Kage Baker, as I have often said, left me notes.
Some of them are little snapshots of shopping trips 20 years old, her neat calligraphied script detailing old menus and sudden cravings – oh, God, that summer where we compulsively poured George Washington Brand Bechamel Sauce over everything! Some are packing lists for Faire weekends (4 pairs of socks, my bollocks knife, ink bottle, rum). But some are notes on stories. And some are rather more than just notes.
I keep finding pages of stories. None of them are complete, and most are very old; ideas that ran through Kage’s mind one day and were recorded for as long as she had time to spare. Others are just cryptic outlines – quartz focuses mental energy. Migraines, weak mind, bad control? Find out about Salvia Divinorum. Throw this note away! But she never did, because she couldn’t throw things away, and it has risen to my hand over the last year like a tickled trout in a quiet stream.
Some of the notes are fortified by years – decades – of conversation in my memory. Some are on topics I barely remember. Some are flat-out surprises, or something Kage used for something utterly else over the years. I’ve begun piecing some of them together – a Mars story, the Sad Tale of the Stupid Little Nuns (that’s what Kage actually called it), recollected scraps of the legends on which she built her own worlds.
Like the Fog King.
And since Tom and Margaret asked, here’s how one of them begins. Surprise!
The Lacquers of Axe Bay had been Runners for 7 generations.
Lots of girls came to the profession from orphanages or broken families; it was the sort of industry that acquired unwanted little girls. Runners said, referring to the lean, small-breasted physique that best typified them, that they were the orphans with no tits: girls with big breasts tended to end up in other sorts of Houses. But every city and every Mother House had its born aristocracy, as well – families that bred for long legs and stamina and good memories, matriarchies of news agents and couriers. They took lovers but no husbands, and sent their sons to be athletes, dancers and caravan-masters.
The Lacquers were like that. Even their short, plump, absent-minded daughters went into the trade, running Mother Houses instead of the red roads. Someone needed to keep the books and contracts, order the House, and oversee the Rose Gardens. Those were the training barracks attached to every Mother House.
The Rose Gardens grew runners. They grew girls strong and clever, but especially fast. And the flowers in the Rose Gardens grew thorns, too: they learned to use the long razors that were worn under sleeves, and to kick a man’s heart out through his back. Those arts were only taught by Runners, to Runners, in the safety of the Mother House. They were the great secrets that let women quarter the land from one coast to the other, swift and unmolested. There was always a Lacquer on the staff that trained girls to use the Thorns.
The Rose Gardens ranged from the nurseries where the babies slept, to the permanent rooms that graduated Runners kept at the Mother House. Some women took private dwellings, and families like the Lacquers had great houses of their own. But all the training was done at the Mother House, and so every Runner knew what it was like to live in the long halls and time her life to the hour-bells in the House’s tower. Under the Discipline, they called it.
Wenekla Lacquer’s older sisters had tried to scare her with it when she was very young. They would troop home every evening – the Lacquer daughters were usually day students – and impress their little sisters with warnings of the hard work and exhausting training that awaited them. They told horror stories about the rigours and dangers of the road. They sparred in the front hall, with whirling kicks and salmon leaps, swinging the little girls around at arm’s length like shrieking kites, knocking over chairs and kicking vases off the shelves.
“They come home for dinner because they’re like wild cattle,” one of the Many Aunts would grumble when the tide of girls arrived. “They eat too much and they stampede everywhere! The Mother House won’t have them!””
“Oh, Auntie-Momma, you know you love us,” they would protest, and roar off to the dining room with the smaller girls tumbling like bubbles in their wake. The Aunt would pluck up whatever little sister had been abandoned by the tide – Wenakla, like as not, who was a small child – and follow after them, abjuring Wenakla: “You’ll be a better girl when you go to the Sisters, won’t you?”
Wenekla always promised she would. She could hardly wait to go.