic with a fast-paced plot.” —
“Fans of light fantasy will be thrilled by Lackey’s clever fairy-tale adventure.” —
“Richly detailed historic backgrounds add flavor and richness to an already strong series that belongs in most fantasy collections. Highly recommended.” —
“Mercedes Lackey fans will thoroughly enjoy this fun escapade into turn-of-the-century England. . . . I find Ms. Lackey’s
series a true frolic into fantasy. . . . Witty and dry, the magic in her books is always so believable, as are her characters.” —Fantasy Book Spot
novels are beautiful romantic adult fairy tales. . . . Master magician Mercedes Lackey writes a charming fantasy.” —
Midwest Book Review
“Once again, Mercedes Lackey has created a rich, lush depiction of England’s Elemental Masters, combining elemental magic, fantastic creatures, coming-of-age elements, and the realities of war. . . . Lackey’s elegant wordcraft combines humor with the knife edge of desperation. . . . I highly advise people to read this book, and I desperately urge Mercedes Lackey to keep writing the
novels.” —Fresh Fiction
All-New Tales of the Elemental Masters
Copyright © 2012 by Mercedes Lackey and Tekno Books.
All Rights Reserved.
Cover art by Jody Lee.
Cover design by G-Force Design.
DAW Book Collectors No. 1608.
DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious.
All resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
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HECHO EN U.S.A.
Elementary, My Dear. . . .
I hope you weren’t looking for the annual Valdemar anthology, because this isn’t it. Due to a number of circumstances, we’re taking a one-year break from Valdemar to showcase another of my creations instead: the
My editor and publisher at DAW actually prefers this series, possibly because it’s something other than the never-ending medievalish fantasy series that cross her desk practically every day. I like these books as a break from the medievalish fantasy series as well, for the same reason that I enjoy urban fantasy; it’s a chance to integrate magic and the “real world,” a great opportunity to play a game of “what if?”
“What if” there is a cadre of people using real magic in our real world, working silently, behind the scenes, and has been for thousands of years?
It’s not a new idea of course; lots of people are doing the same thing now, and plenty have done it in the past. My “working construct” of magicians who are confined to using only the Elementals and magic belonging to one of the four classical Greek Elements—Earth, Air, Water, and Fire—isn’t new either, I suspect. But it’s a lot of fun, and I like to think I do it well. What is new, or at least newish, is that for my novels I combine this with retold fairy tales—Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Puss In Boots, Tattercoat, Cinderella, Snow Queen, Tam Lin.
I’ve confined myself to a specific historical period, setting them in the period between 1870 and 1919. I like that time period a great deal; there was massive change going on during it, much for the good, such as the gaining of women’s rights, huge improvements in medicine, scientific leaps and bounds, and some for the worse, such as the beginning of the time when we started actually pillaging the environment without a thought for the consequences. It is also a time when the line between science and “magic” was rather . . . blurry . . . as any exploration of early scientific experimentation and investigation will show. It’s very fertile ground for a lot of storytelling, and enables me to change characters with each book while remaining in the same general setting.
However, when we proposed this anthology, I opened things up a bit for my contributors. Even though my books have been set in the UK and Europe, and between 1870 and 1919, I suggested to them that there have been Elemental Masters all through history, and although I wanted to keep the upper limit of 1919, they could go as far back as they pleased. I also suggested that Elemental Masters are not limited to the UK or Europe, and they could take their stories to whatever part of the world they wanted.
I’m thrilled to see they did just that. It was great fun putting this together and reading all the contributions. I’d like to thank all of them now for getting their stories to us in what was a lot less than the usual time before deadline. And I hope you readers enjoy these enough that we can do more!
A Song of the Sea
Diana L. Paxson
Kyria leaned on the rail as the ship left the harbor, balancing easily as the deck began to rise and fall. Behind them, the mainland of Italia fell away as if it were moving and she the one who was standing still. She could see a gleam of golden stone from the acropolis of Kumae, and the painted pillars of the temple where they had made their offerings to Nereus. Several ships had disappeared this spring; it was a sensible courtesy.
