Elsewhens (Excerpt)

The sequel to Melanie Rawn’s Touchstone, Elsewhens, comes out in February 2013, but we’ve got an early super special sneak peek with this awesome excerpt!:

Touchstone, the magical theater troupe, continues to build audiences. But Cayden is increasingly troubled by his “elsewhens,” the uncontrolled moments when he is plunged into visions of the possible futures. He fears that his Fae gift will forever taint his friendships; his friends fear that his increasing distance will destroy him.

But worldly success follows them—an apparent loss in the Trials leads to Touchstone being selected to travel to the Continent with a Royal Embassy to collect Prince Ashgar’s new bride. They are the first theater artists to appear outside Albeyn for at least seventy years—for magic is suspect and forbidden elsewhere, and the Kingdom’s easy race mixing and magic use horrifies the people they are to travel among.



There was no control, no escape. No mercy. Cayden knew that. The Elsewhens were part of him. Sometimes they provided only a brief glimpse into a future (of his making, of his choosing), sometimes—as now, with thorn firing his veins—a whole, long, intricate story to be viewed as if it all happened onstage. He was only the audience to this version of himself, a Cayden Silversun who was the sum of all his decisions, all the choices that mayhap had not even seemed to be choices at the time. Watching himself, not knowing how he’d got there or why he’d become that, but knowing that this future was possible. It was all possible.

{ Ten years on the Royal Circuit. Ten years of performing classic plays with inventive twists. Ten years of kicking the droops out of stale old comedies, of transforming (some said perverting) standard dramas with fresh insights, of shocking audiences with original works. Ten years of shattered glass.

Touchstone was unprecedented. Touchstone had owned every stage in the Kingdom for ten years.

Cade had given up fighting a long, long time ago.

When Mieka married the girl, Cade stood back and smiled and wished him well—and kept his mouth shut about the Elsewhens.

When Mieka told him he was a fool if he didn’t marry that elegant, brilliant noblewoman who loved him, he had to agree, and Mieka stood back and smiled and wished him well, and was the life of the considerable party afterwards.

He found and threw out more thorn than Mieka ever knew—it was so easy to fool him, he was always at least half drunk, and when Cade told him he must’ve left his thorn-roll at the last inn, or forgotten it in the tiring room or on the coach, he was always convinced.

But it was only postponing the inevitable. He knew it, and raged, and wanted to resign from the Circuit and take Mieka someplace warm, quiet, safe—get him sober and healthy, find again the laughing, beautiful boy he used to be.

But he didn’t. That boy was gone.

Now, seated in a hard wooden chair in a memorial garden, staring at his own hands, he realized it was the violence that had undone them. Not in the way he’d anticipated, but it had been violence all the same. By now, of course, it was much too late.

What he couldn’t identify was the turning point. Perhaps it had been the first time Mieka showed up so drunk that he could hardly hold the withies. He’d been drunk during shows before, of course. But that one night, that first time he’d been unable to go onstage until they’d doused him with cold water—that had been different. Jeska screamed at him. Rafe was remote and contemptuous. Cade slapped him. Several times.

Or perhaps it had been the glass basket Cade crashed over Mieka’s head. It had been an accident. Mostly, anyway. Mieka had refused to speak to Cade for a week.

Or did it go back as far as that very first Winterly Circuit, the time Jeska threw Mieka’s thorn-roll into the fire and, when the Elf dared come at him with both fists, knocked him out cold?

Touchstone had long since stopped meeting for tea or dinner or a few beers in the Threadchaser parlor, the Silversun kitchen, Blye’s glassworks, the river garden of Wistly Hall. Jeska showed up for rehearsals and performances, and that was all; after a while, Rafe adopted the same habits. Once they made the Royal Circuit, they demanded separate rooms at every inn. They worked together, and that was the only time they were together. They had nothing to say to one another that didn’t involve the theater. Everybody kept saying these were obviously four young men who didn’t like each other much. But their work was superlative, so nobody—especially not the four of them—delved very far into the inner workings of the group.

At times Cade had hated Mieka for not experiencing the same anguish he did. He knew about Cade’s Elsewhen dreams—hells, he was the one who’d put a name to them. Mieka knew that all manner of futures depended on each decision he made or didn’t make, and yet he did exactly as he pleased with no thought to anything but immediate pleasure. It was as if Mieka considered himself completely free from any rules or consequences at all—not because he was superior, or because his talent absolved him, or because he was the Master Glisker of a wildly successful theater group and could do as he bloody well liked, but simply because he didn’t care what anyone thought. He did what he did, he sought the sensations that pleased him, he was greedy about thorn and drink and food and women, and he didn’t give a shit about the futures.

