Friday, September 14, 2012

That’s What I’m Writing — Speculative Fiction!

  (Note: Excerpt from New Novel Follows)                           
I must be the only novelist in the world who didn’t figure out what genre I was writing until I had finished a whole trilogy! But that’s exactly what happened.  I’ve been gleefully sitting down at my computer every morning to find out what Clare and William and their Marshland friends and allies are up to that day without a care in the world about what genre I’m using.  However, after I launched the second volume as an E book last spring I decided that for marketing purposes I ought to find out.

Here’s how got the idea that I am writing Speculative Fiction

First, I found it listed among other categories of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Then, I let my fingers do the walking through the blogosphere, where I found some well-informed and helpful folks who love this the genre. 

Mark McIntire has been experimenting with speculative fiction, and gave me the encouragement that I needed to soldier on. His blog is at

Nathan E. Lily, on a blog called Green Tentacles ( ) writes that “Speculative fiction is a term, attributed to Robert Heinlein in 1941, that has come to be used to collectively describe works in the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” and then defines it as “more than the collective title for works of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. The term also embraces works that don’t fit neatly into the separate genres…Tales that have been labeled simply as ‘weird’ or ‘adventure’ or ‘amazing’ because there was no proper place to put them. Stories on the fringe.”   
I have always been a non-conformist, running widdershins from the way everybody else is doing things,  marginalizing myself as a gadfly, and using a whole bunch of supposedly separate categories all at the same time.
Aha! I said, Eureka! That’s me!
Tom Wagner, of Planet Magazine ( says that “Speculative Fiction is the roadmap to tomorrow and the bible for beyond.”

To Lida E. Quillen ( defines it as “writing that pushes the boundaries of the imagination. A good speculative fiction story would make you think, provide a new insight into human nature or even give you a new outlook on life.”
Steve Tully ( ) says “it is a format that informs, delights and educates a reader. It tells a story that is pleasing to the reader and at the same time opens disturbing questions. ..It’s asks the questions that need to be asked. ‘what is it to be human? Why does that even matter?’”

And then I found a blog that speaks  even more directly to what I have written, K. Stoddard Hayes’s Worldbuilding Rules! (www.  which “is about the most distinct aspect of speculative fiction: building imaginary worlds."
 “Anyone who creates a work of fiction in any medium is creating a world. To make that fictional world believable, we have to know it intimately, and fill it with carefully selected details that create the right landscape for our characters. For a writer of realistic fiction, research may simply be a matter of detailed observation of her own daily life. A historical novelist will get into heavy research including reading, museum visits, perhaps even travel to historical sites.
For writers of speculative fiction, world building is both easier and harder than realism. Easier, because we can make our world any way we want, and we don’t have to stick to generally accepted reality. Harder, because the farther a story departs from the familiar world the reader is sitting in, the more carefully the writer has to build the story world, to win the reader’s belief."

And that is what I have been doing:  inventing a world but filling it with sufficiently familiar details that my readers feel comfortable immersing themselves in the story. I found encouragement for avoiding demons, magicians, vampires, and other weirditiesin a blog by John Wiswell K. Stoddard Hayes posted  (www.
 He asks us  
please, for the love of God, don’t write another redundant piece of pseudo-history, especially not another sword-and-sorcery monomyth in an imagined England.
“…If you’re not fascinated with it, if castles and rolling hills are simply all you’ve seen lately, if you’ve watched the Lord of the Rings flicks and want to make your own – then don’t write another Medieval Fantasy. Fantasy ought to be a non-denominational cathedral to the imagination, where any idea, no matter how impossible in reality, can flourish and enliven us.”

 The blogosphere is an amazingly human and communicative place: John and Stoddard, when I entered comments on their blogs, encouraged me to keep on  exactly what I was writing.

“Annis,,”  writes K. Stoddard Hayes,  “the little peek I’ve had into your trilogy tells me that you’ve done exactly what John suggested that writers should do: you started with a historical setting that you love, and use it to spin an original world. And it helps a lot that your starting point, the draining of the Fens, has nothing to do with any “game of thrones” or other aristocratic power struggles; it’s about an economic conflict where ordinary folks are being deprived of their land and their way of life, so that someone else can get rich. I can’t wait to read these!”


