Read The Golden Thread Online

Authors: Suzy McKee Charnas

Tags: #Fantasy, #Speculative Fiction

The Golden Thread


The Golden Thread
Sorcery Hall, Book 3


by Suzy McKee Charnas

, Inc.




Copyright © 1989 by Suzy McKee Charnas. All rights reserved.


Original publication: Delacorte, 1989.
Ebook edition of
The Golden Thread
copyright © 2011, Inc.


EPUB ISBN: 978-1-59729-066-1 and the ES design are registered trademarks of, Inc.


This novel is a work of fiction. All characters, events, organizations, and locales are either the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously to convey a sense of realism.


Cover art by and copyright © 2011 Cory and Catska Ench.


Ebook conversion by, Inc.


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This story is entirely fictitious and all of the people and events described are Fig Newtons of the author's imagination. No resemblance to anybody, living, dead, or somewhere in between, is intended.






For Fritz, who said, “Why not a book as
as a deed?”










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The Hands of Wechsler


a little while before Christmas vacation: “Val? It's Joel. I have to see you.”

“What?” I said. “
? Why?” This was ungracious of me, but I was surprised out of my normally faultless social grace. I hadn't heard from him since the one and only letter he'd written me right after he started at his new school in Boston. That was months ago, after we had shared an intense and unusual—well, a fantastic—experience with swords and sorcery in Central Park. I had missed him since then. Judging by his long silence, he hadn't missed me. So why call me now? “Are you here in New York?”

“No,” he said, “but I'm coming in to stay with my parents for the Christmas break. I want to talk to you. Take you to lunch, okay?”

Lunch with an older guy! Of course Joel was a friend so in a way it didn't count, but so what? Besides, I was grateful for the diversion. I had some depressing stuff on my mind. This had not started out to be a great winter for me.

Maybe it wasn't so great for Joel, either. He sounded anxious, which made me anxious, too, and very curious.

When the day came, I sat alone in the lunchtime rush at a coffee shop on Columbus Avenue, snacking out of the little pickle tub on the table. I felt nostalgic. This was the place where Joel and I had had our first real conversation, so it was not only my neighborhood hangout but
place, sort of.

As the time ambled by, I became less and less good-tempered. I was about to take off, feeling furious over having been stood up, when Joel strode in from the windy street.

He looked even taller than I remembered—could he still be growing? His chestnut-colored hair was styled in an expensive-looking cut (you could have put whipped cream on that haircut and eaten it). He wore jeans, a parka, and boots. A striped woolen muffler was heaped casually around his neck to hide the mark his violin makes there, and of course to set off his profile.

It was a thrill to see him and I instantly forgave the long wait he'd put me through. I mean, this was
—we had fought real evil together, we had made and lost a great friend and foiled a horrendous monster. I suddenly felt the reality of that adventure (which recently had been getting lost in a tangle of school assignments and general troubles) as if it had happened last week.

“Hi, Joel,” I said as he sat down across from me. “Still biting your nails, I see.” I meant it affectionately, but words had been coming out of my mouth all wrong lately. Apparently I had just done it again.

He looked down his long nose at me. “You've been eating too much sugar. You've got a zit on your chin.”

Instantly my chin felt on fire. I had visions of a huge headlight blooming there just in time for all the holiday parties. Rudolph the Red-Chinned Reindeer, at your service for Christmas entertaining. Thank you, Joel, for that confidence-boosting observation.

Up close I noticed that despite the appearance of things, Joel himself did not look so great. His eyes were red-rimmed in dark sockets. And he was not only taller than I remembered, but thinner. Too thin. Skinny.

I felt a stab of worry, but I wasn't sure how to express it without having that turn out wrong, too. So I said casually, “How's music school? It's funny to see you without a violin.”

“I'm on vacation, thank God,” he said. “Music school is killing me. The competition is unbelievable.”

“You're not thinking of quitting?” I said, astonished. Something
wrong. I mean this was Joel, who lived for music—like the rest of his family.

