rosemary edghill: The Book of Moons

The Book of Moons


The Book of Moons
by Rosemary Edghill
Tor Books (October 1995, November 1996)
ISBN: 0-312-85605-9 (hardcover), 0-812-53439-5 (paperback), 9780312867683(omnibus)

It was a Saturday in the middle of April and I was at the studio, making up for lost time at my day job by working overtime. I'd gone up to Rites of Spring, the Boston-area Pagan festival, last month and so had been out of the studio for more than a week.

Going to festivals affects everyone in different ways. It made me want to have a cleaner, larger, more upmarket apartment. It made Belle want to have a similar festival here.

The other big difference between us is that Belle is Lady Bellflower, Changing Coven's High Priestess, and I'm just another spear-carrying urban Witch. My name -- my real name -- is Bast, and you can stop doing that Elizabeth Montgomery impersonation right now.

Wicca may be the new religion that sociologists and millenialists have been predicting since the nineteen fifties, but personally my money's on the First Church of Star Trek, which has motivated more people in its various revivals than have ever heard of Wicca. This is why television is the religion of the masses, and religion is the television of the few, the proud, the freelance graphics artists.

Like me.

This particular Saturday I'd volunteered to take a rush job that Mikey Pontifex, our fearless owner, had dumped on Ray Lawrence (Houston Graphics' Art Director) at a quarter to five yesterday. The client needed it Monday morning by ten. So guess who volunteered?

Besides, if I wasn't working, what would I do to keep out of trouble?

The phone rang.

"Bookie-Joint-Can-I-Help-You?" I sang into the mouthpiece.

"Bast, is that you?" It was Glitter, a friend as well as being one of my coven mates.

"Sure," I said recklessly.

"It's gone," Glitter said agitatedly. "I've looked everywhere for it, and Goddess knows I didn't loan it to anyone; why would I loan it to anyone? And you've seen my apartment, Bast -- I can't have overlooked it."

Glitter's apartment is bigger than mine, but not by much.

"What's gone?" I demanded.

"My book," Glitter said, as if I should already know. "My Book of Shadows."

I tactfully stifled the urge to laugh, if only for sheer relief. "It's a mitzvah," I said, "be happy." Which might have seemed callous, until you considered what Glitter's book looked like.

"Bast!" Glitter wailed in my ear.

I wasn't really worried yet. Dark forces stealing your BoS is right up there with being under psychic attack and being haunted by poltergeists as things that Do Not Happen In Real Life.

And besides, outside her day job, Glitter is not the world's most organized person.

"Did you look under your mattress?" I said.

There was a deep breath at the other end of the line. "I've looked everywhere. I've looked. I have looked."

"Okay," I said soothingly. "Have you told Belle?"

"I called you first. Can't you do something?" Glitter said. "You know."

Whether it is because I have the misfortune to be a tall, blue-eyed, thirtysomething brunette who looks as if she has all the answers, or simply because I was born to stand in the wrong place at the wrong time, I am the sort of person whom people like Glitter ask to "do something".

"I'm supposed to meet Beaner and go down to Lothlorien," I told Glitter. "But I'll come up after that, okay? I'll look for it for you."

I heard Glitter take a deep breath. "Okay, Bast. But it isn't here."

I hung up and tried to believe that my recent phone call was some sort of a joke, but I couldn't convince myself that Glitter hadn't been serious. Still, I continued to hope she was mistaken.

A Book of Shadows is part logbook, part recipe book, part liturgy, and part magical diary. It's a very personal thing, but on the other hand it wouldn't be that hard for Glitter to re-create. And there wasn't much I could do about it now one way or the other. I tidied my area, took Friday's paycheck out of my purse, wrote "Karen Hightower" on the back with my Mars Technograph Number One, slipped it into an envelope for deposit to Chemical, and went to meet Beaner.


Houston Graphics is located (due to a long lease) in what used to be cheap commercial space in beautiful downtown New York where Broadway meets Lafayette -- and for that matter, Houston.

It's still commercial, but it's no longer cheap. A few blocks south the nabe is still authentically tacky in all its antique sweatshop glory, but around here the creeping Disneyfication of New York goes on.

You could call it urban growth, but it looks a lot more like a war; a war not against a government, but against an era. And, as in any war, there are casualties.

In the Age of Fable, around the time I was learning to walk, New York was a city of bookstores. There were the great uptown temples of Brentano's and Scribners, the lesser chapels like Shakespeare & Co. and Gotham Book Mart, and no one had ever heard of a national chain or a shopping mall.

Downtown was the Land of Cockaigne: used, second- hand, antique, call them what you like, they were bookstores where you might, indeed, find anything. Sweet- smelling catacombs filled with second chances for authors not fey enough to grab the brass ring of literary immortality on the first try.

Economics and the rising price of real estate were the Modred in this particular Camelot, and like all good destroyers, they moved from the weak to the strong. Today the Strand, at Broadway and 12th, is the last faded standard-bearer of the thousand shining emporiums that once were threaded like pearls on Broadway's shining silver cord. In the war against the written word, the logoclasts are winning.

