Welcome to Phyllis Eisenstein's Web Page

Table of Contents:

  • A Brief Bio of Me
  • A Taste of Sorcerer's Son
  • A Taste of The Crystal Palace
  • A Taste of Born to Exile
  • A Taste of In the Red Lord's Reach
  • A Taste of "The Island in the Lake" (Dec. 1998) F&SF;
  • A Taste of The City in Stone (work in progress)
  • A Few Samples of Spec-Lit No. 2
  • Ordering Information for some of the above

    A Brief Bio of Me

         I was born in 1946, part of the first wave of the baby boom, which meant that I went to school in very crowded classrooms, where there wasn't much attention paid to individual students. In a long and circuitous way, this ultimately led to my becoming a teacher in a college where classes are small and a great deal of attention is paid to individual students. I teach science fiction writing at Columbia College of Chicago, and sometimes I teach other forms of popular fiction writing, and I like it a lot. But that's only a small part of my life.
         I've been a professional writer since 1971, both on my own and in collaboration with my husband Alex. I've published 6 novels and thirty or so short stories, novelets, and novellas. I've been nominated twice each for the Hugo and the Nebula, the SF field's highest awards. I've also written a nonfiction book, Overcoming the Pain of Inflammatory Arthritis, which is about the use of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) for arthritis, a disease I've had all of my adult life. And I'm Editor-in-Chief and Autocrat of Spec-Lit, a more-or-less-annual anthology I persuaded Columbia College to fund, which showcases the best SF of my students as well as some classic stories that haven't seen print in a long time. Spec-Lit also gives Alex and me (he's the Associate Editor and Art Director) a chance to put some of our favorite Emsh paintings on the covers.

    Published novels:
         Sorcerer's Son
         The Crystal Palace
         Born to Exile
         In the Red Lord's Reach
         Shadow of Earth
         In the Hands of Glory

    Samples of four of these novels, of my latest story in F&SF;, and of the most recent volume of Spec-Lit follow.....

