Chrysantheby Yves Meynard
Christine, the princess and heir to the real world of Chrysanthe, is kidnapped as a small child by a powerful magician and exiled in a Made World that is a version of our present reality. In exile, supervised by her strict "uncle"(actually a wizard in disguise), she undergoes bogus memory recovery therapy, through which she is forced to remember childhood rape and
Christine, the princess and heir to the real world of Chrysanthe, is kidnapped as a small child by a powerful magician and exiled in a Made World that is a version of our present reality. In exile, supervised by her strict "uncle"(actually a wizard in disguise), she undergoes bogus memory recovery therapy, through which she is forced to remember childhood rape and abuse by her parents and others. She is terribly stunted emotionally by this terrifying plot, but at seventeen discovers it is all a lie. Christine escapes with a rescuer, Sir Quentin, a knight from Chrysanthe, in a thrilling chase across realities.
Once home, the magical standoff caused by her exile is broken, and a war begins, in spite of the best efforts of her father, the king, and his wizard, Melogian. And that war, which takes up nearly the last third of the work, is a marvel of magical invention and terror, a battle between good and evil forces that resounds with echoes of the great battles of fantasy literature.
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“Elegantly written and immensely enjoyable…pure delight.” Cleveland Plain Dealer on Book of Knights
“Here is literary alchemy of the highest order, resulting in seamless Art.” Terence M. Green, author of Shadow of Ashland on Book of Knights
“The author's lyrical style accentuates…this intensely compact tale of self-discovery. Transcending the fantasy genre, this novel belongs in most libraries.” Library Journal on Book of Knights
“A coming-of-age tale of a young man desperate to become a knight. Meynard's writing is deft, creating evocative imagery with the simplest language.” Publishers Weekly on Book of Knights
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By Yves Meynard
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2012 Yves Meynard
All rights reserved.
A Make-believe Princess
"Once upon a time," came Tap Fullmoon's voice, "there was a little princess named Christine who lived with her uncle."
Christine burrowed her head deeper into her pillow, cold where the fabric was still wet with her tears. She shut her eyes tight and strove to imagine the princess in her castle. She saw her wearing a gown full of ruffles and ribbons, with stars — real stars yet, not foil cutouts, but actual lights, dazzling bright, silver and gold — somehow sewn to it. She lived in a big castle full of friends and treasures, and everyone had to call her "milady." A tear leaked from beneath her left eye and crossed the bridge of her nose before it was drunk by the pillowcase.
The princess Christine had no mother; her mother was long dead and she had never seen her. She had a father, a tall man with a beard both black and white, but Christine couldn't imagine him as more than a distant presence, a figure seen from the corner of the eye. Still she missed him and wept for him, but so long had he been gone from her life that her tears were more reflex than grief. And though she wrapped the princess dream about her every night, clung to it with desperate energy, she did so as a token of what she had lost, and no longer as a hope of escape.
She cried herself asleep every night, and cried when she awoke. She didn't sob, not anymore; when the tears had run their course she would knuckle the dampness away and rise from bed. Tap Fullmoon would be sitting on her chair facing the desk; he'd smile at her, consoling, his great big front teeth catching the morning light from the window. It gave her the strength to go about her day.
Daddy had been taken away when she was four, one-third of her life ago. She had lived in a different place then, a wonderful place that she couldn't recall precisely; not as nice as the castle in her daydream, surely, but still a source of delight. There had been many people, all of them nice to her. Her memories faded away swiftly as they reached into the past. It was like when she wet a brush on a disc of paint and smeared color across paper; the bright, full tint bleeding away into whiteness. If she closed her eyes for a long time and concentrated, she could bring some images to mind. People dressed in dark clothes bending down to talk to her, somewhere in a vast room full of shiny things, where pale blue marble statues ranked themselves along the walls. A plump woman wearing a wimple; her dress was red as wine, and stray strands of graying hair framed her face with its high cheekbones; but Christine could not recall anything else of her features, nor could she say who the woman was in relation to her. Walking along a cobbled street, the way her ankles flexed at every new stone, so that she found herself climbing up at one moment and down at the next. She had had to be careful, and someone with her, another woman, had held her hand with great care, hovering behind her to prevent her from falling. One memory that must have been only a dream she'd once had: a landscape covered with flowers, so many flowers, growing bigger than people, in a dazzle of purple and yellow. And a few pale impressions of Daddy. A tall thin man, with a long head, a long straight nose. Being in his arms; the warm wetness of a kiss on her neck and the terrible tickle of his beard.