This fall I’m off and running with the editing of the second volume of The Infinite Games SeriesThe Battle for the Black Fen.  The first, short chapter, is about as fanciful as I ever get. I have Clare’s daughter Bethany mounted on a flying pony and galloping off a cliff. I want you to know, however, that,in the interests of realism and familiar detail,  I have employed hang gliding principles.  In the second chapter I take Bethany into the world of the Western Fisher folk, which I have created as a dystopia; in contrast to Cedar Haven, where she has been living, and the world of the Eastern Fisher folk, where she goes next. As in  The Marshlanders Series (The Marshlanders and Fly Out of the Darkness), I am following a method of alternating bad times with good times that I adopted from J.R.R. Tolkien, who calls them catastrophe and eucatastrophe. 

Hoping that you will tell me what you think about the title and about the world I have invented, here  are the first two chapters. (Let me know if you’d like further episodes as I finish them)


     It was the kind of night they had been waiting for, clear, and with a high wind.  A gale roared across a pitch black sky pricked with stars.  Bethany was mounted on Peredur.  Emma, with eight-year old Ben clinging to her waist, rode Branwyn. As they trotted across the cliff, Bethany checked the wings, made of leather and willow and gull feathers, strapped along her pony’s sides.  Wing straps in her left hand, reins in her right, she kept five yards between her pony and Branwyn. They needed to be close but not too close when they soared over the ocean.
   Bethany was going on twelve years old, and it was her first wind ride. Her family watched  from the edge of the field.  They ought to be proud of her. All she had ever wanted was to be important to Mother and Father, but they scolded her instead of applauding when she tried to come in first at everything.  They always said that she shouldn’t be paying attention to them but to the other children. Why couldn’t they understand that there was no point in that?  They resented her for trying to win all the time and they spent most of their time together in broils and fisticuffs.  She really didn’t mind when an adult waded in to seize her by the scruff of her neck; she rather enjoyed the attention, though punishment always followed. The whole of Cedar Haven was there with her parents—now they would see what she was made of!
     When the wind woke her that night she was terrified at what was to come. Now, poised for flight, she felt oddly calm. Emma nodded and leaned forward. They galloped for the cliff.  At the precise moment that Peredur’s forefeet left the grass, Bethany tugged the broader strap sharply until the wings snapped open. Signaling Peredur with the reins and soared over the void, banking into the wind. The splashing of waves against the shingle faded away, and all she could hear was the roaring of the gale. They would level off when they spotted the first mainland watch fire. Such winds could be unpredictable, perpetually shifting and changing. Wind riders were often driven apart.  If need be, Bethany had been trained to find the signals fires and to act for herself.
     She spotted a flare winking far below and leveled their flight to an altitude they would hold until they saw the second signal. Then they would bank down and leftward to bring themselves around the peninsula to the Singing Sands.  Bethany kept glancing from Branwyn’s to Peredur’s wingtips, then to the angle of her pony’s back, then down, searching for the second fire. The most dangerous time of the ride would be then, when crosswinds could blow them off course. 
     They never wore hoods when aloft, lest their vision be impaired. Bethany felt her face   slapped by gust after gust, and her ears felt flattened by the onslaught.  Then she saw the tiny prick of a fire below. They had made it across the ocean, and were over land.  Following Emma’s lead, she signaled Peredur  to bank, but she was suddenly lifted up and sideways.  She could hear Emma whistle for danger, but she and Branwyn had vanished.
     Alone in the black sky, Bethany tried to gauge how far above their course the updraft had lifted her. The gust had only lasted a second, two at most, though it was forceful.  Not more than twenty-five feet, she calculated, banking down and then steadying at that altitude. Peredur was trembling beneath her. She stroked his flank, murmuring reassurance, though terror roiled her stomach and her heart pounded. She was as frightened as he was, but if she succumbed to the sour rinse of fear, they would both perish. Besides, she had no intention of failing her first wind ride.