    A Taste of Sorcerer's Son

    Chapter One

         Behind his walls of demon-polished bronze, behind his windows so closely shuttered with copper scales that no sunlight penetrated, Smada Rezhyk brooded over a leaf. It was a bit of ivy, small enough to fit within the palm of his hand, and written upon it in letters spun of gray spider silk was the single word, "No." A snake had deposited the leaf at the gate of Rezhyk's castle, and he needed no signature upon the smooth green surface to tell him who had sent the message.
         His footsteps rang against the floor-- studded boots upon the mirror- bright metal -- as he strode to the workshop, to the brazier that had never cooled since the instant Castle Ringforge had been completed. His hand passed above the flames, let go the leaf, which danced briefly in the upwelling heat until the fire caught it, curled it, shriveled it to ash. In the flickering light, the jewels upon his fingers sparkled, the plainer bands gleamed warm; each ring was a demon at his command -- a demon of fire, a demon to build or destroy at his whim. He tallied them slowly, his only friends in the universe. Then he summoned one, the first and best of them all, faithful companion since his youth; the simplest ring, red gold, was inscribed with that demon's secret name: Gildrum.
         From some other part of Ringforge, Gildrum came in human guise, entering by the door as a human would. In appearance, the demon was a fourteen-year-old girl, slight and pretty, with long blonde braids. Rezhyk had given her that semblance when they were both young, and only he had changed with the passage of the years. He kept her near him most of the time and spoke his heart to her. She climbed atop a high stool by the brazier and waited for him to begin the conversation.
         He was toying with glassware, with notebooks and pens and ink. He had not yet glanced up at her when he said, "She refused me."
         In a high, fluty voice, Gildrum said, "Please accept my sympathy, lord."
         "She refused me, Gildrum!" He turned to face the demon-girl, lines of anger set around his mouth. "I made her an honorable offer!"
         "You did, my lord."
         "Am I ugly? Are my manners churlish? Is my home unfit for such as she?"
          "None of that, my lord."
         "What have I done, then? How have I offended her? When? Where?"
         "My lord," said Gildrum, "I do not profess to understand humans completely, but perhaps she is merely disinclined to marry anyone."
         "You are too soft, my Gildrum." He leaned on a stack of notebooks, forehead braced against his interlaced fingers. "She hates me, I know it. It was a cold reply, brought by a cold creature. She meant to wound me."
         "And has succeeded."
         "For a moment only! Now I know my enemy. We must take precautions, my Gildrum, to make certain she can never wound me again."
         The demon shrugged. "Never again ask her to marry you."
         "Not enough! Who know what evil she fancies I have done her? I must protect myself."
         "I would think you are well-protected in Ringforge."
         "How?" he clutched a length of his dark cape in both fists. "I wear woven cloth; she could turn my very clothes against me."
         "Inside your own castle?"
         "Am I never to set foot outside again? Must I wear plate armor every time I walk abroad? Or felted garments hung together with bolts and glue? She rules too much, her hand is everywhere. What can I do, Gildrum?"
         She smiled. "A fire demon could keep you warm enough if your vanity would permit you to walk the world naked, my lord."
         "A sorcerer naked as a beggar? Hardly!"
         "A beggar would not wear rings of power on all his fingers. People would know your rank."
         "Don't try my patience so, Gildrum."
         "Then I must think a moment, lord." Pursing her lips, crossing her arms over her bosom, she looked up at the ceiling. Just visible beneath the hem of her blue gown, her feet swung slow arcs between the legs of the stool, pendulums measuring the time of her thought. "My lord," she said at last, "if you are truly concerned about some danger from the lady, then I would advise you to construct a cloth-of-gold shirt, a fine mesh garment, supple enough to wear next to your skin. It must be made of virgin ring-metal, and you must draw and weave the strands yourself, without demonic help. Such a combination of your province and hers would be impervious to her spells and to any of your own that she might try to turn against you."
         Rezhyk poked the coals in the brazier. "A fine notion, Gildrum, but what is to keep her from discovering that the shirt is being made long before I finish it? I am no weaver, after all; it would be a slow process."
         "How will she discover it? You will do it here in Ringforge."
         "How does she discover anything? Every spider is her spy."
         "Even here in your own castle?"
         "Even my own castle is not proof against vermin. They come and go as they please." He glanced about nervously. "There are none here now, but they might get in at any time."
         "Well, then, you must do something about them. Post a watch of fire demons to burn every spider that approaches the outer wall."
         "She will take that as an affront!"
         Gildrum sighed. "Worse and worse. Perhaps if you just sent her a vase of flowers and begged her forgiveness...?"
         Rezhyk paced a slow circle about the brazier. "If only we could arrange for her to take a long sea voyage, or to go into seclusion in some distant cave for a while. How much time do you think the making of the shirt would require?"
         "As you said, you are no weaver. Perhaps a month. Perhaps two. No more than that, I think, if I show you exactly what to do." She held up a hand to stop his pacing. "There is a way to weaken her powers for a month or two, my lord."
         "If she conceived a child, the child's aura would interfere with her own. She would be limited, severely limited."
         "Enough that she could hardly speak to a creature beyond her own castle walls."
         Rezhyk shook his head. "She would abort the child. She would abort it as soon as she realized it existed. She could not allow that kind of vulnerability."
         "A month or two, I said, my lord. Until she noticed the pregnancy. Until she noticed the curtailing of her powers."
         "She might notice immediately."
         Gildrum spread her hands, palms upward. "I have no other suggestions."
         "We would have to work quickly. A month is too long. Could I do it in a week?"
         "Working day and night, my lord, working with perfect efficiency, you might possibly do it in a week. At the end, you would be exhausted."
         "I have no choice." he opened the drawer where he kept his stock of ring metal. Gold lay within, and silver, copper, iron -- wooden boxes held chips and chunks of each, surplus from old rings, and a few small
    ingots. "I have a gold bar, never used. Will that be enough?"
         He hefted the bar in one hand. "This will be a heavy garment."
         "You will grow strong wearing it."
         He set the metal on his workbench. "We have only one problem, my Gildrum." He glanced up at her. "How to bring about this pregnancy."
         Gildrum smiled. "Leave that to me."
         Rezhyk's gaze traveled the length of the demon's girl-body. "You suit me well enough; but for her...for her we must give you another form."
         "Tall," said Gildrum. "Tall and lean and just past the first flush of youth."
         Rezhyk worked two days and nights to model Gildrum's new form in terra cotta. Life-size he made it, strong of arm and broad of shoulder, sinewy and lithe, the essence of young manhood. Other sorcerers, when they gave their servants palpable forms, made monsters, misshapen either by device or through lack of skill, but Rezhyk molded his to look as though they had been born of human women. Complete, the figure seemed almost to breathe in the flickering light of the brazier.
         Satisfied with his work, Rezhyk set his seal upon it: an arm ring clasped above the left elbow, a band of plain red gold, twin to the one he wore on his finger, incised with Gildrum's name. Gently, but with a strength that would seem uncanny in so slight a body, were it truly human, Gildrum lifted the new-made figure in her arms and carried it across the workshop to a large kiln whose top and front stood open. She set the clay stature inside, upon a coarse grate.
         Rezhyk nodded. "Enter now, my Gildrum."
         The demon-as-girl smiled once at her lord's handiwork, and then she burst into flame, her body consumed in an instant, leaving only the flames themselves to dance in a wild torrent of light. Billowing, the fire rose toward the high ceiling, poised above the kiln and, like molten metal pouring into a mold, sank into the terra cotta figure and disappeared. The clay glowed red and redder, then yellow, then white-hot.
         Rezhyk turned away from the heat; by the light of the figure itself he entered its existence, the hour, and the date in the notebook marked with Gildrum's name. By the time he looked back, the clay was cooling rapidly. When it reached the color of ruddy human flesh, a dim glow compared to the yellow of the brazier, it began to crumble. First from the head, and then from every part, fine powder sifted, falling through the grate at its feet to form a mound in the bottom of the kiln. Yet the figure remained, though after some minutes every ounce of terra cotta had been shed -- the figure that was the demon, molded within the clay, remained, translucent now, still glowing faintly from the heat of its birth. The ring that had been set upon the clay now clasped the arm of the demon, its entire circle visible through the ghostly flesh. Then the last vestige of internal radiance faded, the form solidified, and the man that was Gildrum stepped forth from the kiln.
         He stretched his new muscles, ran his fingers through his newly dark hair. "As always, my lord," he said in a clear tenor voice, "you have done well."
         "I hope she thinks as much." He slipped the ring from Gildrum's arm and tossed it into the drawer from which he had taken the gold bar. "There must be nothing that smells of magic about you, above all, nothing to link you with me."
         Gildrum nodded. "I shall steal human trappings. I know of a good source."
         "You must not fail."
         "Have I ever failed you, lord?"
         "No, my Gildrum. Not yet."


         Sorcerer's Son is a coming-of-age story.
         When Cray Ormoru decides to become a knight like his father instead of a sorcerer like his mother, he sets out to claim his paternal heritage, not realizing that his parentage is much more complicated than he thinks. The universe he lives in is full of magical spiders, walking plants, and demon slaves who come from dimensions made of Fire, Air, Water, and Ice, and Cray encounters all of these and more in his quest to reunite his family and find his true place in the scheme of things.

