Me 2012

No Longer Friends (118/141)

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Justin and Nikola were no longer friends.

Oh, there was no open hostility between them: Nikola didn’t scowl when he encountered Justin in a social setting, made no sharp remarks, offered no veiled insults. Indeed, in public he behaved just as he always had: gracious, friendly, civil, even warm. Justin reciprocated, offering the same appearance of easy, open friendship. In public, no viewer would think there had been a break between them.

In private…

There was no “in private”. They saw one another at events hosted by mutual acquaintances, where Nikola never strayed from a group of fewer than three and was often with Wisteria. On the occasions that the Strikers invited Justin for dinner, there were at least a dozen other guests and Nikola’s presence was required to entertain them until such time as some other social duty was certain to call Justin or Nikola away. For the two invitations to dinner parties that Nikola accepted from Comfrey, Nikola arrived with Miss Vasilver and left early, with an unimpeachable excuse each time. When Miss Vasilver was not about, there was always some other group. Invitations to hunt and to bowrace were both politely declined “due to prior engagements”. There likely were prior engagements, even, but Nikola of old would have offered an alternate date.

Nikola of now did not want to take any chance of being alone with Justin.

What was left was a hollow mockery of their former friendship, all appearance and no substance. The amiable public facade which had once concealed deep intimacy now concealed a vast empty gulf.

Justin felt the lack keenly. Sometimes, when he was telling a story at a party and Nikola was listening and laughing along, or when Justin and Nikola and Wisteria were all three offering droll commentary on a particularly insipid ball, Justin could forget that well-hidden animosity. For a time, he could pretend to himself that Nikola’s distance was but a product of his additional obligations to his betrothed and the stress involved in the wedding preparations.

Then they would meet by chance in some empty hallway, outside the lavatory or wherever, at a society event, and Nikola would give him a look of cold hostility and an icy “My lord” before hurrying away, and Justin would know that this was no matter of happenstance.

Distractions abounded: the Ascension season was nothing but one entertainment after another. Justin attended the galas and parties and theater performances, went to shadowed back rooms for anonymous assignations, forced his body through grueling exercise routines, tried to forget himself in noise and sensation. But at the end of every day, he was alone with the knowledge that he would always be alone. There could be no pleasurable anticipation of his next night with Nikola, nor his next day either.

There was nothing to look forward to at all.

It hurt, and Justin didn’t know what to do about it. Perhaps it was his own fault, for walking out on such an angry, bitter note. Perhaps he could have sent a note, apologized or at least explained that of course Nikola was not nothing to him, could never be nothing. I want so much more than friendship from you, but friendship would be better than this. But what could he write that would be enough and not too much, too dangerous to risk falling into unknown hands? And why must I always be the one to humble myself? After all I’ve done and risked for love of him, why must I still prove that I am his friend?

Some days Justin hated that he cared at all, wished he felt as coldly towards Nikola as Nikola did to him. If he tried, he could work up a righteous anger on the topic and sustain it for a while.

But mostly, it felt pointless. Everything felt pointless. Justin continued his activities out of habit, and for that occasional glimmer of forgetfulness, those moments near Wisteria or Nikola in some crowd, when the present was pleasant and ordinary and he could pretend it was real.

He intended to keep Miss Vasilver as a friend and had been thus far successful. If Miss Vasilver believes me capable of disinterested friendship why cannot Nikola, who knows me so much better? (Because he knows me so much better, of course.) He’d managed her news rather better than Nikola’s, perhaps because he’d spent some time contemplating how he would handle it.

Part of him wanted to seduce her still, to claim her body before Nikola could. (They are not yet wed; if I persuaded her to give her virginity to me, would she break with him and wed me instead? If he knew, would he break with her?) Justin desired Miss Vasilver more the longer he knew her, but he respected her too. He rather suspected that any attempt he made would end in humiliating failure. Even if she were receptive, she deserved better than such manipulative treatment. So he took care to avoid any circumstance that might tempt him otherwise.

At times he wondered why he bothered, wondered if it might not be better to seize at any chance, no matter how slim, that might end the dark pall that had fallen across his life. Who was he trying to impress by taking the high ground? Miss Vasilver? She already knew how little honor he had, given that he’d revealed Nik’s intentions to her and proposed himself. Nikola? Justin was never going to regain his good graces. The general public? Perhaps. Justin had put considerable effort into cultivating his reputation and some part of him, the part that said ‘this too shall pass’, did not want to throw that away for nothing. And it very likely would net him nothing.

And I still have Wisteria’s friendship. Do I want to risk losing that, too?

It was not as much as he wanted, but it was something, and Justin had little enough of true value to him now.




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Me 2012

Rejection (117/141)

RA Header 117

After dinner, Lord Nikola – Wisteria still could not think of him without the title – and she made the announcement to her parents. Which was, unsurprisingly, well-received by them.

Courtesy of Lord Comfrey, Wisteria had had several days to come to terms with the idea of Lord Nikola proposing to her. She had more-or-less resolved in advance that, after giving Lord Nikola as full a disclosure as she could, she would accept if he were still interested. So she had little right or reason to be surprised at finding herself engaged.

She was anyway.

Even more astonishing was Lord Nikola’s revelation that, first, her oddities were not only mental in origin but likely treatable, and second and more amazing, that he did not advise treating it. It had never occurred to her to look on her handicaps as anything but obstacles to be overcome. That someone might care for her not in spite of but because of them was nothing short of miraculous.

After the announcement, her mother didn’t want to do anything but discuss wedding plans and dates and set preparations in motion. Lord Nikola made his escape by promising to send his own mother as sacrifice in his place. Wisteria had no idea how to extricate herself from the task. She told her mother up front and repeatedly that her sole preference was “as soon as possible” and otherwise she was indifferent on the matter of location, invitations, colors, theme, and every other conceivable aspect. While her mother nodded and agreed, her behavior gave no indication that Wisteria had been believed or even heard.

When Lady Striker called with both her daughters to congratulate Wisteria and speak of wedding plans, Wisteria resorted to sneaking away outright. She excused herself to go to the lavatory, passed Mrs. Warwick a note on the way out to beg her to cover for her absence, and fled.

She stopped at her office first to get the folder she had worked up on the Colbury evaluation, put a suit jacket over her dress, and directed Sally to take her in the gig to Comfrey Manor. I can apologize to Mother later. This cannot wait.

Lord Comfrey had guests when she arrived; since her attire and folder signaled a professional call, Comfrey’s butler directed her to wait in his office.

A quarter of an hour later, Wisteria was seated at his conference table and engrossed in the file when Lord Comfrey stepped into the office. “Good evening, my dear. This is an unexpected pleasure; I would never expect you to work on that during the Ascension season. In fact…” His smile faded as he walked to join her at the table. “I ought to pay your fee and cancel the request; I no longer have the need to sell.”

