We being, of course, Fiction Friday and I. Take a bow, Friday. And now me. Greetings, O readers! It's been an exciting month since last I blogged, featuring such delights as plumbing disasters, falling pieces of ceiling, dogs who need pills (cream cheese helps), humans who need pills (just some water, thanks), and... wait for it... writing.
Now, by writing, I don't mean only the silly, all-for-me stuff I tend to crank out during NaNoWriMo. Though I'm doing that too. No, I mean actual readable writing. In this case, the 2015 holiday special, Masters in This Hall. It is finished, and in less than two weeks, on Tuesday, December 1, you'll be able to purchase it!
If you'd like to pre-order the e-book of Masters in This Hall, well, guess what? You can. Not this exact second, as I'm blogging, but very soon now. It will be available for preorder on Amazon within the next few hours, and on Apple's iBooks, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo probably by about this time tomorrow. The link on the title will take you to the Smashwords page, where you may not be able to preorder but you can definitely have a look at the sample.
If you would like to preorder a hard copy (and incidentally, get it both signed and cheaper than Amazon), well, you can do that too, at my Etsy store. And while you're there, why not have a look around? You might find a couple other things you didn't know you were missing. Like signed bookplates for your print DV books (see the Useful Links page if you didn't know there were such things as print DV books).
As for the contents, Masters in This Hall features three stories, like most of my holiday collections. The two shorter stories are "The Christmas Cat", an invented folktale with a Chronicles of Glenscar frame, and "The Twelve Signs of Christmas", a lightly fictionalized depiction of various moments in my childhood Christmases. The longest piece, just over 20,000 words, is this year's Killdeer universe entry, "Sun and Moon and Stars of Light".
"Sun and Moon" intermingles a fairy tale with a science fiction narrative. Does that make sense? It will when you read it. And you get to read the first part of the fairy tale, at least, right here and right now. Or as soon as you scroll down to it, at any rate.
I do need to take one second and thank everyone who has sent me words of helpfulness and encouragement over the past month. I could not have gotten through this time without all of you. Now if you would care to purchase this collection or become a Patreon patron and thereby also send me money, so that I can pay for fixing the holes in the bedroom ceiling and bathroom floor...
But first things first. Story. Here is the first part of the tale of the Winter Princess, which is itself half of "Sun and Moon and Stars of Light". Please enjoy!
Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived the King and Queen of Winter and their beloved daughter, the Winter Princess. Although she had everything her heart should have desired, still the Princess was troubled, for at night her sleep was disturbed by her dreams, nor did they allow her any peace during the day. Time and again her mind wandered away from the business of the kingdom, to hide within her dream life.
For in the dreams of the Princess, she was not a Princess at all, but an ordinary young woman with a home of her very own. Where the Princess was required to sit in dignified silence to listen to petitioners who prolonged their time in the royal presence by repeating their points five times over, the young woman of the dreams could whistle with the birds in the trees or raise her own voice in song whenever she pleased. The Princess spent hours every day fighting back yawns during meetings of her father's council, as interminable as they were incomprehensible, but the young woman of the dreams had a task to fill her every hour, tasks which belonged solely to her, and which challenged both her mind and body without overwhelming either.
Most of all, the Princess's evenings were filled with formal welcomes to foreign lords, until her knees ached with curtseying and her voice trembled with fatigue, but the young woman of the dreams watched eagerly for the lord of her own home each night, and greeted him at the door with an embrace and a kiss. His hands might be rough from work, but his eyes were filled with laughter, and the young woman loved nothing better than to laugh with him, for the joy they shared brought new strength to both of them when it seemed all strength was gone. The Princess often woke weeping from these dreams, and reaching out for a hand which melted beneath her fingers, even as she grasped it tight.
Once the Princess tried to tell her mother about the dreams, but was sharply scolded for her foolishness. "How dare you lower yourself to be dependent upon some common working man, even in a dream?" the Queen demanded. "A Princess stands alone, sufficient unto herself! She must never ask for help, no, nor accept it either, for needing help is a sign of weakness, and weakness is not to be tolerated! Shame upon you, my daughter!"
The Princess went away abashed, and later approached her father to try to tell him about the dreams instead, but he only laughed and chucked her under the chin. "I think you must be moonstruck, my dear, to weave such pretty fantasies for yourself," said the King. "Domestic bliss and true love are well enough in fairy tales, but they wouldn't last long in the full light of day. Why not turn your mind to something a bit more real?"
But still the Princess dreamed, and grew thin and pale with longing for the life she could not have and the man who did not exist. Her stomach roiled, her muscles cramped, her sight dimmed and misted over with pain, forcing her to neglect both her duties and her pleasures in search of ease for her suffering. At last, early in the final month of the year, gazing out her window at the stables of the Ice Dragons who pulled her father's chariot, the Princess made up her mind.
"If I am moonstruck," she said, "I must have done something to offend the Lady Moon. I will leave my home tonight and travel to her Palace of the Night, and ask her why she afflicts me so, and if I can somehow make amends. Perhaps I shall never be truly happy in this life, but there is no need for me to be as miserable as I am."
And so the Princess garbed herself for a journey and set out, carrying only a small pack of provisions and wearing sturdy shoes upon her feet. She traveled a weary while, by day and by night, over hill and through vale, and often she longed to turn back, but every time she thought better of it and set her face forward once more, until at last she came to the black-walled Palace of the Night and entered in.
"What can I do for the Princess of Winter?" asked the Lady Moon where she stood in her palace hall. Her features and figure were those of a queenly woman, and her skin as dark as a new-moon's night, but her softly curling hair, her bright and steady eyes, and the flowing gown she wore were as silver as the moon in all its fullness. "What brings you here in your worn-out shoes, with your eyes so tired and heavy?"
The Princess gathered her courage and spoke. "O Lady Moon," she said, "please tell me in what way I have offended you, for my dreams trouble me greatly, and my father says I am moonstruck. If I have done you wrong, it was without my intent, and I will do whatever lies within my power to make it right."
"Moonstruck, does he say?" The Moon pursed her lips together, her eyes narrowing in thought. "I would be loath to call any man a liar, least of all a King, but you have not offended me in the least, lovely Princess, and therefore I have sent no dreams to trouble you. Come, sit by my fire, and tell me more about these dreams, for it may be that some enemy to us both has cast this sorrow upon you, and seen to it that I am blamed."
Gladly the Princess sat down by the fire, for her journey had been long and cold, and stretched out her feet in their tattered shoes to the flames. The Lady Moon brewed tea with her own hands, and toasted bread and cheese together, while the Princess spoke of the dreams which left her longing so for a creation of fantasy that she could find no joy in her waking life. At length her tale was done, and she accepted the meal her hostess offered with thanks and began to eat and drink, while the Moon gazed into the flames in thought.
When the tea had been drunk to the dregs, when only crumbs remained of the toasted bread and cheese, the Lady Moon spoke again. "These dreams are none of my making, Princess," she said. "So I have said before, and so I say again. But I will say also that I know of no other than myself who can maze a mind to make it desire so deeply something which is not real." She steepled her fingers together and gazed calmly into the Princess's startled eyes. "More than this I cannot say, by the laws which govern us all. But a bed for the night I can give you, and new shoes and provisions when you waken, and then I shall put you on your way to the Palace of the Morning, for Lord Sun and his daughter see much that is hidden from me..."