    In his own way, Peredur could be as stubborn as Bethany.  When she stroked his flank he calmed down and became alert to any sign of land below.  Signal fires held no interest for him, but the smell of land always got his attention. There were delicious grasses near the sands where they usually landed.  When a faint whiff of sweet sea grass rose to his nostrils, he made his own adjustments.
Feeling him shift under her, Beth resisted the impulse to show him who was boss. He had been this way before, and she hadn't.  Then she saw the flare, right below them.
     Bethany flexed her fingers in the wing straps until she could feel the second, narrower one.  Held close together, the wing feathers enabled them to soar. They must be spread apart as they descended, lest Peredur's legs be snapped if he came down on the sands too abruptly.  They were firm enough for galloping at this tide, but soft enough to break his bones if they didn’t come in just right.   
     As they sped lower and lower, Peredur gave a shrug in his harness as if to say, "let me handle this, now."  He had been flying with his knees bent and his fetlocks slightly curled.  When he smelled the sands, still invisible below, he began to make galloping motions with all four legs, though they were still in the air.  Realizing what he was doing, Beth pulled the slender strap until the feathers spread apart, whistling with friction. Then she saw the land.  To protect Peredur's delicate legs, they must gallop for at least half a mile, then canter, then trot, then walk.  It was strange to feel the bumping and pounding on her bottom as her pony rolled into a headlong course down the beach.  She let out a sob of relief and then a whoop of triumph at feeling the solid ground.
     Where was Emma? Surely such an experienced wind rider would have made it down safely?  Slowing Peredur to a trot, Bethany realized she must go to the end of the beach, then turn and search every inch coming back. She slowed Peredur to a walk, hoping that the wonderful pony who had saved her out in the gale had enough strength left for the search.  Listening for hoof beats, she called out every few minutes in the high pitched cry of a sea tern, which was the signal wind riders used when separated from each other.
     She smelled wet sand and dead fish, seaweed and sea grasses, and a tang of pine trees, too.  She had lived on the island of Cedar Haven since she was three years old, but these scents were deeply familiar.  All she had been thinking about was her triumph in being chosen so young for her first wind ride. She hadn’t really cared about why she was going to visit the Fisher folk, first Ben’s family and later her Eastern Fisher folk cousins.  Nor had she paid much attention to the stories her parents told about how she had been born in the Piney Wood settlement above the Singing Sands. That must be just inland, but she was not going there; she was accompanying her best friend Ben.  Where were Ben and Emma?  Dismounting Peredur to keep him from getting tired, she trudged along the sands, crying the sea tern’s cry.
     Suddenly, she heard an answering call. She ran with Peredur trotting  behind her until she saw Emma on Branwyn, with Ben still clinging to her like a burr.      
    "Well met! Well met!" they both shouted.  Emma threw herself off her pony and ran to hug Bethany, whom thought she had lost her forever when she was lifted away on an updraft.
    “I was so worried about you,” she exclaimed “What did you do when you lost us?”
    “I kept banking—down and to the left, you know—until I saw the signal. Peredur knew it was there before I did.”
     “Eyes in his stomach, has Peredur,” and they laughed together at Branwyn and  Peredur who, with no intention of pleasing anyone but themselves for the rest of the night, were tugging and pulling toward a stand of sweet grass. They looped their reins over their necks and set them loose to graze at their heart’s content.
    “They’ve certainly earned it,” said Emma.
     “When am I going home? When will I see my mother and father,” Ben asked.    
   “They should be along in the morning,” answered Emma. “We’ll dig a hollow in the sand and rest here until then.”