When she was four, something had happened, something she couldn't recall, a great wrenching upheaval in her life that had come upon her without any forewarning. She had traveled away from the place where she had always lived and she had come here, to live with Uncle. This place was all gray and dull, and very small. She hadn't minded that so much, because she herself was so little still that in a way she preferred a world more to her own size. But Daddy wasn't here, and that was terribly, terribly wrong. In the beginning, she'd asked again and again where her daddy was; every time, Uncle told her Daddy was gone forever and she'd never see him again. She knew what death was, because Mommy was dead, so she'd ask if Daddy was dead. Uncle would grow angry then. No, Daddy was not dead. He was gone. Just gone. And Christine should forget about him.
Many of her questions made him angry; especially so when she mentioned the land of her birth and asked why things were so different here. Uncle had had to correct her, time and again, because she kept making things up. Now that she was six she understood better the difference between imagination and reality; back then she hadn't, and had invented things that couldn't be true, angering Uncle when she put forth her fantasies as fact.
She must have conjured up these wild stories because her mind couldn't hold on to the memories of her first few years: They'd poured out, leaving only their dregs behind. Just enough to make Christine yearn for an unattainable past. Most often it was in dreams that she recalled them; she would awake with a start, a scrap of remembrance clear in her mind. She knew with all her heart it was a true memory, and yet it would be a random image stripped of most of its meaning: It might as easily have been a dream. Towering walls of foliage, covered in blooms; a dizzying perspective of receding corridors striped blue and brown; a cascade of shining objects pouring into her lap yet somehow devoid of any weight; an intricate geometric landscape that must have been the pattern of a carpet she had gazed at from very close to the ground. Fragments of a life lost to the dim past of a few years back.
She no longer tried to connect these scraps together, to invent towering edifices of imagination to justify them; she merely kept them as safe as she could in the recesses of her child's brain, and focused on the world where she lived now, which was, as Uncle never tired of repeating, the real world, and the only one that mattered.
She did remember clearly what had come just after the change; she recalled that at first, she'd been terribly unhappy. She wanted her Daddy back, she wanted everything back as it was, with a fierce intensity. She would sob and wail for hours. Back then she must still have been able to remember how things had been before, but soon she must have started to forget, to fill the gaps in her memory with invention. Now that her memories had faded away, now that she had also forgotten the inventions that had so annoyed Uncle, she wasn't as sad anymore. And there was Tap Fullmoon to console her: her faithful companion and succorer in hard times. It felt as if he'd always been there, though there must have been a time when he wasn't. Tap was a little white rabbit who stood on two legs and talked. He didn't look like a real rabbit; he was more like a cartoon in some ways, or maybe a puppet.
No one but her could see Tap; she was well aware of this and made sure not to tell anyone about him. She never asked that a place be set for him at the table, never protested when people sat in a chair he had been occupying. For Tap Fullmoon was clever, and fast, and did not need to eat. He scurried out from under people's rears in the twinkling of an eye; he never talked when other people were speaking, never did anything that might have made Christine betray his existence.
It was mostly at night that he talked to her, when she lay in bed with the lights out, head buried in her pillow. His voice wasn't what one might have expected. It wasn't a high-pitched, accelerated cartoonlike voice, but rather the voice of a young man, a light tenor. He would say, "Don't worry, my princess, one day things will be better for you. Hope and trust, trust and hope. Old magics are at work to free you. Don't despair."