    "An original fantasy...admirable and rare" -- Stephen Donaldson
    "Sorcerer's Son will stay in my mind a long time" - Marion Zimmer Bradley
    "I couldn't stop reading" -- Roger Zelazny
    "Outstanding" -- Andre Norton
    "Fantasy at its best" -- Jerry Pournelle
    "A fantasy I'll remember for years!" -- C.J. Cherryh

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    A Taste of The Crystal Palace

    Chapter One

         Time had been kind to Castle Spinweb. A dense coat of ivy had covered the cracks in its pale stone walls, and all around it the forest had regrown, thick and tall. Only a scattering of charred stumps, half-hidden by mossy undergrowth, hinted that a wild sorcerous battle had once raged here. Now, morning glories bloomed again along the parapets, birds nested among their twining stems, and insects of all kinds sheltered beneath their leaves.
         Beneath one particular leaf, on this bright summer day, a large yellow caterpillar was spinning itself a cocoon. It worked quickly, steadily, back and forth, circling its plump body with thread after thread until only its blunt head was exposed, then only its mouth. Then, with a final convulsive effort, it pursed that last opening shut, and the cocoon lay still, glistening whitely in the morning sunlight.
         A few moments passed, the space of three or four human heartbeats, no more, and then the silken envelope began to writhe. As if the seasons had run their course and come to summer once more, the cocoon split apart and its occupant emerged, transformed. The head was small now, with tapering antennae, the body was sleek, and the many stubby caterpillar legs had been replaced by six long, delicate ones. With these new legs, the creature took a few wobbly steps and clung, upside down, to a morning glory stem. Then it unfurled its yellow wings, each as large as a man's hand, and flexed them slowly.
          There were nectar-bearing flowers all around, on the walls and in the garden enclosed by those walls, but the butterfly ignored them. Instead, it launched itself upward, broad wings flapping more like a bird's than an insect's. High above the treetops it flew, swiftly, purposefully, over rivers and lakes and rolling meadows, over grain fields and villages, walled towns and mighty castles, and at none of these did it stop, at none did it even dip downward. Only when it reached a line of mountains far beyond Spinweb's horizon did it slow its flight.
          Among these peaks, the butterfly swooped and circled, skimming over streams and waterworn gullies, sweeping past overhangs where landslides had recently exposed the soil, venturing into the dark mouths of caves. At last its preternatural senses detected the telltale signs of gold, and it lighted in a crabapple tree whose roots seemed to penetrate the deposit.
         The tree was in full bloom. The butterfly selected a flower and sampled its nectar, seeking some trace of the special flavor of gold. Finding none, it examined the petals, the calyx, the stem. Delicately, it walked the branch that bore the flower, peering into other blossoms, tasting, smelling. It even scraped at the bark with the tip of one slender leg. Nothing. It flitted to the ground then, to inspect the herbs and mosses that grew at the base of the tree, even the mushrooms that clung to the partially exposed roots, but there was not the faintest hint of gold in any of them. The nearby undergrowth was equally barren, and finally the butterfly soared skyward to search elsewhere.
         Three days it stayed in the mountains, questing in the sunlit hours, sleeping amid leafy branches at night. It found more gold, but none in any plant. On the morning of the fourth day, it gave over its search and flew back to its birthplace.
         The garden at the heart of Spinweb was home to many a butterfly. Open to the sky, it was filled with flowers, especially with sweet-scented roses. On this day, as on thousands of others, the mistress of the place sat upon a sun-warmed bench in the midst of her roses. Dressed all in blue feathers, she hummed a soft tune as she embroidered on a piece of bleached linen.
         The yellow butterfly alighted on the bench beside her.
         "Ah," she said, smiling at the bright insect, "I was beginning to wonder when you'd be coming back."
         The butterfly flexed its wings once, twice, and then they began to shrivel as if they had been made of wax and held too near a flame. The contours of the sleek body changed, four of the legs became stubbier, and the other two shrank into the torso even as the antennae shrank into the head. Abruptly, instead of a butterfly, a naked mannikin sat on the stone bench. A few heartbeats later, Cray Ormoru had grown back to his normal size.
         For a moment, he stretched his arms up to the sky, letting the heat of the summer sun wash through him and ease the stiffness that the insect form had left in his muscles. Then he made a small gesture with one hand, and his clothes fluttered down from the high window of his bedchamber and scurried across the garden to him like so many puppies eager to greet their master. The woman helped him dress, and as she laced up his shirt, he kissed her forehead and grinned, saying, "You were right about my being hungry, Mother. I'm ravenous."
         Delivev Ormoru laughed softly, "Yes, I've never found nectar very filling, myself. But there's a cold roast fowl and fresh bread waiting for you in the kitchen."
         Linking arms, they strolled into the shaded coolness of Spinweb's corridors. They looked much alike, mother and son -- both tall and fair, both young and vigorous. Only her eyes betrayed the extra centuries Delivev had seen.
         In the kitchen, a creature made of cloth, with trews for legs and gloves for hands, served Cray his meal. As he tore into the fowl, Delivev seated herself on the edge of the table. She said, "Did you find what you were looking for?"
         He shook his head. "Just ordinary greenery. Not a single plant with gold in its structure."
         She pursed her lips a moment. "Perhaps...the deposits you located were too small? Or not close enough to the surface?"
         "I wish that were true."
         "Well..." She lifted her shoulders in a slight shrug. "Then you've created something new in the world."
         He sighed. "I would rather have found a natural model to give me some guidance. Still, I think I understand what's wrong now. I always assumed that at worst gold would be an innocuous addition. Now I think that the gold itself is stunting my poor tree's growth."
         Delivev stroked a stray lock back from his forehead. "It isn't so very stunted."
         "I wanted it to be taller."
         "It's tall enough. I wouldn't care for it to shade too much of the garden."
         He smiled up at her, a wry smile. "Mother, you are too satisfied with things as they are. You have no ambition."
         She laughed. "My ambitions have all been fulfilled." Playfully, she tweaked a tuft of his close-cropped beard. "As you well know."
         Cray finished the last of the fowl, then wiped his hands on the cloth servant's empty sleeve. "Come," he said, pushing away from the table, "now that I've a full belly and can think clearly again, let's see how my little beauty is doing today."
         The tree grew in a corner of the garden. It was not a tree whose identity was easy to discern; rather, it was a composite of many different kinds of trees, fused together while still in seed by the power of Cray's sorcery. It was not tall nor many-boughed nor densely leafed, yet it would have stood out in any forest. It fed, as all trees did, on the nourishment of the soil, but to that soil Cray had added ensorcelled gold, which the tree had taken into itself. And so its bark was shot with flecks that sparkled in the sunshine; its leaves, whose upper surfaces were glossy green and broad as a sycamore's shone a rich, translucent red when held up to light, with veins like golden wire; and its flowers resembled daffodils, but grown huge, the petals delicately edged with gilt.
         The leaves rustled softly as Cray pulled one trumpet-shaped blossom close to his face and breathed of its perfume. Compared to the other flowers of the garden, the scent was faint, but he found it sweet. For him, it was the best part of the tree.
         He had learned the sorcery of woven things from his mother, learned of spiders and caterpillars, of nesting birds, of twining snakes, of thread and cloth. And then he had moved beyond that knowledge, to perceive the structure of living things, to recognize that they, too, were patterned, but on some level deeper than the surface, deeper than the human eye could see. Life itself was woven of a multitude of twisting strands, of interlocking pieces, as surely as a tapestry, as surely as a suit of chain mail. Feeling this principle in his very being, Cray was able to use it to make living things grow and change, to make a thick forest out of ashes, to make a new kind of tree blossom in Delivev's garden.
         Glancing sidelong at his mother, Cray smiled. The sorcerer to whom he had once apprenticed, Rezhyk the demon master, had scorned Delivev's powers. He had thought his own metallurgical skills superior to anything governing mere cloth and spiders. But if he had known where weaving could lead, he would never have been so arrogant.
         Yet metallurgical sorcery had its strengths, not the least of them demon mastery. The smelting of power into a handful of rings could give a sorcerer absolute control over as many demon slaves. He could command them to fetch whatever he desired, to build any edifice, to destroy any person or thing, and through them he had access to the vast knowledge that lay in the demon worlds of Fire, Ice, Air, and Water. Cray knew that sort of magic, but though he had cast hundreds of rings in his years of sorcery, he had done so only to give eternal freedom to their demons. He wanted no demon slaves. The raw metal itself was what he wished to command.
         As in the tree which, just now, was the center of his life.
         He sighed as he looked at it. It seemed such a poor, feeble thing, with its spindly boughs and sparse foliage. Yet, Cray thought, if sparkle pleased the eye, if an individual leaf or blossom could compensate in some part for the flaws of the whole, then the tree was not a complete failure. Gently, as if it were a small animal that could respond to his affection, he caressed the flower that he held, and the branch that bore it. Then he let them bob away, and he sighed again.
         "It's so lovely," said his mother.
         He shrugged. "I'm glad it pleases you. I wish it pleased me more."
         She slipped an arm about his shoulders. "Have patience, my son. This is a new kind of magic for you, and you can't expect perfection all at once. I'd hate to tell you what my first tapestries looked like. There can be other trees, as many trees as you wish, as much practice as you need."
         He shook his head. "I'm not finished with this one, yet."
         She looked up at the tree, its top scarcely half again as high as her own head. "What more is there to do? It won't grow any larger."
         "No, but it can bloom."


