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My website is now faster to load, easier to use on a wider array of devices, and subtly more intuitive. The things that worked about it before it crashed work again in approximately the same way, at least from the user’s point of view, as they did before. So the homepage picks up my blog posts from Livejournal automatically (which is much less time consuming for me than posting it on my website first and having LJ pick it up), and the overall aesthetic is the same.

The email list subscription works now — I know because some of you have subscribed in the past few days. Thank you!

We’ve got plenty of updating left to do, especially of content. The bio, biblio, and event calendar pages still need to be caught up, and we’ll be adding a new section for free reads. Dan is working on making the site mobile-friendly. There may be technical problems that don’t show up in our humble testing environment. We just have to survive the first week of the school year and hosting a child’s birthday party, and we’ll be able to turn our attention back to the website. (Have I mentioned recently the awesomeness of my spouse? He’s devoted just about every second of his free time over the past three weeks to this project.)

Meanwhile, if you feel so inclined, please go poke at sarahavery.com. If anything breaks, doesn’t look right on your hardware or in your browser, or could otherwise use improvement, I’d take it as a great kindness if you’d let me know.

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My website’s nearly done getting a major overhaul, and it’ll go live probably in the next week or so. The most significant change is that it’ll put all the links to stories available for free online in one place, and I’ll be offering an e-reader friendly version of a story never published elsewhere to anybody who signs up for my email list. This offer will include people who are already signed up. I haven’t used the list yet, so I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do with it.

I’ve also chosen a start date for my first Kickstarter campaign. Tuesday, October 13, the day after I get home from Capclave, I’ll be… do people really use the expression “pulling the trigger” about crowdfunding campaigns? Weird. I’d like to have a way to talk about that phase of the project that doesn’t sound like I’m deploying a weapon at people who are helping me bring a book into being. Anyhow, October 13, definitively, with hopes of getting the book itself out in the early srping of 2016, subject to the artist‘s availability and how many illustrations we end up commissioning from her.

Meanwhile, I’m acting on some excellent and friendly advice on how to fix one of the Beltresa novellas. Apparently, if I take the last 5,000 words and cut that part back to 1,000 words, it will no longer feel like a fragment of a larger book. Okay, let’s see if that works. I get all the best personalized rejection letters!

(You may wish to read the first episode, in which Sir Percival and his companion set out on the River of Story to bring the Grail to a Fisher King in need of healing, and the second episode, in which our wanderers brave rough waters. You may also wish to read Percival’s first appearance in 2006.)

The knight and his author made their way down the Delaware River, across two centuries, and catty-corner from winter to summer. “Is it this one?” Percival asked when the next creek poured in from the west.

The author squinted upstream, tasted the wind. “No.” They paddled on. “Look, I’ve got no quarrel with your king. He was probably the best game in town at the time.”

“I just don’t see how you can disbelieve in kings after seeing your General Washington for yourself. If any man after Arthur was kingly enough to have pulled the sword from the stone, it would be…”

“This one,” said the author. She leaned west to listen for something. “Yes, this is definitely our tributary.”

The creek poured from a concrete pipe whose diameter beat Percival’s height by two handspans. “Do we go in?”

“Let’s try portaging first.”

So they stepped out into a gulping mud that swallowed the author’s right shoe and left both travelers mud-spattered to the waist. Hefting the boat shoulder-high, they followed the outside of the concrete pipe to its start, where the tributary sparkled over its bed of smooth stones.

“Upstream,” sighed the author.

“Of course,” Percival said brightly. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Their muscles burned. Their elbows crackled. Summer air, wet with the green breath of trees, clung to them.

Trees, and gardens. The creek marked the line between two endless rows of suburban backyards.

It shallowed and shallowed as the travelers hauled their way upstream. At last, when the kayak scraped bottom with every paddlestroke, they passed under a footbridge, and a voice hailed them. Then many voices.

On a broad lawn stood a crowd of people in mourning black, some of them bedecked in the jet and amber beads of responsibility. Percival knew them. The Fishers.

“Oh, no,” said the author.

“Too late,” said Percival.

Three women he recognized from the quest at the old Grail Castle stood at the water’s edge. They reached their arms down to steady the boat, and then to steady the author, who staggered muddily into their embrace.

“I thought I’d bring…” she stammered. “I was trying to… What took us so long was…”

“Stop,” one of the queens said, her smile kind and weary. “This isn’t the El Mundo Bueno any of us expected, but it does seem to be El Mundo Bueno after all.”