“And do what, computers?” he said, sliding down in his chair. He kept his hands stuffed in his parka pockets as if he were cold here in the steamy deli. “Or I could be an investment counselor, like my cousin Devin.”

“So you're
thinking of quitting,” I said.

“I'm not an idiot, you know,” he said. “I was incredibly lucky, getting into a decent music school after goofing off for years. I'm in Leon Tchorkin's class, for one thing, and I've been working with some really first-rate players. Lisa Walker is studying there, did you know that? Oh, no, of course you wouldn't.”

This probably wasn't meant as a put down, but it sure felt like one.

A waiter wandered over and took our orders. As soon as he was gone, Joel hunched close over the table and said very intensely, “I can do it, Val—catch up, come from behind and win. Except I might go crazy first.”

Now he sounded like someone I could talk to. “They shouldn't push you that hard,” I began, but he shook his head impatiently.

“It's not that. It's worse, and it's got to
. I can't sleep, I can't eat, I can't work—”

“You're in love,” I said. I wondered what Lisa Walker looked like.

Joel gave me a weary look.

“Okay, you're not in love. So what is it?” I said, trying to make up for stupidity with sincere interest.

“God, I must be desperate,” he said. “I forgot what a kid you are.”

I was not delighted to be reminded that Joel was seventeen and attending a college for music students, while I was chasing fifteen and still in high school. “Joel,” I said, “if you don't come out and tell me, you're going to drive
crazy and that'll make two of us.”

“It's my hands,” he said in a low voice. “I have these—these incidents—I sit down to practice and my hands seize up. I can't play. It's got me

“Oh, no,” I said, trying not to stare at his hands, which looked perfectly fine to me. He was pulling his paper napkin apart very efficiently for a guy with crippled hands. But if I had wanted serious, this was it, all right. Heck, it was catastrophic! Poor Joel! “How long has this been going on?”

“A while,” he said, looking quickly away from me.

“Have you seen a doctor about it?”

“No,” he said. There was something fishy about the way he mumbled into his scarf and avoided my eyes.

“You're not, you know, flashing back to something, are you? I mean, you've never taken weird drugs?”

“No,” he said. “It's nothing like that.”

Why did he have that secretive look about him, as if there was something he wasn't telling me?

I clammed up, thinking about this, and also because my feelings were hurt. Joel and I had worked magic together, real magic, with Paavo the wizard and my own sorceress grandmother. And that made Joel and me special, even if we had ended up in an argument about how it had all worked out. The real world was not exactly loaded with great sorcerers, magical family talents, and kids who were invited into enchanted battles.

So what did I have to do to get Joel to trust me enough to tell me all?

The food came. I concentrated on that. I am an absolute sucker for turkey and ham on rye with coleslaw on top.

Joel shoved two fat knockwurst around on his plate with his fork.

“I don't have
for this!” he burst out. “I take ear-training classes, where they play a piece through three times, and at the end of the three times you have to have written out the score and gotten it right—the notes, the time, the nuances, everything. I keep getting distracted just worrying about my hands. I lose whole bars of the music. It's like that in all my classes; I've even screwed up in English, for God's sake!

“And,” he added dolefully, “I've had to quit my only fun thing, which is to get together with Lisa and some other people and play chamber music in our spare time. What if this—this
happened while I was with them? What if they told somebody?”

Imagine going to music school and spending all your spare time playing more music—and calling it fun! Joel had found a whole bunch of fanatics just like himself. He should be completely happy.

He put his head in his hands. “What's going to happen when I have to play my jury at the end of the term?”

“What's that?” I said.

“It's like finals in any other subject,” he said, “but about a million times worse—a kind of dry run for the major music competitions later on. You play in front of a jury of your peers and they rate you. It's death. I don't know how I'm even going to be able to prepare for it, the way things are.”

“So you're not quitting but you might flunk out?”

“I'm dead,” he said, “if things go on like this!”

I couldn't stand the idea of Joel cracking up at that school. Catching up in his neglected music studies was only necessary in the first place because of our adventure together. For him to lose it all now—it wasn't fair. No wonder he was so frazzled!

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