         The Crystal Palace continues the adventures of Cray, the sorcerer's son.
         In this volume, he creates the Mirror of Heart's Desire, and what he sees in it leads him to the demon world of Ice and a young woman imprisoned by her heartless grandfather.

    "A sequel that's actually stronger than the book it follows. When it was over, I wished there was more." -- George R.R. Martin

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    A Taste of Born to Exile

         The sun of Alaric's fifteenth summer beat down on his head as he stared at the moat, the drawbridge, and the broad wallls of Castle Royale. A dusty wind swirled about him, adding another layer of grime to his dark, travel-stained clothes and drying the rivulets of sweat on his face and neck. He shifted his knapsack with a shrug, and the lute that was strapped to it twanged softly.
         Presently a man in light armor came out of the shack on the near side of the bridge and glared at the boy from under an enormous, beetle-browed helmet. He held a broadsword at ready. "Identify yourself."
         Alaric swept off his peaked black cap and bowed as much as his pack permitted. "My name is Alaric, and by trade I'm a minstrel. Having been advised by many that my songs are worthy, I come to offer them to His Majesty and in short, to become a hanger-on at court.."
         The guard grunted. "What weapons do you carry?"
         Alaric's slender fingers touched his worn leather belt. "None but a paltry dagger, useful for carving fowl and bread. And the feather in my cap, for tickling my enemies to death."
         "Empty your pack on the ground and give me that stringed thing.'
         While Alaric demonstrated that the pack held nothing but a brown cloak, a gray shirt, and four extra lute strings, the guard examined the lute. He shook it, peered into it, rapped it with his knuckles. At last, satisfied that it was nothing dangerous, he returned it to his owner and motioned for the boy to repack his knapsack.
         "Gunter!" he shouted. A second man, seeming, in his identically patterned armor, to be a twin to the first, appeared from the shack. "Take him inside to the Great Hall. He seems to be a jester, even if he says he's a minstrel. Be sparing of your wit, boy. We already have a jester."
         Alaric swung the pack over one shoulder, the lute over the other, and followed Gunter across the bridge. He did not glance back, but in his mind's eye he could see the twisting, turning road that had brought him to this place. How many miles it was, he knew not. For him, t was measured in months, beginning on that gray day in the forest of Bedham -- eight long months and tens of thousands of steps carrying him away from Dall's lonely grave. Eight months through forest and field, asking directions of peasants in hovels and of merchants shepherding their caravans of goods to market; eight months in which he was hardly ever tempted to use his witch's power to speed the journey -- he needed a clear and precise knowledge of the location of his desination for that, and he had none. He had walked, as normal men did, pretending to be one of them as Dall had always advised, and he had finally arrived at Castle Royale in search of his fortune.


    Born to Exile is the story of Alaric, born with preternatural powers, found as an infant, abandoned on a hillside with a bloody severed hand clutching his ankles. Rejected by his foster family as a witch child, separated by death from his only friend, he wanders the world alone, in search of his future.

