Excerpt from The Catswold Portal
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Dawn. Melissa woke lying next to Braden deliciously warm curled on the blanket. Outside the bedroom window the sky was barely light. She stretched lazily, her toes touching the foot of the bed and her fingers tracking across the headboard. She jolted awake filled with panic: she wasn't a cat anymore.

She stared down at herself, at her rumpled dress. How close she lay to Braden, nearly touching him. His hand lay across her hair. She watched him, stricken, terrified he would wake. He slept sprawled naked, tangled in the blankets, blankets and sheets tumbled away from his bare back.

How long had she lain beside him as Melissa? She had felt no pain at the changing. Unless it was pain that woke her. Carefully, slowly, she slid off the bed.

He didn't stir. She tiptoed to the door, but then she turned back and stood watching him. Seeing him from the viewpoint of a woman was very different from seeing him through the eyes of a cat. The cat had seen height and strength and security, had been aware of his kindness and restraint, had seen a human she could be comfortable with, and one she could tease and manipulate when she chose. But now as a woman she saw him differently, and different emotions moved her.

He was strong and lean; she liked the clean line of his jaw and the little wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. She liked his deeply tanned face against the white pillow. He had a smear of green paint on his left ear; she wanted to wipe it off. She could still feel the heat of his body where she had slept against him. She knew his scent sharply, as the little cat had known it.

Beyond the windows, red streaks of dawn stained the bay. He would wake soon. He would look out at the sunrise then roll over and plug in the coffee. If she was still sleeping on the bed as the cat, he would stroke her and talk to her, and she would purr for him. If he found her gone he would call her, then pull on a pair of shorts and go into the studio to look for her, calling her.

He stirred suddenly and rolled over almost as if her thought had woken him. She fled down the hall and through the dark studio to the glass door. She was fumbling with the lock when he called, "Kitty?" Kitty, kitty?" She wanted to giggle. He had never named her, just kitty, kitty. She heard his footsteps. Panicked, she got the door open at last and ran for the bushes.

She crouched down in the little space under the bushes at the end of the terrace, her back scraping against the branches. She wanted to change back to cat. But she didn't know how to change.

She didn't know why she had changed to a girl; she knew she had been a girl before, but she could remember nothing except being a cat. She remembered traveling through strange, hostile country, and before that a dark, smelly man shoving her into a leather bag. She remembered the smell of diesel fuel as she fought to get out of the bag. Then the diner. She remembered traveling, miserable and hungry, her swollen eye hurting her, and her swollen paw sending pain all through her body. She remembered the stray cats and the fights and the blazing eyes of the rat as it crouched to leap at her.



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Excerpt from Nightpool
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

When Teb turned from the sea back into his cave, the white otter was coming silently along the narrow ledge, erect on his hind legs, his whiteness startling against the black stone, his forepaws folded together and very still, not fussing as other otters' paws fussed. Thakkur paused, quietly watching him, and Teb knelt at once, in a passion of reverence quite unlike himself. But Thakkur frowned and reached out a paw to touch Teb's shoulder; their eyes were on a level now, Thakkur's dark eyes half laughing, half annoyed. "Get up, Teb. Do not kneel before me." Then his look went bright and loving.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

They embraced, the white otter's fur infinitely soft against Teb's face, and smelling of sea and of sun.

"Go in joy, Tebriel. Go with the blessing of The Maker. Go in the care of the Graven Light."

Teb took up his pack at last and lashed it to his waist. He gave Thakkur a long, steady look, then stepped to the edge of the cliff and dove far out and deep, cutting the water cleanly and striking out at once against the incoming swells. As quickly as that he left Nightpool, and his tears mixed with the salty sea.

At a safe distance from the cliffs he turned north, and glancing up between strokes, he caught a glimpse of Thakkur's white form on the black island; then the vision vanished in a shattering of green water as he made his way with strong, pulling strokes crosswise to the force of the sea, up toward the north end of the island.

He could have walked across Nightpool and swum the channel from the mainland side, but not this morning, not this last time. As he passed the lower caves at the far end of the island, he could hear water slapping into the cave doors. At the far end, beside Shark Rock, he turned again, toward land this time and set out in an easier rhythm with the tide, to cross the deep green channel. And it was here that suddenly two brown heads popped up beside him, and two grinning faces. Mikk and Charkky rolled and dove beside him, escorting him in toward the shore.

They leaped and splashed and pushed at him, rocked him on their own waves and dove between his feet and under him, and Charkky tickled his toes. Teb was not wearing the precious sharkskin flippers; he had left them safe in his cave. Charkky came up on his other side, dove again, was gone a long time, and came up ahead of Teb and Mikk with a sea urchin in each dark paw, busily stripping off the spines with his teeth. He tossed one to Mikk and one to Teb, and they were into a fast, complicated game of catch. Then when the game grew old, the two otters rolled onto their backs, cracked the urchins open with small stones they carried on cords around their necks, and ate them live and raw. Teb tried to outdistance them, but without the flippers he hadn't a chance, even when they only floated idly kicking and eating.

