Use code DAD23 for 20% off + Free shipping on $45+ Shop Now!
Best of Marion Zimmer Bradley Fantasy Magazine - Volume 2
By Marion Zimmer Bradley
Formats and Prices
Format:ebook (Digital original) $4.99 $6.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around December 19, 2009. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Also available from:
ALSO BY MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY
The Best of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine
WARNER BOOKS EDITION
Copyright © 1995 by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Elisabeth Waters
All rights reserved
Aspect is a registered trademark of Warner Books, Inc.
Warner Books, Inc.
Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Visit our website at www.HachetteBookGroup.com
First eBook Edition: December 2009
For the second anthology from MZB's FM, as I call my magazine, I wanted to explain that when I speak of us as MZB Limited, we really are. Some of the letters I get speak of us as if we were a gigantic corporation with almost unlimited resources and dozens of employees. Nothing wrong with that—except it's not true.
There are six of us; me and my secretary Elisabeth, who makes out payroll checks and is also the author of some of the finest stories in my anthologies. In fact, her story "The Keeper's Price" was what convinced me to edit my first Darkover anthology. At signing parties when people ask me to sign a lunch bag, a T-shirt, or something, I say, "I'll sign anything but a blank check." Well, for Lisa, I'll sign even that.
Or for our bookkeeper. Raul is an ex-policeman who is really—so we tease him—our token male to lift anything that's too heavy for us not-so-helpless females on the magazine—like the incoming mail. Raul handles all incoming manuscripts; he goes to the post office and hauls them home, then logs them in. He is empowered to reject immediately (in the interest of saving my eyesight) the handwritten manuscripts and anything he can't read, such as anything printed on a dot matrix printer. He also handles the magazine's bookkeeping.
Our most recent employee is a young trainee named Stephanie; a fine young writer, being trained to do anything any of the others can do.
Our subscription department is called Heather; she sends out renewal notices and handles new subscribers. She's a fine musician and song writer and has just sold a story to me for Sword & Sorceress 12.
Last, but emphatically not least, is our managing editor, Rachel Holmen. She's the only one of us who—as far as I know—has never tried to write fiction. For all I know, she might cherish the ambition to produce the next Pulitzer Prize novel, but she's never discussed it with me. Together she and I decide what goes in the magazine—our policy is that either can reject, but it takes both of us to accept. (For anyone who wants to brave my slush pile, send a #10 SASE—Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope—to me at P.O. Box 249, Berkeley CA 94701, for guidelines. This is also the address for subscription information.)
Rachel also handles the artwork, all of it. She goes around to conventions and finds new artists. If she finds work she likes, she commissions artwork for us by sending a photocopy of the story to be illustrated to the artist. So far I've agreed with her choices. I am sure that if I really disliked any artwork, she'd concede; but so far we've been in agreement. As the old saying goes, I don't know anything about art—I don't even know what I like. She does, and I give her a free hand.
But I do know what I like in fiction, and furthermore I am perfectly willing to defend what I like. I like the stories I've chosen for this anthology; here you'll find the cream of the cream.
About Brad Strickland and "Miracle at Roodwell"
This story was originally printed in issue 4, back in 1989 (and it seems like only yesterday that I started the magazine). It takes a somewhat unorthodox view of miracles, and I've always liked stories that shed light on their subject from a different angle. It is certainly possible that a miracle may be as much curse as blessing.
Brad Strickland has been writing fantasy, as well as horror and science fiction, since 1982, and his short stories have appeared twice in The Year's Best Horror Stories. He is also an associate professor at Gainesville College and lives in Oakwood, Georgia, with his wife Barbara and children Amy and Jonathan.
Miracle at Roodwell
The city of Roodwell, swollen to many times its normal size, bustled with pilgrims rich and poor, credulous and cynical, noble-born and common; for on this day, the feast day of high spring, a miracle that could occur but once in a human lifetime might come to pass. Blind Mat and his wife Elowyn had done a good business in the begging way since early morning, as the milling pilgrims seemed to feel that a small display of charity might improve their chances of receiving the miracle-to-be.
Mat now worked the crowd in the southern part of the churchyard, not far from the stone-rimmed well that had drawn so many to Roodwell this day. Here the crush was greatest, with mailed shoulder jostling rag-clad arm, and the rose perfume of court ladies joining the sweaty rankness of farmers. The raucous bray of donkeys punctuated the continuous buzz and hum of conversation, and through it all the small high voice of a middle-aged priest struggled to be heard.
