Airs Beneath the Moon Excerpt

Airs Beneath the Moon

Beyond the barn’s single, unglazed window, the stars began to dissolve, one by one, drowning in the chill gray light of dawn. The cows huddled together, head to tail, for comfort and for warmth. The goats stood silent and uneasy in their night pen, listening to the little dun mare laboring in the box stall. It had gone on all night, Char and her mistress grunting and groaning together. Now, as the sky began to brighten, Char’s time had come at last.

Char pushed. Larkyn Hamley, boots braced in the wet straw, pulled. Birth fluids soaked her tabard and her tangled skirts, and filled the stall with an odor both acrid and sweet. Lark knew the smell to be the essence of coming life, of the force that made the crops grow and the moon wax and wane. It was also the scent of death, of the melting of one time into another. Larkyn Hamley was a girl of the soil and the seasons, and her blood surged with the power of the moment, the alchemy of life striving to be.

“Once again, Char,” she panted. Salty sweat dripped in her eyes, but she had no hand free to wipe it away. She tried to lift her shoulder to get teh worst of it, but a fresh spasm wracked Char’s body, and Lark set herself again to pull ont he foal’s slick fetlocks. “Lovely girl,” Lark said. “That’s my brave girl. Once again!”

The mare’s sides rippled with effort. Lark’s hands cramped, and she begged Kalla for strength, even though she, an Uplands farm girl, had no right to pray to the horse goddess. It was for Char, poor little Char, her foundling.

Lark knew nothing of horses except what the dun mare had taught her. Horses were rare in the Uplands, and there had never been one on Deeping Farm, nor in the village of Willakeep. Lark had stumbled upon Char standing ankle-deep in the icy waters of the Black River, her ribs standing out like the curved pickets of the haymow, and her hide, the color of smoke from the autumn chimneys, torn by brambles. Neither Lark nor her brothers knew then that Char was with foal, but now, just as sharp-toothed winter began to loosen its bite on the Uplands, she had come to term.

The foal lay widdershins, hind feet first. Lark had tried everything she knew to turn it, without success. Once it was on its way, there was nothing left but to see it through. She gasped for air, in rhythm with Char. She tugged, and Char groaned. The mare gave one last heave. There was a deep, rushing sound, and the foal’s body slid, limp and awkward, legs asprawl, to the matted straw.

A gray shroud, streaked with red, masked its nose and mouth. Lark ripped at the gelatinous stuff with her fingers, clearing the tiny muzzle. She bent, and blew fiercely into the foal’s nostrils. A shuddering breath rewarded her, and a little mewling cry. She cried out herself, exclaiming in wonder as she cradled the wet creature in her arms. His coat felt gluey and rough beneath her hands.

When she was certain his breathing was steady, she lifted her eyes. “Char, look!” she said softly. “Look at your little one!”

The mare always responded to Lark’s voice, had done so even on that very first day, when she was so weak she could barely walk. Lark had coaxed her, stumbling step by stumbling step, through the fields to the barn. But now, Char lay exhausted. Her ribs barely moved, and her black forelock tangled in her long eyelashes. Even as Lark watched, the little mare’s breathing slowed., and her dark eyes fixed on some point only she could see.

“Oh, no,” Lark whispered.

Lark was a country girl. She knew the look of death, from slaughtering days, from accidents, from her own mother’s illness. She understood the dimming of the light in the mare’s eyes, the rattle of her last breath, her sigh of release, the stare into nothingness.

Lark, little more than a child herself, hugged the motherless foal to her breast, and cried. She gave in to her grief and exhaustion and shock, and sobbed.

The foal began to mewl and wriggle in her arms, reminding her of the dawn chill. Her wet clothes were icy, and the foal, too, was wet and cold to the touch. She had to get him dry.

She had brought a pile of old towels to the barn with her when she saw that char’s time had drawn near. Now she plucked one from the stack and gently rubbed the foal’s head and neck. He struggled to his feet, leaning against her, long-legged, big-eyed, quaking with weakness. She steadied him with one hand, and reached along his withers and spine with the other to scour away the remnants of the birth sac.

The slow morning sun slanted through the window. Lark felt it on her cheeks. It would be gilding the frosty grasses in the north pasture, glittering on the fallow fields to the south, shining on the slate roof of the farmhouse, silvering the scraps of late snow. It brightened the stall so she could see that the colt was as black as the blackstone of the Uplands that gave the river its name.

She slid the towel down the foal’s ribs, and stopped. Something stayed ehr hand, some solid, living structure beneath the towel.

The foal made the little choked sound again, a sob of his own. With care, Lark pushed him away from her to see what it was that grew below his withers, behind his shoulders.

What she saw filled her with awe and dread.