“Oh, I truly think you ought to divest yourself of your stake in Colbury Textiles,” Wisteria told him. “But I did not come on business.” She stood before he had moved to take a seat, feeling the joy of recent events ebb out of her, an empty ache filling her heart. How can this be what I want and yet not at the same time? “Lord Nikola proposed to me today, and I have accepted him, my lord. I did not want you to learn this from another source.”

“Ah.” He stood motionless for a moment, then smiled. “Congratulations to you both, my dear. I trust you will be very happy together.”

“I believe we will.” She wished she could read his expression. “I wish I could marry you both.”

Lord Comfrey laughed. “There’s a notion! As if one marriage were not trouble enough. What kind of Paradise would it be where one might have several?”

“A more perfect Paradise?”

“I do not think you will find many who would agree. Come, my dear.” He offered his arm. “I should not keep my guests waiting. Let me show you out.” As they walked together into the hall, the lord added, “Thank you for telling me yourself, Miss Vasilver. That was well done.”

“You deserved that much. A great deal more, to be honest. I am sor—”

“Never apologize, my dear,” he interrupted her. “I should have made the same choice, in your place.” They had reached the front door. The footman opened it for them, and Lord Comfrey escorted her down the steps to hand her into her gig. “Be well, Miss Vasilver. I look forward to seeing you again.”

“Good day, Lord Comfrey.” There were a thousand things she wanted to say: had there been a moment, any chance at all, she would have blurted something inappropriate out. But she was in the gig before she knew it. I wonder how he does that, she thought as she asked Sally to take her home. I am sure my parents would love to know. Watching Lord Comfrey stroll back inside, tall and strong and graceful, the embroidered trim of his jacket flashing in the winter sunlight, she ached with loss and desire. How can I love them both so much, when I am only permitted one?

The remaining weeks of the Ascension season passed in a blur for Wisteria: all of the usual social events piled on top with all the details and chores of planning for the wedding. The date had been set for early summer, driven in part by the timing of the queen’s schedule. As a count’s heir, Nikola had the privilege of a royal officiant for his wedding and Lady Striker hoped the queen herself would do the honors. According to Nikola, the other part was that both their families wanted them wed at once, “for fear we might reconsider.” Wisteria’s mother lamented that a mere five months was insufficient to all the tasks that must be done for a proper wedding. Privately, Wisteria wanted to elope.

She did not suggest elopement to her betrothed, mostly because she was sure he would agree and she felt that, after all the times she had disappointed her parents and even his, she owed it to them to do this one thing properly. Or as close to properly as she could manage.    

Wisteria gave the question of treatment for her mind’s peculiarities considerable thought. On the one hand, her inability to read and express emotion as others did had always troubled her. To smile, laugh, cry, and so forth as a natural response had been a childhood dream that she had never quite outgrown.

Yet it was useful in ways: her exaggerated reputation for patience and calm was due to the difficulty people had in discerning her feelings, for instance. And while normal people who could read emotions picked up on cues that she missed, it did not stop them from getting into stupid misunderstandings. If anything, it made the stupid misunderstandings worse, because where Wisteria would ask for a verbal explanation, others would rely on inaccurate nonverbal communication and their own assumptions. Do I want to be normal?

‘Normal’ was out of the question anyway. She doubted any treatment would take her interest in finance and analysis away, or instill a love of clothing. But: more normal?

In the final analysis: no.

As frustrated as she was by her limitations, Wisteria liked the person that she was. That person had been formed in meaningful part on her limitations.

Besides, I can always seek treatment later, if I change my mind about changing my mind. It’s not as if my healer of minds is going anywhere.

Lord Comfrey continued to call on her, to her surprise. Not as often – once every week or two – but he was as pleasant and attentive a companion as before she’d refused him. They would speak on a wide range of topics, but always circumspect ones. After the first couple of visits, Wisteria realized that he had to still be managing her, so deftly she could not even describe how he did it. But he ensured she never brought up any subject that might prove disagreeable, and likewise that they were never alone where she might be frank about her feelings.

Her very conflicted feelings.

As far as she could discern, Lord Comfrey had lost all romantic and sexual interest in her the moment she told him she would marry Nikola. Which was good! Even if Nikola was willing to overlook her transgressions, she would prefer he did not have to. Wisteria knew she loved Nikola and had a confidence of at least ninety percent that she wished to marry him even more than she wished to marry Lord Comfrey.

But she still desired Lord Comfrey.

Wisteria was glad for his visits, grateful that he enjoyed her company because she treasured his. Yet it was difficult not to be close to him, not to be open with him as she was with Nikola.

It was not that she felt any lack in her relationship with Nikola, save that it was not yet consummated. With the betrothal, they were afforded more privacy: ample time to cuddle and speak of whatever they chose. They could likely have gotten away with doing more than simply cuddling, but Nikola insisted on circumspection – some nonsense about proving his respect for her. Still, after waiting so long already, Wisteria reasoned she could survive another few months. So they were waiting. Impatiently. Perhaps when she was wed, her fantasies about Lord Comfrey would cease. Not to mention her fantasies about Nikola with Lord Comfrey. Which she truly should not have and there was no reason to think that Lord Comfrey had been Nikola’s lover, and even if he had been Nikola had made it plain it was over. So it was outlandish and insulting and offensive and oh so very, very sensual. She would never speak of it, of course: Nikola had entrusted her with his secret and she did not need a list to know one did not betray a secret. Just as she could say nothing to Nikola that could suggest that Lord Comfrey had been the man of whom she had spoken with longing. Risking her own reputation with an ill-chosen word was an easy mistake for her to make, but Wisteria had discovered that her mind was more than willing to put in the effort to protect the men she loved.



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studious

Kings Rising, by C. S. Pacat

This is the third book in a trilogy; I think it's the last, though perhaps the author will write something more about the characters.

I have many feelings about this series.  MANY FEELS. Of the three books, I liked the second, Prince's Gambit best. The first, Captive Prince, I found absolutely harrowing. The second was much less harrowing: there was still violence but it was less intimate: conflict rather than abuse. The difference between being under the constant threat of death and the constant threat of torture. IN THEORY, I should be more worried about death, but in practice I find the prospect of torture worse. Sometimes I wonder if that's a side effect of depression. When you're used to fantasizing about death as an escape, it doesn't seem nearly as terrifying as having to endure horrors much worse than the life that left you suicidal. Anyway, maybe it's just me, but I found the first book engaging but traumatic. The second book was a fantastic exploration of the characters, still with lots of conflict and tension, but also lots of "protagonists being brilliant and talented in order to improve their position".

Kings Rising opens with several chapters that I found even more harrowing than the first book, because now instead of horrible things happening to characters I didn't care about, these were inflicted on ones I loved. I found it powerful but, to my surprise, not unpleasant. Books that do horrible things usually make me want to stop reading, but here I just wanted to see what would happen next, whether it was awful or not. And I wanted explanations: a reason for some of the extreme emotional abuse being dished out. So that impressed me, that throughout reading it I never wanted to put it down. (I did, because I had to work, but I didn't WANT to.)

