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Puck of the Starways

Keith Hill

Available from your favourite online store, to order from your favourite bookshop, and for NZ and Australian readers from Attar Books.
In a series of linked stories, Puck delights in the wonders, comedies, sorrows and joys that enrich human existence. Spinning tales that delight and confound, playfully mixing magic with metaphysics, the fabulous with moral questions, this is an inspired addition to fantasy story-telling in the tradition of Lord Dunsay, Alberto Calvino and Ursula Le Guin.

Sometimes a writer finds a book just turns up, demanding it leap out into the world. Puck of the Starways is one of those books. It is fantasy writing, with a sense of the wonder we all need in today's world." — Keith Hill

It's a masterpiece. But I have no idea how you'll market it.
— John Pasthas, New Zealand composer

114 pages, 5.5 x 8.5 inches / 140 x 216 mm
ISBN Paperback: 9780473159931


The sons and daughters of the Earth live in a wild and frightful world. It is a world of cataclysm and violence, of mystery and seeming unfathomableness, in which life is born painfully and all too suddenly curtailed. So it is now, and so it has been for ages since.

Yet life was not always so.

There once was a time when contentment and bliss animated all, when no shadows fell across any pleasures, and all were satisfied and content.

So far was this era from the world humanity at present occupies that it was called the Land of the Happy. And a wonderful and extraordinary time it was, too.

Then magic wafted on the sunbeams. Then fairies played in the fields, and giants walked the Earth. In that time, humankind lived lives as frivolous and light as the breeze which skips over the flowers and sends their heads nodding gently from side to side.

They ate and drank with little thought of what they were or how they came to be. They were as ripples on the surface of the pond. And they sought no more.

But there was more. Much more.

For any world has within it another world, and is itself part of a larger world which embraces it from without. Just so, those living in the Land of the Happy had no conception of the world which resided in their own breasts. And, similarly, they did not know the greater world which encompassed them, of which they and their land formed an infinitesimal part.

Those in the Land of the Happy saw only the shimmering of the fields, and the towering of the mountains. Heard only the sighing of the wind, and the calling of the beasts. Felt only the warmth of the days, and the companionship of the night fire. Smelt only the fresh dawn rising out of the night mists, and the coolness of the gurgling streams. Tasted only the sweetness of their food, and the joy which coated all they did with honey.

What they experienced, they experienced truly. But their experience was limited. For never did they know the Gods who ruled their world. But those Gods knew them.

High above the Gods resided, beyond the tallest peak. To reach their abode a journey of vast distances was required, into the sky, past the Sun, and through a realm of galaxy upon galaxy, star-host upon star-host. This was the world of the Starways, the abode of the Gods.

Before the Earth was created, the Starways were ancient. And long after the Earth has vanished back into the Sun’s fire the Starways will continue to administer over their allotted portion of creation. So the Inconceivable who created the All and Everything ordained it. And so it is still.

The Gods who occupied the Starways were intangible Gods. Unencumbered by bodies, they observed what they observed, and they did what they did. Mysterious are the ways of the Gods now, and mysterious were the ways of the Gods then.

But other beings inhabited the Starways, beings who were not themselves Gods, yet who lived in harmony with them, and whose presence was embued with something of their mystery. Such a one of these lesser beings was Puck.

Day in and day out, never resting, Puck played. Having no body, he flitted from star to star, solar system to solar system. Ever at fun, he gambolled through the ten thousand veils of reality. Life to him was a joy, and that joy was his life’s whole meaning.

However, when It created the All and the Everything, the Inconceivable also created the law of change. Nothing within creation escapes its consequences.

And so it was for Puck. He whose time-span was measured in units far exceeding an earthly aeon found that, in the end, he also could not escape time. And thus one day a message came to him from the very centre of the Starways. That message was a command.

“Puck, the Gods require you.”

So away flew Puck. Away through the stars, away through clouds of solar systems wherein each system was as a speck of dust, and each speck hid ten million others. Faster than light he flashed through the Starways. And in a moment he was in the presence of the Gods.

The Gods of the Starways were awesome beings, existing far beyond the imagination’s power to conceive of them. Their power resided in an intangible potency which, because formless, meant they could fill any part of the All and Everything with their dread presence. Yet they lived in hiddenness, apart.

Puck was a toy compared to their vastness. And a toy Puck felt as he stood in their midst. Sensing their profound power, he could not but tremble. So tremble he did.

And the Gods of the Starways spoke to Puck.

“Puck, your days of play have ended. Now you must enter into the activities of the Gods.”

Puck bowed low and listened.

