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Subject:Mind-Reading (24/141)
Time:12:30 pm
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The next two days followed a similar pattern: it felt as though there were not enough hours in the day to treat everyone whom Nikola was capable of helping. Nik didn’t mind so much for himself; most of the time slipped away in a trance with petitioners and the Savior, and he ended each evening as alert as when he’d awoken. But the long hours and the number of people were a strain on both his staff and Anverlee’s. He needed more people so they could work in proper shifts, but he scarcely had the funds to pay the staff he already had. Maybe Mrs. Linden should send for one of the three staff left to manage Fireholt. Not that he wanted Fireholt to be in a state of disrepair on his return.

After he finished with petitioners at night, Nik went to his gentlemen’s club, the Markavian, ostensibly to catch up with his peers. But at the back of his mind, he always hoped Justin would stop by. That would work…eventually. But at this time of year, before the current session of the Assembly ended and the grand social galas began with the Ascension Ball, Justin had little leisure time, and the Markavian’s rules forbid both business and political meetings on the premises.

Anverlee Manor itself was full of relations Nik had barely had time to greet over the past two days. Both his older and younger sister had come for the season, bringing along their husbands, children, and a few more servants. For the Whittakers, Lady Striker had opened one of the suites in the disused north wing and furnished it with relics from the attic too shabby to have been sold. They were out of the way for now, but with the Strikers expecting yet more guests, Nik felt greater sympathy for his father’s initial reaction. At least Sharone Whittaker was calm enough now that her parents didn’t need to keep her restrained most of the time, and her screaming jags were rare and muffled enough by distance and walls that they did not disturb the rest of the household. She still went into fits at the sight of anyone but her parents, however. Nik had stopped in a couple of times, but while her behavior was less ear-piercingly intolerable, she’d not yet had any periods of lucidity and Nik’s presence seemed to provoke her.

Nik still kept Miss Vasilver’s quasi-contract close at hand, transferring it to his nightstand when he went to bed and to the inner breast pocket of his jacket when he rose the next day. He felt protective of it without knowing why, as if it were a trust he could not expose to the possible scrutiny of Anverlee’s servants. From time to time, when he had a few minutes alone, he’d take it out and review its curious clauses with their proliferation of alternatives. He’d always thought the sole choice in marriage was whom one married: everything after that was just…marriage. To Miss Vasilver, marriage appeared a great deal more open-ended.

He’d told her he would call on her again. Nik found himself wishing to do so; Savior knew he didn’t want to court her, but the glimpses of her thought process revealed in the document piqued his curiosity. He wanted to know more of her as a person, not a potential wife.

The fifth day after their first meeting was a Sunday, the one day he didn’t see petitioners. Justin had, to Nik’s surprise, accepted an invitation to bowracing for the late afternoon: they were to meet for a quick dinner at Comfrey Manor before setting out (“No business or politics, I promise,” Justin’s note of reply specified). Nikola decided to call on Miss Vasilver prior to that. He didn’t know what hours Miss Vasilver kept – in Gracehaven, people of quality tended towards late hours – but their previous meeting had been set for one o’clock. For most, that was a decent interval after breakfast and before dinner. Nik opted to aim for earlier today, in part to be sure it didn’t conflict with his engagement with Justin, and in part to escape Anverlee Manor before his parents could waylay him to ask where he was going.

Nik made it out the front door unhindered, but on the front lawn he ran afoul of his younger sister Daphne. She was wrapped in a warm coat, watching her own baby boy – not quite two – play with their elder sister Lysandra’s brood of five in ages from two to ten, as well as Jill and two of her grandkittens. Two human nannies were also supervising.

“Oh, Nikki, you’re not going out?” Daphne asked, half-turning as he came out. She was a short woman, blond and round-faced like their mother, figure gone from slim to plump since the birth of her first child. After getting a good look at him, she repeated with a laugh, “You’re not going out like that.” She stepped to his side and fussed at his neckcloth. “How did your valet ever let you out of his sight? Maybe it’s time you got a younger man for that job.”

“Shelby has the day off,” Nik said. He suffered patiently as Daphne untied, rearranged, and re-tied his neckcloth.

“Well whoever did help you ought not be allowed to again, Nikki.” She patted at the folds of the cloth and twitched his cuffs straight.

No one did. Nik didn’t feel like explaining to his sister that he gave his entire staff the day off on Sundays. “Daphne.” He laid a gloved finger beneath her pale chin and tipped her face to meet his eyes. With mock sternness, he informed her, “One more ‘Nikki’ out of you, and I will teach every one of Lysandra’s children to call you ‘Aunt Daffy’.”

Daphne giggled. “Nik. Sorry.”

“Much better.”

But the delay had given the children time to notice him, and they swarmed over, demanding attention. “Uncle Nik! Uncle Nik!” Nik doled out hugs. His youngest niece, Annaliese, pressed her forehead to his as he held her and squeaked, “Unca Nik! Ree m’ mind!”

“You want chocolate,” Nik hazarded.

She giggled as he released her. “Kin I ha’ some?”

“Ask your nanny,” Nik told her, as eight year-old Adamos put a grubby hand on Nik’s cheek next and insisted ‘me! Me now!’ “You caught a frog,” Nik told him, based on the damp dirt on the hand in question and a wriggle in the boy’s jacket pocket. Adamos gave him a look of wide-eyed amazement.

Each child insisted on a turn, with cousin or sibling handing up the two that were too young to ask themselves. (“You need a diaper change,” Nik said of Daphne’s baby, and passed the boy to his nanny.) The children had a pleasantly diverse array of healthy, growing minds; it soothed his mindsense to observe undamaged minds for a little while. After ‘mind-reading’, the assembled nieces and nephews presented a variety of childhood treasures for him to dutifully admire, including Adamos’s frog, one snake, a garland of flowers woven for Lady Striker, two snails, Jill’s grandkittens (seven year-old twins whom Nik had met before), Jill herself, and a scabbed knee. Fortunately, a human uncle was no match in entertainment for a trio of greatcats, and soon the kids were back to playing without him.

Nik turned to Daphne as the children pelted away shrieking across the lawn. “Am I unpresentable again?”

Daphne wetted a handkerchief and wiped off his face as if he were her son, then scrutinized his attire. She brushed some flecks of dirt and grass strands off, and shook her head. “No, you’re fit to go. Are you truly leaving? We’ve scarcely seen you since we arrived.”

“You and everyone else. I’ve barely seen myself since Wednesday. I’ll be at Temple tonight, and home for supper. I promise.” He swept her a bow.

His little sister smiled and curtsied with the same faux formality. “I’ll hold you to your word, Lord Nikola.”



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Subject:The Most Pig-Headed Way Possible (23/141)
Time:12:30 pm
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Not one of the reevaluations yielded any options for treatment. The depressing monotony of sending away petitioner after petitioner disappointed was broken by a dozen or so new arrivals looking for help during the hall hours. Even so, Nikola was glad when noon arrived and Shelby showed in his first appointment. The appointments would not be quick, but at least he knew they were treatable.

The first three appointments went smoothly. As Nik emerged from the trance of the Savior curing the fourth, he became aware of a disturbance outside the office door. His father’s voice, raised: “This is my house, you filthy flea-ridden mangy beast, and you’ll curst well not stop me going wherever I please in it!”

I suppose it was too much to hope that this confrontation could wait until dinnertime. Nikola rose and helped his petitioner – a two year-old greatkitten, blinking and bewildered by the expansion of his mental faculties – from the couch. He normally took the opportunity of the privacy of appointments to ask to touch the minds of the healthy people who came with his petitioners – contact with healthy minds was one of his avenues for learning what was different in unhealthy ones. But right now, Nik needed to rescue Anthser as quickly as possible, so he showed the kitten and greatcat father to the office door, interrupting Lord Striker’s next round of invective against Anthser. Anthser was weathering the tide of verbal abuse with flattened ears and ruffled fur, back arched and tail bottle-brushed. “Stand aside, you feral brute, or I’ll—” Lord Striker was saying.

“It’s all right, Anthser,” Nik said. “I’ll take care of this.” His liegecat slunk to one side of the door, tailtip twitching. The young man waited until his petitioners had departed before addressing his father. “I see you are in need of someone to abuse, Father. By all means, allow me to offer a target.” He stepped aside and bowed his father into the office with a sarcastic flourish.

Lord Striker growled under his breath and strode inside. He waited until Nik closed the door to begin his diatribe. “Abandoned World, boy, what do you mean by lodging your howling mad commoners in my house, without so much as a by-your-leave?”

“The child is demon-ridden—”

“Then banish it and have done! Is this some new tantrum, boy? If I don’t like having your petitioners in my hall you’ll sully my entire house with untreated ones instead?”

Nik ground his teeth together. “The girl is refusing treatment—”

Lord Striker interrupted with a derisive snort. “Savior, boy, your precious Code says you have to help any who asks, not those who don’t!!”

“—because of her extreme agitation. She needs a chance to settle and learn to trust enough to accept the Savior’s aid.”

“To settle in Anverlee Manor?” Lord Striker was incredulous. “This is the residence of nobility, boy, not a madhouse. We have standards to maintain, an image to uphold. Bad enough that they tramp through here every morning, but I will not have a pack of crazed nobodies living beneath my roof and disrupting my staff! How dare you offer them my hospitality without so much as consulting me?”

Because I knew you’d refuse. “I have a duty to help those I may.”

Lord Striker snorted. “Hah! As if you care about duty. You have a duty to sire an heir, boy. A duty to uphold your family’s honor and not humiliate us with your shameless affairs. A duty to maintain the dignity of your name. A duty to provide for your people. What are you doing by way of those duties today? This week? Ever?” When Nikola made no answer, his father shook his head in disgust. “I’ve indulged too many of your ridiculous fancies. Your vermin are to vacate at once; either you will tell them or Gunther will.” Lord Striker spun on his heel and started for the door.

“As you will, Father,” Nikola said, voice icily calm. “My guests and I will remove to Fireholt this evening.”

Lord Striker paused, right hand clenching into a fist. “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re staying a month yet. You just arrived.”

“And now I am just leaving. I have an overfull schedule today, Father, and can no longer postpone any of it until the morrow. Do excuse me.” Nik crossed the hardwood inlay floor to the door and held it open.

His father’s tall, trim frame stood unmoving. “You cannot leave before the Ascension Ball.”

“Watch me.” Nikola beckoned to his valet. “Shelby, please notify the rest of my staff that we will be removing tonight. We’ll be taking the guests I placed in a suite earlier with us. Please give my lady mother my apologies that, due to the suddenness of this change, I will be unable to make dinner.”

Shelby, Savior bless him, made no murmur of protest. He only bowed and said, “Yes, my lord.” Lord Striker growled deep in his throat and stalked away.

Anthser was flat-eared in dismay. “Tonight, Lord Nik?”

Nikola sighed. “So it seems. Would you round up whoever’s next on the list and send them in?”

§


An hour and three petitioners later, Nikola showed the latest one out and found his mother waiting for him, her short stout form ensconced in a comfortable chair next to Anthser. She gave Nik an affectionate smile. “I’m sorry to disrupt your schedule, Nikki love, but I must speak with you. May I have a moment?”

“As you will.” He stood aside for her. Anthser gave her a paw up from the chair, and she rose in a billow of long skirts and swept into the office.

“Nikki.” Lady Striker’s smile faded, although her blue eyes remained affectionate. She sighed, dropping into one of his chairs with a rustle of satin and lace. “This is terribly unkind of you. You are making your people do an awful lot of running hither and yon for no purpose. Not to mention breaking your poor mother’s heart.”

“If my father wishes to uninvite my guests, then he has uninvited me.”

She waved the plump fingers of one hand. “And that! Why do you have to back him into a corner so, Nikki? You know how he hates being seen to change his mind, especially in front of the public. And threatening to leave Gracehaven before the Ascension Ball! The insult to the Crown alone…” She clucked her tongue and wagged a finger at him.

“The Crown won’t even notice one less guest among the however-many-hundreds it is this year.”

Lady Striker sighed again. “Oh, how little you understand. Nikki – of course your guests may stay. I have already persuaded your father and told them myself. Not that it wouldn’t’ve been ever so much easier if you’d told me first. Truly, Nikki, I don’t see why you must set about everything in the most pig-headed way possible.”

Nik let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, finally letting himself think about how little he wanted to act upon this particular grand gesture. “Thank you, Mother.” He leaned down to kiss her cheek.

She smiled and waved him to the door. “There, now, go tell your dear warcat to find your scattered people and let them know they can stop scrambling to arrange a removal on no notice. And in the middle of your appointments too! Poor dears, you’ve no notion how much trouble you’ve made for them. If your Mrs. Linden deserts you over this, I shan’t fault her a whit.” Nikola hastened to comply; Anthser accepted the instructions with a smug look that implied he’d known it was coming.

“Much better,” his mother said, satisfied, when he returned to her side. She held out her hand, and Nik helped her to her feet. It still surprised him how little she was, head not even reaching his collar. In his mind she loomed so much larger. “Now, if you need to do something like this again – Savior forbid – you tell me first, dear.” She tugged his head down with her hand, and kissed his cheek.

At the touch, Nik felt the familiar contours of her mind, the shape of a propriety as well-developed as his father’s but nonetheless different, buffered by the warm pink glow of compassion. People assume that because I can see minds, I can read thoughts, or at least understand the way they think. They could not be more wrong. “I will,” he answered her.

She patted his cheek, smiling fondly. “Good. I’ll let you get back to your petitioners, dear. Dinner at three, now. Don’t forget!”

§


In the event, Nikola was not permitted to forget: Shelby rescheduled his last afternoon appointment and chivvied him back to his room to dress for dinner, whether he would or no. Nik went along meekly, figuring he’d caused everyone enough trouble for one day. He first sent Anthser off to get some rest: “You worked late enough last night, and this far past open petition hours I shouldn’t need a wrangler.”

Anthser snorted. “Like spending four hours nipping and three flirting counts as ‘work’.”

Nik set his mouth in a grim line. “And how long were you subjected to my father’s abuse while you guarded my door today, Anthser?”

The warcat looked to one side, shrugging. “’s of no account, m’lord. Just my job.”

No, it isn’t. Or shouldn’t be. Nik fought down the urge to hug his liegecat, wanting to apologize for his father, for the recalcitrant petitioners, for everything Anthser did not because it was a warcat’s duty but because Nik needed him to. Instead, he said, “Thank you, Anthser. Now scoot. Go have fun. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

The big black cat turned back to him, then gave an insouciant bow. “Yes m’lord.”

Dinner itself, somewhat to his surprise, was entirely pleasant. Lady Striker had invited two of his old school friends, John Glenton and Kelly Veigh; he’d not known they were in Gracehaven for the season. Also invited were his aunt and uncle, who kept his parents sufficiently distracted from him that he could enjoy catching up with his friends in peace. The apology-menu of all his favorite foods made Nik feel a twinge of guilt. Mother has less to apologize for than any of us, today. Nik could tell his father was still angry about the Whittakers, but Lord Striker was too well-bred to make any uncivil comment in front of company.



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Subject:Undiagnosable (22/141)
Time:12:30 pm
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The interview with the second refuser, the hopeless man, went much better. His name was Mr. Court, and his relations had brought him because he’d twice tried to kill himself. Mr. Court was afraid that treatment would change his character; Nik freely admitted that it would. “You’re not demon-ridden. Your impulse to self-harm and the accompanying misery comes, in your case, from the stunting of certain of your emotions. Your ability to care, to find contentment, and to perceive joy, are all damaged. Remedying that will change who you are and how you behave, sometimes in unpredictable ways. For example, making it easier to feel joy can make a person stop striving for perfection in his activities, because he can now find satisfaction in a mediocre achievement. The interactions here are not ones even I understand well. It is your decision, of course. But I might note that anything we do here today will have a considerably less dramatic impact on your mind and those who care about you than killing yourself will .”

Mr. Court, a gaunt and stooped man of middle years, stared at his hands. “Could it make me worse? Make me an imbecile, or mad?”

“No. The Savior would not allow that. Your faculties will remain intact. You will be a different man, and some of those changes may not be ones you would prefer. But nothing that could be construed as an impairment.”

In truth, after Miss Whittaker it was a profound relief just to have this be a coherent conversation, but Nik was even gladder when Mr. Court agreed to let the Savior help.

It was a little victory to sustain him against twenty-two reevaluations. Those began on a particularly sour note, with the sleep-walking woman. Her son named her as Marie Brogan and himself Ian. When Nikola could find nothing to remedy on a second examination, Ian Brogan was violently distraught. “Are you implying she’s faking it?” Mr. Brogan yelled.

“Of course not,” Nik snapped. “It’s a reflection of my limitations, not her condition. If a healer tells a man with a missing arm ‘I cannot re-grow the limb’, do people say ‘the hand must be there after all’?”

“Then why won’t you heal her? What do you want?” Brogan threw himself at Nik’s feet, begging. “I can pay! I have a ship, money, just name your price!”

“If I could, I would do it for an eighth,” Nikola said coldly. “It is not a question of price. The Savior cannot fix what I cannot diagnose. I regret it extremely.”

“But you must! You’re the best! You have to!” Brogan surged to his feet, looking ready to hit something. Or someone.

Nik took a step back and raised his voice. “Anthser!” Brogan closed the distance with fists clenched and half-raised, as Nik’s warcat pawed open the door. “Please show Mr. Brogan and his mother out,” Nik said, taking another pace back.

“You insufferable arrogant—” Brogan drew back his fist. Anthser crossed the room in one leap and grabbed the collar of Brogan’s jacket in his teeth.

The warcat raised his head to lift the curly-haired figure from the ground and hauled him back a couple of strides before depositing him back on his feet. “Should I teach him manners too, Lord Nikola?”

Brogan, realizing the ill-advised nature of his threatening posture and insults, dropped his hands and lowered his eyes.

“No. Just escort him off the estate.”

Anthser bobbed his head and nudged Brogan towards his mother, who had sat unmoving and indifferent on the couch through the entire confrontation. The warcat followed them out and Shelby showed the next reevaluation in.
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Subject:A Rational Arrangement: On Sale Now!
Time:08:08 am
A Rational Arrangement is now for sale! At URLs conveniently accessible to your browser!



About the book


“But these are vital aspects of marriage. If one cannot discuss them, what's the use in meeting at all? It's like trying to decide what you'll have for dinner without mentioning food.”

Wisteria Vasilver does wish to marry. Truly. But though she lives in Paradise, arranging a match is full of traps and pitfalls for the unwary ... or perhaps just for her.

Nikola Striker, Lord of Fireholt, expects he'll wed -- someday. But not now, and never to a rich icicle of a woman like Miss Vasilver. No matter how much his parents might want the match, or his house might need her dowry. Besides, he has his own problems -- most of them people who need his help as a mind-healer.

Lord Justin Comfrey, Viscount of Comfrey, would be more than happy to help Striker with his financial troubles, and not just to ensure that Miss Vasilver's dowry doesn't tempt Striker into marriage. If only he could find some way to make his proud, stubborn friend accept the money!

Can three people of such different temperaments ever find their way to a more perfect Paradise?

Special New Release Price!


In honor of the release, it's on sale for a week at $4.99! Buy it now, because on July 6, I'm raising the price to $6.99.

When the serial is finished in 2016, I will make the regular price $4.99, and will likely run occasional sales lower still. (Probably bottoming out at $2.99). I figure it makes sense to discount the price once the whole book is available for free on the web, albeit in less-convenient form. So you can wait a year or so and get it Even Cheaper, but the disadvantage there is: you have to wait.

Publishing Details


Special thanks to Alinsa, who lovingly typeset the book for me. This edition does not contain the illustrated headers I am doing for the serial, because (a) I'm not done drawing those yet and (b) the book is long enough without illustrations. (636 pages in trade paperback!) It does have elegant typeset chapter headers -- check out the interior! Even if you're not going to buy it. It's gorgeous.

If we do opt later to make an edition of the e-book that includes the illustrated headers, it'll be as an update to this edition, so anyone who buys it now will be able to re-download it with illustrations.

The book will eventually be available from iBooks UPDATE: now available on iBooks! Thanks for the heads-up, archangelbeth. It turns out that Apple (a) has extra-special requirements for book formatting that no other store cares about, and (b) they are extra-slow about accepting and/or rejecting a book. (Seriously, every other store made the book available within 12 hours of upload. Apple took 3 days to tell me that the embedded cover had "too many pixels". Anyway, these issues are all resolved now.

A Rational Arrangement will also be available in print form in the next week or two. I am waiting for CreateSpace to ship me the proof copy; once I've checked it and approved it, it'll be distributed via CreateSpace and Amazon, with a cover price of $19.95.

Other Ways to Support the Author


If you do not wish to buy, or cannot afford it, that's fine. If you like the story, please spread the word! Recommendations to friends, retweets and reblogs of the story installments, reviews on your own blog, etc., are all much appreciated.

For those who've read the entire book: reviews on Amazon are especially helpful! Not only do they increase the book's visibility on Amazon, but when the book accumulates enough of them, various book review sites will let me submit it for Yet More Reviews. (It's a virtuous cycle!)

Regardless, I will continue to serialize A Rational Arrangement for free, so everyone can read along in bite-sizes pieces. (Today's installment is above this post, by the way! I did not skip it in favor of shilling the e-book, I promise.) Thank you for reading, and enjoy the story!
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Subject:Refusal (21/141)
Time:12:30 pm
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The petitioner’s hall had an adjoining suite, most of which was shut up, but Nikola was using its front room as an office to treat petitioners in private. The tradition of the hall was fine for the demon-ridden he could diagnose and cure with a moment’s touch, but the ostentatious public display added too much difficulty to anything more complex. His petitioners didn’t need a roomful of gawkers while he asked them about their problems, and he didn’t need extra people staring as he spent twenty minutes entranced and mumbling while he and the Savior worked.

The room was lit by south-facing windows and furnished like a parlor, with a loveseat, a couch-bed of the sort the greatcats prefered and to which Nik himself was quietly partial, and a pair of upholstered wingback chairs. The floor was a hardwood inlay; the walls were hung with some of Nikola’s favorite paintings and drawings from among those gifted to him by previous petitioners. Some were skillful, others amateurish, or the work of children. The largest piece was a mural of smiling figures in a park, done with no great skill but considerable enthusiasm by the former inmates of a madhouse in North Mansay he’d been to once. The image was so crowded that some of the figures were flying about in the sky. Nik sat in one of the chairs and regarded it with a fleeting smile.

Sharone Whittaker was carried in by the heavyset man and followed by a hollow-eyed woman. Anthser brought up the rear of the procession. “Mr. and Mrs. Bartholomew Whittaker and their daughter Sharone,” the warcat announced, almost like a footman. “Do you wish to see Miss Whittaker alone, m’lord?” Nik usually saw refusals alone, but he usually didn’t have six year-old violent refusals, either. Mr. and Mrs. Whittaker looked alarmed by the idea.

“Let me talk to her parents first. Please wait outside, Anthser.” Once the greatcat guarded the door from without, Nikola said to the human parents, “Unbind her, please.”

Mrs. Whittaker wrung her hands. “M’ lord, she ess na – na normal. A’ all. You mus’ understand – we can na control her.” The woman spoke with a pronounced Kinder accent.

“We try, but we jus’…can na.” Mr. Whittaker added, in the same accent.

“Do you keep her bound all the time?”

Mr. Whittaker shook his head. “Na—”

“We could na—”

“Only when we mus’ travel. Else she migh’ hurt another.”

“Or herself. At home ess…na so difficul’. Everything arranged so’s to be safer.”

Nik looked at the little girl. She glared back at him with dark brown eyes, face screwed up in a snarl around the gag. “Understand that I cannot help anyone who doesn’t wish it. Would you like me to help you, Miss Whittaker?” She shook her head emphatically, over and over again, squirming against her bonds.