"Six times," the priest cried, waving his bony arm, "six times the water of this well has healed. One helpless and hopeless person healed each time. Always on the anniversary day of the very first healing. That healing was of the blessed Saint himself, and that miraculous blessing allowed the Saint to live to see the cornerstone laid for his church, and the Lord has blessed the water and, in memory of the Saint, has permitted the healing to continue, even to these latter days. Come and try the water, you afflicted. Which one of you might the Lord smile on today?"
"Penny for a blind man," Mat sang out. "Penny for a poor man whose eyes are dark in his head. Take pity, take pity." Coins clanked in his tin cup, a quick rattling hailstorm of charity. "Thank ye, thank ye," Mat said, nodding at the black world, while inwardly weighing the cup and calculating the best time to remove the take and pass it to Elowyn, who trailed him at an inconspicuous distance. It was not good for a beggar to have too many pennies in his cup, for a full cup dried the wellsprings of brotherly love.
"Let's see your 'blind' eyes," a gruff masculine voice said.
Mat recognized the officious tone of a town warden. "Aye, sir," he said, and lifted a hand to push up the faded blue scarf shielding his eyes from the world. "Here they be."
He heard a few people nearby gasp. His eyes he knew were bad. The rough voice, softer now, said, "Faith, man, how did it happen?"
"A fire, long ago," Mat said, settling the scarf back into place. "I was just a lad."
"Here." The owner of the gruff voice plinked a coin into the cup, and others followed.
"Bless ye, bless ye," Mat said. He felt his way a little farther along, shook his cup, and cried out, "Alone, alone, in a dark, wide world!"
Quick on her cue, Elowyn was there. "Ah, Mat," she said admiringly, "you've done wonders today."
"Can you help me, love?"
"Aye. Nobody's looking. There's a lame man not far off, about to drink of the water, and he has all eyes. Here, Mat."
Her cool, soft hands touched his callused ones. He felt the burden of the cup eased, felt it lighten as Elowyn slipped most of the coins into their purse. "You are lovely," he told her.
"Mat. Not now." But her shy voice was pleased.
"Your hair is fairer than spun gold," Mat crooned to her, softly, confidentially. "Your eyes are the blue of Heaven's very dome. Your skin is white as milk, and you've two roses in your cheeks."
"Go on with you," she said, but her hand caressed his seamed cheek for just an instant.
"You're my eyes and my treasure," Mat said. "Elowyn, I love you."
"Then go beg enough to buy us a proper bed for one night," she told him, but love warmed her words. "Go on with you now, Mat. I'll be at hand."
Mat turned and began to nudge his way back into the crowd, toward the priest's high, fluting voice: "Come, come, all you who suffer. Come and taste the holy water of Roodwell. Come and try its virtue—"
"Damn the water!" screamed someone just ahead of Mat.
"Penny for a blind man?"
"Who's that? Who's that? The lame fellow?"
"The water failed him. Look out for him—'ware of the crutch!"
"Pity for the blind man?"
"Hold him back—hold him!"
"Out of the way, you blind fool!"
"Penny for the—"
Agony cracked Mat's shins, lighting swirls of red and yellow in his dark universe. He heard his tin cup clatter to the cobblestones, spilling his hard-begged pennies. Then the crutch hit him again, this time in the chest, knocking the wind out of him. So crowded was the marketplace that his fall was slow, cushioned by hands, thighs, and calves. His scarf slipped loose and was gone.
"Blind, eh?" The tip of the crutch thumped again into his chest. Mat gasped for breath but could not reply. "Here, blind man. Take this. Take the damned healing water of Roodwell."
Cold, cold, flowing over his face, running into his ruined eyes, spilling across his cheeks. He snorted, choked on a spume of water, and coughed.
"Get him away, get him away. Don't let him—"
"Here, old man, bring your crutch here—"
"Let me through! Let me through!"
"Here, what is all this, what is—"
"Father, a crippled man knocked this fellow down—"
"He's gone, now—"
"This man's blind—"
The priest, a young man, not the one who had been preaching at the rim of the stone well, leaned over Mat. "Are you hurt, old man?"
Mat blinked. "I—"
Faces surrounded him. Faces. He could not put a name to any of the thousand colors around him.
The priest frowned. "Did you hear me?"