“Puck,” said the Gods, “there is another world of which you know nothing. This world exists far from the Starways. It is called the Land of the Happy. By the decree of the Inconceivable, we Gods of the Starways administer over it. For many aeons the Land of the Happy has been true to its name. But everything changes. And now doubt and pain have entered the lives of those who dwell there. Go to the Land of the Happy, Puck. On behalf of the Gods, go and discover why this is so.”

Puck bowed again before the overwhelming Gods.

And when he straightened, he discovered he was plunging away, out of the Starways, down through the ten thousand veils of reality, out of the regions of light, through the realms of time and space, into a different region altogether, of sights, sounds, and colours.

Ever faster he travelled, until a cacophony of impressions flooded him and, for a moment, he lost awareness of who, where or what he was.

The Three Wishes

When Puck returned to himself he found himself in a world very different from the Starways. Green fields stretched into the distance. Beyond them, forests of enormous and graceful trees rose high into an intense blue sky. And even further away stood the huge masses of mountains, their peaks sprinkled with snow.

Puck stood gazing at them for a long time, marvelling that such a world could exist. And as he did he came to realise that he was standing. Curious, he looked down at the body which surrounded him. And he smiled.

For, in sending him into the Land of the Happy, the Gods had given him the body of a youth whose limbs were filled with boundless energy. He stretched. He jumped. He ran.

But for only a short time. Because he was soon drawn to consider his task. Somewhere, somehow, doubt and pain had entered the Land of the Happy. And he was commanded to find it.

So away Puck went. Swift as the wind, as lightly as a leaf, Puck skipped over the grasses and began a reconnaissance. And, as he did, he gained his first view of the beings who lived in the Land of the Happy.

Small villages he passed, housing just a few people, several shouting children, one or two smiling elderly folk, a collection of goats and sheep. Through larger villages he flitted, wherein many families lived and worked contentedly together. By lonely outposts he sped, where only one or two existed in laughter and happiness.

And everywhere Puck went, he saw only satisfaction. Nowhere was there doubt, or despair, or pain. For these were the days before disease or famine, when work was small and not laborious, when the elements created no hardships, and when death came gently, as a wafting breeze in the night. Such was life to these people. They were as a ripple on the surface of a pond. And they sought no more.

As the days passed, then the weeks, Puck grew ever more skilful. Sometimes he took on the body of the beautiful youth which he had possessed when he first arrived. But at other times he became an elderly man, lame and prophetic, or a farmer who could read the clouds and air. Sometimes he became a woman, warm and maternal, and sometimes a bent grandmother who spat often and cursed small children for their noises, yet understood the secrets of herbs and plants.

Sometimes he even bypassed the human form altogether and became a crow flying high over humankind’s heads. Or he changed into a deer which hovered tremulously at the edge of the forest, and when human beings approached leapt into the undergrowth.

Truly, Puck found a great satisfaction in all this. But his first joy was the little folk.

The little folk were delicate fairies, less than a human hand high, who he found playing on the fringe of a wood, where the trees gave way to grassed field, and sunlight filtered through the leaves, casting mottled shade and light on the ground.

Among these shadows the little folk made their fun. And what fun they had! Light as air, they floated on sunbeams, swung on flowers, catapulted from long grasses, hid behind leaves.

All this spontaneous playing reminded Puck of the Starways. So he immediately took on a fairy body and joined in. And being the generous creatures the little folk were, even though they knew he was not one of them, they gladly welcomed him into their game.

In and out of the shadows Puck darted, round the wild flowers, larking in the sunlight, letting his laughter tinkle with theirs up into the sky. Down he swooped onto another fairy, tumbling him onto the grass, then streaked away, chased by his new playmate.

On they both flew. Leaping from twigs. Hiding behind flowers. Dashing under gnarled tree roots. Plunging into bushes that tickled their feather-light bodies. However, without realising it their play soon led them away from the others, and they entered a less frequented part of the woods.

Puck looked around briefly, gaining his bearings. Then, to give his playmate a clue as to his whereabouts, he let out a shrill cry.

He was heard and, a second later, Puck’s playmate tumbled off a dandelion and fell onto the grass beside him. Puck laughed.

Then, just as he was about to turn and fly on, he noticed the other fairy’s face. The fairy was gazing fearfully at something past Puck’s shoulder. Puck turned to see what had caused such unease. Observing, he smiled.

A man was attempting to hide behind a small bush, not far from the two fairies, his eyes wide with wonder.

Puck laughed. But his fellow fairy was not pleased. In a flutter of wings, he fled.

Puck made no move to follow. He wasn’t afraid, for there was nothing in the Land of the Happy that could harm him. Besides, he was interested to learn what this man would do. So he stood his ground and waited.

[Continues …]