“She ess na always thus, m’lord,” Mrs. Whittaker said, looking at him as if by hope alone she could change the way Blessings worked. “Ess the travel tha’ makes her worse. But she has moments. She can be sweet. But it never lasts. Ess as if she has her own world.”

“Like her soul ess trapped in the Abandoned World, most of the time,” Mr. Whittaker said. “She does na know this ess Paradise. Please, lord. We’ve seen everyone. They all say you are the best.”

“If you can na help Sharone…” Mrs. Whittaker trailed off.

Nik looked from the girl to her parents. Both instincts and his mindsense told him they were neither part nor cause of the child’s problems. And yet… “I’ll need to speak with her alone. Please seat her on the couch, remove the gag, and wait outside.”

The parents exchanged despairing looks, but did as he asked. Sharone howled like a wild dog, a wordless yowl of impotent fury. Nik controlled his wince, motioning for them to continue. Mrs. Whittaker tried, uselessly, to calm the girl while her husband set her on the couch. The child’s frantic struggling increased, writhing and bucking. “She’ll hur’ herself, m’lord!” Mrs. Whittaker shouted to make her voice audible over the girl’s shrieking. Nik nodded and approached to put his hands on the girl’s shoulders to hold her against the couch, positioning himself to avoid her thrashing hobbled legs. He motioned for the parents to go. Reluctant and fearful, they did.

The child’s wailing worsened after they left. Her energy and volume was uncanny. I need to check the parents to make sure they are sane. Much of this would suffice to drive any man mad. “Miss Whittaker, what do you want?”

Somewhat to his surprise, her shriek changed to something like words: “Le’maygoLe’maygoLe’maygo!”

“If you’ll sit on the couch for a few minutes, I will,” Nikola said. He didn’t raise his voice, which meant he could not make out his own words over her continued yelling. He repeated himself at the same conversational volume, several times, while the girl thrashed and writhed with no sign of understanding him or complying. What she screamed was poorly articulated but clearly speech, marked by the same Kinder accent as her parents; he could make out ‘help me’ something like ‘Mrs. Square’ (Mrs. Square?), ‘do not’, something he couldn’t make sense of, and ‘let me go’. Nik tried removing his hands for a moment, but almost at once put them back, as it was obvious that she would knock herself to the floor and risk injury if not forced to remain in one place. He was surprised by how much she could manage to move even bound as she was. He listened to her for a little while, trying to tease out what meaning there was behind her speech, but she soon deteriorated back to wordless screams.

“All I wish is to speak with you for a moment,” Nik tried again. It was always easier to be patient with his petitioners – these people he didn’t know, who needed the Savior’s help – than with friends or family who irritated him. I expect more of the latter, I suppose. Even so, he felt Miss Whittaker’s lung capacity and energy exceeded both the time and patience he had for this task.

Nik talked to her anyway, speaking slowly as he struggled to organize his thoughts in the face of her incoherent shrieks. He kept his own voice low, letting the words be drowned out by her cries. “Miss Whittaker, there is a demon in your mind. I don’t know exactly what it says to you, but I can tell that it is warping your perception of reality. It makes you see things that don’t exist, respond to threats that are not present, ignore dangers that are real, and hear phantasms. I don’t know if it would let you hear my words even if you weren’t drowning them out. I can only try. This demon is the cause of your insanity. The Savior can banish it, if you will allow his power to do so. Right now, you are refusing him. Your mind is holding onto the demon; perhaps it has lied to you and told you that you need it, or that it is a part of you, or that you deserve to be crazy, or that something terrible will happen if you allow it to be banished. None of these things are true. You do not have to live like this, physically restrained, a danger to yourself and those around you, unable to control yourself. Please. Let me help you.”

For a few moments while he spoke, her yelling slackened to a hoarse whimpering – Saints but her throat must be raw – and Nik thought she might be listening. But before he finished she was yelling again. “NONONONOSTOPPI’ MISSUSSQUAREDONAMIS’ER BROWNLEMAYGOLEMAYGONONO!” Despite the ‘let me go’, the child did not seem to be aware of him, face contorted in fear, eyes tracking on spots beyond him, as if watching the movements of some other figure in the room. Nik followed her gaze, but there was nothing there.

Nik listened for a little longer. “Who’s Mrs. Square?” he asked. The girl didn’t respond directly to the question, but her subsequent monologue suggested that the girl was afraid of whomever she was, and that Mrs. Square was in the room with them. He couldn’t figure out what Mr. Brown’s role was. After a few minutes, her words tapered off into violent, inconsolable sobbing. Her struggle to escape ceased, as least. Nikola moved his hands from her, slowly in case the movement provoked her to violence. He touched her cheek again, just long enough to brush her with the Savior’s power and feel that awful rebuffing again. This poor creature doesn’t need someone to throw her a life preserver; she needs a diving team. He strode to the door and motioned to the Whittakers to re-enter. They hurried to the girl’s side, where Mrs. Whittaker perched on the couch beside her and hugged her gently with one arm. Neither of them asked if he’d done something to provoke her.

“Ess there anything…?” Mr. Whittaker asked, in the tones of a doomed man.

No. Saints, no. Please take her away so I can get back to the twenty-odd people the Savior can help. Nik swallowed. “You said sometimes Miss Whittaker is better than others. Is she ever lucid?”

The man shrugged helplessly. “She usually knows us, and ess at leas’ a li’l aware of what ess happening in this world and na jus’ her nightmare one. You can talk to her and she’ll understand, at times, and respond. Other times she ess…jus’ lost. Like this.”

“She ess better at home,” Mrs. Whittaker said quietly. “This trip hass been very hard on her.”

“Where is your home?”

“Ambersdell, m’lord. In the Vastings of Kinder.”

The Vastings of Kinder were over nine hundred miles away, across the Silver Sea, on the continent of Savorift. That journey would be hard on anyone. “Where are you staying now?”

“We had a room at a hostel on 135th,” Mr. Whittaker said.

“‘Had’?”

He looked at the floor. “They turned us ou’ this morn.”

Nikola could not blame them. He rubbed his face with one hand. “I’ll have you shown to one of the suites here. Whenever she seems lucid and likely to cooperate, send for me and I’ll try talking to her then. Whenever. Day or night, whatever I may be doing, do you understand? I’ll let the staff know.” He tried not to think about how his parents were going to react.

The Whittakers stared at him, almost as uncomprehending as their mad daughter. They were still stammering their thanks and appreciation as Nikola opened the door and beckoned Mrs. Linden over to ask her to make the arrangements. Mrs. Linden was aghast and nearly mutinous, which bode ill for his parents’ response. She did comply, however, and took the Whittakers and their sobbing girl away.
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Subject:More Every Day (20/141)
Time:12:30 pm
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Mrs. Linden began the proceeding, voice booming out to fill the hall: “Visitors and people of Gracehaven! Lord Nikola will now move amongst the petitioners! Remain still, do not speak, and be patient. After he makes a determination, do as he directs you.”

Nik drew off his right glove and stepped to the start of the line, fingers touching the top of a bowed gray head. An instant’s contact was enough to see the spiky shell of a demon growing where the thick web of memories joined the rest of the mind. Savior. The god’s sunlit grace flowed through Nik and into the willing mind beside him: the hard demon shell melted away like snow in a thaw, vanishing from Nik’s perception in a moment. The petitioner’s head jerked up. “Oh! Oh.” Clear brown eyes looked up at him. “Is that all there is to it, my lord?”

Nikola smiled. “That’s all. You’ll be fine now; you may leave.” He moved on to the next petitioner, giving an absent nod in response to the profuse thanks of the elderly man and the relations with him. Bill Coxsleigh, one of Nikola’s own footmen who was helping to manage the crowd, gently but firmly herded them away. The next was an old woman with the right side of her body slack, a woman next to her helping to keep her steady in position. A touch, and the demon in her mind was gone. She lifted her right arm and laughed out loud, her face breaking into a smile.

The next was an unresponsive Haventure woman of middle years, with a man of about Nik’s age attending her. A frown creased Nik’s brow as he touched her: her mindshapes were all unremarkable, well within normal variation, no sign of a demon. “Please move to the end on the left,” he told her. She did not stir. He tilted her unresisting head back. Her eyes were brown, open but unfocused in a waxy, lined face: it was like looking at a doll.

The man behind her – her son, given the similar curly brown hair, narrow nose, and pointed chin – said, “She can’t hear you, m’lord. She doesn’t react to anything any more. Won’t you help her?”

“I will if I am able.” Which I almost certainly am not. Still, that was only ‘almost’, and he wanted to give her another chance after he finished the initial pass. “Please take her to the end on the left.” Nik stepped to the next petitioner.

“Please, my lord, I’ll do anything,” the curly-haired Haventure man said, grabbing Nik’s left arm. At the far end of the hall, Anthser snapped to his feet, and the footman by the door moved towards them.

Mrs. Linden disengaged the man’s hand. “His lordship will do whatever he can,” she said, firm. “Go to the end of the hall and wait on the left.”

The man shook her off and looked on the verge of seizing Nik bodily again, but as Anthser bore down on them he recovered his senses and bowed low instead. “Come, Mum,” he said in a quiet voice, taking her beneath the arms and lifting her. The woman did not resist, and her feet dropped into a standing position when he held her high enough. She shuffled like a sleepwalker as he steered her to the back corner. Nik was already engrossed by the next mind.

More petitioners arrived while he worked his way down the line. Nik continued in the usual pattern: curing the demon-ridden if they did not resist, and sorting the rest into groups. Most of the latter fell into two categories: those with a problem he could identify and cure given more time – the greatkittens went to that group – and those whose problems he could not determine, which today was about one in four.

When Nik reached the restrained little girl, she glared at him with pure hatred: had she not been gagged, he thought she might have bitten him. Nik paused before her, and went to one knee to meet her infuriated eyes. “Good morning,” he said to her, then looked up at the heavyset man who loomed over her, holding her shoulders. “What’s her name?”

“Sharone Whittaker, m’lord.” The man had a weathered, careworn face, bags under his eyes. Nik wondered if he was as old as he looked.

Nik nodded. He wanted to ask for her to be unbound and the gag removed – such a small child, she could hardly be a threat – but at the same time was hesitant to override the measures her caretakers deemed necessary. Particularly in a public setting, with so many watching. “I’ll not harm you, Miss Whittaker. I am only going to touch you for a moment.” The girl made an animal growl deep in her throat as Nik raised his hand. She flinched back from his touch, writhing violently in the arms of the man behind her despite her bonds. Gritting his teeth, Nik grazed his fingertips against her cheek.

She was not so much demon-ridden as infested, mindshapes riddled by hard black thorns, thousands of tiny spikes that jabbed into her everywhere. Nik invoked the Savior, but it was as useless as he’d expected. Her mind clung as fast to the demon as the demon did to her, repelling the Savior’s power as if it were an invading enemy. The deep, profound sorrow of the Savior at this failure washed through Nik as he let his hand fall away. He could imagine too well what that demon was doing to her mind: warping her perception of reality, whispering to her in a dozen different voices, even controlling her body at times. Sharone gave a plaintive whimper, squirming. The man holding her wore a painful look of desperate hope. “Can you help her, m’ lord?”

No. “I don’t know.” Nik rose, rubbing his face with one hand. “I will need to discuss her situation with you and her further, but I’d prefer to do so in private. Please wait there—” he pointed to an empty corner of the hall “—and I’ll return to you soon.”

The little girl wasn’t the sole case that morning who refused treatment. A man whose very posture spoke of hopelessness, only there because his wife and son had dragged him in, also rejected the Savior’s help. Nikola directed them to wait in the same section as the child. More people came in as he finished those who’d been waiting from the start. When Nik had finally looked at everyone once, he consulted with Mrs. Linden: “How are we doing?”

She consulted her list. “It’s half-past ten, m’lord. Thirty-two cures, twenty-two awaiting reevaluation, twenty-nine requiring extended treatment, two refusals.”

“And you have eleven appointments this afternoon already, m’lord,” Shelby reminded him.

“Right.” If he averaged five minutes for each reevaluation and fifteen for each extended treatment… Well, there’s probably enough hours in the day. Especially If I skip eating and sleeping. “Is it me or do we have more petitioners each day than we did the previous?” He had appointments left over from yesterday because he’d cleared the afternoon for the call on Miss Vasilver, but even so – three hours had always sufficed for petition hours in Fireholt. In distant, rural Fireholt.

“Each day has more petitioners than the last,” Mrs. Linden confirmed. “Word that you’re in town is spreading. I could send the reevaluations away if you wish, Lord Nikola?” Unspoken was the fact that the reevaluations were nearly always futile. Nik reevaluated scores of petitioners in vain for each one on whom he found a treatable anomaly upon second look. Hours of my time.

But it’s their entire life at stake. “No, they don’t take long. Let’s see if I can get through them all before the appointments start. First is at noon?”

“Yes, my lord,” Shelby answered.

Nik nodded. “Do I have any other engagements for today?”

“Your lady mother is having company for dinner and requests your presence at three o’clock.”

“And that will last until five or so…” Nik considered how his father would react if he saw petitioners by appointment in the evening. And then about telling twenty-nine humans and greatcats to come back tomorrow to see if his schedule looked any better. More every day. “Take appointments from five-thirty to nine tonight, Shelby, and those who wish to wait may in case I’ve extra time. For now, I’ll see the refusals first, and then do the reevaluations until noon.” Nik nodded to his staff, ignoring Mrs. Linden’s purse-lipped frown, and turned to the office.
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Subject:Why It’s Called the Petitioner’s Hall (19/141)
Time:12:30 pm
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Nik awoke when Shelby brought breakfast to his room. The valet had already laid out clothing: a sober navy morning jacket, cream-colored breeches matched to the neckcloth, a light blue shirt with plain cuffs. Shelby was a pale white-haired old man who had been a footman in his great-grandmother’s service. Nikola had promoted him to personal valet, a position Shelby took far more seriously than Nik did. Shelby had a demeanor so exactly proper to his position that Nik often thought Shelby would have played the part of lord much better than Nik did. The valet was discreet and deferential, never breathing a word against his master.

In token of Nik’s unfitness for his position, he generally prefered the unawed if not outright insubordinate attitude of his greatcat employees.

But it was good to eat in peace, with someone who didn’t try to make conversation or question the marks on his neck or appear, in any way, to judge him. Nik finished an omelet and sipped at a glass of orange juice. “How does my morning look?”

“Full, my lord. There were over thirty people waiting at the gates when I came up.”

Nik glanced at the clock. “It’s not even half-past eight.”

“Yes, my lord.”

Nik rumpled his hair with one hand. “Please have them shown into the petitioner’s hall, Shelby. No point making them stand outside.”

“As you wish, my lord.”

Nik had finished his juice and was mostly dressed when Shelby returned. Nik stood still while the valet adjusted his attire and tied back his hair with quick professional movements. “Thank you, Shelby. How many appointments do I have for the afternoon?”

Shelby consulted the appointment book, following in Nikola’s wake as he headed for the petitioner’s hall. “Eleven, m’lord.”

Busy indeed. “Any marked as complex?”

“Three.”

At the top of the main staircase, Lord Striker intercepted them. “Nikola. Must you have so much riff-raff let into the petitioner’s hall? Think how it reflects on us.”

“I thought petitioners were what it was for. Isn’t that why it’s called the petitioner’s hall? Shall I show them to the ballroom instead, Father?” Nikola stepped around his father’s looming form and started down the steps.

“That is not what I meant and you know it, Nikola.” Lord Striker spun to follow his son.

“Do I? I am sure you wouldn’t ask me to violate the Code by refusing to see petitioners, Father.”

“No one is saying you should refuse them, but the Code does not demand you do so every day, and having this house overrun by the lowest sort of people is a great trial on the staff and on your mother.”

And on your sensibilities. “I’ll be sure to tell the demons you would appreciate it if they left the poor alone and only infested the nobility, Father. Perhaps you should ask your friends to volunteer as victims.” Nikola nodded to Robert, the Anverlee footman standing by the hall doors.

Lord Striker set his jaw. “We’ll speak of this later,” he growled, and stalked off as the footman opened the doors.

The petitioner’s hall was a great granite-floored chamber lit by tall windows along the south facing. It had not been fitted with gaslight fixtures, so its three crystal chandeliers were designed for candles, unlit given the daylight hour. A sharp eye would note that many of the candle holders stood empty; Nik couldn’t remember the last time the chandeliers had been lit. The runner down the center of the room was in Anverlee blue with a simple silver trim, and threadbare. They owned a good one but Lady Striker declined to set it out for petitioners, for which Nik did not fault her. They came to be cured, not impressed. The passage of time had been kinder to the cartouches carved into the walls – one of Nikola’s distant ancestors had in fact possessed a Blessing for stone – and the ornate moldings around the windows. Paintings of previous Lords and Ladies of Anverlee hung between the cartouches. The hall had little in the way of furniture, in deference to tradition. Just as well. We’d have sold the furniture if there had been any, and then Father would be even more offended that I use the place for its intended purpose.

At present, the hall was full of life; Nikola guessed something like seventy humans and thirty greatcats. Not enough to make the chamber crowded, but enough to line both sides. Of those, forty or fifty were petitioners. Nikola’s staff had arranged the petitioners in accordance with tradition, kneeling close together at the edge of the carpet. The healthy people who had accompanied them were ranged against the wall behind the petitioners with a few exceptions. Petitioners of both species varied in age, from a greatkitten a year or two older than Belle to a frail wrinkled man who looked older than Lady Dalsterly. The majority were elderly humans, however. Race and skin color also varied: most were the golden-brown Newlanture or pale-peach Haventure hues common in Newlant, but there were several humans in shades of brown and near-black that were rare in this country. Judging by their dress, most of those gathered were poor but prepared as if for temple, faces and hands freshly scrubbed, clothing neat and formal.

Robert, the Anverlee footman who’d opened the door, announced him: “Nikola Striker, Lord of Fireholt, Blessed by the Savior, Healer of Minds.” The assembly looked to him; his head-of-staff broke off her conversation to hurry over, leaving Anthser beside the petitioners near the far end of the line. Most of the people in the hall bowed their heads respectfully, though some of the petitioners continued to stare. Nik was untroubled by this; some dementia sufferers were no more capable of following protocol than a legless man was capable of standing.

Mrs. Linden, his chief-of-staff, greeted him with a curtsey. She was a tall heavy-set round-faced woman with golden-brown skin and grey-streaked dark hair pinned to the crown of her head. “My lord.”

“Good morning, Mrs. Linden. Any problems I should be aware of?”

She pursed her lips. “It’s mostly the usual cases today, senility and the like. But there are two feral greatkittens; one’s nearly four already.” She shook her head, and Nik winced. “And there’s…this girl.” She glanced down the line.

Nikola followed her gaze to a little girl, at the end. Anthser lay on his stomach near her. She wasn’t kneeling: she was bound as if she were a dangerous criminal, arms together behind her back, feet hobbled, mouth gagged, eyes darting like a wild animal. A broad-shouldered man stood directly behind her, his hands resting on her shoulders. Saints help us. “What – she can’t be more than six. Is she so dangerous?”

“Her parents say so.” Mrs. Linden shrugged helplessly.

Nik averted his eyes to keep from staring. “There’s no way she’ll consent, not if they need to restrain her like that.”

“I know.” Mrs. Linden bit her lip. “Do you want her removed, my lord?”

“No.” Nik inhaled. “Maybe we’ll get a miracle. Let’s get started.”
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Subject:Risks Taken (18/141)
Time:12:30 pm
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The master bath had a great clawfooted porcelain tub on a fanciful carved marble pedestal of twining dragons, scales detailed and anatomy realistic in the Markavian style. Nik filled it with a few inches of hot water from the gleaming brass tap and bathed quickly. He avoided getting his hair wet – it would look peculiar to arrive home on a dry night with soaked hair – but scrubbed hard at the rest of him. The greatcats would smell Justin on him otherwise, and while he trusted Anthser and the Anverlee greatcats, there was no reason to take risks.

And at the moment, he wanted Justin’s scent off of him anyway.

He felt cheap and dirty and angry, and not even sure Justin had meant any of it. ‘Debt repaid’. Is that why you think I’m here, prostituting myself in return for your largess? I didn’t come to lose money at some cursed game, I came for you. For this. Do you even care, old man?

How could an event so joyful in the moment become so humiliating in recollection?

Nik’s skin was pink and raw by the time he was done, and he still didn’t feel clean. Bruises ringed his neck where Justin had sucked and nibbled, not painful but already livid. His neckcloth would hide them. Justin was clothed when Nik emerged, and helped him dress – considerate given the complexity of a lord’s attire, but Nik almost wished he hadn’t. They barely spoke; Justin buttoned Nik’s cuffs and Nik arranged the folds of Justin’s neckcloth in silence. While Nik put on his shoes, Justin stepped out to pull the felishome bellrope to summon Anthser to the door. He returned and lounged in the doorway, watching Nik buckle his shoes. Justin looked every inch the lord, respectable and immaculate in gold-trimmed scarlet jacket and black breeches. Nik put on his gloves last, as he was walking to the door. Justin caught Nik’s bare right hand before he pulled its glove on, and kissed Nik’s palm. He cupped Nik’s hand to his face, then pulled Nik into his embrace. For a moment, Nik remained stiff and awkward, then he relented, relaxing to hug Justin close in return. He wanted to say…something. Do you truly think I care about your money? But he was afraid to ask. Not of a simple ‘yes’, but of another evasive, witty non-answer, like the response to Nik’s question about matchmaking. I wish I knew if I mattered to you.

Justin took a deep breath before pulling back. He tucked the lace of Nik’s jabot beneath the lapel of his jacket. “How do I look?” Nik asked.

“Edible.” Justin half-smiled. “Best make your escape before I devour you. My lord.” He made a sweeping half-bow to the door, sardonic yet graceful.

With his best regal nod, Nik proceeded to the hall.

§


Anthser lay draped over the front steps of Comfrey Manor. He looked unexpectedly content, especially for someone who’d been roused after three in the morning to cart his ne’er-do-well master to bed. Justin leaned against the doorjamb as Nik mounted. “Thanks for joining us, Striker. It’s always a pleasure to have your company.”

“And thank you for the invitation, my lord,” Nikola replied in the same easy manner, performing for their audience of one. As if Anthser cares one whit.

“You know you’re always welcome. Give my regards to the Count your father and your lady mother. Safe travels to you.”

Anthser laid back his ears at that last sentence. Nikola took his leave, and Anthser bore him away. Nik’s mind was cluttered and weary. Shelby would notice the bruising on his neck, of course – he could not hide it from his valet. Nik often covered for his indiscretions with Justin by engaging in less dangerous indiscretions with women. Extramarital relations between a man and a woman were technically illegal, but such laws were rarely enforced, and for the man it barely qualified as a social failing. Such behavior irritated his parents – his mother feigned ignorance and his father scolded him – but no one else cared as long as he wasn’t despoiling virgins or their own wives. Sexual congress between two men, however, was another matter: those laws were enforced with exorbitant fines, pillorying, and probable exile. Even if one escaped the legal consequences, the social costs of discovery were ruinous. The scandal would destroy Comfrey and Fireholt, and Nik’s father would likely disinherit him to preserve the shreds of Anverlee’s dignity.

All of which should have been sufficient motivation for Nik to conceal his crimes further. Madame Julietta and her girls would make him welcome at any hour, but he’d lost his taste for paid companionship years ago. The erstwhile widow Mrs. Pierce was Mrs. Hampton now, after remarrying last year, and while she’d intimated that this need put no constraints on their relationship, Nik had little interest in cuckolding any man.

Lost in these thoughts, he almost missed Anthser’s question: “Did you tell him?”

For a wild moment, he thought Tell Mr. Hampton? Are you mad? before he realized Ansther could not possibly know his train of thought. “Tell who?”

“Lord Comfrey.”

