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Authors: Nancy Springer

The Hex Witch of Seldom

BOOK: The Hex Witch of Seldom
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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 Hex Witch of Seldom

Nancy Springer

To Joel, who brought me home.

PART 1

The Dangerous Stranger

“They branded him,” the old woman said. “They shouldn't have done that.”

She was talking to her cane, her walking stick, and the stick nodded agreement. A carved snake, unpainted but finely detailed as to scale and eye, spiraled up the hazelwood shaft then curled its head around a smoky-hued, sphere-shaped handle of glass or perhaps quartz. It was the snake's head that nodded as the old woman talked. Its wood-yellow eyes seemed to glint, but the globe that topped the staff remained opaque.

“Course they didn't know what they was doing,” the old woman added. “But that don't change the facts.” She was sitting in a hickory rocker time had turned mouse-colored, in front of a cast-iron cookstove set up off the floor on claw-footed legs. She rocked, taking care to follow the grain of the braided rug under the rockers, and she held the cane in her hands. It was evening, and she liked a good conversation in the evenings, sitting in front of the stove when the night was chilly, on the porch when it was fine.

“He'll be bitter now,” the cane said. Its voice was very low, yet curiously flat and not at all vibrant. “More than ever.”

“Of course he will,” said the old woman promptly. “You don't just take a man like that and tie him down and brand him and stick him in a pen without him remembering. And him as moody as he was to start with. And after all that's happened to him already.”

“It'll be hard to bring him back now,” the cane remarked. This was only one of the many things it discussed with the old woman. The cane cared about it only tangentially. She cared perhaps a bit more.

“Near to impossible,” she agreed. “I can help him find his way here, if that's what he wants, if he'd trouble himself to escape. But that's about all.” The thought made her wrinkle her brow. She wore her gray hair back from her face, in two long braids wound around her head; the hair was as long as it had been when she was a courting girl. “Near to impossible,” she repeated more softly. “I thought he'd be tired of his foolishness by now. A few weeks in that corral, I thought, and he'd have had enough. He don't take kindly to being penned up. But it seems he ain't never going to give in. As a man he went through too much trouble even for one of us. No, likely there's only one thing that could bring him back now.”

“Your touch,” the cane said.

She shook her old head. “No. I wish it was so, but no. Not since they done that to him. I ain't as strong as him when his will is set.”

“What, then?”

“It ain't likely to happen.”

The wooden snake on the walking stick stirred impatiently. “Just tell me what.”

She said. “A woman's love. A man like that can only be tamed by a woman's love.”

The snake made a brief, sneezing noise of scorn through its minute nostrils. “Women are what made him hide himself away,” it said.

“I know it.” Her eyes clouded like the staff's globe. “And it ain't never going to be no different for him. Part of what he is … Well.” She blinked and straightened in her rocker, and her eyes no longer looked old. “Least we can do is get him out of that pen.”

“You plan to go after him?” the walking stick asked in its smoothest tones, knowing she had no such intention. It took a lot to get her out of the house. She gave her staff a quelling look but did not answer. Her gaze clouded again, and she stared over the serpent's carved head and far away.

“Yandro,” she murmured after a while. “They might help. Let me see if I can get through to that muleheaded Grant Yandro tonight, while he's sleeping.”

“You'd do better to talk to the son,” her walking stick told her. “The ghost.”

“The poet. Yes, I mean to talk to both.” The old woman gazed off into distance, and her eyes seemed to mist and darken like mountains at nightfall, and the staff held still in her left hand, not speaking. Her right hand had lifted, bent and swollen with arthritis, but steady—and in the air it traced the mystic circle and six-lobed design her people called
hexefus
—the witch's sign.

Chapter One

“You're soon sixteen years old,” said Grandpap. “You're almost a woman growed.”

Bobbi looked back at him across the width of the cabin without replying. She did not feel like a woman grown. She had never dated, and did not much want to; there was something strange about her, and she knew it. Maybe it was the dim light of the 25-watt bulb overhead deceiving her, but she seemed to see something moving behind her grandfather: just a whisper, a hint, of a form that was Grandpap and yet not Grandpap, like heat haze in the air. She had seen it before and it did not scare her any more except to shiver her spine a tad, but for sure she wasn't going to say anything about it, not to anyone, and especially not to Grandpap. Nearly all her life she had lived with her grandfather, Grant Yandro, and she knew him. Pap was not unkind, but he had no patience for nonsense.

“What you want for your birthday?” he asked her. He was scraping supper's leftover brown beans into a plastic bowl for his hounds. The half-seen form behind him, form of—what? Something hard and jagged, like the gray rocks outcropping from the Pennsylvania mountain sides, but—she could not see it any longer. It faded and disappeared.

“I don't know,” Bobbi said. She hadn't thought about her birthday.

Pap straightened and looked at her, his lean, clean-shaven jaw thrust forward as always. An old man with white hair and the body of somebody half his age—she knew he was every bit as tough as he liked to look. A man didn't try to farm these hills without getting tough as the stones. The first settlers had been
Deutsch
, Germans, known ever after in these parts as the “Dumb Dutch” for leaving the rich Susquehanna valley lowlands for these thin-soiled, acidy slopes. But they had stolidly persisted in clearing the land and building their big, womanly, wide-hipped, great-lofted barns. They lived here still, slow-moving egg-shaped people, and amid land going back to bramble and cedars the barns still stood, the hex signs fading on their peaks.

BOOK: The Hex Witch of Seldom
3.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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