Back | Next

by Harry Turtledove

Although he writes other kinds of science fiction as well, and even the occasional fantasy, Harry Turtledove has become one of the most prominent writers of Alternate History stories in the business today, and is probably the most popular and influential writer to work that territory since L. Sprague De Camp; in fact, most of the current popularity of that particular sub-genre can be attributed to Turtledove’s own hot-ticket bestseller status.

Turtledove has published Alternate History novels such as The Guns of the South, dealing with a timeline in which the American Civil War turns out very differently, thanks to time-traveling gun-runners; the best-selling Worldwar series, in which the course of World War II is altered by attacking aliens; the “Basil Argyros” series, detailing the adventures of a “magistrianoi” in an alternate Byzantine Empire (collected in the book Agent of Byzantium); the “Sim” series, which take place in an alternate world in which European explorers find North America inhabited by hominids instead of Indians (collected in the book A Different Flesh); a look at a world where the Revolutionary War didn’t happen, written with actor Richard Dreyfuss, The Two Georges, and many other intriguing Alternate History scenarios. Turtledove is also the author of two multi-volume Alternate History fantasy series, “Videssos Cycle” and the “Krispes Sequence.” His other books include the novels Wereblood, Werenight, Earthgrip, Noninterference, A World of Difference, Gunpowder Empire, American Empire: The Victorous Opposition, Jaws of Darkness, Ruled Britannia, Settling Accounts: Drive to the East, In the Presence of Mine Enemies, The Bridge of the Separator, End of the Beginning, and Every Inch a King; the collections Kaleidoscope, Down in the Bottomlands (and Other Places), and Atlantis and Other Places, and, as editor, The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century, The Best Military Science Fiction of the 20th Century, The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century, and, with Martin H. Greenberg, the Alternate Generals books. His most recent books include the novels The Big Switch and Supervolcano! He won a Hugo Award in 1994 for his story, “Down in the Bottomlands.” A native Californian, Turtledove has a Ph.D. in Byzantine history from UCLA, and has published a scholarly translation of a 9th-century Byzantine chronicle. He lives in Canoga Park, California, with his wife and family.

In the autumnal story that follows, a bittersweet return to the world of Anderson’s landmark fantasy novel Three Hearts and Three Lions, he shows us that sometimes you can’t go home again, even if you want to more than anything else in the world.

Alianora carried a bucket to the well in the tiny green at the heart of the village. She needed the water. She’d used what there was in the house the night before to soak green and yellow peas. She aimed to cook up a big pot of pease porridge, and enliven the flavor with chopped onion, bits of salt pork and some fennel she’d got from a wandering trader.

Her long wool skirt almost stirred up dust as she walked along. Most village women embroidered flowers or bright birds on their linen tunics. She’d ornamented hers with dragons. Maybe—no, surely—they talked about her behind her back. Well, that was all right. They gossiped about one another the same way. And she joined in. In a place where great things never happened, what could you do but go on about small ones?

She knew about great things. She’d lived through a dragon’s onslaught, something of which few mortals could boast. (Not that she did boast—what point to it?) She’d met elflords and sorceresses and high nobles of the human kind as well . . . and here she was, wed to the smith who’d forged the iron hoops that bound the bucket’s oaken staves.

Sometimes she wondered whether the war against Chaos that had engulfed the whole world thirty years before was meant to bring nothing more splendid than countless villages, all of them places where great things never happened, scattered through plains and forests. But what better result could the war have birthed? If ordinary folk were able to live ordinary lives free from anything worse than ordinary fears, didn’t things wag the way they should?

She smiled when she passed the smithy. Theodo waved back through the open door. He was never too busy to look out whenever someone went by. Part of that came from having two strapping sons learning the trade. Part sprang from life in a place like this. Anything that chanced was perforce noticeable and interesting, because not much did.

The smile stayed on Alianora’s face as she walked on. Theodo was a good man, a kind man. He’d never struck her in anger, never once. He’d clouted Einhard and Nithard only when they’d really and truly earned it. His hands might be scarred and callused and hard, but they were gentle in the quiet dark. A good man. A kind man. Perhaps not the most exciting man God ever made, but . . .

“I’ve had enough excitements, enough and to spare,” Alianora whispered fiercely. Her own work-roughened hands tightened on the bucket’s handle. Having magic-dashing cold iron in the family, so to speak, wasn’t such a bad thing even today.

No, not half. The blue gloaming that warded Faerie folk from the daylight they could not bear had retreated many leagues after Chaos’ latest grand assault on the lands of Law went awry. Yet still you could see it on the horizon from here. It had even moved forward again, a little, once or twice, in the years since then. Law’s nature, after all, was to forget and to forgive. Chaos did neither, it seemed, and found more agents within Law’s borders to work its will than would ever be so in reverse.

Not that all wizardry was wicked. Oh, no! Alianora’s smile subtly changed. Her daughter Alianna wore the white, feathered swan-may’s tunic these days, and wore it wondrous well. Somewhere in the priests’ holy Book it said there was a time for everything, and there as elsewhere the Book spoke true.

Alianora knew without—too much—resentment that her own time for the swan-may’s tunic lay behind her. Three decades and four children (one tiny body had lain in hallowed ground since before its first saint’s day, an unending sadness) had widened the hips to which that tunic once clung. She’d lost two teeth and gained wrinkles; encroaching gray streaked and dulled her red hair.

But when she dreamt of flying, she knew whereof she dreamt! Everyone flew in dreams. Almost everyone had to imagine what it was like. Alianora knew the wind beneath her wings, knew the joy of soaring on streams of warm air gusting up from the ground, knew the wonder of freedom and speed in three dimensions.

She glanced up into the watery sky to see if she might catch a glimpse of Alianna. No; wherever her daughter flew today, it was not near here. Just as well. Who didn’t want to fly wide when young, to streak over the fields and the meadows and the dark woods beyond? A village was for settling down, for later. When you were Alianna’s age, you thought later never came. You thought all kinds of things when you were Alianna’s age.

Here was the green, and the stone-ringed well. Behind Alianora, Theodo’s hammer rang against the anvil. The iron he beat into shape there wouldn’t be cold, not yet. As always, she hoped he wouldn’t come home nursing a burn. He was careful, but once in a while everyone slipped.

Four or five women stood near the well. Berthrada’s twin blond boys toddled by her feet. One of them stooped and plucked up some grass or maybe a bug and stuck it in his mouth. She hadn’t seemed to be watching, but she grabbed him, thrust a finger in there, and got rid of whatever it was. Mothers had, and needed, eyes in the back of the head. Berthrada swatted her son on the bottom, not too hard, and set him down again.