     Fifteen years old and an experienced wind rider, she had been appalled when instructed to accompany Bethany across the strait. The eleven-year-old was always in trouble, and so stubborn that Emma wondered if she would follow the necessary procedures.  But she certainly had.
     “You handled that bad patch very well; you did just the right thing.”
     “I was terrified, purely terrified. It was Peredur who brought me in, really.”
      She’s not so bad when she gives off boasting, she thought Emma.
      “They won’t come until daylight. Let’s try to get warm.”
     The two girls fetched the blankets from their ponies and huddled together, chattering about their wind rude, while Ben snuggled up between them and went straight to sleep. 
     Bethany reflected that was just a little child, after all. She, however, could hardly be considered a child any longer, not when she had ridden the wind. He was her one confidant on Cedar Haven, but sharing their wind ride made her feel close enough to Emma to admit that she had no idea what to expect now that she was here, on the mainland.                
      “Mother and Father seemed anxious to have me off of the island, I don’t know why. Do you know anything about what these Fisher people are like? I’ve only met the two who visited us last winter, and I didn’t like them, not at all.”
   "I'm glad it's not me, is all," said Emma frankly. “I have to deal with them when I come to get their babies, and I don’t like them very much. They’re sly, and mean-spirited.”
   “They are? In what way?”
    "They want to get rid of their children. Ben, for example. It happened before I began wind riding, but I heard that his mother and father gave him away because they had seven other children. I don't think they really care about him at all; they just think think there’s something wrong about his having two mothers. Then, too, he’s bigger now, and they can put him to work."
    "What's wrong with having two mothers?"
    Janet and Riven were women partners who had brought Ben up together.          
    “What’s wrong with that? "
    "Poor you," is all I can say, replied Emma enigmatically.  "Ben will be all right. They are his folk, after all, and they’ll work him hard, but they treat girls really terribly. They think we are completely inferior to boys.”
  Bethany considered this novel idea. If she’d known all this about the Western Fisher folk she could have refused to visit them.
  "Then why did Mother and Father let me come?”
   Emma, a responsible young woman who wore the blemish, hesitated. Every adult at Cedar Haven and among their allies had a little round object resembling a mole attached to the back of their heads. It was filled with a lethal dose of poison.  Beset by enemies who wanted to drain the Marshlands and then starve and beat everyone on the mainland into submission, the Marshlanders and their allies were preparing  a great uprising. William, Bethany’s father, had invented a way to get off Cedar Haven for adults too heavy to ride the wind, and three companies had been raised for mainland missions. The allies communicated with each other using messenger doves. Everyone who wore the blemish was pledged to commit suicide under rather than divulge these plans and secrets under torture.           
     Emma had been present when they decided what to do with about Bethany. If she realized what was afoot, she would create a terrible row and demand to join one of the companies. As a skilled wind rider they would be hard put to deny her a place in one of the companies. If they left her behind, she was perfectly capable of preparing a pony and following them in the first gale that came along.  Although William, her mother Clare, and her grandmother Margaret all hated to admit it, she was too disobedient to be trusted and would be a hazard in their great undertaking. Ben, whose parents wanted him back, could be sent home before the companies departed. They decided to send Bethany on a visit to her Eastern Fisher folk cousins, under the guise of accompanying her friend Ben on his journey home.
      "You heard what they said, they thought it would be 'good for you,' your own adventure, you know, but, basically, 'good for you.'"
     “Well I’ve changed my mind. I’ll come back with you.”
      A cluster of figures suddenly appeared high on a dune to the north of them, silhouetted against the dawn.
      Emma hugged Bethany.
      "Remember your Fisher talk and your Fisher folk manners, and you'll probably be all right," she said, reflecting at she wouldn’t want to be in her shoes for anything.


