Ozark Trilogy 1: Twelve Fair Kingdoms

BOOK: Ozark Trilogy 1: Twelve Fair Kingdoms
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Twelve Fair Kingdoms
Ozark Trilogy - Book 1
Suzette Haden Elgin

SHOULD HAVE known that something was very wrong when the Mules started
flying erratically. I was misled a bit, I suppose, because there were
no actual
just upset stomachs. The
ordinary person on the street blamed it on turbulence; and considering
what they understood of the way the system worked, that was as
reasonable a conclusion as any other. However, I had full access to
classified material, and I knew perfectly well that it was magic, not
aerodynamics, that kept the Mules flying. And magic at the level of
skill necessary to fly a bulky creature like a Mule was not likely to
suffer any because of a little disturbance in the air. You take a look
at a Mule sometime; it surely isn’t built for

someone who’s gone no farther in magic than Common Sense Level knows
that the harmony of the universe is a mighty frail and delicately
balanced equilibrium, and that you can’t go tampering with any part of
it without affecting everything else. A
knows that. So that when whatever-it-was started, with its first
symptoms being Mules that made their riders throw up, I should of known
that something sturdy was tugging hard at the Universal Web.

was busy, let’s grant me that. I was occupied with the upcoming Grand
Jubilee of the Confederation of Continents. Any meeting that it doesn’t
happen but once every five hundred years—you tend to pay it
considerable attention. One of our freighters had had engine trouble
off the coast of Oklahomah, and that was interfering with our supply
deliveries, I was trying to run a sizable Castle with a staff that
bordered, that spring, on the mediocre, and trying to find fit
replacements before the big to-do. And there were three Grannys taken
to their beds in my kingdom, afflicted with what they claimed was
epizootics and what I knew was congenital cantankerousness, and that
was disrupting the regular conduct of everyday affairs more than was

So ... faced with a lot of little crises and one on the way to being a big one, what did I do?

I went to some meetings. I went to half a dozen. I fussed at the Castle
staff, and I managed to get me in an Economist who showed some promise
of being able to make the rest of them shape up. I hired a new Fiddler,
and I bought a whole team of speckledy Mules that I’d had my eye on for
a while. I visited the “ailing” Grannys, with a box of hard candy for
each, and paid them elaborate compliments that they saw right through
but enjoyed just the same. And I went to church.

I was in church the morning that Terrence Merryweather McDaniels the 6
, firstborn son of Vine of Motley and Halliday Joseph McDaniels the 14
was kidnapped, right in broad daylight ... when the man came through me
church door on a scruffy rented Mule, right in the middle of a Solemn
Service—right in the middle, mind you, of a
and rode that Mule straight down the aisle. He snatched Terrence
Merryweather in his sleeping basket from between his parents, and be
flew right up over the Reverend’s head and out through the only stained
glass window he could count on to iris—Mule, basket, blankets, baby,
and all, before any of us could do more than gape. February the 21
that was; I was there, and it was that humiliating, I’m not likely to
forget it. The McDaniels were guests of Castle Brightwalei; and under
our protection, and for sure should of been safe in our
. And now here was their baby kidnapped!

it is possible that kidnapping may not be precisely the word in this
particular instance. You have a kidnapping, generally there’s somebody
missing, and a ransom note, and whatnot. In this case, the Reverend
shouted an AAAAmen! and we all rushed out the church door; and there,
hanging from the highest of the three cedar trees in the churchyard in
a life-support bubble, was Terrence Merryweather McDaniels the 6
, sucking on his toe to show how undisturbed
was by it all. And the Rent-a-Mule chewing on the crossclover against
the church wall, under the overhang. There was no sign of its rider,
who could make a claim to speed if to nothing else.

could see the baby just fine, though we couldn’t hear him. And we knew
he was safe in the bubble, and all his needs attended to indefinitely.
But he might as well of been in the Wilderness Lands of Tinaseeh for
all the good that did us—we didn’t dare touch him.

we had Magicians there skilled enough to put an end to that bubble and
float the baby down to his daddy’s arms without ruffling one bright red
hair on his little head. If we hadn’t had them, we could of gotten them
in a hurry. It wasn’t that; it was a matter of diagnosis.

had no way, you see, of knowing just what kind of magic was on the
forcefield holding that bubble up in the tree and keeping it active.
Might of been no problem at all, just a bit of Granny Magic.
to of been, if the man doing it couldn’t afford but a Rent-a-Mule. And
then it might of been that the mangy thing was meant to make us think
that, and it might of been that if we so much as
that baby we’d blow the whole churchyard—AND the baby—across the county
line. We’re not much for taking chances with babies, I’m proud to say,
and we weren’t about to be hasty. The way to do it was to find the
Magician that’d set the Spell, or whatever it was, and make it clear
that we intended to know, come hell or high water, and keep on making
it clear till we got told. Until then, that baby would just have to
stay in the cedar tree with the squirrels and the chitterbirds and the

