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art by Agata Maciagowska

The Cries of the Dead and Dying

Sarah Goslee is a mad scientist with a driving need to know everything. (Immortality may be required, but that is yet to be resolved.) She revels in learning new things and writing about them, whether as peer-reviewed science, popular science, or science fiction and fantasy. She is editor of ScienceinMyFiction.com, a weekly series on science-fictional science, and has published short stories about both zombies and unicorns.
I never really loved her.
I never loved her, but from the first moment I saw her I coveted her, desired her in the way the ivy desires the castle wall, or the oyster the pearl.
I first saw her coming down the hill. Dust coated her bare feet and the tattered hem of her torn linen dress, but the sun lit her hair like aspen leaves in the fall.
She walked down the hill as if she were floating, her feet hidden by the drape of indigo-dyed silk, her hair so dark it swallowed the sunlight.
The drape of cloak concealed her form, forest green fabric peeking through where the unbound locks of her chestnut hair parted and merged on their fall to her ankles. Sun-kissed red and gold glinted among the brown.
I have been here so long that I cannot recall the color of her hair, her skin, whether she smelled of lilac or ashes. What I do remember is that I wanted her from the moment she crested the hill, hauling a bucket, her arms full of flowers, her hands hanging empty..
A moment before I'd been full of the hunt, eager to set off in search of a stag worthy of my prowess. Now I stood entranced, hounds forgotten, silent and still as she followed the path down toward me. My crossbow dangled from my hand, then fell unnoticed.
I spurred my mare so that she burst into a startled canter. I scooped up the girl entire, leaving only her bare footprints and spilled bucket, one dainty slipper and a scatter of flowers, no trace at all.
Her heart beat fast against my encircling arms.
I left the huntsmen behind, a better prize than any stag borne before me. Her cries mattered no more than those of a rabbit pierced with an arrow. Less: never had I wanted a rabbit so.
I carried her all the way back to my castle, back up the hill she had so lately descended. I handed her to the housekeeper with instructions to wash her and dress her in something more suitable, to brush the creases from her silken gown, to decorate her with flowers.
I went in search of my seneschal, to order him to plan a wedding.
Her father disapproved, her stepmother acquiesced graciously to her prince, nobody noticed her absence at all. The wedding was beautiful. The sun shone on her hair, her jewels glinting almost as bright. I settled a crown on top of her coiled braids, a formality to be sure but one my nobles expected. She would not rule my lands, no matter her lineage.
It took two of my men to carry her to my chambers.
At dawn she rose from the rumpled sheets. Naked, she lifted my crown and placed it on her own head, her unbound hair cascading in gold, black, glossy brown to her shoulders or her ankles. She turned slowly and looked at me, and she smiled for the first time. I could not move, not a finger, not a toe. Only my eyes followed her as she bathed and dressed.
She called into the corridor, a perfect distraught new wife. "My husband is ill. Please fetch a doctor." There was bustle and commotion, doctors and leeches, draughts bitter and honeyed.
Eventually my men carried me here and placed me in this chair. I have remained; I could not do otherwise. They tend me daily, and I live. My bride does not come, though sometimes I hear her giving orders. There is a window in my room, high up in the north tower. I can hear the sounds of weapons, battles. I hear the cries of the dying.
I hear the cries of the dead.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, December 12th, 2012


At Worldcon this year, I attended a terrific panel with Connie Willis and Robert Silverberg just talking about anything. The pair touched on the importance of editors, and Silverberg mentioned that his had once made him delete a sentence about the cries of the dead and dying. I thought the line would make a lovely title, and set out to write a story in which that made sense. After the Seanan McGuire concert it turned into a fairy tale. The first draft was finished in Chicago.

- Sarah Goslee

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