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By the calendar, it was the first day of fall, but in Berkeley, that September in 1999, it seemed like summer was lingering on. As she sat at her typewriter, the aging author felt a sense of contentment. From days as a struggling unpublished author in West Texas, she’d come to this: internationally acclaimed, the creator of three well-known series, surrounded by friends and colleagues.
To be sure, there were things she would have changed. She felt a sharp stab of pain in her chest as she thought about the mistakes in her life. But even they had shaped her writing, and thus her success and finally her happiness.
From her desk she picked up the strange envelope, sky blue in color, that had been delivered earlier that day. That was a truly odd thing, even by her standards: the courier had worn a cloak, not completely peculiar for Berkeley but certainly out of the norm, and neither face nor body was visible. "This is for you; you’re expected," he had said.
Now she opened it, and startlement was replaced by an amused, delighted smile on her worn face: the contents was a prepaid excursion train ticket on a line she used to know well, back in New York, from Utica to just above Old Forge. The destination’s name must have been why her mysterious fan had sent them, she decided.
‘Oh, why not?’ She thought to herself, and called a taxi to take her to the airport, to fly east.
The excursion train pulled to a stop by the old wooden Adirondack-style depot with a faux-Edwardian sign reading ‘Thendara NY’, and she stood to disembark. Not only was this little town the origin for her capital city’s name, but it was on a train ride past here that she had read a Leigh Brackett story and gotten the idea that led to that 40-year-long series. But as she got to the train car’s door, things began to look different. A mist blew in and then away again, like a gust of smoke. And there was a crowd standing on the platform before the large stone building she would have sworn was a typical 1920s-vintage small-town train depot before the mist. A moment’s confusion turned to delight as she began to recognize people. There were Regis and Dani, hand in hand; over there, a group of Renunciates; there, incongruous in a Keeper’s robe, was Morgaine, her eyes flashing. There were Ed and Leigh, and there was Don, carrying a marked-up manuscript as always. And over there, with a laughing red-haired boy wrapped tight to his side, was Walter.
From the crowd, a grizzled man stepped forward to greet her, his red hair streaked with gray. He reached out his one good hand to clasp hers. His daughter stood behind him holding a rryl. "My name, if you have not already guessed it, is Lew, z’par servu. We have been waiting long for this moment," he said. "Welcome home, Mhari. " And the crowd burst into cheers as she stepped off the train.
Her secretary found her slumped over her typewriter, at peace; rigor mortis had not yet set in.
Authors’ Note: This vingnette is a tribute, originally written for the Fort Board, to Marion Zimmer Bradley, creator of the Darkover and Avalon stories, which we and Dark Star have been longtime fans of, in commemoration of her death on September 21, 1999. Those who greet her at the station are either characters from her books or people important in her real life – if there is a difference. The train route and how it connects with her stories, and Thendara being both a small town in the Adirondacks and the origin of her planet’s capital city’s name, are true to life. As for the plot, in the words of Winston Churchill about Arthur, “If it is not true, well, then, It should be.”
Unpacking the allusions a bit, the shadowy cloaked messenger and the sky-blue envelope are just 'razzle-dazzke;, except that cloaks are common outerwear in several of her novels. Regus (Hastur) and Dani(lo Syrtis) are the same-sex couple who are two of the three protagonists of her groundbreaking The Heritage of Hastur (1975). The Renunciates, or Free Amazons, are her answer to "how, in a patriaexhal society, may women who are not willing to acknowledge a man as their master live?" Morgaine is the Adept who is protagonist of her Avalon universe; the Keepers are the Adepts in the Darkover one.
Ed (Hamilton) and Leigh (Brackett) are the husband-wife writing team who were her role models; Don (Wollheim) her lifelong publisher. About Walter (Breen), her second husband, suffice it to say he found boys attractive. Lew (Alton) is the first vivid character she ever created, and the one she recurred to as her protagonist in writing the later Darkover novels. It is fitting he be the one to "welcome her home."