Would she ever see Kumae again? She told herself that it made no difference—her home would be wherever Meto was now.
She looked back at the young man who had been her father’s student and now was to be her husband. He would be a big man when he filled out, but he was still growing into his bones. He was speaking with one of the sailors, the freshening breeze tossing his light hair. As if he had felt her glance, he looked up and then quickly away.
Their parents had arranged the alliance. Meto’s father, a Sikelian merchant who had once belonged to the outer circle of the Pythagorean community, was thrilled to marry his son to the daughter of Archilaus, one of the
who had learned the Master’s secret teachings before a revolution scattered Pythagoras and his students around the Mediterranean like seeds before the wind.
This mating was as rational as one of Pythagoras’ theorems. No one had asked Kyria what she thought. She wondered if they had asked Meto.
Block and tackle rattled as the seamen raised the big square sail. The painted meanders rippled like water, then firmed to a tight zigzag and the ship began to move more swiftly.
Kyria thought as she gazed over the side,
I will spend my last days of freedom on the sea.
The water over which they were gliding glowed a brilliant aquamarine, the white sand below netted by lines of light.
What might one catch with such a net?
Kyria leaned farther, caught the silver flicker of fish where the purple seaweeds grew and something else—a sinuous gleam as if the water had shaped a form to greet her. She glimpsed a pair of bright eyes and a toothy smile.
“Sea Sister, daughter of Nereus, hail! All honor to you and your father, please ward us on our way!” She found the piece of bread she had stowed in a fold of her chiton and tossed it into the water as she used to do when she was a little girl and still free to scamper about the shore. The strange eyes widened, then Kyria was jerked backward. She came to herself facing Meto’s anxious frown.
“Are you all right?” his fair skin grew pinker and he let go of her arm. “You were leaning so far. I thought you were going to fall!”
Concerned for his property?
she wondered, but no, a real anxiety darkened his gray eyes.
“I’m fine . . .” she gestured toward the ocean. Her own arms only grew more golden with sun. “It’s so beautiful—I wanted to see.”
He looked at the water and then back at her. “Your hair waves like the seaweed,” he said suddenly, then flushed and walked away.
Kyria plucked at a strand that had escaped from the knot into which her mother had braided it so neatly that morning. The dark undulations glinted with reddish highlights in the bright sun. She supposed that mark of interest was a good sign. Pythagoreans valued the soul above the senses, but she suspected marriage would be more pleasant if bodies also got along.
If he learns to love me, will he let me walk alone on the shore?
She turned her gaze back to the ocean, rolling away in an ever-changing landscape of trough and billow as the ship moved out into the great bay. The Pythagoreans gave their women more freedom than most, but what would it be like in Sikelia? Once she was installed in the women’s quarters of Meto’s house at Agrigentum, a view from an upper window might be the closest she would ever come to the sea.
* * *
The night sky shimmered with stars, reflected in myriad tiny spangles on the sea. Voyaging through such beauty, she wondered why Odysseus had tried so hard to return to Ithaka.
The captain had thrown out the sea anchor for the night and lowered the sail, and the ship rocked gently on a calm sea. To the east, the pointed silhouette of Vesouvios bulked dim against the sky, flanked by the curved horns of the bay, but to the south the sky curved down to the edge of the sea.
In the tent they had rigged just behind the mast, her mother, who had been seasick for most of the day, was sleeping at last. Forward, a flicker of lamplight alternately lit and hid the faces of her father and the other men as they passed the wineskin. Kyria wondered if the wine came from one of the amphorae wedged into the ship’s hold.
“Nay, sir,” the captain’s voice rose above the creak of the timbers. “I’ve heard the rumors too, but
is a stout ship, and ye’ve nothing to fear.”