Percival thanked a young man for stepping into the shallows to steady the boat, and let an older man give him a hand up. They knew him, welcomed him, showed him to a table heavy with summer’s berries and homemade bread.

He offered them the Grail in turn, and they raised toasts of starwater, one after another, to the man who had blessed them with the most peaceful, most loving death any of them had ever witnessed. When I go, let me go just as he did, said the Fishers. When I go, do for me what we did for him. And they told stories of the songs they’d sung in hospice, the care they’d given the Fisher King and one another in the last long hours, the fragrant oils with which they had anointed his body. Going gentle into that good night looks pretty good after all, one of them said. And another: I never saw anything like it, nor expected to. I’ll always miss him, but this was right.

When the cup came to the author, all she could say was, “As he liked to tell us, what is remembered lives.”

Hours later, with enough stories told and all the summer berries eaten, someone sang “The Parting Glass,” and the mourners began drifting home.

Percival still held the ultimate parting glass. The Grail was full. The Grail was always full. The starlight from that place with the great stone kings lingered in it, and he hoped the light might become canonical, or at least a variant he could count on in times of need.

What need that might be, he was no longer sure. He went to confer with the author, who had flipped the kayak onto the bank to examine a long, leaky split up the blue plastic hull.

“I think that…” he began. “That is, I wonder. For your people, I seem to be more psychopomp than healer. Maybe you shouldn’t call me again for anyone who stands a chance at recovery.”

“I’d been wondering the same thing,” she said, peering up at him, her spectacles speckled with mud. “But if a day comes when I’m struggling for breath in hospice, when the people who care about me need you…”

“Long and far may that day be.”

“Yes,” she said. “Long and far. Will you come then?”

“What was true the first time will always be true. You can call me to bring the Grail. All you have to do is tell the story.” He poured starwater over the hull of the kayak, and the split healed smoothly over. “Good little boat.”

“It’s yours,” she said. “You’ll want it, to get home.”

“And to paddle for the cure. Would it be all right if I joined your kin for that again?”

“Any September you like.”

She held the boat steady one last time for him. With just one paddler’s weight to carry, the kayak skimmed lightly above the pebbled creekbed. He ducked under the footbridge and let the current lend him speed.

Percival took a deep breath, then threw his weight hard to the side in a half Eskimo roll, to see what story waited for him on the other side of the surface.

Every time I tried to write acceptance remarks just in case, I found myself drafting congratulatory emails to the finalists who aren’t here, and rehearsing what I would say to Theodora Goss, who’s sharing a hotel room with me at the conference. I really enjoyed your book, and I’m honored to have been named on the shortlist in your company. It was something I could say with a full and open heart to all four of them, because I’d read their books, and they were all wonderful in their different ways.

Fortunately, Dora insisted that I should prepare some remarks, because you never know.

I got to hear Jo Walton — the Guest of Honor and a previous winner of this award and, most to the point, a writer whose work I admire tremendously — give the announcement that the Rugosa book had won.

So here I am with my award trophy, the Aslan. Tomorrow morning I fly home. Aslan is on the move!

Tomorrow I fly to Colorado Springs. Weather permitting, I’ll land around 4:30pm. So far my only plans for Thursday night are to unpack and iron my conference finery, and if I have any brain left from traveling I’ll write another episode of Percival. If any of you going to the conference or already in Colorado would like to get together for dinner, please get in touch. I’d love to see people.

My reading is scheduled for 1:15 in the Aspen Room on Sunday afternoon. Since this year’s conference theme is Arthuriana, I plan to read How the Grail Came to the Fisher King in its entirety, and if there’s time, maybe such episodes of Return of the Grail Bearer as exist at that point. As my Dickens professor used to say, bring a tissue.

The banquet and presenting of awards is 6:30-8:30 Sunday. There’s a remote possibility I’ll have occasion to give acceptance remarks.

I’ll definitely bring stuff to the Bardic Circle at 9pm Sunday in the Aspen Room. I’m not sure what I’ll read yet. Probably scenes from the Rugosa book, maybe the Persephone sonnets, depending on the mood and pacing of the evening.

Monday morning, I fly for home. I’ll be in either air or airports for about the next 12 hours, and then I’ll spend Tuedsay getting put back together by my excellent chiropractor.