# It was raining when I got outside -- the April rain with the subversive undertone of warmth that insists Spring is just around the corner. I caught up with Beaner under an awning near a coffee pushcart at Grand.

He tossed his styrofoam espresso cup in the trash when he saw me and flung out his arms. He looked expensive and well-kept, both of which he is. "Bast! Dah-ling! You look mah-velous!" He also does the best Fernando Lamas imitation this side of Billy Crystal.

"Yeah. So do you. How's it going?"

"We start full rehearsals next week." The rain had moderated to heavy mist. Beaner took my arm and we headed down town.

From him I don't mind it. He tells me it's genetic. Beaner was born in Boston with a silver swizzle-stick in his mouth to a family that is genteelly horrified at the path his life has taken.

His family doesn't mind that he's gay. They don't care that he's a Witch. What gives them fits is that A Son of Theirs is performing on the public stage. Which is another way of saying that Beaner is an operatic tenor and he does it for money.

This year he was abandoning LOOM temporarily -- the Light Opera Of Manhattan, if you're from out of town -- for the Archival Opera Consortium, which was doing something by Donizetti called Maria Stuarda. Which was why we were going to Lothlorien, a specialty bookstore (Things Celtic) which had survived through some oversight of the gods of urban renewal.

"And?" I said, because with Beaner the first sentence is never the whole story.

"Dearie, it's the usual. The soprano has a teeny substance abuse problem and a large attitude problem. Ken is a dear thing, but if we follow his blocking we'll all be impaled on pikes at the first exit. And then there's That Woman."

He shuddered dramatically and I laughed. "That woman?" I asked, as I was meant to. "What woman?"

"Her," Beaner said. The distaste in his voice was suddenly real, not theatrical. "Mary. They're all raving Mariolators. I should have expected it, but if I have to hear one more person singing, you should pardon the expression, the praises of that roundheeled, dim-witted--"

"Mary? Bloody Mary Tudor?" I floundered.

Beaner stopped and patted my arm. "Mary Stuart. You should get out more, Bast dear -- and read some history that doesn't have Witches in it."

The rain had stopped and the sidewalks were fairly clear this far down. We began walking again. My elbow was left to its own devices.

"Mary Stuart." I sorted through my vast exposure to PBS mini-series and horrible movies with Timothy Dalton. "Mary Queen of Scots. Elizabeth's--"

"Cousin," Beaner interrupted, before I could say the wrong thing again. "Born 8 December, 1542, in Scotland -- and a week later Papa died and she was Queen. Henry (that's the Eighth) wanted her for Edward, which would have been just perfect for England, but of course the Scots, oddly enough, did not wish to be an English province. So the adorable tot was smuggled off to France in 1548 and married Francis, heir to the French throne, in 1558. It must have been one hell of a Sweet Sixteen party. Widowed at the age of seventeen and went back to Scotland the same year -- 1560 -- where she ruled with such enormous ability that she was forced to run for her life eight years later," Beaner said. Venomously. Maybe he was related to her travel agent.

"Anyway, she spent the next twenty years in an English prison as the centerpiece of plots formed by people who actually managed to be stupider than she was, and was executed in 1587, thank goddess." I'm always impressed by people with a grasp of history that includes numbers. What I couldn't figure out was why Beaner was taking some bimb who'd died before Boston was a city so personally.

"So she died four hundred years ago," I said.

"Four hundred seven," Beaner said promptly.

"You make it sound like she stepped out with your boyfriend last week."

"My boyfriends have much better taste," Beaner said, swanning it. We turned the corner and we were there.

"What the hell?" I said.

"Been a while, has it?" Beaner said.

Lothlorien was in one of those buildings from the '80's -- that's 1880's -- that aren't landmarked simply because New York can afford to squander them; a pseudo-Classical riot of columns and friezes and pillars, with pressed tin ceilings and strange rotundas.

But urban elves had indeed been busy while Bast was off having a life. The building's Victorian detailing, formerly a dirty green, was now picked out in tres-chic colors of biscuit, terra-cotta, and teal. Brasswork glittered. Windows gleamed. There was a "For Lease" sign in an upper window.

"Good-bye Lothlorien," Beaner said gloomily. "The new owners are jumping Ilona's rent."

I skittered across the street, Beaner in pursuit, and rushed inside. Lothlorien was still there, for the moment. I released a breath I hadn't known I was holding.

Lothlorien Books has an eighteen foot ceiling. It takes a visitor some time to realize how large the place actually is, because every available space is crammed with books. Lothlorien's specialty, as intimated, is Things Celtic: new and used, antique and rare, paperback and hardcover.

I inhaled the smell of books. There was a tape playing over the sound system, something wailing and fey; Lothlorien had recently started carrying tapes.

"Ilona!" Beaner carolled, stepping around me toward the counter.

Ilona Saunders is an expatriate Brit, and the closest thing to a Grand Old Dame that the New York Wiccan and Pagan Community can boast. She's been running Lothlorien for at least forty years at the same location and has come to HallowFest every year for the last ten: despite which, she is tactful to the point that for all anyone knows she may not be a Pagan at all. She was wearing a print shirtwaist and a shawl held in place by a Celticwork brooch and looked like everyone's kindly old white-haired nanny.

