Authors: Stephen R. Donaldson
To Stephanie –
who never fails of
I WISH I COULD CLAIM THAT THE STORIES IN
THIS VOLUME were written as part of a continuing effort to conquer new
literary territory. After six
books, I’m fairly well
established on my own ground; so some efforts in a different direction would be
appropriate. In addition, the desire to extend oneself into new
terrain—technically, thematically, imaginatively—is an admirable quality in a
writer. And, in fact, I
ambitious along those lines. For that reason,
I’ve always wanted to publish a collection of short stories. After all, the
short story—and hence the short story collection—has several attractions rarely
attributed to novels.
First, the short story
is short—a fact which speaks for itself. Given the choice between a 15,000 word
short story and a 1,000,000 word novel, few people will experience any doubt as
to which is easier reading.
Second, in many circles
the short story is regarded as a higher art form than the novel. A novel is to
a short story as beer is to champagne. In a novel, the writer simply stands
back and throws words at his subject until some of them stick—an ordeal from
which the subject generally emerges spattered but unbowed. But in a short story
the words, being so few, must be carefully placed on the subject (in the
pockets, so to speak, or perhaps behind the ears) in order to have any impact
at all. Thus the short story appears to demand more of both reader and writer.
The reader must become adept at perceiving the writer’s meaning as it peeps
past the lapels of the subject—or the writer must become expert at tucking his
intent here and there so that it still shows.
Third a collection of
short stories is attractive because it allows the writer to approach a wide
range of subjects with a variety of disparate skills. For example, very few
novels can discuss intelligently the moral implications of both genetic
engineering and witchcraft. And a similar number can successfully combine the
techniques of first-and third-person narration. But all that can be done in
only two short stories. In a collection of, say, eight tales, a writer can even
go so far as to tackle the same theme more than once without appearing either
impoverished in imagination or destitute in seriousness.
Well, I’m no fool. I’ve
wanted to publish a collection of short stories.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t
been as easy as wanting for me.
One problem is that I
have a one-track mind—and
has been on the track for the better
part of the past ten years. I don’t regret this; the sheer intensity of digging
into one subject for ten years was an experience not to be missed. But that
degree of concentration has left me few opportunities for short stories. As a
result, all the pieces in this volume (with the exception of “Gilden-Fire”)
were written either in the spring and summer of 1977, when the first
of Thomas Covenant
were finished and the second were still in gestation,
or in the summer and fall of 1962, after
The Second Chronicles
achieved parturition. With only eight tales, I don’t exactly qualify as a
literary Marco Polo—but they’re all I’ve had time for.
In addition, I seem
constitutionally incapable of conceiving an exploration into any kind of
for its own sake. I’m a storyteller, not a literary pioneer. I
don’t write short stories to chart new facets of my prodigious-but-purely-speculative
abilities. I work to teach myself whatever new skills are demanded by the stories
I want to write. So I’m afraid that any new territory conquered in this
collection has been overrun almost accidentally, as a half-unconscious side
effect of other intentions.
Two of the stories here
were written especially for this volume. The first, “
Daughter of Regals
is a fairly straightforward novella of fantasy and intrigue with an
untraditional conception of “magic.” The second, “
Ser Visal’s Tale
uses a more traditional idea of magic in some unexpected ways.
As for the rest— “
comes with its own sufficient introduction. I include it here for the sake of
The Lady in White
,” and “
” were all produced in
1977. Behind its simple-minded telling, “
” is a
quasi-sf story with a theme I happen to feel strongly about. “
The Lady in
” is a more classic fantasy, complete with tests and unattainable
love. By contrast, “
” is ordinary sf action-adventure. But
don’t be misled: the undercurrents aren’t accidental.
Unworthy of the
” was produced for
an anthology billed as “religious
fantasy. I mention moreover, than usual. At the other extreme, “
” isn’t precisely fantasy at all. It’s a tale of “psychological horror”
composed under the blandishments of its editor, Charles L. Grant. It contains
some of the methods or apparatus of fantasy, but no magic.
In spite of their
diversity—real or imagined—all these pieces have one thing in common: I wrote
them because I fell in love with them. I’m too lazy to work this hard, except
THROUGH A SMALL, NARROW WINDOW HIGH UP IN
ONE wall of the manor’s great ballroom, I watched the last of the lesser guests
arrive. They were families of consequence, scions of made or inherited
fortune, maidens like myself and otherwise, searching for excitement or
marriageable partners. They were dressed and decked in all their splendor, as
befitted people who attended any ball given at the manor of the Regals. But
only the youngest and least cognizant among them came here simply to dance and
dine under the chandeliers ablaze with candles. Most attended this night’s
festivities to witness the Ascension of a new Regal to the rule of the Three
Kingdoms. Or— if the Ascension failed—to play whatever parts they chose for
themselves in the collapse of the realm.