    "An unusual fantasy -- piercing, strange, deeply felt. I read it straight through." -- Gregory Benford
    "One of the best fantasies I have read in a long time" -- The Oxford Times
    "I loved the book." -- C.J. Cherryh

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    A Taste of In the Red Lord's Reach

         The air was thin and chill at the crest of the ridge, and Alaric the minstrel found his breath coming hard and fast even though he stood quite still. Far behind, in the lowlands of the south, spring was well-begun, meadows lush with new greenery, tender buds on every tree; but here among the highest of the great northern mountains, the heavy hand of winter ruled. Though the sun was blinding bright, it gave no heat; beneath the frigid sky, snowfields glittered as if strewn with gemstones, and here and there naked boulders thrust up, too steep and jagged for snow to cling, but cold themselves as any ice.
         Alaric shivered and pulled his cloak tighter. Slung against his chest, his lute shared the warmth of his body. On his back, his knapsack was light, with just a change of clothes and a few scraps of meat tucked into it, and a seldom-used sword. He had traveled far with so few possessions; he expected to travel farther yet before the longest night closed his eyes, and so excised the canker of his dreams.
         During his stay in the mountains, those dreams were grim and desolate. Within them, he saw himself running over a vast dark plain, but never gaining a stride on the gaunt shadow that loomed above the distant peaks. He knew that shadow, and its staring red eyes that pierced the hazy clouds. Eyes hot as coals, which burned into his neck when he averted his face. They were the eyes of a lord of misery, a Lord of Blood; and they held a bottomless hunger that gnawed at his bones.
         He had more than his fill of such dreams, and of the somber mountains in which he suffered them; he was glad to see that this latest crest marked the last of the heights. Beyond, the land sloped downward ruggedly; in the distance, he could just make out the snowline, where frozen winter began at last to give way to hardy herbs and scrub. An ordinary human being -- especially one with so little mountain-climbing experience as Alaric -- would have labored at that descent, half-scrambling, half-sliding, clutching at frigid boulders, exhausting himself in the journey. An ordinary human would have taken two or three days to reach the end of the snow. But Alaric merely sighted on an outcropping far below, and in a single heartbeat, he was there. Four more such traverses brought him to the snowline. There, he brushed the clinging whiteness from his boots before moving on.
          At last the land leveled itself into a rolling plain that stretched to the horizon, a plain where new grass was just beginning to show amid last year's dried and yellowed tussocks. Scattered trees, their branches barely touched with green, marked the sites of brooks and ponds, and a light, erratic wind blew as warm as spring should be. The young minstrel pushed his cloak back to let that breeze sweep the mountain chill from his body and from his heart.
         Late in the afternoon, he caught his first glimpse of living creatures on the plain, a faint line of dots moving westward far ahead. With caution born of his wanderings, he dropped to the ground; wild or domesticated, whatever those creatures were, they might be trailed by men, and a stranger with a witch's mode of travel had need of caution when men were near. Lying on his belly, Alaric used his power to move closer, shielded by clumps of tufted grass.
         The creatures were deer of a sort he had never seen before, with huge feet and slender legs that gave them a gawky, lumbering stride, as if they were never quite properly balanced. Their chunky bodies showed the tattered remnants of half-shed winter coats, like patches of thick pale fungus growing on their dark skins. Most of them were females, their brows not encumbered by antlers, their bellies bulging with unborn young; only a few were males, their massive, velvet-sheathed racks branching both forward over their noses and back past their ears.
         Two of the largest males had riders.
         Seated well forward on their mounts, elbows just touching the antlers which flanked them like curving armrests, the riders were men of middle years, their shoulders broad, their hands and faces weathered and hard. They wore leather jerkins and trews, and fur-trimmed, knee-high boots, and they had long dark hair clubbed behind with leather thongs. Each carried a bow slung over his shoulder, and a quiver of arrows fletched in white beside it; each bore a short sword at his waist. They did not speak to each other as they rode, nor did they seem to be in any hurry, lazing along beside the other deer, letting their mounts graze at will.
         Herders, thought Alaric. That meant a village nearby, hot food cooked by another hand than his own, and ears to listen to his songs. He moved back to the place from which he had first sighted them and rose to his feet, dusting the dry grass from his tunic. Gauging the sun's height above the horizon, he judged he would spend a good part of the remaining daylight in approaching them as an ordinary traveler would. He tucked the lute under one arm and set off at a brisk pace.
         They saw him, as he had presumed they would, long before he was close enough to hail them. One rode a short way toward him and then, obviously reluctant to leave the herd too far behind, stopped and waited, while his mount dipped its broad muzzle into the grass once more. Alaric's shadow was a long, thin companion at his side by the time he reached that rider.

    In the Red Lord's Reach continues the adventures of Alaric the minstrel as he moves north, seeking meaning for his life. He encounters the sinister Red Lord, the ragged fugitives from his reign of terror, and the wild and free nomads of the far north, who welcome him for their own purposes.

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    A Taste of "The Island in the Lake"

    [Note: "The Island in the Lake," which appeared in the Dec. 1998 issue of F&SF;, is a novelet and the latest installment in the adventures of Alaric the Minstrel. It follows In the Red Lord's Reach. Copies of the story are available to SFWA members free of charge, from the author.]

