Mearsies Heili Bounces Back by Sherwood Smith

  Mearsies Heile Bounces Back:

  CJ’s Second Notebook

  Sherwood Smith

  Copyright © 2011 by Sherwood Smith

  ISBN: 978 1 61138 066 8

  Book View Cafe

  January 2011



  “Rainy Day”

  When I lived on Earth, there was a funny magazine my babysitter sometimes let me see. It was called MAD. Sometimes it had sequels of things, and they called them “Bounces Back.” Because I’ve finished rewriting this second notebook here, and because of some of the things that happened in, as well as to, Mearsies Heili, that “bounces back” pretty much fits.

  Okay. When I left off in the first notebook, Clair, our queen, had finally gotten into contact with all the provinces of Mearsies Heili—except for the chopped-down forest that Glotulae Auknuge, sister to the king of Elchnudaeb, still claimed as her “kingdom.” What had once been a trade town on the Great North Road was now a city that supported the enormous palace we called the Squashed Wedding Cake, because that’s what it looked like to us. “Queen” Glotulae (nicknamed Fobo by us, because of the way she trilled her words) was always adding more decorations to it, as well as statues of herself and her son Prince Jonnicake (yes, she really and truly named her son Jonnicake), who we called PJ.

  Fobo and PJ wanted to take over the rest of the country, just so everybody would bow down to them. Sometimes they were aided by the other villain we had to worry about, Kwenz of the Chwahir, who lived in the Shadowland below the cloud city that was also our capital. The Chwahir, like the Mearsieans, had come from another continent long ago, each making a colony in uninhabited land. The Mearsieans had come to escape the Chwahir, but guess who chased after them. The Chwahir like conquering. Most of their boys and men have to be warriors. Kwenz was very old, a master of black magic, which is mostly used for force.

  “Black” magic is so named because it spends magic that takes ages to renew, unlike “white” or “light” magic, which is mostly used to aid life. If you think of magic like electricity, black magic zaps out the power grid in gigandor spells, but white magic uses low watts so there’s always plenty in the world. White magic takes longer to perform, and has a lot of safeguards. But it’s a whole lot safer to use. I know, because I’ve been trying to learn it so I can help Clair, when Kwenz tried magical villainy against us.

  So who are we again?

  There were now eight of us girls in Clair’s gang—nine with white-haired Clair Sherwood, queen of Mearsies Heili. She’d been queen for a year or two when we first met. Next was me, Cherene Jennet, serving as Clair’s left-hand splat, or princess. As I said, I used to live on Earth, but someone else got stuck in my place and I got to come here. I’m short and skinny with long straight black hair and blue eyes.

  Blond-haired Sherry had been living with Clair the longest—they’d made friends when they were little kids. Freckle-faced, red-haired Faline was our joker. You’d never know she was a shape-changer by nature—at least, her people, the Yxubarecs, had been exiled for their habit of taking the forms of beautiful people and getting rid of the originals. Faline was short, wiry, her hair so bristly it stuck out like a flaming bush unless she braided it.

  Seshe was the oldest, tall and calm and smart, with very long blondish-brown hair. She loved the forest land and animals. Seshe talked even less than Diana about where she came from, but she sure knew a lot.

  Diana was the quietest. She also loved the forest, and knew the most about things like woodcraft and also how to get past locked doors. As I said, Diana did not talk about her past; her dark eyes would go distant and she’d fade into the shadows if anyone started nosing.

  Irene couldn’t be more different. She loved to talk, she loved acting, drama, playing parts, dressing up. She and Dhana were the moody ones. But that’s all they shared—Dhana wasn’t even human, except she’d borrowed our form for a time. She actually was a water being from the strange, rainbow hot spring we called the Magic Lake, right below the cloud city where Clair has her capital.

  Gwen was the newest to our gang, a small, quiet girl originally from Earth, with an amazing talent for mimicking voices.

