Tuesday, 12 October 2010

"Why Did You Come Too Late?"



Another chapter of Killer-Kate finished. Now the story returns to the Dales with a vengeance, and every character and their pet aardvark is finding tactical flaws in my plans and charging through them. And the Rising's barely even started yet!

The heart of this chapter is in Clover Clough, an attractive but not very fertile little limestone dale whose trefoil streams divide the great hills of Bulkefell and Hareborough. If you have the unspeakable misfortune to be reborn as a Northdales peasant, the Clough for all its hardscrabble inhospitality is probably the place to pick for it. Its lords are marginal aristocrats and fair-minded unpretentious paternalists, who have noted that if you want to cut your coat according to your cloth, it helps to be on frank and free terms with tailors. Their latest generation has set the record, with the younger son marrying a fairly remarkable woman who was essentially an upper servant (not his own). That is all part of the great elided story between the two halves of my diptych, and hardly comes explicitly into this tale at all. But it did point me rather clearly to the road my first Fairfields embassy would take into Allingdale. More is coming of that than I expected:

"He wielded sudden summer and he surfed the ocean skies:
He dived and broke his head upon a pair of icy eyes.
He swept a bow and from his sleeve he whisked the compass rose -
She cut it off with silence and her little penknife nose..."


Not very good, perhaps (as Bilbo might say), but to the point. Here I really meet for the first time somebody who began as a plot person with one crucial and heroically cynical line. She is still only a minor character, but were this story told from another angle, she might be as good a protagonist as Katy Elflocks herself. I don't know how many people could bear to read that tale - and I know I couldn't bear to write it - yet, even so. One of my secondary characters may owe his entire survival through the Great Speckled Redraft to the way that he's now met her.

As to this story... her advent really brings home what I was groping at in that earlier post. The Deed of Katy Elflocks is ultimately an ironical fairy-tale: Katy does great things, eventually because somebody needs to do them and she is the only one with the heart or sense to clean up after the hopeless Great Folk - but it's the failures who get something very much like what they thought they wanted, after learning the 'lessons' they were best disposed to draw from the affair. I think, and Katy certainly thought, that what she found was infinitely better. But...

...Killer-Kate is all about the ashes of the happy-ever-afters people thought they wanted, and what wonders might yet rise from them. It's also about the downtrodden masses who not only didn't get to be the Magical Princess, they didn't get to be fairy godmothers or even common guests at the ball either. All they got was dreams of hot iron shoes. Some of them looked for better than that.

Some of those are still limping from the hot iron shoes their betters rammed on them for their presumption. The sharper of them have not forgotten how it was also their own peers who held them down for it. Nor have they missed the 'Good Witch's' abject failure to aid those small folk whom her burgeoning legend lured to ruin or madness.

Part of what I'm coming to grips with here is how that, too, is part of the legacy of What Katy Did - every bit as much as the kindly counter-Utopia of Fairfields. Justice in some sort is coming, because this is still a fairy-story at heart, and because at the last bones-roll I can't write a story in which it is not. But if Katy's followers will judge, then judgement by their own lights they must abide.

Nor can even I prejudge that, or else dull lies must come of it.

The rumour runs wild through the Dales that at last, Good Katy Comes.

And now somebody at least as smart as I am - and a much braver mensch into the bargain - limps forward to make the case that it couldn't possibly matter.

Diplomacy next, and elsewhere the positive uses of what nobody sane wants to be saddled with: a war limited only on their own side. But inasfar as you get to choose the limits, sometimes there can be possibilities...

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