                    Long ago, in the morning of time, the people lived in a warm and green place, where
               the sun had cared for them since first they opened their eyes. And life was sweet in that
               place, in the care of that good and generous sun. But the people were wanderers in their
               hearts, and at last they turned their backs on that green place, and on that good sun, and
               set out into the Great Night to find another home.
                    Their journey was long, for the darkness was vast, and homelands were as tiny and
               lost in it as flowers on the grassy plain. But the Pole Star had looked upon them in that
               darkness, and finding them worthy, he claimed them for his own, and guided them safe
               to this sun and this place. Yet when they came to their new home, it was not a land such
               as they had known before. No, it was a land strange and beautiful, a land where magic
               grew in every meadow, and flowed in every river, and breathed in the very wind. And
               foolishly, they destroyed that magic, and made the land over in the image of their old
               home, which they had left so far behind in the Great Night. And they were happy in
              their new home, not understanding what they had done.
                    But the Pole Star, who loved them in spite of their folly, preserved that magic in
               a few hidden places, and laid a net of his own power over land and sea, that the magic
               might be protected and perpetuated, forever living. And the Pole Star gave the knowledge
               of that magic to those who chose to dwell in his own favored domain, to hold and to use
               to ease their hardships. For they are wanderers, as the people were once wanderers every
               one, and the Pole Star has claimed them before all others. And the sign of that gift is the
               promise of the sun -- that no matter how great the night grows, there will always be a dawn.
                                                                                                          --- Song of the World's Beginning
                                                                                                          (among the People of the North)

         Alaric the minstrel paused at the crest of the hill. To his left and right, a line of hills stretched as far as the eye could see, but before him, to the west, the land sloped downward gently to a broad, flat plain. Upon that plain lay an irregular grid of ocher fields, their grain all reaped, only the yellow stubble of barley, wheat, and oats left to dry in the last warm days of the year. The two dozen dwellings of the peasants who worked those fields were clustered together into a village near the center of that grid; Alaric could just make out their stone walls and thatched roofs, and the stone fences of the animal pens that flanked them. Farther on, much too far from the village to be a comfortable walk for fetching water, was the lake, shining like burnished silver under the autumn sun. The Lake of Death.
         The day had been hot, even so late in the year, and Alaric was stripped to the waist, his face shaded by the wide-brimmed hat he had plaited from the sparse wayside grass. Slung over one shoulder was his knapsack, with only a cloak and a shirt and some scraps of bread inside; over the other was his lute, the minstrel's boon companion. The strange and magical north lay far behind him -- the great glacial waste, the lodestone mountains, the witchcraft of a woman who read men's souls and of her elixir that healed the dying and could even raise the dead. Lately, he had moved through less exotic lands, through arid hills cloaked in scrub, their infrequent streams shallow and meandering over pebbly beds, their scattered inhabitants scrabbling to draw a living from the parched soil. Yet in those lands he had heard again and again of a bountiful plain beside a mirror-bright lake, a place where a strong lord ruled and enemies had never conquered. A place where the people used water from that lake as their weapon -- water that killed what it touched.
         The first time he heard the tale, Alaric knew that a minstrel whose stock in trade was legend and wonders would be a fool to pass it by.

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    A Taste of The City in Stone (work in progress)

