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Gathers nineteen stories by Stephen R. Donaldson, Terry Pratchett, Robert Silverberg, John Brunner, Andre Norton, Peter S. Beagle, Mike Resnick, Barry N. Malzberg, and Gregory Benford
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Martin H. Greenberg received the Ellery Queen Award for editing in the mystery field. He published more than nine hundred anthologies and collections in the fields of mystery, science fiction, fantasy and horror. He lived in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Greenberg died in 2011.
Stephen R. Donaldson, Peter S. Beagle, Andrew Nortong, Terry Pratchett, Robert Silverberg, Judith Tarr, Gregory Benford, Jane Yolen, Poul and Karen Anderson, Mike Resnick, Emma Bull, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, John Brunner, Harry Turtledove, Dennis L. McKiernan, Karen Haber, Barry M. Malzberg, and Charles de Lint contribute to this dazzling anthology.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
After the King
Reave the Just Stephen R. Donaldson
Of all the strange, unrelenting stories which surrounded Reave the Just, none expressed his particular oddness of character better than that concerning his kinsman, Jillet of Forebridge. Part of the oddness was this--that Reave and Jillet were so unlike each other that the whole idea of their kinship became difficult to credit. Let it be said without prejudice that Jillet was an amiable fool. No one who was not amiable would have been loved by the cautious people of Forebridge--and Jillet was loved, of that there could be no doubt. Otherwise the townsfolk would never have risked the unpredictable and often spectacular consequences of sending for Reave, merely to inform him that Jillet had disappeared. And no one who was not a fool would have gotten himself into so much trouble with Kelven Divestulata that Kelven felt compelled to dispose of him. In contrast, neither Reave's enemies--of which his exploits had attracted a considerable number--nor his friends would have described him as amiable. Doubtless there were villages across the North Counties, towns perhaps, possibly a city or two, where Reave the Just was admired, even adulated: Forebridge was not among them. His decisions were too wild,his actions too unremitting, to meet the chary approval of the farmers and farriers, millers and masons who had known Jillet from birth. Like a force of nature, he was so far beyond explanation that people had ceased trying to account for him. Instead of wondering why he did what he did--or how he got away with it--the men and women of Forebridge asked themselves how such an implausible individual chanced to be kinsman to Jillet, who was himself only implausible in the degree to which likable character was combined with unreliable judgment. In fact, no one knew for certain that Reave and Jillet were related. Just recently, Jillet had upon occasion referred to Reave as, "Reave the Just, my kinsman." That was the true extent of the information available in Forebridge. Nothing more was revealed on the subject. In an effort to supply the lack, rumor or gossip suggested that Jillet's mother's sister, a woman of another town altogether, had fallen under the seduction of a carnival clown with delusions of grandeur--or, alternatively, of a knight errant incognito--and had given Reave a bastard birth under some pitiful hedgerow, or perhaps in some nameless nunnery, or conceivably in some lord's private bedchamber. But how the strains of blood which could produce Reave had been so entirely suppressed in Jillet, neither rumor nor gossip knew. Still it must have been true that Reave and Jillet were related. When Reave was summoned in Jillet's name, he came. By the time Reave arrived, however, Jillet was beyond knowing whether anyone valued him enough to tell his kinsman what had become of him. How he first began to make his way along the road to Kelven's enmity was never clearly known. Very well, he was a fool, as all men knew--but how had he become enmeshed in folly on this scale? A few bad bargains with usurers were conceivable. A few visits to the alchemists and mages who fed on the fringes of towns like Forebridge throughout the North Counties were conceivable, in fact hardly to be wondered at, especially when Jillet was at the painful age where he was old enough. to want a woman's love but too young to know how to get it. A few minor and ultimately forgettable feuds born of competition for trade or passion were not only conceivable but normal. Had not men and women been such small and harmless fools always? The folk of Forebridge might talk of such matters endlessly, seeking to persuade themselves that they were wiser. But who among them would have hazarded himself against Kelven Divestulata? Indeed, who among them had not at one time or anothersuspected that Kelven was Satan Himself, thinly disguised by swarthy flesh and knotted muscle and wiry beard? What in the name of all the saints had possessed Jillet to fling himself into such deep waters? The truth--which no one in Forebridge ever divined--was that Jillet brought his doom down on his own head by the simple expedient of naming himself Reave's kinsman. It came about in this fashion. In his early manhood, Jillet fell victim to an amiable, foolish, and quite understandable passion for the widow Huchette. Before his death, Rudolph Huchette had brought his new bride--foreign, succulent, and young--to live in the manor-house now occupied by