[See Return of the Grail Bearer 1, in which Sir Percival embarks on a quest down the River of Story.]

Percival twisted back to ask the author where they were — conversation was difficult in a tandem kayak. She was squinting up at the constellations with such concentration, he did not interrupt her.

“Perfect,” she said at last. She leaned to one side so he wouldn’t have to twist so far around to see her. The boat drifted silently on a current powerful and slow. “We’re exactly where I hoped we’d turn up.”

“So, which otherworld is this?” He sniffed the air. “It doesn’t smell floral like Faerie. It’s definitely not Heaven. The sun never sets in your Summerlands, so it’s got to be something else.”

“Reports on the Summerlands vary, but you’re right, this is somewhere else. We’re on the Anduin, the Mississippi of Middle Earth. And see that bright star on the eastern horizon?”

“How do you know which way is east?”

“I’ve known the map to this place since I was eleven. So, the brightest one in the sky? That’s Earendil, the most beloved star. You can bottle that light, and it’s proof against pretty much any kind of badness. It’s a light that never goes out, even in the darkest places. Most to the point, for a Fisher King fighting cancer, it makes unwholesome things wither and back the hell off. Fill the Grail with it, and we’re good to go.”

“Language,” said the Knight of Purity.

“Sorry.”

“What makes it better than the Grail’s usual contents? The Grail is full. The Grail is always full.”

The author looked abashed. “It didn’t work last time. That’s nobody’s fault, but we have to be in a different story now. New quest, new plot, new medicine.”

Percival rested his paddle across the prow and reached a hand around to her. She took it. “I’m sorry about last time,” he said. “You know, I did go back in there and help with some victories. They were good quests.”

He took the Grail from its wrappings and tipped it to collect the light of Earendil as the first hint of morning turned the horizon from a mystery to a line of definite form. The clear water within the cup shone pure and blinding-bright.

“Oh,” murmured the author. “It’s as if he wrote it just for us.”

They drifted silent in their thanks a while. The morning birds took up their song as the sky warmed and the dimmer stars faded. Under the jingling calls of the forest insects, Percival thought he heard a low rumble.

“Look up,” said the author.

He turned from her to see ahead of him two kingly statues, massive, looming over the river. He could just make out the shapes of their hands stretched toward him, palms forward, as if to halt him.

She dipped her paddle and caught the current to turn them to the western shore. “This is where we get out and portage.”

That felt wrong. “I thought we were on the River of Story, not in the Forest of Story.”

“See those guys?” she said. “They took a century to build, a terribly expensive public works project in a nation not known for its developed economy. Why bother making them? Not for vanity or gratitude, but for the most practical reason: so that nobody would ever approach the biggest waterfall in the world without warning. So that we would never have to turn to each other in gaping surprise and ask, ‘Is that a…waterfall?’ We’re going to thank the nice kings, and get out, and walk. I think if we carry the boat vaguely northwest, I can get us from here to the Forest Primeval, the Whispering Pines and the Hemlocks.”

“No,” said Percival. “That’s not what we do.”

“Have I mentioned that I’m afraid of heights?”

“We have to go over. It’s a requirement of the genre.”

“The average American has three phobias, and this is the only one I have left. Did I not try hard enough to desensitize…” Her paddlestrokes went from slow steering to rapid digs against the current. The boat’s bottom grated against sand. She nearly tipped it getting out, and stood panting up to her knees in cold water.

“You’re panicking, milady.”

“I am not…” she dug her heels into the riverbottom and pulled the boat’s empty stern onto the wet sand, “going over…” she pulled again, “that waterfall. This is not an idiot plot. We know the falls are there, we see them, we hear them, and we’ve received a warning carved in stone a hundred feet high. The genre conventions of epic fantasy do not require us to throw our lives away for spectacle’s sake. And besides, this isn’t even a proper epic fantasy. If any story should count as slipstream…” Percival didn’t follow half of what she said about defining slipstream as a subgenre. She was talking way too fast.

He considered her, her eyes terror-widened as she gazed into the dark place where the river seemed simply to stop. A great pinnacle of rock split the width of the waterfall — it seemed set there just to give them something ruthless to collide with. The pre-dawn light showed beyond that a landscape whose features were tiny with distance. That must be some drop.

All patience, he said, “It’s not epic fantasy that requires it. We’re in a spell-story-prayer. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. You want a magick that gets your friend from the Bad World where his illness is unstoppable to the Good World where he has a chance to fight it. So, are we in that Good World or not?”