Surely this can’t be about what I think it’s about. Nik decided to feign ignorance. “I’m sorry, what are we talking about?”

“You know. The incident.” Anthser scuffed at the pavement. “With that rooftop.”

Nik laughed, half-amused and half-relieved. “No, of course not.”

Anthser relaxed, his sides vibrating with a contented purr. “Are you going back to see Lord Comfrey soon?”

“I don’t know. He’ll be at the Ascension Ball, of course, so I’ll see him then if not sooner.”

“But not at Comfrey Manor?” Anthser sounded disappointed.

Nik glanced askance at his warcat. “Is there some reason you’re in a hurry to get back there? What happened to ‘only catnip can make the company bearable’?”

Anthser ducked his big black head, scuffing the pavement again. “Well. He hired a new riding cat.”

“Yes?”

“For bowracing. She’s beautiful. We spent the last three hours talking. And she groomed my ears.” Anthser sighed dreamily. “Champion racer, too. Wall full of medals. Hey, you should invite Lord Comfrey bowracing.” The greatcat’s ears pricked up in interest.

Nik laughed again. “I’ll think about it. In the meantime, you know you don’t need my permission to call at Comfrey’s felishome.”

Anthser canted his ears to the side, embarrassed. “I know. It’s just…a good excuse, you know?”

“I suppose I do.” Nik reflected on all the excuses he and Justin had contrived to obtain time alone together. Surely he must care. This is far too much risk and trouble otherwise. Isn’t it? “Don’t worry, Anthser, I’m sure we’ll be back.”

§
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Subject:Repaid (17/141)
Time:12:30 pm
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Afterwards, as Nikola lay spent and half-dozing in Justin’s broad bed, Justin extricated himself from the tangled sheets and withdrew to the washroom to clean up. He returned a few minutes later, wrapped in a long silk dressing gown, and tossed Nikola a soapy washcloth and a dry towel, balancing a half-full basin on the bed. Nikola cleaned himself off. “Tidy as always.” He held out his arms in a silent plea.

Justin left the washcloth floating in the bowl and slid back into Nikola’s waiting arms. He was silently gratified by Nikola’s craving for contact even after physical desire was slaked. Dark hair spilled across the pillows as Justin sat propped against them, sliding an arm around Nikola to snuggle his tall slender frame to his side. His friend curled an arm over Justin’s chest and one leg over his. Justin felt deliciously comfortable with him there, and an unwanted pang of regret that they could not stay like this forever. “One must be discreet. Though my guests use the same linens, so the laundress might blame any peculiarities on one of the married couples who’ve stayed lately. Or perhaps think I seduced poor Miss Dalsterly.”

“Poor Miss Dalsterly indeed. She’s thoroughly fixated on you, you know.”

Justin gave a dry chuckle. “I noticed, although I hadn’t realized the extent until this evening.”

“I suppose her reputation is safe at least, with Lady Dalsterly having escorted her off when the servants were about to bear witness.” Nikola nuzzled his cheek against Justin’s silk-clad shoulder. After a moment, he asked, “Are you courting her?”

“Saints, no. That child? Please.”

“She’s a year older than I was when you and I first met.”

Justin suppressed a shudder, tapping a finger against Nikola’s nose. “Yes, and one child in my life is sufficient, boy.”

Nikola chuckled. “Did you do nothing to encourage her?”

“Hardly anything. I stood up with her once or twice at Society balls, and made some meaningless chitchat a few times.”

“And invited her tonight.”

Justin sighed. “And invited her tonight. You’ll note I didn’t seat her by me.”

Nikola was silent for a long moment. “You’re not matchmaking for me too, are you?”

Justin tightened his arm around Nikola. How could you imagine I’d willingly help some addle-brained girl take you from me, Nikola? “Well,” he drawled, “I know how fond you are of Lady Dalsterly…”

His efforts were rewarded with a laugh. “I swear, if I thought she’d have me, I’d be tempted to ask. I was threatening my parents with her this morning. You should have seen my mother’s expression.”

“Savior’s blessings, did you in truth? Ha!”

“She’s quick-witted, wealthy, titled, kind, and laughs at my jokes. What more could a man ask for?”

“Youth? Beauty? Fertility? A body that doesn’t resemble driftwood?”

Nikola dismissed these objections with an airy wave. “She has great-grandchildren! Her fertility is surely proven by that. Besides—” he reached up to snag a lock of Justin’s dark hair and plucked a single silver strand out of it “—we both know I prefer mature lovers. Old man.” He pulled the gray hair to dangle before Justin’s eyes.
Cut for sex!Collapse )Justin pressed his cheek against Nikola’s shoulder, closing his eyes and breathing. I love you. Don’t leave me.

He wished Nikola would accept his invitation and stay at Comfrey Manor instead of insisting on going back to his parents. But he won’t stay. He will never stay, old man. Accept it. He is not yours and never can be. To cover the unpleasant emotions this reflection brought out, Justin rose and washed off again.

As he returned, Nikola watched him, those round Haventure eyes hooded. “I suppose I ought to be leaving.”

Condemn it. Already? “You could sleep in one of the guest suites if you like. No one would remark on it. I often have overnight guests who’ve succumbed to drink or weariness the night before.”

But Nikola shook his head. “No, I’d have to fly home in the morning in any case. Petitioners.” He threw his legs over the side of the bed to sit upright, and wrapped his arms about Justin’s waist to pull him close.

Justin exhaled, stroking blond hairs away from Nikola’s face. “Suit yourself.”

They lingered so for a moment, before Nikola released him and stood. “But I’m obliged to you for the offer, Justin. Thank you.” He gave a slight courteous bow, dignified despite his nude state.

Justin smirked. “Hmph. As for obligations—” he swatted Nikola’s rear “—I daresay you can consider your debt to me amply repaid.”

Nikola stiffened, and retreated to the washroom.
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Subject:Cliff Notes for skipping the sex scenes in A Rational Arrangement
Time:07:19 am
There aren't a lot of sex scenes in the book, relative to its length, but what sex scenes I did write generally establish some points about the characters and the nature of their relationship. For readers who want to skip them, the relevant points are behind the cut-tag in this entry. This bit is cut-tagged because it's implied rather than spelled out in the erotica scenes, and some readers may prefer figuring it out on their own. :)
Plot-relevant details without the explicit content!Collapse )
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Subject:Speechless (16/141)
Time:12:30 pm
( You are about to view content that may only be appropriate for adults. )
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Subject:Final Cover Art Poll!
Time:04:01 pm
I have three finalists! You should be able to click to enlarge any of 'em. They're shown in the poll at the thumbnail size used on Amazon.

Poll #2013914 The Final Cover Poll (I Promise)

Which do you like best?

Bernhard
16(55.2%)
Harrington Nested
7(24.1%)
Harrington Semi-Nested
6(20.7%)


This poll is only about the typeface/text style used for the title & author. Please disregard the slight differences in the background (the final text is all going to be slapped on the same background.)

Thanks, everyone!
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Subject:An Open Letter to Enterprise Rent-a-Car
Time:01:34 pm
I made a car rental reservation for noon today with Enterprise. I tried to reach the local branch to schedule a pickup starting at 11:40AM. I spent twenty minutes on hold, tried calling on a different phone, spent another few minutes on hold, gave up for 20 minutes, called back, spent another 15-20 minutes on hold, and finally gave up entirely. I was placed on hold via automated voice system. I never spoke to a human. I finally went back to the website to cancel my reservation, since there's no indication that I will ever get a pickup, or that the branch is even actually staffed today.

I tried calling Enterprise's national line, but they don't appear to have an option for "speak to a person" or "Press [X] if you are experiencing a problem contacting your local branch".

I have been using Enterprise for all of my rental cars, business or leisure, for many years. I have never before today had a problem with the local branch. The thing that really gets me most this experience isn't that I was unable to speak to a human or that I was on hold for over an hour, but that they have a 20-30 second commercial loop as their hold message. This is annoying and unpleasant to listen to ONCE. Listening to it endlessly repeated dozens of times is MADDENING. At this point in time, I am seriously considering never renting from Enterprise again, and that is solely because of the 30-second commercial loop, which turned a bad customer experience into a nightmarish one, where not only couldn't I get what I wanted, but I was unable to accomplish anything else because the horrible aggravating commercial loop destroyed my concentration.

Free advice to all companies: PLEASE DO NOT PLAY COMMERCIALS AT YOUR CUSTOMERS ON HOLD.

When I call you, I am already using your company. You have sold me! By playing a never-ending commercial at me, you are not making me more likely to use your company: you are making me MUCH LESS LIKELY. You are making the bad experience of "being on hold" into a painful and miserable one that I never want to endure again. You are alienating me. In the case of Enterprise, probably forever. Not by having some kind of staffing catastrophe for an hour, which I could forgive, but because I don't want to risk being stuck listening to that awful commercial again.

Also, I am posting this as an Open Letter because when I went to their website to complain, it let me input this whole rant but never got past telling me "please wait, submitting", until it finally timed out. So, congratulations, Enterprise, you have not only alienated me but you won't even let me tell you what you did wrong. I hope this unusual business strategy is working out for you. Sadly, it is not working out for me.
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Subject:No More Games (15/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 015

It was after one when a yawning Mr. Lavert admitted to weariness and retired with his wife. Nikola and Justin escorted them to their carriage. “And you, Lord Nikola?” Justin asked on the stoop, as the Laverts’ carriage rolled into the night. “The night is young.”

“And I am finally safe from both politics and business.”

Justin steered him back into the main house. “I could give you more pointers on billiards.”

Nik made a face. “I daresay I’ve had my fill of billiards too.”

The black-haired lord raised one dark eyebrow at him. “Is that so?” He opened the door to the house and followed Nik inside. “And here I thought you liked games.”

You curst well know that’s not why I come whenever you crook your finger and beckon, Nik wanted to say, but he couldn’t make the words come out. Articulating it would just make it…even more real, and it was already too real, and Justin didn’t need the words to know anyway. Instead, he leaned against the door after Justin closed it, watching him.

A slow half-smile formed on Justin’s face as he met Nik’s blue eyes. He reached up to cup Nik’s pale cheek with tan fingers; at the contact, the contours of Justin’s mind filled Nik’s senses. “All right,” Justin said, voice low, moving so close that the folds of their neckcloths brushed, faces less than an inch apart. “No more games.” He curled his fingers beneath blond hair to cradle Nik’s head, his other hand on the opposite shoulder, pinning Nik against the door at the same time that he pulled the taller man’s head down enough to kiss. Nik bent willingly, returning the kiss with interest, glorying in the closeness, the power and strength in Justin’s body. Justin shifted his weight to Nik’s right side, hand working down Nik’s chest to unfasten the buttons of his jacket. Nik laced his own fingers through Justin’s thick black hair as they kissed, other arm trying to encircle Justin and pull him closer still. Justin resisted the pull until he’d unfastened enough buttons on the shirt beneath the jacket to slide his hand under the cloth, caressing the muscles of Nik’s upper abdomen before circling over his ribcage to his side. Then Justin pressed against him hard enough that Nik could scarcely breathe, mouth lowering to nibble at the line of Nik’s jaw.

Nik whimpered with pleasure and desire, sagging against the door, uncaring as its inlay dug into his back, tilting back his head to let Justin nuzzle at his throat. Thwarted by the folds of Nik’s jabot, Justin muttered an imprecation and brought both hands to bear in unfastening both it and Nik’s collar. He pushed the cloth roughly aside to expose a fit, fair-skinned chest sprinkled with curly blond hairs. Justin’s darker hands stroked the curve of Nik’s shoulders, still pinning him with his body. He raked his teeth lightly against the sensitive skin of Nik’s throat, and was rewarded with a gasp that melted into another eager moan as Justin bit down, suckling. Enflamed, Justin gave an animal growl and dug his fingers into Nik’s shoulders, biting harder. Gasping for breath, Nik buried his face in Justin’s hair, rumpling the other man’s jacket as his hands gripped Justin’s back.

After a few moments, Justin relented, shifting his weight enough that Nik was no longer trapped against the door, leaning back to watch Nik’s face, a small satisfied smile on his own. Nik dipped forward to brush his lips against Justin’s again. “My lord,” Nik whispered against his mouth, “how I’ve missed you.”

Justin laughed, letting his hands slide down Nik’s bare chest in an intimate caress, then grinned and turned away to start up the stairs. Partway up, he glanced back over his shoulder, then crooked a finger to Nik, beckoning.

As helpless as one enspelled, Nik followed.
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Subject:How the Game Is Played (14/141)
Time:12:30 pm
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Nik was an indifferent billiards player at best. He’d had some practice at carom billiards, but in the pocket billiards variant that Justin played, Nik couldn’t even remember which maneuvers scored how many points without a refresher. Justin, Secretary Haskill, and both Laverts were keen to play. “To two hundred points, my lord?” Mrs. Lavert asked, selecting a cue stick.

“Certainly. Ten marks a point as usual?” Justin said, blandly.

The Laverts and Secretary Haskill agreed without hesitation. Nik did his best not to look appalled.

“We’ll just watch,” Lady Dalsterly said firmly, leading her great-granddaughter to seats along the wall. A disappointed Miss Dalsterly whispered something to her elder relation.

“We can play in teams,” Justin offered.

“That’s quite all right, my lord.” Lady Dalsterly answered, polite, firm, and unmoved by her descendant’s pleading look. Mrs. Haskill likewise declined.

“Would you like to alternate games?” Secretary Haskill asked Nik.

“Oh no.” Nik gave an easy smile that belied his relief. “Keeping three lovely ladies company while watching others do all the hard work is far more my style.”

Justin chuckled. “Suit yourself.” The four players divided among Justin’s two billiards tables, winners to play winners and losers to play losers after the first game. Nik amused himself bantering and flirting with the three women, although he reserved his most outrageous lines for the elderly Lady Dalsterly, who took them as seriously as he offered them.

Miss Dalsterly watched the game – or more accurately, Lord Comfrey – with transparent longing. Everyone politely pretended not to notice. Nik wasn’t sure whether he wanted to wish her luck, offer his condolences, or warn her off. It was certainly no hardship to watch Justin move gracefully about the billiard table, extending his tall, powerful frame to full length for the occasional shot. As with everything he put his mind to, Justin played well. Between turns, he would laugh and tease his guests, but his attitude when making a shot was concentrated and intent. He won his first two games, at which point Lady Dalsterly took the opportunity of the hour and the timing to excuse herself and her great-granddaughter, leaving only Nik and Mrs. Haskill remaining on the sidelines.

Mrs. Haskill, a stout fortyish woman with handsome Newlanture features and a pleasantly rounded figure, had consumed enough wine to shed her veneer of stuffy reserve. She proved an attentive companion when she had Nik to herself, full of interested inquiries about how his Blessing worked, as well as cheerfully returning his banter. After a couple more games, her husband begged off from further play to take his wife home.

“But it’s not even eleven-thirty yet,” Mr. Lavert protested. “Surely you can stay for another game?”

“We can’t leave now, while Lord Comfrey still has our marks,” Mrs. Lavert added.

They’re not your marks any more, Nikola thought. They’re his. That’s how it works.

“I don’t mind watching, Brennan,” Mrs. Haskill said diffidently. But Secretary Haskill resisted all entreaties and took his wife’s arm to depart.

You’re not leaving, are you, Lord Nikola?” Justin asked, with a small smile.

Nik could see where this was leading. He could leave, or he could get roped into playing a game he had little skill for at stakes he could not afford. With the other bystanders and their fourth player gone, his excuse for sitting on the sidelines had evaporated. He tried anyway. “I’ll stay for the company, but I don’t care to play.”

“Oh, come now, Lord Nikola,” Mrs. Lavert wheedled. “It’s easy. You don’t want to make one of us sit out while only two can play, do you?”

Yes, I do. “I’m afraid I’ve not the funds on me to match your stakes. If you’d care to play without the wager…?”

“Then how would we recoup our losses?” Mr. Lavert said with a grin.

“It’s no fun if there’s nothing at stake,” Mrs. Lavert added.

“Oh, don’t trouble yourself over that, Lord Nikola,” Justin said airily. “I’ll cover your wagers.”

The Laverts looked pleased by this solution. “Very generous of you, Lord Comfrey,” the husband said.

Nikola gritted his teeth. I don’t need your charity, Justin. But there was no graceful way to escape it after that, so he acquiesced with as much good humor as he could muster.

The following games went much as he’d expected. Nikola tried not to keep track of how much of Justin’s money he was losing, although he had the keen sense that it was more than enough to offset Justin’s own winnings, since they paid by the point instead of the game. Now and again, he would catch Justin watching him as he made a shot. At one point, Justin laid a hand on Nik’s shoulder as he was eyeing his cue ball down the length of the stick. “You’re too tense, Lord Nikola,” he murmured. “Relax.” He loosened the tight grip of Nik’s right hand on the cue stick, and leaned close to reposition Nik’s left hand lightly on the table, before settling the cue’s tip between Nik’s knuckles again, then stepped back. “Breathe.”

Nik closed his eyes and inhaled, the tense line of his mouth relaxing, breathing in the faint musk of Justin’s cologne, feeling the lingering warmth where their bodies had touched. Justin gave his shoulder a reassuring pat. Nik opened his eyes and took the shot. His cue ball struck the red object ball, ricocheted it into a corner pocket at the opposite side, then continued on to glance against Lavert’s cue ball. Lavert’s rolled into the side pocket, while Nikola’s rolled slowly to the far corner. It poised on the brink for a moment, and toppled in. All three balls struck in the correct order and pocketed, for the maximum score on a single shot. “Oh, well done,” Lavert said in appreciation.

“See?” Justin gave Nik a smile as he straightened. “Not so hard.”

“Anyone can get lucky,” Nikola retorted. But he felt better nonetheless.

At midnight, Justin had the servants refill the decanter of wine and bring up a plate of bite-sized pastries for snacks, before dismissing them to their beds: “I’ll show my guests out when they depart.”
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Subject:Business and Politics (13/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 013

Custom dictated that when seating a formal gathering for a meal, men must alternate with women and no one could be seated beside the person with whom they’d arrived. Justin and Nik were placed at the opposite ends of the table; Mrs. Haskill and Mrs. Lavert were placed to either side of Justin, then Lavert and Haskill in the center and with their wives on opposite sides, and then the Lady and Miss Dasterly bracketed Nik. It was a small enough affair that conversation was not strictly confined to one’s neighbors, though the tendency remained.

Miss Dalsterly was an attractive girl of seventeen, brown-skinned and auburn-haired, and with no more than the most minimally polite interest in Nik. Judging by the amount of time the girl spent gazing up the table, Miss Dalsterly would have given much to trade places with Mrs. Lavert and be seated beside Justin. Yes, well, so would I, girl. Live the life you’re born to, Nikola thought.

Lady Dalsterly was ninety-six, short, slim, stooped, and white-haired, with a face like a smiling golden raisin. She also had a ready laugh and a supply of stories about every major event that had happened in Gracehaven in the last ninety years. After a couple of glasses of wine, she could generally be persuaded to share embarrassing stories on almost anyone. Once a few polite efforts determined the extent of Miss Dalsterly’s disinterest, Nik abandoned the great-granddaughter to whatever joy she might glean from straining to catch the conversation of Secretary Haskill, Mrs. Lavert, and Justin. He turned all his attention to the elderly woman at his right instead. “What do you think of the wine, Lady Dalsterly? I understand it’s a splendid vintage.”

“Is it? I would say that fine wine was wasted on my dull old palate, but I believe it was wasted on my sharp young palate seventy years ago too. I’ve never been able to taste all those flavors that are supposed to be in wine: smoky and fruity and nutty and whatever all else. It’s dry, though, I can tell that much, and I like my wine dry.”

“Then it is not wasted on you, m’lady.” Nik moved to refill her glass from the decanter.

“Are you trying to get me drunk, Lord Nikola?” Lady Dalsterly teased, though she held out her glass anyway.

“Of course. How else am I to take advantage of you?” Nik topped off her glass.

Lady Dalsterly laughed merrily. “I must warn you, that if you are looking to add a centenarian to your string of conquests, Lord Nikola, then I still have another four years to go.”

“Then I’d best get started now, hadn’t I? No doubt it will take me at least that long to wear down your virtue.”

She shook her head at him and took another sip. “Now, you scamp, what are you truly after?”

“Well, if you insist on doubting the impurity of my intentions – perhaps I hope for some tale of Lord Comfrey’s wayward childhood, by way of retaliation for letting him trick me into attending one of his business suppers.” At some point during the soup course, Nik had been struck by the unpleasant realization that it was likely he, and not Lady Dalsterly, who’d been invited to make up the numbers. Justin would have had to invite some lady to bring the party from five to six, and he could not have invited either Lady Dalsterly or her young houseguest without including both.

“Mmm.” Lady Dalsterly looked thoughtful. “This Lord Comfrey, I imagine, and not his father or grandfather?”

Nik considered. “As this is but a cover for my nefarious designs upon your person, I don’t suppose it matters. How long have you known the Comfries?”

“Oh, I met Lord Langston Comfrey, saints watch his soul, back when he was Lord Langston and I was still a girl, a year or two younger than Rebecca here. He was a very stern upright gentleman then, and very round too. Pie was his one great vice, you understand.”

“Pie?”

“Any kind, fruit or pudding or savory. There was a little hushed-up scandal between him and his cook, and I am quite convinced it was solely from the poor woman smuggling him late-night pastries against his wife’s wishes. The old lord was never the same after the cook’s dismissal. Wasted away to a mere oval instead of a sphere.”

At Justin’s end of the table, the conversation had turned from the minutiae of customs and tariffs to a more general discussion of policies. Nikola’s attention was caught from Lady Dalsterly when Mr. Lavert spoke his name. “Beg pardon?” Nik said, shifting his gaze from the lady to the gentleman beside her.

“I was just saying, Lord Nikola, that if we’re to discuss the appropriate compensation of Blessings, we ought to ask a man who bears one.” Lavert spoke clearly, the rest of the table falling silent.

Nik gave the group a nonplussed look. “I daresay the Code settles that question.”

“The Code begs that question,” Mrs. Lavert responded, ignoring Mrs. Haskill’s satisfied expression. “‘A gift for a gift’ – it gives no true guidance as to what the recipient ought to pay. And the Code’s insistence that ‘any who may be helped, must be helped’ offers precious little incentive to make the payment adequate.”

“Adequate to what?” Nik asked.

“Adequate to human greed, Lord Nikola. Pay no mind,” Mrs. Haskill interjected, while Mrs. Lavert scowled.

“Adequate as compensation,” Secretary Haskill said. “The Code has already been set aside for those with a Blessing in plants or stone. It’s archaic to insist those Blessed to heal body or mind – priceless skills! – must follow it.”

“‘Priceless’,” Nik repeated. “Rather the point, isn’t it?”

“A figure of speech. It ought to have a price; the existing system is unfair to the Blessed.”

“It’s as the Savior intended, Brennan,” Mrs. Haskill said.

At the head of the table, Justin cleared his throat. “Unfortunately, it’s a system that offers no incentive for a Blessed man to develop his talents. Certainly some—” he inclined his dark head to Nik “—do so anyway. But how many Blessed content themselves with the easy cures they are born to, and never exert themselves to do more? If the Blessed were permitted to charge a realistic fee for their services, they would be far more motivated to expand their powers. Learning to regrow a man’s leg when sailors will repay you in grog… well, it’s not much of a trade.”

Nikola tightened his fingers against the stem of his wineglass, then forced them to relax. “If you were standing on a dock beside a life preserver, and a man was drowning in the water before you, would you throw the life preserver to him?”

Justin’s dark eyes met his across the table. “Lord Nikola, this is not—”

“I ask,” Nik interrupted, “Would you give him the life preserver? Or would you first calculate the value of his life in marks and eighths, and demand that he ransom himself with the appropriate sum? If he were a beggar or an orphan, would you leave him to drown? If he were an old man, would you give him a discount because he didn’t have much life left anyway?”

