In 2011 a group of spec fiction writers (who mostly knew each other from SFF.net) got together on a modest digital anthology: Past Future Present 2011, from Copper Publishing. Some of the authors are major award-winners with stories at well-known magazines and publishers; others are talented hobbyists and up-and-coming writers with much bigger projects in the works.
We never intended this collection to set the spec-fic world on fire. This was a labor of love and friendship. Even so, I think it turned out fairly well for a $.99 download. Copper reissued the book in 2013 with a different cover.
Here’s a teaser of my story, ‘Needle and Sword’. It’s not directly related to my Lonhra or Moro stories, but it is set within the same universe. I wrote the first draft in 1991-1992, and illustrated it for a free fanzine put out a year or two later. This version is far better than that, and slightly different from the anthology story. There’s a novel buried somewhere in here, as well as my obvious love for characters who make things…
Blurb: A tailor and a warlord make a pact to protect the city they love.
On the highest balcony of Kytheu Keep, Talai drew her old cutlass and leveled it against an imaginary foe. Her hand shook. Only hawks and pigeons ever saw her weep and spar with the wind, in this lonely spot.
She looked south beyond the wavering blade. “Damn you, Grandfather!” she cried. “You waited too long!”
Southward, the river Kytheu dropped from blue and white peaks, twisting a serpent’s path across eighty miles of farm terraces. Behind Talai’s back, Kytheu City fanned north below its Keep: a jumble of bell towers, narrow streets, roofs tiled in coral, cream, and slate-blue. Half-hidden gardens cast squares of green shadow. Canals looped from the dock-fringed river. A merchants’ road followed the river north, where Talai never looked by choice.
After three minutes, she dropped the blade from stinging fingers. It rang and rattled on the granite floor. Talai followed it down, crouching on aching knees.
“You waited too long, and I’m an old woman,” she whispered to the cutlass.
A hawk shrieked overhead.
Talai looked up, wiping tears from her stern face.
The hawk squabbled noisily with something bigger and brighter than a pigeon, then flapped off, favoring one wing.
A Channel parrot perched on the eaves, its long tail a gaudy emerald and blue banner against muted tiles. One mad pale eye glared down at her. The bird’s beak half-opened, as if it meant to speak.
“If you’re just a parrot, you’re five hundred miles from home. If you’re not, then go away!” Talai yelled up at it.
The parrot screeched bird-laughter at her, and sidled out of view around a corner of the roof. She didn’t see it fly off.
“Keem, where is everyone else?” Sivonie asked, closing the workroom door.
“Whacking dust out of Keep carpets,” laughed the seamstress. “Or hiding. I’d be hiding, too, but this silly quilt must ship tomorrow, a birth-gift for some big upriver family. Is that Lady Migian’s mantle?”
Sivonie unrolled a shimmering bundle. Pearl-shell spangles weighted a deep border on silver silk mesh. In the center of the mantle ran a stylized design of swirling river currents and oared ships gliding among the waves.
“What kind of little magic will this one do?” asked Keem.
Sivonie shrugged. “If Migian’s too angry, not much. But she’ll feel prettier, wearing it. And she is, when her lips aren’t pinched in a frown. Maybe that husband of hers will see it, and say so.”
“Seen Damo pieces like that, down at the Guildhall museum,” said Keem, setting her own project aside. “Last time I saw this, you’d just started it. Sneaking off to that drafty old chapel, again?”
“The Guildmistress gave me permission.”
“After you scrubbed the place clean, and took a white-lamp down for light. At least it’s quiet. No gabbling girls around to sigh over handsome squires.” The seamstress gave Sivonie a sharp look. “Any squires sighing over big green eyes?”
“I’m not meeting anyone there. It’s just peaceful. A Damo place. Helps me think.”
Damo! Sivonie silently breathed the word into a prayer, a plea, a thread of subtle magic.
Farmers sometimes tilled up Damo gold on the terraces, or turned over stones carved with ancient, sinuous scripts. Kytheu Keep itself sprang from a Damo foundation. Deep at its heart lay a fane quartered by long tables. Rumor made the cellar chapel a torture-chamber. The masked statues in the corners were strange, nameless, but not cruel to Sivonie’s eyes. They held carved objects to their lips, as if breathing upon them: a smith’s hammer, a stoneworker’s caliper, a scholar’s scroll, a weaver’s drop-spindle.
“Don’t need thinking to sew,” Keem said, bending over her work again. “Do you notice anything that isn’t Damo-wrought? You found the only two carved blocks in the dormer walls, first night you were here. And remember Migian’s husband, last week?”
“Keem! I never –”
“Of course not, girl, you were only looking at his cloak pin, the one Damo thing on him!”
“Damo work seems more real.” Tall, sturdy Sivonie glanced at the workroom mirrors. She flipped the mantle over her dark-brown hair, brought up a fold to cover her nose and mouth.
“Sivvie!” Keem hissed. “Don’t you dare leave a mark, or any long dark hairs! Lady Migian’s hair is dyed yellow as dawnlight. Want her fine husband explaining himself? Again?” Keem’s stern voice faltered into giggles.
“I’m not likely to ruin it,” said Sivonie, smiling under the sheer fabric. “Or set a quarrel between two families. Wouldn’t be fair to Migian’s husband’s maize, letting good grain rot in warehouses up south.”
“Not his grain, anymore.”
Sivonie lowered her voice. “My uncle Haptin says Migian’s folk traded shipping contracts for grain and a handsome young husband. The wrong hair on clothing, once too often, and he’ll be sent south in disgrace. Then half of Ten-Mile Terrace’s maize rots because no barge captain wants to anger Migian’s family. The rebels don’t get grain for their horses and cookpots. No rebels to stall the islanders, and eventually war spills downriver to us.”
Keem looked dubious. “You hear all this, sewing in the cellar?”
“I hear it at my aunt’s inn,” Sivonie said, wrapping the mantle in clean muslin. “At the docks, when my father brings another barge from the south. In the halls up here, after the councils meet. Kytheu’s restless.”
“Then why not leave? You could already teach in any town between here and the mountains. Sivvie, why are you still paying apprentice-fees to sew quilts and pretty mantles with the rest of us?”
“I’m not finished learning. In three more years, the coin I earn from these will be mine, not the Guild’s. Then I can go find even better teachers.”
“Pity,” said Keem, patting the packet of folded muslin in Sivonie’s hands. “That mantle looked proper on you. You could always make your own.”
Sivonie shook her head, holding the muslin to her lips. “Where would I wear it? It’s just a toy with a tiny bit of magic. I wish I could make something important.”
“Maybe you’ll be chosen to sew honor and valor into a Queen’s coronation robes, eh?” Keem teased.
A slight different version of the complete story is available here as a free read, for now.