Excerpt from CHANGER’S DAUGHTER (formerly LEGENDS WALKING) by Jane Lindskold.
Published by Obsidian Tiger in 2012. Published by Avon Eos in 1999; Copyright © 1999 by Jane Lindskold. All rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the Publisher. Exceptions are made for downloading this file to a computer for personal use.
(These excerpts are based on uncorrected proofs and may slightly differ from the published version of the novel.)
Life has its own scent. Contrary to common belief, there is nothing light or floral about it. Rather, it is akin to the yeasty scent of rising dough or the earthy richness of freshly turned soil.
Catching this scent one morning upon the wind blowing from the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico, the Changer knows that the change he has been considering is upon him. Without further hesitation, he barks.
His sharp voiced summons is answered by the emergence of his daughter from beneath the gnarled juniper where she has been drowsing. Twigs and dried juniper foliage cling to her fur. She yawns and shakes, emitting a jaw creaking whine.
When she is alert, Changer begins walking, setting his course downhill, out of this patch of autumn sunshine, ultimately out of the mountains. His daughter follows him without question, partly from trust, partly because she lacks the vocabulary to ask anything as simple as “Where are we going, Dad?”
The baby weeps, his little brown face twisted up but his eyes wide open as if he seeks to make sense of a universe that hurts so very much. His infant skin is thickly marked with swollen pustules, dark red and running against cocoa-colored skin.
His mother, a young woman just out of college, cradles him in her hands, gently lowering him into a basin of water in the hope of bringing down his fever. The water is tepid, but it seems to bring some comfort. The baby stops crying. After a moment, his mother realizes that he has stopped breathing as well. She screams.
The dull slap of bare feet on an earthen floor answers her cries. A shadow darkens the door to a bedroom now become a death chamber. Beyond the shadow can be heard the murmur of many voices, gossiping, conjecturing, a few raised to wail, but the shadow does not speak.
It crosses the room and in the light from the partially curtained window resolves into a large woman, full-breasted and mature, but lovely as a ripe yam is lovely. She lifts the infant’s body from where his mother’s hands still cradle it within the cooling water.
“He has been taken by this illness,” the older woman says, “as are so many others.”
“Oh, Oya, how I hate the King of Heaven!” the young woman sobs.
“So do I, Aduke,” Oya answers, studying the girl quizzically. “I think the time has come to make him answer.”
“I want to use the telephone,” the man says in a deep, gravelly voice.
The last time Chris had seen this man he had lacked an eye, but now he has two, both the same yellow as those of the young reddish-gold coyote bitch sitting on her haunches beside him. Catching Chris’ glance her way, the coyote thumps her tail in greeting.
Clearing his throat, Chris says, “Come right this way, sir. You’re the Changer, right?”
The Changer doesn’t seem inclined to say more, but when Chris had started this job a month and a half before he had been given a short list of people who were to be assisted without question. The Changer had topped this list. So now Chris leads the Changer into an empty seminar room and indicates the telephone.
“Is that all, sir?”
“Get me Frank MacDonald’s number.”
Chris pulls an electronic organizer from his pocket and scribbles a number on the pad by the phone.
“And tell Arthur I’m here.”
“And don’t call me ‘sir.'”
Chris exits without another word, noting as he does so that the young coyote has happily settled down to chewing on a corner of an expensive, handwoven rug.
The athanor who is once again using the name Arthur Pendragon looks up wearily from his computer screen and glowers at the human standing in the doorway. Chris Kristofer is an Anglo of average height and average build. His brown hair is neither too long, nor too short. His hazel green eyes behind large wire-rimmed glasses are intelligent. There is nothing distasteful about his appearance, except that he is not the person whom Arthur wishes was there.
“Yes? Does this person have an appointment?”
Chris knows perfectly well that the king resents him. However, he also knows that keeping this job is a matter of life or death for him. Literally. He schools his voice to patience and answers:
“It’s the Changer, Arthur.”
“Oh!” Arthur’s blue eyes widen. He stands, smoothing his neat, reddish gold beard in a thoughtful gesture. In that attitude, he no longer looks like a slightly overweight desk-jockey. He looks like the king he has been in many lifetimes. “Ask the Changer if he will come to me here.”
Chris hesitates. “Shahrazad is with him, sir.”
Arthur remembers the young coyote with a fondness that is tinged by memory of the destruction she can create.
“I see. The day is too chilly for us to sit in the courtyard. Ask the Changer to come to the kitchen. He’ll be hungry after his journey. Shapeshifters always are.”
Another thought strikes Arthur.
“Is the Changer wearing anything?”