     Bethany watched the silhouettes become two Fisher people stalking toward them. She couldn=t remember a word of their stupid language.  Ben had tried to teach her the proper greetings.  He was a Fisher boy, but she was a Cedar Islander — why should she twist her tongue into words full of Auxks@ and Aicks?”   She decided that she didn=t want this adventure after all; she would ride home with Emma.
     Emma wasn’t there — she had gone without her! There was only Ben, tearing across the sand to that mean-looking couple. She shrugged into her pack and stood up.  Reluctantly, she approached the Fisher people, who were looking Ben up and down like a horse that they might want to buy.
     Ekreth and his wife Sederly, who stood the proper five paces behind him, were well pleased with the looks of their son. Cod had been running poorly for three years when he was born, and they had six other children. They would have tossed a girl infant in the sea, but a boy deserved better. Now that cod was plentiful they needed more hands for their lines. They had agreed to take in that great galumphing Cedar Island girl in return for his fostering. If girl she could be called — she was dressed in breeches, of all things.  Let=s see how she comports herself, Sederly thought. She looked strong; they could set her to gutting and cleaning cod.
     Bethany stared at Ekereth and Sederly. The man had bowed legs in slick black trousers that shone wetly, like seaweed. The woman wore a full length dress of similarly slippery  material.  Why was she standing behind the man?  Bethany realized that Ben was trying to get her attention; he mouthed something at her — the greeting, she guessed.  Bowing from the waist, she made a go of it.
     All she could remember was AGardsh Katzwik,@ so she repeated it, first to the one, then the other.  Ben winced/
    ASullen slut!@ thought Sederly, AI greet,@ but not AI greet you; you will be as my mother and father, and I submit to your wishes entirely.@ 
     Ekereth made a sharp exclamation, then shouted at Bethany:
     AWardst Eck! Okrut blek, nujt!@ Though she had no way of knowing it this meant ATake care! You are but a female!@
     He turned on his heel with Ben scampering beside him and Bethany dragging along behind his wife.
      She thought they had landed near to the Fisher folk=s dwellings. As the morning wore on, it became clear that they lived much further away.  After several hours of tramping, her feet ached. The wind blew strong and cold, penetrating her oiled linen jacket and woolen jersey.  Her stomach burned with emptiness.  Last night=s supper seemed to have taken place in another world entirely.  She had not relieved herself since landing, but she was not going to indicate her need and give these haughty folk something else to jeer at.
     It was well past noon when cliffs rose from the shingle. They began to climb a stony path. Beth trudged upwards until, rounding a corner, she slammed into Ben, who had stopped on a granite ledge in front of a cave. The rock glinted darkly with mica, reflecting the winter sun dipping west over the sea. 
    AThis is where you are staying,@ said Ben, AI don=t know how far it is from their cave. That’s where I=ll be.
     ABut I=m visiting you,@ complained Bethany huskily, determined not to cry.
     AGirls with girls, children with parents, is what I heard them say.
     AOkrut! Radst!@ screeched Sederly, emerging from the cave.
      AShe wants you in there, Bethany— good bye,@ said Ben, as Sederly grabbed her by the sleeve and reached back with to haul him into the cave as well.             
     ATlagetst!@ she ordered Ben.
      ATranslate,@ he explained.
     It had been cold in the wind, but it was colder still in the narrow passageway; a penetrating cold, the kind that stone intensifies.  They entered a long room where shrieks ricocheted off the stone walls from every direction, a like a cacophony of attacking bats. There was a table all of the way down the middle, covered with roils of fish intestines and roe, fish heads and gaping visceras which blood-spattered creatures were slapping here and there amid a flashing of knives. 
     ARocktetz!@ screamed Sederly, at which the girls fell silent and looked frightened.            
    ATlagest!@ Sederly ordered Ben.
She moved along the slippery table, pointing first to this roil of fish gut, then to that; taking up a knife and a whole fish and slicing at it, pausing for Ben to translate.
     AGirl split fish in two. Uneven — tail not exactly split, you get slap! Take out roe. Take out guts. Roe  in wood bucket, guts in big bucket.  Heads on this tray, cheeks on that one.  Now, you bone fish.  Gouge in spine, you get slap! Gash in flesh, you get slap!@
     To illustrate, Sederly grabbed an oar from the wall and brought it down full force between the shoulder blades of the nearest girl, who crouched in submission. 
     A Odd bits, salt table.@ Sederly indicated a small table covered with salt and shreds of fish flesh, with small wood crates stacked at its side.
       Bethany was outraged. Why did she have to work here? She would like to have slapped Sederly when she shoved her between two Fisher girls, but thought better of it; who could she appeal to? Ben was going somewhere else; she was among strangers in a cave that smelled ghastly. There a wet odor of fish blood and intestines, a rotten smell of dead flesh trodden into the floor, and a rank human aroma, also fishy, emanating from the solid wedge of girls shrieking in anticipation of breaking in this weird new worker who must be female but certainly didn=t look it with her muddy breeches and hair chopped short like a boy=s.            
