m and even learned to recognize some, but there were only three that came often, the three who lived on her own island. The child imagined that they must live high on the cliffs, in houses that looked something like the nests of birds, but with walls of priceless silver metal. One of the three was a stern, gray-haired woman with a sour face. The second was only a boy, dark-haired and achingly handsome, with a pleasant voice; she liked him better. But her favorite was the man on the beach, a man as tall and lean and wide of shoulder as her father had been, clean-shaven, with brown eyes and curling red-brown hair. He smiled a lot, and seemed to fly more than any of them.
About the Authors
Also by George R. R. Martin/Lisa Tuttle
Praise for Windhaven
This book is dedicated with love and gratitude to my mother and father, even if they don't read it.
George R. R. Martin:
This one is for Elizabeth and Anne and Mary Kaye and Carol and Meredyth and Ann and Yvonne and the rest of my Courier troublemakers, in the hope that they will continue to make trouble, ask questions, and get thrown out of offices.
For once you have tasted flight you will
walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward;
for there you have been,
and there you long to return.
—LEONARDO DA VINCI
THE STORM HAD RAGED through most of the night.
In the wide bed she shared with her mother, the child lay awake beneath the scratchy woolweed blanket, listening. The sound of the rain against the thin lemonwood planks of the cabin was steady and insistent, and sometimes she heard the far-off boom of thunderclaps, and when the lightning flashed thin lines of light leaked in between the shutters to illuminate the tiny room. When they faded, it was dark again.
The child could hear the patter of water against the floor, and she knew that the roof had sprung another leak. It would turn the hard-packed earth to mud, and her mother would be furious, but there was nothing to be done. Her mother was not good at patching roofs, and they could not afford to hire anyone. Someday, her mother told her, the tired cabin would collapse in the violence of the storms. “Then we will go and see your father again,” she would say. The girl did not remember her father very well, but her mother spoke of him often.
The shutters shook beneath a terrible blast of wind, and the child listened to the frightening sound of creaking wood, and the thrumming of the greased paper that served them for a window, and briefly she was afraid. Her mother slept on, unaware. The storms were frequent, but her mother slept through all of them. The girl was afraid to wake her. Her mother had a fierce temper, and she did not like being awakened for something as small as a child's fear.
The walls creaked and shifted once again; lightning and thunder came almost together, and the child shivered underneath her blanket and wondered whether this would be the night that they went to see her father.
But it was not.
Finally the storm subsided, and even the rain stopped. The room was dark and quiet.
The girl shook her mother into wakefulness.
“What?” she said. “What?”
“The storm is over, Mother,” the child said.
At that the woman nodded and rose. “Get dressed,” she told the girl, as she hunted for her own clothing in the darkness. Dawn was still an hour away, at least, but it was important to get to the beach quickly. The storms smashed ships, the child knew; little fishing boats that had stayed out too late or ventured too far, and sometimes even the great trading ships. If you went out after a storm, you might find things washed up on the beach, all kinds of things. Once they had found a knife with a beaten metal edge; when they had sold it they had eaten well for two weeks. If you wanted to find good things, though, you could not afford to be lazy. A lazy person would wait till dawn, and find nothing.
Her mother hung an empty canvas sack over her shoulder, for carrying things. The girl's dress had big pockets. They both wore boots. The woman took down a long pole with a carved wooden hook on its end, in case they saw something in the water, floating just out of reach. “Come on, child,” she said. “Don't dawdle.”
The beach was cold and dark, with a chill wind blowing steadily from the west. They were not alone. Three or four others were already there, prowling up and down the wet sands, leaving boot-marks that quickly filled with water. Occasionally one would stoop and examine something. One of them was carrying a lantern. They had owned a good lantern once, when her father was alive, but they had to sell it later. Her mother complained of that often. She did not have her daughter's night vision, and sometimes she stumbled in the darkness, and often she missed things she ought to have seen.
They split up, as they always did. The child went north along the beach, while her mother searched to the south. “Turn back at dawn,” her mother said. “You have chores to do. Nothing will last past dawn.” The child nodded, and hurried off to search.
The findings were lean that night. The girl walked for a long time, following the water's edge, eyes on the ground, looking, always looking. She liked to find things. If she came home with a scrap of metal, or perhaps a scylla's tooth, long as her arm, curved and yellow and terrible, then her mother might smile at her and tell her what a good girl she was. That did not happen often. Mostly her mother scolded her for being too dreamy, and asking foolish questions.
When the vague predawn light first began to swallow up the stars, she had nothing in her pockets but two pieces of milky sea-glass and a clam. It was a big heavy clam, large as her hand, with the rough pebbly shell that meant it was the best kind for eating, the kind whose meat was black and buttery. But she had only been able to find one. Everything else that had washed up was worthless driftwood.
The child was about to turn back, as her mother had told her to, when she saw the flash of metal in the sky—a sudden silver gleam, as if a new star had come to life, outshining all the others.