  We were all kids, including Clair, who had been studying white magic since she was little. Clair had found a spell that would keep us as kids, which meant birthdays were extra fun. We got to celebrate but not get older, so nobody would start getting mushy and disgusting about boys.

  We girls had recently finished remodeling the Junky, our underground hideout. Everyone had her own room, and we’d even added some extras, in case we had visitors, and also, Clair wanted her cousin Puddlenose to have a room waiting for him if he ever came back. We thought this was a great idea.

  Clair and I had recently finished the connecting tunnels (once we’d decided that the rope entrances were only fun to go down, not up) and what happens? We all end up crammed in the main room most of the time. But the big difference was, we no longer had to stay crammed up—we only did when we chose to. Somehow that made everything work out better, especially for the moody ones.

  When the weather was rotten outside—as it was the day I’m about to report—it was so cozy to gather in the main room with warm goodies to eat and drink, to talk and laugh. Maybe I’d sing and Dhana would dance for us. Sometimes two or three of the girls put together skits for the rest of us to watch.

  I wrote a lot of those up in my first records. All the jokes were there, even the ones we repeated a million times because it was just as funny, or almost as funny, to wait for the expected comeback as it had been the first time we heard it. But when I let a couple of people read those, I couldn’t help noticing that they skipped over those pages. I guess we’re not always as wonderful to other people as we are to ourselves, or maybe in-jokes and stuff just aren’t interesting to anyone outside the group.

  But I decided to copy this one rainy day into the new notebook anyway. Partly because it is in some ways so typical of those quiet evenings, when it’s just us, and no big worries. (Because the big adventures tend to start out as big worries.) You could say that this one stands for all of them—lots and lots of lovely, fun evenings just like it. And partly because Clair so seldom told stories. That’s the non-typical part. And what she had to say, well, you’ll see.


  On this particular day, a nasty, sleety rain fell in zinging arrows outside. Not even Dhana liked it. Inside, it was warm—the Fire Stick in our fireplace gave off a comforting glow. Sherry and Seshe had cooked up some of their delicious hot chocolate with whipped cream on top, and an extra bowl in the middle of the floor, for those of us who like hot chocolate-flavored whipped cream. Weird. In hot weather, ew. But cold? There is nothing better.

  Diana had begun singing a stupid song I’d made up, Hoooome, home on derange, where the madhouse minions do plaaaaay ...

  They didn’t know the original song, and didn’t want to. They liked my version, which had to be crooned in either a falsetto or a low, growly voice, because of the drony nature of the melody.

  Where sellll-dom is hearrrrrd, a garbaceous word ...

  And where piiiiies splat the villains all day!

  “Iyi-yi-yi-yiiiiiiiii!” Sherry trilled in a horrible descant.

  Irene clapped her hands over her ears. “CJ! Sing something that won’t break our ears!”

  I’d been collecting songs here and there. On the cloud top, small as it was, two musicians’ groups existed, providing music for anyone who hired them. And in a land where there isn’t any TV and a city where there wasn’t a theater, they got plenty of business. You could walk behind the glaziers’ places and hear them practicing when the weather was nice, all the upper story windows would
be open, and they considered that to be free advertising.

  Anyway, the songs I liked the best had these running triplets and flourishes that kind of reminded me a little of trumpet chords, and a little of the flourishes you heard in Irish and Scottish folk songs, especially the minor key ones. I really liked those a whole lot. But, I’d discovered to my dismay, the words were usually long, silly rambles about a couple of fatwits who wanted to fall in love (splat in love is more like it) or one had fallen in love and the other hadn’t, or they both were in love but somebody else snouted in so they couldn’t get married... . Bor-ring! Why waste great melodies on mushy songs?

  So I swiped the melodies and made up new words. The girls liked my versions much better—especially when I made up funny ones about the various villains, all sung to beautiful songs. Somehow, Faline kept saying, it was just that much funnier when the melody is pretty.