Vine of Motley
carried on a good deal, doing her family no credit at all, but she was
only thirteen and it her first baby, and allowances were made. Besides,
I wasn’t all that proud of my own self and my own family at that moment.

suspicious continental delegations I had coming to Castle Brightwater
in less than three months, to celebrate the Grand Jubilee of a
confederation they didn’t trust much more now than they had two hundred
years ago. Every one of them suspecting a plot behind every door and
under every bedstead and seeing Spells in the coffee cups and
underneath their saddles and, for all I knew, in their armpits. And I
was proposing that they’d all be safe here—when I couldn’t keep one
little innocent pointy-headed baby safe in my own church on a Solemn

It strained the limits
of my imagination somewhat more than somewhat, and there was no way of
keeping it quiet. They’d be having picnics under the tree where that
baby hung in his pretty bubble and beaming the festivities out on the
comsets before suppertime, or my name wasn’t Responsible of Brightwater

the excitement we left the Solemn Service unfinished, and it took three
Spells and a Charm to clear that up later on, not to mention the poor
Reverend going through the service again to an empty church reeking
mightily of garlic and asafetida. But the clear imperative right then
was a family meeting; and we moved in as orderly a fashion as was
possible (given the behavior of Vine of Motley) back to the Castle,
where I turned all the out-family over to the staff to feed and cosset
and called everyone else at once to the Meetingroom.

table in the Meetingroom was dusty, and I distinctly saw a spiderweb in
a far window, giving me yet another clue to the competency of my staff
and strongly tempting me to waste a Housekeeping Spell or two—which
would of been
unbecoming, but I never could abide dirt, even loose dirt—and I waved everybody to their chairs.
they took after brushing more dust with great ostentation off the chair
seats, drat them all for their eagerness to dot every “i” and cross
every “t” when it was my competence in question, and I called the roll.

mother was there, Thom of Guthrie, forty-four years old and not looking
more than thirty of those, which wasn’t even decent; I do not approve
of my mother. I said “Thom of Guthrie” and she said “Here” and we left
it at that. My uncles, Donald Patrick Brightwater the 133
—time we dropped that name awhile, we’d wear it out—and Jubal Brooks Brightwater the 31
Jubal’s wife, Emmalyn of Clark, poor puny thing, she was there; and
Donald’s wife. Patience of Clark, Emmalyn’s sister. And my grandmother,
Ruth of Motley, not yet a Granny, since Jonathan Cardwell Brightwater
the 12
showed no signs of leaving this
world for all he was 109 years old ... and it was said that he still
troubled Ruth of Motley in the nights and scandalized the servingmaids
in the chamber next to theirs. And I could believe it. We could of used
him that day, since his head was as clear as his body was said to be
hearty, but he was off somewhere trying to trade a set of Charms he’d
worked out for a single Spell he’d been wanting to get hold of at least
the last five years ... and the lady that Spell belonged to not about
to pass it on to him, if he spent five more.

it was, that meant only seven of us in Meeting, not nearly enough for
proper discussion or voting, and you would of thought that on a Solemn
Day, and with guests in the Castle, there’d of been more of us in our
proper places. I was put out about the whole thing, and my mother did
not scruple to point that out.

nervy of you. Responsible,” she said, in that voice of hers, “being
cross with everybody else for what is plainly your own fault.” I could
of said Yes-Mother; since she despises that, but I had more pressing
matters to think of than annoying my mother. She’d never make a Granny;
she was too quick with that tongue and not able to put it under rein
when the circumstances called for it, and at her age she had no excuse.
She’d be a flippant wench at eighty-five, still stuck in her magic at
Common Sense Level, like a child. Lucky she was that she was beautiful,
since men have no more sense than to be distracted by such things, and
Thorn was that. She had the Guthrie hair; masses of it, exactly the
color of bittersweet chocolate and so alive it clung to your fingers
(and to everything else, so that you spent half your life picking
Guthrie hair off of any surface you cared to examine, but we’ll let
that pass). And she had the Guthrie bones ... a face shaped like a
heart, and great green eyes in it over cheekbones high arched like the
curve of a bird’s wing flying, and the long throat that melted into
perfect shoulders ... And oh, those breasts of hers! Three children
she’d suckled till they walked, and those breasts looked as maiden as
mine. She was well named, was Thorn of Guthrie, and many of us had felt
the sharp point of her since she stepped under the doorbeam of Castle
Brightwater thirty-one years ago. I have always suspected that those
Guthrie bones made her womb an uncomfortable place to lie, giving her a
way to poke at you even before you first breathed the air of the world,
but that’s a speculation I’ve kept to myself. I hope.

BOOK: Ozark Trilogy 1: Twelve Fair Kingdoms
3.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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