It was north of her, out above the sea. She watched where it had been, and a moment later it flashed again, a little to the left. She knew what it was: a flyer's wings had caught the first rays of the rising sun, before they quite touched the rest of the world.
The child wanted to follow, to run and see. She loved to watch the flight of birds, the little rainbirds and the fierce nighthawks and the scavenger kites; and the flyers with their great silver wings were better than any birds. But it was almost dawn, and her mother had told her to turn back at dawn.
She ran. If she hurried, she thought, if she ran all the way there and all the way back, she might have time to watch for a while, before her mother could miss her. So she ran and ran, past the lazy late-risers who were just coming out to wander on the beach. The clam bounced in her pocket.
The eastern sky was all pale orange by the time she reached the flyers' place, a wide expanse of sandy beach where they often landed, beneath the high cliff from which they launched. The child liked to climb the cliff and watch from up there, with the wind in her hair and her little legs dangling over the edge and the sky all around her. But today there was no time. She had to go back soon, or her mother would be angry.
She had come too late, anyway. The flyer was landing.
He made a last graceful pass over the sand, his wings sweeping by thirty feet above her head. She stood and watched with wide eyes. Then, out above the water, he tilted himself; one silver wing went down and one went up, and all at once he came around in a wide circle. And then he straightened and came on ahead, descending gracefully, so he barely touched the sand as he came skimming in.
There were other people on the beach—a young man and an older woman. They ran alongside the flyer as he came in, and helped to stop him, and afterward they did something to his wings that made them collapse. The two of them folded up the wings, slowly and with care, while the flyer undid the straps that bound them to his body.
Watching, the girl saw that he was the one she liked. There were lots of flyers, she knew, and she had seen many of the
“You,” he said.
The child looked up, terrified, and found him smiling at her.
“Don't be frightened,” he said. “I won't hurt you.”
She took a step backward. She had often watched the flyers, but none of them had ever noticed her before.
“Who is she?” the flyer asked his helper, who was standing behind him holding his folded wings.
The young man shrugged. “Some clam digger. I don't know. I've seen her hanging around before. Do you want me to chase her off?”
“No,” the man said. He smiled at her again. “Why are you so afraid?” he asked. “It's all right. I don't mind your coming here, little girl.”
“My mother told me not to bother the flyers,” the child said.
The man laughed. “Oh,” he said. “Well, you don't bother me. Maybe someday you can grow up and help the flyers, like my friends here. Would you like that?”
The girl shook her head. “No.”
“No?” He shrugged, still smiling. “What would you like to do, then? Fly?”
Timidly, the child managed to nod.
The older woman sniggered, but the flyer glanced at her and frowned. Then he walked to the child and stooped and took her by the hand. “Well,” he said, “if you're going to fly, you have to practice, you know. Would you like to practice?”
“You're too little for wings just now,” the flyer said. “Here.” He wrapped strong hands about her, and hoisted her up to his shoulders, so she sat with her legs dangling on his chest, and her hands fumbling uncertain in his hair. “No,” he said, “you can't hold on if you're going to be a flyer. Your arms have to be your wings. Can you hold out your arms straight?”
“Yes,” she said. She raised her arms up and held them out like a pair of wings.
“Your arms are going to get tired,” the flyer warned, “but you can't lower them. Not if you want to fly. A flyer has to have strong arms that never get tired.”
“I'm strong,” the girl insisted.
“Good. Are you ready to fly?”
“Yes.” She began to flap her arms.
“No, no, no,” he said. “Don't flap. We're not like the birds, you know. I thought you watched us.”
The child tried to remember. “Kites,” she said suddenly, “you're like kites.”
“Sometimes,” the flyer said, pleased. “And nighthawks, and other soaring birds. We don't really fly, you know. We glide like the kites do. We ride on the wind. So you can't flap; you have to hold your arms stiff, and try to feel the wind. Can you feel the wind now?”
“Yes.” It was a warmer wind, sharp with the smell of the sea.
“Well, catch it with your arms, let it blow you.”
She closed her eyes, and tried to feel the wind on her arms.
And she began to move.
The flyer had begun to trot across the sand, as if blown by the wind. When it shifted, he shifted as well, changing directions suddenly. She kept her arms stiff, and the wind seemed to grow stronger, and now he was running, and she bounced up and down on his shoulders, going faster and faster.
“You'll fly me into the water!” he called. “Turn, turn!”
And she tilted her wings, the way she had watched them turn so often, one hand going up and one down, and the flyer turned to the right and began to run in a circle, until finally she straightened her arms again, and then he was off the way he had come.
He ran and ran, and she flew, until both were breathless and laughing.
Finally he stopped. “Enough,” he said, “a beginning flyer shouldn't stay up too long.” He lifted her off his back and set her on the sand again, smiling. “There now,” he said.
Her arms were sore from holding them up so long, but she was excited almost to bursting, though she knew a spanking was waiting at home. The sun was well above the horizon. “Thank you,” she said, still breathless from her flight.
“My name is Russ,” he said. “If you want another flight, come see me sometime. I don't have any little flyers of my own.”
The child nodded eagerly.
