Sep 30 2015

Memory tweak courtesy of Kalessin


Reader Kalessin just reminded me that there was another out-take posted here previously — and I found it.   This is from The Lost Steersman, and contains only the most minor (in my opinion) of spoilers…  But if you haven’t yet read that book, maybe you might want to skip it until you have?   You decide.

Here it is:


The boat shifted on the wharf-side, rocked back into position. Someone had come aboard. “Rowan?”

The steerswoman clambered up to the deck. “Here.”

Zenna was outlined by lights from the harborside buildings. “You took your time,” Rowan noted.

“I lost track. I found something interesting in the Annex.”


Zenna maneuvered awkwardly across the gently rocking deck. “Let’s go below. We need some light.”

“What is it?” Puzzled, Rowan led the way below, preceding Zenna and carrying the other woman’s crutches as she descended the companionway.

Seated at Janus’ little table, Zenna pulled an object from her satchel, handed it to Rowan. “Look at this.”

A steerswoman’s logbook, of a design standard forty years ago. Rowan turned to the first page. “Mira’s?” The leather was crusted with damp-mold. Rowan pried apart the warped pages.

Zenna leaned forward and indicated something tucked between two leaves.  Rowan pulled it out: a folded and refolded sheet. “Is it a map?” She lifted one edge, took one look —

Then dropped the book, snatched the candle nearer, set the chart on the table and set to unfolding it — but carefully, carefully, so as not to break the aged paper…

Fine lines, delicate colors, more like a work of art than a map. Roads mere gray threads, almost invisible in the candle-light; towns a spread of tiny rectangles, possibly indicating the individual buildings themselves. Rivers, brooks, every upthrust of crag and hill: all in maddening detail, in washes of color impossibly steady and pure. She had seen such a map before. “This is a wizard’s map.”

“I figured as much.”

Rowan’s mind was a flurry of excitement, as she mentally tested superpositions of known Steerswomen’s maps. “This part might be the northern limb of the Mountains.” She found a town she knew. “Here’s Terminus.” Farms were identifiable by the regularity of their limits but there were fewer than she knew there to be. “This map was already old when Mira found it.” Fields showed distinctive colors, perhaps schematically representing type of crop; or perhaps, Rowan thought with an eerie thrill, perhaps depicting the actual color of each kind of vegetation, as seen by an eye hung high above the world.

Zenna indicated the western section of the chart.

“Yes,” Rowan said, feeling a grin on her own face. Beyond the known mountains: yet more mountains, continuing, peak behind peak, and none of them to be found on any Steerswomen’s map, none of them seen by or known to any steerswoman. “This is wonderful! Look, look at this gray area; I think that’s a narrow valley, and if the color is right it must be blackgrass that’s growing there, like they have in the Outskirts. And look, this lake here, with the brook –” Rowan laughed out loud. “Skies above, Zenna, we’re looking at the source of the River Wulf!”

Zenna watched her, head tilted slightly back. She had recovered the logbook; now she held it toward Rowan, open to one page, where one sentence stood alone:

They know everything.

Rowan glanced at the words, shook her head at the distraction, and immediately returned to the treasure of the wizard’s chart. “Zenna, here, look at these faint numbers; they’re everywhere. When I saw them on Shammer and Dhree’s map, I thought at first that they might be elevations, but they don’t match ours at all…I wonder what they might be?”

Zenna placed the logbook before her again, on top of the chart. She indicated the lone sentence.

“What?” Rowan asked her.

As if the action constituted reply, Zenna riffled the rest of the pages, to the back of the book; all were blank.

Rowan looked down at it, then up into her friend’s face. Zenna was expecting some specific reaction. Rowan shook her head, spread her hands.

Zenna prompted her. “Who do you think ‘they’ are?”

“The wizards, I assume.”

“So do I,” Zenna said. “It explains a lot, don’t you think?”

Rowan was completely at sea. “What does it explain?”

“Mira. We were wondering how any steerswoman could ever possibly come to live and behave as Mira did. How she could ever abandon her work, and all regard for the work of the Steerswomen.”

Rowan looked at the map, at the words in the book. “I don’t understand.”

“But don’t you see? Mira somehow acquired this map — it’s very old, she might have come by it any number of ways — and she saw how much more the wizards know than we do.”