Alianora nodded to the women as she came up. They nodded back. It wasn’t quite as if she’d been born and raised here, even if her husband had. She’d been places and done things they were just as well pleased not to know too much about. And the brief, form-fitting swan-may’s tunic that had been hers and was now mostly Alianna’s brought a whiff of scandal with it.

Still and all, she lived here quietly enough, as she had for many years now. She made eyes at no man but her own. Her sons would be catches; no doubt of that. So Ethelind, the miller’s wife, said, “Have you heard the latest about Walacho and his poor sorry family?”

“What now?” Alianora asked sadly, working on the crank to bring up a bucket of well water. Any sensible man drank beer instead when he could; if you drank water all the time, you pretty much begged for a flux of the bowels. Walacho wasn’t such a sensible man. He drank to get drunk, and when he got drunk he got mean. He did things he was sorry for later, which helped him as much as it did anyone else.

Before Ethelind could come out with—or embroider upon—the juicy details of his latest rampage, Berthrada pointed out to the edge of the woods and exclaimed, “Look! A stranger’s coming!”

Ethelind shot her a dirty look. Walacho’s ordinary folly would have to wait for another time. Strangers didn’t come to the village every day, or every week, either. This one might give folk here things to talk about till the next one showed up.

He tramped along with determined strides, like a man who has been traveling for a long time and knows he may have to keep going longer yet. He was a big man, tall and broad through the shoulders. He wore a green plaid wool shirt with a stand-and-fall collar; sturdy, snug-fitting trousers dyed a blue not quite that of woad; and ankle-length brown leather boots. A scabbarded sword hung on his left hip, a sheathed knife on his right.

“Well, heaven knows I’ve seen worse,” Berthrada murmured when he was still a little too far away to hear her.

“He’s too old for you, dear,” Ethelind said, also softly. She freighted the last word with poisonous sweetness.

No matter how catty that made her, it didn’t make her wrong. The stranger’s fair hair—so far, telling how much gray it held was hard—receded at the temples. Harsh grooves scored his forehead and the skin between his nostrils and the corners of his mouth. When you got a good look at it, his nose had a distinct dent.

When Alianora got a good look at that dent, it was as if someone had punched her, hard, on the point of the chin. She sagged. Her hands slipped off the crank. It spun backwards, and almost did clip her in the face. She wondered if she would even have noticed. She’d already been hit harder than that.

“Holger,” she said, and groped for the stone wall around the well to help steady herself.

His eyes snapped sharply toward her. They were blue as she remembered, blue as a deep lake seen from the sky when she soared above it in swan’s guise. But he had not known her till she spoke his name. Grief flamed within her for that.

“Alianora?” he said. “Is it really you at last?” Blood drained from his weathered face, leaving it lich-pale.

“Aye,” she answered. She’d told him she loved him, there in the ruined church of St. Grimmin’s. And he’d taken the sword Cortana, which he’d found hidden there, and he’d ridden forth on his great black horse, and he’d broken the forces of Chaos, for they could not stand against him and what he bore.

And that was thirty long years ago now, even if it sometimes seemed like yesterday. It might seem so, but seeming was not reality.

“My dear,” he said. “My love.” He took a step in her direction. The village women stared avidly, their eyes wide as saucers. Even Berthrada’s twins peeped out from behind their mother’s skirts.

Alianora straightened. It was like taking a wound. Once the first shock passed, you steadied—if it wasn’t mortal, of course. “You never came back to me,” she said, as if that were all the explanation she needed. Perhaps it was. No one died of a broken heart, regardless of how many people wished they could.

Holger’s hands dropped. He had started to get his color back. Now he whitened again. “I couldn’t, dammit,” he mumbled, staring down at the grass and dirt between his feet. “The magics that brought me here swept me back to the world where I’d lived before. I was needed there, too, it turned out.”

She believed him absolutely. That more than one world might require the services of such a hero . . . Well, who could doubt it? In the end, though, what difference did it make? Two worlds might need Holger, but so had she—then. “You never came back to me,” she repeated, this time adding, “I thought sure I would never see you again.”

He cocked his head to one side. A small, tight, crooked smile came and went. “You don’t talk the way you used to,” he said, sliding away from what she’d told him.

She knew what he meant. When he’d known her before, she’d had a thick back-country burr. It wasn’t the way folk in the villages around here spoke. To fit in better, she’d softened the burr as much as she could.

“I’ve dwelt in these parts a long time now,” she said, talking the way she talked.

“I know. I’ve been trying to get to these parts for a long time now.” Holger stared off toward the horizon, and toward the blue Faeries gloaming darkening one stretch of it. “I’ve been to a lot of places—a lot of worlds. But Something or Somebody kept holding me away from this one. I can make a pretty good guess Who, too.”

Alianora could make that same guess. If the Powers Holger had bested here had their way, they would never want to see him again. And, even if they’d lost their war to rule this world wholly, their strength was not to be despised.

“I wonder that you succeeded in their despite,” she said, her voice softening a little.

“You’d better believe I did, kiddo. I don’t give up, no matter what.” He stuck out his chin. He was in good hard shape for a man his age—in extraordinary shape for a man his age—but the flesh under there still sagged. Well, so did the flesh under Alianora’s chin. The earth dragged you down towards it, and then it dragged you down into it, and then . . . you found out for sure what came afterwards.

“Thirty years. I was thinking on that earlier today,” Alianora said.

Holger nodded brusquely. “A devil of a long time,” he agreed. “I made it, though.” He looked at her as if she were the only thing in all the world—no, in all the worlds.

Once upon a time, that look would have melted her the way a mild spring morning melts the last winter frost. To a certain extent, it still did—but only to a certain extent. She was no longer who she had been in those dark and desperate days. Nor was he. She knew as much. She was far from sure he could say the same.

“So much time gone by,” she murmured.

“Not too much. We still have a good bit left,” he said.

She made herself meet that intent gaze. It wasn’t far removed from crossing swords. “Thirty years,” she repeated. “Thirty years of faring betwixt—amongst—the worlds for you.”

“I was always trying to get here,” Holger said. “Always.” The word clanged in his mouth.

Alianora nodded. “I believe you.” Even with the white tunic, she hadn’t flown so far as she used to do. After the war, the sullen, sulking, beaten Middle World was no longer such a welcoming place. Since Alianna took wing in her stead, she didn’t think she’d gone farther than a day’s walk from the village. As gently as she could, she asked, “In all your wanderings, did you never, ah, meet anyone who made you want to leave off and bide where you found yourself?”

