Kage Baker used to say that part of her success as a writer was that she had been privileged in the things she saw. And the people she knew.
She happily admitted that the very idea of the Operatives – brilliant, eccentric, obsessed, historical mavens that they are – was born from watching her fellow performers at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. Never has there been such a troupe of genius loonies as we were, back in the dear dim days of the 70’s and 80’s and 90’s. Doubtless every theatre troupe feels the same, but really – we were amazing. In and out of costume (though most of us were always in costume. We just had “going to the grocery store” costumes as well as courtiers and yeomanry.), day or night, before, during and after performance – Kage spent her adult life with the sort of people who usually only inhabit picaresque novels.
The ones she loved the most, she immortalized. Like the Faerie Queen stealing away a talented musician, or True Thomas, or Tamlin – Kage wrote many of her dearest friends into her Company stories. Once she had them pegged as Operatives, they tended to lead their own lives in the plot. And just as the originals always had with the directors and producers of the Faire, the Operatives based on them proceeded to run rings around their masters of the Company. And Kage. She couldn’t control them, didn’t ever want to. She just gave them immortality and let them run.
But Time has no concern for our plans. No matter how clever our bon mots, how delicious our poses and sparkling our costuming, Death has little patience and no sense of timing. He’ll yank anyone out of anything, leaving the rest of us stumbling around on the darkened stage, trying to improvise business around a sudden sucking vacuum and pick up the missing dialogue.
That’s how he got Kage.
Last night, he took another old, dear, brilliant friend. Kevin Brown … words fail me. He was a walking, talking superlative. He was funny, kind, inventive, a wide-ranging scholar for knowledge’s sweet sake alone. Kage always maintained that Kevin was one of the three people for whom she wrote In The Garden of Iden; an act of such detailed devotion that she had to re-write the entire book – trimming out most of the Latin, Greek and Aramaic – before a publisher could make sense of it.
And she used Kevin as the template for Victor: red hair, white skin, pointed beard and all. That man turned into a tragic hero over the course of the Company series, finally bringing an exquisitely crafted doom to the Plague Cabal among the Operatives. Then he went to his long sleep, armoured in virtue and honour, to sleep out the next age of the world with Arthur and Roland and Beowulf, and others men of like kidney. Also Popeye, Mr. Micawber and the Coroner of Munchkin City … Kevin was a complicated guy.
Last night, I dreamed of Kage. I was bustling around like a hen on her way to the chopping bloc, trying to get a beer, a bathroom break and an Inn built, all at once. I saw Kage come and sit down on the edge of the pre-Faire chaos, and I was so amazed and relieved and grateful to see her – I ran over and threw my arms around her, wanting to know how she had come back, if she would stay, how long? And Kage told me she was only passing through, that she had an errand to run.
“I’m taking this kid home, ” she told me. And I saw she was with a small, red-haired boy. He was wearing a styrofoam pith helmet, and clinging to Kage’s hand.
I have never had a dream like that before, not in all my life. But though I’m unfamiliar with portents and visitations, I can sure as hell see them when they come up and sit down beside me.
Good journey, Mr. Brown. Your going tears holes in what’s left of my heart, but you have a good guide.