THE SCARLET CIRCUS by Jane Yolen preview: “Dusty Loves”
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In celebration of the release of Jane Yolen’s THE SCARLET CIRCUS, Tachyon presents glimpses from the book that “is a magnificent and beautiful anthology from a master storyteller!” (Sarah Beth Durst, award-winning author of The Queens of Renthia series)
There is an ash tree in the middle of our forest on which my brother Dusty has carved the runes of his loves. Like the rings of its heartwood, the tree’s age can be told by the number of carvings on its bark. Dusty loves . . . begins the legend high up under the first branches. Then the litany runs like an old tale down to the tops of the roots. Dusty has had many, many loves, for he is the romantic sort. It is only in taste that he is wanting.
If he had stuck to the fey, his own kind, at least part of the time, Mother and Father would not have been so upset. But he had a passion for princesses and milkmaids, that sort of thing. The worst, though, was the time he fell in love with the ghost of a suicide at Miller’s Cross. That is a story indeed.
It began quite innocently, of course. All of Dusty’s affairs do. He was piping in the woods at dawn, practicing his solo for the Solstice. Mother and Father prefer that he does his scales and runs as far from our pavilion as possible, for his notes excite the local wood doves, and the place is stained quite enough as it is. Ever dutiful, Dusty packed his pipes and a cress sandwich and made for a Lonely Place. Our forest has many such: dells silvered with dew, winding streams bedecked with morning mist, paths twisting between blood-red trilliums—all the accoutrements of Faerie. And when they are not cluttered with bad poets, they are really quite nice. But Dusty preferred human highways and byways, saying that such busy places were, somehow, the loneliest places of all. Dusty always had a touch of the poet himself, though his rhymes were, at best, slant.
He had just reached Miller’s Cross and perched himself atop a standing stone, one leg dangling across the Anglo-Saxon inscription, when he heard the sound of human sobbing. There was no mistaking it. Though we fey are marvelous at banshee wails and the low-throbbing threnodies of ghosts, we have not the ability to give forth that half gulp, half cry that is so peculiar to humankind, along with the heaving bosom and the wetted cheek.
Straining to see through the early-morning fog, Dusty could just make out an informal procession heading down the road toward him. So he held his breath—which, of course, made him invisible, though it never works for long—and leaned forward to get a better view.
There were ten men and women in the group, six of them carrying a coffin. In front of the coffin was a priest in his somber robes, an iron cross dangling from a chain. The iron made Dusty sneeze, for he is allergic and he became visible for a moment until he could catch his breath again. But such was the weeping and carryings-on below him, no one even noticed.
The procession stopped just beneath his perch, and Dusty gathered up his strength and leaped down, landing to the rear of the group. At the moment his feet touched the ground, the priest had—fortuitously—intoned, “Dig!” The men had set the coffin on the ground and begun. They were fast diggers, and the ground around the stone was soft from spring rains. Six men and six spades make even a deep grave easy work, though it was hardly a pretty sight, and far from the proper angles. And all the while they were digging, a plump lady in gray worsted, who looked upholstered rather than dressed, kept trying to fling herself into the hole. Only the brawny arms of her daughters on either side and the rather rigid stays of her undergarments kept her from accomplishing her gruesome task.
At last the grave was finished, and the six men lowered the coffin in while the priest sprinkled a few unkind words over the box, words that fell on the ears with the same thudding foreboding as the clods of earth upon the box. Then they closed the grave and dragged the weeping women down the road toward the town.
Now Dusty, being the curious sort, decided to stay. He let out his breath once the mourners had turned their backs on him, and leaped up onto his perch again. Then he began to practice his scales with renewed vigor, and had even gotten a good hold on the second portion of “Puck’s Sarabande” when the moon rose. Of course, the laws of the incorporeal world being what they are, the ghost of the suicide rose, too. And that was when Dusty fell in love.
THE SCARLET CIRCUS by Jane Yolen preview: “A Ghost of an Affair”
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In celebration of the release of Jane Yolen’s THE SCARLET CIRCUS, Tachyon presents glimpses from the book that delights with “vivid, pithy prose animating each quirky flight of fancy.” (Publishers Weekly)
A Ghost of an Affair
Most ghost stories begin or end with a ghost. Not this one. This begins and ends with a love affair. That one of the partners was a ghost has little to do with things, except for a complication or two.
The heart need not be beating to entertain the idea of romance. To think otherwise is to misunderstand the nature of the universe.
To think otherwise is to miscalculate the odds of love.
