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Author: Monica Furlong
Publisher: Random House, 2004
Series: Wise Child: Book 2

1. Wise Child
2. Juniper
3. Colman

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Historical Fantasy
Mythic Fiction (Fantasy)
Avg Member Rating:
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Though Juniper enjoys the easy life of a medieval princess, she chooses to learn about herbs, healing, and the magic within nature from her strange and difficult godmother. As her training comes to an end, Juniper discovers that her power-hungry aunt is using black magic to seize the throne. Juniper must use her as-yet-untested powers to stop her-before the kingdom is destroyed!



THE NIGHT I was born, according to my nurse, Erith, was a night of black frost and dense darkness in a bitter January. White owls who lived in some nearby trees never stopped hooting and flying around the palace, or so the story goes. No one slept a wink. Erith thought it was a sign that I was a remarkable child, and by the time I was old enough to hear the story, I liked to believe her. Remarkable or not, I was bathed and oiled and bandaged, as all babies are, and then they dressed me in a little shift and wrapped me in a rabbit skin to keep me warm. My mother and father showed their first baby to the ealdors, the elder statesmen, as was the custom, and then Erith cuddled me all night so that, as she said, I would not feel strange in this new country I had come to.

In my earliest memory I was toddling around on the big grassy enclosure at the center of the palace. Many grownups were walking about, men mostly, holding strange forked twigs in their hands. They moved slowly, eyes fixed on the ground, and they did not notice me or talk to me as they usually did. Because I was bored and wanted to copy them, I picked up a forked twig that someone had dropped and began to move toward the middle of the grass. Suddenly I screamed and screamed, so wildly and in such terror that everyone stopped and looked at me. What had happened was that the twig in my hand had turned into a snake. Well, it hadn't really. It was just an old twig, but while I had held it, all of a sudden it had started moving and wriggling in the most horrible way. My father came over to me.

"What happened?" he asked.

"It turned into a snake," I said, knowing that they would all laugh at me because there it was, just being a stick.

“It’s all right," he said. "It wasn't really a snake. Would you do it again to show us?"

So rather nervously, but wanting to please, I picked up the twig again by its two handles, and almost at once it began to jerk downward as if it had a life of its own, and once again I dropped it with a yell. I thought my father would be cross with me, but he picked me up in his arms with a laugh.

"Well done, little girl. You've found us another supply of water. We thought there was one here somewhere, but no one could ever find it."

I suppose I should mention that my father was regulus, that is, a small chieftain or king, in Cornwall, and we lived at Castle Dore in the Wooden Palace that he had built on a high grassy place—the site of an ancient fort. There was a house around a courtyard where my mother and father and I lived, a house for the astrologers and another for the bards, an armory, a bakery, quarters for the knights and ealdors, and a big hall where my father dined with them every evening. The house stood in the hills with a long view of farms and other hills, and the air sparkled with that special radiance of Cornish light.

My mother, Erlain, was a tall, graceful woman who was very clever. She could read and write and had learned mathematics and poetry. She could sing beautifully to the harp, and it was she, I heard tell, who brought the bards to our house and with them a very different atmosphere from the days when my father had lived alone with his knights. She taught him to read and write, and gradually, warrior though he was, he began to enjoy learning as much as she did. Later on, as a result, he wanted me to have the sort of good education that girls often do not have even now.

I should tell you that whenever a child was born to a knight or ealdor among my people, the astrologers studied the heavens and its charts to work out the portents for the child's life. Then they wrote some words, almost a sort of poem, to help the child remember the main points, and this was inscribed in tiny writing on parchment and put into a little horn case that was worn on a leather thong around the neck. Later on, when I was older and had learned to read, I liked to take the parchment out and read the words through, just to remind myself. They went like this:

Named for the strong and twisting tree
Of medicine, when she finds the way
By earth, air, water, fire
Then will she mend what is broken.
The dark teacher will correct her,
The fair one will protect her,
The strong man will love her,
And all may be well.

It didn’t make much sense to me because after all, I was not named after a tree but was called by the good Cornish name of Ninnoc. The rest of the words seemed just as puzzling.

Other early memories are of a huge chamber at the Wooden Palace with a fire leaping and flickering in the hearth. I had a big bed and Erith had a little one in the corner, but because I felt lonely in my big bed I often jumped out of it and climbed in with Erith. Erith was young and pretty, with red hair and lots of freckles. I used to count them to tease her. Sometimes I woke her to make her tell me a story or sing me one of her Irish songs. I was quite bossy with Erith—I behaved like a little princess who expects the servants to do as she tells them—refusing to get dressed or have a bath or eat my dinner or whatever it was she had to get me to do. Once or twice she threatened to tell my father about my bad behavior, but she never did.

Sometimes my father would appear in my rooms in the evening, just at the time I should have been going to bed, and tell Erith to dress me in my prettiest gown. (I had some beautiful clothes made from pieces of gold and silver material like liquid flame left over from my mother's gowns. I was very proud of myself in them.) I had earrings and bracelets made of silver or set with gems, and on special occasions Erith hung jewels in my long black hair. Erith would put my little squirrel-skin slippers on me and comb my hair, and then I would walk with my father in the procession to the Great Hall. He would sit me on his lap and feed me tidbits from his plate. After dinner I would be passed around on the knees of the knights and they all would tease me and play with me. Once or twice I stood on the table and sang one of the songs my mother or Erith had taught me.

I enjoyed being spoiled, but I was disappointed that my mother did not have another baby who could have been a playmate for me. Only much later did I realize that my parents also wanted more children. But soon I acquired a new playmate whom I will tell you about later, and also Erith let me play with the children of some of the knights and ealdors. We played marvelous games. The old fort on which the palace had been built was surrounded by enormous ditches and ramparts constructed in a maze to make it hard for enemies to find the way in. We raced one another around the ditches, slid down the ramparts on wooden sleds, learned the mazes by heart, and had wonderful games of hide-and-seek there.

Copyright © 1990 by Monica Furlong



- thecynicalromantic


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