“El Mundo Bueno,” the author said.

“You can call it that. I’ve been translated into Spanish.”

She clambered back in, rocking the boat again. Percival held one end of his paddle against the riverbottom to steady them, as he’d seen the author do for him. Her pantlegs were soaked from standing in the shallows, and slapped against the kayak’s plastic hull as she settled into position. “Okay, we have to be moving faster than the water to have any control over where we go. That means we paddle like hell straight at the drop-off. As if we thought we could fly. I’m just going to decide to believe we can fly. Does that work for you?”

“I’ve seen stranger things,” Percival agreed.

He set them as fast a cadence as he thought she had any hope of keeping. The sound of her paddle behind him told him he could set it even faster. The rumble became a roar became a vibration in all his bones that went beyond mere sound. The forest to either side of the water blurred into streaks of green — there was enough light now to see green by, and somehow that made their madness seem auspicious.

The great pinnacle of rock rushed toward them. The author’s paddlestrokes dug harder against that side, and they curved wide of it without losing speed. It seemed impossible now to lose speed. All the speed in the universe gathered to hurl them across the sky.

Clouds drifted below the little blue boat. Not just the mist from the falls, but actual little clouds, one of which appeared from this distance to be raining. The ground came at them in a long diagonal approach. If they went on in this trajectory, they’d get soaked in a cloud or two and then hit a stand of enormous yellow-leaved trees on that hilltop over there.

The author’s voice shouted over the air rushing past his ears: “El Mundo Bueno, El Mundo Bueno, El Mundo Fucking Bueno!”

The cloud looked solid, even from close up, but when the boat fell into it, the thing offered no resistance at all. Just cold, just wet. Percival couldn’t see as far as the tips of his own paddles.

When they came down into the clear again, they were in a different sky, over a different river. It flowed broad and mighty toward a great horseshoe falls just ahead. Percival couldn’t see how far down it would be to impact, but wherever the water met the bottom, it kicked up a great roiling cloud of mist that rose a cathedral’s height above the highlands. Two crowds of people stood gathered, one on each riverbank, cheering for a man who stood bobbing in a barrel, just closing the lid in on himself.

Percival coveted his neighbor’s barrel. Here came the river. Any moment now.

“Bueno!” bellowed the author. “I said Bueno!”

The kayak’s bottom slapped the surface just before the plummet, and bounced like a skipping stone.

They soon resumed their shallow downward diagonal, this time through the drenching mist. The mist went on and on, until Percival was certain he was no longer anywhere near that horseshoe falls. Whatever had happened to the man in the barrel? Percival had so long to consider the question, he began to wonder whether the blue kayak might just fall forever through gray.

But at last the mist thickened into a puffy white cloud, one that looked quite solid from below when the two travelers dropped out of it.

What now?

An ocean poured over the edge of a flat earth. A few rocky islands clung to the rim, and here there were dragons. Great sea-serpenty creatures with webs between their long claws clung to warm stone, basking in the light of a sun they gazed down upon.

One of the beasts looked up and caught sight of the kayak and its passengers as they angled toward the end of the world. The dragon tilted its head to the side slightly and creased its spiky eyebrows in what looked like perplexity.

“Hey, translated-boy!” the author shouted over the wind. “What’s Spanish for flat?!”

“Piso!”

“El Mundo Bueno!” she screamed with all her might. “No El Mundo Piso! Bueno! Bueno!

The boat’s trajectory took them close enough to the curious dragon for Percival to meet its opalescent gaze evenly. He hoped to come back someday and make its acquaintance. He’d never held with the knightly business of dragonslaying.

Once more, the kayak’s hull smacked the surface and bounced.

The author shouted, “Oh, no! Not again!” and laughed until she squeaked.

Percival didn’t know what was so funny, but he couldn’t stop laughing, either.

He didn’t even see the next waterfall coming until the boat landed a few lengths upstream from it, and this time they did not bounce. The kayak rocked frantically side to side, and Percival tried to figure out just how the author was shifting her weight against the rocking to steady them.

Ahead roared a long run of rapids, surrounded by jungle.

Beside the little kayak loomed the prow of a much larger boat, muddied and soot-streaked. Perhaps it had once been painted white. Black letters proclaimed it the African Queen. The African Queen was adrift, and looked likely to hit the rapids sideways. Percival could hear two voices arguing above him — a crisp-voiced woman, a gruff, coarse man.