It was nice of him to play the pretend game, that she was really a princess, and not just little Christine whose mother was dead and whose father had been taken away from her for reasons beyond her understanding. She played the game because it made her feel special, made her believe the path of her life would eventually extend into sunnier climes. Sometimes just as she fell into sleep she felt herself enter her princess dream, and it rose about her in a blaze of glory, like the fulfillment of a thousand immemorial promises, like an answer to every question ever asked. But come the morning, there would only be tears left.
* * *
Uncle was a balding, stout man with a temper, whose face went an incredible shade of crimson at least twice a week. Now that she was more grown-up, no longer such a little girl as she had once been, Christine was almost never the cause of these flare-ups anymore; and the few times she did get him mad he calmed down almost immediately and apologized. He said he understood she was still a child and didn't know any better. His real flashes of anger were caused by his many conversations: Uncle was a businessman, which meant that he went to work every morning in his office, where there was a telephone. He spent most of the day talking into the mouthpiece, and this made him rich. Every so often people would come to the house and deliver some new piece of furniture, painting, or small trinket she would be allowed to look at once but never touch.
Sometimes, but more rarely, they brought a toy for Christine. She didn't always like the toys, but mostly they were nice. Her favorite was a doll, a thin plastic Jessica with hair down to her buttocks. You were supposed to be able to cut and style it, but she never dared use scissors on it. There was something about its silken length that felt inviolable. She played quietly with it, whispering the things Jessica said to other, invisible, doll persons. Often Tap would play with her too, and he whispered what the other dolls said. They made up stories that Jessica lived out: Sometimes she was an explorer, or a singer, or a scientist inventing exotic potions and eldritch rays.
At first Christine would spend her days playing aimlessly (not outside, though, never outside, except on special occasions when Uncle would go out to "take the sun in," which meant he would lie down on a canvas chair and go to sleep, while Imelda, the woman who came in every day to cook and clean, would watch Christine with a bored expression). Then, not long after her sixth birthday, she was told she would have to go to school in the fall. She was scared of school, and said so. Uncle got angry, not crimson-faced angry, but angry enough, and said everyone had to go to school; he'd done it himself, and it had made him rich. Christine asked if school would teach her to use the telephone then, and Uncle's face started to flush pink. "Don't mock me, child," he said (when he called her "child" it meant she'd done something stupid). "You'll start attending as soon as the school year starts. It's time you made friends; you're old enough by now."
Christine, not wanting to push her luck, just nodded in silence. That night, when she went to bed, the tears came, as automatic, almost as meaningless, as when her bladder voided itself.
"Tap," she whispered. The rabbit bounded on the bed, cocked his head to look at her from closer up. His eyes were big and shining blue, even when the room was dark.
"Don't worry, my princess," he began.
"Uncle said I'm going to go to school in the fall. What will it be like?"
"Why, I think it will be a good thing," he said, surprising her. "You getting out of the house! Isn't that something nice?"
"But what could there be outside? I mean, other people ... I don't know what they'll do."
Tap was silent a long moment. Then, "What could they do to you that's worse than what's already happened?" he asked in his light tenor voice, and Christine could not find an answer. The next morning, as she woke, she found she wasn't crying anymore.
* * *
Come Seventh Month, school was not so horrible as she'd feared. She didn't have to walk there; a man who worked for Uncle took her there in a car and dropped her off in front of the building, which was built of nice red bricks and had wooden trimming around the windows. She had taken Jessica with her in her bag, not telling anyone, hoping for some comfort from the doll. When she entered the classroom and filed to her desk, though her heart pounded from the proximity of so many people, she found she could stand it. And then she felt a silken touch on her bare knee and had to stifle a gasp of astonishment: Tap Fullmoon had followed her to school. He winked at her and whispered from the corner of his mouth, "Surprise! I'll be with you every day, if you need me. Don't worry; hope and trust, trust and hope."
