STARLINGS by Jo Walton preview: “Three Twilight Tales”
In celebration of the release of Jo Walton’s STARLINGS, Tachyon presents glimpses from some of the volume’s magnificent tales.
by Jo Walton
upon a time, a courting couple were walking down the lane at
twilight, squabbling. “Useless, that’s what you are,” the girl
said. “Why, I could make a man every bit as good as you out of two
rhymes and a handful of moonshine.”
like to see you try,” said the man.
the girl reached up to where the bright silver moon had just risen
above the hills and she drew together a handful of moonshine. Then
she twisted together two rhymes to run right through it and let it
go. There stood a man, in a jacket as violet as the twilight, with
buttons as silver as the moon. He didn’t stand there long for them
to marvel at him. Off he went down the lane ahead of them, walking
and dancing and skipping as he went, off between the hedgerows, far
ahead, until he came to the village.
had been a mild afternoon, for spring, and the sun had been kind, so
a number of people were sitting outside the old inn. The door was
open, and a stream of gold light and gentle noise was spilling out
from inside. The man made of moonshine stopped and watched this
awhile, and then an old widower man began to talk to him. He didn’t
notice that the moonshine man didn’t reply, because he’d been
lonely for talking since his wife died, and he thought the moonshine
man’s smiles and nods and attention made him quite the best
conversationalist in the village. After a little while sitting on the
wooden bench outside the inn, the old widower noticed the wistful
glances the moonshine man kept casting at the doorway. “Won’t you
step inside with me?” he asked, politely. So in they went together,
the man made of moonshine smiling widely now, because a moonshine man
can never go under a roof until he’s been invited.
there was much merriment and laughter. A fire was burning in the
grate and the lamps were lit. People were sitting drinking ale, and
the light was glinting off their pewter tankards. They were sitting
on the hearthside, and on big benches set around the tables, and on
wooden stools along the bar. The inn was full of villagers, out
celebrating because it was a pretty day and the end of their work
week. The man made of moonshine didn’t stop to look around, he went
straight over to the fireplace.
the fireplace was a mantelpiece, and that mantelpiece was full of the
most extraordinary things. There was a horn reputed to have belonged
to a unicorn, and an old sword from the old wars, and a dragon carved
out of oak wood, and a candle in the shape of a skull, which people
said had once belonged to a wizard, though what a wizard would have
wanted with such a thing I can’t tell you. There was a pot the
landlord’s daughter had made, and a silver cup the landlord’s
father had won for his brewing. There were eggs made of stone and a
puzzle carved of wood that looked like an apple and came apart in
pieces, a little pink slipper said to have belonged to a princess,
and an iron-headed hammer the carpenter had set down there by mistake
and had been looking for all week.
in between a lucky horseshoe and a chipped blue mug, souvenir of a
distant port, brought back by a sailor years ago, the moonshine man
drew out an old fiddle. This violin had been made long ago in a great
city by a master craftsman, but it had come down in the world until
it belonged to a gypsy fiddler who had visited the inn every spring.
At last he had grown old and died on his last visit. His violin had
been kept carefully in case his kin ever claimed it, but nobody had
ever asked for it, or his body either, which rested peacefully enough
under the grass beside the river among the village dead.
soon as the man made of moonshine had the violin in his hands he
began to play. The violin may have remembered being played like that
long ago, in its glory days, but none of the villagers had ever heard
music like it, so heart-lifting you couldn’t help but smile, and so
toe-tapping you could hardly keep still. Some of the young people
jumped up at once and began to dance, and plenty of the older ones
joined them, and the rest clapped along in time. None of them thought
anything strange about the man in the coat like a violet evening.
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Cover design by Elizabeth Story