“What have we gotten ourselves into now?” asked the knight.

“A towering achievement of 1950s cinema,” said the author as she squinted down at the rocks and took a few strokes to steer. “Paddle fast. They’re about to fix their engine. We need to go faster than the water, and sooner than they do, or we’re flotsam.”

Fortunately, Percival had the strength of ten men because his heart was pure. The author’s fictitious whitewater skills were in excellent form. The little boat zigzagged its way around outcroppings, bumping and scraping its plastic hull over submerged algae-smoothed stones.

“Is it supposed to do that?” Percival shouted back over his shoulder.

“Exactly that!” the author replied. “Big drop coming soon!”

“I don’t see it.”

“Trust me. I’ve seen it before.”

They whipped around a standing wave higher than Percival’s head, catching a thread of green water speeding through the white. “Pull, pull, pull!” shouted the author. “Need speed!”

He caught sight of the waterfall. Had it been the day’s first, he’d have been daunted. Now it just looked cute. Certainly nothing like the end of the world.

“Pull!”

He pulled.

And one last time, they sailed through the air. Percival leaned back hard, and only then realized he’d been doing so instinctively on every jump they’d done. Some part of him was following the author, who led from behind. She leaned back hard, too, muttering bueno again and again, until the kayak hit the water hard in a stern-first landing with its prow angled up. An eddy carried them to a calm spot where jungle vines draped. Like my willows, he thought

“Perfect,” said the author. “If I could do that in real life…actually, I’d still live pretty much as I do. Anyhow, perfect. Well done.”

A mechanical roar blasted as loud as the river’s. The African Queen lumbered over the waterfall and chugged on its way downstream.

It took Percival a moment to realize that something was blinking at him from across the eddy. Its gaze put him in mind of the serpents at the edge of the Flat Earth, but it entirely lacked that opalescent curiosity.

“Milady,” he said, “should we be concerned about the little dragons?”

“The what?!”

He pointed with the tip of his paddle at the eyes, which saw themselves noticed and dove.

“Downstream,” she said, her voice tight. “Crocodiles aren’t the end of the world, but they’re worth avoiding.”

Downstream they sped, so intent on outpacing the crocodiles that they didn’t notice the changes in the forest until it was, unquestionably, forest and not jungle. Only when the air turned cold were they sure they’d paddled into another story entirely.

“Is that a snowflake?” the author asked.

“I don’t think…oh, wait. Yes. There’s another one.”

The cold turned bitter. Their clothes were wet. The author had dry things for them in a properly sealed drybag, but they’d need a fire. And food. For drinking water they had the Grail, which was always full, and seemed to have held the light of Earendil just fine. The companions passed the cup back and forth while they considered what to do. A Grailful of starlight made a fine restorative, but they concluded they should make camp somewhere and shore their strength up by mundane means, too. The snow on the trees and riverbanks got thicker with every mile. The prospect of trying to burn wet wood on snow had more appeal than the prospect of, say, another waterfall, but not by much.

Then they spotted the first great chunk of ice. And another. And around the next bend, the river nearly clotted with them.

Night was falling.

Wait. What was that? Around another bend, or maybe the one after.

“Smoke,” Percival said, to try the word on.

“Looks like,” the author agreed.

The kayak clunked against the ice, and both the muscle and the steerswoman spent almost as much of their paddling effort nudging the chunks away from the boat as they did on forward progress.

They didn’t notice just when the sound of other paddles shoving away other ice chunks could be heard over their own. In the softening light of winter evening, they didn’t see the canoes overtake them until the Revolutionary scouts were upon them, asking friend or foe?

“General Washington’s camp?” the author replied. “Have we made it to the Delaware? What day is it?”

“Christmas night, missus,” said a buckskin-clad scout. “We’ve got nothing to offer you for food, I’m sorry to say. We’ve got fire, though. Might be you’ll spend the rest of the war as prisoners, but we won’t leave you to freeze out here.”

So the bright blue plastic kayak took its place alongside a profusion of mismatched small boats and several sturdy-looking ones with high sides and shallow drafts. The knight and his author took their place, too, passing the Grail around with their keepers as they huddled by a fire on the eve of a victory that history called miracle.