    Chapter One

         Feldar Sepwin clutched the bedclothes as a drowning man would clutch at driftwood, his only hope of survival. He tossed, he thrashed, and sweat streamed off his body, soaking his sheets and pillow and making the stone bedchamber rank with the smell of fear. But though his eyes were wide and staring, Sepwin saw nothing of the small velvet-hung room that had been his own for half a mortal lifetime. He saw nothing of the white-haired, white-clad woman who stood over his bed, a candle in her hand. Instead, he saw, he smelled, he felt the vast and inexorable destruction of some other place, some other time.
         In his dreaming vision, real as only a Seer's vision could be real, he moved through a dying city. Once, he knew, it had been a rich and gorgeous city, with buildings of finely dressed stone, white, black, red, and gray; with walls sheer and polished to mirror brightness; with gracefully buttressed spires that rose higher than any castle turret built by mortal hands. But now, all around his dreaming self, those polished walls were heaving, cracking, crumbling, those graceful spires falling in great jagged slabs, that fine stone darkening with char as flames erupted through a thousand windows. And the very earth beneath those sumptuous structures surged like the deck of a storm-tossed ship.
         He turned a corner and staggered down a narrow street, his footing precarious as the pavement rolled and pitched, chasms opening and closing in its moving surface like hungry mouths. A thick, hot wind swept about him, clogging his eyes and nostrils with the dust of collapsing masonry, filling his ears with the wrenching sound of crashing marble, granite, alabaster. But he was neither too blind nor too deaf to perceive the source of that wind -- the roaring, sky-filling wall of molten lava that swept toward him.
         He woke then, screaming, his arms thrust out as if to stop that hideous onrush.
         And he saw the slim, familiar, white-gowned form of the lady Helaine standing over him, her candle held high, and he knew in an instant that he was safe in his bed at home in their cave. Safe from molten lava and falling stone, safe from death by fire or crushing. He choked off the scream, and it turned into a racking cough. He sat up, shivering uncontrollably as the ever-present coolness of the depths touched his naked, sweat-slick flesh.
         Feldar Sepwin was a lean and wiry man who still bore the gaunt stamp of a youth spent half-starved, begging for bread on the road; and the tensed cords of his arms and shoulders, the sharp bones flanking the hollow at his throat, stood out in bold relief by candlelight. His fine brown hair, darkened now and dripping, was plastered against his skull, and his eyes of two different colors were wide and stark with memory of the dream. In all the years he had been a Seer, he had never Seen anything like it, waking or sleeping.
         The lady Helaine sat down on the edge of his bed, setting her candle on the bedside table. She laid a hand on his arm, curled her fingers around his wrist. The skin of her palm was dry, parchment-like, an old woman's skin to match her long white braid and the fine lines that webbed her face. She had been old when Sepwin met her, though she would never say exactly how old; but he knew that she had been a Seer before he was born. She used his sweat now as she would use the water of her dark Seer's pool, to make a powerful bond with him, to see what he had seen, to know what he had known.
         "Again," she said and shook her head.
         He fell back on the clammy pillow, closing his eyes, trying to will his muscles to relax, his heart to ease its frantic beat. "Again," he whispered, his throat raw from the scream and the coughing. "Is it the fifth time? The sixth?"
         "Something like that."
         There was a bitter taste in his mouth -- bile or brimstone, he didn't know which. He swallowed hard. "Why does it plague me, Helaine? The place is old, I know it -- old as time, and dead and gone. How can I be there?"
         She stroked his arm lightly. "I wish I could tell you."
         "And where is it? What is it? I see no name, no inhabitants. No one to ask about it, none but myself to scream when the lava comes. Is it even real, or is my mind inventing it?" He opened his eyes and looked up at her. "Help me, Helaine. You're so much wiser in these matters than I am. Surely you can find some meaning in these dreams."
         She met his gaze, compassion in her own. "I know how they tear at you, my Feldar. But I understand them no better than you. I don't even know if what you're seeing is the past or the future. Nor if you're there yourself or if these are someone else's memories." She looked away from him then, into the shadows that clustered like mounds of dark cloth in the far corners of the room. "I have grown weak lately, as my time comes near. You are the greater of us now, Feldar, and you must parse these visions without my help."
         He covered her hand with his own. "No, you are still the greater Seer, and my teacher."
         She turned back to him and smiled a small, gentle smile. "Don't be foolish, child. We both know I have nothing left to teach you."
         "Oh, I can still serve the folk who come here well enough. Their petty desires and difficulties. But your anguish is too deep for me. There is sorcery in it, I have no doubt; you are so much among sorcerers. Had I known of it some years ago, perhaps we might have pursued it together. But now..." She shook her head.
         His hand tightened on hers. "Isn't there something we can do for you? Something that Cray or Delivev --"
         She laid two fingers across his lips. "No more, my dear. I am beyond their arts, believe me. We Seers -- we know these things, don't we?"
         He looked at her sweet old face. She was his mother, more than the woman who had borne him, who had turned him out from fear of his different-colored eyes. To Helaine, those eyes had not meant evil. She had Seen beyond them with her Seer's powers. She had perceived the potential Seer within him, and the lonely youth that he was. She had trained him, and she had been pleased when, with the passage of years, his fame had spread as far as her own. She was as proud of him, he knew, as if he had been the fruit of her own body.
         Child, she called him. Formerly, he had smiled to hear the word. Now it reminded him too forcefully that he was young, that his skin was supple, his face unlined, his hair untouched by gray, and that they all would remain so for far more years than he had lived already. Enduring youth had been the gift of Cray Ormoru, sorcerer and friend, whose arts could do nothing for the lady Helaine.
         Half a mortal lifetime the two Seers had been together; and Sepwin's mind, which had known the joys, the sorrows, the fates of countless petitioners, could scarcely compass the idea of her death.
         "I will miss you," he whispered against her fingers.
         Her eyes became bright in the candlelight, as if with sudden unshed tears. "That is as it should be," she said softly. Her hand slid away from his mouth, across his cheek, in a gentle caress. "Were I somewhere...afterward...I would miss you, too." She blinked a few times, quickly, and then set both her hands firmly on his shoulders. "After I am gone, you must find yourself an acolyte."
         He shook his head.
         "Yes. It is not good to live alone."
         "You did, for many years."
         "And I took you in, Feldar."
         He looked into her eyes and tried to imagine someone else in her place. A stranger. He had never known another Seer but Helaine. Could someone else sit by her pool, could someone else sift the dark water through his fingers and see the secrets of the mortal heart as she did, as she had taught him to do? Could someone else be the serene companion, the listener, the comforter that she had been? A stranger -- it seemed impossible.
         "Will I find one?" he whispered.
         She sighed softly. "That, I don't know. The future beyond my life is hazy now. I see a lonely time for you, and I don't know how it will end. But it must." Her grip tightened. "Listen to me, Feldar. I am wiser than you; you've said it yourself. The line of Seers must go on, for there will always be people who need us. The talent is not so thinly spread that you won't find a student if you search."
         She let go of him abruptly and stood up. "I think you are with me too much these days, my dear. We walk through a miasma of my coming death, and perhaps it has made you susceptible to these dreams. I think you should go away for a while. Renew yourself with life. Visit Cray and Aliza--"
         "They are your friends."
         "I can't leave you now. Not so close to...the end."
         She smiled gently again. "My powers may be waning, but I know my life and I know my death. You'll be with me at the end, my Feldar. I swear it."
         "It is the Seer who bids you do this, child." She picked up the candle. "Plain folk and great have paid me gold and jewels for my advice. Do you scorn it, who receive it for nothing?" She went to the velvet-hung doorway and shouldered the heavy fabric aside. "Tomorrow night, you sleep elsewhere."
         As the drapery fell straight behind her, the stone bedchamber was plunged into blackness. But Sepwin knew every corner of the room by touch, and he had no trouble finding a candle of his own, and flint and steel to kindle it. By that small light, he changed the clammy sheets and pillowslip, put on a tunic and trews and stayed awake till morning.


    The City in Stone is the third book in the trilogy that began with Sorcerer's Son.

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    A Taste of Spec-Lit No. 2

    From "Bad Egg" by Jill Pollock:

         I was twelve when it happened. I was all alone in the house that day, and I remember feeling grown up and independent, pretending the kitchen was my kitchen, and that Benny and Andrew wouldn't be barging in and bugging me and fighting over the television at any moment.
         I decided to make an omelet; I'd just learned how. I bustled around the kitchen, chopping onions, cutting tiny cubes of cheddar cheese. I grabbed the whisk and opened up the carton of eggs. One of the eggs was much bigger than the others, so I reached for it. I noticed that it was slightly darker, too�maybe from another kind of chicken, I thought.
         I smacked it sharply against the rim of the blue ceramic bowl, the way I'd seen my mom do so many times. The egg cracked in two perfect halves, and I smiled in satisfaction.As I pulled the shells apart they made a wet, sucking sound, and something dark fell into the bowl with a thok.
         I stepped back, suddenly not hungry at all. It lay there, bumpy, round, glistening, a dark olive green. The eggshells fell from my hands and clicked onto the tile floor at my feet.
         The house was quiet. Too quiet. For the first time ever I found my- self wishing Benny and Andrew were bickering in front of the television in the next room.
         The egg must've gone bad, I finally decided. That's why the shell had been darker than the others. I'd throw it out and start again.
         I grabbed the bowl, and as I was taking it to the sink, the thing inside it moved. It uncurled from an ovoid clump into something long and dark and fat. It had claws and a tail that whipped from side to side.