Kings Rising displays an emotional intimacy of considerable range: not just love and lust, but the kind of deep cruelty and pain that only happens when someone loves a person who mistreats them, whether by accident or design. There are many highs and lows, and I rode them often with glee. Even the lows; I think that's because this is a romance and I was depending on a happily-ever-after, rather than being abandoned in a pit of misery. This was also well-done and engaging.

Some of the characters in the book are brilliant planners, and there's a sense of wonder, the I-didn't-see-that-coming-but-I-should've, that I love when I see it well-done. Of all the things one can hope for in a romance, this is one of the least likely to get. Pacat delivers it, multiple times, through Kings Rising. Unfortunately, this means that when it's NOT delivered, it's all the more disappointing.

The climax in particular felt overwrought rather than brilliant. One of those where the characters are in way more trouble than it looks like they can possibly get out of, and then they manage it, and on the one hand you're glad, but on the other you're like "that rescue wasn't very plausible or brilliant". This is my problem with the common 'up the stakes' advice writers get: the more trouble protagonists are in, the more likely it is that the solution will throw me out of the story by seeming too unlikely.

But my biggest fault with the book is it ends like a page after the climax. I HATE THAT. If you're one of those people who likes Hollywood endings, where the credits roll 30 seconds after the protagonists win, then you will be fine with this. I am not fine with this. I don't want to get kicked out of bed right after the climax: I want some post-coital cuddling. SHEESH.  This one actually annoys me much more than the lack of brilliance in the climax, because I know how tough it is to balance a challenge for your characters. But how hard is it to write some pages of your characters dealing with other loose ends, or living happily together, or SOMETHING after the big resolution? I'm not asking to be blown away by cleverness here, I just want to have some denouement.

I am going to stop nitpicking here, because the truth is that my complaints are based in significant measure on my expectations. I expected a 9 or even a 9.5 from Kings Rising, and I only got an 8. And the disappointment will make me review it like a 7, and it deserves better than that. This is an emotionally powerful book with many brilliant moments and flashes of genius. It is a flawed diamond, to be sure, but still a diamond, and still recommended.
studious

January Update

Health/Fitness
I went for a twenty-mile bike ride last weekend! Because the weather was actually nice despite it being January.

I also gained 3 pounds last week because I ate tons of junk food. Oog. I did well on not eating too much the last couple of days, at least. Maybe it's the start of a new trend!

Writing
I think I wrote like half a scene since my last update. I'm at 8.5 scenes total for January, and two bullet points finished.

The Business of Writing
BOOK. I uploaded Further Arrangements to Amazon and Draft2Digital on January 31. I am not quite done with the book, though, because the print version is still in final stages and will need to be proofed and uploaded. Amazingly, the e-book version populated to all four stores within 36 hours and without any weird "why isn't it working the same way when I buy it from this outlet that it does when I looked at it before uploading and in the distributor's upload-page previewer?" glitches.

(Have I talked about this book launch enough yet? Here, let me post some more BUY links just in case ... Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks)

I also did all the associated tasks with BOOK: cover art, dedication, acknowledgements, updated author bio, interior illustrations, book blurb, placement in SFWA's new release newletter, etc. It's a lot. Easier than last time, though.

Art/Other

  • I had a goal of 13 headers and finished 15.

  • I also did a number of Twitter-prompt sketches -- 12-15

  • I did 14-16 or so sketches of hands. Maybe someday I can draw a hand that looks more than vaguely hand-like.

  • Oh right and BOOK COVER. Plus some bonus interior images (title page for the collection, and also one for each story. Mostly because I'd already drawn more for the cover than actually fit on it.)

Socializing
I saw a couple of friends from St. Louis last weekend, and we went to the Toy & Miniature Museum. The miniatures were as amazing as I remembered. I want to shrink myself down so I can live in one of those dollhouses.

Happiness
A few bad patches, but overall, pretty good. I was very stressed out about the book launch on Sunday and Monday especially, but I'm mostly back to normal now.

Also, did everything on my goal list for January AND MORE so go me.

Goals for coming month
I am still feeling somewhat ground down by the effort of turning Further Arrangements into a book people can buy, so I don't want to make an ambitious list of goals. Let's go simple.

  1. 17 headers. That'll take me through the end of the serial.

  2. Talk to Alinsa about putting something on ladyrowyn.com other than a redirect to rationalarrangement.com. Probably nothing fancy, just an "I'm an author, here's my books, here's links to my LJ, Twitter, and RationalArrangment.com".

  3. Write some fiction. Doesn't have to be Birthright. Doesn't have to be any particular quantity.

That'll be enough.
Me 2012

Proposal: Part Two (116/141)

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RA Header 116

“Yes! And let me make this attempt properly.” Nikola shifted her from his lap to the cushion, then stood. He dropped to one knee on the floor before her, took one of her hands for reassurance – she looked so composed, and he all but trembling with nerves – and swallowed. “Miss Vasilver: I am ready to set aside all my philandering ways and cleave only unto you, if you will do me the very great honor of becoming my wife. Will you marry me, my lady?”

Her hand squeezed his as he awaited some reply, but his spirit sank as she remained silent. Finally, she asked, “Are you quite sure you wish to give up philandering?”

“For you? Absolutely. I have no entanglements, no illegitimate children, if that is your concern.”

But she was shaking her head. “No, it’s not that. It’s that I am not sure I am suited to the standards of marriage.”

“I…Miss Vasilver, if you are decided against me, you may feel free to say so; there’s no need to—”

“No!” She spoke quickly, interrupting him. “It’s not that I do not want to marry you, my lord, I do, marriage has been my goal for so long that you cannot know, you cannot imagine my happiness at being asked by you, by a man I esteem so much, one so principled, capable, attractive, even Blessed – you are everything I ever hoped for in a husband.” Nik blinked at her, stunned by the praise and apprehensive about the ‘but’ that must be coming. “I would be delighted to wed you. Only I fear I will not be the wife you expect or deserve. I had always thought, well, everyone marries, surely I can manage it, but everyone is not like me—”

Nikola rose enough to brace a knee against the couch and took her face in his hands to kiss her, silencing the flood of self-doubt. “Please, my lady. Let me be the judge of that. My mother has pushed a half-dozen or more conventional, unexceptionable girls into my path. I do not want to marry an ordinary woman who will be just what everyone expects. I want to marry you. Extraordinary, exceptional, unexpected.”

“Oh,” she said, faintly. “But…um…what if you do not have sufficient information to make an accurate judgment? I never did get you that due diligence report on myself.”

