Authors: Charles de Lint
The Fair at Emain Macha
Into the Green
The Ivory and the Horn
Jack of Kinrowan
The Little Country
Memory and Dream
Someplace to Be Flying
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 1984 by Charles de Lint
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
This book was originally published in 1984 by Ace Fantasy, a division of
The Berkeley Publishing Group, New York.
Interior art by Ellisa Mitchell
Grateful acknowledgment is made to Robin Williamson for permission to use a portion of "For the Three of Us," from the album
Songs of Love and Parting, ©
1981 by Robin Williamson.
Sara Kendell once read somewhere that the tale of the world is like a tree. The tale, she understood, did not so much mean the niggling occurrences of daily life. Rather it encompassed the grand stories that caused some change in the world and were remembered in ensuing years as, if not histories, at least folktales and myths. By such reasoning, Winston Churchill could take his place in British folklore alongside the legendary Robin Hood; Merlin Ambrosius had as much validity as Martin Luther. The scope of their influence might differ, but they were all a part of the same tale.
Though in later years she never could remember who had written that analogy of tale to tree, the image stayed with her. It was so easy to envision:
Sturdily rooted in the past, the tale's branches spread out through the days to come. The many stories that make up its substance unfold from bud to leaf to dry memory and back again, event connecting event like the threadwork of a spider's web, so that each creature of the world plays its part, understanding only aspects of the overall narrative, and perceiving, each with its particular talents, only glimpses of the Great Mystery that underlies it all.
The stories on their own are many, too myriad to count, and their origins are often too obscure or inconsequential on their own to be recognized for what they are. The Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero said it best: "The beginnings of all things are small."
Though he lived and died some two thousand years before Sara was born, and though the tale was so entangled by the time she came into it that it would have been an exercise in futility to attempt to unravel its many threads, Sara herself came to agree with Cicero. Years later she could pinpoint the exact moment that brought her into the tale. It was when she found the leather pouch with its curious contents in one of the back storerooms of her uncle's secondhand shop.
The Merry Dancers Old Book and Antique Emporium was situated on Bank Street, between Third Avenue and Fourth in the area of Ottawa called the Glebe. It was owned by Jamie Tams who took his inspiration for the name from the aurora borealis, the northern lights that the French call
les chévres dansantes.
The dancing goats.
"It's quite appropriate," he told Sara one day. He was leaning on the long display case that supported the relic of a cash register which worked by turning a crank on its side. "Think about it. The Arctic's what? Ice and snow. Tundra and miles of nothing at best. Who'd expect a treasure like the Dancers in a place like that?"
Sara smiled. "Are you implying that somewhere in all this junk there're similar treasures to be found?"
"Implying? Nope. It's a straight fact. When was the last time you went through the jumble of boxes in the back rooms? There could be anything in them— not valuable, mind, but treasures all the same."
He stared pointedly at Sara's typewriter, an IBM self-correcting Selectric, and the pile of paper that was stacked beside it.
"If you weren't so busy writing the Great Canadian Novel..."
"What sorts of things?" Sara wanted to know. "Like Aladdin's lamp?"
"You never can tell."
"I suppose not."
"And," Jamie finished triumphantly, "if you never look, you'll never know either!"
Sara tried, but she couldn't keep a straight face any longer. They both broke into laughter.
Neither of them needed to work— at least not for financial considerations. Jamie in his time, and now Sara in hers, ran The Merry Dancers as a hobby. That it showed any sort of a profit at all at the end of each fiscal year was as much due to luck as through any particular effort on their part, though Sara was more conscientious in her management than Jamie'd ever been. ("Comes with being young," Jamie warned her darkly. "What'll you get older. The whole place'll fall to pieces around you as you go doddering about. You'll see.")
It was a standing joke between them that whenever Jamie visited the store, at one point or another, he'd play the concerned proprietor. But for all the teasing, they both knew that if they ever made the shop as tidy as some of the newer ones on the street, it would lose half of its charm.
The Merry Dancers was cluttered, certainly somewhat dusty, but not dirty. Leaning bookshelves stuffed with fat, leather-bound volumes took up two walls, while the bay windows in front held a curious sampling of items the store offered, set out in a confusing array that put off as many people as it attracted. There were treasures to be found, indeed, but not for the fastidious. Clutter swirled like autumn leaves around old chairs, dressers, sideboards, desks, rockers, wicker tables and an umbrella stand overflowing with rolled-up maps, knobby-ended walking sticks and an African shaman's staff.
Behind the cash area it was no tidier. A walnut-paneled door led to the storerooms, a washroom, and a tiny kitchen meant only for someone without a trace of claustrophobia in their mental make-up. There were more shelves on the walls, laden with everything from books and calendars stacked a foot high to more curious wonders. To one side, set up so that she could look out the front windows when she was thinking, was Sara's desk holding her typewriter, paper, ashtray, coffee mug, tottering piles of reference books, a stuffed brown bear called Mr. Tistle with a plaid patched stomach, a stack of
and a copper-and-brass pencil holder— all in a four-by-three-foot surface area.
