So Hellebore & Rue: Tales of Queer Women and Magic is finally out, and I am super excited. Not only is it out, but at the moment you can pick it up in a variety of formats for 15% off the list price–or $8.49, down from $9.99. It features a fantastic variety of takes on a theme by some really wonderful authors; big kudos to our lovely and talented editors for assembling such a diverse lineup of great fiction.
My own piece, “Thin Spun”, is a prequel of sorts to Rosetta, the sf novel that I’ve co-written. As I’ve said before, one of the wonderful things about building Rosetta’s world was the number of other stories and characters that came out of it, largely independent of the central storyline. One of these stories has been published in the MSF benefit anthology Help: Twelve Tales of Healing, and this is another.
When I decided to sit down and try to write something for this anthology, I knew it would probably be something from the world of Rosetta, and I realized fairly quickly that I wanted to explore the backstory of one of our major secondary characters (and say a brief hello to yet another, as well as to one of our heroes). I honestly don’t want to say straight out who it is, because it ends up being a slight spoiler for Rosetta itself. But regardless, it was a lot of fun to watch that story unfold, and along the way I got to meet some new characters I didn’t expect, as well as get an even fuller picture of the world in which I’ve been spending a lot of the past year.
The title itself is from John Milton’s poem “Lycidas”, one small passage of which deals with the myth of the Moirae:
But the fair Guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with th’ abhorred shears,
And slits the thin spun life.
The Moirae are only referenced once in the story, but I think they maintain a kind of constant background presence in the persons of the Aalim–the scholar-sorceresses of the Bideshi, the nomadic interstellar tribe to which the main character Lakshmi belongs. Or used to belong. “Thin Spun” is the story of the choices that led to her leaving the Bideshi and of how she finally makes peace with those choices, in the course of helping a scared girl with a stolen spaceship.
Hope you enjoy. Excerpt under the cut.
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In the end she rose and went to her room, closing the door behind her. Kaela, she knew, would not go far, and she knew this with the certainty that she knew most things: it simply was true, and there was no disputing it. The ship itself was in no condition to fly in any case, and having already done everything but pour out her shame into Lakshmi’s hands, Kaela would not run. At least not yet.
We might lie for her, Lakshmi thought, sinking down onto her narrow bed and turning her face toward the sun coming in through the window beside her. She couldn’t see it, but she could feel the motes dancing in its beam, slow and stately as stars and worlds. We might say… she robbed us and ran. Hide her in the meantime, get her away somehow… But she knew that had too many chances of going wrong, too many chances of bringing down yet more fury on the heads of the people she had come to love. Peris was an outer world, and far beyond most people’s concern. What happened here was unlikely to cause much fuss elsewhere. The Protectorate liked to punish those who crossed them, as she had learned. And they were careless about collateral damage, when it did not suit them to care.
Again, she reached out into the world, soft and exploratory, and this time she was not looking for anything specific. She was reaching back in time as well as in the confines of space, moving through memory. She reached back and beyond herself, and she felt her own inner scars begin to ache.
The Halls are so ancient, older than the ship itself; they are a link back to a past beyond living memory, but the memory of that past lives in the bark and the roots and it breathes out into the air with the greening of the leaves. And she chose this, she did, but when she made the choice she should have known that there might be some things that she would not be able to put aside so easily as her sight, so she curls back into the deeper passages and pulls Ama against her, sweet Ama, hair like dark wine and skin the same, and her lips spiced like shala. This is intoxication. This is not clear thought. There must be no preference in the heart of the Aalim, who is Mother to all her children. This is a wrong turning.
She turns all the same. Her heart betrays her people, and then betrays her to them, and when the exile comes it’s almost a relief, a clear path at last, and a way to hide her face from the shameful thing she’s done.
But not Ama’s face, tear-streaked, stricken. Forgive me, oh my sweetest star, for I wasn’t strong enough to let you go.