Kelven Divestulata, thinking that by keeping her far from the taints and sophistication of the cities he could keep her pure. Sadly for him, he did not live long enough after settling in Forebridge to learn that his wife was pure by nature and needed no special protection. And of course the young men of the town knew nothing of her purity. They only knew that she was foreign, young, and bereaved, imponderably delicious. Jillet's passion was only one among many, ardent and doomed. The widow Huchette asked only of the God who watched over innocence that she be left alone. Needless to say, she was not. Realistically considered, the only one of her admirers truly capable of disturbing her was dour Kelven. When she spurned his advances, he laid siege to her with all the cunning bitterness of his nature. Over the course of many months, he contrived to install himself in the manor-house which Rudolph had intended as her lifelong home; he cut off her avenues of escape so that her only recourse was to accept the drudgery of being his housekeeper since she steadfastly refused the grim honor of being his wife. And even there he probably had the best of her, since he was no doubt perfectly capable of binding and raping her to satisfy his admiration. However, Jillet and the other men enamored of the widow did not consider her circumstances--and their own--realistically. As men in passion will, they chose to believe that they themselves were the gravest threat to her detachment. Blind to Kelven's intentions, Jillet and his fellow fools went about in a fog of schemes, dreaming of ways to persuade her to reveal her inevitable preference for themselves. However, Jillet carried this scheming further than most--but by no means all--of his peers. Perhaps because of his amiability--or perhaps because he was foolish--he was not ordinarily successful in competitions over women. His face and form were goodly enough, and his brown eyes showed pleasure as openly as any man's. His kindness and cheery temper endeared him throughout Forebridge. But he lacked forthrightness, self-assertion; he lacked the qualities which inspired passion. As with women everywhere, those of Forebridge valued kindness; they were fond of it; but they did not surrender their virtue to it. They preferred heroes--or rogues. So when Jillet first conceived his passion for the widow Huchette, he was already accustomed to the likelihood that he would not succeed. Like Kelven Divestulata after the first year or so of the widow's bereavement--although no one in Forebridge knew at the time what Kelven was doing--Jillet prepared a siege. He was not wise enough to ask himself, Why am I not favored in the beds of women? What must I learn in order to make myself desirable? How may I rise above the limitations which nature has placed upon me? Instead, he asked, Who can help me with this woman? His answer had already occurred to a handful of his brighter, but no less foolish, fellows. In consequence, he was no better than the fifth or sixth man of Forebridge to approach the best-known hedgerow alchemist in the County, seeking a love-potion. According to some authorities, the chief distinction between alchemists and mages was that the former had more opportunities for charlatanism, at less hazard. Squires and earls consulted mages: plowmen and cotters, alchemists. Certainly, the man whom Jillet approached was a charlatan. He admitted as much freely in the company of folk who were wise enough not to want anything from him. But he would never have revealed the truth about himself to one such as Jillet. Charlatan or not, however, he was growing weary of this seemingly endless sequence of men demanding love-potions against the widow Huchette. One heartsick swain by the six-month or so may be profitably bilked. Three may be a source of amusement. But five or six in a season was plainly tedious. And worrisome as well: even Forebridge was capable of recognizing charlatanism when five or six love-potions failed consecutively. "Go home," the alchemist snapped when he had been told what Jillet wanted. "The ingredients for the magick you require are arduous and expensive to obtain. I cannot satisfy you." But Jillet, who could not have put his hand on five farthings at that moment, replied, "I care nothing for the price. I will pay whatever is needed." The dilemma of cost had never entered his head, but he was certain it could be resolved. The widow Huchette had gold enough, after all. His confidence presented an entirely different dilemma to the alchemist. It was not in the nature of charlatans to refuse money. And yet too many love-potions had already been dispensed. If Providence did not inspire the widow to favor one of the first four or five men, the alchemist's reputation--and therefore his income--would be endangered. Perhaps even his person would be endangered. Seeking to protect himself, the alchemist named a sum which should have stunned any son of a cotter. Jillet was not stunned. Any sum was acceptable, since he had no prospect of ever paying it himself. "Very well," he said comfortably. Then, because he wished to believe in his own cleverness, he added, "But if the potion does not succeed, you will return that sum with interest." "Oh, assuredly," replied the alchemist, who found that he could not after all refuse money. "All of my magicks succeed, or I will know the reason why. Return tomorrow. Bring your gold then." He closed his door so that Jillet would not have a chance to change his mind. Jillet