They left him before the sea shallowed onto rising shore, embracing him in quick, strong, fishy-smelling hugs and dragging their rough whiskers hard across his cheek, their eyes great dark-brown pools of longing and of missing him, and of love, and of silly otter humor all at once.

"Fly high, brother," Mikk said hoarsely. "Know clouds, brother, as you know the sea." They studied one another with love and concern.

Charkky just touched his cheek, softly, with a wet, gentle paw. Then they were gone, diving down along the bottom, dropping deeper, Teb knew, as the shore dropped, swimming deep toward home.



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Excerpt from The Ivory Lyre
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Kiri clung to the side of the mountain staring up, frozen with wonder at the sight above her as the great black dragon reared into the sky, bugling. Beside her Camery stared, too, her cheeks flaming and her eyes huge.

They had released their horses at the foot of the cliff where the climbing grew steep, pulled the saddles and bridles from the poor blowing beasts and sent them wandering away. Now, above them, the black dragon was a turbulence of dark coils, his wings snapping over the edge of the cliff, a huge clawed foot sliding over a boulder. Then the dragon's head was so close they could feel his hot breath, as he stared down at Camery, his eyes yellow and luminous. She looked up at him, then laughed out loud, and struggled upward fighting to get to him. He bugled again, then reached down.

His great mouth came over Camery so wide open they could see every knife-long fang. Camery looked up unafraid. He took her between his jaws with infinite gentleness. She pulled herself in, clinging to his ivory teeth, and he lifted her and set her on his hack between his spreading wings. There Camery clung to him, her arms trying to circle his neck, and her bright hair spilling across his black scales.

As he gathered himself to leap skyward, she sat up straight on his back, clutching at the scallops of mane along his neck, pressing her booted legs tight to his sides. He lifted into the dawn.

Kiri watched them soar over the mountain. She could still feel the wind of the dragon's wings across her upturned face. The stone beneath her hands felt lifeless. She was only a small, earthbound creature.

But then the knowledge that there were dragons overrode all else. There were dragons again on Tirror. Her pleasure in Camery's freedom filled her soul. She began to climb again, up to where the other dragons waited.



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Excerpt from The Dragonbards
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

The lyre, carved from the claws of the ancient dragon Bayzun, held all of Bayzun's strength--and all his weakness. It, like the dying dragon, faded easily and built its strength again only slowly. They had been wary of using it again, saving it for the most urgent need against the dark forces.

"It is needed now," Kiri said. "Use it now."

Teb touched one silver string. The lyre's clear voice rang through the cave bright as starlight, embracing them with promise. He held its cry to whispered softness, for the presence of the dark was ever near. He did not want to draw the dark here. He joined his own power with the lyre, and with Kiri and Marshy and the dragons, to make a lingering song of life. Though it filled the cave only softly, it stirred every living soul within its hearing.

Except the dragonling. She did not stir.

Teb looked at Kiri. The lyre's subtle song was not enough. They might alert the dark, but he must make the magic shout, make the cave thunder with the lyre's power, no matter how close were the dark unliving.

Kiri's brown eyes went wide with wonder and with fear, and with a tender, consuming love that Teb sensed but could not sort out--love for the young dragon, surely....

Teb touched the lyre's strings again. All faces were turned to him, solemn and expectant. He slapped the silver strings so the lyre's music raged, summoning wild winds and thunder across Stilvoke Cave. He brought to the young dragon's sleeping mind the power of dragons, the fearsome passion of dragons, and their tangled past.

When he let the lyre's music quiet to a rhythm like pounding blood, he brought a vision of a dragon nest cradled by mountain winds, where sky- colored eggs reflected clouds, and where dragon babies shattered their shells and pushed up toward the welcoming sky--but suddenly the lyre's voice died, sucked away to silence beneath Teb's hands.

The cave was silent. Only the echo of the lyre's voice clung.

Still the dragonling did not stir. But Teb could feel a change in her, subtle as breath, and knew the lyre's power had drawn her back from the thin edge of dying. Her body seemed rounder, and her white scales had begun to shine with iridescent colors.



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Excerpt from The Ring of Fire
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Anchorstar clapped a strong hand on Zephy's shoulder and stood looking into her eyes. His eyes were golden, flecked with light, and as she stared into them, Meatha and Thorn faded, the cave faded. There was brightness, a wind. She was swirling, weightless. She was lifted above the land, she was rising on the wind....