He looked down at the ground once more: dull embarrassment this time. “I won’t lie to you. There’s been a girl or three. You know how things are.” He spread his hands. A swordsman’s calluses marked his right palm.

She did know how things were. A knight errant spent his nights erring—that was what they said, anyhow. How the woman he loved—the woman who loved him—felt when he did, he could always worry about later . . . if he worried about it at all.

Holger raised his big head. Fierce intensity filled his stare. “But there was never anybody else, babe. Never really. Never so it counted here—” He touched himself on the heart. “Only below the belt, if you know what I mean.” He chuckled.

Again, Alianora knew. Pity stabbed through her. “Why not, Holger?” she asked. “Why not, in heaven’s name? So many long, dry years . . . ”

She didn’t think he heard, or noticed, that last. “I’ll tell you why not. Because all I ever cared about in this miserable universe is you, that’s why. Because I aimed to go on till I found you, no matter what I had to do, no matter how long it took. And here I am.” His pride blazed like a forest fire.

Trying to deflect it seemed wisest. “All you ever cared for is me, say you? You know you speak not sooth. What of Morgan le Fay?”

He didn’t flinch. She wished he would have. “Well, what about her?” he said roughly. “That was a long time ago, and in another country, and besides, I hadn’t met you yet. I never would’ve busted my hump the way I did, fighting back to this world for the likes of her, and you can take that to the bank. But you, you’re worth it.”

He was convinced she was; she heard as much in his voice. He had to be, lest all he’d done and suffered this past half a lifetime turn to dust and blow away like fairy gold tried on an anvil of cold iron. “Surely life goes on wherever one wanders,” Alianora said. “Surely, had you sought, you would have found many, or one at least, not so very different from me.”

“No way. Not a chance.” Holger had vast reserves of stubbornness. Without them, he never would have won Cortana, never would have had the chance to scatter the host of Chaos before him. Now . . . Now he said, “You’re the one, the only one.”

“Oh, Holger.” Alianora tried to make him hear what he would not see: “I am no more the lass you wooed.”

He wasn’t listening. And he had his reasons: his eyes shifted away from her, and his yellow-callused hand dropped to the hilt of his sword. “Who’re these clowns?” he ground out. “They better make tracks, kid. They mess with me, it’s the last dumb stunt they ever pull.”

Alianora turned to follow his gaze. One of the other women by the well must have hotfooted it back to the smithy. Alianora hadn’t noted anyone leaving, but to say she was distracted only proved the weakness of words. Here came Theodo, a heavy hammer clutched in his fist. Behind him strode Einhard and Nithard, one with an axe, the other with a cleaver.

“Hold!” Alianora spoke quickly to her kinsmen. “This is the famous Sir Holger, come to call after all these years.”

Einhard and Nithard broke into delighted grins. They knew she’d been friends with the paladin in the great days before they were born. Now at last they got to meet a hero in the flesh! Theodo’s face was a study. He knew rather more than they did, and liked what he knew rather less. So long as Holger was gone and stayed gone, it didn’t bother him—much. Now that he got to meet the hero in the flesh . . .

Seeing them lower their weapons, Holger also took his hand away from his sword, though not very far. He asked once more, “Who are these people?” This time, the question sounded cautious and formal rather than ferocious.

With relief, Alianora too chose formality: “Sir Holger, I have the honor to present to you my sons. The tall one is Einhard; the redhead, Nithard. With them stands my husband, Theodo.”

Her sons rushed up to clasp the hero’s hand. Theodo hung back a little, but only a little. He also set his hard palm against Holger’s. He didn’t pound the paladin on the back the way Einhard and Nithard did, or help try to lift him off his feet. The gray streaks in his beard excused his lack of youthful enthusiasm. Other things, perhaps, excused his lack of enthusiasm of any sort.

As for Holger . . . Alianora might have known—hellfire, had known—formality wouldn’t be enough. While the puppies pounded on him and Theodo gave him more restrained greeting, he looked like a man who’d just taken a boot in the belly out of nowhere.

When the commotion around him eased a little, he stared over at Alianora with that astonished disbelief still all over his face. “Your . . . sons?” he said. He might never have heard the word before.

“Aye,” Alianora answered stolidly.

“Your . . . husband?” By the way Holger said it, he had heard that word before, and didn’t fancy it a barleycorn’s worth. Theodo caught the same thing. He unobtrusively shifted the hammer from his left hand back to his right.

Alianora nodded. “Aye,” she said again. It was the truth. Why should she not repeat it? Why should she want to weep when she did?

“But how did that happen?” Holger asked, still lost, speaking as if of flood or fire or other natural catastrophe.

“How do you think?” For the first time, irritation rose against sympathy in Alianora. “You were gone, Holger. Gone off the battlefield. Gone from human ken. Gone from the ken of other folk, too, as I have reason to know. Even smarting from their loss, the Middle Worlders laughed that I should have looked for aught else. So I came hither one day, and I met Theodo, and this is all these years and three grown children later.” She raised her head and looked him full in the face. She’d essayed nothing harder since she last lay down in childbed, but she did it. “I would not change it now even if I could.”

Einhard and Nithard blinked at her. They understood that they didn’t understand everything that was going on. She sighed within herself. She would have a deal of explaining to do to them, and to Alianna. One of these days. Not today. Today had its own sorrows.

Theodo hung on to the hammer. How not? Alianora sometimes thought he set it down only to make love to her. Well, she never would have wanted a man who was not a willing worker. His grip eased a bit, though. He must have had his own fears about this moment, if it ever came. She’d slain some of them, at any rate.

“But . . . But . . . ” Holger gaped like a boated carp. “I never gave up looking for you, looking for a way back here. Never once, never for a minute, never in thirty years. Now I make it, and what do I find?”

“That life went on whilst you were busy with other things?” Alianora suggested. His gape only got wider. She sighed again, out loud this time. “Holger, how could I know what you strove for, there in your other world? Even did I know, how could I guess you’d succeed?”

“You should’ve.” Holger muttered to himself, scowling and shaking his head. He might bring out the words, but he had trouble believing them himself.

“Here. Wait.” Alianora began bringing up the bucket of water again. “Your coming fair made me forget why I was at the well. I aim to stew up a great kettle of pease porridge, for supper this even and for as long after that as it may last. Will you come home and eat with us?”

