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White Jenna

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White Jenna

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Author: Jane Yolen
Publisher: Tor, 1989
Series: The Great Alta Saga: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Book Two of the Great Alta Saga.

Jenna was the White Queen.

Skada was the Dark Queen. She is bound to Jennathe other half of Jennas self. Drawn out of a mirror by a rite of magic, a "dark sister" is confined to the dark. She vanishes in daylight. It is in this other world the dark sisters wait for moonlight or lamplight to call them forth again.

This is their story: of myths turned real, ordinary people turned heroes, a land turned inside out by the coming of White Jenna.



Then Great Alta looked down upon her messengers, those whom she had severed from her so that they might be bound more closely to her. She looked upon the white sister and the dark, the young sister and the old.

"I shall not speak to you that you may hear. I shall not show myself to you that you may see. For a child must be set free to find her own destiny, even if that destiny be the one the mother has foretold."

And then Great Alta made the straight path crooked before them and the crooked path straight. She set traps for them and pits that they might be comforted when they escaped, that they might remember her loving kindness and rejoice in it.


It was in the town of Slipskin, now called New Moulting, soft into the core of the new year's spring, that three young women, and one of them White Jenna, rode out upon a great gray horse.

His back was as broad as a barn door, his withers could not be spanned. Each hoof struck fire from the road. Where his feet paced, there crooked paths were made smooth and mountains laid low, straight paths were pitted and gullies cut from the hills.

There are folk in New Moulting who say it was no horse at all, but a beast sent by Alta herself to carry them over the miles. There are footprints still near the old road into Slipskin, carved right into the stone. And downriver, in the town of Selden, there are three great ribs of the thing set over the church door that all might see them and wonder.


The road was a gray ribbon in the moonlight, threading between trees. Five women stood on the road, listening to a ululating cry behind them.

Two of the women, Catrona and Katri, were clearly middle-aged, with lines like runes across their brows. They had short-cropped hair and wore their swords with a casual authority.

The youngest, Petra, stood with her shoulders squared. There was a defiance in the out-thrust of her chin, but her eyes were softer and her tongue licked her lips nervously.

Jenna was the extremely tall girl, not yet a woman for all that her hair was as white as the moonlight. Whiter, as it had no shadows. The other tall girl, but a hairbreadth smaller, and a bit thinner, and dark, was Skada.

"I will miss the sound of their voices," Jenna said.

"I will not," Skada answered. "Voices have a binding power. It is best for us to look ahead now. We are messengers, not memorizers."

"And we have far to go," Catrona said. "With many Hames to warn." She drew a map from her leather pocket and spread the crackling parchment upon the ground. With Katri's help she smoothed it out and pointed to a dark spot. "We are here, Selden Hame. The swiftest route would be there, down the river road into Selden itself, across the bridge. Then we go along the river with our backs to the Old Hanging Man, never losing sight of these twin peaks." She pointed to the arching lines on the map.

"Alta's Breast," said Skada.

"You learned your lessons well," said Katri.

"What Jenna knows, I know."

Catrona continued moving her finger along the route. "The road goes on and on, with no forks or false trails to this Hame." Her finger tapped the map twice and Katri's did the same.

"Calla's Ford Hame," said Jenna. "Where Selinda and Alna have begun their mission year. It will be good to see them. I have missed them"

"But not much," murmured Skada.

"Is it the best place to start?" Jenna asked. "Or should we go farther out? Closer to the king's court?"

Catrona smiled. "The Hames are in a great circle. Look here." And she pointed to one after another, calling out the names of the Hames as if in a single long poem. "Selden, Calla's Ford, Wilma's Crossing, Josstown, Calamarie, Carpenters, Krisston, West Dale, Annsville, Crimerci, Lara's Well, Sammiton, East James, John-o-the-Mill's, Carter's Tracing, North Brook, and Nill's Hame. The king's court is in the center."

"So none will complain if we visit Calla's Ford first," Katri said, her finger resting, as did Catronas, on the last Hame. "As it is closest."

"And as our own Hame's children are there," added Catrona.

"But we must be quick," Jenna reminded them all.

Catrona and Katri stood simultaneously, Catrona folding the map along its old creases. She put it back in the leather pocket and handed it to Petra.