  Their favorite was one I had recently made up about PJ and a goat at a bridge. PJ insists that the goat has to bow, and let PJ go first. Goats are not known for letting anyone go first anymore than for bowing, but you could believe that PJ would expect it. It was such a silly song that Faline and Sherry and Irene decided to turn it into a skit.

  But. “I can’t sing right now, the whipped cream makes me croak like a frog,” I said.

  When half the others groaned, Clair said, “Why don’t we tell stories? Before we know it the rain will be gone, and everyone can get some fresh air on patrol.”

  We hadn’t heard from PJ and his gang of clucks for a long time, which made even Sherry suspicious. And Kwenz, we knew, was training his newly appointed heir, who we hadn’t yet met. But we knew he was a kid. Didn’t take master brains to figure that that boded no good for us.

  “A patrol in the cold,” Faline groaned with fervor.

  “And mud.” Irene pruned her face. “Some like nasty wet weather ...”

  “So we’ll all go on patrol.” Diana grinned. “Wasn’t gonna argue.”

  Dhana and Irene eyed one another. Irene twitched her shoulders a little (she had bunches of ribbons on each), but didn’t speak. Gwen said in her quiet voice, “How about a story from before I came?”

  “You already know all mine,” I said. Sometimes they liked hearing yukky stuff about Earth, just to shudder. Parts of my Earth memories had begun to fade except for the bits they liked hearing over and over. I’d even made up some stories about Earth and put the girls in. They adored those stories the most.

  Gwen looked Clair’s way, and Sherry said helpfully, “You haven’t heard all Clair’s.”

  Clair made a face and looked down at her toes, which were dug into the bright blue patch in the rug. She hated talking about her life before we came, but we’d gotten some of it out of her in bits and pieces.

  “C’mon, Clair, tell us some firsts.” Irene put her chin on her hands.


  “First time you met some of the villains. We already know about all our firsts.”

  Gwen nodded. Clair glanced her way, and hesitated. Gwen looked interested, but still too shy about asking. Gwen fit in fine—we all liked her, and she liked us—but there was so much left over from her gratitude-is-a-weapon days at that rotten orphanage, you could see Clair deciding to unclam just for her.

  “Well, as it happens, some of the firsts are all jumbled together,” she said.

  She took up the chocolate pot in both hands, and poured more into her cup.

  Everyone waited; the room was, for the first time, so silent I could hear the soft crackle of flames from the fireplace, and the muffled thuddud of the rain on the ground overhead.

  Clair wriggled her toes in the carpet, her fingers closed round her cup.

  While she ordered her thoughts, I turned my attention to the others. Funny, how much respect Clair got when she didn’t ask for any. She hated titles, wouldn’t dress differently than anyone, never demanded to speak first, or last. Never went first at dinner, or took the best place in a room—all stuff that PJ did, for example. He was always watching to make sure everyone gave him his bows, and waited for him to go first, and have the best chair. He demanded (loudly) all the signs of respect, but I don’t know how much respect his followers actually felt if they always had to be reminded, or bribed with promises of rank and riches as soon as they conquered Mearsies Heili.

  Clair gave us goodies—she gave us a home. None of us had to go out and prentice to work. We did have work, like patrolling, but we chose that ourselves. She had asked us to go round to the provinces and neighboring lands—but if we’d said no, she would have found a way to go herself. She didn’t make us. And she didn’t give us things to bribe us, or to buy our friendship. She gave us things because she liked to see everybody happy.

  So here we all were, and she was going to tell a story. If the rest of us were thinking over our words just before telling a story, there would be jokes and snickers and conversation. But we were quiet, waiting.

  Clair said, “I guess the best place for me to start is when my friend Jennet was alive. I was four or five, I forget now. Maybe five, because we’d been playing together for a while. We’d been talking about the Children’s Army—the kids left over after Kwenz pulled his Debt Day wine-spell trick. We’d rescued some of the grownups by accident, and Jennet kept talking about the missing ones. Like her parents.”

