Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 29
Stories
The Butcher of Londinium
by J. Deery Wray
Riding the Signal
by Gary Kloster
Cloudsinger
by Jared Oliver Adams
For Lenore
by Kenneth Kao
Dark and Deep
by Holli Mintzer
The Flower of Memory
by Michael Haynes
IGMS Audio
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews

Cloudsinger
    by Jared Oliver Adams

Cloudsinger
Artwork by Eugene Carter

The village of Ferrol was small, and their cloudsinging hill was nothing short of pitiful, but they always managed to draw huge crowds. Whenever Case came through, work stopped immediately, even if it was harvest season. It was just that sort of town. Loved a good story.

And boy what clouds. Come mid-summer, you could count on obsidian black cloud-walls towering overhead. Sure, stormclouds were volatile, harder to shape. Most cloudsingers avoided them. But Case wasn't most cloudsingers. He was going to be one of the greats, and to do that you have to take risks.

Today Case was going to tell the story of Dalian's Bow, a tragedy if ever there was one, and the heavy dark clouds overhead would provide just the ominous tone he needed. When it came time for Dalian to die, Case would have the whole crowd weeping. And maybe, just maybe, when the people of Ferrol went back to work after this reprieve, they'd look up at the sky and be a little more noble, a little more courageous. Maybe the clouds above them, and the world around, would feel a little less mundane. He got to the cloudsinging hill at dawn, sitting cross-legged and opening up his mind to the sky. The wind whispered over the bare skin of his chest as he closed his eyes and breathed in the coppery taste of the rain to come. In his mind's eye, a picture of the clouds formed, and the wind he felt against him slowly resolved into light blue lines. With those lines he could pull the clouds where he wanted, could shape them. He tugged line after line and drew the clouds toward his hill.

It took hours to coax all of the clouds over to the shabby little hill, but when he finally opened his eyes again, the village of Ferrol did not disappoint. Every farmer, hunter, and milkmaid in three leagues was sprawled out on their backs around him, row upon row. They'd done it silently too, out of respect.

Had to love Ferrol.

Case stood up slowly, his legs stiff from sitting for so long in one position.

"Today," he intoned, "today a story of blood, heroism, love, and a bow." While he said it, he used small motions of his hands to tug at the wind-lines, pulling a wisp of cloud from the stormwall overhead and using the wind to shape it into a bow ready to loose its arrow. Then he moved a larger block of cloud out overhead to make Dalian, speaking the introduction in the manner of the great cloudsinger Jenivette. Might as well stick to the classics.

Great of arm, strong of wit.

Dalian, was he.

Brow of stone, shrewd eyes hooded.

Poor, doomed Dalian.

Hair short-shorn,

of noble born,

Dalian.

Who loved greatly,

but gave his heart wrongly.

Case launched into his own rendition after that. In Case's version, Dalian was the bastard son of Lord Ner, instead of a legitimate noble. He worked his way up through the ranks of the army because of his archery skill, and found his way into the King's court as a bodyguard. Case thought it sounded better that way, for Dalian to earn it. It also allowed Case to work in a battle at the beginning, complete with horsemen bearing down upon Dalian as he picked them off one by one. He used big blasts of air when Dalian shot each horseman, so that the dark cloud that made up the riders dispersed into stylish streaks when they were hit. Oohs and Ahs all around. It was always best to start with an action scene.

Only once Dalian was in the palace, and close friends with the King, did Case introduce Didesda. You messed up the whole story if you brought her in too soon. Case formed her full-figured, with hair flowing over her shoulders and down past her knees. Dalian look at Didesda and smiled, but when he looked away, Case transformed her hair into a bed of snakes, rearing up to bite. That was the hardest bit in the entire story, shaping the hair like that. He'd practiced it for months.

He strung out Didesda and Dalian's secret liaisons, showing Dalain slipping off behind tapestries into hidden passageways and riding away from the group while the King was off hunting. He didn't show them making love; to do so was crude and missed the point. Didesda wasn't a sex object to Dalian. He loved her innocently and purely. That way when she came to him desperately one night, clothes torn, and told him that the king had assaulted her honor, his anger was righteous.

Of course the downfall of the kingdom was a climactic battle. He shaped the entire cloudwall into the Kingskeep, had dozens of arrows arching out from it, had Dalian leading the rebels as they used a battering ram to knock down the gate. Completely independent of what Case was doing, lightning flashed cloud to cloud during the battle.

The younger ones in the crowd, the ones who hadn't heard the story before, cheered when Dalian confronted the king, bow raised. Here, Case used Jenivette's words again.

"My guard you are,

and friend.

Would you then strike me down?"

And Dalian answered silent,

love and justice

so dreadfully mixt in his heart.

And with his bow,

his mighty bow,

did he pierce his liegelord's breast,

not once but thrice.

For thrice was his complaint,

once for Didesda's honor,

once for friendship broken,

and once for the King's crown defiled.

