Cards of Grief

by Jane Yolen
Release date: 1984
Type: speculative fiction
Genres: fantasy
Tags: mythopoeic awards

Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature: Best Novel winner (1985).

The Gray Wanderer: When her great-grandmother became ill and moved to the windowless room upstairs to practice lying in darkness, Linni was 13... old enough to enter the Hall of Grief. And she was ready, having spent many childhood hours, alone or with her brothers, playing at the Hall game, crafting her own grief poems. "She has a gift for grief," the elders would say reverently, for on L'Lal'lor, grieving was the highest form of art. But Linni's talent was not the only thing that set her apart.

Born of the Middle Lands, whose people tended to be short and thickset, Linni grew tall and angular – a clear indication that her father had been a Prince of the Royals, sowing his seed as was required during his Journey Year. Fittingly it was another Prince, B'oremos, who discovered her there in that minor country Hall, tracing the words of a just-composed threnody to her great-grandmother onto a tablet. It was the first of many such verses in which the image of a gray-cloaked woul traveler appeared.

Recognizing the girl's unique abilities, B'oremos immediately forsook his Journey and rode all the way back to the city to tell the Queen of the young prodigy he had discovered.

The Queen of Shadows: "Bring me this Gray Wanderer," the Queen commanded B'oremos... the Queen from whose own body the next rulers of the land were meant to come. But she was girl-barrem and had no successor, only boys to grieve for her when she finally took the Cup of Sleep. So it was that the young Linni struck a profound chord within her. "Do not fear the dark, my lady, for I am sent to light your way." The girl had whispered the words for the Queen alone to hear, and the Queen knew it was truth. She read Linni's grief poems with a growing interest, and when a white-robed priestess intoned the age-old prophecy, "A child of the Lands shall lead the way," the Gray Wanderer's fate was sealed.

"Can you make me another threnody?" the Queen asked. "Now... so that I can see that you made these without the promptings of your elders?"
Linni replied simply, "I have nothing to grieve for, my Queen."
And the Queen smiled - a smile of power.

Several days later, word came that Linni's grandmoher had died...

The Alien: The charge against Aaron Spenser, Anthropoligist 1st Class, was Cultural Contamination, for he has influenced all culture within the previously closed system of the plantet Henderson's IV, or L'Lalor, through his relationship with its inhabitants – in particular, his liaison with a woman known as the Gray Wanderer, the Queen's Own Griever.

Spenser was guilty, but in truth he had been even more changed by the contact than the people of L'Lal'lor. Because he had studied them as a scientist, puzzled over a civilization in which there was neither love nor laughter, only grieving. And somehow, within that culture of tears – a death-centered society that remained remarkably untouched by death – Aaron Spenser found all that his own life had lacked...

(updated 2017-01-18)

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