“But that goes without saying. Of course they know more than we do, about any number of things.”

“Everything we try to find out, they already know.”

“Possibly.” Rowan sat regarding the other woman, and worked through a number of intellectual recombinations of the information at hand, trying to fathom Zenna’s behavior. She failed. She threw out her arms helplessly. “And?”

Zenna’s frustration was melting into something like amazement. “You really don’t see, do you?”

“Not at all.”

Zenna looked at her for a long, disbelieving moment; then astonishingly, she laughed out loud. “Oh, Rowan!” She pushed herself erect and threw herself half-falling into Rowan’s arms, embracing her, laughing. “Oh, Rowan, bless you, please, never change! Stay like this for the rest of your life!”

Rowan held her, uncomfortably wedged amid arms, table, and chair-back. “You mean,” she said over Zenna’s head, “confused?”

“No, of course not.” Zenna clumsily extracted herself and regained her seat. “Rowan,” she began; and her expression was so filled with affection and admiration that Rowan felt disturbed and deeply uncomfortable at its inexplicability, “what’s more important: truth, or the act of discovering it?”

Rowan opened her mouth to reply, then hesitated. “You can’t separate the two. For a truth to exist, someone has to discover it.”

“And you’d like that someone to be you.”

“It’s what I love to do.”

“Suppose that you discovered something, something you thought was known only to you, then found that someone else had been there already, had already known everything you struggled to learn?”

Rowan shifted uncomfortably, made vague gestures. “I suppose I’d try to gain access to that person’s work. Perhaps the person knows even more, and could save me a lot of time and effort.”

“But it wouldn’t bother you?”

“Why should it?”

Zenna folded her hands and spoke slowly and patiently. “Suppose you were different than you are. Suppose that what you loved most was not just truth, nor the act of discovery,” and she stressed the next words, “but the fact of being the discoverer.”

Rowan felt she needed all of her concentration to follow this, and she closed her eyes, straining in thought. “I don’t see any distinction. A discoverer discovers. That’s what it means.”

“The fact of being the first one, of being that person who has struggled and striven, and has come back with knowledge that would not exist, but for you.”

“But the truth doesn’t care who discovers it.”

“People do care.”

Rowan was disappointed. “Are you saying that… that what Mira cared for was securing other people’s regard?” Such a petty thing…

“No. Not just other people’s. When one says ‘people’, one has to include oneself. We regard ourselves, Rowan. We think of ourselves, and we care about what we are.” Zenna pulled the logbook across the table, turned it so it faced her, flipped through the earlier pages. “I think Mira loved her life because it permitted her to be what she wanted to be. In her own eyes, not the eyes of others, it gave her stature, it gave meaning to her life. She wanted to be the one who finds things out. The first. New things, that no one had known before.

“She had been working in the western mountains, you know; that was her area. But when she found this map, she realized that the thing she loved about herself was untrue, a sham. It had all been done before, by others, and much better than she ever could have done.”

Rowan looked down at her scarred hands — human hands lying on the impossible, magical colors of the map. “But it doesn’t matter…”

“Not to you. It mattered to her. Try to see it her way. Think of the thing that you love best about yourself, and imagine it taken away.”

Rowan tried, failed. “I don’t know what I love best about myself…” She sought for it in her mind, but there seemed to be nothing to seek. “I… I don’t think I can break myself into pieces like that.” And viewed that way, it did seem there was something, not a separate thing, but more like an aspect; but she could not hold on to it. It was like trying to touch the green-ness of a leaf without touching the leaf. “Whatever it is,” Rowan said, “I don’t think it can be taken from me.”

“Perhaps you’re right about that.” Zenna’s face again showed that glowing admiration, and Rowan shied away from it almost physically, thinking: I‘ve done nothing to deserve that.

“Then,” Zenna continued, “imagine anything you love. Imagine it gone.”

Rowan found she had many specific examples. “I’d do what I can to get it back,” she said immediately.

“And if that were impossible?”

Rowan had not thought of Fletcher for months; she thought of him again now. “It depends on why it was lost. If it was taken from me, I think I’d try to exact some sort of justice.”

“And if that were impossible, too?”