Andrea Crow did not look at all like her name, being fair-haired and soft-voiced. But she had a scavenger’s personality, collecting things with a fierce dedication. As a girl she had collected rocks and stones, denuding her parent’s driveway of mica-shining pebbles. As an adolescent she had turned rock collecting into an interest in gemstones. By college she was majoring in geology, minoring in jewelry making. (It was one of those schools so prevalent in the ’80s where life experience substituted for any real knowledge. Only a student bent on learning ever learned anything. But perhaps that is true even at Oxford, even at Harvard.)
Andrea’s rock-hound passion made her a sucker for young men carrying ropes and pitons, and she learned to scramble up stone faces without thinking of the danger. For a while she even thought she might attempt the Himalayas. But a rock-climbing friend died in an avalanche there, and so she decided going to gem shows was far safer. She was a scavenger, but she wasn’t stupid.
The friend who died in the avalanche is not the ghost in this story. That was a dead girlfriend and Andrea was depressingly straight in her love life.
Andrea graduated from college and began a small jewelry business in Chappaqua with a healthy jump-start from her parents who died suddenly in a car crash going home from her graduation. They left a tidy sum and their house to Andrea who, after a suitable period of mourning, plunged into work, turning the garage into her workroom.
She sold her jewelry at craft fairs and Renaissance faires and to several of the large stores around the country who found her Middle Evils line especially charming. The silver and gold work was superb, of course. She had been well trained. But it was the boxing of the jewelry—in polished rosewood with gold or silver hinges—as well as the printed legends included with each piece that made her work stand out.
Still, her business remained small until one Christmas Neiman Marcus ordered five thousand adder stone rings in Celtic-scrolled rosewood boxes. The rings, according to legend, “ensured prosperity, repelled evil spirits, and in seventeenth-century Scotland were considered to keep a child free of the whooping cough.” She finished that order so far in the black that she only had to go to one Renaissance faire the following summer for business.
Well, to be honest, she would have gone anyway. She needed the rest after the Neiman Marcus push. Besides, she enjoyed the faire. Many of her closest friends were there.
All of her closest friends were there.
All three of them.
Simon Morrison was the son and grandson and great-grandson of Crail fisherfolk. He was born to the sea. But the sea was not to his liking. And as he had six brothers born ahead of him who could handle the fishing lines and nets, he saw no reason to stay in Crail for longer than was necessary.
So on the day of his majority, June 17, 1847, he kissed his mother sweetly and said farewell to his father’s back, for he was not so big that his da—a small man with a great hand—might not have whipped him for leaving.
Simon took the northwest road out of Crail and made his way by foot to the ferry that crossed the River Forth and so on into Edinburgh. And there he could have lost himself in the alehouses, as had many a lad before him.
But Simon was not just anylad. He was a lad with a passionate dream. And while it was not his father’s and grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s dream of herring by the hundredweight, it was a dream nonetheless.
His dream was to learn to work in silver and gold. Now, how—you might well ask—could a boy raised in the East Neuk of Fife, in a little fishing village so ingrown a boy’s cousin might be his uncle as well—how could such a boy know the first thing about silver and gold?
The answer is easier than you might suspect.
The laird and his wife had had a silver wedding anniversary, and a collection was taken up for a special gift from the town. All the small people had given a bit of money they had put aside; the gentry added more. And there was soon enough to hire a silversmith from Edinburgh to make a fine silver centerpiece in the shape of a stag rearing up, surrounded by eight hunting dogs. The dogs looked just like the laird’s own pack, including a stiff-legged mastiff with a huge underslung jaw.
The centerpiece had been on display for days in the Crail town hall, near the mercat cross, before the gifting of it. Simon had gone to see it out of curiosity, along with his brothers.
It was the first time that art had ever touched his life.
He had been bowled over, knocked about, nearly slain by the beauty of the thing.
After that, fishing meant nothing to him. He wanted to be an artisan. He did not know enough to call it art.
When he got to Edinburgh, a bustle of a place and bigger than twenty Crails laid end to end to end, Simon looked up that same silversmith and begged to become the man’s apprentice.
The man would have said no. He had apprentices enough as it was. But some luck was with Simon, for the next day when Simon came around to ask again, two of the lowest apprentices were down with a pox of some kind and had to be sent away. And Simon—who’d been sick with that same pox in his childhood and never again—got to fetch and carry for months on end until by the very virtue of his hard working, the smith offered him a place.
And that is how young Simon Morrison the fisherlad became not-so-young Simon Morrison the silversmith. He was well beyond thirty and not married. He worked so hard, he never had an eye for love, or so it was said by the other lads.