Nik took a deep breath, steadying himself against the rush of conflicting emotions: fear, passion, hope, nervousness. He focused on Miss Vasilver: her long face was composed but her light brown hands were clenched together, anxious, her gaze off to one side in concentration or embarrassment. “I have seen you defy and attack a man in my defense with both your own hands tied. I am not unaware of your character, Miss Vasilver. Is there something in particular you think I ought know and do not?”

“I’m afraid I’ll be unfaithful,” she blurted out. “That is – I was so forward with you when I oughtn’t have been and everyone has always told me that men despise such behavior in a woman—”

“I was there,” Nikola said, mildly. He resumed his seat beside the dark-haired woman. “‘Despise’ is not the word I would use. I am proposing to you, you know. I like your passion.”

“But what if I am the same way with another?”

He couldn’t help smiling at the way she phrased it, as if her actions might suddenly be beyond her control at any moment. “Miss Vasilver, I think you underrate your—-” he stopped mid-sentence, with a sudden awful premonition. What if she truly is afraid her actions will be beyond her control? “Are you – do you—” I love your mind, please, please do not ask me to change it. “Remember those pages of your document that so distressed my parents?”

She nodded. “My judgment can be so shockingly poor, my lord, there’s something horribly wrong with—”

Nik touched a gloved finger to her lips, not wanting to hear. That’s not a petition, she did not ask me what was wrong with her – “It did not distress me, my lady. I went to that meeting predisposed to dislike you, your parents, and everything about the situation. But instead you charmed me. With your very bluntness, your willingness to not merely consider but confront and address the ways that marriage fails some of its participants. Why would you think this makes you unsuitable for marriage? It is half the reason I am asking you! Perhaps that makes me unfit for the institution, in which case it is surely best that we be unfit together. If fidelity does not suit you – well, I should like you to be discreet; I do not wish to be a laughingstock. But I am not a jealous man. If you find you wish a lover in addition to and not in place of me, I do not think it an insurmountable obstacle to our matrimony.”    

“Oh. Truly?”

He smiled. “Truly. Is there…another man, then?”

“Oh…I do not think I ought to say. Is that the same as saying? Do not ask me his name, I beg you. I do not think anything could come of it regardless, I make such a hash of things.”

Nik swallowed against an unexpected surge of jealousy. Who is he? A gentleman? Some impoverished tradesman or a servant, too low class for you to wed? “Would you rather marry him?”

She shook her head. “No. I should rather marry you both, in truth.”

Nik smiled involuntarily. “I’m afraid that’s not an option.”

“So everyone tells me. If I may only have one, I will choose you. If you are sure—” She stopped as Nikola swept her into his arms again and kissed her thoroughly. As uncertain as her words had been, there was no shy hesitation in her response now. He caressed her side and down one skirt-covered leg as she twined her hands through his hair and pressed against his chest. Nik found he didn’t care why she prefered him to this unnamed suitor, whether it was for his title or Fireholt or his Blessing or – whatever. The important thing was she said yes!

“I am quite sure,” he told her after he paused for breath. His jacket had come off at some point in the last couple of minutes and his waistcoat was open. Delicate hands stroked over his shirt as she nuzzled experimentally at his cheek.

“Oh, thank you,” she murmured, kissing his neck just above the collar. “I am so very happy, I do not have words for it.” She clung tighter to him, as if to reassure herself he was real. “I do so want to be a good wife to you. I will do my best to be true, and not be a disappointment or an embarrassment to you. If I were not always making so many mistakes obvious to everyone else – but I will do better. For you I feel I could learn to be anything.”

Nik shivered at her words. “I don’t want you to be anyone but yourself.” The shapes of her mind filled his senses, the atypically rational connections standing out to him now, and the accompanying lack of instinct. That’s not a demon. Her mind is beautiful and fascinating and she did not petition me. ‘There’s something horribly wrong with me’ is a figure of speech. It doesn’t mean anything. He hugged her close, shutting his eyes, and knew he was making excuses to remain silent. “I do not believe there is anything wrong with you as you are, my betrothed. Do you…do you truly think yourself flawed?”

“Yes, certainly,” she answered, without hesitation. “In all sorts of ways. My body doesn’t express my feelings as it ought – my parents took me to dozens of healers when I was small and no one could ever determine why, and it’s as if because I cannot express them I cannot read emotion either. And things that are obvious to everyone else, like, oh, how one ought not discuss any of the important details of marriage when one is considering an engagement, or why one cannot marry more than one person, or – oh, the list is endless. Why I oughtn’t do things that feel wonderful, like kissing you.” She kissed him to demonstrate, and for a minute Nik forgot the topic and the accompanying sense of dread.

But she paused to breathe, gazing at him with a calm, neutral expression while he was flushed and stunned by desire, and he knew he could not just ignore what she’d said. “Ahh…so you’ve seen other mind-healers?” Not me. I would remember your mind anywhere, even if we had both been children at the consultation.

“No, my lord, it’s not that I’m—” She cut herself off, tilting her head at him. “Oh, it is, isn’t it? The healers couldn’t find a problem because it’s not my body that’s wrong but my mind. You can see it, can’t you? Why did you not – oh, of course you wouldn’t, you said you don’t ask people if they have a problem. But this is wonderful, Lord Nikola, will you fi—”

Nikola covered her mouth before she could finish, before she committed herself. “Don’t – please, wait.” Reluctantly, he shifted her from his lap to the sofa and stood, needing to clear his mind to think. He paced the polished hardwood floor of the small parlor. “Miss Vasilver, your mind is, yes, most unusual. I do not say ‘defective’. There are connections that your mind makes with reason and that other minds make by instinct, and that…that might explain the symptoms you describe.”

“This is very exciting, my lord,” she said, head tilted. “But is it not something you may repair? You do not seem pleased.”

“It’s not—” Nik dropped to one knee before her and clasped her hand. “I don’t know if I could change it. If you find it so troubling as that – very likely the Savior would alter it, if you wanted but—” he held up a hand to forestall her “—please consider what you are asking first. The Savior will not alter your mind in a way that makes you unhealthy or less sane, but it can – will, in the case – make you less like who you are now. Wisteria, I love the way your mind works. I love the contract that you made full of all the important details that no one is supposed to discuss, and I love your list of topics not to talk about, and I love that you made a list, and I love you. As you are. I do not imagine that I will stop loving you if you ask the Savior’s aid here, and if you petition me of course the Code obliges me to honor your request. But I do not want to change you. You are not insane, or dysfunctional, or – anything that is not wonderful. You may not be typical but typical is overrated in my opinion. Please, consider seriously whether this is truly what you want.”

She watched him for a long moment, silent, and he had to throttle back the urge to press further arguments upon her. “You love me?”

He blinked at her. “Of course. I asked you to marry me.”

“Lots of people get married for reasons besides love.”