“And yet barely half the ships have arrived in Kumae that we should have seen at this time of year,” her father replied, his voice too loud, as it had become since his hearing began to fail. “If, as you say, there’s no new war, logic tells us there must be some other cause.”
“When the Powers of the Sea decide to take their tithe,” muttered one of the sailors, “there is nothing men can do.”
“Each element has its tone and number. Pythagoras teaches that when there is a balance between Love and Strife, all will be in harmony,” Kyria’s father replied, and the conversation sank to a murmur once more.
She turned at the sound of a step behind her and recognized Meto’s lean height.
“Don’t let their talk frighten you—” he said, but his voice was tight.
“I do not fear the sea,” she said truthfully, realizing that with every hour she spent on board she felt more at ease.
He cleared his throat. “Would you like to see Jason’s ship in the sky?”
“Where?” After it became clear she had no gift for mathematics, her father had stopped including her in his classes. She had not gotten as far as astronomy.
“There’s Orion and his dog—” Meto pointed overhead. “Follow the Milky Way to the southeast and you’ll see how it runs right into the
’s sail—” with broad strokes he sketched out the high stern, mast, and steerboard and keel, until her vision shifted suddenly and she could see the great ship sailing over the rim of the world.
For a little while they stood silent before that beauty.
, she thought, that when Meto was her father’s pupil she had seen him almost every day, and except in the classroom, he had hardly said a word. Once they were betrothed, he had not spoken to her at all. But now, in this moment outside of time, talking was suddenly easy.
“Do you think your father is right about the elements?” he asked at last.
“He must be, but I find it hard to imagine numbers experiencing either love or strife!” she replied. His face was a dim oval in the darkness, but he had shown her his soul. Perhaps she could reveal her own. “When I was a child, I used to believe that the Elements existed in a place between flesh and spirit, where beings lived that are the essence of a thing given form.”
She remembered how it felt to look into a wave as through a piece of Egyptian glass and wave to the shining maidens there. Had she really seen the daughters of Nereus, or only a trick of the light that gave shape to her nurse’s tales? And when she gazed at the sea this morning, what was it that she had seen?
“I believe they exist . . .” he said very quietly, “when I listen to the wind. . . .”
“Meto!” the voice of Kyria’s father cut short whatever else the young man had been going to say. “Time to seek your rest! And you, child—what are you doing out of your bed?”
His voice was kind. She knew he cared for her. But how could he stand on this deck and not take a moment to gaze in wonder at the ship that sailed the sky?
* * *
On the ocean, nothing is so certain as change. By the next morning clouds occluded the sky and dulled the water, ruffled with whitecaps by the rising west wind. Kyria had gone to the prow as soon as she woke, eager to learn about this new mood of the sea, but her father ordered her back to take care of her mother, who had never much liked boats and now refused to stir from the dubious shelter of the tent.
The wind was too fitful to dare the passage between the Isle of Boars and the southern horn of the bay, and the captain was seeking sea room to weather the island. Kyria could hear fragments of shouted orders over the sound of the wind. The feet of the sailors drummed on the deck as they ran to haul on the sheets and braces, Meto among them, grinning as he gripped the rope and turned his face to the blast. The ship heeled sharply as the big sail was hauled around and
tacked once more.
It was a tortuous, zigzag progress, requiring the most delicate judgment to balance the forces of wind and water. But by nightfall, the storm seemed to be abating, and Captain Libano ordered the sea-anchor cast over the side. Meto did not join the other passengers in the tent until darkness fell.
Kyria was surprised to find herself so aware of his presence. She wanted to ask him if he had heard voices in that wind, but the only conversation in the tent was the counsels of philosophic detachment that her father murmured when her mother’s fears outran her control. She wondered why she herself was not afraid. Ships disappeared all the time. It was quite possible that her life would end in these tossing waves.
There is no ocean in Hades,
she thought grimly.
If I must die, I will ask the gods to let my spirit remain with the sea.