He grinned crookedly—more the expression she remembered him wearing than the loss and rage that had been chasing each other across his features. “Bread and salt, Carahue would say.”

“That’s the Moor’s custom, not mine, but I think it a good one,” Alianora answered. After you ate with someone, trying to cut out his liver ought to be bad form.

“He’s probably got himself a harem.” Holger’s grin widened. “Song girls and dancing girls and girls to peel grapes for him and drop them into his mouth. Oh, and about fifty-eleven kids, too. I bet he’s fat, but happy.”

“It would not surprise me. He always fancied the good things in life,” Alianora said.

“Well, so did I.” Holger looked straight at her.

More than anything else, that was what made her say, “Theodo, why don’t you close the smithy, and you and the boys come home with us? ’Tis a holiday—an unlooked-for holiday, which makes it but the sweeter.”

“Aye, I’ll do it,” Theodo said at once. He didn’t want Alianora alone with Holger. She didn’t want—she didn’t think she wanted—that, either. Her feelings for him might be buried, but they lay restless in the grave. Best give them no chance to see light of day once more. And also best to give no one here the least excuse to think of scandal. Some of the women would regardless; they were made so. But no one else ought to be able to hearken to their vinegar tongues.

“Not a great big place, is this?” Holger remarked as they walked back to the house. He carried the water bucket. Theodo gave him a quizzical look when he lifted it, but at Alianora’s quick gesture lowered his eyebrows and kept quiet. Holger had always been full of such small, strange courtesies.

“Grandest village for twenty miles around,” Nithard said proudly. Holger nodded, polite as an elflord. If he also smiled for one brief moment, Alianora was pretty sure she was the only one who noticed.

She stirred the peas and strewed in salt. After adding the fennel—its spicy scent made her nostrils twitch—she cut the pork into little cubes. It went into the kettle, too.

“Will you chop some more firewood for me?” she asked Theodo.

“Aye.” He went out to do it without a backward glance. Einhard and Nithard chaperoned Alianora better than well enough, even if they didn’t realize that was what they were doing. They wanted every cut and thrust of Holger’s adventures in this world, in the one where he’d spent some years, and in the others he’d passed through on his long, roundabout journey back here. To help loosen his tongue, they broached a barrel of beer Alianora hadn’t planned on opening so soon.

Holger was a good talespinner, of the kind who could laugh at himself and his blunders: one more thing Alianora recalled from bygone days. She’d lived through some of his stories, and heard others before—how they came back! Others still were new to her. The feathered demons—or were they pagan gods?—who ate hearts and drank blood made her shiver in spite of herself.

Theodo had come back in with an armload of wood. Alianora scarcely noticed. Her husband got caught up in Holger’s latest tale, too. When the knight paused to wet his whistle, Theodo asked, “This is truth, not just a yarn spun for the sake of yarning?”

“Truth.” Holger signed himself to show he meant it. “Oh, sometimes neatened up a bit for the sake of the story, and maybe the way I remember it now isn’t exactly the way it happened then, but . . . close enough for government work, they say in the other world where I lived a long time.”

The phrase sounded odd to Alianora, but Theodo grasped it at once. “That is truth,” he agreed gravely. “As near as a mortal man’s likely to come to it, any road.” He took up the beechwood dipper and poured himself a stoup of beer.

Holger refilled his own mug, not for the first time. He sipped appreciatively. “Mighty fine stuff,” he said.

“I have a charm against souring I got years ago in the Middle World,” Alianora said. “It works as well on this side of the border, so there must be no harm in it.”

“Not unless you’re the wrong kind of microorganism.” That last must have been a word from some other world, for it meant nothing to Alianora—nor, plainly, to her kinsmen. Holger took another pull at the beer. “I saw a tavern near the well,” he said. “If you can brew like this, I’m surprised you don’t run it out of business.”

“We would never do that!” Theodo sounded shocked. “Gerold needs must make his living, too.”

“Besides, brewing a barrel of beer now and again is one thing. Brewing enough for a thirsty village, that’s summat else altogether,” Alianora added.

“Mm, I shouldn’t wonder if you’re right,” Holger said after a little thought. “You always did have a good head on your shoulders, and not just for looks.”

Alianora’s cheeks heated. Theodo scowled. Then Einhard, not noticing anything amiss, said, “Sir Holger, will you speak more of these . . . Nasties, did you call ’em?”

“Nazis,” Holger corrected. His face went hard. “Though Nasties is a good name for them, too. Some ways, I think they were worse than any of the evils that haunt this world, because the only devils that drove them boiled up from the bottom of their own shriveled souls.”

He told some of what they had done. Only two things made Alianora believe him: that his voice held unmistakable conviction, and that no one could or would invent such horrors for the sake of making talk spin along. It was as if, for a time, a shadow hovered under the roof thatching.

Alianora got the fire on the hearth built up the way she wanted. She hung the cauldron of porridge above it. Then she said, “Shall we get out into the open air a while, to let it cook?” That made a fair enough reason, but she also wanted to escape the shadow that—she hoped—wasn’t really there. She knew she would never eye a fylfot the same way after this.

“It is a trifle smoky in here,” Holger said. Theodo laughed under his breath. Einhard and Nithard both smiled. With the forge always blazing in the smithy, they knew more of smoke than Holger would . . . or did they?

“What became of your pipe, wherein you burned the nickels’ smoking-leaf?” Alianora asked him as they went out to the little plot of vegetables and herbs by the side of the house. A hen that was pecking at something clucked at the interruption and scuttled away.

“I gave it up. Didn’t much want to, but I did.” Sure enough, Holger’s voice was plangent with regret. But he went on, “The miserable doctors have shown it steals years off the back end of your life. I still miss it sometimes, I will say.”

“Doctors!” Theodo snorted scorn. “Me, I’d sooner go to a priest. He has a better chance of fixing what ails me.”

“In this world, a priest would,” Holger agreed. “Not in all of them, though. Some places, a sawbones knows as much about the way your body works as you do about shaping iron. He knows what’s good for you, and he knows what isn’t. And smoking isn’t, and there’s no way in the world—in any world—to pretend it is.”

Theodo hoisted his tankard. “Next thing you know, you’ll try and tell me beer is bad, too.” He laughed. So did his sons and Alianora.

So did Holger, but he said, “There are people—bluenoses, we call ’em—across the worlds who’ll tell you just that. I’m sure not one of ’em, though.”

“I should hope not!” Theodo reached for the knight’s mug. “Fill you up again?”