Nik glanced to one side. “Not me. It’s all right, I do not expect you to feel the same—”

“But I do.” She leaned forward to embrace him. “I love you,” she said, matter-of-fact. He rose, sweeping her into his arms. That lack of expression isn’t self-control. It’s just how she is. How she will always be, if I am lucky. Footsteps sounded in the corridor outside as they were kissing, and Nik set Wisteria on her feet and smoothed her dress and sleeves to suit decorum again before hastily buttoning his jacket.

A maid tapped at the half-open door. “Mrs. Vasilver wishes to know if his lordship will be staying to dinner?”

Nikola took Wisteria’s hand and squeezed, thinking of the news they had to announce. “I will be very happy to.” The girl curtsied and withdrew. “I suppose that’s our cue to stop hiding here.”

“Oh. Regarding what you said, my lord, on petitioning—”

“Please, take all the time you need to consider.” Nik smiled at her, a little forced, and swallowed. “There is no rush at all.”

She nodded, curtseying to him. “Thank you, my lord. I shall.”



Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? A Rational Arrangement is now on sale for $2.99! Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
Already bought A Rational Arrangement? Further Arrangements contains three more novellas in the same setting, and is also on sale for $2.99! Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks

Sale ends February 15, so buy now!
studious

Book Releases by Others!

Some of these launched today, some of them are just "soon", but I was surprised by how many books that I wanted to read are coming out at the same time as my own*. So I am sharing!


This one, I planned. When I realized that I wasn't going to have Further Arrangements ready to publish until February, I decided to launch it the same day as Kings Rising. There was no good reason for this, except that it meant I could spend today reading Kings Rising instead of obsessing over my book sales. Which mostly worked, in fact. I finished Kings Rising earlier today, and longer review to come, but the short version is: good book, had some issues with it, glad I read it, very engrossing. I haven't read any of the others in this post yet, because seriously I do not read that fast any more.


The sequel to Unbound, which I reviewed a few days ago. There was lots and lots of upheaval in the setting by the end of the last book, and I am super-excited to see how things shake out in this one. Also, I am impressed by the way Hines wrapped up the major plot threads in Unbound, but left so much in flux as far as the world went. Nice trick! This also came out today.


The latest Vorkosigan book! The ARC came out last year, and the e-book went on sale in January, but the hardcover launched today. This is a new Cordelia novel, and I know nothing else about it, but I like almost everything Bujold's written, so pretty sure I will enjoy this too.


haikujaguar opened pre-orders for this book yesterday, and it will be out next Monday. Featuring some of my favorites of Micah's characters! I've already got my copy on order.


This has the coolest table of contents I've ever seen. Go on, just look at the preview and you can see it. :9

And special mention to ursulav: her The Raven and the Reindeer isn't out or up for preorder yet, but it's to be released in "early February", so soooooooon.

... I actually think there were more, but I can't remember what. @_@

EDIT: Oh hey I remembered one of them!



This is a "light novel", which is a form popular in Japan and I don't know how it differs from a novella. Anyway, it's by the author of the fanfic "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality", and I'm quite curious to see how he does with orig fic.

* Did I mention Further Arrangements is out today? I probably mentioned it. A few times.
studious

Further Arrangements: ON SALE NOW!

Further Arrangements is now for sale! At URLs conveniently accessible to your browser!



About the book

A Prequel, a Sequel, and a Parallel:
Three novellas set in the world of A Rational Arrangement

His Angel: Lord Justin Comfrey is not in the habit of molesting the help. But when his host assigns an angelic young man to attend to Comfrey's every need, that resolve is sorely tested.

Inconceivable: When Wisteria has trouble conceiving a child with her husband, Nikola Striker, it only makes sense to them to ask their secret husband for help. But to Justin, the question is not so simple.

A Regular Hero: Callie strikes sparks with the handsome warcat Anthser, but she's a competitive racer and he serves the Blessed Lord Nikola. She wants more from her life than to be the second most important person in his. Must one of them give up their life's dream to be the other's mate?

Special New Release Price!


In honor of the release, both A Rational Arrangement and Further Arrangements are on sale for $2.99! Buy them now! Sale ends February 15.

I do not presently plan to serialize Further Arrangements, so if you'd like to read more in this setting after the serial of A Rational Arrangement is complete, here's your chance!

Publishing Details


Special thanks to alinsa, who lovingly typeset the book for me, and did the typography for the cover.

Further Arrangements will also be available in print form in the next week or so. Cover price to be determined. It should be less than A Rational Arrangement, because Further Arrangements is much shorter than the first book.

Other Ways to Support the Author


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

For those who read the collection: 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!)
Me 2012

Spoken (115/141)

RA Header 115

Within a few days, Nikola fell back into his normal routine as if he’d never left it. To his surprise, the number of petitioners awaiting his care was still down from the pre-Ascension peak. The crowd outside Anverlee’s gates also caught him off-guard. He had half-expected some petitioners to be camped at the gates in the hope of his resumption of duties. Nik had not anticipated a mob of respectful well-wishers crafting a makeshift shrine and praying for his recovery. They cheered when he made his first appearance outside the gates while riding on Anthser, and crowded near like greatcats to touch him. But these people were not ill; merely grateful, he gathered, for some past healing of their own or of loved ones. It was at once moving and unsettling, to have so many strangers devote so much thought to his well-being.

But he felt no trace of his former panic in their presence. He was confident he was healthy again, although both mind and life remained rife with imperfections.

Losing Justin was the worst of them.

Nik would think of Justin at odd moments: this will be a funny story to share with Justin or Justin would enjoy that game or I wonder what Justin’s doing now? And then he would remember their last parting. We are not friends any more. If we ever were. Sometimes he would find himself depressed or angry or grieved and not be sure why, until he recollected that awful departure.

It was irrational but not madness: he could not look to the Savior to cure a broken heart. The best treatment he’d found was to think of Miss Vasilver. Nik was not at all sure that she would receive his suit favorably, but he had no concern that she would curse, shout, or repudiate him.

Almost no concern, anyway.

He was torn between anxiousness to ask so he could know her answer, and determination to take the time to distance himself from his incapacity and prove himself as a competent man and a worthy suitor, and worry over how she might react. His mother had been disappointed when she learned he had not asked at the first opportunity on Wednesday. Lord Striker, at least, understood the point of honor involved.

§


On the Friday after his recovery, Nikola sent a message to Mr. Vance at the offices of prosecution, informing him that he would be able to stand witness to the crimes committed against him, if so needed. He’d not heard from the watch or the prosecution since Anthser ordered Feli Thranthier away a week ago. He suspected his parents, if not the greatcats, had been deflecting any attempts to reach him. Lord Striker would have no interest in drawing out such a spectacle, and for once Nikola agreed with that view. Still, Feli Thranthier had a point: laws needed to be enforced. It was one thing to balk at testifying when his mental state rendered the prospect akin to torture, and another when it was merely tedious and mortifying.

Mr. Vance’s reply came a few hours later. Anthser brought it to Nik in his office, when the lord was between petitioner appointments.

