Silver Birch, Blood Moon

Silver Birch, Blood Moon

3.8 5
by Ellen Datlow
     
 

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Twenty-one darker, deeper, more adult takes on some of our favorite childhood fairy tales, from acclaimed contemporary fantasists

Long ago, when we were children, our dreams were inspired by the fairy tales we heard at our mothers’ and grandmothers’ knees—stories of princesses and princes and witches and wondrous enchantments, by theSee more details below

Overview

Twenty-one darker, deeper, more adult takes on some of our favorite childhood fairy tales, from acclaimed contemporary fantasists

Long ago, when we were children, our dreams were inspired by the fairy tales we heard at our mothers’ and grandmothers’ knees—stories of princesses and princes and witches and wondrous enchantments, by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, and from the pages of 1001 Arabian Nights. But, as World Fantasy Award–winning editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling remind us, these stories were often tamed and sanitized versions. The originals were frequently darker—and in Silver Birch, Blood Moon, they turn darker still.

Twenty-one modern Grimms and Andersens—masterful storytellers including Neil Gaiman, Nancy Kress, and Tanith Lee—now reinvent beloved bedtime stories for our time. The Sea Witch gets her say, relating the story of “The Little Mermaid” from her own point of view. “Thumbelina” becomes a tale of creeping horror, while a delightfully naughty spin is put on “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Author Caitlin R. Kiernan transports Snow White to a dark, gritty, industrial urban setting, and Patricia Briggs details “The Price” of dealing with a royal and unrepentantly evil Rumpelstiltskin.

Rich, provocative, and unabashedly adult, each of these tales is a modern treasure, reminding us that wishes have consequences and not all genies have our best interests at heart.

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Editorial Reviews

Faren Miller
...[A] rich, evocative group of stories ranging from modern updates to ironic versions of the past to distilled spirits of past or future years. —Locus

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781497668614
Publisher:
Open Road Media
Publication date:
09/30/2014
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
80,949
File size:
4 MB

Meet the Author

Ellen Datlow, an acclaimed science fiction and fantasy editor, was born and raised in New York City. She has been a short story and book editor for more than thirty years and has edited or coedited several critically acclaimed anthologies of speculative fiction, including the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series and Black Thorn, White Rose (1994) with Terri Windling. Datlow has received numerous honors, including multiple Shirley Jackson, Bram Stoker, Hugo, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards, and Life Achievement Awards from the Horror Writers Association and the World Fantasy Association, to name just a few. She resides in New York.  
Terri Windling is a writer and editor of science fiction and fantasy, an essayist on the mythic arts, and a visual artist. She is the author of the bestselling books The Wood Wife (1996) and The Essential Bordertown (1999). Windling has co-edited many collections with renowned editor Ellen Datlow, including the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series. Windling has received multiple awards for fantasy and science fiction literature, including the Science Fiction Writers of America’s Solstice Award for outstanding contributions to the speculative fiction field and the Bram Stoker Award. Windling is also a visual artist whose mythic-themed work has appeared across the United States and Europe. She currently resides in Arizona and Devon, England.

Ellen Datlow, an acclaimed science fiction and fantasy editor, was born and raised in New York City. She has been a short story and book editor for more than thirty years and has edited or coedited several critically acclaimed anthologies of speculative fiction, including the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series and Black Thorn, White Rose (1994) with Terri Windling. Datlow has received numerous honors, including multiple Shirley Jackson, Bram Stoker, Hugo, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards, and Life Achievement Awards from the Horror Writers Association and the World Fantasy Association, to name just a few. She resides in New York.  
Terri Windling is a writer and editor of science fiction and fantasy, an essayist on the mythic arts, and a visual artist. She is the author of the bestselling books The Wood Wife (1996) and The Essential Bordertown (1999). Windling has co-edited many collections with renowned editor Ellen Datlow, including the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series. Windling has received multiple awards for fantasy and science fiction literature, including the Science Fiction Writers of America’s Solstice Award for outstanding contributions to the speculative fiction field and the Bram Stoker Award. Windling is also a visual artist whose mythic-themed work has appeared across the United States and Europe. She currently resides in Arizona and Devon, England.

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Read an Excerpt

Silver Birch, Blood Moon


By Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1990 Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-6861-4



CHAPTER 1

Kiss Kiss


You see, I was only eleven when it began. I'm twenty-three years of age now. Just over twice that lifetime. But did I know more when I was younger? Was I more wise then than now?

