Cloud & Ashes: Three Winter's Tales

Cloud & Ashes: Three Winter's Tales

by Greer Gilman

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Winner of the Tiptree Award and a Mythopoeic Award finalist, Cloud&Ashes is a slow whirlwind of language, a button box of words, a mythic fable that invites revisitation.

Praise for Cloud&Ashes:

"A rich poetic prose laden with fetching archaisms that's unlike anything else being written today. Brilliant and truly innovative fiction,


Winner of the Tiptree Award and a Mythopoeic Award finalist, Cloud&Ashes is a slow whirlwind of language, a button box of words, a mythic fable that invites revisitation.

Praise for Cloud&Ashes:

"A rich poetic prose laden with fetching archaisms that's unlike anything else being written today. Brilliant and truly innovative fiction, not to be missed."—The Washington Times

Greer Gilman is the author of Moonwise. A graduate of Wellesley and the University of Cambridge, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She likes to quip that she does everything James Joyce ever did, only backward and in high heels.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Almost two decades after the publication of her debut novel, Moonwise, Gilman returns to the fantasy realm of Cloud with a trilogy of interconnected narratives. 2000's Nebula-shortlisted "Jack Daw's Pack" follows an otherworldly traveler as he creates a rich tapestry of myth in the cards he throws down. 2003's "A Crowd of Bone," which won the World Fantasy Award, is a decidedly nonlinear tragedy about child witch Thea, who flees her goddess mother and a foolish love-struck mortal. The novella "Unleaving," the original piece of the trinity, revolves around Thea's daughter, Margaret, who "unravels" the heavens and, in turn, much of the mythos of Cloud. Though the sublimely lyrical Jacobeanesque dialect is challenging, readers who enjoy symbolism and allusion will cherish Gilman's use of diverse folkloric elements to create an unforgettable realm and ideology. (May)

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From the Publisher
“A short story, a longer one, and a novel continue the exploration of the world of Faerie begun in Greer Gilman’s lavishly praised 1991 first novel Moonwise. Wind and weather influence the doings of besotted humans and even stranger life forms, in domestic dramas that accelerate subtly into near-Shakespearean conflicts and quests, all expressed in a rich poetic prose laden with fetching archaisms that’s unlike anything else being written today. Brilliant and truly innovative fiction, not to be missed.”
—Bruce Allen, The Washington Times

“A work that reads like language stripped bare, myth tracked to its origins. Seasons, weather, lust, pain, sacrifice … the stuff of old ballads becomes intensely real, with the natural contradictions of a cold wind that both chafes and dances…. And the payoff is immense. I finished Cloud & Ashes almost tempted to write a thesis that compares it favorably to what James Joyce did in Ulysses and tried in Finnegan’s Wake, yet feeling like I’d lived through it all.”

“Every so often, and it’s a rare event, you read a book and you know, because of its depth and excellence, that you will return to it in the years to come. For me, this is one of those books. It’s a tale, or tales, not just for reading, but for pondering and rereading. It’s a book to pluck off the shelf of a winter’s night, just for the sake of wandering again within its pages; for the sake of finding unnoticed connections, for savouring language, and for pondering the nature of stories, souls, and the stars.”
—Matthew David Surridge, Black Gate

“Cloud & Ashes is not a book for every reader; but it is a book for every human. (It’s also a book for every library that desires to be worthy of that appellation.) There might seem to be a contradiction in those words, and there might well be, were every human to read. But to my, mind reading is an effort that exists outside its own exercise; that is when we read, it may feel like an internal, unshared, indeed unsharable experience. But that is not, I think the case. When we read, we go to the place where writing comes from, and in so doing, I think we leave something of ourselves behind as readers. Greer Gilman found whatever it is that is left behind, she has captured it in her net of words and managed to write it down and get it published. That is a herculean feat. It may only happen once in her lifetime or in ours. But it’s happened here and now. What you do with it is up to you. For eternity, as it happens.”
—Rick Kleffel

“A book whose hold on your mind, on your memory, is assured. It is a story about story, and stories are what we are all made of. Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”
—Paul Kincaid, SF Site

