Kage Baker loved summer storms. Their rarity was a big factor, of course – we don’t get many, here in California; less even than few, here in the south where we grew up.
But today, here on the edges of the Hollywood Hills and Griffith Park, it’s relatively cool and thinking of maybe raining. It’s 75 degrees and 75% humidity; rain wrack has been scudding across the sky all day, and the wind is rising. Thunderheads are breeding in the east, looking over the mountains like contemplative genies. The air smells of something wild and strange, green and grey, that might be rain …
Kage would have loved this. In Pismo, we would have a fairly good expectation of lightning later, out over the sea and the dunes: white-bronze sword blades quenching themselves in the Pacific, and blowing up all the transformers out in the dark vegetable fields of Nipomo. Though Kage always maintained those were caused by UFOS, because of the constant reports of weird lights cruising above the rows of cabbages and radicchio.
Here in the Basin, we’ll be lucky to glimpse a flicker of light on the hills that run east behind Pasadena; we’ll be downright blessed to get a few fat, hot drops of rain. Kimberly is still tenderly hand-watering her new lawn three times a day, and would dance in glee if even a little rain fell – she, like Kage, always feels that water from the sky, even just trace amounts, will guarantee the life of a garden.
“In thunder weather, when the sky was lead.” That was how Kage described the birth of the Dread Gard, the Arch-demon Mage of her Anvil universe. It was in just such weather as today that the lovers go up the hill, Ran helping Teliva, who is pregnant with a strange future. And when they come back down, doomed Gard is on one of Teliva’s arms, and doomed Ranwyr is on the other. (Kage felt strongly that family was at the root of most people’s problems.)
She usually celebrated Gard’s birthday during the first few days of August – when the weather brewed up some rumour of a storm, or the air got that weird green glass lustre … she would declare it his natal celebration, recite the first few paragraphs of what eventually become The House of the Stag; and we’d toast Gard in red wine all evening. Strong red wine and sweets – somewhere along the line, the Dread Gard developed a sweet tooth, and so Kage always indulged that on his birthday. Something with lots of cream and custard and fresh fruit, usually, to honor his yendri inheritance as well. Somewhere else along the line, she had decided that Gard – unless constrained by slavery or the professional demands of sorcery – was a vegetarian …
Weird times in our household, to be sure. But always with an excuse for a party.
You know, it’s a very peculiar thing, but for the first 30 years that I knew Gard’s story, I thought that line about his birth weather was “In thunder weather, when the sky was red”. That was because it was in Kage’s appalling handwriting, and she wrote it only the once, in water-soluble Higgins black ink on erasable typing paper. And as it sat and oxidized, and the ink turned unlikely shades of lavender and pewter, and the paper went transparent where the water in the ink vaporized and sweated away in a diffuse halo of silver around each letter … well, it never got easier to read. So I thought for 30 years that Gard was born when a summer storm cast eldritch colours on the thunderheads, unnatural decoration for the birth of a sorcerer.
Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be lead. In Times New Roman, no less. I had to re-imagine the entire scene to look more like today, and less like Morgan plundering Chagres.
Life’s funny that way. Storms, too. Especially this time of year, in thunder weather, when the sky is lead.
In the middle of the night last night, we had some excellent thunder and lightning, and even a few five-minute spates of rain, so I’ll happily celebrate Dread Gard’s birthday today.