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Mysterious Admirers and Singing Spies

In the Kingdom of Dalemark, three kings have died without an heir. The kingdom has been in chaos for generations as earl after earl vies for the throne. Bloody battles have only produced a stalemate, and now the free North and the repressive South tensely await their next war.

Enter the family of Clennen the Singer. As licensed entertainers, they travel undisturbed from the North to the South, passing news and singing songs of old battles. Clennen's children-- fiery Brida, bookish Dagner, and day-dreaming Moril, travel with their parents in a pink and gold cart. They may argue, as families will, but they all agree how much they detest the snobby boy Kialan who has paid to accompany them.

"Do come out of that dream, Moril," Lenina said. "Glad rags, Moril," said Brid. "We're nearly in Derent."

Moril sighed reproachfully. He had not been in a dream, and he felt it was unfair of his mother to call it that. He had merely been gazing at the white road as it wandered northward, thinking how glad he was to be going that way again, and how glad he would be to get out of the South. It was spring, and it was already far too hot.

But that was not the worst of the South. The worst, to Moril's mind, was the need to be careful. You dared not put a foot, or a word, out of place for fear of being clapped in jail. People were watching all the time to report what you said. It gave Moril the creeps. And it irked him that there were songs his father dared not sing in the South for fear of sounding seditious. They were the best songs, too, to Moril's mind. They all came from the North."

From Cart and Cwidder by Diana Wynne Jones


A different sort of journey is to be found in Robin McKinley's The Stone Fey. This is a short book, a moody piece blended of rich prose and misty watercolor illustrations, to be read in a sitting and pondered long after. Maddy, a young shepherdess, roams the Hills of Damar accompanied only by her sheep and her good dog, Aerlich for her childhood sweetheart has gone away to make money so they can wed.

In one silver twilight, Maddy seeks a lost lamb far away in the hills. The shadows played longer and longer, and she still did not find her sheep. At last she saw a figure come to her in the near darkness, carrying the lamb ever so gently. His skin was the grey of stone, and his eyes utterly dark.

"He smelled of green things, of the sorts of green things that grow in still, shady places, of mosses and ferns, with a background sharpness like a stream-washed rock, or herbs trod underfoot."

She saw the fey again a week later. He asked her name. She gave it. Two days later she found a shining mosaic of grey stones at the threshold of her sheep barn, forming the letter "M". She told her family nothing of her strange experience, but day after day she went into the hills with her sheep and her faithful Aerlich, and he was always there, waiting for her.