That didn't include the pigeonholes at the back of the desk, stuffed with letters (answered and unanswered), envelopes, more paper, her driver's license (that she never remembered to take with her when she used the car), a small Aiwa cassette player, that was connected to a pair of Monitor Audio speakers balanced precariously on wrought iron brackets above the bay windows, and the filing system for her fledgling writing career that included notes (hundreds of them on anything from matchbook covers to the small sheets torn out of her spiralbound notebook), information on who had what story and how often it'd been rejected, a list of her accepted stories (eleven of them!), and the addresses for all her correspondents that had started out being in alphabetical order but somehow degenerated into catch-as-catch-can.
On the day that Sara found the pouch she'd been thinking of the storeroom and all those unopened boxes gathering dust. It was easier to think of them than to decide if she was writing a thriller, a Gothic, a fantasy, or some bizarre permutation of the three. The boxes came from rummage sales, estates, country auctions and Lord knew where. Her writing hadn't been going well that day so she decided to make a start on them.
Perched on a stool behind the counter, her typewriter covered with a piece of velvet with frayed edges and moth-holes to keep the dust from it, she was working on her third box. Like the first two it had decidedly more junk and dust in it than any sort of treasure. Sighing, she ignored the grime that coated her hands and entrenched itself under her fingernails and tried to make the best of it. She tapped her foot along with Silly Wizard, a Scots folk group that were playing on the cassette machine, her thoughts lost in daydreams.
While Sara was one of that exiguous segment of the world's population that views the commonplace through a screen of whimsy, she was not flighty. She could dream about the history of a particular knick-knack, creating in her mind all sorts of implausible origins for it at the same time as she decided on a price, neatly printed the amount on a small sticker, and attached it to the bottom of the item in question.
Rummaging through the box that day, she was, if not a candidate for the next cover of
at least a study of enterprise. Her thick brown curls fell past her shoulders with all the unruly orderliness of a hawthorn thicket. She was small and thin, with delicate bones and intensely green eyes, her features not so much classically beautiful as quirky. She was, as usual, dressed in a pair of faded jeans and a shapeless old sweater and a pair of practical brown leather shoes in desperate need of a polish.
"I've got to feel real," she would respond wearily to whichever well-intentioned friend was the latest to ask why she couldn't be a little more fashionable. "It's hard enough the way things are, without walking around like a mannequin."
"But..." the intrepid soul might start to argue.
"What I'd really like to be," Sara'd say then, "is a genuine tatterdemalion. You know— all patches and loose bits?"
Blowing the dust off the newest layer that the box had to offer, she certainly felt real, if not a complete ragamuffin. She'd just managed to put three finger-wide streaks of dirt on her cheek and breathed in a cloud of dust at the same time. Coughing, she dug out the latest treasure— a wind-up plastic bear that would have beaten its tiny drum if its drumsticks weren't broken off, its key lost, and— she rattled it speculatively— its innards not a jumble of loose bits. She considered throwing it out, glanced at Mr. Tistle, then found she didn't have the heart. She wrote 10¢ on a sticker, stuck it on the bottom of its foot, and tried again. A brass ashtray joined the bear (75¢), then a saucerless teacup (50¢), a tin whisk (15¢), and a postcard of the Chateau Laurier in a wooden frame ($2.50— because of the frame).
It must be time for lunch, she thought as she reached in again.
This time she came up with a parcel wrapped in brown paper. The Scotch tape that held the end flaps down were yellow and brittle with age. Pretending it was Christmas, or her birthday, she squeezed and shook it about a bit. Then, when she couldn't guess, she opened it.
Inside was a framed picture and a small leather bag that looked like it was made of tanned moosehide. Its drawstrings were tied in a knot. Well, this was nice, she thought, looking the bag over. She could use it as a changepurse, seeing how she'd lost her old one last night somewhere between leaving the store and reaching home.
She set the bag aside to look at the picture. It was a pen-and-ink line drawing that had been painted with watercolors. The frame was a white wood that she couldn't place— a hardwood, at any rate, with a very fine grain. The picture was of two men sitting across from each other in a woodland glade. Though the painting was small, there was a lot of detail packed into it. The forest reminded Sara of Robert Bateman's work— the tree trunks were gnarled and had a barky texture; the leaves seemed separate and exact. The grass blades, the rough surface of the big stone at the edge of the clearing were all intricately rendered.
She turned her attention to the men. One was an Indian. He sat cross-legged, with a small ceremonial drum on his knee, his thick black hair hanging down either side of a square-featured face in two beaded braids. His leggings and shirt were of a plain doeskin; an ornamental band of colored beads and dentalium shells formed the shirt's collar. His eyes, against the coppery tan of his skin, were a startling blue.
Sara sat back and held the painting farther away for a moment. The detail was incredible. Each bead in the Indian's braids was a different color. She was amazed at the artist's skill, for she'd tried painting once and had given it up as a hopeless cause. But the experience left her with a sense of awe whenever she came across something this good. Bending closer again, she studied the Indian's companion.
He was obviously Caucasian, for all that the artist had given him a dark tan, and didn't look anything like the first explorers or
coureurs de bois
that Sara remembered from her history books (though why she thought to date the scene didn't occur to her at that moment). He looked older than the Indian, with grey streaks in his red hair. His clothing was leather as well— as primitive as his companion's but obviously of a different culture. Around his neck was a leather thong holding a curious Y-shaped object. By his knee was what looked for all the world like a small Celtic harp. His eyes, Sara noted with a sense of satisfaction, were as green as her own, though why that should please her, she couldn't say.