I was surprised to find
that I did not wish myself among them. They were safer than I—and I was not
blind to the value of safety. But I was willing to forego such luxuries for the
sake of my chance. And—a point which frankly dismayed Mage Ryzel—I was willing
to risk the realm along with myself.
He stood near me at
another window, watching the arrivals as I did: the Mage Ryzel, my teacher,
guardian, and guide—and for the past half year, since the death of my father,
regent of the Three Kingdoms. He was a short man with a hogshead chest
emphasized by the fit of his Mage’s cassock, hands better suited to work at a
smithy than to display at table, and a bald pate on which sweat gleamed at any
provocation: not a prepossessing figure. But his worth showed in the keenness
of his eyes, the blunt courage of his features—and in the crooked and
rough-barked Scepter which he gripped at his side.
His Scepter was true
Magic, a branch of the Ash which grew high up in the forests of Lodan. Anyone
with any education knew that the Ash was the only remaining Real Tree in the
Three Kingdoms; and everyone who trusted or feared Ryzel wondered how an
ordinary man, who was not Real himself, had contrived to claim a limb of the
The Mages of the realm
dealt in images of what was Real. These images had substance and effect; they
could be shaped and controlled. Therefore they were powerful. But they were no
more Real than simple wood or normal flesh-and-blood; true Magic could not be
touched~ Only the ancient Creatures were Real: the Cockatrice, Basilisk, and
Gorgon, the Phoenix, Wyvern, and Banshee—only the Wood of the Ash—only the Fire
buried in the mountains of Nabal—only the Wind which caressed or ruined the
plains of Canna. Only the men who had founded and secured the line of the
Regals, men who were somehow Creatures themselves, Magic men, the
Basilisk-Regal and the Gorgon-Regal his son and the Phoenix-Regal my father.
And only Mage Ryzel had a Magic Scepter.
He told no one how he
had come by such a Scepter, or what uses it served. Secrecy helped secure his
position. But I had the story from my father: the Phoenix-Regal himself had
obtained that power for Ryzel when I was a young girl, in reward for the Mage’s
As was to be expected in
the Three Kingdoms, some had considered Ryzel a poor choice to stand as regent
after the death of my father. After all, his detractors argued, did not the
realm degenerate nearly to chaos during his previous regency, those awkward and
perilous years between the failure of my grandmother and the Ascension of the
Phoenix-Regal? Yet he was primarily resented be-cause he was strong rather than
because he was weak. In truth, no other man could have done what he did as
regent for my father: he preserved some semblance of unity over the Three
Kingdoms when every pressure of history and personality impelled them to
warfare—preserved the realm despite my grandmother’s failure of the Magic
which alone had compelled the contending monarchs and factions to peace.
That failure had not
been foreseen—the line of Regals was then too recent to have established
precedents—and so the kings had taken scant advantage of it at first. With the
Gorgon-Regal newly dead, no one had contested the Ascension of his daughter.
And she had been a woman in middle life, her son just four years short of age.
In her failure—and the realm’s need—Ryzel had shown himself able to contain, if
not quench, the hot struggle for power which followed. First he had
demonstrated that my grandmother’s son possessed the latent capacity for Magic
which she had lacked, and then he had contrived to keep the youth alive and
safe until my father grew old enough to attempt the Seat.
Then as now, it was Mage
Ryzel who gave the line of Regals the chance to rule.
I was a young woman—this
night was the eve of my twenty-first birthday—with no power and scant sources
of hope. I was grateful to Ryzel from the bottom of my heart. But he had
counseled me to flee rather than accept the hazard of my heritage, and I did
not take his counsel. My father had warned me against him.
As indeed the Mage
himself had warned me against everyone else. Below me, the influx of guests had
ended to prepare for a more considerable arrival. Jeweled and lovely women were
paraded by their escorts or admirers to stand against the warm wood of the
walls. Families cleared the center of the ballroom, taking auspicious vantage
points among the other spectators and leaving the polished tile of the floor to
gleam its response to the bright chandeliers. Young gallants—some of them
wearing rapiers in defiance of the etiquette which required that no weapons be
brought to the manor of the Regals—posed themselves as advantageously as
possible below the high windows and balconies. Then, when the doors and the
hall were ready, the trumpeters blew a flourish; and my heart stirred because I
dreamed of hearing such brave fanfares sounded for me. But this tantara was not
mine: it belonged to the people who more than any others wished me dead—to the
rulers of the Three Kingdoms.
As the doors rang open,
the three entered together, unable to determine who among them should take precedence.
On the tight strode Count Thornden of Nabal, huge and bitter, and as shaggy as
a wolf, with a wolf’s manners and appetites. In the center, King Thone of Canna
moved with more dignity: he was rotund, urbane. and malicious. And on his left
came Queen Damia of Lodan, sylphlike and lambent in her unmatched finery, as
well-known for beauty as for cunning. Into the silence of the assemblage they
walked, commanding the respect of the guests. From my window, they appeared to
catch and hold the light proudly. Variously and together, they seemed far more
fit to manage the realm than I.