Lakshmi’s eyes came open, white and sightless, but for a moment she still saw with the echo of those eyes when they had been whole.
Was this a second chance?
Slowly she rose again, making an easy way back into the main room and past Skitss where he still sat at the table, ignoring his questioning hiss and heading for the door. She had known that Kaela would not run and now she knew where the girl was, feeling it in the deep dance of everything around her with all the clarity of any sight.
Outside the afternoon was settling into its daily blanket of heat, a thick and slightly sullen thing that would not lift until the evening began to descend to take its place. This was the season of Lossen, the last of the hot weeks before the nights shortened and chilled. There was the softest of breezes moving through the air, hardly there at all, and Lakshmi felt it tremble against the leaves of the maila tree that stood just outside the doorway.
And she felt the tremble of something else. Not immediate. But close. She began to walk.
Kaela was about half a mile up the beaten dirt track, sitting at the edge of the small pond, which was now more mud-hole than pond but which would, with the rains, fill again and team with swimming life. Lakshmi stood a yard or so away from her, not moving to approach, though she already knew well that Kaela had heard her coming.
“My mother used to scold me for sulking,” Lakshmi said, keeping her voice carefully idle and turning her head this way and that, sensing what was around her. Kaela only grunted; from the sound and the feel of her, she was poking at the mud with a stick. It so completed the aura of grumpy child that, despite the seriousness of the situation, despite the pain and fear that she felt as real as the blade of a jambia against her skin, it was all Lakshmi could do to keep from laughing.
She moved forward finally, and crouched down in the rough grass, her loose skirts pooling around her knees. “I never expected to see one of my people again,” she said quietly, and she heard Kaela’s indrawn breath.
“I never expected to walk into the home of an Old Mother.” Kaela smiled, and though it was faint it was like a shaft of milder sunlight though the warm air. “I don’t suppose…” The toe of her boot, scraping against the gritty mud. “I don’t suppose you’ll want to tell me how you came to be here.”
“Maybe another time.” At the mention of it, even by a child who had no way of knowing what it was, what the truth of it might be, there was a painful flare of that old shame. Lakshmi turned her face a little away, hoping instantly that Kaela might not notice it. She had been weak, and that weakness did not bear discussing now. “We need to decide what to do with you, child, and how to keep you from harm.” Again she was sensing something, some tug at the edges of herself, and when she drew nearer to Kaela the tugging strengthened.
“I told you.” Kaela sighed. “There’s no way, not that I can see.” She scraped her boot against the mud again. “Maybe…it might be best if you just turned me over to them, maybe they’d—”
“Not on your blood.” Lakshmi’s voice was immediate and firm as rock. “Not on your blood or by your line and orbit. I wouldn’t trust them within a mile of that, and in any case, we don’t hand our own over to them. Not even at the greatest extremity.”
“And I’m your own?” Kaela’s tone was difficult to read, some mixture of amusement and annoyance and guilt and an even deeper sadness.
Lakshmi waited a moment or two before she answered.“I gave up my eyes for our people.I gave them up willingly. Maybe I no longer move with them, but if they asked me to serve them again in any way, I’d answer the call. Yes, child. You’re my own as long as we’re both living.” She pushed herself to her feet again with a soft groan—her knees were stiffer these days, though she’d been yet young enough when she’d left her homeship, and that had not even been ten standard years ago—and dusted her hands on her skirts.
“Where are you going?”
“You know of the Arched Halls on Ashwina, girl?”
She felt something then, something like a prickled spike rising in the girl’s dance, a response to something that didn’t sit well. But she also felt a nod. “I’ll go there in a few years, to be Named.” She paused. “If I’m permitted, now.”
Lakshmi nodded. “I have my own Halls, little one. They’re poor substitutes, no Terran bark—but they suit me and my needs.” She turned away, her face falling into the cooler shadow. “Stay close to the house, and keep your wandering fingers out of any more trouble.”