Cade hated him for that. He hated himself even more for not being like him, for anguishing himself halfway to madness. For not being able to accept what was real and true without wanting to take it apart if only to find out how it worked. How to control it. The anger was a living thing inside him, frightening in its power. He couldn’t control it. It wasn’t the physical violence, though that was a part of it; it was the ferocity of his emotions that scared him. He hated having to feel so much rage, so much fear. He punished Mieka for it, and for much else besides. The night he gave Mieka a black eye that lasted a week was the night he knew he was completely out of control. But he couldn’t seem to stop any of it.

It was the violence that defeated them, in the end. He saw that, seated on a hard wooden chair in a memorial garden, staring at his own hands. There had been so few moments when there was peace, when Mieka was gentle and calm, whimsical and warm, when Cade could be as happy as it was possible for someone like him to be.

Touchstone married, fathered children, bought elegant houses and fine carriages, created lives apart from one another. They worked on Cade’s inspirations and performed for thousands. They were befriended by royalty and celebrated by the populace, and it began to be said that Touchstone was the greatest theater group in the Kingdom’s history. They toured the Continent three and then four times, and made more money than any of them had ever dreamed existed. But somewhere, amid the fear and the ferocity, so much went missing. Not dead. Never dead. Just . . . misplaced. Like an Elsewhen for which Cade had forgotten the unlocking words.

At the very first Royal Theater Festival one summer at Castle Biding, someone gave Mieka what he thought was greenthorn that turned out to be laced with dragon tears. Sometimes fatal to Elves, Mieka had told Cade once, boasting that he had enough other kinds of blood in him to be able to take anything. Not this time. He staggered out from behind his glisker’s bench before the first magic had spread across the huge crowd, stumbled off the riser, and collapsed into Jeska’s startled arms. Rafe carried him off, barely breathing. There came then the ultimate humiliation: having to ask Pirro Spangler of Black Lightning to fill in. They were Touchstone, for fuck’s sake—and they had to ask their only rivals for a favor. Pirro did the work competently, but competent wasn’t what people had come to see. They wanted the best theater group in the Kingdom of Albeyn and they wanted the best glisker and that glisker had been taken off the stage barely breathing. He survived it. Mieka always survived.

Cade stared down at his hands and tried not to think about the first time he saw the imagings of Mieka in black leather that cinched his slowly thickening body . . . imagings of him in auburn wig and purple velvet gown, Guards uniform, Good Brother’s robes, the wild tatters of a Woodwose . . . imagings meant to shock, to provoke. What they meant to Cade was that whatever still tethered Mieka to reality was fraying fast. He didn’t know who the person in those imagings was. He didn’t want to know.

He was so tired of fighting. It was so useless. He drank. He no longer used thorn of any kind, not even blockweed for dreamless sleep. He drank. It muddled his thinking and played bloody hell with his writing, but he needed it. Especially while writing Broken Doors. It was a work of immense importance, four separate plays done on two consecutive nights, and the performances on their third Royal Circuit would prove it—but the piece was too complex for most audiences to understand (that was what Cade told himself, anyway) and they ended up returning to their standard folio.

And then there was Alaen—brilliant, tortured, gutted Alaen—and the horror of helping him overcome his thrall for dragon tears. On the nights Cade woke to the sound of Alaen’s screams, more than once he thought it was Mieka’s begging voice he heard, Mieka he would find huddled frail and frightened in a corner, Mieka he would soon be bracing against shivering sickness—

No. They were nothing alike. Alaen’s need for dragon tears was nothing like Mieka’s need for alcohol and thorn. Cade drank, too—sometimes as lavishly as Mieka did—and he knew it was different. It had to be different. Didn’t it?

They rehearsed and set out on the Royal Circuit for the sixth time. Mieka actually cut back his consumption of alcohol. He got through the Circuit, and vanished for the winter into Wistly Hall, restored by his earnings into the grand residence it had been long ago.

Not so grand as this place, this ancient stone pile called Clinquant House, built by some long-ago Windthistle Elfenlord, with its massive towers and three little half-sized houses at the bottom of the garden “where the Faeries sometimes stay” (though Cade didn’t believe that) and the memorial garden beside a pond, where they all sat in hard wooden chairs and watched the flames burn and wondered where the years had gone.

Cade knew where they’d gone: into brandy bottles. So many years now. After he bought the town house, he set up his library in the attic and told his wife and children to leave him the fuck alone while he was working. He worked constantly. He called a meeting of Touchstone at his house shortly after Wintering to prepare for their seventh Royal, and gave them the scripts for a new play cycle. Mieka read through Window quickly, flung down his brandy bottle, threw his arms around Cade, and burst into tears. The piece was that depressing, that raw with despair. When it was first performed in Gallantrybanks, a shocked Tobalt Fluter called it “Cayden Silversun’s suicide poem.”

