YSABEL

Guy Gavriel Kay

For

Linda McKnight

and

Anthea Morton-Saner

There is one story and one story only

That will prove worth your telling,

Whether as learned bard or gifted child;

To it all lines or lesser gauds belong

That startle with their shining

Such common stories as they stray into.

— ROBERT GRAVES

PROLOGUE

The woods came to the edge of the property: to the gravel of the drive, the electronic gate, and the green twisted-wire fence that kept out the boars. The dark trees wrapped around one other home hidden along the slope, and then stretched north of the villa, up the steep hill into what could properly be called a forest.

The wild boar—sanglier—foraged all around, especially in winter. Occasionally there might be heard the sound of rifle shots, though hunting was illegal in the oak trees and clearings surrounding such expensive homes. The well-off owners along the Chemin de l’Olivette did what they could to protect the serenity of their days and evenings here in the countryside above the city.

Because of those tall eastern trees, dawn declared itself—at any time of year—with a slow, pale brightening, not the disk of the sun itself above the horizon. If someone were watching from the villa windows or terrace they would see the black cypresses on the lawn slowly shift towards green and take form from the top downwards, emerging from the silhouetted sentinels they were in the night. Sometimes in winter there was mist, and the light would disperse it like a dream.

However it announced itself, the beginning of day in Provence was a gift, celebrated in words and art for two thousand years and more. Somewhere below Lyon and north of Avignon the change was said to begin: a difference in the air above the earth where men and women walked, and looked up.



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