Once in a wood by a great city there lived a family of foxes. The head of the family, who wore the guise of lady or gentleman or other as the whim took them, had a splendid collection of jewels given to them by any number of human lovers. The younger foxes of the family studied this art of seduction diligently, not because foxes have any use for human baubles, but because the baubles they received from their lovers were an essential component in the game known as “human-fishing.” Any number of humans could be lured into the wood for further pranks by the strategic placement of necklaces, rings, crowns; and from that point on they could be entangled in fox spells and fox riddles for endless hours of entertainment.
The magician’s son crouched over the wooden horse that his father had made for them. The two of them had sneaked out when the night drew down over tower and shore and sea like a blanket sewn bright with comets and constellations and the ebbing crescent of the moon. They had listened so carefully for the downwards footsteps of the magician, and of his great yawn (he had a very loud yawn), and the quiet that indicated, they hoped, that he had curled up in bed with one of his books.
Once upon an oceantide, there lived a sea witch. Her home was not upon shore or cliff, but in a cup of woven kelp that had a tendency to drift. To deal with this, she had fashioned an anchor of crowns and bracelets linked together with chainmail belts and the indestructible tresses of long-haired princes. This freed her up to deal with important things, like herding clownfish (clownfish were very time-consuming that way, excellent hobby) and knitting moonlight/North Wind fiber blend whenever she needed a new sweater.
The court of the dogs met in a pack, in a circle in woods at the edge of the world where the night falls off into distances of infinite wild smells: pine, and water ever-running, and that sharp unshadowy tang of borders unbraided. There were huskies pale-eyed, and tall stern poodles, and German shepherds, and other dogs besides, including a beagle with his tricolor coat. Although the velvet blackness was pierced through with stars and stirred with luminous nebular drifts, there was no moon.
The conqueror king was always hungry, that was what they said. He had a high crown of beaten gold savage-bright with charnel rubies and spinels and garnets, the roast browns of deep amber and hard-edged topaz. He had robes of prickly brocade lined with the furs of rare animals: the boar with involute tusks, the crested stag, even the black-and-gold leopard that spoke prophecies at the turning of the year. (That last he only wore for religious occasions.)
Lia found the ghost in the shards of the mirror. It was a shadowed ragged thing, hair hanging in its eyes except for the missing patch that took out most of its left eye (right eye? she had trouble with that sometimes) and part of its forehead. Nice hair, too, dark with a hint of ripple in it, water-silky. She liked to think that, anyway.
They hadn’t left him very good ink. It would have to do. Still, when he tilted the bottle back and forth, he noticed the slight sediment, and sighed. Well, it wasn’t as though he expected to get much more use out of this fountain pen anyway, with its cap-band that rotated round and round, and the slight brassing of the clip, and the worrying rattle it sometimes made.
The woman had not chosen to be in the tower. They had taken her sword away from her, and her bow, and even her boots. They hadn’t been very good boots, that was a given when you were a soldier, but they had been better than nothing at all. (She could have insisted on better boots, given who she was, but that would have been cheating.)
She is not an angel, but angels visit her workshop. Some are crowned in light from the universe’s first exhalation. Others come with swords forged from final kisses, and still others bring wine pressed from ripe stars. (Angels have indifferent palates, but she is kind enough not to tell them so.)
The horses that plunge through the waterways between the cities of heaven and the citadels of hell are wild of eye and white of mane. No one rides them. In times past they have trampled armies and thundered down brave fortresses, and every hoofmark fills with dead water. They leave behind them a trail of sodden smoke and equations tearing themselves into constituent constants and shadows that chatter in the language of untimely gifts.