Oh, the sun was bright. He had forgotten the sun.
"I can see!"
The murmur around him rose to a shout. A multitude of hands pulled him upright. The priest yelled something in his ear.
Mat said again, wonderingly, "I can see!"
He was lifted, held up for all to look upon. "Healed!" someone shouted. "The miracle! This man was healed!"
Wildly, Mat's renewed eyes gazed about at the crowd. Hands reached out to touch him, startling as reared serpents, and he shrank from them. Afflicted faces turned toward him. He tried to look away from their stares of anger, their accusation and cheated desire.
"Elowyn!" he cried. "Elowyn, where are you?"
But his voice was utterly lost in the jubilant chaos of the churchyard, and nowhere did he hear the answering voice of Elowyn.
More than two weeks before, they had come out of the hills, Elowyn and he. In the high country, Elowyn had said, spring was still a gold-green promise, wrapped tight in the buds of willow and ash. But in the farmlands, where the road uncoiled itself at last to run between gently rolling fields and pastures, the season had already come. Elowyn had picked flowers and named them to him, her hands full of fragrant spring: violets, lady's-smocks, daisies, even early brier roses. "A good warm day," she told him as they rested against a grassy bank. Overhead, birds sang, and behind him somewhere, a cow clanked her brass bell.
"Lots of crowds in Roodwell, the travelers say," Mat murmured. Their purse was already swollen with donations from passersby and pilgrims. "Should be well fixed for weeks after the festival."
"And don't we deserve it, after the winter we've had?" Elowyn's voice lilted with indignation. "Thrown on the charity of the priests and separated, as if we were not man and wife!"
"Aye. Me in the parish house, and you in the nunnery. My poor Elowyn. It hurts me to think of your hardship there."
"'Twas nothing, Mat. Only the being parted from you hurt. The washing of the clothes and the mending—that was nothing. But still I was glad to show that niggardly prioress the back of my heels."
Out of his private darkness, Mat reached and found her hand. He brought it close enough to kiss. "You should never have come with me, all those years ago. You should have stayed with your father."
Elowyn always laughed at this. "And by now he'd have married me off to a farmer, belike. Or even worse, a coachman. An innkeeper's daughter has poor prospects, Mat. That day when you came to beg and my father turned you away—well, that was the day something in me let go of my father at last." Her hand squeezed his. "And the next priest we came to married us, and if you say you regret it, Mat Macrone, then you just go on your way alone. A girl like me can have her choice of the next bonny fellow to come down the high road."
"But you love me." After seven years, there was still wonder in the statement.
"You spindle-shanked rascal," she said, but the warmth in her voice belied the words.
Mat smiled and leaned back on his elbows in the warm, soft grass. "Tell me again what you look like."
"Faith, are you not a-weary of that fairy tale?"
"Tell me, Elowyn."
With a sigh, she began. "My hair is long and soft—that you can feel for yourself—"
"And the color of it is gold."
"If you're going to take the tale from my mouth, then tell it yourself."
"No, no, Elowyn. I won't stop you again."
"It is gold, like—oh, like the morning sun on the water, with sparkles in it, gold like a bright fire, gleaming on the face of the night. Gold, like money new-minted, and it falls below my shoulders when I let it down."
"And your face," Mat prompted.
"They tell me I am very comely. My forehead is smooth and white, and in my cheeks are two lovely pink roses. My eyes—all the visitors at my father's inn told me I had bonny eyes—my eyes are blue, the deepest sky blue you can imagine, the blue of the halo 'round the moon. The blue of the edge of evening, rising to overtake the day. My nose is small, as a woman's should be, and delicate. My mouth is a wide mouth, but a good one, with full lips as red as cherries in the summer." On and on she spoke, not with vanity in her voice, as one might expect, but frankly and openly, pleased to serve as Mat's eyes, as much as when she steadied him on a foot log, or warned him of a tree root in the path.
"Am I not the luckiest fellow beneath the sun?" Mat said when she finished.
"And are you not the laziest, too?" she asked, laughing. "Up, now, and on the road, or we'll never make Roodwell today."
Geoffrey was the innkeeper's name, and a broad-faced, hulking man he was, his red face and huge belly proclaiming him fond of his own food and drink. The inn was a two-storied, dark grey wooden building called, too grandiosely, the Saracen's Arms. Geoffrey, like his building, was grey, scabrous, and by no means overly clean.