Everyone knew that an animal such as this belonged to the Duke, and the duke alone. Oc was a tiny and beleaguered duchy, with scarce resources. Its desolate coastline lay open to the sea lanes, coveted by other duchies, by bigger principalities. Creatures such as this, Char’s foal, were Kalla’s special gifts. They were Oc’s most precious resource, the envy of every duke, prince, and king. To tamper with their bloodlines was to commit high treason. Had any of the Hamleys realized…

But of course they hadn’t. How could they? They could never have guessed that little Char carried such a marvel. That such a being would appear here, on Deeping Farm, was an event of such magnitude Lark could hardly comprehend it.

With trembling fingers, she caressed the colt’s slender head, and then held him close, her arms gentle around his fragile neck.

“By Zito’s ears, little one!” she breathed. “You have wings!”


Listen to an Audio sample:

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Author’s Comments

There is a mystical bond between women and horses, one that is about power, and freedom, and a deep love of beauty. Horses, though large and strong, are sensitive creatures, each with its own personality and its own character. In Airs Beneath the Moon and the books to follow, women experience the ultimate thrill of not only riding a powerful animal, but rising above the ground where no others can go. It’s wish fulfillment, or perhaps a dream realized.

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Airs and graces Excerpt

Airs and Graces

They came across the water in the early morning, emerging from the fogbank like figures from a nightmare. The warboats pierced the rolling mist, long, narrow shapes of blood-red and midnight-black against the gray. Huge dogs with metal collars snarled and slavered in the bows, but the warriors themselves, squat, bearded men in leather helmets and jerkins, stood in ominous silence, swaying with the rocking of the boats. The long oars dipped again and again into the cold green sea. Every boat bristled with spears, and in each stern an archer poised, ready to send a covering barrage of obsidian-tipped death.

The men of Onmarin, which meant every male above the age of ten, were out in their own small boats, fishing for the cod and plaice that swam beneath the glacier. The village was empty except for the old men who stayed behind to work on the drying racks ranged along the docks, women and girls mending nets in their thatched cottages, and little children. There was no one to

protect them, but there was no reason to believe protection was needed. Old Duke Frederick had put an end to the raids from across the Strait, and the fishing villages of the Angles had lived in peace for more than twenty years.

The first shout from the docks brought only raised eyebrows and curiosity.

But the shout was too much for one of the dogs. He roared, and then leapt, huge and black and terrifying, over the bow of the warboat, crashing into the water with a great splash, swimming with powerful strokes toward the land. Moments later the first boat ground into the sand of the beach, and its ugly warriors swarmed over the sides, no longer silent, but yelling in their brutish language.

The fisher-folk of innocent Onmarin understood then. Women began to scream, and children to wail. Mothers clutched babies to their breasts, and herded toddlers and young boys ahead of them as they dashed inland, seeking the dubious safety of the dunes. The old men on the docks stood their ground, shakily, but bravely, wielding their filleting knives against the spears of the raiders.

The awful dogs bounded up the narrow lanes between the cottages, howling. Spears rose and fell, and the filleting knives slashed. Blood began to spill over the weathered boards of the docks and drip through into the icy water below.

And behind the furthest cottage, where a corridor of packed and rutted sand ran between the dunes, two winged horses rose, one shining black, one pale gold. Their powerful wings drove against the cold air, and their riders bent low over their necks.

One of the barbarians caught sight of them, and gave a gleeful shriek. A volley of arrows spewed into the air, but by Kalla’s grace, the winged horses were too far away, their ascent too swift and steep.

They flew as high and as fast as they dared, leaving the coastline behind, banking above the dunes and into the morning sunshine, escaping from the carnage on the ground, fleeing to the safety of Lady Beeth’s protection.

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The Maquisarde: Background and Other Interesting Notes

The French resistance fighters of World War II called themselves the maquis, after a hardy shrub native to the island of Corsica. A member of the maquis (ma-KEE) is called a maquisard (ma-kee-SAR.) If it’s a woman, and there were many, she’s called a maquisarde (ma-kee-SARD.)

This novel was inspired by the entrance into our community at St. James Cathedral of a precious baby girl, born in one of the provinces of China, and abandoned beside a road on the day of her birth, in January. It seems to me, and to my friend, her American mother, a miracle that Rachael is now happily growing up, and giving great joy to her mother and to all of us who know her. In the last ten years, there have been more than ten thousand such miracles in the United States, and three additional ones have occurred in my own immediate circle.

Rachael, the dedicatee of The Maquisarde, attended the inaugural event for the novel at Third Place Books in December. She’s only six, but so wise and warm! A gift to America, indeed.

Because the Chain has its home in space, I needed to learn how that might work. I always like young adult books for research, because of their clear, concise, and compact form. These were two of my favorites:

  • Space Station Science, life in free fall by Marianne J. Dyson
  • To Space and Back by Sally Ride, with Susan Okie

Because Ebriel Serique had to learn to fly a helicopter, I did too:

  • How to Fly Helicopters by Larry Collier. There are lots of books on flying rotary aircraft, but this one’s clear and easy to read.