“And you,” he said, brushing sand from his clothes. “Who are you?”
“Maris,” she replied.
“A pretty name,” the flyer replied pleasantly. “Well, I must be off, Maris. But maybe we'll go flying again sometime, eh?” He smiled at her and turned away, and began walking off down the beach. The two helpers joined him, one carrying his folded wings. They began to talk as they receded from her, and she heard the sound of his laughter.
And suddenly she was running after him, churning up the sand in her wake, straining to match his long strides.
He heard her coming and turned back to her. “Yes?”
“Here,” she said. She reached into her pocket, and handed him the clam.
Astonishment broke over his face, then vanished in the warmth of his smile. He accepted the clam gravely.
She threw her arms around him, hugged him with a fierce intensity, and fled. She ran with her arms held out to either side, so fast that she almost seemed to fly.
MARIS RODE THE STORM ten feet above the sea, taming the winds on wide cloth-of-metal wings. She flew fiercely, recklessly, delighting in the danger and the feel of the spray, not bothered by the cold. The sky was an ominous cobalt blue, the winds were building, and she had wings; that was enough. She could die now, and die happy, flying.
She flew better than she ever had before, twisting and gliding between the air currents without thought, catching each time the updraft or downwind that would carry her farther or faster. She made no wrong choices, was forced into no hasty scrambles above the leaping ocean; the tacking she did was all for joy. It would have been safer to fly high, like a child, up above the waves as far as she could climb, safe from her own mistakes. But Maris skimmed the sea, like a flyer, where a single dip, a brush of wing against water, meant a clumsy tumble from the sky. And death; you don't swim far when your wingspan is twenty feet.
Maris was daring, but she knew the winds.
Ahead she spied the neck of a scylla, a sinuous rope dark against the horizon. Almost without thinking, she responded. Her right hand pulled down on the leather wing grip, her left pushed up. She shifted the whole weight of her body. The great silver wings—tissue thin and almost weightless, but immensely strong—shifted with her, turning. One wingtip all but grazed the whitecaps snapping below, the other lifted; Maris caught the rising winds more fully, and began to climb.
Death, sky death, had been on her mind, but she would not end like that—snapped from the air like an unwary gull, lunch for a hungry monster.
Minutes later she caught up to the scylla, and paused for a taunting circle just beyond its reach. From above she could see its body, barely beneath the waves, the rows of slick black flippers beating rhythmically. The tiny head, swaying slowly from side to side atop the long neck, ignored her. Perhaps it has known flyers, she thought then, and it does not like the taste.
The winds were colder now, and heavy with salt. The storm was gathering strength; she could feel a trembling in the air. Maris, exhilarated, soon left the scylla far behind. Then she was alone again, flying effortlessly, through an empty, darkening world of sea and sky where the only sound was the wind upon her wings.
In time, the island reared out of the sea: her destinati
on. Sighing, sorry for the journey's end, Maris let herself descend.
Gina and Tor, two of the local land-bound—Maris didn't know what they did when they weren't caring for visiting flyers—were on duty out on the landing spit. She circled once above them to catch their attention. They rose from the soft sand and waved at her. The second time she came around they were ready. Maris dipped lower and lower, until her feet were just inches above the ground; Gina and Tor ran across the sand parallel to her, each beside a wing. Her toes brushed surface and she began to slow in a shower of sand.
Finally she stopped, lying prone on the cool, dry sand. She felt silly. A downed flyer is like a turtle on its back; she could get on her feet if she had to, but it was a difficult, undignified process. Still, it had been a good landing.
Gina and Tor began to fold up her wings, joint by foot-long joint. As each strut unlocked and folded back on the next segment, the tissue fabric between them went limp. When all the extensors were pulled in, the wings hung in two loose folds of drooping metal from the central axis strapped to Maris' back.
“We'd expected Coll,” said Gina, as she folded back the final strut. Her short dark hair stood out in spikes around her face.
Maris shook her head. It should have been Coll's journey, perhaps, but she had been desperate, longing for the air. She'd taken the wings—still her wings—and gone before he was out of bed.
“He'll have flying enough after next week, I expect,” Tor said cheerfully. There was still sand in his lank blond hair and he was shivering a little from the sea winds, but he smiled as he spoke. “All the flying he'll want.” He stepped in front of Maris to help her unstrap the wings.
“I'll wear them,” Maris snapped at him, impatient, angered by his casual words. How could he understand? How could any of them understand? They were land-bound.
She started up the spit toward the lodge, Gina and Tor falling in beside her. There she took the usual refreshments and, standing before a huge open fire, allowed herself to be dried and warmed. The friendly questions she answered curtly, trying to be silent, trying not to think, This may be the last time. Because she was a flyer, they all respected her silence, though with disappointment. For the land-bound, the flyers were the most regular source of contact with the other islands. The seas, daily storm-lashed and infested with scyllas and seacats and other predators, were too dangerous for regular ship travel except among islands within the same local group. The flyers were the links, and the others looked to them for news, gossip, songs, stories, romance.