She was the wind; she was looking down on Ere. She was drifting and blown at a great height above the land, could see clouds swimming below her, and beneath them the green sweeping reaches of Ere, bright green hills washed with moving shadows as the clouds passed below in a space, in a distance, that was overwhelming. The land swept below her, the dark bristling stands of woods and forests, the twisting rivers. She could see how land touched sea in a lace of white beaches and foaming surf, see Carriol's outer islands like green gems, see the Bay of Pelli curving in between two peninsulas. And in the Bay of Pelli beneath the transparent waters, the wonder of the three sunken islands and the sunken city, lying still and secret. She could see the pale expanse of high desert with the Cut running through it like a knife wound, the river deep at its bottom lined with green--a trench of lush growth slashing across the pale dry desert.

How bright the other three rivers were, too, as they meandered down through Ere's green countries from the mountains. And the mountains themselves, black and jagged and thrusting, that circle of mountains, the Ring of Fire, pushed up toward her as if she could touch the highest peaks--snow-clad, some. Then between the peaks a glimpse of a valley so beautiful she was shaken with desire for it, something . . . but it was gone at once, faded, the vision taken abruptly from her.

Something gone, something that had been hidden deep within that valley in the black stone reaches of the Ring of Fire. Something she wished with all her heart she could reach.

Then it was Thorn's eyes she looked into. She felt drained, as if this cave and all in it was an indistinct dream. As if she had been torn away from reality. Thorn waited and when she really lookcd at him, she saw that he, too, had seen the vision. And Meatha--she looked up to see Meatha's flushed and trembling face.

Anchorstar stood a little way from them, waiting. They went to him, stood before him. I am a child of Ynell, Zephy thought, shaken. Nothing can ever be the same, nothing...



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Excerpt from The Wolf Bell
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Ram turned then and suddenly was quite ready to mount. "They will come," he said quietly. There was a look on his face she had never seen before. He was not a child now, but something ageless. He mounted the mare slowly. Brush rattled.

"Hurry!" She had nearly lost patience with him. The mare nickered as riders came crashing through brush. Then suddenly the noise stopped, the riders were still. Ram hit the mare hard, forcing her into the river. Tayba ran alongside splashing, clinging to the mare against the swift current as the freezing water surged around her legs. The riders came crashing through bushes again. Icy water foamed around her thighs and washed the mare's belly so she balked; Tayba jerked and jerked at her. At last she went on again and soon they were in shallower water. The mare scrambled wild-eyed up the bank as Tayba clung; and the riders plunged into the river. Tayba tried desperately to see the town ahead, but now it was hidden; she could see only the plain rising above the trees, cloud shadows blowing fast across the empty land. She saw Ram stare up at the rising land, heard him draw in his breath sharply. Those were more than cloud shadows. They were running shadows: dark animals racing down across the cloud-swept plain. Dark wolves running.

Wolves, flicking from sun to shade, huge wolves sweeping down toward them, now, through the woods. The mare reared as they leaped toward her, spun away, pulling the rope in a sharp burn through Tayba's hands; Ram jumped from the saddle as the pony veered under him. "Let her go, Mamen! Let her go!" The terrified pony leaped wildly past the approaching riders and disappeared into the trees--and the wolves surged around Ram, their eyes like fire. Tayba stood backed against a boulder, could not speak for the terror that held her. Huge shaggy wolves pressed against her, tall as her waist, rank-smelling; and their yellow eyes looked at her with a knowing that shook her.

She saw Ram put out his hand to the dark wolf leader, saw the wolf come to him, saw Ram thrust his hands deep into the wolf's thick coat in greeting, then lay his face against the animal's broad head as its tongue lolled in a fierce smile--the smile of a killer; saw the riders trying to approach, fighting their panicky horses.

Ram plunged his face against the warmth of the great wolf, smelled his wild smell, and felt whole suddenly, as if a part of himself had returned. Then he lifted his head to face EnDwyl and the Seer, pulling the big wolf close as he did so. He sensed their fear with pleasure, saw the Seer's hesitancy and how the dark wolf watched the riders with lips drawn back. Ram's own lips twitched into a smile. "Fawdref," he said, caressing the wolf's ears. "You are Fawdref."



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Excerpt from The Castle of Hape
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

The mare's wings slashed and turned the wind. Ram clung to her back with effort, his fingers twisted in her mane to keep from falling, his blood spilling down across her shoulder. She lifted higher and the wind hammered at him; her wings tore light from the sun so it fractured around him, confusing him. He was hardly aware of the land below, blurred into a tapestry of green by her speed, was unaware of the river Urobb just beneath them and of the sea ahead. The bay and islands lay sun-washed, the towering stone ruins, but he did not heed them or the newly tilled farms, the herds of fat cattle and horses, did not see the carts going along the newly made roads toward the ruins to trade, was conscious only of pain, of sickness, of the raw pain of the sword wound in his side.