The estate was small, and although my father was a prince, we were by no means rich. That is, we had fires in winter, and furs heaped on the beds. There was plenty of game in the forests for my father and his fifteen men to hunt and bring home as dinner. We had wine and beer. And in the spring the blossom was beautiful. And all summer there was the wheat, and afterward the fruit from the orchards. But I had holes in all but my best dress, as my mother did. One day, I would have to have something fine, because I would need to be married. I didn't question this, the only use I was, being a girl: the princess. Sixteen was the normal age. My mother said I was pretty, and would do. It was all right. And on my eleventh birthday, my father gave me an incredible present. Since we didn't have so very much, seeing it, I knew, despite appearances, he must think I had a proper value. My mother gasped. I stood speechless. I really didn't need him to say, "It's gold. Gold over bronze. Be careful with it."

I said nothing. My mother said, "But, dearest—"

He cut her short, as usual. "It can be part of her dowry. They're popular in the city. They're lucky, apparently. You may," he said, "throw it up and catch it. Don't roll it along. It would get scratched."

"Thank you, Papa."

I held the golden ball in utter awe. It was very heavy. It was, I think, for strong young lordlings to throw about. My slender wrists ached from its weight.

But I took it out through the neglected garden, and walked with it down the overgrown paths, to the lake among the pine trees where, in the worst winters, the wolves came, blue as smoke, and howled.

I've heard it said that sometimes when a man stands near the brink of a cliff, he may think, What if I step over? Just such an awful thought came to me as I stood by the lake, which was muddy and rushy in the summer evening. Suppose I let go the golden ball, and let it roll, scratching itself, over into the deeper water?

No sooner had I thought it than a bird screeched in the trees of the forest on the lake's far side. And I started, and the ball dropped from my tired hands.

It rolled, flush, through the grass, in through the reeds with their dry, brown-purple flowers. I ran after it all the way, calling to it, stupidly crying, "No, no—"

And then it slid over the water's edge, straight in and down. Under the surface I saw it glimmer for one whole second, like a drowned sun. And then I saw it no more.

What could I do? I didn't do anything. I stood staring after the lucky golden ball, lost in the brown mirror of water, sobbing.

My father hadn't ever beaten me, at least not with his hands. He had a hard tongue. I dreaded what he would say. I dreaded what I'd done. To be such a fool.

Gnats whined in the air. One stung me, and I scratched my neck, still crying. The scratching made a noise in my ear that suddenly said, "Little girl, little princess, why are you weeping?"

I stopped in amazement. Had I imagined it? The voice came again. "Can I help you, little princess?"

No one was there. Only the gnats furled over the dry flowers. At the edge of the water, in the shallows, something was stirring.

The sun was among the pines now, flashing. It caught the edges of the ripples in brassy rings. And two round eyes.

"Have you lost something precious?"

What was it? A frog ... no, it was too big. The round eyes, colored like the duller flashes of the sun.

"Yes—I've lost—my golden ball."

"I saw it go down. I know where it is."

I thought, blankly, I've gone mad. It's the fright. Like the girl last year when the wild horse ran through the wedding party. She went mad. She was locked away. They'll lock me away.

I turned, to rush off up the sloping ground, toward my father's disheveled towers.

The voice called again. "Here I am. Look. You'll see, I'm well able to go after your precious ball."

Then I stopped and I did look. And it came out of the water part of the way, and I saw it.

I gave a squeal.

It said, "Don't be afraid. I'm gentle."

It was like a frog. A sort of little, almost-man thing that was a frog. Scaled, a pale yet dark green, with round, brownish glowing frog's eyes. It had webbed forefeet that might be hands. It held them up. They had no claws. And in its open mouth seemed nothing but a long dark tongue.

I was terrified. It was a sprite, a lake-spirit, the sort the old women put out cakes for in the village, to stop their mischief.

It said, plaintively, "Don't you want your golden ball, then?"

My first adult decision, perhaps, was between these two evils. My angry father, and the uncanny creature from the lake.

"I want the ball."

"If I fetch it," said the frog-demon, "I must have a favor in return."

"What do you want?"

"To be yours."

It was so unequivocal—and yet, as I found out soon enough, so subtle. "Mine? How?"

"To belong to you, princess."

Was it pride or avarice, a desire for some power in my powerless existence? To have a spirit as my slave. No. I think I only knew I had to get back the ball. And because it hadn't said to me, I must have your virtue, or, I must have your firstborn child, as in the stories they do, I was just relieved to say, "All right. You can be mine. Please fetch it for me!"

After it had gone down, with one treacly little plop, I stood there thinking I'd been dreaming. I even started to search about for the golden ball, in case that too was a dream, a bad one.

The sun went into the blacker, lower third of the forest, and the sky above grew coppery. Crickets started across the fields. An owl called early for the shadows.