“Much obliged.” Holger handed it to him.

Alianora went back inside, too, to stir the porridge. As Theodo dipped out more beer, he spoke in a low voice: “I do see why you cared for him. And if you think I’m sorry to have a long lead now he’s back in the race, you’re daft.”

“Don’t sound more foolish then you can help,” she answered tartly. “There is no race, nor shall there be.” There wouldn’t have been a race had Holger ridden back from the battlefield, either. But that was a different story, one that hadn’t happened. She’d done the best she could in the one that had.

All the same, she poured herself a fresh mug before following her husband outside once more. Sometimes the world needed a bit of blurring.

Holger had launched into another tale, about a folk he called Reds. Einhard and Nithard listened, entranced. “Now, the measure of the Reds’ damnation was that tens of thousands of their men took service with the Nazis against their own liege lord,” the knight said. “The measure of the Nazis’ damnation, though, was that almost every other realm in the world allied with the Reds’ liege lord, wicked though he was, against them.”

Einhard frowned. “Even the realms of Law? Did not this wicked Red serve Chaos as much as the Nazis’ chief did?”

“He served Chaos, I think, yes, but less than the Nazis did.” Holger gnawed on his underlip. “Things aren’t always so black-and-white in that world as they are here. They—” He broke off.

A great white shape gyred down out of the sky toward the vegetable plot. Broad wings thuttered as the swan braked against air. Muscles in Alianora’s shoulders tensed, remembering those automatic motions. Only a woman’s muscles now, but still . . .

Suddenly the swan was swam no more, but Alianna, her bare toes digging into the soft, black dirt of the plot. She studied Holger with frank curiosity. “God give you good day, sir,” she said; she’d always been a mannerly lass. “Who might you be?”

His eyes almost bugged out of his head. He started violently and shaped the sign of the cross on his chest. “Jesu Kriste!” he barked out.

For far from the first time that mad day, tears stung Alianora. Just so had Holger responded when she first transformed from swan shape to her own before him. Then he’d reckoned the very notion of magic all but incredible. He knew better now; else he’d never have found his way back to this world, this village. Too often, though, you forgot what a useless thing mere knowing could be.

Holger stared at Alianna. She’d just turned eighteen. Her hair was red, though darker than Nithard’s. The spotless swan-may’s tunic covered enough of her for decency’s sake, but accented her sweet young curves.

Jesu Kriste,” Holger said again, in a hoarse whisper this time, a whisper that struck Alianora as something close to true prayer. “Oh, Jesu Kriste!” Slowly, slowly, his gaze swung from Alianna to Alianora and back again.

Alianora knew what he was seeing, or thought he was seeing: her, as she’d been in the days when they were both young and everything stretched ahead of them. He stared down at the backs of his hands. The loose, age-freckled skin and the harsh tendons standing out like tree roots where the soil was washing away told him how lost those days were.

“Alack, the poor bugger!” Theodo murmured in Alianora’s ear. He was thinking along with her again. After so long together, scant surprise there.

“Sir?” In the way Alianna repeated the word, she let her patience show. She had no notion what the sight of her was doing to this unexpected guest.

Alianora did what little she could: “Alianna, here before you stands the great Sir Holger, of whom you’ll have heard me speak many a time. Holger, Alianna is the youngest chick in my brood.”

Her daughter’s face lit like sunrise. “Sir Holger? The famous Sir Holger? Come here?” She dropped him a curtsy more heartfelt than practiced.

Holger made heavier going of it. “Your chick? You said you had two—” He stopped short, looking absurdly astonished, and thumped himself in the forehead with the heel of his hand. “No. Wait. You did say you had three kids. You said, and either I didn’t quite hear it or I didn’t think what it might mean.” He managed a ragged bow. “Alianna, you’re . . . as pretty as your mother was.” A tiny pause as he looked back to Alianora. “Is.”

“Gramercy, sir knight,” Alianna said. “She tells such tales of you, and of the days when you twain strove together against Chaos! I never thought to meet a grand paladin in the flesh!” She clapped her hands together.

“Here I am, such as I am.” The old, familiar self-mockery sounded in Holger’s snort. He held out his mug to Alianora. Almost plaintively, he said, “This got empty some kind of way. Could you fix that, please?”

“Certes.” Alianora took it and went inside.

She gave the bubbling cauldron another stir. As she dipped up more beer from the barrel, she heard Alianna say, “Oh, Sir Holger, will you not grant us the boon of some tales of your brave adventures?”

“What do you suppose he’s been doing?” Einhard sounded as snotty as only an older brother could. “If you’d stuck around instead of flying all over creation or swimming in a pond and sticking your tail up in the air whenever you spied summat tasty at the bottom—”

Theodo’s rumbled “That will be enough—more than enough—of that” rose above Alianna’s irate squeak.

“Yes, more than enough,” Holger agreed as Alianora came out again. He nodded to her as he took back the stoup and drank from it. Then his gaze returned to Alianna. “I don’t mind spinning out a few more stories if you folks can put up with listening to ’em.” He might have been talking to all of them, but he had eyes for only one—with the occasional bemused glance at her mother.

Alianna couldn’t have made a better audience had she rehearsed for the role. She laughed in all the right places. She clapped her hands some more when the story turned exciting. Whenever magic intruded, her eyes—they were green, not blue like Alianora’s—widened.

Theodo blew on a fire with a goatskin bellows when he wanted to make it hotter. All unwittingly, Alianna had the same effect on Holger. He paid less and less heed to anybody else. Alianna basked in his attention, probably because, like Alianora at the same age, she wasn’t used to getting much.

Alianora wasn’t alone in noticing. After a while, Theodo said, “Sir knight, will you walk a little ways with me? Alianora, you may as well come, too.” When their sons and daughter started to follow along, the smith held up a hand. “Nay, bide you here, an’t please you. This is for the older heads. We’ll be back betimes, I vow.”

Einhard, Nithard, and Alianna all looked dissatisfied, each, perhaps, for different reasons. In the face of Theodo’s stony stare, though, and Alianora’s, they did not try to press their luck.

Holger didn’t seem happy to cut short his latest yarn, either. But he did it with such good grace as he could muster. Theodo and Alianora led him along a narrow, muddy path through the fields—and away from the children. Holger did have the wit to wait till they got out of earshot before asking, “Well, what’s this all about?”

“Sir knight . . . ” Theodo stopped and scuffed one boot in the dirt. Then he squared his shoulders. Though shorter than Holger, he was nearly as broad through them. “Sir knight, I want you to understand I speak to you without meaning to offend. Can you do that, please?”