The girl left Mieka for a lord’s son and took her children with her. Mieka left Gallantrybanks for a house by the sea and took his entire cellar of liquor and his entire cabinet of thorn with him.

Cade found a balance of sorts. He lived with his wife and children, though he knew he was a rotten husband and not much better as a father. It was the work that really mattered. It was all he really had.

He saw Mieka at a Namingday party for Prince Ashgar’s third son. The Elf didn’t look ill, exactly, but he didn’t look strong, either. It was as if he was being used up, all the energy and laughter and wild brilliance burning away. Cade hadn’t even been able to speak to him. Had there ever been a time when he could? Not in this life. This life; there was none other. Why did he choose to open this door every morning before he woke? What was it that could possibly make him want to be here?

He didn’t want to be here now, with the wind in his face as he stared down at his own hands and waited for the Good Brother to finish with the fire.

Just before their ninth Royal Circuit, Mieka showed up out of nowhere with a gorgeous blonde and no money, twenty pounds heavier, with lines on his face and silver threading his hair and terror in those eyes and an uncontrollable tremor in his fingers. He was fighting the alcohol and the thorn every moment of every day. The sad, desperate gallantry of it ripped Cade’s heart open. He watched in helpless agony as Mieka struggled through rehearsals, shook so cruelly that he couldn’t hold his withies, started drinking again, went back to bluethorn, and at last reached a precarious equilibrium that let him learn the new set of plays. Bewilderland, Cade had named it: along, nightmarish piece of warped landscapes and grotesque assaults on the senses. Jeska’s transformations were abrupt, jarring, as the world around him changed, and changed him without warning: trapped, no escape.

Audiences were shocked. But they came back time and again to be terrified by Touchstone’s nightmares. With renewed success came renewed bank accounts, and Mieka’s cravings for liquor, food, and thorn remained ravenous—as did his appetite for women, to judge by the rapid replacement of the blonde for a redhead for another blonde for a dark-skinned girl from the Islands for yet another blonde.

She’d been there, that night less than a week ago. That final night. Eleven years after the original Downstreet burned to the ground, Touchstone opened the new Downstreet: a real theater now, not a tavern. The place was thrice the size of the old one and packed to bursting. They did a short version of Bewilderland and then “Sailor’s Sweetheart” for memory’s sake. They finished, exhausted, and Mieka, in a loose long-sleeved yellow shirt that failed to disguise his paunch, clambered up onto the glisker’s bench to leap to the stage. Cade hardly heard the screaming crowd, scared to death as Mieka wobbled and almost crashed into the glass baskets. Cade lunged, barely in time to catch him as he staggered on landing. Mieka laughed, those eyes glassy and mad. The face turned up to Cade’s was blurred, damaged by thorn and liquor and desperate unhappiness. As he threw back his head and laughed again, there was something bleak and broken in those eyes, something hopeless. Cade smelled the acrid sweat on his skin, in his thinning hair; he was soaked with it, exhausted in a way he never used to be, his face gray beneath an unhealthy flush of exertion.

He wasn’t even thirty years old.

Jeska came over, helped keep Mieka upright. Rafe joined them, his face impassive, his blue-gray eyes dark with disgust as he looked at Mieka. Cade cast about frantically for something to say, anything. Jeska spared him the effort by shouting over the tumult at Rafe.

“Oy—good work tonight, especially the tricky bits of Bewilderland!”

Cade looked at Rafe, then Jeska, and saw his own thoughts in their eyes: that the fettler’s prodigious skill had been tested tonight to its limit by the unpredictability of Mieka’s performance.

Cade waved expansively to the crowd as if trying to shove them all into the Ocean Sea, shouting at Rafe, “Let’s get the fuck outta here!”

Backstage in the tiring room there were imagers hoping for a sitting, reporters hoping for an interview, girls hoping for a fuck. Cade rudely deflected them all. He accepted a big silver goblet of brandy and ice, resented the presence of the ice, downed the liquor in three gulps, and hated himself for worriedly looking around for Mieka.

A beautiful girl with blonde hair and kagged ears wandered up to the stocky little figure over at the drinks table. Her scrawniness and her not-quite-dead eyes told Cade that she was hopelessly thorn-thralled. Abruptly sick, he wondered if that was why Mieka wore a long-sleeved shirt tonight, if his arms were reddened with thorn-marks as Alaen’s had once been, streaked with tainted veins.