For The Maquisarde, I made my library get busy with interlibrary loans, and I’m grateful for them. These make it possible to study books you could never afford to buy, and that your local library system doesn’t have on its shelves. For example, I found a book on the flora and fauna of Tibet, on the peoples of northern China, and videos on the adoption of Chinese babies in America, who are overwhelmingly female. I also made extensive use of the Harper Collins Atlas of the World.

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The Glass Harmonica: Discussion Questions

  • Do you detect similarities between the cast of characters in the 18th century and that of the 21st?

(Each of the main characters has a corresponding character in the other time period.)

  • Do you agree that music has healing (or destructive) powers?

(In the 18th century, the glass harmonica gained the reputation of being a dangerous
instrument to people with nervous problems, pregnant women, or children.)

  • Do you think Benjamin Franklin’s epitaph (at the end of the book) means he believed in reincarnation?
  • The book was published in 2000. What events have occurred since then that seem to bear out the author’s vision of the future?

(Issues of mass transit, enhanced medical treatments for neurological/spinal diseases, 3-D
visual projections, retro styles in automobiles and decor, tent cities outside urban areas.)

  • Do you think there is a parallel between slavery in the 18th century and the disadvantaged population of the 21st century? Is the reaction of the characters different in the earlier period than it is in the later one?

If you enjoy musical, historical fiction, you might also like Mozart’s Blood, a novel which also features Mozart.

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The Glass Harmonica: Background and Other Interesting Notes

Do listen to a brief Mozart piece written for the glass harmonica: Adagio for Glass Harmonica, Mozart

Here’s a charming example of glass music.

If the psychic elements of The Glass Harmonica intrigue you, look up these books:

  • Tune Your Brain, by Elizabeth Miles
  • Miracles of Mind, Russell Targ and Jane Katra
  • Mind Trek, by Joseph McMoneagle

Readers of The Glass Harmonica who are interested in history might want to check out the following works:

  • Franklin, the Autobiography
  • The Devious Dr. Franklin, Colonial Agent, by David T. Morgan
  • Mozart, by Peter Gay
  • Costume 1066 – 1990’s, by John Peacock
  • English Through the Ages, by William Brohaugh; an indispensable source for writing dialogue of another age
  • London, the Novel, by Edward Rutherford

If you’re interested in musical aspects of the novel:

  • Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy, by Robert Jourdain; a marvelous book full of scientific, artistic, and historical tidbits.
  • Visit William Wilde Zeitler’s excellent web page at www.glassarmonica.com for pictures, sound bites, history, and a wealth of links.
  • The Finkenbeiner web page has lovely Sound samples of the glass harmonica. Don’t miss the exquisite fragment of “Shenandoah.”
  • Check out the Brussels Virtuosi’s recording, if you can find it, of the Mozart Flute Quartets for a lovely reading of the “Adagio in C.”

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The Terrorists of Irustan: Background and Other Interesting Notes

The Terrorists of Irustan was published in 1999, two full years before the events of September 11th. The book was, in fact, inspired by the takeover in Afghanistan by Taliban and the subsequent appalling treatment of women and girls; I was no less moved by the fate of young boys pressed into military service, and also by the effects on men whose mothers and wives and daughters lost their freedom to work and study, and move about unescorted.

The characters in The Terrorists of Irustan are not Muslim, but in preparing to write the book, I read several excellent books on Islam and the lives of women who are veiled. These are worth checking out:

  • Beyond the Veil, by Fatima Mernissi; a magnificently written work examining all sides of the issue of women who live a secluded life.
  • Nine Parts of Desire, by Geraldine Brooks; a courageous visit to the hidden world of Islamic women by a Western journalist.
  • What Everyone Should Know about Islam and Muslims, by Suzanne Haneef; a short book by an American Muslim woman explaining her feelings about the Islamic life style.

Because the world of Irustan is an analog of a Middle Eastern society, I tried to understand something of the Arab peoples and their culture.

  • A History of the Arab Peoples, by Albert Hourani; offers insights such as: ” . . . although the depiction of living forms was not explicitly forbidden by the Qur’an, most jurists, basing themselves on Hadith, held that this was an infringement of the sole power of God to creat life . . . Surfaces were covered with decoration: forms of plants and flowers . . . highly stylized . . . patterns of lines and circles . . . “
  • Tales, Hazrat Inayat Khan; teaching stories in the Sufi tradition, drawn from parables, fables, legends, and stories of prophets and saints.

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Absolom’s Mother Cover Comments

The spirit of Marley’s characters shines through darkness.

Vonda McIntyre, author of The Moon and the Sun

A compelling mix of sweet and dark informed by Marley’s signature theme, the cherished child.

Kay Kenyon, author of Bright of the Sky

The place you’re going under Louise Marley’s gifted guidance is one you’ve never been before.

It’s a revelation. And a journey you won’t want to miss.

Connie Willis, author of Passage

Absalom’s Mother is a marvelous demonstration of the human condition wrapped in science fiction….stories like these deserve the widest audience possible.

James Van Pelt, author of Summer of the Apocalypse

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