“It is very well to be moved by a higher calling, but not all men are. Surely you as much as anyone are aware that the Blessed desire shelter, clothing, and to provide for their families?”

“Lord Comfrey.” Nikola leaned forward, raising his voice. “If I were penniless—” and you know how near that is to truth, don’t you? “—and drowning, would you save me?

Justin looked at him as if he were a particularly obstinate pupil. “You know I would. But that is not a fair comparison—”

“It is the only fair comparison.” Nik leaned back in the ornate dining room chair. “The Savior has seen fit to give me an ample supply of life preservers. To hold that supply for ransom, only to be given to those who could meet some arbitrary price, would be an abomination.” Everyone was watching him now, some with pity and some with a shining respect bordering on hero-worship, and Nik felt a bone-grinding weariness at being misunderstood. Enough. I am neither a saint nor a martyr.

He was rescued from the silence that followed by the dessert course of spiced baked pears nestled in pastry and drizzled in chocolate. It was delectable enough to distract the company and restore an amiable mood before they adjourned to the gaming room.
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Subject:Lord Justin Comfrey (12/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 012

Anthser carried him to Comfrey Manor at a walk so sedate that Nik asked, “Are you worn out from the run earlier? I could ask Jill or Gunther to take me.”

The black warcat shook his head glumly. “No, m’lord.” The smooth stone streets were well-lit by gaslamps in this part of Gracehaven. Tall trees flanked the streets, steelwood and marble buildings large and elegant on well-tended lots, light shining out through myriad wide glass windows.

“What’s the matter? You’re not still upset about the scramble on that roof, are you?”

“Oh, no, m’lord. It’s my life’s ambition to get you killed, y’know. I figure ‘splattered last employer taking stupid risks with his life’ will look great on a letter of recommendation.”

“Don’t be silly, Anthser. That fall wouldn’t kill me. What, forty feet? Nowhere near far enough to die.”

Anthser swiveled an ear. “Rrr. Maybe not.”

“Fracture some bones, sure. Perhaps break my neck or cause serious hemorrhaging. But die? Nonsense.” Nik waved aside the idea. “Almost certainly someone could get me to a man with an efficacious Blessing before the punctured lungs would prove deadly.”

The greatcat wrinkled his muzzle. “Thanks. I think.”

“Any time.” They reached Lord Comfrey’s courtyard – even at a walk, Anthser could outpace a man jogging – and Nik slid down at the top of the front steps. “Anthser.” The black greatcat would not quite meet his eye; Nik circled in front of him to catch it. “Thank you for taking stupid risks with my life to cheer me up. I appreciate it. Also, I did not fall, and I trust your judgment, and it wasn’t stupid.”

Anthser grumbled something about humans who were too foolish to know what was good for them, and bumped his head against Nik’s chest. “You gonna be here until some ridiculous hour like usual?”

“I expect so. Get some sleep at his felishome, or go home if you like – I’m sure I won’t leave before one at the earliest, and likely not until three.”

“Hrrf. Home’s a hundred thirty miles away.” Anthser glanced westward, to distant Fireholt. “I’ll get some catnip at Vendrigar’s and come back by one. Maybe with enough catnip in me, Comfrey’s greatcats will be bearable company.” He gave a mock shudder that made his dark fur ripple. Nik shook his head with a chuckle, and rapped on the door as his warcat strode away into the night.


§



Nikola was early enough that Justin wasn’t ready for visitors when he arrived; the butler showed him to a cozy parlor to wait. Nik selected a book at random from an end table and turned pages without following what he read, his mind elsewhere, until a noise at the door drew his attention.

“Hello, Striker.” Justin smiled as his eyes lit on Nik. “You don’t know how good it is to see you again. Thanks for coming.” He strode forward, clasping Nik’s hand as the other man rose to meet him. “I feel quite the heel, turning down your mother’s last two invitations, but I’ve been swamped. I need to delegate more or something. I don’t suppose you’d be seeking gainful employment?” His dark eyes sparkled.

Nik shook his head, his gloved hand still in Justin’s bare one. “I don’t think so. Just being in Gracehaven stirs up enough trouble for me.” At almost six feet tall, Lord Comfrey was a few inches shorter than Nik, but Justin’s powerful, muscular frame made Nik feel like a reed to his oak. Justin had long, straight black hair, the front section pulled back from his face and gathered in a herringbone braid, the rest left loose to flow down his scarlet jacket to the small of his back. A few silver hairs threaded the black, though at thirty Justin could not be considered to have earned them. His skin was the warm golden brown of Newlanture heritage; thick eyebrows gave his handsome angular face a closed, saturnine look even when he was smiling.

“Hah. Is your mother still trying to fix a wife upon you?” Justin clasped Nik’s shoulder for a moment before releasing him, gesturing to the chair behind him before seating himself.

Nik rolled his eyes and sank back into his chair. “Worse than ever. I daresay Mother set her own agenda back a few days by taking an instant dislike to her latest candidate.”

“Indeed?” Justin smirked as he took the chair opposite. “What did the poor girl do?”

‘I prefer a difficult truth to a convenient fiction.’ “She was honest.”

“Ah! An unforgivable failing in any woman. Or man, for that matter. Whatever would we do if people were honest? How would politicians garner votes, or courtiers curry favor, or business deals close? Society would collapse. I can see why such a fault concerned your mother.” Justin kicked up his feet to rest them on an ottoman, legs crossed.

“This must be why you get on with Mother better than I do.”

“No, I get on with her better than you do because I’ve never had to live with her. You know, Striker, you can always stay with me while you’re in Gracehaven. Savior knows I’ve space enough.”

“I know.”

“But you won’t.”

Nikola hesitated. You don’t have time to entertain another houseguest. My petitioners would be an imposition on both you and your staff. I don’t want to be your obligation. “My parents would never let me hear the end of it if I stayed with someone else while visiting the city.”

Justin shrugged. “Suit yourself. Or them, as you please. But you only encourage your parents when you humor them.”

You humor them.”

Justin laughed. “They amuse me. Your problem is you feel some silly obligation to take their whims seriously.”

Easy for you to say, when your parents aren’t around to torment you. That would be unkind to say aloud, so Nik asked instead, “Who else is joining us this evening? I neglected to ask the messenger.”

Justin did not resist the change of subject. “Secretary Haskill and Mrs. Haskill, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Lavert – have you met them? – and Lady Dalsterly and her granddaughter, Miss Dalsterly.” He paused. “Great-granddaughter? I think great-granddaughter. Anyway, you understand. To make the genders even.”

Nik laughed. “Did you truly invite Lady Dalsterly to make the numbers?”

“Mrs. Haskill is Very Keen that such things be Done Properly.” Justin’s eyes glinted. “Besides, I figured you’d want someone you could talk to. Other than me.”

“I see. So is this little gathering business or politics?”

“If I admit ‘both’, will you flee?”

“It’s too late for me to make my escape. I already let Anthser go off to intoxicate himself. Have you ever ridden a nipped warcat? He tries to roll over and get me to rub his belly. While I’m on his back.”

Justin grinned at the image. “In that case – both. Sorry. I need to close this contract with Lavert so he can get his ships out of port, and we can’t do that until Customs clears his cargo, which they’re holding under a series of ridiculous pretexts which I suspect amount to ‘some tinpot bureaucrat has taken a dislike to Lavert and/or one of his underlings’. Hence: the hope that Secretary Haskill will expedite the matter.”

“Sounds exciting,” Nik said, dryly.

“It’s not my favorite—” A knock at the parlor door interrupted him, and Justin called, “Yes?”

“Secretary and Mrs. Haskill have arrived, m’lord,” the butler informed them.

Justin sighed. “Thank you. We’ll meet them in the stiff parlor.” He swung his feet off the ottoman and stood. “I promise the evening won’t be all business and politicking, Striker.”
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Subject:Still Uncovered
Time:08:00 am
But inching closer. These are my two contenders at present; I can't quite making up my mind whether I like the nested "A Rational" or not. I think it looks a little more elegant and is a little less readable. Hrmph.

         

alinsa wanted to take a stab at it, so I will see what she comes up with before I make my final decision. But I don't think I'll be making any more significant changes myself. Perhaps fiddling with the teaser text.
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Subject:Old Friends (11/141)
Time:01:46 pm
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The Strikers’ townhome in Gracehaven was a centuries-old edifice. It had been entailed on Nik’s family line ever since Newlant had restored titles and property to the disenfranchised Havenset nobility in the year 576. It had been something of a legal curiosity at that time, since the Anverlee Town Manor had not been part of the Anverlee County entailment when Newlant took Anverleee from Havenset hands and gave it to a Newlanter in the year 484. But since the Newlanter Count of Anverlee had added it to the entailment when he built it, the courts had ruled it part of the estate when it was returned to the Havenset line.

In the four centuries since its original construction, the property had accrued additions, new façades, modernizations, and the occasional subtraction. It had four stories and well over ten thousand square feet of floor space, including a petitioner’s hall, a ballroom, a great dining room, a private dining room, two kitchens, four parlors, a library, two studies, a gaming room, a schoolroom, nursery, eight private suites, seven guest bedrooms, servants’ quarters on the fourth floor, as well as a detached temple and greatcat quarters in the “new” (as of the eighth century) felishome on the grounds behind. Its two acres of surrounding grounds included stands of apple and pear trees, flower beds, and honeybee hives. The property was ringed by a seven foot stone wall that Anthser jumped rather than bothering to open the wrought iron gate.

Between the town manor and the even larger county seat, Anverlee was sliding into bankruptcy.

Newlant’s entailment laws meant that the properties could be neither sold nor mortgaged. They required a small army of servants to maintain in style: one could not have honeybee hives without a beekeeper, or an orchard without groundsmen. Lord Striker insisted on keeping up appearances, and Lady Striker refused to let faithful retainers – some of whose families had served Anverlee for generations – be sent away. Half the rooms were kept locked, their furnishings already stripped and sold for cash. His father had assigned the rents from the county tenants as security on a half-dozen different loans. How that income was to repay loans when it had been insufficient to pay the original expenses, Nikola had no notion. His father could seldom be induced to discuss Anverlee’s finances; Nik had only learned of the rent-secured loans because the last institution Lord Striker tried to borrow from had insisted on the heir’s signature as guarantor. Nik suspected that the full picture of Anverlee’s situation was worse yet; his father’s assurances to the contrary had an unconvincing lack of details, and the rush to find him a rich bride suggested a certain desperation.

Fireholt, Nik’s personal holding, despite or perhaps because of its far more modest dimensions, was in better condition financially. Nik had little more talent for managing money than his parents, but he was better at not spending it. He didn’t care if he wore the same suit twice in one season, or twice in one week for that matter, and he didn’t care for expensive baubles and adornments either. He did not host large house parties, not because he didn’t like them but because he refused to borrow money for the purpose of entertaining. He did maintain the same staff he had inherited from his great-grandmother with the property, but she had not kept a large retinue. The rents from his tenants were thus sufficient to his needs, if not ample. In truth, Anverlee’s problems were the creation of Lord and Lady Striker, and not Nikola’s either to make or resolve. It was perfectly reasonable to behave that way.

All it required was for Nik to be indifferent to the fate of his parents, and the homes he’d grown up in, and the people who had spent their lives in service to Anverlee.

The problem, Nik reflected, as he snuck in through a side entrance, is not that I have no choice. It’s that I have no good choice. On the way to his suite, he stopped a passing footman. “William, would you please find Lord Comfrey’s messenger and bid him tell Lord Comfrey I’ll be very happy to join him tonight? And let my lord and lady know I will be out this evening.” The footman bowed acquiescence. “Also, if you see Jill, please tell her I’d like to speak with her. At her leisure.”

After dressing for supper, Nikola retreated to the unfurnished back parlor on the second floor, where he curled up in the window seat after dusting it off with a handkerchief. He hoped to avoid another confrontation with his parents by not being where anyone would look for him, and reasoned Jill probably wouldn’t try to find him tonight. He’d brought a book, but he didn’t open it: he gazed out the window instead. It faced onto a slope of the backyard, and what view it had once possessed was cut off by the wall around the grounds and the blocky backside of the neighboring manor – the unfortunate view was one of the reasons this parlor had been consigned to disuse. Three greatkittens and two human children – all offspring of Anverlee’s servants – played together despite the additional gloom twilight gave to an already dreary day. Nik watched them tumble down the slope, shrieking with laughter, then race to the top to do it again.

The creak of the door opening caught Nik’s attention, and he turned to see Jill’s big head poke in. “Hey-o, Lord Nik.” The manor predated greatcats by two hundred years, but it had been built on so generous a scale that even Jill didn’t need to duck or squirm to get through doors. She did fill the frame, though.

“Hello, Jill. Please, come in and shut the door.”

She did so, pawing the door closed with a hindleg. “Hiding?”

“Yes. Badly, I gather, but I wasn’t hiding from you in any case.”

“Awww.” She drooped ears and whiskers in a mock-pout. “Here I had my hopes all up. You haven’t wanted me to play hide-and-seek in years.”

A smile flashed over his face. “You always did win.”

Jill padded halfway across the dusty floor before lying down, long blue-gray form comfortably stretched out on the hardwood. “So what’s ruffling your fur today?” she asked. “Girl didn’t take to you?”

Nik barked a laugh. “I have not the least idea, though I’d guess not. Hardly matters: my parents did an about-face and decided they detested her.”

“Mrrph.” Jill rubbed the side of her head against the floorboards, smearing dust on her cheek. “They could’ve figured that out earlier and saved us some trouble.”

Nik shrugged and changed the subject. “Actually, I wanted to ask a favor – I need a message run to 3915 Dale Court. I, er, damaged the building’s roof earlier today and I’d like to compensate the owners for it.”

Jill’s eyebrow whiskers lifted. “What did you do to the roof?”

“Nothing serious. A few shingles need replacing. I’d send Anthser, but I suspect he’d feel guilty—”

“Why would Anthser feel guilty?”

Nik went on without answering the interruption. “—or a footman, but Father rebuked me for asking you to convey a request to one of my people. And I’d rather it didn’t get back to my parents. So I could ask Shelby, but I hate to ask him to walk so far and if he’s going to ride I might as well have a greatcat take the message. Also, I’d prefer the family name was not connected to the incident. Which is why I can’t do it myself either.” He paused. “I’m over-thinking this, aren’t I?”

“You’re human,” Jill said, dismissively. “Why would Anthser feel guilty?”

Nik tugged his ponytail over one shoulder. “Well. He was…involved. But on my orders. My responsibility.”

Jill’s whiskers flared, amused. She licked one broad paw. “How do you know I won’t tell your father? I work for him.”

“Yes… but you’re my friend.”

She rumbled with a purring laugh, rubbing her paw over her face and licking it again as she washed the dust streaks off. “Sure. I’ll take care of it for you. Out of livery. You want to give me money for it now or bring back a bill to settle?”

He produced a wallet from the inner pocket of his jacket. “Now is simpler.” Jill pawed open the magnetic clasp on one of her harness pouches and rose to accept the money. Nik counted out a handful of large bills. “This should cover the damage, and this is for your trouble.”

“Mrrr-hmm.” She swung her big head down to meet his eyes. “You don’t have to bribe me to be your friend, kid.”

“Yes, and you don’t have to run my errands to be mine.”

“Fair nuf.” Jill patted his leg with one broad paw. “Going to see Lord Comfrey tonight?”

He smiled. “Yes.”

“Good. You have fun now. Try not to wreck any buildings on the way over.”

“I’ll try. Good evening, Jill.”

The greatcat nosed at his head affectionately, and padded out.

Nik glanced into his nearly-empty wallet with a sigh before tucking it away and looking out the window again. It was full dark now, and the children had all gone inside. He checked his pocket watch, and decided it was close enough to the time of the invitation that he could leave now and be unfashionably early.
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Subject:May Wrap-Up
Time:01:16 pm
Almost halfway through the year and I am still on track with these posts!

Health/Fitness
May was the month of All The Rain. I probably did less than 150 miles on my bike the entire month, and I was insufficiently motivated to do indoor biking. But this weekend was clear and I got out both days, and this week should be good for biking too. Yay!

My diet is not improved. Weight remains about the same.

Writing
I wrote 5 LJ posts: one wrap-up and four related to publishing serializing RA. This is my life now. Somehow it takes more time to publically serialize my finished novel than when I was simultaneously writing the book and serializing it for my beta readers. How does that even work?

I did write a little original fiction: two short scenes in Birthright. And made some more notes for another scene.

Note to self: keep writing original fiction. You've got a plane ride in June to write during anyway.

The Business of Writing

All the business! I started serializing A Rational Arrangement ij the second week of May, as anyone who is reading this has probably noticed.

I terrycloth came up with a publisher name for me: Delight in Books! So now I can do all that paperwork stuff that alinsa researched for me. I have already begun this, by getting an EIN! Which only took 6 minutes, so didn't hurt at all. The Fictitious Name Registration took a little longer, but still not bad.

Art/Other
I did 23 more headers in May. Officially, I didn't do any headers this weekend. Instead, I worked on cover art. After letting it rest for a while, I decided I liked the papercut-like image of the three dancers after all. Still fiddling with the text.

Gaming
Uhhh ... I think I killed the Elect PBEM again. Dangit, I knew I was forgetting something. >.<

Terrycloth found an adaptation of the boardgame "Small World" for online play. I never liked this game two-player, but I have been playing tons of it (usually making Alinsa and/or Terry play with me) online with additional bot players.

Socializing
I went to LA at the beginning of May, to see alinsa and level_head, and a fantastic Nightwish/Sabaton/Delain concert. We also saw the California Science Museum, which had the space shuttle Enterprise on display. Not as cool as seeing Alinsa or Level Head, but still pretty impressive. n.n

I have done nothing else with friends other than Lut in RL since. Ahhhh, the hermit life.

Happiness
I was more stressed in May than in April. The impossibility of Doing Everything weighs on me more than usual, perhaps because I feel like I've been been actually trying. If I'm frittering half my free time on games or webbrowsing, I can imagine I'd get everything done if I just stopped wasting time. When I actually value all the ways I spend my time, I can no longer say that.

On the bright side, I value all the ways I spend my time. So that's cool.

So, still pretty happy with life, and pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction so far to A Rational Arrangement. Thank you, everyone. ♥
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Subject:Cover Poll, Part 2
Time:07:52 am
The "three figures dancing" was more popular than any of my other choices from the previous poll on the cover for A Rational Arrangement, so I've been working on that one. I fixed the ratio* first, and added a bit of the heretofore unseen dancers on the right and left, and made a few adjustments to the figures. I also fiddled a lot with the background in an effort to make the text would stand out better and to make the whole thing look better when it's shrunk down to thumbnail size. This meant ditching my beloved parchment background, which I've used for all the headers so far**. Oh, and tuftears and archangelbeth both suggested putting the frame at the very edge of the image, so I did that.

Then I tried text layout again, and branched out from Amazone to experiment with some less-script-like and possibly-more-readable fonts. Also a few different layout choices. archangelbeth suggested both making the word "Arrangement" more prominent and putting the author name at the top, so I did samples with those. I think I personally prefer the author name at the bottom. I am not sure about making "Arrangement" the dominant word: I think the significant word in the title is "Rational", myself.

Anyway, I've got four different variants now, I figure I can do a new poll!

You should be able to click on the images to see the full size versions on Flickr. I've thumbnailed them at the size Amazon displays thumbnails on its main page.

Poll #2012821 Cover Layout!

Which of these are your favorites?

Amazone typeface, alternate layout
4(14.8%)
Harrington typeface
8(29.6%)
Amazone typeface, first layout
9(33.3%)
Chisel D typeface
6(22.2%)

Which of the following elements do you prefer?

Author name on top
3(5.8%)
Author name on bottom
13(25.0%)
Nesting "A Rational" into "Arrangement" (e.g., a very large "A" for Arrangement)
11(21.2%)
"Arrangement" as dominant word
5(9.6%)
"Rational" as dominant word
3(5.8%)
Amazone typeface
5(9.6%)
Chisel D typeface
3(5.8%)
Harrington typeface
9(17.3%)


@fullaquirkes on Twitter pointed out that I didn't order the images by typeface, or clearly label them. Ack. The images in the poll are:

1. Amazone
2. Harrington
3. Amazone (again)
4. Chisel D

* Amazon's Kindle site has one ratio in the guidelines for uploading to the site, and a different ratio that they actually display at and that everybody else uses. I dunno what's up with that.

** I am resisting the urge to replace the backdrop for all the existing headers to match the cover. This way lies madness.
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Subject:Just Whistle (10/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 010

Wisteria was in her office at Vasilver Manor, examining inventors’ reports and funding requests. The work engrossed her enough to drive thoughts of Anverlee and the Strikers from her mind. She held a whistle in one hand and was studying a report on it when her brother poked his head through the half-open door. “Teeri? Ah, there you are.” He let himself in, flopping onto the couch. “How’d the Big Meeting go?”

She considered the question without looking up from the paper. “Better than our original negotiations with the Kyr in Southern Vandu.”

“Oh, good. So they’re not going to exile us from the country or take any relations hostage? Top concern of mine.”

“I believe you may rest easy on those counts, yes.”

“Superb. So…a lot better, or a little better?” Her brother rose, hands stuffed in his pockets, and paced. He looked a lot like her, a long-limbed body and a long face, with their father’s Haventure-curly hair and their mother’s darker Newlanture complexion.

“Only a little better. Father thinks it was a disaster.”

“And what do you think it was?”

“How would I know?”

“Seriously, Teeri. You’ve excellent judgement and you know it.”

“Not when it comes to judging emotional reactions. And you know that, Byron.”

Byron stopped pacing and put his hands on her desk. He leaned over it, watching her and waiting. At length, Wisteria set the paper and whistle down and leaned back. “I mortally offended Lady Striker and Lord Striker. Lord Nikola asked to call again. I don’t know if he was serious.”

“Mph. Hope he wasn’t.”

“Your lack-of-support is noted.”

“Father and Mother can be eager to see you wed if they like, but don’t see why I’d want to lose my sister and my company’s best analyst to some ignorant penurious titled twit.” Byron fell into a chair before her massive U-shaped desk and extended one long arm to toy idly with the items atop its return.

“The idea is to gain a brother, not lose a sister. I want to get married, Byron. Not die. And Anverlee is cash-strapped, not penurious. They have considerable wealth in illiquid assets.”

“‘Illiquid’ is just a fancy word for ‘worthless’.” His fingers played over the whistle Wisteria had been examining earlier.

Wisteria tilted her head at him. “Do you doubt my analysis now?”

He made a face at her. “No. Just…grumpy.” He hesitated for a long moment, then added, “Am I allowed to be both insulted that they rejected my beautiful brilliant sister and also relieved you won’t be going anywhere?”

“‘Allowed’? Can anyone stop you?” Wisteria asked, amused.

Byron laughed. “Doubt it.” He turned the whistle over in his hand. “Didn’t have your heart set on this lordling, did you?”

“Of course not. I’d never even been introduced to him before.” All right, so he was tall and lithe and strikingly handsome and took my breath away. That was not ‘having my heart set on him’. I may not be an expert on the subject – more of an unwilling amateur – but I am pretty sure that is engaging another part of my anatomy entirely. Wisteria had done due diligence on both Anverlee and Lord Nikola before suggesting the idea to her father, and had proposed it on the strength of the business alliance. It was a good match; some of Anverlee’s cash problems were the result of shockingly bad money management – the sort that Wisteria could remedy given the opportunity – and Vasilver Trading could make good use of Anverlee and Fireholt’s tangible assets. It wasn’t about Lord Nikola himself. Not…not truly.