Arthur sighs. Doubtless the shorts are stolen. The Changer not only has no respect for personal property, he doesn’t really acknowledge its existence.
“Chris, there are clothes that should fit the Changer in one of the ground floor guest rooms. Ask him if he wants them.”
When Chris has left, Arthur recalls that the last time the Changer arrived unannounced on his doorstep, all sorts of trouble had ensued — trouble that had nearly meant the end of Arthur’s reign. The trouble hadn’t been the Changer’s fault, but Arthur has never completely discarded the primitive superstitions that he had imbibed along with his mother’s milk in ancient Sumer.
“It can’t possibly be that bad again,” he says to the empty air. But leaving his office he raps his knuckles against his desk. The gesture is comparatively modern — having originated in ancient Rome.
“Touch wood,” he mutters.
Fresh from the United States, from not only civilization but also from the privileged life of a wealthy man, Eddie Zagano is having the most fun he has had in years. He’d forgotten how much fun it could be to be irresponsible, to not be at anyone’s beck and call, to not have it matter when he arrived somewhere or when he left.
True, he’d fidgeted a bit at first, but his travelling companion, Anson A. Kridd, had laughed at him so hard that Eddie had fallen into a sulk. He’d let Anson deal with everything. Then, when after a day or so no catastrophe occurred, he realized that Anson could deal with everything. After that, he had relaxed and enjoyed the ride.
“Your soul is taking color from your face, eh?” Anson says some days after they arrive in Lagos. “Not so much hurry-hurry, lots more taking the day as it comes.”
Eddie nods. “Ifa alone knows the destiny the unborn soul has chosen, not me. Prayer might change my life, but worrying won’t.”
His speech is in flawless Yoruban, spoken with the accent of a native of Lagos, but Eddie is no more Yoruban at heart than he is naturally dark brown of skin, hair, and eye. Both his mastery of the language and his new appearance come courtesy of Arthur’s staff wizard, Ian Lovern. These sorcerous alterations enable Eddie to pass as a citizen of Nigeria, born to the Yoruba people, and a resident of Lagos. The false papers he cobbled together from his complicated data bank back in New Mexico complete the trick.
To conceal his ignorance of Lagos, Eddie’s cover story is that he has been studying for the last ten years in the United States and has only just come home. Since Lagos is as large as New York City and not an intimate family compound, he can memorize enough details to maintain his deception.
Anson A. Kridd (also known as Anansi the Spider, and by many other names, not all of them complimentary) needs no such elaborate cover. In this life he is registered as Anson A. Kridd and possesses dual citizenship in Nigeria and the United States. For this trip, he has cropped off the long dreadlocks he had worn until recently and colored his English with a heavy local accent, but otherwise he remains as before: long, thin, and wiry with only a small pot belly despite his voracious appetite.
For Eddie, who only recognizes the perpetual five o’clock shadow in the face that looks out from his reflection, Anson’s constancy is the buoy he holds onto as he launches into the uncharted chaos of Lagos.
“So, what’s next, boss?” he asks as they come out of a shop where Anson has been interrogating the barber.
“I want to find my friends who are missing,” Anson says, “and I begin to think I know where to find them. All the gossip says that they received a message from their home city, Monamona, and went there.”
“Without leaving a forwarding address?” Eddie asks, the organized American in him surfacing. “And knowing that you were coming?”
“They must have had a reason,” Anson answers, but he frowns as he says this. “Fortunately, I, too, have business in Monamona.”
“You do?” Eddie says, almost indignant. “This is the first I have heard of it!”
Anson grins. “So, maybe I forget to mention it, eh? No matter what good Arthur think, I have a job and earn my living by it. That job is what will take us to Monamona.”
“Oil,” Eddie says. “Right?”
“Oil,” Anson answers. “Come, I ask some more questions. Then we see how best we get to Monamona. Maybe we kill two birds with one stone and eat from a full pot.”
“Do you ever think about anything except eating?” Eddie laughs, watching as his friend tosses a few koba to a market woman in exchange for a bag of thick chinchin.
“Oh, yes,” Anson answers, passing Eddie a couple of the sweet fried dough balls. “Sometimes I think how I can fix it so that others can eat, too.”
Arthur cocks an eyebrow. “I thought the entire reason you hauled her back into the mountains was that you didn’t want her socialized.”
The Changer almost smiles. “Yes. I’ve discovered that I was wrong. She has a much more companionable nature than mine, but I can’t have her running around with other coyotes. Until she gets bigger, they’d hurt her while jockeying for position.”
“I thought you considered such punishment part of the natural course of things,” Arthur jibes.