Rowan threw up her hands. “I’d adjust to the situation and set my mind on something else. Are you saying simply that Mira was unwilling to accept a fact outside of her control? And is this intended to enable me to sympathize with her? Because it’s doing exactly the opposite; I hope you can see that.”

“Hm. I can see I’m getting nowhere. Has it ever occurred to you that not everyone is as strong as you are?”

“You’re using the term ‘strong’ in a very vague way. But, come to think of it, that doesn’t matter. Because, yes, I’m aware that some people are not as strong as I am, just as I’m aware that there are plenty of people far stronger than I, by whatever definition of the word you choose.”

What spoilers there may be here, I consider extremely minor — we hear about Mira on nearly the first page  of The Lost Steersman.  And the fact that a person called Zenna shows up at some point is hardly going to make one throw the book across the room and declare: “Well, now there’s no point in reading this at all!   Curse you, spoilermeister!”

For persons who have read the book, this bit would have gone between chapters 27 and 28.

Why did I not include it?  Well… look at the end of Chapter 27.  And look at the beginning of Chapter 28.  Anything put between them would surely kill the drama — which is why I did not even finish the scene, and the excerpt ends here so abruptly.

But in my head, these events did happen.   So, I might slot this into a later book, as a flashback, or a reference; or someone (possibly Zenna) might speak of it to another person.

In other words:  It’s canon.


Sep 25 2015

Left on the cutting-room floor


Today I seem to be too busy to a) blog, or b) reset the sale price on The Steerswoman. But that’s not bad,  because b) the sale is still on, and a) how about an out-take from The Outskirter’s Secret?

The readers who follow my blog saw this a couple of years ago… but if you’re new, it’s new to you!

It was taken out of the final version, because… well, it wasn’t actually needed, and it did not help the pacing.  And the book was already long.  All good reasons to cut it loose.

But still: I find it fun.  So, here it is (again).

For reference:  the scene was originally in Chapter 25, just after Rowan learns about courting gifts…

After noon meal, Rowan settled down by the fire-pit with her logbook and the dried corpse of a spiny insect called a harvester, intending to sketch and make notes on its structure and observed habits. Hari wandered by, paused to watch without interrupting, then strolled away thoughtfully.

Some time later a small voice said, “Here.” When Rowan looked up, Hari was already gone; but Rowan discovered a flat oblong bug on the ground by her knee, stranded on its back, wriggling eight jointed legs in panic. It was not one she had observed before. “Thank you,” she called out, bemused.

“You’re welcome,” said a new voice on her left. Rowan turned to find Sithy standing before her with a trawler held in one out-held fist, its legs waving above and below the fingers, small head bobbing from side to side.

“Thank you,” Rowan said again, “but I already have notes on this one.” But she had never handled a live one, and carefully took the insect from the girl. The narrow body was cool between her fingers, bending slightly in the middle as the trawler struggled against captivity. It flexed its limbs, seeking purchase, emitting a steady stream of loud, irate clicks.

Sithy nodded once, and was gone. Rowan looked about for someplace to free the trawler, not wishing to leave her work to go to the edge of camp. She gave up, and set the creature down, hoping it would find its own way out. It instantly quieted and froze, standing in place, pretending to be invisible.

When Bodo arrived, Rowan had begun to know what to expect. He stopped at a cautious distance and deposited on the ground half of a particularly large tumble-bug. “Something ate it!” he declared gleefully, then tottered away.

“Excuse me, Rowan?” It was the eldest child, a girl near walkabout age.

Rowan took her offering with delight: A hawk-bug, its four-legged body as large as her hand, the span of its four wings fully four feet wide. “Thank you, this is wonderful! I haven’t been able to see one closely yet.” Unfortunately, the creature’s head had been crushed; Rowan turned her attention to its taloned feet, its pink, transparent wings, veined like leaves, with curious twisting joints at the body.

She looked up again when Bodo returned to his location, placed on the ground something too small for Rowan to see, and left.

“Do you want slugsnakes too?” It was a red-haired boy wearing a studiedly fierce expression.

“I believe I’m concentrating on insects today.” He gave a short nod, and left. Bodo returned with another invisible prize, departed.

