Synopses & Reviews
The child was born just as the first faint raysof dawn made their way through thecracks between the shutters. The lantern-wick burned low.The new father bowed his head over his wife's hand as themidwife smiled at the mite of humanity in her arms. Blackcurls framed the tiny face; the child gave a gasp of shock, then filled its lungs for its first cry in this world; but whenthe little mouth opened, no sound came out. The midwife tightened her hands on the warm wet skin as the baby gave a sudden writhe, and dosed its mouth as if it knew that ithad failed at something expected of it. Then the eyes stared up into the midwife's own, black, and dearer than a new-born's should be, and deep in them such a look of sorrow that tears rose in the midwife's own eyes.
"The child does not cry," the mother whispered in terror, and the father's head snapped up to look at the midwife and the baby cradled in her arms.
The midwife could not fear the sadness in this baby's eyes; and she said shakily, "No, the baby does not cry, but she is a fine girl nonetheless"; and the baby blinked, and the look was gone. The midwife washed her quickly, and gave her into her mother's eager, anxious arms, and saw the dampcurled, black-haired head of the young wife bend over the tiny curly head of the daughter. Her smile reminded the midwife of the smiles of many other new mothers, and the midwife smiled herself, and opened a shutter long enough to take a few deep breaths of the new morning air. She dosed it again firmly, and chased the father out of the room so that mother and child might be bathed properly, and the bedclothes changed.
They named her Lily. She almost never cried; it was as though she didnot want to call attention to what she lacked, and so at most her little face would screw itself into a tiny red knot, and a few tears would creep down her cheeks; but she did not open her mouth. She was her parents' first child, and her mother hovered over her, and she suffered no neglect for her inability to draw attention to herself.
When Lily was three years old, her mother bore a second child, another daughter; when she was six and a half, a son was born. Both these children came into the world howling mightily. Lily seemed to find their wordless crying more fascinating than the grown-ups' speech, and when she could she loved to sit beside the new baby and play with it gently, and make it chuckle at her.
By the time her little brother was taking his first wobbly steps it had become apparent that Lily had been granted the healer's gift. A young cow or skittish mare would foal more quietly with her head in Lily's lap; children with fever did not toss and turn in their beds if Lily sat beside them; and it was usually in Lily's presence that the fevers broke, and the way back to health began.
When she was twelve, she was apprenticed to the midwife who had birthed her.
Jolin by then was a strong handsome woman of forty-five or so. Her husband had died when they had had only two years together, and no children; and she had decided that she preferred to live alone as a healer after that. But it was as the midwife she was best known, for her village was a healthy one; hardly anyone ever fell from a horse and broke a leg or caught a fever that her odd-smelling draughts could not bring down.
"I'll tell you, young one," she said to Lily, "I'll teach you everything I know, but if youstay here you won't be needing it; you'll spend the time you're not birthing babies sewing little sacks of herbs for the women to hang in the wardrobes and tuck among the linens. Can you sew properly?" Lily nodded, smiling; but Jolin looked into her black eyes and saw the same sorrow there that she had first seen twelve years ago. She said abruptly, "I've heard you whistling. You can whistle more like the birds than the birds do. Tbere's no reason you can't talk with those calls; we'll put meanings to the different ones, and we'll both learn 'em. Will you do that with me?"
Lily nodded eagerly, but her smile broke, and Jolin looked away.
Five years passed; Jolin had bought her apprentice a horse the year before, because Lily's fame had begun to spread to neighboring towns, and she often rode a long way to tend the sick. Jolin still birthed babies, but she was happy not to have to tend stomachaches at midnight anymore, and Lily was nearly a woman grown, and had surpassed her old teacher in almost all. Jolin had to offer her. Jolin was glad of it, for it still worried her that the sadness stayed deep in Lily's eyes and would not be lost or buried. The work meant much to each of them; for Jolin it had eased the loss of a husband she loved, and had had for so little time she could not quite let go of his memory; and for Lily, now, she thought it meant that which she had never had.
Of the two of them, Jolin thought, Lily was the more to be pitied. Their village was one of a number of small villages, going about their small concerns, uninterested in anything but the weather and the crops, marriages, births, and deaths. There was no one within three days' ride who could read or write, forJolin knew everyone; and the birdcall-speech that she and her apprentice had made was enough for crops and weather, births and deaths, but Jolin saw other things passing swiftly over Lilys dear face, and wished there were a way to let them free.
At first John had always accompanied Lily on her rounds, but as Lily grew surer of her craft, somehow she also grew able to draw what she needed to know or to borrow from whomever she tended; and Jolin could sit at home and sew her little sacks of herbs and prepare the infusions Lily would need, and tend the several cats that always lived with them, and the goats in the shed and the few chickens in the coop that survived the local foxes.