Maybe a little. Lord Nikola had an interesting reputation: one part typical lordly dilettante, regarded as a flirt and something of a rake in society. Yet he also held the rarest Blessing: the ability to cure disorders of the mind. More than that, by all accounts he was a scrupulous servant of the Code; he treated to the best of his ability any who asked, and accepted in return any gift they offered, however humble. That was the sort of thing one often heard about the Blessed – ‘How generous they are! How noble!’ – and Wisteria had not given it much credence at first. But further investigation substantiated the claim. There were four Newlant residents whose Blessing treated mental disorders. No Blessing was perfect: there were always people who did not respond to treatment, no matter who the Blessed was. But among the other three mind-healers, Wisteria estimated that they helped between a quarter and half of those who sought treatment.

Lord Nikola succored between three-quarters and four-fifths.

The difference in initial reports was so stark Wisteria had found different individuals to study the subjects and sent them back to take additional samples on different days. It didn’t even reflect the fact that Lord Nikola – by his own command! – saw every newborn in Fireholt, in case they had some defect that might be easier to remedy if caught early. He spent more time with his petitioners, too: the typical treatment time was under a minute for the others with the same Blessing. For Lord Nikola, it was closer to eight minutes. Of course, there were other factors involved – in isolated Fireholt and even in Anverlee, fewer people made the trip to see him than did to, say, the much more populous Gracehaven or Hollinshaven. But even with fewer petitioners, he helped more people total, and spent far more time at it. Wisteria could not tell, of course, if it was that his Blessing was more potent than others, or if he was more skilled, or if others were less inclined to help those of poor means. The estimated value of the gifts received suggested the last was a factor, but Wisteria felt her data on the value of gifts was unreliable. It was a fascinating puzzle, one she wished she could justify more research into.

Of course, being a good mind-healer did not mean he’d make a good husband, or anything like it. His status as a dilettante and flirt said more negative about how he would treat a wife than his use of his Blessing said at all. And yet… Be honest. Had you only wanted a business alliance, you would have proposed that, not engagement. You want more than a household of your own and children to raise. You want a handsome man who’d make love to you, who would sate all those desires you are not supposed to have much less talk about. And you hoped this one would be desperate enough to take you. Well, he’s not. Put it out of your head.

Belatedly, Wisteria realized that she’d ignored her brother’s reply – something to the effect of ‘That’s good’. “Still with me, sis?” he asked now, before he put the whistle to his mouth and blew on it to get her attention. It made no apparent noise apart from the faint sound of his breath. Puzzled, he tried again, with the same result. He shook the item, then peered into it. “Say, what is this?”

“A new kind of whistle. One of our inventors, Mr. Bandersmith, has been working on it.”

“Well, tell him to keep working. Don’t think he’s got the hang of it yet.” Byron blew again, to no evident effect. “What’s it supposed to do?”

“Make a sound that humans can’t hear.”

“A silent whistle! Why, the applications are obvious. Why has no one thought of this before?” Byron laughed and blew it again. “You didn’t deliberately fund development on a whistle that makes no noise, did you?”

A greatcat with grey-tiger coloration and ears flat against her scalp slipped her head into the room. “Miss? Sir? Did you just hear that?”

“No,” Wisteria said to Byron. “It makes a noise. That we can’t hear.” She leaned forward to pluck the whistle from his hand. “Did you mean this, Sally?” Wisteria demonstrated it.

Sally winced, squirming through the door with her tail lashing. “Yes! Saints help us, are you making that awful sound on purpose?”

Wisteria stopped. “Is it very bad?”

“Hideous. I came in from the felishome to see what was causing it. The others were hoping it would stop on its own. You really can’t hear it?”

“Not at all.”

“Lucky you.”

Wisteria looked down at the whistle. “Mr. Bandersmith said it had considerable range. He suggested it be employed to notify greatcat servants when their services were required.”

The black-and-gray greatcat’s ears remained flat. “Can I notify you how I feel about that by sharpening my claws on a chalkboard?”

“It’s truly so unpleasant?”

“If it’s staying, I’m going,” Sally said.

“I expect I’ll tell him it doesn’t appear ready for mass distribution yet.”

“Thank you, Miss Vasilver.” With a slight bow, the greatcat withdrew.

“Guess the applications are obvious.” Byron rubbed the back of his neck.

“Yes. Pity the target market hates it.” Wisteria dropped the whistle and its attendant papers back into a large envelope. She’d confirm Sally’s opinion of it with the other greatcats on staff later.

“Technically, the market’s human employers, not greatcats.”

“Do you know, I was talking about this very subject earlier today?”

“What, silent whistles?”

“No. About how important it is for the long-term health of a business that its transactions benefit all involved parties.”

Byron held up his hands. “All right, all right, I yield. Send him back to his drafting table.”

Wisteria pulled the next report from its package. “Did you come for any particular purpose, Byron? Because if you’re just bored, I’m sure I can find some work for you.”

“No, no, quite enough on my desk already, thank you. Just wanted to see how you were doing.”

“I am well, thank you. But…”

Byron paused, half-risen from his chair. “Yes?”

“If Mother or David or Mitchell wants to know how the meeting went, would you discourage them from asking me?”

He answered with a nod, then took his leave.
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Subject:Company Name Poll, Now with Actually Good Choices
Time:09:59 pm
I checked the suggestions from my name poll (all of which are IMO better than anything I offered) and terrycloth offered the BEST NAME EVER.

Seriously, I love this name. It is a name so good that I actually want to publish books*! I need to write more books JUST SO I CAN PRINT THEM UNDER THIS COMPANY NAME.

It is:

Delight in Books

Is it not nifty?




Okay, so it may be just me who thinks this is the awesome name of awesome. For those of you who don't know, I used to write a World Tree fanfic under delight_in_wt. The title character changed her name frequently (a common trait for members of her species in the World Tree setting), but her names had the general format of "Delight in [Whatever]". The name thus has personal meaning for me. Beyond that, it leads easily to imprint names: I can call the business "Delight in Books" and the imprint for A Rational Arrangement can be "Delight in Romances". ("Delight in Fantasies" might sound too erotica for a fantasy imprint, though. Still!)

But since I had some other new ideas too, and there's some small chance that someone could talk me out of "Delight in Books", I'm doing another poll.

After haikujaguar pointed out that it was not a great idea for the publisher name to be easily mistaken for the first book I'm publishing, it struck me that what I liked about "Rational Romances" was not just the alliteration, but the seeming (not actual) dissonance between the two ideas. So I'm listing some riffs off of that, which have the virtue of not sounding like my book title. But no alliteration. Not sure I like them.

And I'm including the other three suggestions I got from the last poll (thanks also to tuftears for "Vasilver Enterprises", siege for "Comfrey House" and whitefangedwolf for "Greatcat Press"). Because I was serious when I said all the suggestions were better than my original choices.

Poll #2012575 New Improved Publishing Company Name Poll

What should Rowyn name her publishing house and/or imprint?

Delight in Books
16(44.4%)
Practical Romances
1(2.8%)
Sensible Romances
0(0.0%)
Logical Romances
0(0.0%)
Vasilver Enterprises
5(13.9%)
Comfrey House
6(16.7%)
Greatcat Press
8(22.2%)

Assuming I pick "Delight in Books" as my business name, should I use "Delight in Romances" as the imprint name for RA?

Yes! Make an imprint called "Delight in Romances".
9(56.2%)
No, "Delight in Books" is too perfect by itself to be diluted.
7(43.8%)



* The more time I spend on this whole "publishing A Rational Arrangement" thing, the more I am ahhhhh what am I doing why did I think this was a good idea ahhhhhhhhhhh
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Subject:Uncovered
Time:02:56 pm
One of the other things* I need before I can publish is a cover. I started work on this a couple of months ago, found it depressing and overwhelming, and gave up for a while. Friday I decided to take another stab at it. Today I figured I would post about it and see what people think.

My first concept was simple -- black background, white text, three riings to symbolize "polyamorous romance". I was appalled by the first attempt and decided to try a different color scheme.  I'm putting this one up mainly because Lut liked the black & white color scheme better than the one I preferred.  The "three rings" are from a public domain photo.



The brown-and-gold one below is the first one I considered adequate. The ring image is a modified version of this photo by Jeff Belmonte, which is licensed on CC 2.0.



After doing the one above, I spend some time thinking about what image I'd want if I used an illustration instead of a symbol.  I looked at other romance covers for inspiration. This cover, for The Wrong Mr. Wright, made me think of showing the three protagonists dancing, which is even something that happens in the book. And then I gave up for a while, because my art skillz are not remotely qualified to do a realistic painting.

But since I've been doing all the header illustrations, I figured I could try doing the same style for a cover illustration. I spent Friday and today working at it.  It doesn't look like it would take that long, does it?



Also, somehow the ratio on it is different from the others. I am not sure what happened there.

The typeface is Amazone BT (squished and re-kerned here and there). I made a list of 27 different fonts that I already owned and liked for the cover, and then every time I went to actually do the lettering, I used Amazone BT instead of trying one of the others. I dunno what's up with that.

None of these are exactly done; for instance, on the last one I don't like the way the title text interacts with the background arches (I spent a lot of time on those arches! Grrrr backgrounds. Now I have to spend more time on them, or possibly just rip them out. You will see more of these in a future header, and Now You Know Why. Because I am not going to have wasted all that time drawing them.)

Here's a poll if you want to pick your favorite(s):

Which of the three do you think works best as the cover for a polyamorous fantasy romance novel?

Black & white with three rings
0(0.0%)
Brown & gold with three rings
3(18.8%)
Illustration of three protagonists dancing
13(81.2%)


Suggestions welcome! (Though I may not take them, due to time/money/psych lim contraints.)

* There are so many things, you guys. So. Many. THINGS.
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Subject:Publishing!
Time:01:06 pm
[Edit: I've closed this poll because I've made a new poll here with MUCH BETTER options.)

I plan to self-publish A Rational Arrangement in June, and want to have a name for my publishing business. Since I plan to publish under a pseudonym (it's easier to use my existing hand than it is to establish a web presence under my real name), I need to register some name with the state anyway, so I might as well register a publishing company and make it all official-like. I Are a Real Business!

Step one of this (very complicated) process:

Pick a name.

... right.

Since I am not attached to any of the names I've come up with thus far, I figured I would use the time-honored Make It A Poll approach*!

Poll #2012549 Publishing Company Name Poll!
This poll is closed.

What should Rowyn name her publishing house and/or imprint?

Rowyn Press
1(7.7%)
Rational Romance Books
1(7.7%)
Comfrey Press
6(46.2%)
Finally Books
3(23.1%)
Great Unnamed Publishing House
2(15.4%)

Oh no these are all terrible please give me a better alternative /o_o\



I do kinda like "Rational Romance" (which was alinsa's idea), but I am concerned it sounds like "romance for rationalists", which is not what I am writing. (Nothing against rationalists!) Also, only particularly applicable to this one book. On the other hand, I can always make another publisher name, and probably will want to regardless because publishing lines are associated with genre, and I don't only write romances.

* I do not promise to use whichever name gets the most votes.
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Subject:A Nice Run (9/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 009

At last, Nik managed to extricate himself from their well-wishes and headed away with Anthser. “You’re covered in fur, Lord Nik,” the warcat observed. As a member of Nik’s personal retinue, he wore a livery cloak in Fireholt’s colors of black and orange under a riding seat.

“I know. Thank you.”

“And limping.”

“My leg went to sleep.”

“They couldn’t bring her to petitions tomorrow morning?”

“Are you trying to sound like my father, or is that a side benefit?” At the base of the steelwood staircase in front of the building, Nik fished a lint brush from the pocket of his overcoat and scrubbed the top layer of loose fur from his breeches, then slipped off the overcoat to do the same to it. The result was a little unkempt on close inspection, but would not draw the eye of the casual observer.

Anthser waited without further comment until Nik shrugged back into his overcoat and gloves and started down the street. “Are you well, my lord?”

“Yes. I just want to walk some life back into my leg.”

The sleek black warcat paced Nik effortlessly. Anthser was much smaller than Jill, a little over five feet at the shoulder, and his walking stance put his head level with Nik’s shoulder. “Everything all right, then?”

“I wouldn’t go that far. How are my parents?”

Anthser paused. “Like themselves.”

“So. Father is upset because I won’t grow up and act my part, and mother is… how long has it been since I left the carriage?”

“Couple hours?”

“Then mother is blaming everyone but me for my actions and planning some kind of apologetic gesture, in all likelihood for dinner tomorrow.”

The big cat shrugged. “Sounds about right.”

“I suppose I have a few days’ reprieve before they find another wealthy heiress to hurl me at. Do you have any good news, Anthser?”

“Lord Comfrey sent an invitation. Supper and billiards this evening, with his compliments and apologies for the short notice.”

At last! Nik tried to restrain his smile to a tolerable level of reserve. “Splendid. Any note with the invitation?”

“No, m’lord. His messenger is at the manor, awaiting your answer.”

“Well. Let’s not keep him waiting any longer.” Nik stopped and set a hand on the riding seat.

Anthser’s whiskers twitched in amusement as he lay down so Nik could mount. “Yes, m’lord. Would m’lord like a nice run back?”

Nik smirked. “M’lord would.” The cat twisted his head to unhook a bag from the harness beneath his cloak, and raised it to Nik’s hand. The human retrieved a riding helmet, boots, and a padded coat with reinforced elbows, exchanged them for his current outerwear, and mounted. The riding seat cradled him, legs bent and tucked close to the warcat’s flanks, and Nik leaned forward to wrap his hands around the handles in the harness at the base of Anthser’s neck. “Proceed at will, Fel Fireholt.”

Anthser surged to his feet and rocketed forward with a pounce, landing on cat-light bent legs with such smoothness that what shock was transmitted barely jarred Nik. The warcat raced up the street, weaving around carriages pulled by greatcats as well as handwagons and donkey-drawn carts. At one intersection several blocks later, a greatcat was pulling a vegetable cart across as they reached it: rather than slowing, Anthser sped up and leapt over the cart. “Crazy warcat!” the lead greatcat on a coach snarled as Anthser landed mere inches from her. Nik flashed her a grin as the warcat purred, and they flew onward.

“Maybe the streets of Gracehaven are too crowded for a nice run,” Nik said in Anthser’s ear, snug against his back as they zigged through the narrow space between two carriages.

“M’lord has the right of it, no doubt.” Anthser eyed the buildings alongside them before he darted to the gutter, and from there leaped to a second-floor balcony. A few bounds took them across the balcony, where he jumped the rail to land on the roof of the building beside it. Claws skittered against shingles as he ran to the top of the sloped roof and jumped to the flat roof of the three-story building adjacent. They bounced from rooftop to rooftop for a good mile, Anthser vaulting alleyways and narrow streets, Nik laughing aloud from the rush of adrenalin and speed. Anthser cut a sharp corner when the current rooftop ended over a four-lane boulevard, and veered to the right to continue the race.

The jump across a two-lane street from a three-story building to a four-story did not daunt him: Anthser attempted it without pause. His forelegs landed on the far roof and pulled forward, while hindquarters tucked in but did not quite reach the edge. They scrabbled at air for an instant, until his body curled over the roof’s edge and foreclaws sank into shingles, hindclaws digging for purchase on the brick wall. Nik grunted from the impact but made no other sound to distract the warcat, knees and thighs hugging Anther’s sides, hands clenched on the harness. One forepaw began to slip as the shingle it was dug into pulled loose. Anthser released that shingle and threw his paw down fast on another. The claws of one hindpaw sank into old mortar between bricks. With a roar, the warcat hauled himself and his rider onto the rooftop.

Anthser stood with sides heaving, tongue lolling, looking at the deep furrows his claws had left in multiple shingles. “Oops.” He pushed the loose one back into its empty spot and patted at it, as if that would fix it.

Nik took his bearings and made a mental note of the address. “I don’t think that ‘crazy warcat’ was meant as a challenge.” He relaxed his too-tight grip.

“Now you tell me.” Anthser panted, padding to the roof’s opposite side. He eyeballed the drop to the adjacent roof. “…am I crazy, Lord Nik?”

Nikola extracted one hand from the harness and tugged off the glove with his teeth. He burrowed his bare fingers through the overheated fur of Anthser’s neck and felt the contours of the big cat’s mind. “My professional opinion is ‘foolhardy’.”

“Good to know.” Anthser twisted his head to rub his muzzle against Nik’s fingers.

“Walking the rest of the way would be fine, though.”

“Very good, m’lord.” Anthser jumped down to the next roof, and from there to a balcony and finally the ground. Nik sat upright like the lord he was supposed to be, instead of hunched tight against his warcat, and they padded decorously the last few blocks to Anverlee Town Manor.
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Subject:A Blessing Shared (8/141)
Time:12:30 pm
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Within a block, the neighborhood had changed from one of modest human storefronts to blocky former warehouses, converted to apartment housing for greatcats. Downsing’s sister lived in one; they climbed a creaking exterior steelwood staircase and down a walkway on the second level to reach her door. Downsing stuck his head through the doorway first, calling out, “Marie? I brought a guest.” An awkward hallway just inside had entrances leading to three other rooms; Downsing padded to the right. Peeling paint and walls with exposed brick facing gave the apartment a squalid air, despite being meticulously clean. A pair of rambunctious pubescent greatcats wrestling in the main room added to the impression of disorder. Downsing entered the main room. He motioned with his tail for Nik to follow and said, “Quit it, you two,” to the wrestling kittens.

The kittens ignored their uncle, but the strange human caught their attention, and they sprang apart to stare at Nik. One of them smoothed down his askew cloak self-consciously.

A blue-gray panther with a kitten held by the scruff stepped into the room. “Lord Nikola, this s m’ sister, Marie of Brewdon.” Downsing introduced them. “Marie, this s Lord Nikola of Anverlee.” Which made a hash of his actual name and title, but Nikola didn’t trouble himself to correct it.

Fela Brewdon’s eyes went wide with shock, and she set her kitten hastily on the wide couch-bed that was the room’s main furniture, a piece with stubby wooden legs and a low sloped back half-ringing it. Brewdon gave him a deep bow. “You honor my home, lord.” She had a spare sleek build, much smaller than Downsing’s large muscular frame. Odd to think him a clerk. But neither interests nor aptitude necessarily coincided with physique.

“I thought he might see little Belle,” Downsing added.

Belle was scrunched down on the couch-bed, a calico-furred big-headed kitten about the size of a human toddler and an order of magnitude more adorable. She eyed Nik suspiciously. Nik’s heart melted anyway. He narrowly avoided saying ‘awww.’ “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Fela Brewdon. Is it all right if I…?” He gestured to Belle.

“Of course, lord. Thank you.” Fela Brewdon put a paw behind her daughter’s back and nudged her closer to the human.

Nik drew off his gloves and crouched before the couch, extending his hands to the kitten. “Hello, Belle.”

Belle climbed onto unwieldy paws and stretched out her head to sniff at his fingertips, then rub her nose against them. Nik inhaled, eyes unfocusing as he studied the shapes of her mind.

It was a sense he had always had, unlike sight or touch, although those were the terms in which he described his perceptions. No hard-shelled jagged demons were burrowing into her mind or disordering her thoughts, but her mindshapes followed a too-familiar and problematic pattern: the fuzzy orange shape of verbal skills more like a stump than a rope, cool purple-blue instincts swollen and stifling the squishy stub of intellect, oversized strands of muscle control strangling the warm furry threads of reason, and so on – mental skills displaced and malformed, too large or too withered. “How old is she?” Nik asked.

“Six weeks, lord.” The mother watched Nik, worried.

“Mmm. Good.” Nik shifted to perch on the edge of the couch-bed, letting Belle lick his fingers, his other hand cupping the side of her head.

“She’s already walking well. Much better than her brothers at her age.” Fela Brewdon’s tailtip twitched. “That’s not actually good, is it?”

Depends; did you want her to be a sapient greatcat or a throwback to her wildcat ancestors? Nik assayed a more diplomatic phrasing. “Her development so far has been…more wildcat than greatcat. But she’s young enough that this is trivial to rectify, well within the bounds of my Blessing. With your permission and the Savior’s will, I would be happy to remedy it.”

Fela Brewdon’s ears flicked down and to the side, dismayed. “She is… but you can fix her? You will? Oh please, lord – we’ve not much, but we’ll pay anything.” She crouched, pressing her body to the floor, supplicating.

“Please, don’t.” Nik winced inwardly at the thought of the fela and her husband in their drafty three room home trying to scrounge a gift they thought worthy of a lord. “Any token is more than sufficient. It’s the Savior’s work, not mine.” She bowed her head, which Nik took for acquiescence. “It will take a little while – Fel Downsing, my warcat was to meet me at Valience Park. Would you wait for him there and bring him when he arrives? He’ll be in my house’s – Fireholt’s – livery, orange and black.” As heir to Anverlee, Nikola was entitled to use their colors or Fireholt’s, but for his staff he preferred Fireholt’s. It discouraged his parents, slightly, from ordering them about. Downsing looked puzzled by his request, but nodded acceptance and padded out. The two pubescent felis had their ears pricked, staring at Nik and their mother. Their mother was tense with anxiety, still stretched out on the floor. Belle drew back from Nik’s touch, catching the uneasiness in the air.

Nik took a deep breath, relaxing his own posture and attitude. “Ma’am, please, be at ease,” he said, gently. “This is entirely routine.” Much too routine. “I’ve channeled this particular kind of healing dozens of times. It won’t hurt Belle, it’s no trouble to me, and the Savior has never complained of his part.” Fela Brewdon’s whiskers twitched at his words, not sure if he was joking. “Please, sit beside your daughter. Groom her. I need her to trust me, and she will follow your lead. Do you trust me, ma’am?”

Startled out of her nervousness by the question, the greatcat stammered, “Of course, sir. Lord. I’m sorry.” She rose and circled wide to the far side of the couch-bed before hopping up. She settled in a half-curl around her kitten, resting a paw over Belle’s hindquarters and licking her head and neck. Belle crinkled up one eye and squirmed, but made no serious attempt to escape. Nik weighed the merits of preserving his dignity against further rearranging the participants. Well, dignity has never been my strength. He shifted from the couch to sit sideways on the floor, leaning against the couch beside Belle. He put one hand on Belle’s cheek and dipped his forehead to touch hers, improving his perception of her mind.

Her older brothers padded closer to him, curiosity overpowering their reticence about a stranger. “Whatcha doin’?” one asked.

“Lionel, don’t bother the lord,” Fela Brewdon admonished.

“It’s fine. I’m asking the Savior to help your sister,” Nik answered, putting an arm against the couch and half-encircling Belle to make himself more comfortable. “Would you like to watch? I am assured it is extraordinarily dull to observe from the outside.”

The boys crowded nearer anyway. “What’s it like from the inside?” the other asked.

“Mm. Complicated. I’m going to be preoccupied now. If I sound like I’m babbling, just ignore me.” Nik lost the thread of the conversation. Without words or even coherent thought, by an instinct he’d relied on for longer than he could remember, Nik asked for the Savior’s power. The Savior answered in what felt like a waterfall of warm sunlight, flowing through Nik’s mind and over Belle’s. Belle butted her nose against Nik’s. “There, now, little one, be patient with me,” Nik murmured in soothing tones, not paying attention to his own words as he coaxed the sunlit power into a scaffold around Belle’s mindshapes. The gentle flow of power gradually loosened the stranglehold of instincts and muscle coordination to make more space for other mental skills to develop. Reason and speech centers flowered, sending out questing tendrils within the space now reserved for them. “See, that doesn’t hurt. There’s a good girl. Good girl.”

When Nik emerged from the fugue state, Belle had crawled partway onto his shoulder, her head nuzzled against the side of his face and nose burrowed under his collar. She was purring. They were the center of attention for her mother, one brother, her uncle, and Anthser; he had only a vague recollection of the last two arriving. One leg had gone to sleep underneath him and he had a crick in his side from leaning against the front of the couch. His mouth was dry and his throat raw, which probably meant he’d been babbling for the last twenty minutes. He coughed once. “A glass of water, please.”