    ABlugurx!@ they shouted at her meanly.@  Ben had gone. Bethany had no idea what they were calling her, but it was clearly an insult.
     Jammed elbow to elbow between two girls at the table strewn with fish parts, she staggered at the stench. The girl next to her handed her a sharp knife with a stubby handle. Then she grabbed a cod from a bucket under the table and slapped it down.  Bethany eyed the fish, trying to figure out where to begin the split. Plunging in her knife into its belly just above the midpoint of the tail, she was rewarded by a spurt of cold jelly at her mouth and nose. She yelled and spat.  Everyone broke into shrieks as she wiped the roe off her face and flung it every which way. 
     AYakurtst!@ said the girl on her other side, seizing Bethany=s hand, leaning her full weight so she had to bend down to the floor with her fingers in the jelly she had scattered.  She took this to mean Apick it up,@ which she did, while a greasy black boot kept kicking her. She gathered all the roe into her hand which stung like mad where boot nails had scored them. 
     ABlurgurx!!@ yelled the girl next to her, Akertst dut!@
     She dragged Bethany to the table at the back of the cave and indicated that she should roll the roe in salt. Returning wearily to her place, she took up her knife to finish her cut. She completed her task neatly. She had always been meticulous and careful when necessary. Since she couldn=t fight a whole room full of Fisher girls, she could prove her worth by doing her work well, though she felt awful. She had been hungry for so long that she didn=t feel the pangs any more, but her legs were wobbly and the pressure on her bowels and bladder was unbearable.
     The girl on her right seemed smaller and less formidable than the rest, so she nudged her and pantomimed squatting and defecating.  The girl didn’t jeer, just took her by the arm and pulled her out of the cave and to a narrow ledge where the cliff face was overgrown with ivy. She squatted, pulled up her skirts, and mimicked straining.  Then she plucked a leaf, pretended to wipe herself, and kicked imaginary feces over the drop. The ledge reeked of urine. While her new friend delicately turned her back, Bethany relieved herself. The wind off the ocean smelled deliciously fresh and the sun was setting — surely their workday must be ending.
    But it didn=t. It was two hours later that Bethany, dizzy with fatigue, let her friend lead her from the cave. They followed a narrow path until they reached a stone hollow filled with chattering, gesticulating Fisher folk.  There was a waterfall tumbling down the cliff where they  washed their hands, arms and faces and rinsed bits of fish out of their hair. 
   AArkly,@ said the girl, pointing to her chest, then at Beth with a querying look.
   ABethany,@ she replied, pointing to herself.
    ABekly,@ said the girl. She hauled her new friend to a recess in the hollow full of people eating supper.
     In later days, Bethany could never remember the details of that first evening before she fell into a narrow bunk wedged between Arkly and another girl. She quickly got used to their rank smell, but their twistings and elbowings disturbed her sleep every night she spent there. She never felt rested when she was wakened by a metal gong for  a quick gulp of fish broth, then splitting the catch all day long.
     There was one half day a week when the Fisher people took their holiday. It was not a sabbath, for Bethany never saw them at worship, but a time when children were allowed to do what they wanted, as long as they stayed away from the adults.  When the metallic clang sounded on the first holiday of her visit she didn=t know what was happening. The girls streamed out of the work cave.  Arkly grabbed her hand and pulled her down the steep path to the shingle beach. The Fisher children were playing a circle game, whirling around and around to a ditty that ended with them flopping onto the shingle, shrieking with laughter. Joining in the game, Bethany eagerly drank in the fresh sea air and the silly antics.
      When she saw Ben among the children she pulled him over to Arkly, pummeling her with questions:
     AWhy did they, who were still children, have to work in the splitting cave?       
     AWomanhood,@ translated Ben with embarrassment, Anot children any more.@
     ABut I haven=t reached my womanhood!@ wailed Beth, AGo tell Sederly, Now.@
    ANargh!@ yelled Arkly, when Ben had translated, bursting into anguished Fisher talk.
    AWhat it is,@ explained Ben, is that Arkly has her womanhood but is very young — she=s only ten, actually— and the Fisher girls are always at her.  She can see that you are younger, too, but strong; she needs you to keep them off.@
     Bethany didn’t think she fit into either group. She was much larger than the Fisher children but couldn’t fathom what went on in the Fisher girls= heads.             "Why do they yell ‘Blurghurz’ at me?”
     “That means half-breed.”
     “But why? I’m not a half-whatsit.”
       Ben had been listening to extensive disquisitions on genealogy that his relatives indulged in around their cookfires.
      “Sederly says your grandmother, Bess, was Fisher folk on her mother’s side, which makes you part Fisher folk and part uplander on both your mother’s and your father’s side.”
       Ben, who had always been sensitive to Bethany’s moods, did not tell her that “Blugurz” mean bastard, born outside of marriage, as was the case between her mother Clare and Bess’s grandson Daniel.
      “Do you know how long I am staying here?”