He only had an eye for art.
Now in the great course of things, these two should never have met. Time itself was against them, that greatest divide. A hundred years to be exact.
Besides, Simon would never have gone to America. America was a land of cutthroats and brigands. He did not waste his heart thinking on it, though, in fact, he never wasted his heart on anything but his work.
And though Andrea had once dreamed of Kathmandu and Nepal, she had never fancied Scotland with its “dudes in skirts,” as her friend Heidi called them.
But love, though it may take many a circuitous route, somehow manages to get from one end of the map to another.
THE SCARLET CIRCUS by Jane Yolen preview: “Memoirs of a Bottle Djinn”
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In celebration of the release of Jane Yolen’s THE SCARLET CIRCUS, Tachyon presents glimpses from the book that is “endlessly imaginative [with] superbly crafted tales that stir the heart.” (Kirkus)
Memoirs of a Bottle Djinn
In my country poets sing the praises of wine and gift its color to the water along the shores of Hellas, and I can think of no finer hymn. But in this land they believe their prophet forbade them strong drink. They are a sober race who reward themselves in heaven even as they deny themselves on earth. It is a system of which I do not approve, but then I am a Greek by birth and a heathen by inclination, despite mymaster’s long importuning. It is only by chance that I have not yet lost an eye, an ear, or a hand to my master’s unforgiving code. He finds me amusing, but it has been seven years since I have had a drink.
I stared at the bottle. If I had any luck at all, the bottle had fallen from a foreign ship and its contents would still be potable. But then, if I had any luck at all, I would not be a slave in Arabia, a Greek sailor washed up on these shores, the same as the bottle at my feet. My father, who was a cynic like his father before him, left me with a cynic’s name—Antithias—a wry heart, and an acid tongue, none proper legacies for a slave.
But as blind Homer wrote, “Few sons are like their father; many are worse.” I guessed that the wine, if drinkable, would come from an inferior year. And with that thought, I bent to pick it up.
The glass was a cloudy green, like the sea after a violent storm. Like the storm that had wrecked my ship and cast me onto a slaver’s shore. There were darker flecks along the bottom, a sediment that surely foretold an undrinkable wine. I let the bottle warm between my palms.
Since the glass was too dark to let me see more, I waited past my first desire and was well into my second, letting itrise up in me like the heat of passion. The body has its own memories, though I must be frank: passion, like wine, was simply a fragrance remembered. Slaves are not lent the services of concubines, nor was one my age and race useful for breeding. It had only been by feigning impotence that I had kept that part of my anatomy intact—another of my master’s unforgiving laws. Even in the dark of night, alone on my pallet, I forwent the pleasures of the hand, for there were spies everywhere in his house and the eunuchs were a notably gossipy lot. Little but a slave’s tongue lauding morality stood between gossip and scandal, stood between me and the knife. Besides, the women of Arabia tempted me little. They were like the bottle in my hand—beautiful and empty. A wind blowing across the mouth of each could make them sing, but the tunes were worth little. I liked my women like my wine—full-bodied and tanged with history, bringing a man into poetry. So I had put my passion into work these past seven years, slave’s work though it was. Blind Homer had it right, as usual: “Labor conquers all things.” Even old lusts for women and wine.
Philosophy did not conquer movement, however, and my hand found the cork of the bottle before I could stay it. With one swift movement I had plucked the stopper out. A thin strand of smoke rose into the air. A very bad year indeed, I thought, as the cork crumbled in my hand.
Up and up and up the smoky rope ascended and I, bottle in hand, could not move, such was my disappointment. Even my father’s cynicism and his father’s before him had not prepared me for such a sudden loss of all hope. My mind, a moment before full of anticipation and philosophy, was now in blackest despair. I found myself without will, reliving in my mind the moment of my capture and the first bleak days of my enslavement.
That is why it was several minutes before I realized that the smoke had begun to assume a recognizable shape above the bottle’s gaping mouth: long, sensuous legs glimpsed through diaphanous trousers; a waist my hands could easily span; breasts beneath a short
THE SCARLET CIRCUS by Jane Yolen preview: “Sans Soleil”
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In celebration of the release of Jane Yolen’s THE SCARLET CIRCUS, Tachyon presents glimpses from the book that “is a charming bouquet of love stories from a heady array of fantastical viewpoints.” (Susan Palwick, author of All Worlds Are Real and Flying in Place)
There once was a prince called Sans Soleil, which is to say, Sunless. It had been prophesied at his birth that he would grow so handsome, his beauty would outshine the sun. That he might not be killed by the jealous star, he had to be kept in the dark, for it was said that he would die if ever a shaft of sunlight fell upon his brow.