Percival hid behind the curtain of willow branches in full leaf, watching the knights practice jousting across the river. He wove the slenderest willow withes he could find into his first suit of armor, and put it on over the furs and hides that were all the clothing of his feral childhood.

This was his favorite moment in all the stories that had been told about him, the one he retreated to when nobody needed him to heal a Fisher King. He was laughable in his innocence. The knights would laugh, later, when he emerged from the forest to join them. That was all right. Bearing the Grail demanded laughable innocence, and in Sir Percival’s experience, Fisher Kings often needed to laugh.

Something long and shiny parted the branches — plastic, that was the word, and shaped like a boat paddle. The blunt prow of a bright blue tandem kayak nudged into Percival’s hiding place. A bespectacled woman slid her her craft alongside the river’s muddy bank, looked up at him, and said, “Sir Knight?”

“Milady,” said Percival, because he still wasn’t sure of the correct form of address from a character to his author.

“I’m so sorry to take you away from this, but we need you again. Same Fishers, different King. There’s a biopsy coming up, and the results have to be good. I don’t suppose anyone’s told you the parable of Schroedinger’s cat…” The words had started out all business, but now her voice quavered. “Will you come?”

“Of course I’ll come. And there was much talk of the miraculous cat at the Grail Castle of Sloan-Kettering.”

So Percival let go of his feral child form and became his pilgrim self, humble in sackcloth.

“You’ll need this,” said the author. She handed him a most improbable garment, a vest all of buckles and puff. “It’s a flotation device.”

“I don’t think I can drown,” said Percival.

“The River of Story gets rough,” she replied. “Just think of it as armor.”

He put it on to humor her. No sooner did he finish buckling it than it became a mass of woven willow.

“That’ll do,” she conceded.

He clambered down into the kayak’s fore seat, with a great ungainly wobble, as she pressed her long paddle down against the riverbottom to steady them. The figure-eight paddle stroke was easy enough to pick up, with a few pointers. Percival was the muscle — he pulled, the author steered.

When they cleared the curtain of willow, he saw they were on a different river, smooth and slow. Trees in the glory of autumn rose to either side. The blue boat had slid into place in a flotilla of kayaks, dozens of them. Plastic was strange stuff, but Percival couldn’t help smiling at all those bright colors.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“Moose River, at the Paddle for the Cure,” said the author. “This must be one of the years I missed, one I only heard about in stories.”

Percival took to heart this mission to paddle for the cure, so he picked up his cadence a little. His steerswoman kept up. All the paddlers they passed on the river called to them in greeting — they were the author’s kin.

Where a stream diverged from the main current around a little island, the author dug hard curving strokes with her paddle to steer away from the flotilla, and her kin cheered for a good send-off.

“We’ve got a lot of stories to cross,” she said. “Actually, I’m not sure how many. The way to your willow tree was boggy, foggy, and several other kinds of oggy that rather bent my brain.”

“Well, we’re somewhere else now, all right,” said Percival. The narrow curves of the Moose gave way to a river straight as a church-nave and wide as a city. Summer drove away the autumn chill.

“The Mississippi. See that raft ahead, with the blond boy and the tall, dark man? This stretch of Story’s theirs. All the American stories either pour in as tributaries or branch off in the delta.”

“So where are we going?” He hoped they weren’t heading upstream. This would be quite a river to fight.

“Under. We’re going to do half an Eskimo roll and navigate on the other side of the surface.”

“Eskimo roll? Is that a kind of sushi?”

“Listen,” said the author, “my whitewater skills are almost entirely fictitious. Off the page, I just go out on lakes, canals, smooth stretches of river like that run on the Moose. The smallest, safest rapids on the Potomac were more than enough for me. But this is a time for being boldly fictitious. So we’re going to tip ourselves over into an otherworld. Someplace with stronger magic than one usually finds in Philadelphia, so we can fill the Grail. The Mississippi is archetypal, but not entirely mythic. I’m just, ah, not sure which otherworld we’ll end up in.”

A catfish leapt from the muddy water. Sunlight glinted off suspended flecks of mica, and the whole rippling surface glowed gold. It was, in its gritty way, beautiful enough, but it was not what one brings in the Grail to the Fisher King. “So all we have to do is tip over?”

“Yes. That’s one of the oggy parts,” the author said. “Deep breath, hold tight to your paddle, then lean right, fast and hard, like you’re throwing yourself off a horse.” Percival knew, by this description, that she had never thrown herself off a horse in her life. “One, two…” They both drew their breaths in for three, and hurled themselves right. The pull of the earth sped them. Gold-green water crashed against his head.