Lightning lanced out again. Let the other cloudsingers scoff at him for using stormclouds; you didn't get lightning with the white fluffies. He left Dalian standing over the king's corpse, and had Didesda come in and place the crown on his head. It couldn't have happened that way, obviously, but it was better for the story.

He dissolved the scene with a swipe, and constructed a crowd cheering as King Dalian wed Didesda. When they retired to the royal rooms for their wedding night, Case brought out Didesda's snake hair in painstaking detail, having Dalian see it for the first time.

"Come, my love,"

saith she.

"Embrace me as wife."

And with great arms encircling,

did she stab the heart

so wrongly giv'n.

"The King never put hand to me.

and so shalt not you.

The royal diadem is my lover.

Its pleasures wilt I not share."

And as Dalian dying lay,

his soul was thrice shattered.

Once by the knife.

Once by the words.

And once by the bow

against the king drawn.

Thus Dalian closed his eyes,

by love most cruel undone.

And with last breath,

did silent stay,

til death his soul had won.

As Case's final words hung over the silent audience, he loosed his hold on some of the clouds overhead, letting them rain softly upon the hill. The crowd got up and dispersed slowly, several coming past him and bowing to Case in respect. He tried to maintain a serious demeanor, but he was energized by his performance. It could hardly have gone better. Yes, that line of soldiers had gotten blurred when he'd shot all those arrows over their heads during the storming of Kingskeep, but he bet hardly anyone noticed. The faces of the departing audience were solemn, thoughtful. They would take this story with them back to their reaping scythes and blacksmith's hammers. He could tell.

As the small town went back to work, Case looked up at the clouds happily and let all his control fade away. Thunder ripped through the sky and the rain poured down a little harder. Not unpleasant though. Case always liked the rain.

When he looked back down, an old man stood in front of him, teetering on a cane. His head was bald, but a thick grey beard was matted down across his chest with the rain.

"Right in so many ways," the old man said, "but wrong in others."

"Come again?" asked Case. The man was frail, but his face could have been full once. His sunken eyes might have looked cunning in a young man with more flesh on his face.

"The hair of snakes. It was right. The pleading of the king." He shook his head, and scrubbed an arthritic hand across his face. He didn't look like he should be standing in the rain.

"Let's talk about it inside," said Case.

The man shook his head. "The rain suits me." He grabbed Case's bare arm then, and though Case tried to flinch away, the old man's grip was strong. "The ending," said the old man. "The ending's wrong. Underestimates her."

Case took the old man's hand, trying to remove it from his arm, and brushed against rough callouses at the man's wrist. He remembered the verse about Dalian's left wrist, scarred and calloused from years of shooting a bow with no guard. Surely there were other ways to get such scars. Surely. "What happened, then?" Case asked.

"Didesda was far too clever to be caught with a weapon in her hand." The rain was coming down harder now, and the man had to raise his voice. Water tumbled down his wrinkly face and dribbled over the tip of his long nose. "She took power bit by bit, while Dalian stood stupidly by. He was always just an archer, see, even when he had the crown.

"When he finally noticed what she was doing, started asking questions about why his decrees never seemed to come to fruition, she took him down not with a knife, but with rumor. She used paints and powders to inflict herself with violent bruises, had the servants talk of pregnancies lost to the rage of a drunken husband, spun tales about him sleeping nightly at Harlot Row." The old man shook his head, flinging water droplets to the left and right. "There were riots in the street, calling for his head."

Case found himself gripping the man's arm harder. He did a quick calculation in his head. If Dalian were alive, he'd be roughly eighty six years old, eighty-six and the only person around that cared that the story was told wrong. "So he ran away?" Case said. "Came out to a village in the middle of nowhere? Grew old?" The man looked up into Case's eyes and nodded very deliberately. "But first, he talked to a young Cloudsinger named Jenivette." A smile crept across his age-lined face. "Even when she was just starting out, she had a way with words. A little like you. The force of public opinion . . . changed slightly."

Case barked a laugh. He'd studied his history. The civil war following Didesda's short reign was the reason the realm had been split in three. Had Jenivette really started that? Jenivette and this old man standing before him? "Why didn't he go back once Didesda was dethroned?"

The old man looked up at the sky, rain splashing directly down onto his face. "Because, my boy, he was a far better man up in the clouds than he ever was on the ground." He brushed Case's hand away from his arm and turned to leave.

"Wait!" Case called. "I have questions. Let me talk to you inside." The old man kept walking, so Case came up alongside him. "Please, Dalian."

The old man put his hand on Case's shoulder. Case thought he was about to say something, but instead the man pushed him away so hard that Case slipped and fell backwards to the ground. "Dalian's dead, boy. You said it yourself."

Case sat in the mud and watched the old man trudge away, watched him disappear behind curtains of rain. But as he did so, history reshaped itself in his mind, like clouds coalescing to form a shape. He smiled at what he saw.

"He won't be dead for long," Case promised the rain.

He got up and went back to his room at the Inn. He had some revisions to do.


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