Hari returned. “It bites,” he cautioned Rowan, and set his captive down beside her. It immediately attempted to depart; Rowan stopped it by pressing one finger against its carapace. Its feet scrabbled against the earth.

“Wait, what is it?” But Hari had left. She asked the next child who arrived, a girl somewhat older than Sith.

“It’s a grass-hunter.” The insect’s back split as it tried to free the pink wings hidden beneath. “Show it your trawler.” When Rowan hesitated, the girl boldly picked up the bug with her thumb and forefinger, set it in front of the still-immoble trawler. The grass-hunter spied its quarry, and began to circle, ignoring the humans watchers.

The girl handed Rowan her own catch: the beheaded corpse of a small, flying insect, one of the two near- identical types about which Bel had warned her: a flesh termite. “Which sort is this?” the steerswoman asked; but its captor had left. Rowan set it carefully aside, for comparison with possible further examples.

There was a lull, during which only Bodo returned again and again with his tiny offerings, each placed amongst the previous ones. Rowan hurried to catch up her notes with her other subjects of study. She began to draw much smaller, and wrote the notations directly across the face of each sketch. The result was confusing at first glance; to be read, the pages would each need to be studied carefully. It was a necessary tactic, to conserve her paper. As she finished each page, she blew on the ink to dry it, impatient to begin the next.

When the red-haired boy returned, Rowan was ready with a blank page. He presented her with a pulsing white lump, three inches long, on the front of which was attached a small, wingless insect. “Thank you. And what is this?”

“That’s a queen flesh termite.”

Rowan noticed that the boy’s forearms were covered with red, swollen spots. “Did they hurt you?” She became concerned; she disliked the idea of children undertaking danger on behalf of her studies.

The boy’s habitual glower did not alter. He shook his head. “Not much. It’s the other kind that are trouble.”

“Perhaps you should let Mander see to those bites.” One type of flesh termite would bite a human once, then inform the hive that the person was not edible; the other sort lived alone, and would bite and burrow into the skin, where, finding no nourishment, it would die, causing ulceration. The boy had suffered multiple bites from the harmless sort, as they defended their hive from his attack.

The girl brought another headless flyer. “Is this from the hive that –” Rowan searched for the boy’s name “– that Evvie found?”

Both children peered at the corpse in the girl’s hand. “You can’t tell without the heads,” Evvie pronounced.

Hari hurried up, took one of Rowan’s hands, and placed a small black bug on her palm. “It’s a spring-hopper,” he told her; as he left, the creature demonstrated the source of its name by leaping into the air and escaping, leaving Rowan only with the memory of a tiny, seemingly sourceless push and release against her skin. She looked down at her own palm as if it could provide further information.

Sithy returned, walking cautiously, holding one hand out to her side. She seemed to be carrying nothing, and then Rowan noticed a faint, dim cloud floating behind her: a trawler’s shoot, complete with catch. When she reached Rowan, she permitted the shoot to waft to the ground, and the steerswoman acquired two live flesh termites and a trove of tiny, golden-eyed gnats. Rowan compared the flyers with their queen.

Sithy looked up suddenly, spotted someone approaching. She let free one of her rare laughs. “Look at Bodo!”

The little boy was walking with a careful waddle, carrying, as if it were a shield, a flat oval object nearly as tall as himself. On the surface facing out, eight jointed legs thrashed. “Fool you!” Bodo squealed. “Fool you, fool you!”

Rowan stood up slowly, appalled at the size of the creature. “Fool me?”

“It’s a fool-you!” Sithy shouted; and the children unceremoniously abandoned Rowan’s menagerie to gather around the little boy.

Arrived, Bodo became perplexed at how to relieve himself of his burden. Evvie solved this by stepping behind him, reaching both hands around, and taking possession; Bodo escaped under his arms, and the older boy placed the huge insect flat on the ground.

The fool-you instantly retracted its legs, becoming a mottled brown-and-red lump. In redgrass, it would be invisible. “I can see how it fools you,” Rowan commented. She glanced about for a mertutial to consult with; possibly the creature was dangerous.

The children were delighted, and Evvie boldly stepped up and rapped it on the back. “It’s not doing it,” He complained. He rapped again, found a new spot, rapped once more. “Come on, do it.” The fool-you responded by drawing itself more tightly against the ground.