The bleeding increased. He loosed one hand from the mare's mane to explore the wound, then bent again, dizzy, hugging her neck to keep from falling. Only her mane torn by wind to slash across his face jerked him from unconsciousness. He pressed his arm tight to his side to staunch the blood.

The mare's wings spanned more than twenty feet, her dark eyes swept the sky and land constantly. Her golden coat caught the high, clear brilliance of the sun, her cars sharp forward and alert. She was no tame creature to come to a man's bidding, she had leaped from the sky of her own free will to lift Ram from the midst of battle, a dozen winged horses beside her sweeping down to lift the battered warriors from a fight that had turned to slaughter, so outnumbered were they; a battle they might have won had their Seer's powers not been crippled so the attack caught them unaware, the Herebian hordes surging through dense woods a hundred strong against their puny band.

The mare lifted higher now. Light filled her wings like a golden cloak surrounding Ram, light ever moving as she soared then angled down. The fields rolled beneath him sickeningly; he went dizzy again, and she warned him awake with cool equine concern; then she dropped suddenly and sharply to meet the cold sea wind, dove through the wind in swift flight supporting Ram with the strength of her will--then folded her wings in one liquid motion and stood poised and still on the rim of a stone balcony high up the sheer side of the temple of the gods.

Ram slipped down to the stone, his mind plunging toward blackness, and felt hands catch him. He saw a flash of gold as the mare leaped aloft, then went limp.



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Excerpt from Caves of Fire and Ice
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

He reached to touch her sword, took it from her in a gesture innocent and bold. She, always so quick and careful, let him take it with quiet amusement. He held it close to the flame where he could make out the intricate carving of birds and leaves with which the handle was fashioned, the clean, sharp blade. Then he raised his eyes to her. "A fine sword, lady. Fine. It was made with great skill. And with love."

His words brought unexpected pain. She looked away from him, felt gone of strength, wanting to weep for no reason. Made with love. Brotherly love, maybe. No more. She straightened her shoulders and stared at him defiantly, reached out for her sword. "How would you know if it was made with love? That is skill you see. Only skill in the casting of the silver."

"All skill, lady, is a matter of love. Have you not learned that? I hope you know more about the use of the sword than you do about a man's mind."

"I know about its use. And I know more about men's minds than--" She stopped, had almost given herself away in anger. Stupid girl. Shout it out. Tell him you know all about men's minds, can see into men's minds, tell him you're a Seer! And who knows what they do to Seers in this time. Kill them? Behead them? Better collect yourself, Skeelie, find out where you are--and when--and stop acting like an injured river cat.

"Ain't never seen a lady got up so in fighting leathers."

She wanted to say, Where I come from it's common enough. She wanted to say, What year is this that women don't fight beside their men? But even in her own time, the women of the coastal countries had not fought so. Only the women of Carriol. She cast about for some question she might use to find her way here and realized how little she had prepared herself. So engrossed with getting into Time, she had given little thought to coping once there, or to an explanation for stepping out of nowhere. What plausible excuse did she have for traveling in these mountains when she did not know the customs, or where she was? Eresu knew, she was glad it was night. In the daytime she would have had some hard explaining to do, had he seen her appear suddenly from thin air.



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Excerpt from The Joining of the Stone
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

The sun rose higher, and the gray clouds began to brighten with streaks of reflected light. Then, a sense of flight began to touch her, a sense of freedom, of wild soaring, of wind brushing and twisting past so her heart quickened crazily. She searched the clouds for movement. Below her on the green, folk were all doing the same, staring upward, every Seer sensing flight, every common man taking cue from the Seers, though the winged ones were still invisible in the western sky.

At last she saw tiny specks moving through cloud. She felt their flight, bold and wild and free, as yet unburdened by riders. Her lips moved in silent whisper, she pushed back her dark hair in an impatient gesture, her blood racing at the exhilaration of flight and at the feel of the winged ones' power, at the feel of the wind around them. She thought suddenly of herself as a child again, staring up at the empty sky waiting eagerly and usually futilely for the winged horses of Eresu to appear among cloud. A guilt-ridden child, afraid she would be discovered looking up at the sky. For in Burgdeeth, dreaming of the winged ones had been forbidden. Speaking with them in silence, as she had longed to do, had been punishable by death.

Suddenly the band of flying horses burst out from the cloud, sun slashing across their sweeping wings. They came on fast, soon nearly covered the sky, were dropping down over the pastures in a mass of movement, their silent greetings caressing her. They banked, turned, filled the sky utterly, then plummeted down toward the stable yard and toward the crowded green, a dozen winged ones breaking their flight to land soundlessly and gently among the onlookers, their wings hiding the crowd for a moment in a mass of light-washed movement, amber wings and saffron and gold, snow-pale wings and black. Then they folded their wings across their backs and stood quietly greeting their friends, nuzzling, speaking with voices that came in the Seers' minds in gentle whispers.



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