Under a Velvet Cloak
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by Piers Anthony
Category: Fantasy/Alternate History
Description: The eighth book in Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series. It is the year 500 AD. Kerena, a beautiful young girl living near King Arthur's Camelot, is apprenticed to Morely the Seer. Morely teaches her fantastic magic, but when he mysteriously disappears, Kerena finds herself out on the street and must resort to prostitution to survive. Kerena prospers as a skilled courtesan until she is taken into service by Morgan le Fey, the sorceress sister of King Arthur. Kerena's knowledge of magic grows as she is required to carry out nefarious deeds for the evil Lady Fey. One of her missions is to seduce Sir Gawain, Knight of the Round Table, to prevent him from locating the Holy Grail. But Gawain and Kerena fall in love and she conceives his child, a child she discovers is cursed to die an early death. Using her Seer abilities, Kerena tries to locate the fabled Incarnations of Immortality, seeking their aid in removing the taint from her baby. Rebuffed by all seven major Incarnations, Kerena vows revenge. But revenge against such mighty immortals would require an even greater power...
eBook Publisher: Mundania Press LLC/Mundania Press LLC, 2007 2007
eBookwise Release Date: December 2007
71 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [412 KB]
Reading time: 266-373 min.
Four Stars, recommended read. Even if you pick up this book first and have not read the other seven; if that's so, shame on you, they are a must read for fans of fantasy, you can follow what is going on with no trouble. This story will give you a fresh appreciation for all the others and insights into them that may make you want to go back and read them all again.--Amanda Kilgore, Huntress Reviews and Eternal Night Reviews
Chapter 1 On Velvet
It was the time of a great king who ruled from a shining city. He had been trained in statesmanship by a powerful mage, and had united the warring clans to form a kingdom that would be long remembered. He had gathered a prominent group of knights under his banner of chivalry. They met at a table in the shape of a circle, so that there was no seeming order of rank among them. But this is not that story.
In a small village in this kingdom was a family with two daughters. The lack of a son might have been unfortunate, but the elder sister was beautiful, outgoing, talented in the arts, intelligent, and good natured. She would inevitably be courted by many eligible young men, fall in love with the handsomest and wealthiest, marry, and have many excellent children. Some of her distant descendants would become Incarnations of Immortality, and others would marry them. But this is not that story either.
The younger sister was fair of feature, but slow to develop, so that at age thirteen she still lacked breasts. This was awkward, as other girls her age were already fascinating young men. She was quiet, introspective, observant, and sometimes given to flashes of intuition. That would have been acceptable, had she not made the error of expressing them. She was simply too smart and nervy for a girl. Her prospects were bleak.
This is her story. As seen by a ghost. * * * *
Jolie quested until she found the correct girl. She could tell by the feel of her. She had to get it right, because once she entered, she would probably be confined to that body, until her long mission was done. She couldn't just flit about, because she was out of her timeline and could readily get lost.
This second sister was the one. She fit the description, and she felt right. She had vastly more potential than she knew, and she was the pivotal figure in the divergence of realities. What others did didn't matter; only this girl's actions were responsible for the key changes.
Jolie entered the body and was subsumed. Her awareness became the girl's awareness, but Jolie retained her own identity to the extent she wished. She could assert herself any time she needed to, but it was too much of an effort to bother with routinely.
Kerena did not know what to do. She was so much in her elder sister Katherine's shadow that she was in effect invisible. She seemed destined to remain a drag on her parent's household. There was barely enough to go around as it was; they could not afford to feed her indefinitely.
That's what you think, girl. Your life is about to change significantly. Jolie was not really talking to Kerena, who was not aware of her presence. But the pretense made her feel better. She could influence the girl's thoughts, and thus her actions, but it was essential that she not do that unless it was absolutely necessary. Anonymity was golden.
Then a Seer visited the village, really just passing through on his way to somewhere more important, and Kerena suffered a flash. If she could somehow persuade him to take her off their hands, that would be almost as good as marriage. They would be free of the burden, and she would get to travel. Of course it would not be a completely pleasant existence, but she could gather herbs, scrub pots, and do whatever else a servant girl did. Men traveling alone were always in need of such services; they were incompetent housekeepers.
That's it, girl. He is a good man. Do it. If for some obscure reason the girl didn't do it, then Jolie would have to encourage her, because this connection was vital.
In fact vital rather understated the case. There were a seemingly infinite number of timelines, alternate realities, each slightly different from its neighbor, the differences growing as they progressed. The tiniest deviance could generate massive change farther down the timeline. If a girl was walking at dusk to a love tryst, and made it, and conceived and birthed a baby, that baby could grow up and have descendants of lesser or greater significance. But if that girl happened to see a large spider and took a fright, and fled home instead of making her tryst, there would be no baby, and all of what that new person did in life would be lost. All because the maiden happened to see the spider instead of missing it. The change of the direction of one glance could alter the fate of that entire timeline.
This was not academic. In Jolie's timeline the Incarnation of Good had made a study of adjacent and nearby alternate timelines, and discovered that only one achieved salvation: her own. All the others, as far as the Incarnations had fathomed, expired in hellfire, chaos, or some other dreadful doom. It was hardly possible to discovery why, as that would require in-depth studies of an infinite number of variants. God--the Incarnation of Good--could not check directly, because few folk could cross between timelines. Only those who had no similar selves in the others, and there were not many of those.
Instead they had sought the closest variant, and prepared Jolie to go there, to its earliest point of divergence, so she could in effect change the girl's glance and salvage the situation. Jolie could not affect her own timeline, because of the paradox of changing her own existence, but she could touch this adjacent one. They called it Timeline Two, or T2, the original being T1. There might not be a Jolie here, but by the time she brought it into alignment there would be a Jolie. That would be a different person from herself, with an independent existence, but very similar in all the ways that counted. Including, unfortunately, her tragically early death. That was uncomfortable to consider. Suppose the Jolie of this timeline survived, and she had to change it to make her die? She hated the very notion, yet knew she would do it if she had to.
The hope was that in this straightforward manner a second timeline could be saved. Then the Jolie of that universe could do the same for the third timeline, and so on in a chain, saving many that were otherwise doomed. T1 to T2, T2 to T3, and so on, in theory. Perhaps there were many routes to salvation, but the only pattern they could be sure of was the first one. They had to make the second align with the first, at least until it was close enough to achieve salvation on its own.
Thus her mission was literally to save a universe. She had no certainty of success, but it was something that had to be tried. The folk of this timeline did not deserve the cruel fate that awaited them otherwise. Meanwhile she was learning things about the prior course of her own timeline, because of the alignment. These supposedly dull details were thus made fascinating. Here was an innocent girl proceeding to a tryst of a sort. Let her not see a spider!