walked home musing to himself. Now that he had time to consider the matter, he found that he had placed himself in an awkward position. True, the love of the widow Huchette promised to be a valuable investment--but it was an investment only, not coin. The alchemist would require coin. In fact, the coin was required in order to obtain the investment. And Jillet had no coin, not on the scale the alchemist had mentioned. The truth was that he had never laid mortal eyes on that scale of coin. And he had no prospects which might be stretched to that scale, no skills which could earn it, no property which could be sold for it. Where could a man like Jillet of Forebridge get so much money? Where else? Congratulating himself on his clarity of wit, Jillet went to the usurers. He had had no dealings with usurers heretofore. But he had heard rumors. Some such "lenders" were said to be more forgiving than others, less stringent in their demands. Well, Jillet had no need of anyone'sforgiveness; but he felt a natural preference for men with amiable reputations. From the honest alchemist, he went in search of an amiable usurer. Unfortunately, amiable, forgiving usurers had so much kindness in their natures because they could afford it; and they could afford it because their investments were scantly at risk: they demanded collateral before hazarding coin. This baffled Jillet more than a little. The concept of collateral he could understand--just--but he could not understand why the widow Huchette did not constitute collateral. He would use the money to pay the alchemist; the alchemist would give him a love-potion; the potion would win the widow; and from the widow's holdings the usurer would be paid. Where was the fallacy in all this? The usurer himself had no difficulty detecting the fallacy. More in sorrow than in scorn, he sent Jillet away. Other "lenders" were similarly inclined. Only their pity varied, not their rejection. Well, thought Jillet, I will never gain the widow without assistance. I must have the potion. So he abandoned his search for an amiable usurer and committed himself, like a lost fish, to swim in murkier waters. He went to do business with the kind of moneylender who despised the world because he feared it. This moneylender feared the world because his substance was always at risk; and his substance was always at risk because he required no collateral. All he required was a fatal return on his investment. "One fifth!" Jillet protested. The interest sounded high, even to him. "No other lender in Forebridge asks so much." "No other lender in Forebridge," wheezed the individual whose coin was endangered, "risks so much." True, thought Jillet, giving the man his due. And after all one fifth was only a number. It would not amount to much, if the widow were won swiftly. "Very well," he replied calmly. "As you say, you ask no collateral. And my prospects cannot fail. One fifth in a year is not too much to pay for what I will gain, especially"--he cleared his throat in a dignified fashion, for emphasis--"since I will only need the use of your money for a fortnight at most." "A year?" The usurer nearly burst a vessel. "You will return me one fifth a week on my risk, or you can beg coin of fools like yourself, for you will get none from me!" One fifth in a week. Perhaps for a moment Jillet was indeed stunned. Perhaps he went so far as to reconsider the course he had chosen. One fifth in a week, each and every week--And what if the potion failed? Or if it was merely slow? He would never be able to pay that first one fifth, not to mention the second or the third--and certainly not the original sum itself. Why, it was ruinous. But then it occurred to him that one fifth, or two fifths, or twenty would make no difference to the wealth of the widow Huchette. And he would be happy besides, basking in the knowledge of a passion virtuously satisfied. On that comfortable assumption, he agreed to the usurer's terms. The next day, laden with a purse containing more gold than he had ever seen in his life, Jillet of Forebridge returned to the alchemist. By this time, the alchemist was ready for him. The essence of charlatanism was cunning, and the alchemist was nothing if not an essential charlatan. He had taken the measure of his man--as well as of his own circumstances--and had determined his response. First, of course, he counted out Jillet's gold, testing the coins with spurious powders and honest teeth. He produced a few small fires and explosions, purely for effect: like most of his ilk, he could be impressive when he wished. Then he spoke. "Young man, you are not the first to approach me for a potion in this matter. You are merely the first"--he hefted the purse--"to place such value on your object. Therefore I must give you a magick able to supersede all others--a magick not only capable of attaining its end, but in fact of doing so against the opposition of a--number--of intervening magicks. This is a rare and dangerous enterprise. For it to succeed, you must not only trust it entirely, but also be bold in support of it. "Behold!" The alchemist flourished his arms to induce more fires and explosions. When an especially noxious fume had cleared, he held in his palm a leather pouch on a thong. "I will be plain," said the alchemist, "for it will displease me gravely if magick of such cost and purity fails because you do not do your part. This periapt must be worn about your neck, con...
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