But the captain had sounded resolute rather than anxious, so perhaps it would not come to that, despite her mother’s fears.
By the time morning’s gray light replaced the darkness they were well out to sea. To their left was a dim blur that might be land, growing rapidly more distinct as the rising wind drove them on. Captain Libano grinned and said that with this wind they would reach their goal in record time, but the steersman was white-knuckled with the effort to keep the ship on course.
“What land is that?” Kyria asked one of the sailors when her mother had fallen into an exhausted sleep at last.
“Surrentum,” came the answer, “and a wild, wolf-fanged coast it is, with sheer cliffs down to the sea. But if the wind holds, we’ll soon be past it.”
Kyria kept a tight hold on the railing as the ship thrashed along, racing surging gray wave horses maned with white foam.
This must be what it feels like to drive a chariot,
she thought dizzily as blood sang in her veins.
Presently the wind shifted to the south. The man at the stern turned the steerboard, and the deck dipped again as the square sail was hauled around to catch the wind at an angle that sent the ship speeding eastward once more. The clouds were beginning to fray.
The air brightened and she blinked at a sudden blaze of emerald from the sea. Below the distant cliffs she could make out a white fringing of surf, and more surf edging three low islands that lay between the ship and the shore. The wind was still strong, but at least they could see where they were going now.
That was when she saw Meto halt as if listening. In the next moment, she heard it as well.
Singing. . . .
It’s the wind in the rigging
, she told herself,
or the call of a gull.
But no gull ever had a voice so pure. She staggered as the sail flapped suddenly.
“Secure that brace!” called the captain as the sailor she had talked to before let the rope that ran from the end of the yardarm fall. One of the other men grabbed it, and the ship steadied as he wound it tightly around its peg at the stern.
“As for you—” The sailor scarcely seemed to notice as the captain gripped his arm.
“Can’t you hear her?” he asked in a conversational tone. “Can’t you hear her calling me?”
Now other men were stopping, the confusion in their eyes giving way to wonder.
shuddered as the steersman let go.
“Poseidon strike you! Get back there!” the captain started toward the stern, shouldering past Archilaus, who had emerged from the tent to see what was going on.
Kyria shook her head, trying to sort out the singing from the babble she heard from the sea. Then she saw that Meto had followed the helmsman to the rail. She lurched across the heaving deck, grabbed his tunic with one hand while the other gripped the rail. He did not even seem to know she was there.
“Is there danger?” asked Archilaus.
“Oh, sir, just listen!” Meto’s voice rang with joy. “She’s singing about the holy numbers—the secrets of music—everything you tried to teach me, but I couldn’t understand!”
The philosopher cupped a hand behind his ear, brows bent in frustrated curiosity. There was a splash as one of the sailors leaped into the sea.
“Stop your ears!” Captain Libano’s voice cracked. “Gods save us! We’ve come to the Siren’s isle!” Two more men went over the side, and the words borne on the wind mingled with a chorus of lamentation from the sea.
The captain looked wildly around him and gestured frantically to Archilaus, who alone among them stood unmoved. “Sir! Take the steerboard! Hold her as she goes!”
As the philosopher grasped the steering bar, the captain clapped his hands over his ears. The ship wavered, and Meto began to struggle in Kyria’s arms. More crewmen were diving overboard, crying out in eager greeting to women only they could see.
Now she could hear words as well—a song of home and hearth and heart’s desire—but louder still was the chorus of warning she heard from the waves. She saw her father struggling with the steerboard, but it had been too many years since he had grasped anything but a pen. He went sprawling as the wooden bar wrenched free, and Kyria staggered as
heaved round. The starboard brace snapped with a
as the precise relationship between sail and steerboard failed, followed by the sheetline below. As the yardarm swung, the flapping corner of the sail caught the captain across the chest and swept him away.
In another moment, the portside lines were gone as well. The sail flared forward like a gigantic flag and
followed, prow aimed at the islands, running before the wind.