Fela Brewdon dispatched the boy kitten on the errand, while Nik attempted to regain his feet without dislodging Belle. This proved futile; Fela Brewdon scruffed the kitten and removed her instead, provoking an indignant mewl from Belle. Nik shifted to perch on the couch, stretching his numb leg before him. He resisted the temptation to massage some life back into the limb and generally tried to pretend he was not an embarrassment to his entire class. Minor physical aches aside, he felt refreshed, energized by the exertion rather than drained. Fela Brewdon set Belle down again to ask, “Is it done, m’lord?” Belle promptly crawled back into Nik’s lap.

“Yes, she’s fine.” Nik abandoned dignity and cuddled the kitten. Her older brother returned with a stoppered flask, which Nik drank from gratefully. “She’ll be more vocal from now on, and she may be a trifle clumsier. But she’ll develop normally.”

The mother cat drooped in relief. “Thank you, m’lord.”

“You’re welcome.” Reluctantly, Nik handed Belle back to her mother. “I’m afraid I should be going now. Good day to you.”

“I don’t remember it taking so long, when I was little,” Downsing said, expression curious but not questioning.

“The length of time for treatment depends on the cause of the affliction, not the symptoms.” Nik suppressed a wince as he stood, putting weight on his half-numb leg.

Downsing bobbed his head in understanding, stepping aside as Nik crossed to the entranceway. Anthser backed out through the hallway, pawing the front door open with a hindfoot and stepping out to the landing so Nik didn’t have to get past him. Mother, son, and uncle followed; though Nikola stood a full head taller than them, the far greater length and mass of the greatcats made him feel tiny in comparison. They had an air both hesitant and expectant to them; Nik offered his right hand, not realizing until too late that had hadn’t put his gloves back on yet. Before he could repair the gaffe, Fela Brewdon dropped her head to rub her cheek against his bare fingers, murmuring her thanks again. Downsing and the youngster pushed near to do the same; he caught fleeting impressions of their healthy, normal minds, orderly shapes with well-fitted connections. They touched him as if he were a talisman that would protect them by contact alone. Greatcat superstitions about the capabilities of his Blessing were as ill-founded as the human ones, but at least they were less insulting.
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Subject:Not Otherwise Occupied (7/141)
Time:04:38 pm
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Nikola turned up his collar against the overcast chill of the gray day, long strides carrying him along the sidewalk, beneath the trimmed awnings of small shops. How does my mother always manage to say exactly what will infuriate me most?

For that matter, why had he defended Miss Vasilver? Lady Striker was right: he hadn’t wanted to meet Miss Vasilver, much less marry her, and that farce of an introduction certainly hadn’t changed his mind. The wintry day was not so chilling as Miss Vasilver’s indifferent gaze.

Yet, when he contrasted his parents’ sputtering hypocritical outrage with Miss Vasilver’s calm honesty, it was impossible to claim that he preferred the former. Nikola reached Valience Park, a pleasant garden of branching gravel paths, fruit and nut trees, and berry bushes. Most of the trees were bare, dormant for the winter, but several of the berry bushes were in flower. He peeled off his pale gloves to avoid staining them and gathered a handful of ripe winterberries from among small glossy dark leaves and white blossoms. The berries burst in a splash of tart sweet juice on his tongue, as he took a seat on a weathered wood-and-iron bench beneath the dark tangle of a walnut tree’s branches.

Nik cleaned his hands with a handkerchief, then withdrew the coiled roll of Miss Vasilver’s pre-engagement document and turned to the section on extramarital affairs. It stated: ‘Honesty being a greater virtue than chastity, neither party should attempt to deceive the other on the matter of fidelity’. Miss Vasilver’s opinion appeared to be that, while fidelity was the preferred state, ‘informed infidelity’ was an acceptable alternative, ‘in light of the practical impossibility of determining physical compatibility prior to consummation of marriage’. ‘Informed infidelity’ meant ‘each party will apprise the other of any indiscretions, and aid in maintaining discretion so that neither party will be exposed to unflattering gossip or humiliation’. Is it still an indiscretion if you have to be discreet? Affairs were also to be conducted in such a way as to (a) avoid interference with the conception of legitimate children and (b) avoid the conception of illegitimate children. There were alternative sections suggesting various ways of ensuring equitable infidelity; Miss Vasilver was evidently of the opinion that one party was not entitled to be jealous of the other if said party wasn’t being faithful himself. Or herself. Nik couldn’t tell if she was assuming he would cheat on her or if she was planning to cheat on him. Maybe she already had some lover in mind, some footman or delivery boy she did not dare wed. It was hard to imagine the latter, as it implied a degree of ardor that Miss Vasilver wholly lacked. How could she write about the subject of intimacy in such indifferent language?

Abandoned world, how could she write about it at all? Nikola leaned back, gazing past the walnut tree’s bare branches to the overcast sky. After a moment, he looked down again and turned to the next section, on child-rearing. His mouth twitched in a smile. After procreation. Very orderly. Miss Vasilver had ideas on this, too. Boarding school versus private tutors versus apprenticeship, the advantages and disadvantages of different religious denominations, or of no religious observances. None? ‘None’ is an option? Not even the sacred is sacred to Miss Vasilver. He shook his head, more bewildered than offended.

A burred feline voice spoke to one side of him. “Lord Nikola?”

Nik curled up the papers and tucked them back in his pocket as he looked up at an unfamiliar orange-and-black striped head. “Excuse me?”

The feline form bowed before him, dressed in a patched and many-pocketed brown cloak. “Farrel of Downsing, m’lord. You wouldn’t remember me – I couldn’t learn to read, and ten years ago m’ parents brought me to you for a miracle. Which you provided, m’lord.”

Frowning in thought, Nikola contemplated the greatcat. He’d met tens of thousands of petitioners over the course of his life, and he always left a bigger impression on their lives than they did on his. Rather the point of the Code, that. Still – orange and black, couldn’t read – “You were a kitten then? Seven or eight? Mother had your coloration but a great white splash over her forehead and nose?”

Downsing rocked out of his bow to sit back on his haunches, surprised. “Yes, Lord Nikola.”

The blond man gave him a fond smile. “I remember. A little demon possessed you, turning all the letters around in your head. You were scared to let it go, but your mother said it’d poison you forever if you didn’t.”

The greatcat dropped his mouth open in mimicry of a human smile, folding his forepaws to rest on the ground and put his head below Nik’s again. “And you promised it wouldn’t hurt.”

“And the Savior shooed it right off. I had to tell you it was over twice before you’d believe that was it. And how is your reading now, Fel Downsing?”

Downsing’s whiskers flared with pride. “Just wrote m’ clerk’s exam last week.”

Nik gave a startled laugh. “Did you truly?”

“Yessir. Haven’t been able to get enough of letters ever since they stopped squirming on me.” He paused, then added self-consciously, “Thank you, sir.”

Nik waved off the thanks, smiling. “The hard work was all yours. Well done, Fel Downsing. Well done.” Nik spread his arms over the back of the bench. “I’m surprised you recognized me. I should think I’ve changed a little since I was thirteen.”

The greatcat shrugged, ducking his head. “Scent doesn’t change much, m’lord.”

“I’ll take your word on that.” Nik studied the big cat; it was nice to see people his Blessing had helped, and it wasn’t uncommon for people of whom he had no recollection to stop him with heartfelt thanks. Downsing looked like he wanted something more than to express his gratitude, and Nik wasn’t sure if the greatcat had a specific desire that he was reluctant to speak, or if it was some undefined drive that kept the cat by his feet after conversation flagged. Nik debated internally whether to say ‘good day’ and take out the contract again, by way of dismissal.

Before Nik had decided, Downsing excused himself. “I shouldn’t keep you, m’lord. Was on m’ way to visit m’ new niece. M’ sister lives just a couple blocks north of the park.”

Ah. “Congratulations to your sister. I trust the kitten is healthy?”   

“Oh, sure.” Downsing didn’t sound sure. “She’s a pawful already. Kinda…quiet, for a new kitten. Though. Probably nothing.”

Indeed. And if it’s not, I see petitioners at my residence from nine to noon every day but Sundays. Nik didn’t speak, and Downsing bobbed his head and turned away. With an inward sigh, Nik stood. I’m not busy now anyway. He drew level with the greatcat in a few quick strides. “Do you imagine your sister would object if I joined you?” Nik asked, in the tone of one asking a favor. “I should like to meet this niece of yours.”

Downsing’s eyes lit, his ears pricking forward. “Oh, no, not at all, m’lord, it’d be an honor. Would you?”

“Certainly.”

Downsing slowed his long strides to a man’s pace. “Would you like to ride, m’lord? I’ve no seat but—”

Nik shook his head. “No, I need to stretch my legs anyway.”
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Subject:Fair Use
Time:12:10 pm
The headers I've been putting on A Rational Arrangement posts are all created by me. I am not, in my opinion, a particularly good visual artist. I am trying to make the headers look as professional as I can, which means a lot of accommodations for my various weaknesses as an artist. And, in many cases, shortcuts. For example, for this image:

Header 3

I dug up a 19th century picture of a carriage from a website of public domain images, and traced over it to make the carriage. And then re-did some things, like taking off the coach driver's seat and re-doing the carriage wheels, to make it fit with my image. The teeny fancy scrollwork on the windows was done with a french curve stencil from ArtRage*. I looked up a bunch of pictures of big cats and drew the greatcats freehand based on those. The little human figures I just drew freehand without a reference.

For the next header, of Wisteria's eyes: I photographed my face and traced over the eyes, then modified them some to look more like my concept of her.

This one:

Header 3

was traced over photographs of my own hands (wearing a glove for Nik's gloved hand).

With the broken cup:

Broken teacup

I looked up a bunch of broken-cup images, couldn't find a public domain one I liked, and so drew this freehand. The fringe on the rug is from an ArtRage stencil; so is the rug's border pattern.

For the plates:

Plates!

I drew the simple one (the second plate from the left, with the gold rims). The other three are from public-domain images of plates that I reprocessed to use my palette.

My process can be summed up as: I use my own photographs (or ones taken for me by Lut) and public domain images any way I feel like, including copying, tracing, transforming, etc. I will use images copyrighted by others as inspiration, but I won't trace them or copy them exactly. I might get the idea for how a pose should look from one, or see the places where a cup breaks from another, but I am not going to use the same broken cup or an identical pose.** That's where I draw the line. It's fair use to look at other people's copyrighted*** images for ideas and inspiration, but not to copy, trace, or use photoshopping techniques on them.

So the story of this lousy "artist" who steals people's photos and then sells them for lots of money is deeply aggravating to me. The instagram business is pretty horrible, but I think what really makes me go "SERIOUSLY?" is the example at the bottom. This jerk took somebody else's photo, spent three minutes defacing it and cut-n-pasting a guitar that he probably stole from another party's site. And some judge -- an actual live supposedly-law-enforcing JUDGE -- calls that "fair use"? Are you kidding me? THAT is "fair use"? That is garbage.

What gets me even more is that people with lots of money are actually enabling him. That gallery owner who put his stolen instagram work on display, and that fool who paid $90,000 for one of his stolen photographs? I bet they know what he's done. And they still think he deserves their time and money. GAH. >.<

Anyway. There've been a few points where I was looking at some photo and wondering if my drawing was too similar to the original pose (even though gender/dress/features/build/etc. are different and the pose isn't identical). But after seeing what that jerk gets away with, I'm feeling pretty good about myself. -_-

* ArtRage is a lovely drawing program that octantis recommended to me years ago. It's an inexpensive drawing program designed to mimic the use of real media. I am using it in this project to do an assortment of standard digital tricks. Go figure.

** I do make an exception with pose-reference books. I figure it you are putting out a pose reference book, that indicates permission for artists to imitate the poses in their own work. Same for "How to Draw" books.

*** And "copyrighted" would be "everything that has not explicitly been placed into the public domain or aged into it". You do not have to register to get a copyright. Everything I turn up via Google image search, I assume is still under copyright unless it is explicitly labeled otherwise.
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Subject:The Height of Good Manners (6/141)
Time:01:41 pm
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“Unbelievable! The nerve of that child! Nikki, I am so sorry I subjected you to that – that – creature. I had no idea – I couldn’t imagine – as gauche as a street urchin! Ignorant, unschooled – that her father lets her out in society in such a state!”

Nik gazed out the coach window, reflecting on Miss Vasilver’s behavior as well. ‘I prefer a difficult truth to a convenient fiction.’ “Mother, you are an appalling judge of character.”

“Nikki!” Lady Striker tugged her grey velvet wrap tighter about her plump shoulders. “I was never introduced to the girl before, and her parents were unexceptionable—”

“I don’t mean then. I mean now. ‘Ignorant’? ‘Unschooled’? Were you even listening to her? If that gentlewoman is unlearned than I’m a greatcat.”

His mother harumphed. “Was I listening to her? That creature was no gentlewoman!”

“She is undeniably no fit match for a lord.” Lord Striker shook his head, mouth compressed in a thin disapproving line.

“I should think you’d be relieved, Nikki, the way you complained about calling,” his mother went on. “I can scarce imagine a creature with more appalling manners or less good sense.”

“Truly? Because Miss Vasilver isn’t the one who shouted and stormed from a civil meeting.”

“You call that civil? What was I supposed to do, stay to hear such filth?”

“Don’t take that tone with your mother, Nikola.”

‘I prefer a difficult truth’… Nikola took a deep breath. “Of course. Leaving in the middle of a conversation is the height of good manners.” He stood in the coach, swaying with its smooth motion. “I think I’ll do it now.” He banged on the front wall, and slid open a panel in it to call out. “Jill!”

“Nikki, don’t you dare—”

“My name, madam, is Nikola,” Nik said coldly, one hand braced on the rail above the door as the coach came to a halt. “As you might recall, since you gave it to me. Good day, my lord, lady.” With a stiff bow, he opened the coach door and stepped out to the street.

“Nikola—” his father was half-standing, leaning out the door after him. Lord Striker’s hard-edged features took on a weary cast. “Quit being childish and get back in the coach.”

Jill stood before Nik, whiskers flat in the offended look she always wore if he opened the door before she could get out of harness to open it for him. Nik gave the greatcat a cordial nod. “Jill, kindly direct Anthser to retrieve me at—” he took a moment to get his bearings “—Valience Park. At his leisure.”

“With the gig, m’lord?” The giant cat’s whiskers relaxed from their offended posture, ears twitching in suppressed amusement. She fixed her eyes on Nik to avoid looking at his father behind him.

“Afoot will suffice.”

“Very good, m’lord,” Jill dropped her head in a bow.

“Nikola!” his father called after him, as Nik walked beside Jill while she returned to the harness. Her companion greatcat, Gunther, waited with his haunches on the ground, eyes forward, whiskers rippling and ears canted in silent feline laughter. “Don’t imagine that I’ll have my household’s routine interrupted for your tantrum!”

“Then I shall walk, my lord.” Nik crossed the smooth stone street in front of Jill as she slipped back into her position.

“We’ll send someone for you shortly, Lord Nik,” Jill said in an undertone.

He flashed her a smile. “No hurry. Thank you, Jill.”
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Subject:The Logical Way to Decide (5/141)
Time:12:44 pm
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Wisteria sank back to her chair as he left the room, holding her wrist in her opposite hand. He kissed my hand.

That was a signal, an unambiguous signal. A noble only kissed a woman’s hand if they were related, long acquaintances, or…as a token of respect. Lord Nikola had not kissed her hand when they were introduced, so it was not a gesture he used trivially, or done from respect for her position or family. Something had happened during that strange terrible interview that made him…respect…her?

That can’t be right. I must be missing something. Sarcasm? She closed her eyes and leaned back. Yes, probably sarcasm. He was sarcastic when he said he’d call, and kissed my hand. Perhaps even when he said he wasn’t offended. She hadn’t noticed anything about his tone or expression, but she wouldn’t, would she?

“Do you want to be a spinster, Wisteria?” Her father re-entered the parlor. The maid was mopping tea from the expensive Ascension rug.

“No.” Wisteria folded her hands in her lap, not opening her eyes. “But it would probably be for the best if I did.”

Her father sighed. “I know you are not this stupid, Wisteria. By the three thousand, what possessed you to put that in writing? Why would you bring up a thing like that?”

“Mother said it was not a subject to be spoken of: how else might I communicate about it, then?” Wisteria asked, opening her eyes.

Mr. Vasilver put his face in his hands. “You don’t, girl!”

“…but the purpose of this meeting was to explore the possibility of an engagement.”

“An engagement, Wisteria! Between people! We’re not – not talking about breeding dogs here!”

What’s the difference? We all reproduce by the same mechanisms. “Then who does discuss these details? Are they settled through intermediaries?”

“No one! Ever! Reproduction is not a fit topic for a gentlewoman. You know this perfectly well! Even all those articles about business – Wisteria, it’s crass. This simply is not how civilized people handle intimate affairs.”

Wisteria looked at her father, as if she could make this conversation resolve into reason by sheer force of will. It had never worked before. “But these are vital aspects of marriage. If one cannot discuss them, what’s the point in meeting at all? This is like trying to decide what to have for dinner without mentioning food. ‘I know, let’s use the china with the gold rims tonight. And, oh, make sure there’s enough forks for everyone.’ As if that were the key choice.”

“How can someone so intelligent be so stupid? This is not how it’s done!”

“Why not?”

“Because it isn’t! You’re twenty-six, not six! How can you pretend not to know this?”

Wisteria stared at the wall, her ear turned to him as if the problem was with her hearing and not her comprehension. ‘Because it isn’t.’ Because everyone understands that it isn’t. Until the moment that it suddenly is. And to everyone but me, it’s so stupid, so obvious that this is how things work, that they can’t imagine how to explain it. Grief overwhelmed her; she could not bear to try yet again to pass a barrier tangible only to her. With an effort, she rose to her feet, curtsied to her father, and withdrew.
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Subject:A Difficult Truth (4/141)
Time:12:52 pm
RA Header 004

The top sheet looked a lot like a contract, broken into articles and sub-articles and substitute articles. The first page detailed Miss Vasilver’s dowry and terms under which it would be held and could be spent. His father leaned closer to look at it as well. Nik tugged at the fingers of his right glove with a slight gesture to it. “With your permission…?” At Mr. Vasilver’s wave and his daughter’s nod, Nik removed the glove and flipped to the next page.

“My daughter doesn’t intend to be forward, my lord,” Mr. Vasilver said, fingers clutching and releasing the arms of his chair. “There’s no need to discuss such things now, at such an early stage.”

Miss Vasilver said, blandly, “Wouldn’t discussing such things now be the logical way to decide if we’re going to the next stage?”

The second page had alternative terms and conditions – ‘if Anverlee agrees to X, Vasilver will agree to Y’. The document reminded Nik of the woman: cold, calculating, blunt. He should have found it repugnant. Presumptuous, as if she assumed he was interested in marrying her, which he most certainly was not. His parents’ hints about Anverlee’s financial needs and his duty to procure a wife were unsubtle, but this was like a sledgehammer, with not the least attempt to cloak its purpose in courtesy, sentiment or romance.

But he didn’t feel insulted. So what if it was presumptuous? Money and marriage was the point of this charade, and it was almost a relief to have someone call this sorry affair what it was. His parents trying to guilt him into marriage, that was offensive. This was…honest. Unappealing, but honest. “It’s fine, Mr. Vasilver,” Nik answered, vaguely aware that on the opposite side of the couch his mother was sputtering. Lord Striker read over Nik’s shoulder, bemused.

Nik scanned the article headings as he flipped pages, not trying to digest the details. It looked…thorough. Not just the lists of holdings and financial responsibilities, but the alternatives, as if she wished to demonstrate flexibility even in writing. It went on about the specific benefits Anverlee might expect from Vasilver Trading – use of their fleet, warehouses, personnel – and vice versa. There was quite a long section on mineral rights and mining in Fireholt, including minimizing the impact on the land. “Did you say you prepared this document, Miss Vasilver? Or had it prepared?”

“I consulted with my lawyer, father, and other involved parties for various sections pertaining to their interests, but it mainly represents my thinking. It’s only a draft, my lord.”

“Mm.” Pity it involved marrying the icicle-woman before him; he might have found it intriguing if it came attached to a less unappetizing individual. Nik turned to the next page anyway.

Next to him, his father’s teacup crashed to the floor. Lord Striker bit back a curse, diving after it with an inadequate napkin. Miss Vasilver pulled the bellrope to summon the staff; Mr. Vasilver apologized as if it were somehow the fault of his china for falling. Nik barely noticed the uproar, his eyes fixed on the page in front of him. “You have a section on procreation.”

“I would like to have children.” Miss Vasilver answered, unmoved by either the ruckus over the shattered cup or Nik’s choked tone.

His father’s voice hissed in his ear. “By the Ascension, boy, don’t talk about it!”

Nik couldn’t stop himself. “There’s a specified number of marital encounters.”

“My research indicates five to twelve during the fertile period of my cycle would be appropriate. My personal experience is, by necessity, nonexistent, but I will be willing to do whatever is necessary.”

“For the love of – Wisteria, please,” Mr. Vasilver gave his daughter an aghast look.

“What kind of contract is this?” Lady Striker screeched, recovering her voice at last.

“Five to twelve,” Nik repeated, softly.

“…I am open to negotiation, my lord. The necessity of procreation aside, there doesn’t appear to be a suitable way to determine compatibility prior to actual marriage, so the following article is on extramarital affairs and maintaining appropriate discretion.”

WHAT?” Lady Striker rose, stomping one foot.

Nik flicked his eyes down, turning one page, then another. “Ah. So it is.” He returned his attention to Miss Vasilver.

His father gripped Nik’s arm. “What are you thinking, boy?” he hissed as he stood.

“I think I’m in love,” Nik murmured, too low for even his father to hear. Belatedly, he rose alongside his parents; it was impolite for a man to remain seated while a lady stood. Mr. Vasilver stood as well, wringing his hands. Only Miss Vasilver remained seated. She was composed despite the furor their parents were making.

“Please, my lady, my lords, my daughter doesn’t mean it like that—” Mr. Vasilver was saying. A maid slipped into the room; she tried to sidle into position to clean up the spilled tea and broken cup, impossible since Lord Striker was standing over it.

“This is outrageous! Has she no manners at all?” Lady Striker shrieked.

“I believe we need to leave now—” Lord Striker raised his voice over his wife’s.

“How do you mean it, Miss Vasilver?” Nik asked.

The woman tilted her head back to meet his eyes; he had to strain to hear her over his parents’ increasingly strident protests. “I mean to be honest, my lord, and have realistic expectations. I do not expect any husband to be perfect. I prefer a difficult truth to a convenient fiction.”

“We are leaving now.” Lady Striker stomped around the couch, lined features red with anger. Lord Striker took his son’s arm and moved to follow.

Nikola shifted out of his way instead, and shook off the hand. Lord Striker snarled. “Come along, boy.”

Nik struggled to imitate Miss Vasilver’s calm, but his voice raised anyway. “In a moment.”

Rukert!” his mother yelled from the hall. Mr. Vasilver fluttered about, making ineffectual placating gestures.

Now, Nikola,” Lord Striker growled.

In a moment.” Nik repeated, fingers clenching about the document.

RUKERT!

Lord Striker shot his son a final glower and followed his wife out to the hall. Mr. Vasilver pursued, offering incoherent apologies.

“I am sorry if I gave offense, Lord Nikola.” Miss Vasilver said, as if she’d only now noticed how upset his parents were. She stood at last, tense but composed.

Nik waved it off. “You did not offend me.” A little tension leached out of her, and Nik wondered if the icicle-woman had feelings after all. He smoothed the sheaf of papers in his hand, then curled them into a neat roll and tucked it into the inner breast pocket of his jacket. He pulled his right glove back on and straightened his jacket. “Thank you for receiving us,” he said, just as if his parents had not stormed off in a fit of pique.

