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       Daughter of Regals and Other Tales, p.1

           Stephen R. Donaldson
Daughter of Regals and Other Tales




  To Stephanie –

  who never fails of Magic


  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 Covenant 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 am 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 always 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 Covenant 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 Chronicles of Thomas Covenant were finished and the second were still in gestation, or in the summer and fall of 1962, after The Second Chronicles had 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 terra incognita 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— “Gilden-Fire” comes with its own sufficient introduction. I include it here for the sake of completeness.

  “Mythological Beast,” “The Lady in White,” and “Animal Lover” were all produced in 1977. Behind its simple-minded telling, “Mythological Beast” is a quasi-sf story with a theme I happen to feel strongly about. “The Lady in White” is a more classic fantasy, complete with tests and unattainable love. By contrast, “Animal Lover” is ordinary sf action-adventure. But don’t be misled: the undercurrents aren’t accidental.

  “Unworthy of the Angel” was produced for Nine Visions, an anthology billed as “religious fantasy. I mention moreover, than usual. At the other extreme, “The Conqueror Worm” 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 for love.

  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 last Tree.

  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 fath
er: the Phoenix-Regal himself had obtained that power for Ryzel when I was a young girl, in reward for the Mage’s earlier regency.

  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.

  Behind them came their Mages, famous men in their own names: Cashon of Canna, Scour of Lodan. Brodwick of Nabal.

  Any one of them would have attempted my life already if Ryzel had not stood by me since my father’s passing— and if they had not secretly feared that I would yet prove myself a Creature, capable of holding the realm against them all.

  The Ascension for which these festivities had been prepared would be the test. At midnight this night, I would rise to the Seat which the Basilisk-Regal had created for his line. Into that Seat had been set a piece of Stone, a Real span of slate on which nothing that was not also Real could rest its weight. If the Seat refused me, I would die at the hands of the forces arrayed against me—unless Ryzel contrived some means to save me. Perhaps I would be dead before dawn.

  Ryzel believed that I would die. That was the source of his distress, the reason for the sweat on his pate. He believed that I would fail of Magic as my grandmother had failed. And I would not be rescued by the factors which had spared her life—by the surprise of her failure, and by the presence of her son.

  Therefore the Mage had spent a good portion of the afternoon arguing with me in my private chambers. While I had pretended indecision concerning what I should wear to the feast and the ball and the Ascension, he had paced the rich rugs from wall to wall and rehearsed all his former efforts to dissuade me. Finally, he had protested, “Chrysalis, give it up!”

  But I had only smiled at him. Not often did he call me by my given name.

  “If the thought of death will not sway you,” he continued, glowering, “think of the realm. Think of the price which your fathers have paid to achieve some measure of peace for this contentious land. It is not yourself alone that you risk. We must act now. Now, while we retain some leverage—while the thought that you may yet succeed still causes fear. Once your failure is assured, we will be left with nothing—neither fear nor doubt, coercion nor promise—by which we may secure your life. And the Three Kingdoms will run to war like mad beasts.”

  I was tempted to retort that his point had not escaped me. He and the Phoenix-Regal had taught me well to consider such questions. But I held to my purpose. Fingering the elaborate satin of gowns I did not mean to wear, I replied only, “Mage, do you recall why my father chose the name he did for his daughter?”

  In response, Ryzel made a rude noise of exasperation. Again, I smiled. Among other things, I loved him for his lack of ceremony. “He named me Chrysalis,” I answered myself, “because he believed that in me something new would be born.”

  A thin hope, as I knew. But the Mage saw it as less. “Something new, forsooth!” he snorted. His Scepter thumped the old stone of the floor under the rugs. “Have we not labored for five years in vain to discover some ground for that hope? Oh, assuredly, your father was a Creature, not to be questioned. But in this he was misled or mistaken”

  I turned from my wardrobe to challenge him; but he was too angry to relent. In truth, he appeared angrier than the case deserved. “My lady, we have tested you in every possible way. I have taught you all that lies within my grasp. You are not Magic. You have no capacity for Magic.

  “It is known that the ability which makes a Mage is not born to everyone. And where that ability is born, it may be detected, be it active or latent. No surer test is required than that you are unable to place hand to my Scepter.” That was true: my fingers simply would not hold the wood, no matter how I fought for grip. “Thus it is shown that you are not Real in yourself—not a Creature such as your fathers before you—and that you lack the blood or flesh which enable a Mage to treat with the Real. But we have not been content with one test. We have assayed every known trial. You fail them all.”

  “All but one,” I murmured falsely. “I have not yet attempted my Ascension.”

  “My lady,” he replied, “that is folly. The need of the realm does not forgive folly. Do you doubt that the crisis is upon us? You cannot. Your father did not rear you to be a fool. Count Thornden openly musters his forces into readiness for war. King Thone hides his harvests in secret storages, defying the command of the first Regal so that he may be prepared to starve both his foes and us. Queen Damia designs new ploys of every description. Uncertainty alone keeps these fine monarchs from our throats.”

  As he spoke, I sifted through my trays of jewelry and ornaments, holding baubles to the light and discarding them. But my apparent preoccupation only served to whet the Mage’s anger. That was my intent: I wished him an-pier and angrier—angry enough, perhaps, to betray his covert thoughts.

  He did not, however, reveal anything of
which I was ignorant. Grimly, he continued, “And that is not the full tale of the peril. Kodar and his rebels mount fiercer attacks with every passing season. They desire an end to all rulers, forsooth. Fools!” he growled. “They are blind to the fact that throughout history the Three Kingdoms have known no freedom from violence and bloodshed except through rulers—powers strong enough to impose peace.

  I had no need to hear such lessons; but I let him go on while I sought the chink in his secrets.

  “Canna has no wood. Lodan has no metals. Nabal has no food. This wild Kodar believes that each town—or each village—or each family—or perhaps each individual —will do well to fend alone. Does he credit that Canna will gift its harvests to all Lodan and Nabal? It will not; it never has. It will sell to the best buyer—-the buyer of greatest resource. And how will such resources be obtained? Hungry towns and villages and families and individuals will attempt to wrest them from each other. Similarly Nabal with its mines and ores, Lodan with its great forests. Kodar seeks anarchy and ruin and names them freedom. The first Regal did not found his line in the realm because he sought power. He was a Creature and had no need for such trivialities. He brought the Three Kingdoms under his rule because he grew weary of their butchery.”

  And Mage Ryzel himself hated that butchery. I knew him well enough to be sure of that. Yet my father had warned me against him. And I had seen my father rise from his man-form into a Creature of wings and Real glory, almost too bright to be witnessed. I could not believe that he had lied to me in any way. Even Ryzel’s long-proven fidelity was less to be trusted than the least word of the Phoenix-Regal.

  My father was vivid to me, never far from my thoughts. Remembering the whetted keenness of his eyes—as blue as the sky—and the wry kindness of his smile, my throat ached for him. I could not bring him back. But he had promised me—had he not?—that I would follow him in splendor.

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