For Nikola Striker, Lord of Fireholt, By the Grace of the Savior Blessed with the Healing of Minds:

It is my duty to inform you that Ian Brogan has been attacked and slain by another prisoner while in our custody. As their leader was dead and my office was given to understand that my lord and his family wished to avoid a trial, we have reached an agreement with his accomplices that they will waive their right to a trial in return for sentences of indenture and exile from Newlant, as opposed to death. The hearing to approve this agreement is set for next Tuesday. My lord may attend if he wishes, but no witnesses are required. If my office has been misinformed or my lord has any objections to this agreement, please contact us as soon as possible and we will do our best to accommodate.

Your obedient servant,

G. Vance


The revelation of Brogan’s death shocked Nik. “Did you know about this?” He waved the note before Anthser’s face.

“Know about what?” The greatcat tilted his head, trying to read the moving paper.

“Brogan’s dead. And the prosecutor’s letting his accomplices plea to avoid the gallows.”

“Oh. I knew about Brogan. Was in the papers, uh, Monday?” Sheepish, Anthser canted his ears and sat back on his haunches. “We didn’t want to bother you about it then, and then when you were doing better…guess no one thought about it. Sorry. Didn’t know about the plea, though. Is that bad?”

After a moment of consideration, Nik shook his head. “No, it’s as well. They won’t be free to hurt anyone else, and I’ve no taste for vengeance.”

The black greatcat’s ears perked. “Then it’s all over now.”

Nik exhaled, feeling an unexpected relief at the realization. “Yes. I suppose it is.”

A full week of petitioners, family members, and social events bolstered Nik’s self-confidence, and on the following Thursday he let impatience win out over fear and propriety. Attired in a conservative suit of Fireholt’s black and orange, Nik called upon Miss Vasilver with one goal in mind.

The Vasilvers happened to have several other callers that morning and their everyday parlor was jammed with family members and visitors. Miss Vasilver introduced Nikola to the infamous Mr. Stephen Vasilver and his wife, as well as some family friends or perhaps business associates – it was hard to tell the difference. There were even a few mutual acquaintances: Mr. Anthony Dalsterly, one of Lady Dalsterly’s great-nephews or great-great-nephews, and Mr. and Mrs. Lavert. Predictably, his acquaintances in the crowd were eager to ask after his health. Surely I cannot be more than a nine-day wonder, and my nine days are well past, Nik thought as he put on a smile and gave civil answers to the inquiries.

He was seeking a pretext under which to isolate Miss Vasilver when her mother approached. “Wisteria, perhaps his lordship would like to view the prospect from the south parlor.”

“He would?” Miss Vasilver said.

“You know, how the windows frame the ice on the trees,” Mrs. Vasilver said, at almost the same time that Nikola offered his assurance that he would be delighted to see it.

“It does? Oh, I should be happy to show you, my lord.” Miss Vasilver took his arm and led him out of the crowd. As they walked the paneled hallway, she added, “Though I didn’t think there was any ice left on the trees. Wasn’t the last storm three days ago?” He laughed, and she tilted her head at him. “My lord?”

“I do believe your mother was scheming again, miss. But since her scheme to get us alone coincides exactly with my own wishes, I will say nothing against it.”

“Oh.” Miss Vasilver faced forward, her gaze directed aimlessly upon an antique bust on a stand at the end of the hall. “You must think me foolish, to be oblivious to such things.” She turned to open a door into a cozy room, far more comfortable than the formal parlor.

Nikola left the door partway open for propriety’s sake as he followed her within, then caught her arm. “Miss Vasilver—” he moved to face her, smiling with a goofy affection he had lost all will to conceal “—I do not find you foolish in any respect. Indeed, I am entranced by your nature, which is so honest and sincere that it scarce occurs to you how devious all the rest of us can be.”

“That is a kind way to interpret it, my lord, but I think it has more to do with inobservance than personal inclination.”

“Even if that were the case, it is of no consequence.” Nik let his fingers slide down her sleeve to take her hand. “Miss Vasilver – there is so much I wish to say to you that I do not know where to begin.”

“Is it all inappropriate?” she asked, deadpan.

He smiled despite his growing nervousness. “Not all.”

“You have my permission to begin with the first item on your list, if you like. I cannot imagine I will dislike you for it.”

“I can.” Nikola swallowed. “But I do not think you will. Will you sit with me, my lady?”

She nodded and sat on the couch. He sat near enough to take her hand again, and she watched him gravely. “If that was at the head of your list, I shall be very disappointed, my lord.”

He smiled again, shaking his head. “Miss Vasilver…some weeks ago I told you I was not interested in marriage at this time in my life. My feelings on this point have had a material revolution, one that I am not altogether sure will be welcome to you. But I – I am making quite a hash of this. There is a question I want to ask you and I daresay by now you can guess which one, but before I ask I wish to be honest with you, as I have never been honest with anyone, and to tell you something which may be pertinent to your answer. But I must also ask that you hold it in strictest confidence; my reserve on this point has been with good cause. Will you hear my confession?”

Her expression was as closed as ever, unmoved by affection or surprise. But she spoke without hesitation: “Oh, Lord Nikola, please do. Speak your mind. I will be very happy to hear it, and I shall not betray your trust.”

With some reassurance – were she decided against me she could have no wish to hear more – he plunged forward. “I believe my reputation preceded your acquaintance with me, if I am to judge by the document you provided when we met. You know that I have not been chaste. I daresay my reputation as a rake is exaggerated: I am an inveterate flirt and that leads rumormongers to inaccurate conclusions. Still, it is true I have…taken a number of lovers, over the years. But what I do not think you know is this: some of those lovers have been men.” Two, to be exact, or three depending on how one wants to define ‘lover’. He watched her anxiously, waiting for some reaction.

She tilted her head. “Oh. Truly? How does that work?”

He blinked at her. “Er…”

“I have a very general notion of what sexual intercourse between a man and a woman consists of – you have no idea how difficult even that was to glean – but even in Southern Vandu where it was permissible no one would ever explain to me what exactly that healer had proposed doing with Stephen. Stephen and the Kyriel both said it was extraordinarily wrong of me to…oh. Dear. I am sorry, my lord, I should not have—”

Nikola laughed. “Miss Vasilver, I should dearly like to kiss you right now. Would you be terribly offended if I did?”

She shook her head, and did not quite throw herself into his arms. But she did reciprocate his kiss with a heartening enthusiasm. When he drew back she was half in his lap, arms looped behind his neck. He cradled her close. “I take it you are not horror-struck by my revelation.”    

“Oh, no, not at all. Not by any of it.” She hesitated. “I…technically, I have been chaste my whole life. But that has more to do with a scarcity of opportunity and my own cowardice than any true virtue on my part. Indeed, the more I think about it the less I understand why it is regarded as a virtue at all. Um. Paternity? But that’s of no consequence between two men.”