"Can I help--? Oh, it's you, dear. Come for your tapes? I was just brewing up. Would either of you care for a cup of tea?"

We both declined, and Ilona vanished behind the curtain again. I looked around. "Tapes?" Beaner hadn't told me what his special order was.

"Maria Stuarda," Beaner explained, "The Edinburgh Opera Received Version. One must do something."

Beaner leaned on the counter. I wandered around, looking at the new books. I picked up a half-dozen music tapes and a slipcased reproduction of The Book of Kells that I couldn't really afford.

"Here we are," Ilona said, coming out with a cup of tea. She sat down behind the counter. On a shelf about eye-level, an enormous brindled cat about the color of the wood blinked green eyes at me.

"You look cheerful," Beaner said. "How's the moving going?"

"I've decided not to move," Ilona said firmly. "I shall buy the building and stay. What a pity I didn't think of it when Mr. Moskowitz was alive, but one doesn't, you know."

I glanced at Beaner. He looked bland, which meant he was stunned, and reasonably enough. To buy the building Lothlorien was in would cost a couple million, minimum. How could someplace like Lothlorien come up with that kind of financing?

"Come into money?" asked Beaner. Ilona sighed.

"Not precisely. I've decided to sell. . . Well, I suppose you'd call it an old family heirloom." She laughed a little sadly. "I admit it was hard to make up my mind, but I found I couldn't really bear to leave." She sipped her tea. "But you'll be wanting your order. Ned!" she called.

The cat blinked, slowly. The tape deck wailed about blood red roses in someone's black silk hair. A person -- probably Ned -- appeared, descending the ladder that reached to the ceiling.

"Bring the special order for Mr. Challoner, will you, dear?" Ilona said, and Ned vanished in the direction of the back room. I formed a brief impression of dark hair and bulkiness.

"I don't know what I'd do without Ned," Ilona said. "I can't afford to pay him much -- and if I'd sold up, where would he be?"

A silence fell. The next cut on the tape started; drums first, then an eerie tangle of unaccompanied voices.

"From the hag and hungry goblin/That into rags would rend ye," the singers wailed. "All the spirits that stand by the Naked Man/In The Book of Moons defend ye--"

"That woman again," Beaner said aggrievedly. "I'm being haunted."

"Mary Queen of Scots?" I said. I couldn't see what she had to do with Mad Maudlin and Tom Rynosseros and the rest of Bedlam's bonnie boys.

"Oh, you know her," Ilona said, as eagerly as if we'd just discovered a mutual friend.

"We've just met," I said.

"Tom O' Bedlam's a political ballad," Beaner said. "Seventeenth century."

"And not a very nice one either," Ilona said, just as if Beaner was making perfect sense. "Calling her a Bedlamite. Poor dear Mary -- all she ever wanted was what was hers by right."

Ned came out of the back room with a glossy box that was probably Beaner's opera.

"Unfortunately," Beaner said waspishly, "what she thought was hers already belonged to other people." I was looking at Ilona, Beaner wasn't. So I saw her face go very still, the way a polite person's will when she has been mortally offended.

Beaner drew breath for another volley. I bumped into him, stepping on his foot, and set my purchases down on the counter. "Can you ring this up for me?" I said brightly.


We were out on the street a minute later.

"I can't take you anywhere," I said to Beaner. He sighed.

"My god, my god, I am heartily sorry for having offended Holy Mary Stuart, martyr of the True Religion, and never mind that since her son James the Sixth became James the First of England her cause was hardly lost. How was I to know that dear Ilona was one of Them? She's always seemed so sensible." Despite all the fluttering, I could tell that Beaner was flustered. He hates being unintentionally rude.

We walked uptown in the gathering dusk. The buildings were a mix of antique sweatshops, weird industrial supply outlets, and newly-remodeled buildings waiting for an influx of Pretty People. Probably they were owned by the same development corporation that currently owned Lothlorien's building. Probably they hoped to turn Lothlorien's space into a combination open plan boutique and coffee bar, perhaps laying in a little neon around the plate glass window to give the place just the right soupçon of cognitive dissonance.

Well Ilona had scotched -- pardon the reference -- that notion. "Things Celtic, remember?" I said. Beaner shrugged, his opera under his arm.

"That reminds me," I said, to change the subject. "Have you seen Glitter's book?"

"Yes," Beaner camped, "isn't it dreadful?"

"It's missing," I said. He raised an eyebrow. "She says," I added.

"How could you miss it?" he demanded plaintively. He had a point. Glitter's Book of Shadows measures 12x18 and is covered in purple metallic fabric decorated with sequins, rhinestones, and chrome studs.

"Anyway, I'm going to go up and help her look for it. You want to come?"

Beaner shuddered delicately. "Mary has any number of faults -- but she is not fuschia. Pass."



We parted at West Fourth, Beaner to a hot date with a dead queen and me to Glitter's.