When Lily was seventeen, Jolin said, "You should be thinking of marrying." She knew at least two lads who followed Lily with their eyes and were clumsy at their work when she was near, though Lily seemed unaware of them.
Lily frowned and shook her head.
"Why not?" Jolin said. "You can be a healer as well. I was. It takes a certain kind of man"---she sighed---"but there are a few. What about young Armar? He's a quiet, even-handed ...
Lily. A woman with power to heal, but no powers of speech. Then she meets a mage---a man who can hear the words she forms only in her mind. Will he help her find her voice?
Ruen. A princess whose uncle leaves her deep in a cave to die at the hands of a stagman. But when she meets the stagman at last, Ruendiscovers fatehas a few surprises in store for her.
Erana, As a baby, she is taken be a witch in return for the healing herbs her father stole from the witch's garden. Raised alongsidethe witch's troll son, Erana learns that love comes in many forms.
Coral. A beautiful young newcomerwho catches the eye of an older widowed farmer. He can't believe his good fortune when Coral consents to be his wife. But then the doubts set in---what is it that draws Coral to Butter Hill?
Annabelle. When her family moves, the summer befre her junior year of High School, Annabelle spends all her time in the attic of their new house--until she finds the knot in the gain which leads her on a magical mission.
A mute healer who meets the one man who can hear her thoughts, an abandoned princess who discovers the truth behind the mysterious stagman, a modern girl who finds the knot in the grain which leads her on a magical mission--these are a few of the characters in these five tales, created by a Newbery Medal-winner. 1995 Fanfare Honor List (The Horn Book).
About the Author
Robin McKinley won the 1985 Newbery Medal for her book The Hero and the Crown
, and a 1983 Newbery Honor for The Blue Sword,
both set in mythical Damar. She is also the author of Beauty,
a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. She lives in England.
In Her Own Words...
"I was an only child and my father was in the Navy. We moved every year or two?California, Japan, upstate New York, New England. I early found the world of books much more satisfactory than the unstable so-called real world. I can?t remember the first time I read Frances Hodgson Burnett?s but this particular story, about a little girl all alone in a strange land who told stories so wonderful that she believed them herself, fasci-nated me. I never quite lived up to Sara Crewe?s standard, but I tried awfully hard.
"Writing has always been the other side of reading for me; it never occurred to me not to make up stories. Once I got old enough to realize that authorship existed as a thing one might aspire to, I knew it was for me. I even majored in English literature in college, a good indication of my fine bold disdain for anything so trivial as earning a living; I was going to be a writer, like Dickens and Hardy and George Eliot. And Kipling and H. Rider Haggard and J.R.R. Tolkien. I was, however, going to tell breathtaking stories about girls who had adventures. I was tired of the boys always getting the best parts in the best books. What with reading and making up my own stories, I spent most of my life in my head; about the only irresistible attraction reality had for me was in the shape of horses and riding. And I liked traveling. Perhaps because of my childhood, staying in one place for very long just seemed to me like a waste of opportunity.
"It?s funny, though, the things life does to you. Inadvertently I discovered myself settling down, looking for excuses not to climb on another airplane. I bought a house because I fell in love with it, and it was somewhere to leave the thousands of books I picked up everywhere I went. Later, I decided that I wanted something around that didn?t necessarily sit politely on a shelf till I took it down, so I bought a dog, a whippet I named Rowan. Insidiously I began liking it that tomorrow was going to be much like yesterday: walking the dog, sitting at the typewriter. I declared myself to have found home in my tiny house in a small village two-thirds of the way up the coast of Maine. I also, a little ruefully, concluded that my individual mix of the writer?s traditional absent-mindedness, a rather uncompromising feminism, and a naturally intransigent personality made marriage or any sort of permanent romantic attachment impractical. I didn?t actually think I was missing much; I liked being single.
"This no doubt explains?somehow?why I am now living in a small village in a very large house in Hampshire, England, with my husband, the English writer Peter Dickinson, three whippets, and a horse, and what seems to me, the only child and ex-solitary adult, about half a million Dickinson grandchildren rioting underfoot, down the corridors, and across the garden. When Peter and I decided to get married, it was obvious to me I was the one who had to emigrate; I was the military brat with lifelong experience of pulling up and moving on. So I dug up my tender new under-standing of ?home,? packed it very carefully, and brought it over here with me, with the eighty cartons of books and one bewildered whippet. It has taken root vigorously here, but the message to headquarters is very emphatic: ?Don?t you ever do this to us again.? I?m not likely to: I?ve planted over four hundred rosebushes in what were once Peter?s classic English garden borders?and look after them devotedly. I have the scars to prove it. I think I?ve discovered reality after all. I?m astonished at how interesting it is. It?s giving me more things to write stories about."
Table of Contents
The healer -- The stagman -- Touk's house -- Buttercups -- A knot in the grain.