Once in a while Pat and I receive a note from a reader who enjoyed our award-winning novel Juggler in the Wind and asks when to expect the rest of Randy Carmichael’s story. Please rest assured that we are still working on the Wand Bearer chronicle. Like many stories that Pat and I tell together, this one has grown way beyond our expectations. It has become much more ambitious, time-consuming, and I might say life-consuming than we had anticipated. It’s taking time to complete. We’re grateful for your interest, and we hope you can be patient.
Among other things, Randy Carmichael’s tale is becoming a love story of mythic dimensions. Here’s a short sample of what’s to come:
“Look,” she said.
I followed her gaze. She was staring between the maple trees at the mountains. They were so magnificent, I wondered why I hadn’t stopped to look at them already. Of course, during the drive, I’d been too scared to look at much of anything. And since we’d arrived in Turtle, I hadn’t really had the chance.
The mountains rose up sharply beyond a stretch of forest at the edge of the town. On the slopes you could see where the timberline abruptly ended, and above that level lay indescribably huge blue-gray slabs of bare rock, all rising toward snowy peaks with clouds forming wispily around them. Those peaks looked so razor sharp, you could imagine cutting your hands if you tried to touch them.
“Beautiful, huh?” I said, with exactly the lameness I’d hoped to avoid.
“They’re so white on top.”
“It’s cold up there. The snow never melts that high.”
I felt dumb saying that. Of course she knows that already, I thought.
She turned and looked at me. Her small, jewel-like eyes switched from blue to green, the way I’d seen them change before. You could swear that they talked when they did that. Right then, they spoke of surprise.
“You’ve seen snow, right?” I said, laughing.
A hint of darkness burst out of those brilliant eyes. Had I hurt her feelings? She looked back toward the mountains, her mouth slightly open with awe. Those full, wide, glinting lips seemed out of place on her lean, long, pale face—but then, so did all her features: the narrow, inward slope of a nose that appeared to sit just a little off-center, a round little dome on its tip; those sharp cheeks that reminded me of points on a compass; the chin that jutted maybe a fraction of an inch farther than I might have expected; the alarmingly high brow with curling auburn hair parted high above and behind it.
Not a single feature wasn’t beautiful. It’s just that you’d think they were from different faces—the faces of a dozen or so equally lovely girls. And the blend of features—no, not a blend, more of a collision—was like a collage, made up of pieces cut out and put together by some super-amazing artist to create a face too wonderful to be quite human.
The rest of her body was like that. She was willowy but not tall—almost exactly my own height. Standing there in her brightly-embroidered white muslin dress, she reminded me of a twig you might cut from a tree—straight here, turned there. Her legs bowed together a little at the knees, and her slim arms with almost outsized hands hung down and meandered about, as if trying to find out where they belonged exactly. Her back swayed inward lower down, then straightened sharply into her long neck, where her head tilted to and fro, from side to side, striking every possible angle with endless curiosity.
I guess it was right then that I realized just how drawn to her I was. And somebody who wasn’t—well, me might have seen her quite differently, as a typically gangly teenage girl. “She’ll grow out of it,” an adult might say. People have said that about me.
But she’d never grow out of it, I was sure. She wasn’t really born into that body—it had been given to her somehow. She would spend all her days trying to find her way into it. And that struggle made her all the more beautiful. It transformed what ought to have been awkwardness into a gracefulness you couldn’t quite make sense of. Even with her odd edges, she seemed all gentle curves—long, sweeping, elegant.
“The snow—it’s so white,” she murmured, still staring at the mountaintops. “It’s like—like silver, only purer, brighter. It’s … it’s …”
Her high, hushed voice trailed off as she kept on gazing. I wondered—how could she be so astonished by snow? Well, I knew that Circus Olympus had wandered across the country from Florida, where the troupe likely spent its winters, and where there was never any snow. And during summer tours across the country, the troupe probably didn’t see snow. Still, hadn’t Jill seen snow on, say, television? No, nobody in the circus had a TV as far as I knew. But what about photographs, postcards?
“You’ve never seen snow?” I asked.
She didn’t reply for a moment, as if I weren’t there. Finally, without averting her eyes from the mountain, she said …
“It’s been so many years. So many lives.”
I remembered something she’d said back on the road, when that hot wind had been so deadly …
“We’re all old.”
And again I wondered …
How can she be old?
I felt a tingle in my face, especially my cheeks. It’s a familiar tingle that I get whenever I’m upset, worried, frightened, angry—any of a whole variety of emotions. What do I look like when I get that tingle? Does my face tighten or go slack? Do I turn red or pale? I’m sure I don’t look my best when that happens—certainly not smart or cute or handsome or any other way I wanted to look around Jill. I was just as happy that she was looking at the mountains and not at me.
But then she turned directly toward me. She smiled a stunning, broad smile, her gleaming teeth arranged as oddly and yet as marvelously as everything else about her. If she wanted to see snow-like whiteness, all she had to do was smile at herself in a mirror. But somehow it was hard to imagine Jill ever looking in a mirror. Beauty came so easily to her, surely she never gave it a moment’s thought.
“Let’s go,” she said.
“Where?” I asked.
“There,” she said, pointing to the mountain peaks.
“To the mountains?”
“Sure. Way up to the top. Where the snow is.”
How could I begin to explain? Didn’t she understand already? Didn’t she realize that those mountains were miles away? And as for climbing them, didn’t she have any idea about rope and gear and equipment, not to mention the athletic skill involved—and the daring? Just looking at those peaks, imagining myself up there scaling sheer cliffs at outrageous heights, made my legs wobble queasily. And, oh, how cold it must have been, with air almost too thin to breathe. I’d always figured that mountain climbing was for crazy people. And I doubted that anybody had been crazy enough to scale those peaks.
“We just can’t,” I said stupidly.
She laughed brightly, her eyes switching from green to blue again. “Stay here if you like,” she said. “I’m going.”
That alarmed me. Not that I thought Jill was really going to get near any serious slopes on her own. But what if she headed off into the woods at the edge of the town, trying to make her way toward the mountains? What if she got lost? What if she ran into dangerous animals? I didn’t figure I could talk sense to her about this whole thing. So if she took off in a run, what was I supposed to do—run after her and tackle her?
Her smile faded, and she turned away from me to look at the mountains again. Her eyes switched from their pale blue to a golden color, and her pupils pulsated in a slow but steady rhythm. She seemed hypnotized. I didn’t understand what was going on in her head, but I was relieved that she was staying put, as rooted where she stood as the nearby maple trees.
She was somewhere else now—and wherever it was, I wasn’t anywhere nearby. So I turned away from her and walked back toward the inn.