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PodCastle 608: The Epic of Sakina — Part 1

Show Notes

Rated PG-13.


The Epic of Sakina

By Shari Paul

The moon was a pale, golden disc in a lavender sky. Sakina, in a brilliant blue caftan that brought out the colour in her skin and eyes, strummed her kora a few times to check the tuning. At her ear, an ancestor whispered, “He is quite brazen to be out here when the moon is full…or powerful enough to resist it.”

Sakina looked over at the tall, thin man sinking into one of the dougou-tigui’s fine silk cushions. Asif the alim looked as if a stiff breeze would knock him over, the skin stretched tight over his bones. Naima had called him a ghoul and Sakina agreed. He noticed her stare, smiled, and said, “Of all the djeli I have met in my travels, you are by far the most captivating.”

There were a few titters from the assembled guests, wealthy merchants, fellow djeli, and the imam of the Cunapo Mosque. Their host, the dougou-tigui Hussain, coughed lightly, embarrassed, and said, “My nephew, Farouk, certainly thought so. He could not have found a more beautiful wife.”

“Yes, yes,” said Asif, still smiling at Sakina. “And then he left her to go travelling with your maghan. If I had found a wife as lovely, my journeys would end.”

“They are young, they think they can do whatever they like,” said Hussain with a chuckle, jiggling two of his three jowls.

Sprawled beside Asif, surrounded by trays of fruit and starches and spiced teas, the dougou-tigui was the larger of the two but he sat considerably higher. The ancestor continued at Sakina’s ear, “See how the mass he does not show nevertheless affects the environment around him? The beast he becomes must be strong.” (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 607: TALES FROM THE VAULTS — Who in Mortal Chains

Show Notes

Rated R.


Who in Mortal Chains

by Claire Humphrey

I almost had friends in 1965.

Ryder was a brewer in those days, when brewing was a thing no one much cared to do. He was well loved among a circle of twenty or so, every one with a lost art. Mylene was a weaver; Tom worked leather; Eskil kept bees. Up on the mountain, Andy ran a print shop, with a hundred fonts of lead type, sorted by letter into a hundred wooden trays. Clifton made images with light: albumen prints, salt prints, silver negatives on glass.

I suppose I could have taught someone the art of the bayonet, or the language of signal-flags, but I was mostly just hanging around getting drunk with them. It was almost like hanging around people my own age, except that everyone my age is an asshole.

I did teach Ryder how to bake bannock over coals. We ate his first attempt with some of Eskil’s honey, and mugs of beer pulled from the cask. Clifton took a daguerreotype of all of us seated on blankets under the arbutus tree behind Ryder’s house.

He made copies for everyone, but I wrecked mine, of course.

The only thing I’ve managed to keep from that time is a rough forging from the shop of Jason the blacksmith. Steel, and therefore tempered against my temper. Jason would have made it a blade, but I told him I’d only end up cutting someone.

The rough forging sits now on the windowsill in my kitchen, half a continent away and four decades later. The window itself has been replaced by an ill-fitting piece of Plexiglas held in place with duct tape. The things I break, I cannot always fix.

To read the rest of this story, visit Strange Horizons

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PodCastle 606: River’s Giving

Show Notes

Rated PG for jolly old beasts of terror.


River’s Giving

Heather Shaw, River Shaw, and Tim Pratt

Once upon a time, there was a boy named Alexander who lived in a village by a river in a valley in the shadow of a mountain. Every year when the days grew short and the air grew cold and the snow fell, the village would hold a celebration called River’s Giving. The festival kept spirits bright as darkness grew, and the people there looked forward to the cold of the longest night as much as they did the warmth of the longest day. At least they did until the year it all went wrong.

The young adults spent all summer tending sheep and spinning thread, and the older children spent the fall knitting long nets to string across the river. They decorated the nets with bright green sharp-edged leaves and sprigs of white and red berries that were no good for eating but beautiful for seeing. They also hung tiny bells all over the nets, and these jingled in the water, a sound that always meant joy to Alexander.

In the week before the festival, those adults who were so inclined would wield their slings and bows and stones and arrows to display their hunting prowess, or toss logs and heavy stones in shows of strength, all in friendly competition, with cheers for the winners and consolation drinks for the losers. Alexander’s mother usually came in second or third with the bow these days, after winning five straight years in a row. Some people said she was losing her touch, but Alexander’s father whispered that she just thought it was nice to let other people win sometimes. Life in the village was like that; people shared everything, even victory. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 605: Blood, Bone, Seed, Spark

Show Notes

Rated R for secrets, science, and sexuality.


Blood, Bone, Seed, Spark

By Aimee Ogden

Upstairs, in the little rowhouse on the thirty-sixth meridian of the city of Leth Marno, the scuffling grows louder. Heels ring out against the floorboards, and shouts are muffled; by the rugs, perhaps, or a hand that grasps to cover a mouth.

Anell Nath sits downstairs by the flower-arrangement pedestal. Her hands shake as she trims leaves from a bundle of pale peonies. She is more certain with the tools of her trade than with the instruments of the gentleperson’s art, but dissection scissors would make slow work of the thick waxy stems. As she works she counts the blows from the level above; categorizes and classifies each cry that makes its way down to her. Cool observation distances her from what is happening up there. That is her job, and always has been: to study, to take notes. To seek understanding, or at least knowledge.

Hasn’t she had enough understanding for a lifetime by now? How deep must understanding be, before she drowns in it? The blades of the shears snap methodically, and leaves fall to the ground between her bare feet.

Years of hard, grinding work in the library and the laboratory have honed the great desire of Anell’s heart into a scalpel, a sharp point ever driving toward that goal. The blade is so keen, though, that by its very nature it has flensed away everything else.

The shears are heavy in her hand. A scalpel would have been defter. She sits, and cuts, and waits. (Continue Reading…)