This time the Changer does smile. “I do. For coyotes. Shahrazad is athanor. She needs to learn that there is more to getting along with others than being able to beat them up.”
Arthur relents. “I wish that more of our number had learned that lesson early in life.”
Shahrazad whines and places her paws on the counter at which Arthur and the Changer are seated. Her father hits her soundly on the nose and, when she has dropped back to the floor, rewards her with a chunk of lamb.
“I see that you’re not above a bit of parental brutalizing,” Arthur observes.
“I am her father.”
“Do you have plans on how you’re going to get to the OTQ Ranch with a coyote passenger?”
“I am open to suggestions.”
“Very good. I’ll put one of my pet humans on it. Bill, I think. Chris is already too busy.”
“How are they working out?”
“The humans?” Arthur sighs. “Well enough. I just wish I didn’t need to rely on them so exclusively. It’s a bloody nuisance that both members of my staff have taken off just now.”
“I thought this would be a good time for you to be without a large staff,” the Changer observes. “There won’t be another Review for almost five years. The humans seemed intelligent enough when I met them.”
“They are.” Arthur’s tone is grudging. “But I am accustomed to having Eddie on call. Where he is in Nigeria with Anson, he’s lucky if he can get out a letter, much less a phone call or E-mail.”
“And Vera is still with my brother and Amphitrite?”
“That’s right. Plans for Atlantis are proceeding apace, but I can’t hope to have her back full-time for months, maybe even for years.”
“But you can still make arrangements for me to travel to Frank’s place?”
“That I can,” Arthur promises. “That is simple compared to some of the other requests I’ve had recently. The day I can’t play travel agent is the day I turn in my crown.”
“Spider,” he begins, only to be stopped when Anson lays a finger to his lip.
“Hsst, not here, my friend,” Anson cautions. “That’s a powerful name in this country.”
“Anson,” Eddie begins again, drawing on some of his legendary patience, “we aren’t riding in one of those, are we?”
“I was thinking that we do ride in one,” Anson replies, a twinkle in his dark brown eyes.
“But they’re not safe!” Eddie gestures toward a typical bush taxi, a Peugeot 504 designed to carry eight and already loaded with twelve men and women, assorted infants and small children, bundles and duffle bags, produce, and a nanny goat. A cage of chickens is being lashed to the roof, along with more bundles.
“That one runs,” Anson grins, shrugging.
“That one must have been bought during the oil boom of the mid-sixties,” Eddie declares, “and I doubt that it’s had its oil changed every three thousand miles much less a tune-up. Look at the tires! They’re more patch than tread!”
“Quietly, quietly, my friend,” Anson cautions, drawing Eddie back to where the maligned vehicle’s owner will not hear him.
“Your English is good, but still the driver may understand you.”
“Let him!” Eddie declares, but he lowers his voice. “Anson, I’ve let you handle most of our expenses since we’ve gotten here and I know you’ve been spending the naira pretty freely. If you can’t afford to hire a private car, I’m willing. Hell, I’ll buy us a car.”
“You are kind,” Anson says, “but I think not. I wish to go to Monamona without drawing too much attention to ourselves. A personal car — or even a private hired vehicle — will make much gossip. People will remember us as visitors with money.”
“So?” Eddie replies, still somewhat frantic at the idea of trusting himself to one of the bush taxis. “That should make finding your friends easier: ‘Here’s a rich man. He pay much naira, much dash.'”
“Has it made finding them easier so far?” Anson counters. “It has not. Indeed, I think that some few who might have answered my questions have not precisely because we appear wealthy.”
Eddie grumbles, “And no one in Monamona knows that you’re wealthy?”
“I do most of my business in Lagos,” Anson says, “not Monamona. Or I could have lost my money. Fortunes come and go quickly in Nigeria. There is no FDA to insure banks, no Better Business Association to issue warnings, very little reliable insurance. Money come, money go. That’s one reason why family ties are so strong. You help them when times are good; they help you when times are bad.”
“Enough lecture!” Eddie pleads. “I surrender. If you want me to ride in a bush taxi, I’ll ride in a bush taxi. When do we leave?”
Anson pats his friend on the arm. “I see if we can get a driver to promise to wait for us in the morning. More business comes from Monamona to Lagos than from Lagos to Monamona. So the bus might not be so crowded and the driver might take a reservation.”
“Hey, you’ve known worse in your life,” Anson says, the phrase almost a proverb among the athanor.
“And I promise you protection of the finest type,” Anson says, mock solemn.
Anson points to a figurine secured to the dashboard of the nearest bush taxi, waving his fingers to indicate the other vehicles, many of which bear some version of the same figure.