He didn’t want to know. He just didn’t want to know. If he knew, he would have to feel. And he’d given up feeling a long time ago.

Alone in his carriage, he finished his third brandy and thought about exactly nothing. Then he was trudging up the steps of his house, opening the door, glancing at the framed imagings on the wall: his wife, his children, all sleeping upstairs, never waiting up to welcome Da home from another wildly successful show. It was nothing to do with them. It was just the way Da paid the bills.

He slogged upstairs, careful not to wake anyone on the way to his attic library. His sanctuary. There were more imagings here, the ones his wife didn’t want elsewhere in her house. Rafe and Crisiant and a family sitting in a garden; Jeska and a family sitting in a sitting room; Mieka sitting in the open boot of a Royal Circuit coach holding a little boy with his mother’s iris-blue eyes and his father’s elegantly Elfen ears. They were all so normal, so conventional . . . wives, children, homes . . . lives separate from Touchstone, ordinary lives that had nothing to do with the extraordinary work that was his life—

He’d been right, all those years ago, about Touchstone being a knot of four people, a singular thing they made together. Touchstone was the rope knotted round all their necks.

A fresh bottle of brandy on his knee, he stared at the display of Trials medals: one Winterly, one Ducal, and ten Royal, all framed in gilded wood by Jedris and protected by Blye’s finest beveled glass. All were accompanied by an imaging: Touchstone through the years. He watched himself change, his hair longer, his face bearded and then clean-shaven and then bearded again, his cloud-gray eyes—he wondered if a Gorgon’s eyes were gray like his, cold like his when she turned anyone who dared look at her to stone. If her eyes glinted with his sort of madness because she knew she was helpless, too.

He stared for a time at his younger self, back when he’d been Quill and knew how to laugh; at the young Mieka, back when he’d been clear-eyed and quick and clever and beautiful. Their fifth year on the Royal—that was the one where the hate really started to show in Cade, the coldness. The proverbial heart of stone. The seventh Royal, though, that was the worst, the one he loathed most.

The imager had posed them wearing black clothes and oversize white silk roses in their jacket lapels, sitting one behind the other: Jeschenar crosslegged on the floor, Mieka on a footstool, Cayden on a chair, Rafcadion on a barstool. Cade had to dig his fingers into Mieka’s shoulders to keep him from falling over. The imager called out adjustments in the pose and their expressions until at last she got what she wanted. Rafe: cool, sardonic. Jeska, looking like a fallen Angel. Himself, grimly smiling, daring anyone to interpret that smile. And Mieka, playing the sweet innocent, a mockery that made Cade want to slap him when he saw the finished imaging.

But there’d been another imaging, quickly done without their knowledge a few minutes later. The woman had had only a few moments to capture them with her magic inside the withie, but capture them she had. Every time he saw this seventh Royal medal, it was that other imaging he remembered, and that was why he hated it so much. Jeska, stiff and weary, had closed his eyes. Rafe was stretching a cramp from his neck, grimacing. Cade had no expression on his face at all—for Mieka had hunched a shoulder and turned his head to rest his cheek on Cade’s fingers. What he hadn’t seen until the finished imaging—and thank the Lord and Lady and all the Gods it had come to him first—was the look in those eyes: lost, hurt, miserable, the genuine innocence still at the core of him all too clear in his face.

Cade had torn the imaging to shreds and ordered that there be no engraving of it ever made so that no one else could ever see it. But he remembered it every time he saw this Trials medal.

“It was only some redthorn, Cade! I had to sleep!”

“And you had to wake up, so you took—”

“Fuck off! You self-righteous snarge—like you never pricked thorn in your life?”

“Not three and four at a time, while drinking a bottle of brandy! You’re turning into a thrall, Mieka! You can’t sleep without redthorn and you can’t get out of bed without bluethorn! Look at your hands shake! You’re more likely to stab yourself with the withies than—”

“What the fuck do you care? You can just have me stitched up again like after you crashed a glass basket over me head!”

“I already apologized for that a hundred times—and you’re the one we’re talking about, not me! Look at yourself! You can’t hardly function—and the liquor is making you fat, Mieka. You’re slower, and heavier, and you’re getting sloppy, and by the end of a show you’re completely knackered—”

“I’m as good as I ever was—I’m better! I’m Mieka fuckin’ Windthistle of Touchstone! I’m the best glisker in the Kingdom and I don’t need you tellin’ me how t’live me life! I don’t need you!”

Had it really been only a week later that he’d turned his head to rest his cheek against Cade’s hand, his heart in those sad, soft eyes?

