As Masque won’t be out for another 15 days, I thought I’d whet your appetite for my Two Monarchies Sequence by giving you a taste of my current WIP: Spindle. You may perhaps be clever enough to guess which particular fairytale I’ve messed with this time . . .
Anyone looking for this excerpt after it has progressed down the page need only click on the page Shorts & Excerpts to find it again.
Enjoy! (Bon Appetit?)
Excerpt from Spindle, chapter one
Polyhymnia knew perfectly well that she was dreaming. Her hair was in pigtails and she was wearing a smock, which pointed to an age of perhaps twelve or thirteen; and the dream itself was a distant memory of a history lesson with Lady Cimone, her teacher. She had been amused for a brief moment to find herself daydreaming during the lesson: dreaming, as it were, during a dream, while Lady Cimone pointed out the various flaws in Civet’s latest sally against Parras.
Oh, I remember this, thought Poly suddenly. Parras tossed over one of our outposts, and we walked right into an ambush trying to retaliate.
Pain, in her left ear. Poly clutched the injured member in surprise.
“Ow!” She hadn’t remembered that.
“Perhaps you could pay attention to your lesson, now that you’re awake?” suggested Lady Cimone. She always did prefer boxing ears to using a cane. Maybe it was her idea of the personal touch. “This is important, Poly.”
Poly let her younger dream-self murmur the appropriate response, her attention snatched away, because a gold-edged rift was beginning to form in the blue-painted wall behind Lady Cimone.
The lady caught the direction of her gaze and gave a sharp glance behind her.
“Bother!” she said. She seemed annoyed rather than taken aback.
Before long the perpendicular rift was tall enough to admit a human, and Poly wasn’t quite surprised when a young man stepped through. He was wearing a long, mud-splattered black coat that looked as though it had seen one too many days travelling, and he had an inquiring, dishevelled look. His forehead was wide and square, with dark hair springing upwards and sideways from it, and his mouth was both determined and wistful; though the triangular set of his chin spoke more to determination than wistfulness. Poly shut her mouth, which had dropped open, and took one involuntary step backwards as the man pulled himself fully into the room. He was fairly glowing with residual magic, which set every alarm bell ringing in her head.
“Shoo,” he said to Lady Cimone, and stepped purposefully toward Poly.
The lady smiled a little grimly and said: “I am no more a dream than you are, young man. Kindly be polite.”
Poly became her normal, older self in confusion, and the dream-memory of the younger her melted away, leaving Lady Cimone and the young man behind in the resulting void. The young man seemed almost as bemused as Poly felt, but Lady Cimone was looking, as usual, serene and omniscient.
“I tried my best, but I’m afraid he got you,” she said to Poly. “You’ll have to go with the wizard for now. Your parents said they’d try to find you somewhere along the way, but things might be a little more difficult than they realised. Try not to forget everything the minute you wake up, child.”
“But-” Poly began; but Lady Cimone was already gone. Poly put her hands on her hips and surveyed the young wizard, who was still standing where he was, disturbingly real for a dream figure.
“Huh,” he said. “Didn’t expect that. Come here, princess.”
Poly could have said: ‘I’m not the princess,’ but it didn’t see worth arguing with a dream. Instead, she said: “I don’t think so,” and slipped up and out of the dream.
It should have woken her. For a moment, she thought it had. She was standing in her own small, rounded chamber, stranded aimlessly between her bookcases. Through her window-slit the outside world looked sunny and normal. Then she saw the translucent something coating her hands from fingers to elbow, and belatedly felt the odd, sideways pull that had brought her here.
“Bother,” she said aloud. The translucent something wasn’t quite magic, but it seemed to be the dream equivalent. In real life, Poly had no magic. It was the one consistent way to tell dream from reality when her dreams became too realistic.
Poly wriggled her fingers and the translucency shivered coolly across them with a sense of familiarity. When had she started dreaming about magic so often? In fact, when had she started dreaming for so long at a time? She felt as though she’d been dreaming for years.
Time to wake up, Poly decided. She let herself slip upwards and awake, and again found herself sliding sideways to the pull of something strong and unfamiliar.
Someone said: “No you don’t, darling. Back to sleep with you.”
Poly gave a little gasp of indignation and fought against the pull. It was ridiculous to allow her dreams to be hijacked by an unpleasant dream entity of her own creation. Where was it coming from?
She dragged herself around in the direction of the voice, feeling the reality of her dream-chamber wobble around her. A nasty quiver of surprise shook her at the sight of the hooded, murky figure that seemed to be more shadow than substance, cobwebbed in the doorway.
To give herself time to become brave, Poly said: “Now, what are you? I know I didn’t dream you up.”
“You must have,” said the hooded figure, its voice soft and amused. “Here I am.”
Too smooth for words, Poly thought, sharp with fear. There was a prickle at her back that made her think the enchanter from the previous level was making his way through to her again. A panicked, nightmare quality had settled over the dream like a wet blanket, weighing her down, and for a brief moment Poly found herself unable to think.
The same soft voice said: “Darling, you’re being difficult. There’s no need for things to become uncivilized. Be a good girl and go back to sleep.”
“I don’t like you,” Poly said experimentally.
“That’s hurtful, darling,” said the voice reproachfully. “As it happens, I’m really quite fond of you. However, needs must, and you really need to go to sleep.”
The reasonable tone to the shadow’s voice was hard to resist. There was her bed, in the middle of the tower room where it didn’t belong, and Poly felt herself take one step towards it.
The sheets should have been cool and smooth when she slid between them. Instead, they were fuzzy and warm, and Poly felt her eyes gum together in the last warning of approaching slumber, the prickle at her back fading in the warmth.
“Huh,” said a second voice. “This is all very interesting. Who are you? No. Not who. What?”
“Undefined element,” said the hooded shadow thoughtfully. Poly could vaguely see it through her gummy eyes, outlined in the brilliant gold of the wizard’s magic. “You are not valid here. Retreat or assimilate.”
“Tosh,” said the wizard. “You’re what? A remnant? Go away.”
“No, I don’t think so,” said the shadow; and it seemed to Poly, mired in sleep, that an impossibly strong magic was stirring in the room – no, in the very air – around her. It was bright, fiery, and entirely translucent.
The wizard said: “Yow!” and did something golden and magical with more haste than precision. Poly stirred, fighting against sleep, and saw his face briefly appear above her.
He said: “Well, better get on with it, then.”
Poly tried to say: ‘Get on with what?’ but found that she couldn’t move her lips. It took her a shocked moment to realise that she couldn’t move her lips because she was being kissed. It took another to realise that she was waking up- really waking up. Gold magic fizzed from her lips to her toes, and everything familiar . . . disappeared.