So dark. Who would have thought the mud could make it so dark, just a few handspans under the surface?

But then Percival realized he was breathing, and dry, and that he didn’t feel the least bit upside down. The blue kayak rocked and lurched a moment, then settled to drift on a black surface glinting with reflected silver. Above him shone a night sky full of unfamiliar stars. It was the strangest thing — and Percival had seen and been many strange things — he felt as if he could hear the stars singing.

Here’s something I wish I’d known a few weeks earlier: When my late brother-in-law Zach got diagnosed with his cancer, he felt like he had some broken ribs — it hurt to breathe in a particular area — but he didn’t remember an incident that might have broken them. Turned out cancer that had started in his bile duct was moving in on his liver.

And now the friend who had trouble breathing, but had been assured that he had broken ribs, has a dire diagnosis.

So, my dears, if you ever feel like your ribs are broken but don’t remember a specific way you could have gotten injured, go to your doctor immediately just in case.

Fuck Cancer. It’s time to break out all my old FC gear again.

You know what else it’s time to break out?

I’m bringing back the fucking Grail. (I just noticed the Grail is now available as a podcast. I’d planned some kind of cheery post to announce that when it finally happened. This bit of news is disappearing into the Infinite Perspective Vortex of this morning’s.)

Pardon me while I portage my fictional kayak to the big river of story. Let’s make it a tandem kayak this time. I have a Grail Knight to fetch.

Here’s what I can’t figure out: Why is there not more buzz about Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoats series? The debut volume, Traitor’s Blade, was my favorite book of 2014. The second, Knight’s Shadow, is my favorite of 2015, and it’s hard to imagine the rest of the year bringing me a book I could like better. Nothing against the year — it’s just that de Castell is that good. When the projected series of four volumes is complete, I predict it will come to be spoken of as a classic.

But a lovely close second is Shieldwall: Barbarians!, by M. Harold Page. It’s more historical fiction than fantasy, imaginatively filling in all the gaps in the historians’ records of the Siege of Orleans, when Attila the Hun brought his whole army to bear on the walls, and the defenders prevailed — nobody now is quite sure why. Page wrote the book to be an old-fashioned adventure story for his son, and it does have the feel of the YA historicals of my youth. Hengest, a prince fostered among Romans, must lead his father’s Jutish warband to rescue his sister from slavery. Her abductors’ trail leads into the most dangerous war zone in Hengest’s world. I’m looking forward to the next volume.

I’m definitely going to Mythcon, which means I need to learn how to write an award acceptance speech, just in case I win this thing. The odds that I’ll need to use the speech are not overwhelmingly high, which makes me a little less nervous about writing badly in an unfamiliar form. I did more research, and it turns out one of the finalists whose name I didn’t recognize is the person who wrote Chocolat. Could my presence on the shortlist possibly be any more anomalous? On the other hand, as far as I can figure out the Mythopoeic Society’s rules, the award is juried, rather than voted on by the society’s membership or the conference’s attendees. If I’m right about that, I can at least be sure that the people voting will have read my book.

Meanwhile, I’m the lead story on today’s Wild Hunt.

It’s hard to explain the importance of that site in the Pagan community. I considered whether to liken it to the Daily Beast, and then I got stuck on imagining the Wild Hunt tracking and capturing the Daily Beast, and I still haven’t quite made it back from being easily amused.

Even meanerwhile (because it should be linguistically possible to have two concurrent situations in the background while a third is in the foreground), the Lyme is definitely somewhat abated. Taking an antibiotic that makes you photosensitive is especially irksome in the week of the summer solstice, just when your kids are out of school, craving outdoor time and joining the swim team. No sunblock is enough. But offered a choice between the burns and the combination of crushing fatigue and brain fog I had before the Lyme test, I’d take the burns any day. I seem to have full use of my brain back, and I have enough energy now that I no longer lie glassy-eyed in the living room while the television parents my children. Until I started getting better, I had no idea how sick I was.

There’s even enough energy now that I’ve picked up a couple of new students, ones who want to make the most of the summer by meeting twice or three times a week. I haven’t had a tutoring schedule this full since we moved out of New Jersey. It turns out I’ve really missed explaining the five dimensions of the English verb to teenage boys. Have I mentioned that I’m anomalous?


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