      “No, but I=ll try to find out.  I work at the nets now, but I=m to start hand fishing proper next week with the men — from the boats, you know.@
     Content with this promise, she followed Arkly into the frolics, eager to cram all the play she could into a few short hours before sunset. 
    One rainy day several weeks later the work cave felt clammier than ever. By afternoon everyone was limp with fatigue. The stone floor was slimy with fish blood, which made Arkly slip and fall against the Fisher girl next to her who had been calling her “Blugurz-yok” all morning long, which Bethany suspected meant sucker up to the half-breed. At each jab and jeer, Arkly  assumed a submissive posture—head down, neck bent, shoulders in a helpless droop.  Bethany was outraged on behalf of her friend.
     Daring her to do anything about it, the Fisher girls glared menacingly. One of the most difficult fish asks was to carve the cod cheeks into meaty rounds, considered a great delicacy. Bethany was leaning over a smallish fish when the girl next to her jogged her hand so that her knife went awry, slicing across the cheek. In an instant, she hurled herself at her tormenter, pounding her stomach until she doubled over with a gratifying howl. The girl was older and therefore superior; this was an unheard of breach, which sent the whole cave of Fisher girls into motion, shrieking curses and attacking both Arkly and Bethany.
     A large girl slapped Arkly viciously, first on one cheek and then on the other. Bethany seized her neck and kicked her in the shins before turning to face a roomful of snarling opponents. Three of them grabbed her while another slapped her face. It would have gone badly for Bethany had Sederly not burst into the room yelling
     This produced immediate silence, bent necks, and drooping shoulders from everyone but Bethany, who stood her ground and glowered at Sederly, who was hurling a stream of imprecations in which “Blurgurz” figuring prominently.
   “I am not a half-breed; I am a Cedar Islander! You can’t treat me this way!”
    This only infuriated Sederly. She grabbed Bethany by the shoulders and dragged her, kicking and flailing, out of the cave, where a delegation of Fisher people had rushed over to see what was going on.  What Sederly’s reported made two Fisher men lunge at Bethany as if she were a vicious animal. They dragged her to a door in the cliff face, hurled her inside, and slammed it.
     Bethany had been hit in the eye during the fight, and it throbbed and swelled; she had been raked on both arms by fishy fingernails, and these scrapes burned fiercely. She fingered her wounds in the dark and caught her breath, then stood up and smacked her head. Her coracle training on Cedar Haven had prepared her for many kinds of emergencies. Most important, she had been taught to keep her head and think things through.  Taking deep breaths to calm herself, she tried to see something in the dark.  Was she entirely closed in? No, air came in through a barred window on the door. They couldn’t let her die of hunger because of their pact with her family, but they could keep her here for a long time. She’d best prepare for that. Feeling around, she found a recessed corner and decided to allocate that space for urinating and defecating. The smell would be awful but at least she wouldn’t have to lie in it.  Continuing her exploration, she found an arm-sized hole in the ceiling that went past where she could reach— more air, which was reassuring. It was dark, and cold; she rubbed her hands together and  hugged herself all over. It didn’t do much good.  Having established what she could about her surroundings, she tried to think things through.
     At the top of her mind was the “Blugurx” issue. Cedar Island harbored many refugees from the mainland, and these had many origins — marshland and upland, farmland and city —but seemed to be one kind of people.  Fisher people looked so different; maybe they were an entirely different kind, like cats are different from dogs. But cats don’t breed with dogs.  Different kinds of dogs do, though. Did the Fisher folk call her a “half-breed” because they hated anyone resulting from one of them breeding outside their own kind? They certainly did a lot of hating: the men seemed to hate women. They ordered them around, shouted long strings of curses at them, and beat them up whenever they felt like it.  Fisher women, in turn, hated each other when they wanted the same man. She had seen vicious fights among them. Their hatred like her was intense; Ben told her that what they hated most about her was wearing clothes they considered proper only for boys. They were Marshlander clothes, made by Mother, who had been adopted by the Marshlanders and worn proudly all of her life. Didn’t the Fisher people realize she was coracle, and a skilled wind rider? Who were they, to call her half-breed?
     Every way she stretched, she struck walls. Mother had hidden in a cave when she was only eight years old, hiding from soldiers who had captured Grandmother, Janet and Riven and their mothers.  Mother had taken care of herself, made a plan, found where they were tied up in a barn and followed them all of the way to Breck. If Mother could do all that, she could escape from these Fisher people. The thing to do was to take them by surprise. I’ll be there when they open the door, she thought. I’ll grab them by their fee and dash past them while they’re all tripped up.  
      This seemed a good plan, so she crouched by the door so she would be ready for them. Which was why Ekreth, accompanied by two Fisher men and a donkey, almost fell over her, sound asleep against it.