“Go on,” Holger said grimly. “I’ll try my best.”

“For which I cry your grace.” Theodo sketched a salute. “Now, I am but a simple fellow, and not a traveled man. I can only tell you how things seem to me, and how they’d look to other village folk.”

“You can cut out the sandbagging.” Holger’s voice was desert-dry. When he saw Theodo and Alianora didn’t follow the phrase, he explained it: “Say what you mean to say, and never mind all the ‘simple fellow’ garbage.”

A ghost of a smile crossed Theodo’s face and was gone before Alianora could be sure she saw it. “Right well said. I will, then: when a man your age, or mine, looks on a lass like Alianna the way you’ve looked on her this past hour and more, well, here in the village we make goaty jokes about it. Is it the same other places you’ve seen, or is it otherwise?”

Holger’s cheeks flamed the color of heated iron. “I—I—I—” He tried three times, but nothing more came out. Then he tilted his head back and drained the stoup of beer, larynx bobbing as he swallowed. He took a deep breath, and another one. This time, he managed to speak: “I beg your pardon, Theodo. I did not know I was looking at her that way.”

“Well, you were,” Theodo said. Holger’s eyes asked Alianora a silent question. Regretfully, she nodded. He had been.

He winced. He swore in the language Alianora used, and added things that sounded hot in what seemed like several others. “I must be a perfect jackass,” he said at last. He met Theodo’s eyes with a courage Alianora had to admire. “And to answer your question, they joke about pretty young girls and not-so-young men everywhere I’ve ever been. I expect God made those jokes about twenty minutes after He finished making the world—uh, worlds. Maybe even sooner.”

“Mm, I’d not know about that,” Theodo said uncomfortably. Like Alianora, like most of the villagers, he spoke little of God. Such things were more for priests than for the likes of them. She remembered Holger had always had an easier way with the Deity. She’d got used to it in the bygone days. No doubt she could again.

“Shall we go back now, before the children do come after us?” she said.

She looked to Theodo, but her husband only shrugged. It fell on Holger to answer the question. “Yes, let’s,” he said. “I’ll behave myself, honest.”

“We do understand the why of it, Sir Holger,” Alianora said as they ambled toward the house once more. She almost said dear Holger, as she had so often while he was here before. But it would not do now. It most especially would not do right this minute. After a beat, she went on, “You’ve had yourself a whole great stack o’ surprises since you came forth from yon woods.”

“Surprises.” Holger’s chuckle was mirthless. “Oh, you might say so. Yes, you just might.”

Alianora heard the pain that lay under the laugh. “I would not hurt you for the world, Sir Holger,” she said, and came even closer than before to dear Holger. Theodo heard it whether she said it or not. He made a small noise down deep in his chest. She ignored it; she’d square things with him later. Meanwhile . . . “The world wags as it wags, not always as we wish it would. We move on. We change.” She waved at the impatiently waiting Einhard, Nithard, and Alianna. Alianna waved back.

“Yeah. Right.” Holger’s forced smile likely masked tears. “Only I didn’t, did I? I spent all those years wandering from one world to the next, or else in some of the places between them all. I was going to get back here, and nothing was gonna stop me no matter what. And I don’t think I ever once stopped to wonder what in blazes you’d be doing. You were—”

“In amber in your mind?” Alianora suggested. She had a bauble from Theodo, a tear of the sun with a tiny ant trapped inside forever.

“Yes!” Agreement exploded out of Holger. “That’s it. That’s just it! And a whole fat lot of good seeing it now does me.”

“Well, I am glad you came again,” Alianora said: one more thing she would have to set right with Theodo. But it was so, even if not the way Holger would have wanted. Like anyone else, she had her own measure of vanity.

Nithard aimed a rather predatory grin at them. “Well, what were the lot of you going on about where we couldn’t hearken?”

Deadpan, Holger answered, “What a rotten bunch of brats your mother’s gone and raised—what else?”

Alianora’s second son opened his mouth, then wisely closed it again without saying anything more. Some scrapes you not only couldn’t win, you only made yourself look sillier when you tried. He at least had the sense to see as much.

Alianna, now . . . Alianna batted her eyes at Holger and murmured, “Now, good sir knight, you don’t mean that of me?” in tones that should have been sinful if anyone but their intended victim heard them—and were bound to be sinful if he alone did.

But Holger just threw back his head and laughed. All right, he’d been besotted for a little while, likely as much for what he remembered as for what he saw. As with any other man of his years, though, it was more his imagination that kindled than aught else.

“You ought to go wash your mouth out with beer, young lady,” he said. “And if that doesn’t work, somebody needs to turn you over his knee and paddle you.”

Alianna gaped. Then she looked miffed, as any witch might when one of her spells fell to pieces instead of working the magic she had in mind. And then, after a few tense heartbeats, she laughed, too: she was good-natured-Alianora’s good-natured daughter. If she didn’t quite know yet how to keep a man three times her age inflamed, then she didn’t, that was all. Just as well, too, Alianora thought.

“I hope you’ll go on with your tales, Sir Holger,” Theodo said. “They do make the time spin by.” He said nothing, now, of not aiming them all at Alianna.

“I can do that,” Holger said, but not before he held out the stoup once more to Alianora. “Will you give me a refill first?”

“Surely,” she replied. “And after another tale or two, I think we shall pause to sup.”

He sniffed and nodded. “Sounds like a plan. It’s starting to smell mighty good.”

He’d always been full of such small bits of praise, thrown out not for the sake of flattery or seduction but simply because that was his way. It was, Alianora thought with a twisted smile of her own, one of the things that marked him as a man from another world.

After she brought Holger the mug, she went back inside and fed the hearthfire a little more wood to keep the pease porridge above it bubbling. She tasted the porridge with a wooden spoon. In went a pinch of salt and a dash more fennel, but only a dash. It was getting there.

Outside, her husband and her children broke into guffaws at something Holger said. Theodo wouldn’t have laughed unless the big man from another world wasn’t leering at Alianna while he talked. Alianora sighed as she picked up a loaf of brown bread. It wasn’t of the freshest—not expecting company, she’d baked day before yesterday—but it would serve.

She got out earthenware bowls, spoons shaped from horn, and one, for Holger today, of silver. That was another gift from Theodo, part of the family wealth and, even in these quiet times, a ward against werewolves. Not long ago, Holger had told of the one they’d tracked through Lourville, the town to the east. In those days, with the Middle World waxing strong, anyone even slightly susceptible to shapeshifting was likely to go were. Not so now. Still, silver kept virtues beyond value and beauty.