“I could produce some reasons for you, but as I have no wish whatsoever to persuade you from your opinion I will not.”

“Does it make sense to you, then? I long to understand the reasoning.” She did not pout, but something in the tilt of her head made it plain to Nik that she would be disappointed if he gave no answer.    

“Well. Er. Society does not wish to have the, er, energy, of its individuals diverted from the task of childbearing and rearing. Insofar as such a relationship must be a distraction.”

“Must it? My father’s interest in commerce, ships, cards, and landscaping have occupied far more of his time than the procreative act, I do believe, but this has not prevented him from siring six children. Nor has the time my mother has invested in reading, needlepoint, or the harpsichord kept her from her familial duties.”

“It’s…different.” Nikola hugged her, closing his eyes.

“Different how?”

He shook his head. “I will not argue with you further, not when I have nothing to gain and everything to lose by winning.”

“Oh, are we arguing? I am sorry, I did not mean to quarrel.” She looked down at his chest, her fingers toying with his jabot as she snuggled into his lap. “Was there more you did wish to tell me, my lord?”



Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
Me 2012

Seventh Monthiversary: Latest Book Sales Figures!

These are the sale figures for my polyamorous fantasy romance novel, A Rational Arrangement. (Buy it here! Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print).

Sales Graph from June 24, 2015 through January 28, 2015.



(This graph is only Amazon Kindle sales, because only Amazon breaks out sales by day. I generated it in Excel, though, since Amazon will only generate a graph for the last three months or less.)

Total Sales:

Pre-launch: 36
1st Month: 507
2nd Month: 292
3rd Month: 146
4th Month: 68
5th Month: 75
6th Month: 37
7th Month: 38
Total through 1/28/2016: 1199

Average unit sales:
1st Month: 16.9
2nd Month: 9.4
3rd Month: 4.9
4th Month: 2.3
5th Month: 2.4
6th Month: 1.2
7th Month: 1.2

So the good news: sales has held steady for two months! At a non-zero number!

The bad news: Sales has also held steady for the last week, at exactly 0. Whoops.

But there's more good news! I'm releasing Further Arrangements next week! Typically a new book in a series will increase sales of the previous books, so this may perk up A Rational Arrangement's sales.

RA was priced at $4.99 for about ten days of the latest period, and then at $5.99 for the remainder. I plan to put it on sale again for the launch of Further Arrangements, perhaps even as low as $2.99. That will probably also increase unit sales.

I also noticed that Amazon doesn't show RA categorized as fantasy any more. It's now in "Bisexual romance" (I don't think this category existed when I first launched -- I think it was all "LGBT") and "mulitcultural/interracial romance". "Interracial" is technically true and I remember checking that box, but I think "romance -> fantasy" is more to the point. The presence of greatcats and Blessings has much more impact on the narrative than the difference in races. I may fiddle with the keywords to see if I can get it lumped back into romance -> fantasy.

In milestones: A Rational Arrangement got its first one star review! Which was basically "I thought this would be a fantasy novel, not gay romance". Okay then. I don't mind that it picked up a one-star review, but I am a bit sad that it's likely to be the most recent review when Further Arrangements goes live. If anyone out there has read A Rational Arrangement and liked it but not reviewed it on Amazon yet, now would be a lovely time to drop in a review. c_c

In better milestones: A Rational Arrangement has now earned enough in royalties to qualify me for membership in the Author's Guild! I don't plan to join the Author's Guild currently; I find membership in SFWA useful and informative, but a lot of that is because it's got genre-specific resources and advice. I may someday join Romance Writers of America for similar reasons, but the Author's Guild doesn't hold that attraction for me.
Me 2012

Blessed (114/141)

RA Header 114

When Nik woke again, it was full daylight, and he was still wondering about Miss Whittaker. It’s been over a week. She must be on a ship bound for the Vastings of Kinder by now, and even if she’s not, she’s six. I doubt she could explain how she managed to overcome her own impulse to refuse treatment.

Still, after dressing, he asked Anthser, “Would you mind asking my people to look into what happened to the Whittakers? If they left a forwarding address or anything.”

“Sure thing, Lord Nik.” The greatcat took off the claw-tip pen he’d been writing with and heaved himself to his feet to pad outside. Nikola sat at one of the tables and set to work on his catalog of mental illnesses: lists of symptoms, possible causes, and treatments for each. Meredith, Anthser, and one of the other greatcats had taken over indexing the case studies for him. With some supervision and consultation, they were doing well at it. The project was starting to look like a project and not just heaps of wrinkled and folded papers.

Half an hour later, Nik heard the front door open as Anthser returned. The greatcat poked his giant black head into the workroom. “So…did you want to, like, actually see them? Cause they’re here.”    

Nik looked up from his work. “What, you mean the Whittakers haven’t left town yet?”

“I mean they’re here here. Outside the cottage. Mrs. Whittaker and the little girl, anyway. Turns out they were out on the sidewalk with the other shrine-watchers.”

“They were with whom?” Nik blinked, then waved a hand before Anthser could explain. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter, please, show them into the parlor. I’ll be there directly.”

He hardly needed to put a neckcloth and jacket on for callers of their class, but Nik did anyway and greeted the two looking the part of lord. Sharone’s face lit as soon as he stepped into the room. “Lor’ Nik!” she cried, and ran to him. He crouched to catch her in his arms, as if she were one of his nieces. “You’re all ri’!”

Bemused but not displeased, Nik hugged her in return, looking over the girl’s shoulder to her mother. Mrs. Whittaker’s expression was somewhere between pleased and concerned. “Oh, thank you so for seeing us again, Lord Nikola. Sharone hass been eager to thank you in person. What do you say, Sharone?”

“Than-kyoo,” the little curly-haired girl whispered in his ear.

“You’re welcome.” Nik loosened his embrace, but the child clung fast with her arms about his neck. Her mind had the grace of a flowerbud just starting to bloom; the damage from the long possession showed in underdeveloped pathways but little else. “I’m surprised you’ve not left for home already, Mrs. Whittaker.”

“We tried, m’lord, bu’ unfavorable winds kep’ our ship in harbor for three days. Then when she did sail, an acciden’ damaged her rudder a’ the harbor mouth and she had to warp ba’ to port for repairs. We’ve passage leaving Thursday now, and my husband said the weather looks auspicious for i’.”

“I’m sorry to hear it has not gone smoothly,” Nik said. Sharone finally let him go. She patted his cheek with her small hand, then stepped back and reached into her pocket for a folded square of paper. Solemnly, she held it out to him.

“Iss nothing, my lord.” Mrs. Whittaker smiled again. She looked a decade younger than the last time Nikola had seen her, dark eyes alive in her oval face, mahogany skin no longer aged by worries. A little laugh escaped her. “I could be shipwrecked on an island for a month and think i’ a minor inconvenience now. You dinna know what a difference i’ makes, having Sharone be so much better now.”