“Gilman’s ‘A Crowd of Bone’ . . . is dense, jammed with archaic words and neologisms . . . but the story—complex, tangled in narrative as well as syntax, and very dark—rewards the most careful of readings.”
—The Washington Post Book World

“‘Green quince and bletted medlar, quiddany and musk’: Greer Gilman fills your mouth with wincing tastes, your ears with crowcalls, knockings and old, old rhythms, your eyes with beautiful and battered creatures, sly-eyed, luminous or cackling as they twine and involute their stories. Gilman writes like no one else. To read her is to travel back, well back, in time; to wander in thrall through mist on moor and fell; to sink up to the nostrils in a glorious bog of legend and language, riddled with bones and iron, sodden with witches’ blood.”
—Margo Lanagan, author of Tender Morsels

“Greer Gilman is a master of myth and language with few equals in this world. Cloud and Ashes is a triumphant, heart-rending triptych, a mosaic of folklore, intellectual pyrotechnics, and marvelous, motley characters that takes the breath and makes the blood beat faster.”—Catherynne M. Valente, author of In the Night Garden

“No one else writes like Greer Gilman. She is one of our most innovative and important writers, in fantasy or out of it. If you want to see what language can do, the heart-stopping beauty it can achieve, read Cloud & Ashes.”
—Theodora Goss, author of In the Forest of Forgetting

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Read an Excerpt

one: jack daw's pack

The Crow

He is met at a crossroads on a windy night, the moon in tatters and the mist unclothing stars, the way from Ask to Owlerdale: a man in black, whiteheaded, with a three-string fiddle in his pack. Or in a corner of an ale house, querulous among the cups, untallied; somehow never there for the reckoning, though you, or Hodge, or any traveller has drunk the night with him. A marish man: he speaks with a reedy lowland wauling, through his beak, as they say. He calls Cloud crowland. How you squall, he says, you moorland ravens; how you peck and pilfer. He speaks like a hoodie crow himself, all hoarse with rain, with bawling ballads in the street. Jack Daw, they call him. A witty angry man, a bitter melancholy man. He will barter; he will gull. In his pack are bacca pipes, new ones, white as bones, and snuff and coney-skins and cards. He plays for nothing, or for gold; packs, shuffles. In a game, triumphant, he plucks out the Crowd of Bone, or Brock with her leathern cap and anvil, hammering at a fiery heart, a fallen star. (It brock, but I mended it.) Death's doxy, he calls her, thief and tinker, for she walks the moon's road with her bag, between the hedges white with souls; she takes. Here's a lap, he says, in his shawm's voice, sharp with yelling out for ale. Here's a blaze needs no bellows. Here's a bush catches birds. He mocks at fortune. The traveller in the inn forgets what cards he held, face down, discarded in the rings of ale; he forgets what gold he lost. He'd none in his pockets, yet he played it away, laid it round and shining on the sanded board, a bright array. On each is stamped a sun.

And elsewhere on thatvery night, late travelling the road between Cold Law and Soulsgrave Hag, no road at all but white stones glimmering, the sold sheep heavy in his purse, another Tib or Tom or Bartlemy will meet Jack Daw. He will stand at the crossroads, bawling in his windy voice, a broadside in his hand. There'll be a woodcut at the head: a hanged man on the gallantry, crows rising from the corn. Or this: a pretty drummer boy, sword drawn against the wood, and flaunting in her plumy cap. Two lovers' graves, entwined. A shipwreck, and no grave at all. You must take what he gives. Yet he will barter for his wares, and leave the heavy purse still crammed with coppers, for his fee is light. He takes only silver, the clipped coin of the moon: an hour of the night, a dream of owls. Afterwards, the traveller remembers that the three-string fiddle had a carven head, the face his own. With a cold touch at his heart, he knows that Jack Daw's fiddle wakes the dead; he sees their bones, unclad and rising, clothing with the tune. They dance. He sees his girl, left sleeping as he thought; Joan's Jack, gone for a soldier; his youngest child. Himself. They call him to the dance. He sees the sinews of the music string them, the old tunes, "Cross the Water to Babylon," "The Crowd of Bone." Longways, for as many as will, as must, they dance: clad in music, in the flowers and the flesh.