One more taste. Alianora nodded again. “Yes, we’re ready,” she said to herself, and walked to the door. “Can we stop the yarns long enough to eat?”

Trying to hold her sons back would have been harder. Stomachs with legs, that was what they were. Who was the king in fable who’d tried to hold back the tide? She couldn’t remember if that was Canute or Louis XIV. Whoever he was, he wouldn’t have had much luck with Einhard and Nithard, either.

Holger raised an eyebrow when she handed him the silver spoon with his bowl. His forehead corrugated. Yes, the years had scored him, as they’d marked Alianora—as they marked everyone. “You’ve done well for yourselves,” he remarked: of course he’d understand what the precious metal meant.

“Oh, tolerable. Tolerable,” Theodo said. He might be a smith, but he had a peasant’s dread of admitting success, much less boasting about it. You threw your luck away when you did anything so foolish.

“Heh.” Holger’s single syllable said he understood that thinking down to the ground. He ladled porridge into the bowl and tore off a chunk of bread. Alianna had set out the honeypot beside the loaf. Holger grinned. “This is a feast!”

“Pretty good, all right,” Einhard said. He was trying to eat and talk at the same time, and swallowed wrong.

His father thumped him on the back till he quit coughing. “Greedy like a hog, you are,” Theodo said, but he couldn’t make himself sound as angry as he might have wanted to.

Alianna said, “Sir Holger, you’ll have seen riches beside which a silver spoon will seem as nothing.”

“If you own your wealth, that’s not so bad,” Holger answered with a shrug. “If it owns you, that’s not so good. I never had it in me to chase after gold or jewels or any of that nonsense. The treasure I was after—” He stopped short and upended his mug.

A considerable silence followed. Alianora unhappily considered it. At last, picking his words with obvious care, Theodo said, “For whatever it may be worth to you, you have my sympathy.”

“Sympathy? It’s worth its weight in gold,” Holger said. Theodo started to beam, then frowned a sudden, stormy frown instead. How much would a word weigh? But Holger held up his hand. “Peace, please. Just a smart-mouthed crack. I know your words were kindly meant.”

After another, briefer, pause, Theodo dipped his head. “Aye, let it go.”

“Thanks.” Holger ate a couple of more spoonsful of porridge. Then he said, perhaps as much to himself as to his companions, “It’s funny, you know, when you spend so long looking for somebody who’s all you ever wanted, and then you go and find her, and you see she’s already got everything she ever wanted, and it isn’t you.”

A house, not one of the smallest and meanest in the village but not one of the finest, either? A garden plot? Chickens and ducks and pigs and a cow? Enough to eat, except at the end of the worst winters? Is this all I ever wanted? Alianora wondered.

But that wasn’t what Holger was talking about, was it? A good, solid man with whom she’d made a life. Three children well on their way to turning into good, solid people themselves. A place where she belonged, where she fit in, if not perfectly, then better than well enough.

When you got right down to it, what more could you want?

“’Scuse me.” Holger brushed past her to get to the beer barrel. He’d poured down a lot, and showed it very little. Well, there was a lot of him to soak up beer, and he’d always had that knack. Still, when he raised the stoup in salute, Alianora thought tears glittered for a moment in his eyes. “Here’s to all of you,” he said, and drank.

“To you, Sir Holger . . . dear Holger.” Alianora returned the salute. “Without you, Chaos would have rolled over this land and swept all we have, all we’ve built, away for aye.” She drank to him. Theodo and the children followed her lead.

“Yeah, well . . . ” A sigh gusted from Holger. “I wonder if the Powers here didn’t finally let me come back to rub my nose in what a useless thing a hero is a generation after his war ends. The world goes on without him. What was the point to any of it?”

Alianora glanced at the kettle of pease porridge above the fire on the hearth. She took half a step toward Theodo, though she knew the motion would wound Holger. “This was the point,” she answered.

“I guess it was.” Holger sounded unconvinced, and who could blame him? Hero he might be—hero he was—but he had none of what Alianora enjoyed. He stared out through the doorway. Sunset reddened the light coming in. So too, perhaps, did escaping smoke from the cookfire. More got out through the hole in the roof above the hearth, but enough did linger to sting eyes and throats. Holger said, “I could show you a way to make all your smoke go outside: a chimney, it’s called.”

“Another day, sir knight,” Theodo said, his eyebrows coming down and together at the strange word.

Holger looked towards Alianora. She said, “Is it that you came here for?”

“You know bloody well it isn’t.” He bared his teeth in another humorless smile. “But it seems to be about what I’m good for, doesn’t it?”

Since Alianora had no answer to that, she spooned up some more porridge. The hard moment passed. Holger launched into another tale with the air of a man determined to push pain aside. Sunset gave way to twilight, which dwindled toward darkness. Shadows from the dying fire swooped around the walls.

Alianora lit a fine beeswax candle, and then, after a little thought, a second. Hang the cost tonight! The tilt of her chin defied Theodo to say anything. He was a bold man, but—wisely—not so bold as that. Even the candles’ mellow glow could not come close to matching daylight, but it did help the red embers on the hearth.

Holger got to the end of his story. He blinked, maybe noticing the darkness for the first time. A cricket chirped outside. “Well,” Holger said, as if it were a complete sentence. He blinked again. “We did walk past that tavern, right? You said a guy called . . . Gerold runs it.” He grinned, pleased he’d come up with the name.

“Have we drunk the barrel dry?” Alianora squeaked in surprise. They’d applied themselves to it, aye, but that was a lot of beer.

“I don’t think so,” Holger said. “But the tavern’ll have wine, won’t it? Other stuff folks here don’t fix for themselves, too. Gerold wouldn’t make his living if it didn’t.”

“Well, aye. That’s so.” Theodo sounded grudging, and had his reasons: “Not the best crowd there—men who’d sooner guzzle than work, most of ’em. And always ’tis dearer to pay the taverner’s scot than to brew for yourself. Wine may be sweet, but beer does well enough.”

“Don’t worry about that.” Holger slapped one of the cleverly made pockets on his blue trousers. Whatever was inside clinked sweetly. “I’m buying.”

“Mrmm.” Theodo still hesitated.

“We thank you, Sir Holger.” Alianora didn’t. “If you’re fain to fare to the tavern, thither we shall fare.” They all walked out into the night together.