Then the water parted again, and up came the necessary golden ball, real and actual and there. It was clasped by two scaly frog hands.

I went gingerly down and took the ball, snatched it. I held it to my breast with all my fingers.

Then the frog-thing's face broke the water. Even then, I could see how sad its face was, the way certain animal faces are. Its eyes might have been made of tawny tears.

"Remember your promise."

"Yes."

As I hurried back toward the pile of the house, I heard it coming, hopping, after me. Not looking, I said, "Go away!"

"If I belong to you," it said, "I must be with you. Every minute. Day and night."

Then I saw, the way the maiden does, always too late in the tale, what she has agreed to.

"You can't! You can't!"

"You promised me."

I started to pray then to God, in whom I believed, but from whom I expected nothing, ever. He'd never answered any of my youthful prayers. And didn't do so now.

But the frog-thing came to me, quite near. It stood as high as my knee. It had frog legs, huge webbed feet, without claws. Sunset gleamed on its scales. In its scratch of a voice it said, "I won't speak to them. I won't tell them you lost the ball. I can do things they'll like. Find things. It will be all right."

But I ran away. Of course. Of course, it ran after.

In the garden, by the broken statue of a god, an old god even more deaf than God, I had to stop for breath. The golden ball had weighed me down. I hated it. I hated it worse than the frog-demon. In that moment I knew, too, how much I hated my father.

The frog had reached me without trouble. It hopped high, right up on the stone god's arm. And out of its mouth it pulled a most beautiful flower. Perhaps it had brought it from the lake. Creamy pink, with a faint perfume, thinner and more fresh than a rose.

The demon leaned, and before I could flinch away, it had put the flower in my hair.

I thought, out of my new hatred for my father, Anyway, he'll kill this thing as soon as he sees it.

I tossed my head, and the flower filled the air with scent. I hated everyone by now, and all things. Let them all kill each other.

"Come on, then," I said, and went toward the house, and the frog-thing hopped along at my side.


They called it Froggy. That was their way. They used to throw it scraps from the table. It wouldn't ever touch meat. It had a little fish, and it liked green things and fruit, but I don't know how it ate, for it seemed to have no teeth. And this I never learned.

In the beginning, they were more circumspect with it—after, that is, the first outburst.

When I came into the hall, the women were at the hearth, and the boy was turning the smaller spit for the dead hares my father had taken in the forest. The house had a kitchen, but it was used only when there were guests. Half the time the bread was baked there too.

The owl-shadows were gathering, red from the fire, and one of the men was lighting the candles. In all this flicker of red and dark, no one saw the frog for some while.

I went up to my mother, who was wearing her better hall-dress that had only one darn in it. She took hold of me at once, and called her maid to comb my hair.

It was the maid who saw the frog first. She screamed out loud and pulled out a clump of my hair.

"Uh—mistress—ah! What is it?"

I was too ashamed to speak. My mother naturally didn't know. She peered at the thing.

It stood there patiently, looking up at her with its sad face. It had vowed not to speak to anyone but me.

The maid was crossing herself, spitting at the corner to avoid bad luck.

At the fire, they had turned and were gawping. And just then my father stormed in with his men and three of the hunting dogs, stinking of blood and unwashed masculinity. One of the dogs, the biggest, saw the frog at once. He came leaping for it, straight across the hall. As this happened, the frog gave a jump. It was up a tree of lit candles, wrapped there around one of the iron spikes, and the wax splashed its scales, but it didn't make a sound.

The dog growled and drooled, pressed against the candle-tree, its eyes red, its hair on end.

My father strode over at once.

He said to me, as I might have known he would, "Where's your golden ball, girl?"

"Here, Father."

He looked at that. Then up the candle-tree. My father frowned.

"By Christ," said my father.

Although I hated him, hate can't always drive out fear, as love can't. In terror I blurted, "It came out of the lake. It followed me home. I couldn't stop it. It wants to be with me."

My mother put her hand over her mouth, a gesture she often resorts to, as if she knows she might as well not cry out or talk, since no one will bother.

My father said, "I've heard of them. Water demons. Why did it come out? What were you doing?" He glared at me. This must be my fault. And it was.

"Nothing, Papa."

He folded his arms, and glowered at the frog. The frog eased itself a little on the stand. Leaning over from the waist, it bowed, like a courtly gentleman, to my father. Who gave a bark of laughter. Turning, he kicked the dog away. "It's lucky. They bring good luck. We must be careful of it."

He ordered them to carve some of the half-raw hare, and offered it to the frog, which wouldn't have it. Then one of the women crept up with a cup of milk. The frog took this in a webbed paw, and had a few sips. Despite its frog mouth, it didn't slurp.