  She paused, and then went on in her low, soft voice, her green gaze straying toward the fire and staying there as she described how her mom was actually having morning interviews for once, rather than sleeping, so the girls sneaked into the magic library. Clair had learned the basics of magic as well as reading—mostly by practicing on her own, once she’d had a few lessons. No one knew how far along she really was.

  So no one had thought to hide any of the books. She located one that had transportation magic. She had never been permitted to leave the cloud-city, but she had sneaked away once, and saw the road around Mount Marcus that led down into the Shadowland beneath the cloud-city. Clair also knew enough about transfer magic, having seen people come and go from the Destination inside the White Palace. She knew she had to say the spell and picture a specific destination, or when the transfer magic wrenched you out of time and space in this world, you would vanish forever. So she pictured the edge of the Shadow, seen when poor Jennet had lost her family to Kwenz’s terrible spell. She took Jennet’s hand, said the transfer spell, and z-z-z-zap!

  Down they went! Without the spell book, of course. But, being five, they didn’t think about getting back up.

  The road leading into the Shadow under the cloud city was well flattened, the time was early morning, so no one was out. They wandered along the barren rocky road to the castle. Kwenz did have guards on the walls, but they were seldom attentive—it wasn’t as if anyone was trying to invade! Also, they had so much magic on them that they didn’t do anything on their own initiative, especially when the morning light was strong. It hurt their eyes.

  It could be that if the girls were seen, they were just small girls, and no one bothered to report them. Anyway, the little girls made it to the castle. Jennet remembered the way, not that it was hard to figure out. The middle of the main part of the castle had a long series of big rooms, mostly empty.

  Some servants were out and about, carrying things to and fro. They walked slowly, gazes down. The girls copied them, and no one paid them the least attention.

  They were looking for that tall old man they knew was in charge. Clair had recently learned a lesson from Steward Janil: that reasonable children could discuss what they wanted, and maybe get it. Whining and yelling would never get anything except time in your room. Even if Clair’s mom wouldn’t listen sometimes, just went on sleeping, or drinking wine out of her silver cup, Janil always listened. And whatever Janil said always was true. Plus, when you listened and learned, she gave you hugs and cookies.

  So the girls were determined to discuss things reasonably with that old man. Maybe then he’d let Jennet’s parents go—and even gi
ve them cookies. The girls didn’t really want any hugs, except of course Jennet did from her parents.

  Well, they heard voices. One of them was familiar. It was the old man, and he was laughing. It wasn’t a nice laugh at all, but it was familiar, so on they toiled, into a vast, dark room that was full of people! Only the people were still!

  Clair reached to touch the nearest outstretched hand, to discover a cold hardness, like marble. No warm skin. She snatched her fingers back as she stared up. The people had been frozen in the middle of movement, some fearful, some warding threat, some offering threat. A few were sad, looking down. And some held children in arms or by the hand—babies and children just as still and cold.

  Jennet ran off to look for her parents. Clair walked more slowly. Her attention was caught by a boy who looked familiar. He had a squinched-up face, his fingers outstretched, slightly curled. Like he was reaching. He was just a little taller than she, standing in the center of the whole room, she realized, surrounded by lots of empty space.

  She looked at his eyes. They gleamed and glittered in the faint light reflected from outside the stone room, looking creepily real. As if these stone eyes watched her. She backed up a step, two steps—and then heard voices.

  One was the old man again, laughing. It was a wheezy laugh—a mean laugh. She hid behind the boy-statue.

  “... and there you are! No, you needn’t hold him any longer.”

  The new voice sounded garbled. Like someone trying to talk while underwater in the bathtub, only there wasn’t any water. The voice slowed, then stopped, while the wheezy laughter continued.

  The old man said, “My brother slowed the stone spell, see, so they know what’s happening to them. Listen, you!”

  A third voice was deep and husky. “Interesting. Quite interesting.”

  The old man said, “Here it gets even better. Now, you! Listen to me, before you freeze to stone. There is an antidote built into the spell, yes.” He laughed again.

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