He was a clumsy bard, inept at the complex fingerings that made eduldamer strings hum so sweetly in a master musician’s hands. His musical deficiency owed much to the fact that his right hand was made entirely out of polished black stone, carved in perfect replication of a human hand, so detailed that one could see the slight reliefwork of veins and moles, the knolls of knuckles, even peeling cuticles captured in the hard glossy rock. Most of the fine hairs had snapped from the delicately rendered diamond-shaped pores, but you could feel where they had been, like adamantine stubble. His left hand was more dexterous than most, and his calloused fingers hammered the strings as best they could to make up for the other hand’s disability; but his rock-solid right hand was good for nothing more than brutal strumming and whacking. He couldn’t pinch a plectrum. The soundbox was scarred and showed the signs of much abuse, the thin wood having been patched many times over. Read More
“I have my limits,” said Gorlen Vizenfirthe, hooking a full mug of cheap brew toward him with one of the petrified fingers of his stony right hand. A coarse black strand of beard-hair poked up from the foamy head like a sick fern’s frond. “And you, sir, are quickly approaching several of them at the same time.”
The first thing Gorlen heard, as he mounted toward the walled village at the top of the rise, was the sound of children, their voices tumbling down the rutted track to greet him long before he saw a single villager. This meant his first sight of the pinched grey roofpeaks and ochre chimneyspikes above the wall came accompanied by the peculiar mix of dread and longing that he always felt at the sound of children playing. Were they laughing in delight or screaming in terror? It was an old question, and in the first and most memorable instance–when the correct answer had actually mattered–he had guessed wrong. He had lived with that mistake ever since. It had been his sister’s voice then, yes, and he had thought her carried away by laughter; but it was something far different that had carried her off to a place he had no real desire to follow. He hadn’t understood his mistake until he’d heard the sound of his childhood home, nestled in a sandy cove along the Pavinine Coast, being crushed beneath the weight of a gargantoise that had chosen that spot and those tarry timbers for the construction of its spitdaub-and-driftwood broodpile, where it would lay its oozy eggs and nest and doze for seven days. The cries of his parents he never heard, although they must have made some noise before the witless immensity smothered them. After that, he heard only the crashing of waves, the snoring of the huge armored amphibian. It was no wonder the sound of unseen children caused a surge of emotion, for they recalled the very instant of his orphaning. Read More
“Are there any gargoyles in what do you call your city? Dint?” Gorlen asked.
It was a city of pillars thick as trees in a forest. From the outskirts, because the pillars were not set with any symmetry but sprang up wherever there was space to spare, it was impossible to see very far. But wherever he looked, at whatever distance, he saw figures squatting like this old man before him, busy carving chunks of indeterminate yellow matter, surrounded by dusty piles and shreds of the stuff. Read More
Ocean passage was never easy for a gargoyle. Most were content to pack themselves away in a carton, but Spar had developed an unusual (for a goyle) appetite for the ever-varying spectacle of clouds in slow parade against blue depths or starry night skies. Besides, packing arrangements took several days—even weeks, depending on the port and its stringencies—and on this occasion he had not even several hours to spare. If he failed to leave tonight, then morning might find nothing left of him except some black gravel fit only to be swept into the harbor. Complicating matters, the port was unfamiliar and all the ships looked equally sea-unworthy in the dark. He compared them to the crumpled list of vessels leaving that night, scribbled out by the terrified quartermaster at his request. Three smeared names matched up to three creaking candidates that chafed against the dock as if restless, like himself, to be away. But how was he to choose among them?
The morning after the festival ended, Gorlen woke with his arm around a beautiful tousled harpsicle player who turned out to be his own eduldamer wrapped in a ragged blanket. In truth, he was more relieved to see he had not mislaid his instrument than he was disappointed to discover that Mistress Funch had taken off sometime in the night. She had warned him as they bedded down that her troupe must be off early, their presence required at a wedding performance in the Glisters the following week. Had Gorlen’s own road not lain diametrically opposed to all things and places sublime, he might have been tempted to follow and see if they had room for one (or one more) eduldamer-strummer. Instead he sighed and sat up, thankful for dry weather, warm nights, eight days of good rowdy companionship with plentiful wine, hearty food, and ceaseless music. Read More
Hunger will drive a bard to unusual lengths: playing of illicit tunes with ill-considered lyrics, ludicrous capering, and sometimes, as now, dangling in a gargoyle’s clutches from the edge of a stony precipice above a deep gorge lined with rocks like gnashing knives. Read More
“I like this place not,” said Spar.
“I can’t imagine why,” said Gorlen. “It looks like a gargoyle’s graveyard.” Read More
The pilgrims Plenth had been hired to entertain crossed the desert of Hoogalloor in caravans made of enormous dried-out caterpillars, tossed about the lightly ribbed interior with an assortment of carpets and cushions, peering out at passing cacti through portholes that had once been breathing spiracles. Other vehicles, more utilitarian and less appointed for comfort, had been fashioned from different stages of the same species’ life cycle. These included a pupal land-barge full of cookware and supplies, from which the cook emerged each evening and prepared a variety of dishes according to the complicated dietary regimes of the travelers; and a wingless chrysalis which the caravan’s guardians used as a mobile barracks, filling it with the racks of insect integument they’d fashioned into armor and arms. The beasts that pulled these hollowed-out vehicles of glossy chitin and dull husk were themselves a type of large, docile beetle, referred to as “Garden Variety” by Sister Quills, assistant to the caravan’s Drover-Abbess. Plenth had nightmares concerning the nature of that garden, from which she woke feeling thankful that her route across the arid northwestern wastes would take her nowhere near the humid southern quarters where such creatures freely swarmed. Quills, who spoke with a southern accent, retained the customs of her birthplace, which included smashing the flies that constantly beset the caravan and sucking them off her fingers with an ecstatic expression, confiding to Plenth, “The little ones are sweet!” Plenth understood that in this harsh environment, one must exploit every resource to survive; but one didn’t have to act so delighted about it. Thankfully Plenth had brought along her own food, which she ate sparingly that it might last until they reached Wumnal Wells.