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    To find out how to order copies of Spec-LitNo. 2, click here.

    From "Talk To Me" by Valerie J. Freireich:

         I danced the geography of Able for Master Kissal. I had never been to that world, but I'd viewed tapes and read about it; as we approached it, I translated Able: the Newblue Mountains, the Vale, the Golden Sea and the Great High. It was glorious.
         Able is a human world, so there are cities. I danced them, too, though conveying such population densities was strenuous. The largest settlement, New Port, was easiest�it was almost a natural feature of the landscape. Utmost, the major space station over Able, was simple to explain: I merely described the human station above the Beak world of Heden and then transcribed it to Utmost's location over Able.
         Master Kissal signaled that he understood and that my recital was sufficient for his present purposes. After he took up residence on Able as the Beak trade emissary, he would need additional detail. I stopped dancing and settled onto my stool to await further instructions. I was hot from the exertion of the dance, but satisfied. More than satisfied; I was exultant. I had done my best work, and I knew it. I watched Master Kissal, so as not to miss his slightest movement. Most untrained humans find it disconcerting to have no point of reference when observing or addressing a Beak�they have no faces�but I have spent my entire life among Beaks and have been trained specifically to communicate with them.
         Master Kissal was motionless for a long time. I could smell my sweat settling among the stale odors of Master Kissal's cabin. The air in his room seemed heavy and old, despite the ship's ventilation, perhaps because he had not left the room since we boarded at Heden. We were on a human ship, Earth Transport Corporation's passenger liner, Sidestep. Beaks have no interstellar ships of their own.
         The room contained only two stools, of Beak manufacture, and a clutter of flethe sleeping covers in one corner. But even with all human furniture removed, the cabin was nearly too tiny for a Beak discussion, and the thick carpeting made the floor a tricky dance surface.
         I watched as Master Kissal rose from his stool. The majority of his vision tendrils were oriented toward me, but his sharp-pointed stabbing beak, the feature from which humans had derived his species' name, was turned politely away from my direction.
         "Ms. Desia," Master Kissal danced, formal as always. "I thank you for your services in this matter." Even in such a brief speech, his movements were fluid and graceful. His north and south arms rolled outward in a kind of trill that expressed satisfaction.
         I smiled with pleasure and stood. "Have you no additional comment or request?" I queried.
         "No," he signaled. "You are dismissed." I admired the firm lines of motion as his south arm sliced space and entered the negative. Master Kissal's dances always were clear, precise and beautiful.
         I was disappointed that discussion was to be concluded. "Was my message understood?"
    Master Kissal's regard become more pronounced. Beak visual tendrils move to follow the motion they are observing; the number focused on an object indicates intensity of observation. In this room of blank plastic walls there was nothing except me to hold his attention. I twirled a flourish, unnecessary but beautiful, delivered so rapidly that I could feel my hair, though cut very short, move as I turned.
         "Yes. You are dismissed," repeated Master Kissal, "until such time as I require your further services in communicating with humans or (less important) Tasana." Master Kissal had no one with whom he could communicate aboard this ship except me.
         I sighed, which he could not hear, since Beaks are deaf to sound wave vibrations. I did not turn to leave his cabin. Master Kissal continued to regard me, and signaled that he was puzzled, by a brief twist of his east hand. The tendrils surrounding his digits waved slightly, focusing.
         "Talk to me," I danced. The movement I made was the signal to begin communication, the opposite of the dismissal sign he'd made to me. I had hoped that during this trip and once on Able, without the distraction of other Beaks, I would finally have the attention from Master Kissal I craved. At home on his estates he had little time for me.
         "(Observe)," he signaled, as if to a youngling. "You are dismissed."
         "Talk to me," I repeated. I began to dance a more complicated message. "We are alone on this ship, except for strangers; therefore, talk to me (favor)." I had added the signal younglings often use, a kind of plea for instruction from an adult.
         "I have no further communications for you," Master Kissal told me. "You require no instruction. I do not need your services at this time. You are dismissed." His tendrils assumed the limp appearance of a Beak deep in thought, a turning inward, since Beaks cannot actually turn away. The Beak language of dance consists of both movement and position; they can "see" in all directions simultaneously by means of their covering of tendrils. Master Kissal stopped looking at everything, not only me.
         I walked out of his cabin on heavy feet, turning back to face him as I opened the door. His posture was unchanged, elegant and aloof. "Please talk to me," I said aloud, like a child still in training at the cr�che. I paused, then shut the door behind me as I left.


    For the rest of these stories and eight more topnotch student SF stories, plus guest reprints by Alfred Bester ("The Roller Coaster") and George R.R. Martin ("In the House of the Worm"), and an original story by the editor, see Spec-Lit No. 2. There's also a full-color cover and interior portfolio of black-and-white illustrations by Ed Emshwiller. For copies, check your local Barnes & Noble, Borders, or SF specialty store, or click here for information on how to order your copy direct from the editor.

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    Ordering information

    Sorcerer's Son -- British hardcover (Grafton, 1990): $25.00 postpaid.
    The Crystal Palace -- British hardcover (Grafton, 1991): $27.00 postpaid.
    Born to Exile -- First edition, hardcover (Arkham House, 1978): $28.00 postpaid.
    In the Red Lord's Reach -- British hardcover (HarperCollns, 1992): $28.00 postpaid.
    "The Island in the Lake" (Dec. 1998 F&SF;): photocopies available free of charge to SFWA members.
    Spec-Lit No. 2 -- trade paperback published by Columbia College Chicago: $11.95 postpaid.

    To order any of these titles, click on my email address: phyllis@ripco.com or send me separate email.
    Novels are autographed and sent priority mail. Photocopies go first class. Spec-Lit goes book rate.

    The URL of this page is www.bl.com/eisenstein
    March, 1999