She curtsied politely. “You do my house honor, my lord.”

He answered with a bow. “May I call again, Miss Vasilver?”

“Of course, my lord.” She didn’t sound surprised, though she tilted her head.

“Then I will.” On impulse, he took her light brown hand and bent to kiss the air above it, lips not touching skin. “Good day, miss.”
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Subject:Inching to the Purpose (3/141)
Time:12:31 pm
RA Header 003

Up close, she was even worse than at a distance, Nikola reflected. It was not so much her face or figure, which had little enough to recommend them: too tall, too thin, long chin and nose, high forehead only partly concealed by careful arrangement of thick black curls -- she did have lovely hair, and a clear light golden-brown complexion. No, it was her flat, severe expression that made her repugnant. The way her gaze flicked over her visitors and then away, the thin set line of her mouth that never altered, as if her face might crack if she smiled. The rigid formality of her posture. Everything about Miss Vasilver, from the way she held her teacup and saucer to the way she listened to the conversation, was exact, correct, unnatural. He'd seen marble statues with more life.

His mother commented on the appointments of the parlor, as formal and pristine as Miss Vasilver. "These sculptures are remarkable work, Mr. Vasilver," she said, indicating the marble carvings on display in a glass case.

"Thank you, my lady. They were a find of my mother's, in southern Savorift."

"How lucky for her. Did she have a Blessing for stone?"

"Ah, no." He paused before adding, "I am afraid Blessings do not run in my family line. Or my wife's." Mr. Vasilver spared a glance to his daughter. "It is one area in which we hope our grandchildren will be more gifted."

Then why don't you pay me a stud fee and call it done? Nikola thought with a flash of irrational anger. Although the idea of sleeping with that icicle of a woman even once was profoundly unappealing. At least this interminable conversation was inching to the purpose.

Lord Striker gave a fatuous nod. "My family has been most fortunate in that arena. Particularly my son."

So today it's fortunate, Father? Good to know.

"Indeed," Mr. Vasilver folded broad-fingered hands together. "My house's fortunes have been of a more ... monetary nature."

"Business interests such as yours must afford you many opportunities for travel," Lady Striker said.

"Oh, yes. Vasilver Trading does business across the globe. My children often accompany me -- Wisteria loves to travel."

"Do you, dear?" Nik's mother turned her attention to the icicle-woman.

"Certain parts of it." Miss Vasilver's voice was as formal and cool as her bearing. "Long sea voyages are tedious, but the variation of cultural norms across different societies is amazing, something I did not appreciate until I experienced it firsthand. And of course, I enjoy the opportunity to assist with my father's business."

Of course. "What sort of assistance do you provide, Miss Vasilver?" Nikola found himself asking.

Her father shifted uncomfortably in his chair, but Miss Vasilver looked to neither him nor Nik: her gaze was aimless, directed on the wall beyond him. "Accounting, you might call it. I evaluate business opportunities, assess the profitability and ensure that the mutual benefits of a proposed plan outweigh its costs, not only in resources but opportunity."

Nik raised a blond eyebrow. "Mutual benefits?"

"For all involved parties. Good business cannot be zero-sum, my lord. My grandfather founded Vasilver Trading seventy years ago; it would not have lasted five without providing a service of value to others as well as our family. To do well in the long-term, we must ensure that everyone -- our customers, our suppliers, our partners, ourselves -- profits from the relationship."

One corner of his mouth twitched up. "Are you sure that's not a Blessing, Miss Vasilver? It sounds like magic."

She did not answer his smile. "It isn't magic," she said. "It's a business skill. Anyone can learn it."

Oh, I doubt that. But he wondered if this little meeting had been a plan hatched in the minds of their parents after all. "And is that how you feel about marriage as well, miss?"

"Yes," she answered with equanimity. "At its heart, marriage is a business proposition: a relationship formed for the mutual benefit of not merely the marriage partners but their relatives and their heirs." She tilted her head to one side. "How do you see it, my lord?"

Nik blinked at her. He had expected to fluster her, to crack that impassive face with embarrassment at likening marriage to either a business or a skill. Not to receive this frank admission. How do I see marriage? A graveyard in which to bury individuals, for the protection of the society that buries them. He was aware of his mother's appalled expression from her seat on the other side of the couch, his father's nonplussed look, the nervous clasp of Mr. Vasilver's hands against the arms of his chair. But most of all he was conscious of Miss Vasilver's emotionless gaze, waiting for an answer. He struggled to formulate a polite one that was not wholly insincere. "I am ... less optimistic than you. That is a great many people to please at once."

Miss Vasilver nodded. "One cannot please everyone. Then again, one may be benefited even by things that are not perhaps as pleasant as one might hope."

He didn't know how to disagree with that, and desperately did not want to agree. At his side, his father murmured, "Very true."  Nik shot him a glare.

Miss Vasilver took a folder from the small table beside her. "The mutual advantages of a match between our houses are obvious: the County of Anverlee has vast land holdings, many of which are not fully or optimally exploited. Vasilver Trading has extensive resources to invest in development. Fireholt's mineral rights are of particular interest to our business, as recent discoveries in smelting make utilizing them attractive. And there's the matter of heirs and bloodlines: in this area, the benefit is all on Vasilver's side: even in this age titled relations are of great value to a business empire, while a Blessing by convention has no price. But beyond my dowry, you'll find that the advantages Vasilver can offer as a partner -- marriage being a natural form of partnership -- are considerable.

"But as you say, there are a great many people to please, and it's important to be aware of all the possibilities, the expectations inherent in marriage. I've prepared this document for your perusal."  She removed a sheaf of papers from the folder and, swallowing, offered them to him. Nik reacted before his father could, taking the thick sheaf in his gloved hand. "I used contractual language, but it's intended more as a launching point. For negotiation."
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Subject:The Whole Idea Was Absurd (2/141)
Time:12:31 pm
RA Header 002

Wisteria Vasilver waited in the front parlor for her callers. In the good parlor, with her grandmother's antemarkavian marbles arranged in the glass-fronted cabinet, with the granite-topped occasional tables and beveled bronze-framed mirror over the mantelpiece, with the couch and wingback chairs with their dust covers removed for once, green-and-gold velvet brocade on display. In the parlor they almost never used because it was too good even for company. Her father paced over the tapestry carpet of the Ascension that ran between the chairs and the couch, his hands clasped behind his back in the way that meant he was nervous and worried, not nervous and excited. Wisteria felt much the same, but she simply sat in the wingback chair nearest the door with her hands clasped in her lap. All her documents were in the leather folder on the end table beside her.

Mr. Brigsley rapped unnecessarily at the door before opening it at her father's command. "Lord Striker, Count of Anverlee. Lady Striker, Countess of Anverlee. Nikola Striker, Lord of Fireholt," the butler announced, with a calculated degree of formality. Wisteria rose as the door opened; her father abandoned his pacing to stand a little ahead of her and greet their guests. She had seen them before, but never in close proximity. The parents were what she had expected: Anverlee County was in the Havenset province of Newlant, and they had the round light-colored eyes, Haventure-pale skin, and narrow prominent noses common to that region. Lord Striker was a tall man, trim despite his years, with a full head of white hair streaked by a few strands of remaining light brown. His wife was short and plump, round face lined and grey hair wrapped in a coil around the crown of her head.

Lord Nikola was ... not what she expected. Wisteria had known he was tall, slender, and handsome, with a long ponytail of wavy dark blond hair. But she was not prepared for the feline grace of his stride and bearing, or the way his presence seemed to fill the room, or the way her attention was drawn to him involuntarily, as if there were no one else in the parlor. Or for the intensity of his round blue eyes, gazing at her face as her father presented her. She curtseyed automatically, her mind churning in a useless attempt to interpret his expression. For a moment, she was struck by the fantasy that his focused gaze was for her -- not for a prospective fiancee, or a potential mother, or a new acquaintance, or a wealthy heiress, but for herself, Wisteria Vasilver. As if his Blessing could reach out through his gaze alone and touch her soul. She couldn't breathe.

He bowed in answer to her curtsey, and she forced the preposterous fantasy away. "Please, have a seat," her father told their guests.

Wisteria lowered herself gratefully back to her chair, forcing her gaze to Lord Striker to avoid staring at his son. Him? Marry him? The whole idea was absurd. Of course it's absurd, she told herself. Everyone does it anyway. So can I. So can he. We each must marry someone, there is no reason it cannot be one another. She stole another glance at Lord Nikola. He was seated on the couch to the right of his father, opposite Wisteria, with his mother on the other end of the couch. She could tell nothing from his expression, a slight smile that could signify anything -- amused, bored, polite, sarcastic, who knew? Everyone in the room but me. His parents were equally undecipherable, naturally. Her father exchanged inconsequential pleasantries with his, while his mother scrutinized Wisteria. Wisteria didn't bother to study her in return -- she'd offend with her stare long before she learned anything useful. Instead, she considered what made Lord Nikola seem so ... so present. It wasn't his clothing, which was elegant but understated and not-quite-current. Eggshell-white cuffs peeked from the edges of a deep blue jacket cut long in back and short in front, spray of lace at the front from a jabot, tan breeches, pale stockings, dark shoes, and ivory gloves: in consideration of his Blessing, no skin was exposed apart from his face. All well-tailored, but the suit was of ivysilk and lacked the subtle gloss of the more expensive angoraflax suits their fathers wore, and it had no fashionable trim or ornate buttons. That would be a signal of some kind, perhaps that Lord Nikola didn't think she merited dressing up. Or that he disliked ornamentation. Or didn't want to pay for expensive extras. Or found current styles unappealing. Another signal like the smile, so fraught with possible meanings it might as well be meaningless. Wisteria abandoned the task of solving impossible enigmas on so little information, and waited for tea to be served and conversation to come to a point that might give her some data.
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Subject:A Suitably Rich Match (1/141)
Time:12:31 pm

RA Header 001

The Lord of Fireholt had no intention of marrying, and certainly not of marrying Miss Wisteria Vasilver. They’d not yet been introduced, but he had seen her at social events: a tall dark-haired woman whose fashionable attire could not disguise her boyish figure. Nor did it mask the severe expression that added ten years to a long face that had already lost the bloom of youth, assuming she ever had it. It was hard to imagine a less appealing companion for a lifetime. “I’d sooner marry Lady Dalsterly,” he remarked, gaze fixed out the carriage window.

His mother, Lady Striker, Countess of Anverlee, gasped from the seat opposite his. “Nikola Striker! Lady Dalsterly is ninety-six!”

“What does that matter? She’s rich, isn’t she? If old men can marry a destitute girl for her beauty, youth and title, I don’t see why old women can’t do the same. At least I wouldn’t be married to her for long,” he added, purely to spite his mother: Lady Dalsterly would live another twenty years at least.

His mother gave a second horrified gasp.

“That’s enough, Nikola,” his father said. “We are not destitute. This is about finding you a suitable match and a mother for your future heirs. Which Lady Dalsterly most certainly would not be.”

“A suitably rich match, you mean, and let’s kill two birds with one stone as long as you’re going to the trouble of dragging me to the wedding circle,” Nik said, expression sour.

“Don’t be melodramatic. Everyone marries, boy. What else do you intend to do? Install one of your whores as Lady of Fireholt?” Lord Striker said, earning himself a glare and a ‘Rukert!’ from his wife.

Nikola clamped his jaw closed, biting off a reply. It was hard to pick out the worst part from so many bad parts of the situation, but the way his parents made him not only feel but act like a child was high on the list. I am a grown man. My parents cannot compel me to wed. All I’ve agreed to do is be polite to a few strangers for an hour. Then I can tell Mother, ‘There, I’ve met the girl, I’m still not marrying her, I’m going home to Fireholt now’. The opportunity to see Justin is not worth all this. Last week, agreeing to the meeting to end his mother’s nagging had seemed reasonable. Today, he wasn’t so sure. His occasional compliance in meeting his mother’s idea of eligible women had only made Lady Striker more strident in her demands. Well, there was no graceful way to escape it now. The pair of big greatcats padded onwards, pulling the carriage inevitably closer to Vasilver Manor. The carriage wheels moved quietly over the broad paved streets; a clever arrangement of levers, pistons and valves where axle met cab ensured a smooth ride. The sky over Gracehaven was leaden, three- and four-story buildings of brick, steelwood, and stone turned to shades of gray by the colorless light. I might as well be going to my funeral. Savior, get me out of here.

Divine intervention was not forthcoming: too soon the carriage stopped before a modern five-story edifice of stone and glass, its fixtures, floors and corners trimmed by darker stone carved in elegant abstract patterns. One of Vasilver’s footmen opened the carriage door before the lead greatcat could extricate herself from her harness to do it. She padded to loom over the footman from a yard behind him, ears pricked as she watched her three human passengers disembark. Like the other greatcat, she wore a livery cloak in Anverlee’s blue-and-silver. “There’s a carriage house and felishome behind the manor, my lord,” the footman said to Lord Striker.

Nik’s father nodded. “Stow the carriage and wait for us in the felishome, Jill,” he told the waiting greatcat.

She dropped her head, blue-gray fur grizzled with white along her muzzle and ears, one leg bent and the other outstretched in a feline bow. “Yes, m’lord.” Lord and Lady Striker ascended the steps to the front door while Nik lingered by the carriage to put off the inevitable a moment longer. He felt a nudge against his back, and turned to see Jill’s lowered head. She gave him a broad wink. “Knock ’em dead, Lord Nik,” she murmured.

He gave her a lopsided grin and made a shooing motion. “Mother will kill you if you’ve shed on my jacket,” he whispered back.

Jill nosed his hand, unrepentant, and padded back into her harness to help her companion greatcat pull the vehicle from the street. Nik inhaled one last deep breath of freedom, then followed his parents into Vasilver Manor.

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Subject:April End-of-Month Update
Time:07:55 pm
It's a new month! I still haven't forgotten my NYR! I didn't even give myself a deadline beyond 'sometime in the next month' for doing these, so I'm still on track!

Health/Fitness
April was not a good month for health. I am still (still!) recovering from whatever horrible plague I caught three weeks ago. I am 95% healthy, but I feel a little rundown and I'm still coughing and sneezing now and again.

Predictably, this means I didn't get much exercise in April. I actually have done a fair amount of biking the last two weeks anyway, but more like 7-8 miles per ride instead of 10-11. And I've skipped several days.

I need to change my diet and lose or at least stop gaining weight this month. I'm over 50 lbs up from my lowest adult weight at this point. More importantly, I don't want to buy new clothes. Surely losing some weight will be easier. Right? Right.

Writing
I wrote three book reviews, eight other LJ entries, and quite a bit of Flight Rising fanfic -- I'd guess 7,500 words or so. Mostly since I caught the plague. The plague is good for lightweight writing? Maybe.

Note to self: in the May wrap up, I want to be able to put down that I wrote some original fiction.

The Business of Writing

alinsa is mostly done typesetting A Rational Arrangement. I divided it into post-length installments for serializing. In theory, I am starting the serial next Monday! I am not at all nervous about this.*

Alinsa is also hosting a webpage for me, so it can have its own URL, and she's putting together a Wordpress for it. She's also trying to set it up to auto-update, which will be awesome if it works. Although honestly, if I just don't have to manually re-italicize everything for posting, I'll be happy.

* This is a total lie. I have no idea why I am nervous about this, though.

Art/Other
I did 18 pictures based on prompts from Twitter; not as many this month as last month, but closer to it than I expected. I also finished coloring two coloring book pages. I did use up an entire 6x6" sketchbook, and started a new one.

But mostly, I've been crafting headers for the installments of A Rational Arrangement. I did 15 of them in April! For installments 1-13, 15, and 17.

haikujaguar told me at one point, "The headers are great! Please don't do 134** of them", which kind of sums up how I feel about them. I enjoy doing them, and I am surprisingly pleased with how they look, and doing 119 more is daunting and would be crazy time-consuming. I spent probably 3-4 hours on number 12. It is my new favorite. It's people at a dinner table. There are a lot of scenes where people are eating in this story: I am pretty sure I will be using a large chunk of this one again later on. Probably multiple times.

** Technically, she said 133, because I originally thought RA had 133 parts. I'd missed counting one. Oops.

Gaming
The Elect PBEM is still going!

I never did write up that character in Champions for Bradley's PBEM. *sigh* I may have to admit that I don't have time even to be a PC in a game.

Socializing
Corwyn took me to Tabletop Day three weeks ago. I caught the plague there. I have not done anything social and offline since then. Though I was flying to LA when I started writing this! But that'll count for May's activities.

I have been using Twitter more for actual socializing and less for random web-browsing this month, though. I've made some friends who're also friends with other people I know and it's starting to feel more like a community. By which I mean not only "I'm interacting more with new friends", but also that I feel more connected with ones that I've known for years. This makes me happy. ♥

Happiness
That thing I mentioned in the March wrap-up, about "there's not enough time for everything I want to do"? Even more intense now. In good news, I have been spending more time doing things I care about, instead of mindless webbrowsing or staring into space.

But where I said under socializing "this makes me happy": I mean that literally. Plague or no plague, April was a good month for me. I'm happy.
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Subject:Or Maybe I Can't Do This
Time:04:08 pm

Hrmph. My report gets through about 10 iterations, then crashes with a stack-overflow error. Which appears to be caused by Excel VBA call stack filling up with my auto-generated macro calls. Googling about for "how to clear the call stack" has not made me optimistic about my odds of getting around this via VBA.  x.x

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Subject:Social Justice Warrior?
Time:02:36 pm

grrm has been writing about the Hugos lately, and one of his side issues has been that he finds the term "SJW" very offensive, and wants "his side" to be called "liberals" or "progressives" instead.

I am fascinated by this, for a couple of reasons. One: I rather like the term "Social Justice Warrior". I prefer "social justice cleric" for myself, but I'm fine with SJW. I find it a convenient term for distinguishing those with a keen interest in social justice and tolerance of diversity in many and varied forms. I know SJW was originally a conservative jab at us, but I thought it had been reclaimed, like "gay" or "queer". The other is that I think of myself as an SJW, but not a liberal or a progressive. So the substitution doesn't work for me. I suppose SJWs could claim "egalitarian" instead, but who would claim to be anti-egalitarian?

Then again, who wants to come out as antisocial injustice pacifists? As insults go, SJW has never had a lot of sting. n_n


EDIT: I've locked comments to this entry, 'cause I'm not enjoying some of the conversation the topic is generating. Y'all feel free to carry on in your own journals if you've more to say. :)
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Subject:Automation
Time:05:01 pm

My department has a task that has required a person to spend a few hours every week pressing a button, waiting for the computer to process it for 30 seconds to a couple of minutes, and then pressing the next button. Repeat 76 times or so.

We have been trying to get the system folks to automate the button pushing. For a year. I kinda thought this was a job for a batch file. They apparently feel otherwise. It got booted around for a while.

Last week, they came back with their final offer: "we'll spend dozens of hours coding it so specific pieces of data are available in another system. Then you can spend dozens of hours rebuilding all your absurdly complicated reports in a way that wil not quite mimic their current form in the new system. That allows scheduling."

I whinged at bard_bloom about this. Bard pointed out that automating the reports should take like 50 lines of VBA code. If you do it badly. I whinged more.

My boss told me to write up all the details of all the data that we need so we could start the hundred-hour process system support wanted us to embark on, that they claimed was the only option.

I looked at this. I though, I bet it would take less time to figure out how to code the automation in VBA than it will to tell them everything we need, never mind the rest.

Three hours of searching, coding, and experimenting later, I have my proof-of-concept. Heh. I can do this after all!

...

I should've done this two years ago. -_-

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Subject:Herb Witch and Herb Wife, By Elizabeth McCoy, & The Chocolatier's Wife by Cindy Lynn Speer
Time:11:03 am

It has been SO LONG since I did a book review. I got far enough behind on writing them that I stopped reading books. Also, I feel guilty for asking for nonfic recommendations, and checking out a bunch of nonfic books, and then not finishing any of them and reading fantasy romance instead.

ANYWAY. I am gonna do some short reviews at least.

Herb Witch & Herb Wife by Elizabeth McCoy
These read more like one long book than two separate books: I bought Herb Wife as soon as I finished the first. The split into two books isn't wholly arbitrary and the end of the first book does signal a shift in focus. But neither volume is meant to stand alone.

I enjoyed the books more as fantasy-slice-of-life than anything else. The setting is well-developed and interesting, and the characters are plausible and nuanced. The magic of the setting -- alchemy and herb-witchery -- is low-key by fantasy standards; it's almost believable as a form of chemistry instead of being magical. The central plot is technically a romance: it's mainly about the relationship between the two protagonists. Still, it reminded me more of Bard Bloom's irromances: it is more about making a relationship work when you're stuck with it than about finding a soulmate or getting swept up by a grand passion. There's also some mystery and adventure elements. Overall, I liked it: I'll give it a 7.5.

The Chocolatier's Wife by Cindy Lynn Speer

This is a rare example of a book that bard_bloom gave a positive review to and which sounded like something I'd enjoy. (Bard's reviews tend not to be very positive, and some of the few endorsements have been books that sounded WAY depressing). So I picked it up, and was not disappointed. It's a lively, quick romance/mystery, with a charming archaic voice that sounds almost fairy tale-like at times. The characters are engaging and likeable; the author has "flashbacks" to letters exchanged before they met, which I found especially sweet. A few times the narrative struck me as a bit off, like the characters might express a feeling which doesn't make a lot of sense and seems to be stuck in purely in an unnecessary effort to add drama or tension. But overall the story is enchanting and I had a lovely time with it. A solid 8.

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Subject:Illustration and Writing
Time:07:52 am
Inspired by the header illustrations haikujaguar did for Some Things Transcend, I decided to try doing headers for A Rational Arrangement.

The headers are simple digital images. I made a standard 5" x 1" template, with a parchment-style background and a frame. The illustrations are stylized: brown silhouettes with white "ink" where figures overlap and to suggest some details.

So far, I've made 12. I am not sure how long I've spent on each one thus far, but my estimate would be somewhere over an hour each. I divided up the story into pieces for the serial, and it has 134 posts. So if I do a unique header for each post, I need 122 more headers.

... that's a lot of headers. And a lot of time. Micah helpfully suggests "do not do a unique header for each one", which is good advice and I should take it and I don't know what I'm going to do. Most of the headers I've done so far are scene-specific. Three or four might be easily re-useable. I don't know. I do know that I'm not going to wait until I'm done making headers before I start serializing it. (Serial starts in May! Probably May 4th.)

For me, the difference between writing and illustrating is weird. It is both easier and harder to create an illustration than it is to write a scene. If I make myself sit down to write for a set block of time, I'll average about 500-1000 words per hour: faster if I'm inspired, slower if I'm slogging. Usually not slower than 500 words an hour.

But that requires making myself write. I always want to have written but I very often do not want to write. Not even blog posts like this one.

On the other hand, once I have an idea for an illustration, it requires very little effort to motivate myself to draw it. Or to continue drawing until it's done. In general, I will contentedly work on the same picture for a couple of hours without looking at the clock or wishing I could take a break or thinking "why won't this picture draw itself?" I only get impatient with illustrating if either the picture is turning out badly and I've been unable to fix it, or it's a very complicated piece that'll take 20+ hours to finish. The headers are simple things, and they haven't hit either of those problems. If I looked at the entire group as one project, they ought to hit the time one, but my brain considers each one discrete and so doesn't care that I've got 122 more to go. I did 12! LOOK HOW ACCOMPLISHED I AM.

So illustration takes more time-spent-actually-drawing, but much less time spent thinking-about-drawing, planning-to-draw, whinging-about-drawing, and wishing-I-would-shut-up-and-get-on-with-drawing-already. It'd take me six months or more to do 134 hours of writing, but I bet I can do that much illustrating in two or three.