Buoyed by the presence of two talismans, she was able to face the terrors of school after all. Her teacher was a kind woman with long reddish hair and a pointy nose, and Christine soon found she liked her. At recess, she got to talk with other children. She was pretty sure she had never done so before; it seemed to her that in her previous life, she had always been surrounded by adults, had never played with others of her own age.
She was shy, and didn't speak much, but no one was mean to her as she'd feared. Where had she gotten the idea that children were always rowdy and prone to hit each other for no reason? These children looked happy and not at all aggressive. Standing in the yard, leaning against the dark brick wall, she felt Tap's reassuring touch on her leg — he was much shorter than her, even when he stood on his hind legs he didn't reach higher than her waist — and began to think this indeed might work out.
She still wept in the mornings, briefly, but not at night anymore. It had turned out that she liked school. She liked learning things. It was fun most of the time: There were lessons on the Earth, with the teacher pointing out the seven continents on a big globe; and ancient people (including kings, queens, and princesses, most of whom only lived in fairy-tale books anymore); and how to read and write too. She had taught herself how to read by watching educational programs on television and was astonished to find out other children couldn't yet make sense of the letters.
Her life was changing again, and this time for the better. Tap was happy too: There was an extra bounce in his step and a twinkle in his cartoony eyes, and his voice would sometimes briefly rise up in pitch like an excited child's. Uncle still got into his tempers every so often, but Christine was never the cause of his upset. He was pleased with her, and when he looked at her report card and smiled his praise, she would beam.
And so weeks and months passed. Having learned to write, Christine decided to keep a journal. Day-to-day occurrences swiftly grew boring to relate; then she thought to write down what few memories returned to her in dreams. Whenever she did this, Tap would stay at her elbow, quietly attentive, sometimes nodding. She filled page after page over the months, and for a time grew excited, since it seemed to her she had started to recall more of her past. But after a year, when she carefully reread the contents of her journal, she was chilled: What she thought she had remembered was painfully silly; no more than fluff culled from fairy tales and cartoon shows. Every time she had woken from dreams clutching a priceless piece of remembrance, hurrying to write it down, she must have been still in the grip of the dream. Daddy ordering three hunters to bring down a stag for the festival: that was from The Princess and the Peasant, obviously. And this next entry, scrawled in the predawn dimness so that the letters slanted across the blue lines on the page: The woman in red sings about God, a pretty song. Even now she could bring the scene to her mind's eye, hear fragments of the melody — but no one dressed like that, and no one sang like that. The upper corner of the page bore a scrawled mess of a drawing: She had meant to depict a dress made of feathers, something she had thought to recall, even to the sensation of her fingers brushing across dozens of feathers all at once. But Annika the Magic Girl on television wore a feathered dress, and clearly this was where the false memory had come from.
Yes, to read these penciled notes still brought flashes of impressions to her mind, and she felt something tremble at her core. But she couldn't make herself believe they were true memories; she had been playing pretend too much, had spent too much time wanting to be a princess, and so she had imagined these snatches of dream were meaningful. With regret, Christine went to the latest entry in her journal, wrote "THE END" below it, closed the notebook, and put it at the bottom of her sock drawer.
Months became years; Christine still daydreamed of being a princess, and still pined for her former life, but in a more and more abstracted fashion, as a routine matter, then an intermittent bad habit, the way some people bite their nails.
Excerpted from Chrysanthe by Yves Meynard. Copyright © 2012 Yves Meynard. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
YVES MEYNARD lives in Longueuil, Quebec. He is the literary editor of the SF magazine Solaris, and has published six books in French.
Yves Meynard lives in Longueuil, Quebec. He is the literary editor of the SF magazine Solaris, and has published several books in French. He is the author of Chrysanthe and The Book of Knights.
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The surprise ending was very enjoyable after a story where the good guys could not seem to get a break.