When the bell sounded downstairs, he flinched so violently that he almost dropped the bottle. Who would be coming round at this hour of the night? He took the bottle with him. The steps seemed to have multiplied. As he passed his wife’s bedchamber door, he heard an impatient rustling, and knew he would hear about this tomorrow at coldly condemning length. Hurrying, lurching a bit, he made it down before a fourth ring could wake the children, and yanked open the door.

Lord Kearney Fairwalk had exquisite taste in footmen. One of them stood there on Cade’s doorstep, gasping with exertion, his plum-colored livery jacket unbuttoned at the throat to show the deep blue shirt beneath. Cade didn’t recognize this boy; he never did. Kearney hired them and sacked them with dedicated regularity, almost as quickly as Mieka went through women.

“Do you know what the fuck time it is?” Cade demanded.

The boy flinched, then held out a piece of paper. “I ran all the way here—His Lordship’s orders—”

He focused his eyes with difficulty on Kearney’s scrawl, cramped and hasty below the oak-leaf emblem.

Mieka was taken to the Princess’s Sanatorium tonight.

“Again?” Cade muttered, and took a pull at the bottle.

He collapsed at the Kiral Kellari. When the physicker arrived, he was barely breathing.

It had happened before. He’d had messages like this before.

The physickers sent word to me, and I was there within the hour.

Nice of His Lordship to interrupt whatever he’d been doing with this pretty young boy and see that Mieka’s name didn’t get into the scandal broadsheets. Again. Yes, he’d seen all this before. But what came next— that was something he’d never seen before.

I sent for his parents.

The bottle slipped from his fingers to the carpet at his feet. Silently. The silence was suddenly so huge, so powerful.

Mieka died a few minutes after midnight.

The horror was cold and raw and completely sobering. Into the silence his own voice said, “But I’m still here.”

He shut the door in the boy’s face, went into the drawing room, found a chair. He could hear his wife’s voice raised in irritated demand from the top of the stairs. He sat, staring at Kearney’s words, at his own scarred fingers. Wondering why, on this night of all nights, the blood didn’t show.

He stared at his hands again, there in the memorial garden of Clinquant House, while Mieka’s ashes were placed into an exquisite glass urn. Blye had made it: swirling black and green and brown and blue and an elusive flash of gold, all the colors of those eyes. The urn was then buried and the carved marble headstone placed atop it. Surely that little hollowing of earth was too small to contain a spirit as vast and wild as Mieka Windthistle’s.

He couldn’t face any of the family. He got back into his carriage and told his driver to find him a tavern. An hour later, he was seated in murky corner, drinking himself stupid.

Mieka—oh Gods, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry—

I know, Quill. Stop blaming yourself. I know you tried.

Not hard enough. I got tired of fighting and then I stopped. How could I do that? How could I just give up like that? This isn’t the way it should’ve been. I–I wanted so much for you to be happy—

You gave me your words and your magic—trusted me with them—and that made me happy. And you were always there.

I should’ve done more, I should’ve done anything to keep from losing you—“When Touchstone lost their Elf, they lost their soul”—I tried to dream it better, Mieka, I tried to make the Elsewhens better—

Shush. Not even you can make dreams real, Cayden.

You did. You made my best dreams real—everything I am, everything I’ve written—it wasn’t until you showed up that first night—

That was a night, wasn’t it!

None of it would’ve happened without you—believing in me, making me want to be the best because you’re the best—it was only after you found me that I even dared think I could—

You bloody great fool. Whatever you are, you would’ve been, no matter what. It was always in you. And you made me part of it. To be dancin’ behind me glisker’s bench with you watchin’ me durin’ a show meant all the world to me. I guess I just ran out of time before I thought I would.

I miss you. I don’t want to be here without you, Mieka. There’s no place I want to be if you’re not—

Shut up! Don’t you dare even think it!

There’s times when I can’t think of anything else.

Well, don’t! You stay here and raise your children and write your words and make two thousand people scream every time you walk onstage—and you bloody well better behave yourself when the King gives you that knighthood—

Are you still on about that? You silly little Elfling!

You haven’t called me that in a long time. But I guess I haven’t been your Elfling in a long time, have I? I’m sorry, Cayden. I’m the one as should’ve tried harder. But I promise I’ll be waiting—at the end of it all, I’ll be waiting. Now, go sleep this off. And one day write me something— nothing big or grand, just—write me happy, Quill.

“Time, me lords! Time now, gentlemen!” called the barmaid. He opened his eyes, and pushed himself to his feet, and went to sleep it off.

And woke up weeping.

This future was possible. It was all possible.

Elsewhen. }


Elsewhens © Melanie Rawn 2012


Back to the top of the page


Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.