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Authors: Nancy Springer

The Black Beast

BOOK: The Black Beast
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PRAISE FOR THE WRITING OF NANCY SPRINGER

“Wonderful.” —
Fantasy & Science Fiction

“The finest fantasy writer of this or any decade.” —Marion Zimmer Bradley

“Ms. Springer's work is outstanding in the field.” —Andre Norton

“Nancy Springer writes like a dream.” —
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Nancy Springer's kind of writing is the kind that makes you want to run out, grab people on the street, and tell them to go find her books immediately and read them, all of them.” —
Arkansas News

“[Nancy Springer is] someone special in the fantasy field.” —Anne McCaffrey

Larque on the Wing
Winner of the James Tiptree, Jr. Award

“Satisfying and illuminating … uproariously funny … an off-the-wall contemporary fantasy that refuses to fit any of the normal boxes.” —
Asimov's Science Fiction

“Irresistible … charming, eccentric … a winning, precisely rendered foray into magic realism.” —
Kirkus Reviews

“Best known for her traditional fantasy novels, Springer here offers an offbeat contemporary tale that owes much to magical realism. … An engrossing novel about gender and self-formation that should appeal to readers both in and outside the SF/fantasy audience.” —
Publishers Weekly

“Springer's best book yet … A beautiful/rough/raunchy dose of magic.” —
Locus

Fair Peril

“Rollicking, outrageous … eccentric, charming … Springer has created a hilarious blend of feminism and fantasy in this heartfelt story of the power of a mother's love.” —
Publishers Weekly

“Witty, whimsical, and enormously appealing.” —
Kirkus Reviews

“A delightful romp of a book … an exuberant and funny feminist fairy tale.” —
Lambda Book Report

“Moving, eloquent … often hilarious, but … beneath the laughter, Springer has utterly serious insights into life, and her own art …
Fair Peril
is modern/timeless storytelling at its best, both enchanting and very down-to-earth. Once again, brava!” —
Locus

Chains of Gold

“Fantasy as its finest.” —
Romantic Times

“[Springer's] fantastic images are telling, sharp and impressive; her poetic imagination unparalleled.” —Marion Zimmer Bradley

“Nancy Springer is a writer possessed of a uniquely individual vision. The story in
Chains of Gold
is borrowed from no one. It has a small, neat scope rare in a book of this genre, and it is a little jewel.” —
Mansfield News Journal

“Springer writes with depth and subtlety; her characters have failings as well as strengths, and the topography is as vivid as the lands of dreams and nightmares. Cerilla is a worthy heroine, her story richly mythic.” —
Publishers Weekly

The Hex Witch of Seldom

“Springer has turned her considerable talents to contemporary fantasy with a large degree of success.” —
Booklist

“Nimble and quite charming … with lots of appeal.” —
Kirkus Reviews

“I'm not usually a witchcraft and fantasy fan, but I met the author at a convention and started her book to see how she writes. Next thing I knew, it was morning.” —Jerry Pournelle, coauthor of
Footfall

Apocalypse

“This offbeat fantasy's mixture of liberating eccentricity and small-town prejudice makes for some lively passages.” —
Publishers Weekly

Plumage

“With a touch of Alice Hoffmanesque magic, a colorfully painted avian world and a winning heroine, this is pure fun.” —
Publishers Weekly

“A writer's writer, an extraordinarily gifted craftsman.” —Jennifer Roberson

Godbond

“A cast of well-drawn characters, a solidly realized imaginary world, and graceful writing.” —
Booklist

The Black Beast

The Book of Isle, Book Four

Nancy Springer

Prologue

I am Daymon Cein, the ancient seer. Now I am only a voice from the beyond, a twittering, formless thing, but once, long ago, when I was a man, I slept under the White Rock of Eala and gained vision where other men might have gained death. It was a foolhardy venture and without real reward, for I soon found fame worthless. But that is an old fool's talk.… Later, my daughter Suevi married Abas, the Sacred King in Melior. She bore him a son, Tirell. I watched from afar, with the inner eye, as I watched all whom I loved—all of Vale, in fact. And one chilly autumn night I saw a strange thing.

Little Prince Tirell was only five years old at the time. His nursemaid had checked his bed and seen him safe under the wolfskin coverings. But later he got up and wandered through the corridors between lifeless guards that stood ranked at every turn, remains of kings and queens, generations and generations of them, slain at the high altar of the goddess. The dead kept watch constantly at Melior castle, in erect stone coffins with carved faces, clenched hands, and white, staring eyes. Not many people cared to roam that place alone after dark. But Tirell was fearless, even then, and a fire burned in him that would not let him rest. His bare fingers and toes served him for guidance where there was no light. He was seldom caught, for he was clever and knew every turning of the ancient walls.