The tavern wasn’t far. Nothing in the village was far from anything else. Stars, a nail-paring of moon, and firelight leaking out between shutter slats and through badly chinked walls and spilling from partly open doorways kept darkness from being absolute. All the same, Alianora planted her feet with care, trying not to step in a hole or a puddle or anything nasty.

A cat’s eyes glowed green, then vanished. A dog growled a warning that faded into a whine when it decided it didn’t want to take on so many humans after all.

“Right over here, y’see?” Theodo said in a low voice that wouldn’t bother neighbors already abed. “Not so far from the well. It’s—” He grunted in surprise. “The shape of it’s wrong.”

“Aye, it is,” Alianora agreed wonderingly. The tavern shouldn’t bulk so tall against the sky. It looked as if it owned two stories. She’d seen such things in her travels with Holger, but there wasn’t a building like that in the village . . . or there hadn’t been. The beam-ends of the roof were oddly and ornately carven.

“I know that shape,” Holger breathed. “I wondered if the Old Phoenix would show up tonight. You don’t always find it, but sometimes it finds you.”

“How do you mean?” Alianora asked.

“It’s one of those places between the worlds that I was talking about. It doesn’t belong to any of them,” Holger answered. “I can’t explain it better than that. I don’t think anybody else can, either.”

The door opened. For a moment, Walacho’s swag-bellied shape stood silhouetted against the light spilling out from within. It wasn’t what the village drunkard had expected. But if it wasn’t the tavern, it plainly was a tavern. That would do for Walacho. He waddled inside.

Before the door swung shut, Alianora glimpsed a bar, with a plump man—definitely not Gerold, who was on the lean side—standing behind it. In front were a few small tables. Walacho was heading towards one of them. At another sat . . . Alianora stiffened. Hair blacker than the night sky; a proud, harsh, beautiful face; long satin dress caressing every lush curve . . .

“That’s Morgan le Fay!” she blurted, and knew not why she should sound so furious. Because the great sorceress had aged not a day these past thirty years? That should have been reason enough and more, but somehow her rage ran deeper yet.

The way Holger said “Yeah” made her understand why. He went on, “I’m not surprised to see her there. She’s one the Old Phoenix would draw, sure as sure. And we’ve got a few things to talk about, the two of us. Uh-huh, just a few.”

“Talk?” Alianora snarled the word, as if she’d been in the habit of transforming to cat herself rather than to swan.

“Well, that, too.” Holger seemed sourly amused. “You don’t want me, but you don’t want me having fun with anybody else, either?”

“Not with her!” Alianora said. “When did she bring you aught but grief?”

“There were times, back in the day. There sure were.” By the way he answered, he might not have thought of them for many a year, but that made the memories no less sweet.

“Perhaps—for her purposes. Never for yours.” Alianora knew trouble when she saw it, no matter how seductive its package.

“That could be,” Holger allowed, so he wasn’t altogether blind. No, not altogether. He made as if to bow to her in the darkness. “If you want to play nursemaid, you can come in with me.”

“When I came out, would I come hither and not into one of your other worlds?” she asked. Would Walacho’s family have to make do without him, as if he’d gone into Elf Hill and emerged the next morning to find a hundred years gone in the wider world? They might prove better off, but that wasn’t the point.

“You probably would. Most people do, most of the time,” Holger said.

“That is not warrant enough,” Theodo declared. He wasn’t in the habit of speaking for Alianora; he’d learned she didn’t fancy it when he tried. He did it now, though, and she liked it fine. Her children stirred. The Old Phoenix and the idea of adventure drew them. Well, naturally adventure drew them—they’d never known much. Alianora had, and knew she’d had a bellyful.

“I stay here,” she said. If her voice roughened, then it did, that was all. She reached out and took the knight’s hand. “Go where you would, dear Holger, and God keep you safe wherever it may be.” Anger and jealousy flared once more. “Whatever else you do, mind yon witch!”

“Oh, I will. I’m not always as dumb as I look—just most of the time. And I’ve got more miles on me now. I’m not likely to be so stupid that way as I might’ve been a while back. I hope.” Holger squeezed her hand hard. Then he leaned forward and brushed his lips across hers. “Good luck to you, kiddo, and to yours. You found what you were after. Me, I guess I’ve got to go look some more, don’t I?”

He stumped toward the Old Phoenix, footfalls softening as he went away. When he opened the door, he stood limned for a moment by the light beyond him. He waved, once, then stepped inside. The door closed again before Alianora had to hear Morgan le Fay’s voice.

She burst into tears anyhow. Theodo put his arm round her shoulder—less comfort than she would have liked, but as much as she could get. “If we’re not going in,” he said, “we’d better get back.”

“Aye.” She nodded. He would feel the motion even if he couldn’t see it. “Let’s do that.”

Alianora woke early, before anyone else in the house, after a night of confused dreams. For a moment, she wondered if everything that had happened the day before was only a dream. But no. That was real. She knew the difference.

She tiptoed outside without disturbing her kin. It was still gloomy: twilight, with dawn coming but not yet come. She walked toward the well, far enough to discover that the tavern had its usual seeming once more. Someone sprawled asleep in front of the doorway; a tankard lay on its side near his head. Walacho: she knew his snores.

No sign of Holger. Well, she hadn’t thought there would be. She turned around and went home.

Alianna was up when she came in. Even in the dim light, her daughter’s eyes glowed. Alianora smiled to see her. She’d glowed like that herself, once upon a time. “Quite a day, yesterday,” she said.

“It was! I’ll remember it forever!” Alianna said.

“As will I.” Alianora hesitated. Then, remembering, she asked, “Might I . . . wear the white tunic once more, for just this morning?”

Alianna set a palm soft with understanding on her arm. “Of course, Mother. Of course.”


For me to talk about Poul Anderson is like a young guitarist talking about Hendrix or Keith Richards—he’s one of the main guys from whom I learned my licks. What makes a story, how to tell a story, which words to choose to tell it as well as you can . . . What I know, I know in no small measure because so much of what Poul did rubbed off on me. I started reading him long before I started (and then soon stopped) shaving, and have been doing it ever since, always with enjoyment and always with profit. That we would become colleagues and, toward the end of his life, friends, shows me I’ve done a few things right in my life, anyhow. And that he and Karen would come to my house for dinner . . . Well, if you’d told that to my not-yet-shaving self, he would’ve said, “No way!” But yes. There may be something to this growing-up business after all.

—Harry Turtledove

Back | Next