* * * *
What The Crowd Of Bone Sang

She is silent, Ashes, and she dances, odd one out. In the guisers' play, she bears a bag of ashes of the old year's crown to sain the hearths of the living, the hallows of the earth. The children hide from her, behind the door and in the shadow of the kist; not laughing, as they fear the Sun. Click! Clack! He knocks the old man dead, that headed him before. And tumbled by the knot of swords, he rises, flaunting in their gaze. The girl who put on Ashes with her coat of skins, who stalks them, bites her cheek and grimaces so not to laugh; she feels her power. She looks sidelong at the Sun.

They say that Ashes' mother got her gazing in her glass. Undo, the raven said, and so she did, undid, and saw her likeness in the stony mirror, naked as a branch of thorn. The old witch took it for herself; she cracked the glass, she broke the tree. They bled. Devouring, she bore her daughter, as the old moon bears the new, itself again; yet left hand to its right. And they do say the old one, Annis, locks her daughter in the dark of moon, winterlong and waning, and that Ashes' birth, rebirth, is spring. They say the sun is Ashes' lightborn brat. She is the shadow of the candle, the old moon's daughter and her mirror; she is tarnished with our breath and death. She's winter's runaway.

They are old who tell this.

But the girl who put on Ashes with her tattered coat walks silent, flown with night and firelight and masking. She is giddy with the wheel of stars. She sees the brands whirled upward, sees the flash of teeth, of eyes. The guisers shout and jostle. They are sharp as foxes in her nostrils: smoke and ale and eager sweat. She moves among them, nameless; she wears her silence like a cloak of night. Ah, but she can feel the power in her marrow, like a vein of stars. Her feet are nightfall. She could tuck a sleeping hare within her jacket, take a hawk's eggs from its breast. Her hand could beckon like the moon and bid a crone come dancing from the chimneynook to sweep about her and about; could call the sun to hawk at shadows, or a young man to her lap, and what he will.

And in the morning, she will lay by Ashes with her rags, and wash her face, and comb the witchknots from her hair; but Ashes in the tale goes on.

In spring, she rises from her mother Annis' dark; they call the snowdrops Ashes' Steps. The rainbow is her scarf. She dances, whirling in the April storm; she fills her hands with hailstones, green as souls. And there are some have met her, walking backward on the Lyke Road, that they call the white hare's trod, away from death; she leaps within the cold spring, falling, filling up the traveller's hands. She is drunken and she eats.

At May, the riddlecake, as round as the wheeling sun, is broken into shards, one marked with ashes; he that draws her share is Sun. But he was sown long since, and he's forgotten harrowing. He rises and he lies. Light work. He breaks the hallows knot of thorn; he eats the old year's bones for bread. Sun calls the stalk from the seeded earth, draws forth the green blade and the beard to swell his train. He gives the meadows green gowns. And flowers falling to his scythe lie tossed and tumbled, ah, they wither at his fiery kiss. They fall in swathes, in sweet confusion, to his company of rakes, his rade of scythesmen all in green. The hay's his dance. Vaunting, he calls the witchstone, Annis, to the dance, for mastery of the year, and wagers all his reckless gold. But he has spent his glory and must die. The barley is himself.

Ashes reaps him. By harvesting, she's sunburnt, big with light. She wears a wreath of poppyheads; her palms are gashed, they're red with garnering. They open like a cry. Her sickle fells the standing corn, the hare's last hallows, and he's gathered in her sheaf. She's three then, each and all the moon, his end: her sickle shearing and her millstone trundling round, her old black cauldron gaping for his bones.

Meet the Author

Greer Gilman is the author of the novel Moonwise, which won the Crawford Award and was shortlisted for the Tiptree and Mythopoeic Awards, as well as the World Fantasy Award-winning "A Crowd of Bone." A sometime forensic librarian, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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