Once they had driven the dogs off, the men stood about laughing and cursing, and the frog jumped onto the table. It got up on its hands and ran about, and the men laughed more, and even the women slunk close to see. When it reached the unlit candles at the table's center, it blew on them. They flowered into pale yellow flame.

This drew applause. They said to each other, See, it's good magic. It's funny. And when it scuttled over to me and jumped out and caught my girdle, hanging on there at my waist so I shrank and almost shrieked, they cheered. I was favored. They'd heard of such things. It would be a good year, now.

It was. It was a good year. The harvest was wonderful, and some gambling my father did brought in a few golden coins. Also, the frog found a ruby ring that had been lost—or hidden—by an ancestor in the house. All this was excellent. And they said, when they saw me coming, the demon at my side, "Here's the princess, with her frog."

But that was after. It took them a little while to be so at home with it. And that first night, after my father encouraged me to feed it from my plate, let it share my cup of watered wine, when it started to follow me up the stone stair, where the torches smuttily burned, he stood up. "Put it outside your door," he said. "We don't know it's clean in its habits." This from one who had, more than once, thrown up from drink in my mother's bed. Who defecated in a pot, who occasionally pissed against indoor walls. The servant women being expected to see to it all.

When we reached my room, I tried to shut the frog-demon outside in the passage. But it slipped past.

"I must be with you," it said, the first time it had spoken since we came in. "Day and night. Every minute."

"Why?" I wailed.

"Because I must."

"Horrible slimy thing!"

I tried to kick it aside. Did I say I was a nice girl? I hadn't learnt at all to be nice, and was almost as careless and cruel to servants and animals as the rest of them.

But it eluded my foot, which anyway was only in a threadbare shoe, not booted like the feet of the dog-kicking men.

It wasn't slimy. I'd felt it. It was dry and smooth, its scales like thin plates of polished dull metal. When it sprang lightly on my bed, I took off my useless shoe and flung it. But the frog-demon caught my shoe, and put it on its head like a hat.

At that, finally, I too laughed.

I didn't want it on my pillow. But onto my pillow it came. Its breath was cool and smelled of green leaves. In the dark, its eyes were two small lamps.

It sang to me. A sort of story. At last I lay and listened. The story was the accustomed kind my nurse had told me, but I was not yet too old for it. A maiden rescued from her brutal father by a handsome prince. Even then, even liking the tale, I didn't believe such men existed. I knew already what men were, and, without understanding, what they did to women, having seen it here and there, my father's men and the kitchen girls. It had looked and sounded violent, and both of them, each time, seemed to be in pain, scratching and shaking each other in distress.

Even so. No one had sat with me and told me a story, not for years.

In the night, I woke once, and it was curled up against my head. It smelled so green, so clean. I touched its cool back with my finger. It was mine, after all. Now I too owned something. And it would talk only to me.


Already when I look back, my childhood seems far away, my girlhood even farther. Old women speak of themselves in youth as if of other women. Am I so old, then?

During the time they all came quite round to it, and called it Froggy, and the Princess's Frog, I must have been growing up with wild rapidity, the way the young do, every day a little more.

While it performed tricks for them, found for them things that had been lost, seemed to improve the hunting, the harvests and the luck, I became, bit by bit, a woman. You see, I don't remember so much of it, because so much was always the same. It's all, in memory, one long day, one long night. The incidents are jumbled together like old clothes in a chest.

I recollect my bleeding starting, and the fuss, and how I hated it—I do so still, but the alternative state of pregnancy appeals less. I recall the bear in the forest that winter who mauled one of the men, and he died. I remember the priest coming on holy days and blessing us, and that he too liked to touch the buttocks of the maids, and once those of the kitchen boy, who later ran away.

The priest looked askance at Froggy. He asked was it some deformed thing from a traveling freak show, and my father prudently said he had bought it for me, since it was clever and made me laugh. Also, he said, it was fiercer than the dogs and would protect me. That was a lie, too. The frog was only gentle. Although, in the end, the dogs respected it and gave up trying to catch it. The biggest dog would let Froggy ride him, and all the while Froggy would murmur in the dog's ear. This was after the big dog was bitten by a snake in the forest, and ran home yelping, with terror in his eyes, knowing he would die of snakebite, or the men would cut his throat.

But Froggy, when the dog fell down exhausted, scuttled over and latched its wide mouth on the bite. Froggy sucked out the poison, and dribbled it on the floor with the blood. Everyone stood back in astonishment, one of the men muttering, stupidly, that if the dog died it would be Froggy's fault. But the dog recovered, and never forgot.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Silver Birch, Blood Moon by Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling. Copyright © 1990 Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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