Nikola nodded, taking the offered paper from Sharone. “Thank you,” he said, unfolding it. It had a stick-figure drawing of a brown man with a big smile and curly brown hair, saying ‘I lov yu’. Red hearts decorated the page. Like all such offerings, it was beautiful and utterly endearing.

“Mister Brown says you nee’ me t’ tell you,” Sharone said, earnestly.

A chill crept up Nik’s spine at those words. He met Mrs. Whittaker’s eyes, and the woman gave a little shrug. “She doesn’t talk about Mrs. Square or any of the other ones any more. Just Mr. Brown. We though’…perhaps he’s jus’ an ordinary imaginary friend? He’s na – she’s never attributed anything cruel or mean to him. Jus’ things like this. She’s been drawing one for you every day and coming to the shrine to leave i’.”

Shrine? Nikola drew off his glove and held out his hand to Sharone. With a calm trust at odds with his memories of her, she slipped her bare hand into his. He studied her mind again, looking for anything wrong or unusual in it, but a closer inspection showed no anomalies either. No new demons, no old demons, no malformations beyond the underdeveloped pathways, and those were growing normally. Would that cause her to cling to an old delusion?

“Mister Brown’s na mad a’ you,” Sharone added.

“Why would Mr. Brown be mad at me, Miss Whittaker?” Nik tried to figure out the puzzle, questing for a few more pieces.

“Ess na. Says maybe you think he ess? But ess na. He does get mad sometimes but ess na a’ you.” She peered up at him.

The hairs on the back of his neck prickled. Nik knelt, still holding the little girl’s hand. “Why would I think he was angry at me?”

“Cus he wass upset. Na a’ you. A’…stuff? Like when Mrs. Square had me break everythin’ an’ you were mad. But na a’ me.” She peered at him. “You weren’ mad a’ me, were you?”

“No. It wasn’t your fault,” Nik said automatically. Sharone beamed, waving his arm from side to side with their hands still linked. “So Mr. Brown was upset when all those things were broken, too?”

“Nonono!” She shook her head, vehement but without the violence of her possessed self. “Other things. Big things. All the bad things in Par’dise. Mister Brown knows bout i’ all. He says ess hard na ta ge’ a li’l mad. Even for him. But ess na the big thing.” She pushed up his other hand, the one still holding her picture. “Love ess.”

He looked again at the smiling brown stick figure man, the hearts and scrawled words. His fingers trembled with the sudden certainty that this conversation was not about Sharone or an imaginary friend. “But I hurt him.” Nik was not aware he spoke the words aloud.

“Nuh-uh,” Sharone shook her head again. “Mister Brown says he ess always that way. But you’re usually mostly-closed an’ you were all open. So you fel’ more. But it does na hur’ him when you’re all-open.”    

“Sharone, you shouldn’t talk to his lordship like tha’,” Mrs. Whittaker said like the mother she was, but her voice wavered in fear. “M’lord, I – ess she all right? Ess she still cursed?”

Nikola shook his head, looking at the child’s drawing of the Savior. “I don’t think so.” Savior. He reached for his god at last, and felt the answer in a rush of warm golden light on his soul, full of love, joy, compassion, and profound relief. Sharone squealed in delight. He gasped, half a sob, and blinked back sudden tears to look up at Mrs. Whittaker from where he still knelt before the child. “I think she’s Blessed.”

§


Nik didn’t know what to make of Sharone’s Blessing, if Blessing it was. There were myths of people to whom the Savior had spoken, but all of the Blessed he knew only sensed the Savior through feeling, not words. Certainly not by giving them information they would not otherwise have means to know.

Perhaps he was making too much of a few vague sentences from a child; maybe it was coincidence. But Sharone’s simple description was exactly right. He had been more open to the Savior on Brogan’s boat than ever before, and ‘open’ was the word he would have chosen to describe it. But he had not spoken of that event, or of the Savior’s anger, to anyone. It seemed too precisely the message he needed to hear for mere coincidence, for a misunderstanding of ordinary childish babble. And her reaction of childish glee after he contacted the Savior again suggested she had knowledge that could come from but one source.

Mrs. Whittaker was amazed and disbelieving, however. Neither her family nor her husband’s had any record of a Blessed member, but that could mean the gift had skipped too many generations for their genealogy to trace back to it. That was not improbable: all the nobles of Newlant were descended from saints, but many noble families had not had a Blessed in generations. She remained dubious, but agreed to have Sharone tested. Testing for a Blessing of healing minds or bodies, or one for plants, was a simple matter: a known Blessed watched the subject touch a person or plant afflicted by a demon, and would see if the subject cast the demon out. Casting out demons was instinctive: an infant Blessed would do it. Nikola could not imagine how Sharone could possess a Blessing for minds and still have become demon-ridden, but this situation was peculiar enough that he thought it best to test her anyway. A Blessing for plants might explain how she’d gotten the door off its hinges in Anverlee Manor a couple of weeks ago: that Blessing allowed one to shape wood and other plant matter. Although removing the door did not seem like something the Savior would have assisted in doing. Blessings for stone could not be tested in infancy, but usually those Blessed would use their Blessing instinctively to shape stone at some point in early childhood.

He gave Mrs. Whittaker a note of introduction and recommendation to take to the Gracehaven infirmary for Sharone’s testing, and said he would contact them regarding mind-healing testing. Nik was optimistic that he would be able to do that himself, but he did not want to commit to it yet.

After the two left, he lay down on the couchbed in his workroom and let the Savior’s power wash through his own mind, shaping and adjusting it to smooth away the jagged edges of trauma that were inflicting such violence on his mindshapes. He coaxed his inflamed anxiety and sense of fear back to proper size and shape.

When he had finished, Nik felt not only restored but invigorated, like himself again. The person who had been cowering in this drafty disreputable cottage, unable to face his nearest relations, was a stranger to him. Anthser was lounging on the floor watching as he emerged from the trance. “Everything all right, m’lord?”

Nik laughed aloud, sitting up and reaching to ruffle the greatcat’s tilted ears. “Yes. Everything is, at last, all right. Would you tell my parents I’ll be up for dinner? It’s not past dinner time, is it?”

The black greatcat spread his whiskers. “Nope.”

“Splendid. I’d like the furniture returned to the house, too. I daresay I am done living in exile.” He regarded the squalid room with a mixture of revulsion and regret. The place reminded him unpleasantly of his incapacity the last several days, but it was also quiet, private, and a haven from his parents. Being sane again meant he should be able to handle them, but that didn’t mean it would be pleasant.

Anthser rose, nosing at Nik’s head with whiskers spread and ears relaxed in pleasure. “You sure about that, m’lord?”

Nik smiled, stroking Anthser’s neck. “Oh yes.” Whatever its flaws, it would be good to return to normal.



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