“I can make it.” It was Hari. He placed his own new catch among Rowan’s collection, walked up to the group, all confidence. “You have to stand back,” he directed; the children complied.

Rowan said: “Hari, this thing isn’t dangerous, is it?”

“Not to people,” he assured her.

“What are you going to do?”

“You watch.” He waved her back. “You have to take your shadow away. ”

Hari circled the insect at arm’s length, waving his hand cautiously over the edge of the creature’s body. “What are you looking for?” Rowan asked.

“His head.” An opening suddenly appeared on one edge, under the shadow of Hari’s hand. Within, something wet moved briefly, and the gap closed again. Satisfied, Hari went to the fire-pit, retrieved a small stone from its edge. Back beside the fool-you, he maneuvered himself to the opposite side from the head, and tossed the stone in the air.

The gap reappeared; a bright, flashing object leaped out, up and high, then vanished back inside. “What in the world… ” Rowan’s comment trailed off.

Hari repeated the trick: prepared for it, Rowan saw the result more clearly. A three-inch long insect, colored bright red and blue, flashed into the air, fluttered, and was instantly retracted into the fool-you’s head by means of a thin black line. Rowan studied the mottled creature, her eyes squinting in thought. “How did it catch that bug?”

“That’s not another bug,” Evvie informed her. “That’s the same bug.” Without prompting, the fool-you sent out its minion again, and left it fluttering in the air, enticingly.

“It’s like a lure,” Rowan said. “What is it trying to attract?”

The answer came from the sky: the children scattered with squeals as a hawk-bug dropped from above in a cloud of pink thrashing wings. It clutched the lure, attempted to escape; the fool-you tightened its grip on the ground. The line became taut; a quick tug of war followed.

The hawk-bug tried to abandon its catch, but the fluttering lure adhered to its body, and with an audible snap the fool-you retracted its line. Its flat body suddenly bent upwards in the middle, and the creature leaped into the air, landing on its back in a wild cloud of dust. Legs grasped the captive around the middle, then rotated the struggling form as small pincers efficiently clipped off legs, wings, head, while the children shrieked in gory delight. An appalling eight-inch gash appeared on the fool-you’s underside, and it stuffed the still-moving corpse within. The huge insect rocked forward and back, raising more dust. At the high end of one rock, it nimbly uprighted itself, and resumed its deceptive, flattened stance.

The dust settled, and the area became still again, hawk-bug wings, legs and head strewn about the motionless, mottled lump. “So,” Rowan said, raising her brows, “that’s what eats a hawk-bug. ”

Rowan looked up to find that a number of adults had been attracted by the action. They now stood about, studying Rowan and her young assistants with clear disapproval. Someone said accusingly: “Who brought a fool-you into the camp?”

Most of the children shuffled their feet in guilty silence, but Bodo spoke up, loudly, proudly. “I did! I brought it into the camp!” he declared.

Rowan stepped forward. “I’m sorry, I think I’m responsible. I was studying insects, and the children were helping me. I didn’t think it would cause all this –” and she gestured, “– all this fuss. ”

The mertutial who had spoken glowered: an old man, shaking a gnarled, admonishing finger. “You don’t bring a fool-you into camp,” he declared to Rowan, then caught himself. He shifted his scolding to little Bodo. “If you bring in a fool-you, you get nothing but trouble. Hawk-bugs will come down, or the bait will hit a person and stick. You can’t get it off, no matter how hard you try. You have to wait for it to rot off.” Bodo stared up at the man with apparent incomprehension, fascinated purely by the vehemence of the statements. The mertutial moderated himself. “Don’t ever do that again,” he commanded.

This Bodo understood. “I’ll never do that again!” He was pleased to have a clear rule to follow.

The children dispersed, disappointed, and Rowan returned to her logbook and specimens. She found the grass-hunter gone, leaving behind the head and still-thrashing forearms of the trawler, and the flesh termite queen trembling in death, her once-swollen abdomen reduced to ooze and shreds.

In the final version of the book, that scene was replaced by one sentence: “Rowan spent part of the afternoon seated beside the fire pit, sketching various samples out Outskirts insect life.”

All for the best.  Really, it did the chapter’s pacing no favors.

But if you’re curious about the Outskirts’ insects… there you go.