Which still doesn't mean it's the highest and best use of my time. I haven't written anything new since January, and I don't feel like I've been "working on fiction" since I finished the first draft of A Rational Arrangement at the end of 2013. (The 20,000 words or so I've written since then apparently Do Not Count. And is not much compared to the 240,000 I wrote in in 2013.) I can easily motivate myself to make illustrated headers for RA, and motivating myself to write is hard -- but doing the first means I literally do not have time for the second.

On the other hand, I don't want to fall into the trap of "do nothing but your top priority", because for me that too-often works out to "do nothing". If my mind settles on "I Must Do X First", then I will decide "but I don't waaaannnnna" and I will procrastinate on it by playing games or web-browsing. And I won't do anything else productive, because I need to Do X First. It's lose-lose.

So.

I don't know. I'll make some more headers for a while, anyway.
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Subject:The Plague
Time:08:40 am
Woke up this morning. Felt better, in the sense of "not as sick as I have been" but not in the sense of "completely healthy". Took my temperature: 97.7. My temperature when healthy runs a little low (98, I think), so that seemed normal. I got up and packed my lunch, just like I expected to go to work. Including tea. Because I am still not healthy enough for Diet Coke.

(I miss Diet Coke more than I can readily describe.)

I croaked at Lut to ask him to help me find the medicine I got on Tuesday, when I went to the urgent care clinic. He found it, cleverly hidden in the first place I looked (this has been happening to me a lot lately). I took the Dayquil clone.

An hour later, I dressed for work. Lut asked, "So you're going to work and give the gift that keeps on giving?"

"I don't have a fever. I shouldn't be contagious."

As I prepared to walk out the door, I thought, Why am I sweating?

...

I took my temperature again. 99.6.

*sigh*

Wow, this thing has really lingered. -_- So staying home sick again. At least I definitely don't have to call in sick for the next two days.
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Subject:On How Being in the Majority Exacerbates Bias
Time:07:17 am
It is 1:20AM, and I have insomnia induced by a sore throat and exacerbated by all the tea I drank in an effort to soothe my sore throat. So I am going to write about something that's been on my mind.

This is inspired by the current kerfluffle over the Hugo award's current short-list nominees, described in this post by John Scalzi, and in particular by haikujaguar 's commentary on the Hugos. But millions of more words have been written about this! Google will give you all of them if you like. And now I will add to the heap, because I have something to say that I haven't yet seen elsewhere.

Part of the stated reason why the slate nominations happened was that a significant number of conservatives and libertarians felt that a vocal segment of fandom was unfairly biased against their work because of their personal political ideology.

Some of the frequent responses to this contention have been "There is no liberal conspiracy in fandom" and "I don't see any discrimination against conservative writers in fandom". This is the part I want to talk about.

Political demographics are difficult to generalize; people often overlap in some areas but not others. I have friends who vote Democrat at the same time that they believe feminism is wrong because it represents reverse discrimination. Labels like "Democrat", "liberal", and "Social Justice Warrior[/Cleric/Wizard/Thief]"* have some overlap but they are by no means identical. For myself, I'm a libertarian who votes for Republicans more often than Democrats, and I believe strongly in social justice. Individuals defy easy categorization.

With this caveat in mind, my perception of SF&F fandom has always been that the majority of it -- say, 70-90% -- has a generally liberal bent. This was my perception when I was a proudly liberal teenager, it was my perception as a 30-something convicted libertarian, and it's my perception now as a muddled 40-something libertarianish whatever. My politics changed from ones which were mostly in line with the majority to ones which were frequently at odds with them.

By liberal, I mean things like the following:
  • pro-gay marriage
  • pro-choice
  • favors universal health care
  • tendency to dislike Republicans more the Democrats (many fen, like much of the US, are not enamored of either party)
  • favors regulation of big business
  • favors environmental protection
  • favors government assistance programs for the disadvantaged
  • opposes tax subsidies for big business
Etc. There's a lot of variation in the specifics, obviously. But when broad principles are in agreement, variation in details can be construed as 'friendly': the people who support Obamacare do not generally accuse the ones who want a single-payer system of malice or stupidity.

I don't know if my assertion that fandom tends liberal is a controversial proposition. If your experience is otherwise, I'd love to hear it!

Also, I want to note that I am talking about the politics held by the people in fandom, which is not the same as the politics espoused by sf&f books. Most authors do not write books to push a particular ideological slate, and if they do, those books mostly flop. Because even members of the choir find preaching kinda dull. One might find hints of an author's politics in their fiction, but if they write about politics in their blog at all, it's much less subtle there.

Anyway, for the sake of demonstrating my point, I am going to grossly oversimplify politics and assume that fandom is 80% liberal and 20% conservative.

Let us further stipulate that liberals are exactly as likely to hold negative stereotypes of conservatives as conservatives are to do so of liberals. That's been my personal experience, as someone who has more-or-less been on both sides. Also, conservatives and liberals both perceive "the other side" as being more intolerant of political diversity than their side. We are all human, we all notice slights made against us more than those directed at others, and humans are all inclined by nature to think at least a little worse of people who disagree with us on important topics.

Furthermore: let's assume that most conservatives and most liberals are of good will, and only a minority of either group believes those in the opposite group are stupid/ignorant/evil. We'll say that just 10% of either group will badmouth the other.

Last, let us stipulate that people who are among those of like mind will speak more freely. That is, in a group of mostly conservatives, the 10% who will badmouth liberals are more likely to speak up than if they were in a group of mostly liberals, and vice versa. Let's say that 50% of the time they'll make a derogatory comment if they're in the majority, and only 20% of the time if they're not.

To sum up my assumptions:
  • SF&F fandom is split 80/20 liberal/conservative
  • The typical liberal and the typical conservative are both tolerant of political differences
  • But a small fraction -- 10% of liberals and conservatives -- will make derogatory remarks about the other side
  • That 10% will make derogatory remarks 50% of the time when in a group of mostly their own side, and 20% of the time otherwise
Note: I picked specific percentages because I am going to make a mathematical point and if I use variables instead, this will take forever and be even less comprehensible. The exact numbers aren't important as long as I am right about the direction of the trend.

I actually saw an analysis very similar to this one within the last month or so, but on women in tech rather than on politics in sf&f. I have been searching in vain for if for the last few days, so I am replicating it (badly) instead.

Now, let's take a population of 100 sf&f fans at a con, and break them out into, let's say, 16 different groups of random size, in 15 chunks. The 16 represents different panels/social events/mingling in dealer room/etc. that are all going on at the same time, and the 15 chunks are different blocks of time during which another set of events will happen.

We have 72 liberals, and 18 conservatives. These individuals never say anything bad about conservatives or liberals. Then there's the 10% who may badmouth the other side, designated with an x: 8 liberals and 2 conservatives.

Sample spreadsheet showing how many derogatory comments about their politics the conservatives hear, and how many the liberals hear, over the course of a given convention.

Don't like my numbers? This has all the formulas used to calculate them. I'm not using this one as my example because the random numbers regenerate every time anything's edited on it, and it's laggy because there're so many interdependent formulas. But if you want to check my work, or if you want to copy it and crunch numbers based on different assumptions, be my guest.**

In my sample: at the end of the con, the average conservative has heard his ideology disparaged almost 4 times. The average liberal: 1 time. The conservatives are hearing four times as much politically-related abuse as the liberals.

I want to reiterate a few of the assumptions behind this analysis:
  • THERE IS NO LIBERAL CONSPIRACY.
  • 90% OF LIBERALS NEVER BASH CONSERVATIVES.
  • UNDER GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES, LIBERALS ARE NO MORE LIKELY TO BASH THAN CONSERVATIVES.
And despite this:

THE CONSERVATIVES HEAR A LOT MORE BASHING ANYWAY.

When conservatives say "I feel like the sf&f fandom is hostile to me", you can believe them even though you do not think that liberals are bad people. You don't have to believe that there is a liberal conspiracy. You don't have to believe that conservatives are being singled out for abuse. You don't have to believe that you, personally, are the one doing the bashing.

All you have to accept is:
  • Liberals are in the majority in fandom
  • Liberals, like conservatives, are human beings and some of them -- a small FRACTION of them! -- will speak ill of their ideological opponents.
Yes, I crunched a bunch of numbers based on gross oversimplifications and wild guess assumptions. But the trend shown will hold, whether more pronounced or less so, as long as those two things are true. That's all that it takes to have a disparate impact on a minority group.

Human beings, by their nature, are inclined to bond with those perceived as similar, and to dislike those perceived as different. There's a study showing that babies will root against a puppet because the puppet doesn't like the baby's preferred food. Seriously. BABIES. Over FOOD preference. That's how deep this rabbit hole goes.

But that doesn't mean this struggle is hopeless and we'll always be victims of our human tendency to discriminate. After all, very few adults will wish someone ill because they like bacon better than chocolate, or vice versa. My country, America, has been on a long slow path towards eliminating prejudice based on a number of grounds. And it's slow, and painful, and some days it feels like we haven't gotten anywhere. But we have; however bad discrimination against people of color may be today, it's nothing like it was a century ago. In my lifetime I have seen "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" be incorporated because it was an improvement over the way homosexuals had been treated in the US military, and seen it overturned 17 years later because it was still discriminatory and we could do better.

So if you don't like the idea of people being made to feel unwelcome because of their ideology, then here's my advice:

Listen to what the people who share your ideology say. Imagine how you'd feel if someone described your positions the way you hear theirs described. If you hear someone mocking other points of view, or insulting them, or treating them as stupid/evil/ignorant: speak up. Say that you think it's unfair, or unkind, or whatever is appropriate to the situation. Maybe you won't be able to make the original speaker re-think their words, but you will let anyone listening who felt marginalized by the statement know that they aren't alone.

This is especially important when "your side" is the majority voice, but even if you're a minority within a given context, showing some empathy for the other side seldom go amiss.




For the curious: I mostly finished this at 5AM, and decided to try to sleeping before posting so I could proofread it. I managed to sleep for perhaps 40 minutes. Insomnia, I have SO MUCH BIAS against you right now. GRRRR.

Anyway, apologies for being long-winded and incoherent. I blame sleep dep, sore throat, fever, and nausea. Corporeal form, you are letting me down today.




* I know SJW started life as a slur, but as a Social Justice Cleric, I rather like the label. Plenty of self-identified liberals and Democrats are not deeply concerned with social justice, and it's handy to have a way to differentiate. Also, it sounds great. Adventuring Party on an epic quest for Social Justice! Anyway, I consider myself to be One of These, so if you are offended by it, please understand I do not mean it in a disrespectful way.

** Please bear in mind that I made this spreadsheet at 3:30 in the morning while sick and unable to sleep. If anyone does dig into it and discovers I munged some formulas, please let me know! I will be grateful. Any mistakes are due to sickness and/or sleep deprivation and not because I was intentionally fudging to make my point.

EDIT: ckd found the link to the Ian Gent's blog post about sexism in tech, which is what inspired my post, and which has the original model illustrating "the Petrie Multiplier". Thank you, CKD!
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Subject:Jogging: WHY
Time:11:16 am

One of the people I follow on Twitter linked to a post by her husband about ru7nning a 50km event. Much later, she tweeted jokingly about running a single mile herself and being winded.

Now, I do not consider myself a couch potato. I do 25+ mile bike rides a few times a month. But I still think of running even a single consecutive mile as an accomplishment, one that I personally have never achieved, if you consider "run" ro be "complete at 5mph or faster".

There was a time, when I didn't have a useable bike, when I jogged fairly regularly. I define "jogging" here as "a pace where one never has both feet on the ground at the same time. My jog is generally very slow.  When I was doing it regularly, I might average 4.5 mph for the first mile and a half. By the time I got to three, my speed would drop to under 4mph. Most people can pace me at a brisk walk. Heck, my own brisk walk is comparable.

I haven't tried jogging in, I don't know, a year or more. I rented a car this weekend for groceries and errands, and figured "Hey, instead of futzing around to get my bike in the car trunk, I will drive to the trail and go jogging."

I wanted to try running a mile: actually running, not plodding at a slow jog. So I started at a run, taking big strides and swinging my arms properly. I checked my speed after 30 seconds: 7mph! I am actually running! This is not sustainable.

Two minutes later: I'm at 4.8mph. I try picking up the pace a little. Two minutes later: 4.5mph. At half a mile and 7 minutes, I gave up and crashed to a slow walk. I alternated jogging and walking for another 13 minutes, until I checked my jogging speed and found it at 3.8mph, at which point I stopped bothering and walked back to the car.

The thing is, jogging is just a miserable form of exercise. Walking on a pleasant day is nice. Biking is fun. And jogging is an exercise in pain and suffering. Maybe I should try sustaining, say, a 15mph pace on my bike for 15 minutes and see if that could make me dislike biking, but I kinda suspect it would be difficult but would not leave me thinking ZOMG WHY.

I haven't earned my pricey Panera drink and bagel, but I'm having it anyway. And drawing. Nyah.

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Subject:March End-of-Month Update
Time:04:12 pm

It's a new month! I still haven't forgotten my NYR! Or failed it.

Health/Fitness
The weather improved dramatically this month, so I've been doing lots more biking. Including a few 25+ mile rides on the weekend.

Also, in my head, it is more "trouble" to put my bike in a car trunk and drive it to a bike trail than it is to bike 16 miles (round trip) to the same trail. I think if I ever buy a car, I should get a bike rack for it.

Writing
I wrote a couple of book reviews (I actually need to write some more -- I am behind on reviewing) and a handful of LJ entries, plus a small amount of Flight Rising fanfic.

The Business of Writing
I finished editing A Rational Arrangement!

... I spent more time editing it than I did writing it. Oif. Let's not do that again.

Alinsa is kindly typesetting it for me. I'll start serializing it sometime this month, after I figure out where I am serializing it other than "on LJ". The e-book will come out in May or June, at a guess.

I started work on the cover design. My current plan is to release it as an e-book with a simple cover that I'll do myself.  When I'm done serializing it, I may run a Kickstarter to see if I can raise money for a real artist to do an illustrated cover.

Art/Other
Been doing a lot more art lately, mostly as a soothing activity rather than out of any particular desire to either (a) illustrate something or (b) get better at illustrating things. So I've asked for prompts on Twitter and done little sketches: sometimes with color markers, sometimes pencil, but all small, in my 6x6" sketchbook. In between those, I'd color in one of haikujaguar's coloring books.  In March I did 26 sketches and finished two coloring book pages.

I did a very rough sketch for a potential cover of A Rational Arrangement. Then I decided I needed a reference picture for the poses if I was to have any hope of making it look all right, and gave up. Maybe I will get a ref pic taken at some point and try again.

Gaming
As March neared the end, I realized that my statement at the end of February that "I haven't yet killed my PBEM" was in danger of no longer being true. So I finally started posting to the PBEM, at which point it instantly revived. ♥ my players.

I met up with an old friend of mine at Planet Comicon, where he was selling his comic books ( http://www.sunday-superheroes.com). I'd been in a couple of PBEMs he'd run some years back, and we talked about starting a new one. I'm going to use the "Guardian Angel" superhero concept I came up with a couple of years back, but I still need to write it up as a character under the current incarnation of the house rules/Champions hybrid that Bradley uses.

Socializing
I attended Planet Comicon for one day, including my first-ever experience manning a table at a con. It was very low pressure, since the table was for the d20 Girls, which is a nonprofit organization more about making women welcome in fandom than selling products. Also, there was always at least one other person with me, and I was only on duty for three hours total. It was more an excuse for me to sit and draw for a while than anything else.

In retrospect, volunteering for a few bours turned out to be the best way to experience the event. First, it meant I didn't have to pay for a ticket to a very expensive con. Second, it gave me a place to sit, draw, and let people come to me (even if I was nominally 'on' and therefore endeavoring to look perky, alert, and friendly towards anyone who strayed near). Third I mainly go to cons for fannish companionship, and Planet Comicon was HUGE and NOT COMPANIONABLE. There's not much in the way of panels, so it's basically 20,000 people wandering around a gigantic dealer's area or waiting in line to pay media guests for pics and signatures. So you're basically spending a lot of money for the opportunity to spend a lot more money buying stuff.

It's really not my scene. Even the "big name" guests are all actors, and while I'm not going to say "actors are boring", I am a lot more interested in talking to writers.

In that vein: I did get to hang out with Randy Milholland of Something Positive for a while, which was fun. He even kind of  remembered me, which I hadn't expected. (I met him a few years ago at a local gaming con, and I was in a Little Fears session he ran at it.) I remain amused by how totally different his in-person demeanor (friendly, helpful, and welcoming) is from his online demeanor (curmudgeonly and grumpy).

Corwyn was helping one of the vendors at this event. He's interested in vending at it some time, and offered to buy me a pass if I'd help him at his table, so I may do the con again. I doubt I'd go as a regular attendee, though. It just doesn't seem like that much fun, and it doesn't attract many guests/dealers that I'd want to see in person.

Outside of the con, I saw Corwyn a couple of times, but I was mostly in hermit mode.

Happiness
I think this month was pretty good overall, though I do feel more than ever that there's not enough time for everything I want to do. I am trying to spend more time doing things I care about, and less time on mindless webbrowsing or staring into space. Part of me does believe that if I spent most of my day doing things that matter, then it's okay that not everything got done. It'll get done eventually.

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Subject:A Rational Arrangement: editing complete!
Time:12:42 pm

As I was doing my usual aimless webbrowsing this morning, I thought, "I should do something more productive. Like edit A Rational Arrangement ... oh wait, I'm done with that."

Right.

I declared last night that I was going to stop poking at A Rational Arrangement now, and officially handed it off to alinsa, who'd volunteered to typeset it for me ages ago.

My plan for the story from here goes something like this:

* Serialize it on LJ and Dreamwidth (under my existing Rowyn accounts). The serial will run three times a week, for 250 or so posts. (Come to think of it, I actually do have to poke at the manuscript some more to divide it into posts.)
* Possibly serialize it some other places at the same time, such as tumblr, or on its own site.  "Its own site" does not seem worth the effort of creating; almost everyone I know who has their own domain complains about the effort required maintaining it and its unreliability. But maybe something will change my mind on this. All the cool kids have their own sites, after all.
* Create a cover for it.
* Not long after starting the serial (maybe a month?), release it as an ebook, so that people who don't want to wait for each post can buy it.

Possibly-optional steps:

* Set up a micro business for self-publishing purposes.  I don't know how important this is, but some sources say it's useful for tax purposes to have your writing under its own business, and it doesn't seem like it'd hurt. Should research.
* Buy some ISBNs. Some of my friends who self-publish say you don't need to do this any more, and some of them still do it, so I should presumably research it further.

The cover is the part that feels like the most work, at this point. I don't particularly want to commission a professional artist to do a cover, for various reasons. The two biggest reasons are: (a) I don't think the book's odds of profitability justify the expense of a pro cover. It's a niche product for a niche genre and (b) I have no good ideas that would require a pro artist. I have been trying to picture how I'd illustrate the book in standard "here are the protagonists" romance style, and I got nothin'.

I have  one idea for a cover that I like, which would be "smallish photograph of three overlapping wedding bands, against a dark background, with book title the dominant element." I might need to pay a photographer for this. I dunno. Presumably it'd be cheaper than paying for a cover painting, at least. This style of cover is popular in YA, which my book isn't, which is the main downside to it. The main upside is that I like it, unlike everything else I can think of.

I have no actual design programs. I will play around with ideas in ArtRage and see what I come up with.

I plan to publish the book under a pseudonym, probably "L. Rowyn". This would save me the trouble of getting social media account names that match my author name. Also, assuming I ever publish non-romance books, I'll probably do so under a different name anyway. Not out of a desire for anonymity, but because the markets are different enough that I think a different 'brand' makes sense.

I am probably forgetting some steps. What am I forgetting?

Also: yay! I finished editing a book! I've never declared victory on editing before. Exciting. \o/

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Subject:Clean Reader
Time:01:41 pm

This subject came up on Twitter this morning. I tweeted about it a bit myself, but Twitter is not a great place for talking about complex subjects.

There are some questions about whether the Clean Reader app works as it says it does. For the sake of discussion, I will assume that it does what it claims: take an uncensored ebook that the user legally owns and display that ebook to the user with the obscenities censored out. The censorship settings are a changeable toggle: the user can opt to uncensor the ebook at any time. The app doesn't change the ebook, nor does it sell users altered ebooks. It has the option to alter the display of purchased copies.

I have no personal use for this product. I do not think obscenities are a wonderful thing that enriches language, but I don't find them all that offensive, either. I'd rather read the book the author wrote than a bowlderized version.

However, I have great sympathy for those who do find obscenities and profanities offensive. I rarely use them in my own writing in part because of this. If someone chooses to buy a book and then black out all the bad words in their personal, legally-owned copy, that seems perfectly reasonable to me. If they want to buy an app to do the same thing for them automatically: fine. I may find this a bit silly, and I don't want to read their copy, but it has no effect on me. The copyright holder still gets paid. The app is not charging for a derivative work. It's all good. I feel like this falls, correctly, under "fair use".

But there are some interesting hypothetical cases around the same concept. For example:

* An app that censors based on content, removing homosexual characters or minorities, altering religions, etc.: I would not think well of anyone who used such an app, but if it's only for their personal legally-owned copy, I'd still call it fair use. Only a twit would use it. But twits have rights too.

* A school board that orders all the school library books censored via app: This school board needs to be recalled. But the point of failure is the school board, and not the existence of the app. I am not sure I'd go so far as to say "libraries should not be allowed to lend copies of bowlderized books", but I wouldn't be upset if a law prohibited libraries from censoring their legally-owned copies of books, either. Lending out a book you've altered strikes me as different in a meaningful way from altering one you only intend to read yourself.

* Similarly, I think that selling censored books is also on different legal ground: that even if you own a copy of a book, you are not necessarily allowed to alter it any way that you like and re-sell your copy. (I think this gets into "derivative works".) But I'm not sure of the legal grounds here. Legal or not, it's ethically dubious at best.

That's all I can think of for now. What do you think of this issue?

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Subject:Editing
Time:11:08 am

Lut glanced at my monitor. "Y'know, your male protgaonist acts like a whiny little girl sometimes."

I giggled. "He does!"

Lut: " ... well, as long as you know."

Every character needs flaws. :)

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Subject:Sweet Disorder, by Rose Lerner
Time:12:51 pm

Sweet Disorder is a Regency romance I picked up by recommendation of Courtney Milan; I think it was on sale at the time. I didn't get around to reading it for some weeks, but when I did, I went through it in a day. I enjoyed the book a good deal. There's a great deal going on in the background with minor characters that the protagonists don't catch until much later. The male protagonist is lame from a war injury: it's a comparatively minor disability, but in this time period particularly it's significant, and the author treats it sensibly. I liked the characters: they made me laugh frequently, and they had a pleasant rapport. The sex scenes were much more interesting than the usual ones, and included an aborted attempt that was strikingly novel. One of the book's themes is "being seen for who you are"; all of the characters (minor and major alike), tended to see what they expected in the others, rather than what was really there. Interestingly, I found this extended to my own perception of the male protagonist, whom I saw at first as "what I expect from a male protagonist with these traits" instead of what he was actually like and doing. It was deftly done. Other cool things: it's a "poor woman matched with earl's son" book, but instead of the woman getting drawn into the man's gilded life, she brings him into her own world. It's a Regency novel that offers a glimpse into the everyday life of people who actually have to work for a living, and doesn't portray that as either idyllic or nightmarish.

I didn't love it enough for a 9, and I'm not sure why. Maybe because the characters' sexuality felt too disconnected from their setting, or because the background characters, while they had interesting subplots, didn't engage me as people. Still, it's a solid 8, and definitely recommended.

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Subject:Power
Time:10:16 am

Knowledge = power
Internet = a large fraction of the sum of all human knowledge, at our fingertips.
Therefore, we are all as powerful as superheroes.

... so it turns out that, if superheroes were real, they would mostly use their vast powers to look at cat gifs.

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