"Here, child, in case we should be parted from one another," Catrona said.

"But I am the least worthy," Petra said. "Should not Jenna "

"Now that Jenna has seen the map once, she has it for good. She is warrior -trained in the EyeMind Game and could recite the names and places for you even now. Am I right, Jenna?" Catrona asked.

Jenna hesitated for a moment, seeing again the map as it had lain under Catrona's hands. She began to recite slowly but with complete confidence, outlining as she spoke with her foot in the road's dirt, "Selden, Calla's Ford, Wilma's Crossing, Josstown"

"I believe you," said Petra, holding out her hand. "I will take the map." She tied the leather pocket's strings around her belt.

They started off down the road, walking steadily, each an arm's length apart. There was little sound in their going and Catrona on the right and Jenna on the far left kept careful watch of the road's perimeter. Only young Petra, in the center, seemed in the least uneasy. Once or twice she turned to look behind them, back toward the place where the long, low cry of the Selden Hame farewell had echoed.


Anna at the Turning

Gray in the moonlight, green in the sun,
Dark in the evening, bright in the dawn,
Ever the meadow goes endlessly on,
And Anna at each turning.

Sweet in the springtide, sour in fall,
Winter casts snow, a white velvet caul.
Passage in summer is swiftest of all,
And Anna at each turning.

Look to the meadows and look to the hills,
Look to the rocks where the swift river spills,
Look to the farmland the farmer still tills
For Anna is returning.


They stopped only once in the woods to sleep under a blackthorn tree by a swift-flowing stream. Taking turns, they kept the night watch, leaving Petra the shortest time, and that near dawn when she would have awakened anyway. Besides, as Catrona reminded them, with the moon they watched in pairs and Petra was alone.

There was nothing to disturb their rest except the mourning of owls back and forth across the stream, and the constant murmur of the water. Once on Jenna and Skada's watch, there was a light crackle of underbrush.

"Hare," Jenna whispered to her dark sister, alert for more.

"Hare," Skada agreed. They both relaxed. Slightly.

By early eve of the next day they had passed the outlying farms of Slipskin, neatly tilled land, well cleared of rocks and roots by generations of farmers. Each acre was gently fuzzed over with green. In one field twenty horses were pastured on blue-green grass.

"There," said Catrona, "a man who sells horses. Probably supplies the king. We could borrow one or two and he would never know the difference."

Petra shook her head. "We had horses and flocks at my Hame. Believe me, our shepherds knew every beast by name."

Catrona snorted. "I know that, child. Just testing."

"I will not ride a horse again," Jenna said. "Once was enough."

"I doubt we could get three off him anyway," Catrona said. "But if we could get one, one of us could ride ahead. We need swiftness whatever the cost."

Unhappily, Jenna had to agree.

"Let me do the talking," Catrona added. "I have spent much time among men and know what to say."

"I have spent no time at all with them," admitted Petra.

Jenna said nothing, but her finger strayed to her lips and she was glad that it was still daylight and Skada not there to remind her just what she hadand had notsaid to Carum when he had kissed her. Two men she had known: one she had kissed and one she had killed. She knew as little as Petra. "Yes, you speak," she said to Catrona. "We will wait behind."

"But mind you, look fetching," said Catrona.

"Fetching?" Jenna asked, genuinely puzzled.

"Men like that." Catrona threw back her head, laughing loudly.

Although they weren't sure what Catrona meant by fetching, both Jenna and Petra managed to smile at the farmer when he opened the dark wood door. He stared at them for a moment, as if unsure of what he was seeing, then called over his shoulder, "Marline, Martine, come quick."

"What is it?" a voice called from the room behind him.

He did not speak again until his wife, a rosy giantess, stood next to him, a full head higher than his own balding crown.

"There, the big girl, look at 'er. Look, woman."

She stared as well.

"We are Alta's own," Catrona began, stopping when she saw that they were paying no attention to her but were rather staring at Jenna. She spoke again, loudly. "My name is Catrona, from Selden Hame. My sisters and I"

"By the blessing, Geo, you are right. Who else could it be," the farmer's wife said, her cheeks bright red. "Except for the hair, she's the spit of my poor dead sister."...

Copyright © 1989 by Jane Yolen


White Jenna - the fantasy Joan of Arc

- sdlotu


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