“What’s that?” Eddie says, giving the figure — a powerfully built, dark-skinned African man — a closer look. “The African version of a plastic Jesus?”
“Oh, no, my friend,” Anson assures him. “Much better than that.”
“It is a plastic Ogun — the Yoruban god of war and iron. In these modern days he has become the patron of lorry drivers as well. Don’t you feel more safe?”
“Ogun!” Eddie swears. “Dakar Agadez. He still has worshippers here?”
“Oh, yes. The traditional religion is not quite gone. Many who call themselves Christian or Moslem become traditionalists in the bush — or when they need extra protection against witches and other dangers.”
“Yes. We travel under his protection.”
“For whatever good that is,” Eddie says, thinking of the athanor he had last seen drunk and brawling with his long-time rival.
“For whatever good,” Anson agrees. He lowers his voice to a whisper and places his lips near Eddie’s ear. “And I share a secret with you.”
“I told you I had business?”
“Dakar is one of those with whom we do business.” Anson straightens, pleased with himself. “So certainly we will arrive in Monamona safely.”
>> Wanderer: Arthur has a job for you. Transport of two, one vaguely illegal and somewhat messy. Contact Pendragon Productions, my address or phone. Bill.
Running his hands over his head, he tugs the end of his short ponytail to punctuate his re-read, then sends the message.
“That should do it,” he says to Chris. “The Wanderer makes his living moving questionable cargo. He sure did a good job transporting Lovern and his gear to the new academy.”
Chris swivels around his desk chair, reads the message and nods. “And getting Swansdown there when she flew in from Alaska. You know, I hadn’t realized that transporting a coyote would be such a nuisance. It’s a shame she can’t shapeshift like her father.”
“Or that her father won’t drive himself,” Bill adds.
“Would you really want him to?” Chris challenges.
Bill considers the feral ancient who, once more in the shape of a grey male coyote, is sleeping in the hacienda’s central courtyard.
“No. Not really. He’s spooky.”
“And he’d probably speed.”
“I wonder if he can even drive,” Chris says.
“He has a driver’s license.”
“Big deal. Arthur has a birth certificate stating that he was born in England about forty years ago. And Eddie — who was an Anglo when we met him — is now darker than you are and apparently African by birth.”
Bill shivers slightly, “These athanor take a lot of getting used to…”
The ringing phone interrupts him. He reaches over and answers it.
“Pendragon Productions, Bill Irish speaking.”
“Bill?” The voice on the other end is unfamiliar. “This isthe Wanderer.”
Bill sits up straight, his feet, which he had been about to park on the desk, hitting the floor with a thump.
“We must have a bad connection,” he hazards. “I didn’t recognize your voice.”
A clicking sound, rather like a fingernail tapping something hard and plastic, follows, then the Wanderer speaks again.
“Is that better?”
Bill frowns. “Yes. I wonder what caused that?”
“Don’t worry about it. What’s the job?”
“The Changer and his daughter want to go out to Frank MacDonald’s ranch.”
“Soon as you can leave.”
“Anyone after them?”
“Not that I’ve heard. Of course, the Changer isn’t exactly the type to volunteer information.”
“No. Never has been. I’ll charge double what I did for moving Lovern’s gear. Half in favors, half in cash.”
“That’s quite a bit.”
“I doubt that Shahrazad’s exactly house-trained and I live in my van. I want to be paid up front for the clean up I’m going to have to do.”
Bill, thinking of what he has seen since the pair’s arrival, says, “I think Shahrazad’s better behaved than she was at the Review, but when you put it that way I don’t think Arthur will quibble about the price.”
“I’m up at the hot springs in Ojo Caliente,” the Wanderer says. “If this isn’t a rush job, I’ll be there tomorrow morning. If there is, I can be there in about two and a half hours.”
“I don’t think waiting until tomorrow will be a problem.”
“Great. See you in the morning.”
Bill hangs up the phone. “The Wanderer says he’ll be here in the morning.”
“I’ll tell Arthur,” Chris says. “I have some papers I need him to sign.” He pauses in the doorway. “What was that fuss about at the beginning of the call?”
Frowning, Bill looks up at his friend. “The connection seemed perfectly clear, but at the beginning of the call I… you’ll think I’m crazy.. but I could have sworn that I was talking to a woman.”
Excerpt from LEGENDS WALKING by Jane Lindskold.
Published by Avon Eos in 1999. Copyright © 1999 by Jane Lindskold. All rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the Publisher. Exceptions are made for downloading this file to a computer for personal use.
Copyright © 1999 by Jane Lindskold. All rights reserved. This page updated August 2, 2001.