In the course of every great adventure there are multiple side-quests. All too often these go unreported—perhaps because the adventurers in question fail to return to the main narrative due to death or other distractions, and sometimes because the chronicler of the events decides to edit out that part of that particular history for reasons of their own (historians are never infallible)—but occasionally we get another window into our heroes’ world.
In Juice Like Wounds we once again get to meet Lundy, and some of her companions. Lundy’s main adventure is detailed in In an Absent Dream (which is nominated for a Hugo Award, this year!) and you should definitely read that. Before or after this tale is up to you.
Remember: Side quests are fun.
For the reader, at least…
This is the story of three girls who went into the woods together, and the two girls who came out the other side. I tell you this so that you will know, even from the beginning, that to become overly attached is only to do yourself a profound and primeval harm. Stories are weapons, you see. All stories. Some are swords and some are cudgels, but all of them can hurt you, if you allow it. If you give them the space they need to twist and wriggle in your hands, becoming something other than friendly, becoming something other than tame. All stories are weapons, and children’s stories are doubly so, for children have not yet learned how to be careful.
Where there is a wood filled with monsters, there will be need for heroes; where there is need for heroes, there will be children who think their hands are perfectly shaped to hold a sword, that their throats are protected by the armor of their virtue, that the immortality every babe is born believing is theirs extends even to the dark places where serpents dwell. The places where shadows whisper lies to any ear willing to listen. And where there are children who know, without a doubt, that the monsters exist, and that there must be a quest in the fullness of time.
Time is never as full as it seems when clutching the vessel, when measuring the drinking of it with our eyes. Time always runs out before anyone is ready, before every cup is full.
Three girls who would be heroes; three girls with stars in their eyes and stories in their hearts, fatted like calves on tales of heroism, believing themselves invulnerable, immortal, imbued with the purity and purpose of all the heroes who had come before them; three girls too young to ask the essential question of what, precisely, had become of all those glorious heroes, if they were gone and the wood still stood, its deepest shadows still filled to bursting with monsters. When children see a story left unfinished, they tend not to ask what happened to leave it in that state: They rush, instead, to finish it.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Three girls: Let us take a moment to meet them.
The youngest of them was also the wildest, and had lived in the place they called the Market for as long as she could remember. For her, the Market was mother and father both, was comfort at the end of a hard day and laughter at the end of a soft one. She did not know how old she was, although the adults who moved around her said that she was no more than seven, all long gangling limbs and wild, uncontrolled motion. Her skin was pale beneath an ever-present shell of grime, and hair was long, brown, and often uncombed, making a home for twigs, leaves, and small brown feathers banded with black. The feathers grew from her scalp, although it could be difficult to tell just by looking at them, and they matched her owl-orange eyes, making her eventual nature clear for anyone to see. She had never been given a name by anyone with the authority to grant her one, and so had taken a name for herself, stealing it from the white-faced rabbit that watched her from the sky every night when the sun went down. “Moon,” she called herself, and “Moon,” the Market called her, and Moon she was.
The eldest of them was also the bravest, and had come from the farthest away, tumbling through a series of doors, from world to world, looking for a place where she could be kept and comfortable. She would not speak of the world where her story started, nor who might have been waiting there for her return; as far as she was concerned, those people had passed into another tale as soon as she had opened a door that didn’t exist in the side of a stone mountain, slipping through it without hesitation. Her skin was only a few shades paler than Moon’s hair, and her own hair was black as molasses, which made the long silver-white feathers that tangled there all the more striking. More feathers lay flat and quiet against her shoulder blades, concealed by her clothing and disregarded, for she was young enough not to be concerned about taking to the skies. Or perhaps that was simply her swan’s nature showing through even while she was still more than half a girl. Her name had been left behind, on the other side of one of her many doors, but the people of the Market called her “Mockery” with no cruelty in their hearts. If she was a cruel word, she was their cruel word.