For the Middle Kingdoms fans: "Lior and the Sea"

by Diane Duane

I think I can safely say that I own, in paperback at least, just about every book that André Norton ever wrote. I started reading her around the same time I found Andrew Nourse, E. Nesbit, and the  Mushroom Planet books (forgive me, the author’s name has slipped my mind for the moment) and tore through the Witch World books and the “[X] Magic” novels — as many of them as there were at that point — with a sense of having found someone who wrote the kind of thing that I really, really liked.  It was something to do with the economy of her style, and the way that (even in the juveniles) she didn’t talk down to you.

I read Norton steadily all through my teens and twenties and thirties, and on and on… and still do. Year of the Unicorn probably remains my favorite, though obviously it’s hard to pick a fave when there’s so much to choose from.  The “Solar Queen” books and the “Beast Master” series are also ones I keep coming back to, and Star Man’s Son and Sorceress of the Witch World are  probably the joint source of my longstanding fascination with worldgates.

Then life changed a little and I started writing professionally. One thing that happened earlyish in that process was that fellow NY SF fan (turned-editor) Susan Schwartz got in touch with me and asked me if I wanted to contribute a story to a tribute anthology for André Norton that she was then organizing.

To put it mildly, I was delighted. I had just finished The Door into Shadow, and the Middle Kingdoms were much on my mind. What I had not known until shortly after the request to do the short story had come through was that, not only had Norton read my stuff, but she liked it (and later was happy to blurb it when asked). I was totally floored, and I immediately knew where the story I was going to write for the anthology would be staged.

As the writing unfolded it turned out not to be such a short story, but at the very least a novelette and possibly even a novella (depending on whose definition you’re accepting).  At a mere eleven thousand words it’s in the running along with the two Sirronde stories, “The Span” and “Parting Gifts”, for the title of the shortest work set in the  Middle Kingdoms.

Placing the story in the MK timeline is a little problematic, as the references are ambiguous. Though a Convocation at the Eorlhowe is mentioned in passing, the apparently undramatic course of events either means it happens well before the events of The Door into Sunset, or well after.  The mention of kings’ fleets sailing to and fro in the northern seas doesn’t do us much good either. While rereading the story in the process of proofreading for the ebook edition, I’ve been left with the vague sense that the events in “Lior” transpire before Herewiss’s and Freelorn’s time. But I might be wrong. (I do have a complete MK timeline tucked away here somewhere, and I’ll probably have to consult it to be sure.)

As for the meat of the story itself, the page at the bookstore sums it up well enough:

Lior is the Rodmistress of a small north-coast fishing village in Darthen. Her work brings her up against the Sea on a daily basis. But one day a desperate challenge that Lior issues to the Sea itself in the face of a deadly ocean storm produces a change in the relationship that not even a Rodmistress can easily cope with.

Soon Lior must choose between the safety and security of the life she’s always known and the terrifying power and possibility offered her by what was once just a force of nature, but has now become something much more personal…

…Since the story appeared first appeared in Moonsinger’s Friends, it has never appeared anywhere else. While I’m contemplating a collection of MK-only stories somewhere down the line, that probably won’t happen for a while: so this won’t be in conventional print for the foreseeable future. However, offering it as a standalone ebook, in ePub and Kindle formats, is easy.

So here it is. Enjoy!

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