On that night he found his way easily, because the moon was bloated and orange as barley. Orange light fell from the high window slots to the cold floors. Tirell shivered along, not knowing what he was looking for any more than the rest of us.… Then more light appeared, orange torchlight! Tirell approached with interest and caution like a cat's. He knew that everyone but the sentries should have been asleep, but two cloaked figures flitted toward his mother's chamber.

Now for half a year past Suevi the queen, my daughter, had kept to her rooms, seeing almost no one. Of course, Tirell was allowed to come to her. There would be a baby, she told him. He knew as well as I did that the lump under her gowns was a pillow. He sat on her lap and he could tell. But perhaps others were fooled. Tirell kept his peace; what did he know of the royal way of getting babies? And on that autumn night he heard the baby whimpering. One of the cloaked figures carried it tenderly. The other held a torch and knocked softly at the queen's door.

Somebody let them in; Tirell could not see who. As soon as the heavy door swung closed he scampered to the timbers to listen. He could hear his mother's voice. “He's in good health? Very well, then, here is gold for your silence. There will be more. See the King …” Then the door creaked and Tirell slipped away into the shadow of the next sarcophagus. From behind it he peeped and watched the visitors depart. They were Fabron, the King's smith, and his wife; Tirell saw them as plainly as I. The woman was silently weeping and twisting her long red hair.

Tirell went back to his bed and lay puzzling. The next morning his nurse woke him with a face wreathed in smiles. “Come, my young lord, and see! Your lady mother has something to show you!” The lad pulled on his clothes and silently followed her to the queen's chamber, but he was not much surprised by what he found there. Suevi lay on her couch with her red-black hair pulled back from her pale, passionate face—she was always a hilltop creature, she! Beside her in a velvet basket lay a ruddy, hairless mite. Tirell stared without speaking at the tiny, frowning face.

“Your new brother,” Suevi told him. “Are you not glad?”

“Yes,” Tirell answered softly, “glad enough,” and he gave the baby a friendly poke. His new brother was called Frain, and Tirell stood by at the naming ceremony when the priestesses touched the baby with their long knives. Never a word did he say, to his mother or to anyone else, of what he had seen in the night.

Book One

FRAIN

Chapter One

I am Frain. I was only fifteen years old when I first heard of Mylitta, and within a few days the doom of Melior had begun. All has changed now; Melior is a memory and I am a swan on the rivers of Ogygia. But I think I am not much wiser.

Tirell was in the habit of wandering in the night, then as always. We shared a tower chamber, and sometimes when I did not feel too sleepy I joined him. I liked to hear him talk. It was better than dreaming.

One night, though, I woke up out of a sound sleep to see him on his way out of the window. He was hoisting himself up to the high stone sill by his hands, his feet dangling. I jumped out of bed, naked as a rabbit, and grabbed him by the knees.

“Are you mad?” I yelled.

“It runs in the family, does it not?” he snapped as he fell. “Let me up, you great oaf!” I had sat on top of him.

“Not if you are planning to climb down there,” I told him. “Have some sense, Tirell! It must be a hundred feet to the cobbles, and the ivy is old and sparse.”

“So what am I to do?” he shouted passionately. “Ride out by the main gates and take the guards to my wooing?”

“By our great lord Aftalun,” I sighed, “are there not enough maids within the walls that you must woo one without? I think—” But he did not wait to hear what I thought. He threw me off. Tirell was slender, not much heavier than I even though he was five years older, but when he was truly angry I believe no one could stand against him. We grappled for a moment, and then I went flying and hit my head against the wall.

He could have gone to his wooing then. I heard him pacing around, but I couldn't move or see. He lit a rushlight, got a soggy cloth, and started dabbing at some blood behind my ear. “Go to,” I muttered, shoving his hand away, and I managed to sit up.

“If you are all right,” Tirell said quietly, “I will be off.”

“Then I will be off too, by way of the gates, and you will have me and a troop of guards for company.” I can be angry too, and Tirell knew he was beaten for the time. He cursed and flopped down on the floor where he was.

“I was going to say, before I was interrupted,” I told him after a while, “that we could get a rope.”

“If I could get a rope in the middle of the night,” Tirell responded sourly, “I would have tied you up long ago. They're all over at the armory with the scaling ladders and things.”

“So we'll get one tomorrow, and you can go tomorrow night. Surely the girl will last till then?” I looked at his lean, unhappy face and felt my anger melt, as always. “She must be a marvel,” I added softly. “What is her name?”

Tirell sighed and gave in to peace. “Mylitta is her name,” he answered quietly.

“Do I know her?”

“No, I doubt it. She is not such a marvel. She is just a peasant.”

“Pretty?”

“No, not even very pretty.”

I frowned, perplexed. It was not like him to be so modest about his conquests. “Thunder, I am not going to try to take her from you!” I protested.

“You couldn't!” Tirell retorted with joy in his voice. “No one could! She loves me!”

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