"High summer is coming," he grunted grudgingly. "Suppose I could use some extra hands, to serve the customers and tidy up the place. But times are hard."
"Yes," said Elowyn, not believing him. The inn was full to bursting with pilgrims, excitedly chattering about the miracle of the day: a blind man, miraculously healed, then hailed into the inner recesses of the chapter house. The church services this year would have an added attraction indeed, a man touched by divinity itself. In celebration of that, the pilgrims were already getting drunk.
Geoffrey rubbed a hand over stubbled jowls. "Give you a bed and meals," he said. "And you keep what the customers give you. Can't ask for fairer."
Elowyn stood in the steamy kitchen of the inn, and Geoffrey sat at the pegged table. Around them bustled a cook and her two helpers, preparing the evening meal. Over Geoffrey's shoulder, the cook scowled and shook her head. "Thank you," Elowyn said. "But perhaps one of the other inns—"
The frown did not improve Geoffrey's looks. "Wait a bit, wait a bit. Not too hasty. Maybe I can pay a bit. Just a bit, mind you. Barmaids're plentiful, and you're, well, nothing special."
Geoffrey shifted his considerable bulk, and his breath rattled deep in his throat. "Maybe one shilling a month, if you're competent."
The cook turned and shook her head slightly. Geoffrey sighed. "I can't ruin myself for a vagabond," he said. "A shilling and sixpence." Behind him, the cook turned back to her stew.
"Done," Elowyn said. "Should I begin right now?"
Geoffrey rose ponderously to his feet. "No time like the present, I guess. Aprons are in the pantry behind you. Start at the bar."
Lord, how easily and unwelcomely it came back to her: serving the ale and the stronger drink, bantering with every vile-tongued, leering rascal with the price of a cup, and pretending to like it; avoiding (when she was lucky) the quick, insidious grope of dirty hands, reaching to squeeze her breast through her clothing, or, worse, sweeping up beneath her skirts to graze her naked leg. Before the night had dwindled to the inevitable six or seven maudlin or stupefied drunks, the old ache in her back returned, growing up from her heels, up the backs of her legs, like an evil vine, to bear its tiresome fruit just above her hips.
So tired was she at the end of the day that she unwisely allowed Geoffrey to show her to the little cubicle where her pallet and blanket were spread on the floor. So despairing was she that she was not really surprised when Geoffrey pulled her against him. When she pushed him away, he put his hands on her again. They struggled, and that was when Geoffrey found the money pouch. "That's mine!" she cried as he ripped it away.
He hefted it in the dark. She heard the clinking of coins. "Thieves about," he said. "I'll just keep it safe for you. Now—"
"No," she told him. "Take the purse, but—"
His hands were at her. She scratched and pushed. Finally, wheezing, he growled, "I'll have the money anyway, vixen. Fool, you'll make nothing extra like that. Customers're willing to pay summat extra for a bit of fun, even with a plain-looking slut. But you—pfah! I'd sooner lie with old Teresa." He pushed himself away and out the door, but the stench of his sweat lingered, with the prickling memory of his stubbled jowls against her throat and cheek.
She drew the ratty blanket up to her neck and clutched it there. "Oh, Mat," she moaned. In the dark, tears stung her eyes, overflowed, and ran first warm, then cold, down her temples and into her grey-streaked, mousy hair.
Brother Xavier—that was the young monk's name—brought Mat his supper of broth, bread, and peas. He said before he was asked, "Not yet, Mat. We haven't found her yet."
"It's been seventeen days!" Mat protested.
"I know, I know. Here, please, eat."
Mat gnawed the dark bread and sipped at the broth. "My wife," he said. "Something's happened to her."
"We are still seeking her," Brother Xavier said.
Mat looked around. The business of looking, of seeing, was still new to him; it seemed that the little cell broke new on his sight each morning, born wondrously out of the black night. It was plain enough, three high narrow windows let in bars of sunlight. A simple chest, a bedstead that held a straw mattress, two straight chairs, and high on the wall facing the bed, a wooden crucifix. Mat found delight in it all still. He marveled at the texture of the stones that made up the wall, the cunning fit of one among its fellows, at the different ways the dark wood of the cross looked, with the hazy glow of morning on it, or the deep shadow of noon, or the warm gleam of the setting sun. His eyes were as hungry as his stomach.
"Father Berien has spoken to the Duke of Welford about you," said Brother Xavier. "Would you like to meet the young duke?"