So the very night he was born, his father, the king, had him carried away to a castle that was carved out of rock. And in that candlelit cave-castle, the young prince grew and flourished without ever seeing the sun.
Now, by the time Sans Soleil was twenty years old, the story of his strange beauty and of the evil prediction had been told at every hearth and hall in the kingdom. And every maiden of marrying age had heard his tragic tale.
But one in particular, Viga, the daughter of a duke, did not believe what she heard.
“Surely,” she said, tossing her raven-black hair from her face, “surely the king has hidden his son from the light because he is too monstrous to behold.”
Her father shook his head. “Nay,” he replied. “I have been to this cave-castle and have seen this prince. He is handsomer than the sun.”
But still Viga did not believe what her father told her. “The sun cannot harm anyone,” she said. ‘‘There is no sense in what you say.” And she took herself to the king dressed in her finest gown of silver and gold.
“Sire,” she said, “at court you have been taken in by lies. The sun is not harmful. It nourishes. It causes all things to grow. It will not kill the prince.”
The king was touched by the girl’s sincerity. He was moved by her beauty. He was awed by her strength of purpose, for it is no little thing to contradict a king. Still, he shook his head and said, “It was prophesied at his birth that he would die if ever a shaft of sunlight struck his brow.”
“Old wives and young babes believe such tales. They should not frighten you, sire. They do not frighten me,” Viga replied. ·
‘‘They do not frighten you because you are not the one who would die,” said the king, and at these words all the courtiers smiled and nodded their heads and murmured to one another. “Still, I will give the matter more thought.”
Viga gave a low curtsy. And as she rose, she said quietly, so that only the king could hear it, “It does seem strange that sun and son do sound the same.” Then she smiled brightly and departed.
THE SCARLET CIRCUS by Jane Yolen preview: “Unicorn Tapestry”
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In celebration of the release of Jane Yolen’s THE SCARLET CIRCUS, Tachyon presents glimpses from the book “is a magical collection of love stories, where love is often an act of courage and intelligence.” (Anne Bishop, New York Times bestselling author of the Black Jewels series)
Princess Marian was a middle child and middle—she often complained—in everything else. Her older sister, Mildred, was beautiful and about to be married to the Emperor Karlmage. Her younger sister, Margaret, was striking and about to be wed to a neighboring king, Hal. But Marian, middling pretty and middling smart and middling in all her talents, was about to be married to no one. There were simply no eligible royals left in the world.
“Or at least in the world as we know it,” said her mother. She was never willing to make a completely definitive statement. She sighed and gazed fondly into Marian’s eyes (not blue like Mildred’s or green like Margaret’s but a sort of middling muddy brown). “They are all either married, engaged, enchanted, or strayed. I am sorry, Em. There’s always the convent, you know.”
The tears that filled Marian’s eyes were the same middling muddy color, until they slid down onto her cheeks, where they became ordinary tears. Marian wiped them away quickly. Princesses are not supposed to cry, at least not where they can be seen. She wasn’t sad about the not-marrying part. It had always been her contention that marriage is not necessarily the only thing a princess can do. But she didn’t want to be shut away in a convent, not when she didn’t have the proper strong beliefs.
Marian left her mother’s chamber and trudged slowly down the winding stone stair. She went out a little dark side door, the one that was hidden by a large tapestry. Only Marian and her sisters knew about the door. They had discovered it one day playing catch-as-who-can. The door opened onto a wild part of the vast palace gardens, near an untended lily pool.
Marian was so upset, she picked up a smooth white stone and threw it across the pond. It skipped three times before it sank. “If only stones could grant wishes,” she said aloud.
“As-you-will,” sang out an undistinguished brown bird on the cherry bough. For such a mud-colored bird, it had quite a lovely voice, clear yet tremulous. “As-you-will.” Or at least that is what Marian thought the bird sang.
“What I will,” Marian answered back, “is to be kept out of the convent. And I wish that I had something—anything—that distinguishes me. That makes me magical. Or special. Marriage is not necessary.” She paused. “Though it could be nice.”
Then she turned and walked away, feeling a fool for having made a wish upon an ordinary white skipping stone that had sunk with scarcely a ripple, and for having talked back to a totally uninteresting and ordinary bird. Maybe, she thought fiercely to herself, maybe I do need to be shut away, and not necessarily in a convent, either.
She made an angry tour around all the gardens, which took several hours. By then most of her anger had dissipated, so she slipped back past the ivy and through the hidden door.