"I'd like to find my wife," Mat said. He finished the broth and rubbed the back of his hand across his mouth. His beard bristled. Elowyn always kept him clean-shaven. When Brother Xavier had confessed him and shriven him, on the day of the miracle, the cup of ritual wine had been borne on a salver of polished silver; in it, Mat had seen his face for the first time in forty years: seamed, red, and rough, the eyes dark under hanging brows, the cheeks lined with care and travel. Since that first shocking glance, Mat had shaved himself only infrequently, not caring to see that countenance again in any mirror.
Brother Xavier now bowed his head, as if in silent prayer. His tonsure was startlingly white in the dark nest of his hair. "We are trying to find her," he said, finally. "But no one recalls a woman such as you describe. And she has not come to the church, though everyone knows you are here."
Mat reached for a flagon he kept on the chest. The brothers made their own wine, very good though a bit thin for Mat's taste. "It's me," Mat said. "I'm so damned ugly."
"Brother Mat, that's not so. You're a man, like other men."
"But next to her, I tell you, next to her, I'm like—like a jackass next to a prize mare. Like a crow next to a dove. How could she love me, she that could see me?"
"And yet she married you, you say, seven years ago. And she's been beside you ever since." Brother Xavier sighed. "I know little of women or of their hearts, Brother Mat, but this I do know: a woman who has given you seven years of her life will not desert you. She will turn up, never fear. But of this visit to the young Duke of Welford—"
Folk thronged all summer to the place where miracles happened. The inn seemed always full of hungry, thirsty men. Elowyn grew to live with the dull ache in her bones; she did well enough as a barmaid—though she did without the "summat extra," she fended off the leering proposals of the inn patrons with forced smiles and false wit. Soon, as she became more used to the place and to her new master, she put a decisive end to Geoffrey's visits to her room. He roared and grumbled, but went off instead to the cubicle of a more willing servant and after a day or two seemed to have forgotten all about Elowyn.
One day dragged into the next, and through them all, Elowyn saw no more of the world than she could see through the dim windows and open front door of the Saracen's Arms, and most of what she saw was an endless procession of pilgrims, seeking entertainment, enlightenment, or a blessing from the healed blind man of Roodwell.
Geoffrey welcomed all, not believing in miracles himself, as he said, but well content to take more money in, more, always more; Elowyn knew, as indeed she had known from the beginning, that she probably would never see Mat's purse again. Geoffrey kept it, she supposed, with the rest of his hoard, behind a loose stone in the fireplace of his own bedroom. It mattered little, for she felt no need of the money. She felt only the familiar ache of despair.
On the other hand, she was hidden away, safe in the bustle of the crowds. So she worked for well over a month, until one evening when she served wine to a loud table dominated by a young man come to town for the first time.
"I don't believe that beggar ever was blind," he declared as Elowyn set a cup before him. "How could a beggar afford such a healing?"
Elowyn's hand froze.
A steady customer slapped the table and said, "I saw it, I tell you. He had no eyes. Heard that melted silver splashed in his face when he was younger, apprentice to a silversmith. Aye, just pits, that's all, burnt out and the color of raw liver. And the water is free to all, I tell you—that's the way of the monks, you know."
"Pour, wench," the young man ordered. She did so, stiff with listening. "Priests aren't like that. Toll for this, tax for that—probably he was a mummer, a fraud, meant just to draw people and donations into the church. Miracle!" He raised the cup again and drained it at a gulp. "Don't talk to me about such nonsense as miracles!"
Another young fellow, holding his cup to be filled, said, "You can ask the man yourself, you know. He's working up at the stables now."
The man who had seen Mat's burned eyes said, "I never heard that."
"Truth! The monks offered him bed and bread for as long as he wanted, but he said he had to get out of the cloister. So Brother Xavier—don't know if you know him, he's all right, for a monk, better than most of them—anyway, last week Brother Xavier got him a job, working for old Hubert at the stables, pitching hay and wiping down horses. We can see him if you want—"
"Wench! Over here!"
The voice pulled Elowyn away. She served wine to two other tables, then went back to the first. The group had gone, leaving behind three copper pennies. She took them with numb fingers, her eyes far away.
Next morning, when old Teresa, the cook, went to haggle for the purchase and delivery meat, Elowyn went with her.
- On Sale
- Dec 19, 2009
- Page Count
- 202 pages
- Grand Central Publishing