Charlotte

My New Bundle: Fairytale Fantasy

It’s bundle time again – and this one’s mine! I curate one pretty much every year for StoryBundle, and the theme I chose for this year was fairytale fantasy. An old love of mine, I have been writing fairytale-inspired books for a while by way of the Tales of Aylfenhame, and have more recently expanded into a new series of Wonder Tales, too. You can get one book from each series in this bundle: Faerie Fruit (the first of the Wonder Tales), and Bessie Bell and the Goblin King from the Tales of Aylfehame. Plus, of course, loads of other great fae-ridden books from some terrific authors!

This particular bundle is 9 books strong. As always, it’s pay-what-you-want – all the proceeds are split between the participating authors, StoryBundle itself, and a designated charity. You’ll get four books for $5 or, if you pay at least $14, all nine (that’s just over $1.50 per book).

This bundle runs until September 29th and then it’s gone forever! FOREVER. So if you fancy a dreamy package of once-upon-a time, go forth and click.

 

My New Wonder Tale: Gloaming

My New Wonder Tale: Gloaming

Hi folks. I write to you all today to announce my next book, which is due out next month and is now up for pre-order (at a reduced price, just for fun: it will be 2.99 until a day or two after release). Tis called Gloaming, which is a fine old-fashioned word I’ve been dying to use since forever, and it’s kind of along similar lines to Faerie Fruit in that it is slightly mad, very colourful and totally magic-drenched. As is now customary, I offer you the blurb followed by a chapter or two to sample: read on!

Once upon a chime…

Every day at four o’ clock, an enchanted twilight sweeps over Vale Argantel. Strange things happen under its eldritch influence: mists boil up out of the ground, rain pours out of a cloudless sky, and the roses grow wild and fey. Such is the way of things.

But when her friend falls through a magic mirror and disappears, Margot realises something’s changed. An ancient enchantment has gone awry, and chaos quickly spreads. Magic-drunk, confused and hampered at every turn, Margot must find a way to reclaim Oriane and before anybody else disappears.

But for Oriane, things are stranger still. Lost in a topsy-turvy world, how can she ever find her way home? For she’s adrift in a place very like Argantel eerily familiar, yet strangely different; a place which follows none of the usual rules…

 

Prologue

 

The great, rambling mansion-house of Landricourt stood quiet and empty, for the winemakers had finished their labour and gone home. All save one, who lingered in the cooling halls, her footsteps echoing in the hushed silence of the twilight hours. She loved the crumbling stone walls and the great windows, bare now of glass, through which the warm summer breezes drifted softly through the corridors. At this time of the year, the scent of rose hung heavy upon the air, so thickly floral that it grew almost cloying. The winemaker lingered near the long, empty windows of the long gallery, grateful for the cool, evening wind that brought respite from the clinging heat of the day.

It pleased her, when she walked there alone, to cast her mind back and back, through years of lost time, to the days when Landricourt was new. She imagined, as best she could, the elegance of the wood-panelled walls, when they had been whole and intact; the grandeur of the house’s winding stone staircases, sound and adorned with statuary; its great, imposing windows, glittering with panes of glass. A tapestry remained, here and there, though they hung in ragged shreds, naught left of them but a glimpse of the vivid colour that must once have flooded these abandoned halls. Some furniture lingered, a mismatched array evocative of Landricourt’s long history: the great, heavy oak table that stood in the hall was largely untouched by time, while the chaise longue that lingered in the drawing-room had lost most of its exquisite amber silk upholstery, and none now dared to recline upon its fragile mahogany frame.

She had been gathering rose petals all afternoon, and when she had gazed her fill at the long gallery, and wandered through the decayed beauty of the drawing-room, she bore her two wide trugs down to the cellar, and emptied their contents into the vat that stood waiting. Others had already filled it half full, and on the morrow, the process of preserving the pale, delicate petals as rosewater would begin. She would have lingered longer in the cellar, for it was cool and dark where the day had been too bright and too hot. But the aroma of rose filled the confined space, too pungent, and she made her escape. At least twilight had carried away the glare of the sun, giving her tired eyes some respite.

She turned from the vat full of petals, and from the stone jars filled with the produce of weeks prior, and set out to return to the narrow stone staircase that had brought her into the depths of the house. Her work done, she had little excuse to linger any longer, and duties awaited her at home.

But as she set her foot upon the first of those steps, wincing at the ache in her calves that protested against the forthcoming climb, a glimmer of light caught her eye. Prominent in the twilight-darkened cellar, the light was silvery and strange, and instinctively she turned towards it. It glimmered again, beckoning her some way down a shadowy passageway she had seldom had cause to explore before, and at last through an arched doorway whose door was long since lost.

The light glittered, turning from silver-pale to faintly blue, and — somehow — it came from the far wall, a wall that was naught but bare, unadorned stone. No lantern hung there, no torch, no window.

She approached, curious and puzzled. It would not be the first time that strange things had happened at Landricourt; the winemakers sometimes shared tales amongst themselves, little anecdotes of strange happenings and peculiarities. But she did not recall that anyone had yet mentioned a light like this, as pale and tantalising as the stars, its presence here incomprehensible.

Upon the wall hung a mirror without a frame. It hung by no visible means, the glass flat against the stone, and dark; so much so that she had not seen it from the other side of the room. It could scarcely be distinguished from the wall at all, save only when that glimmer came.

And there it came again, and winked out.

Like a pale torch flaring in the distance, its intermittent comings and goings resembled that of a lantern held by someone who passed, periodically, behind a tree or perhaps a pillar. Her hand stretched forth, only half voluntary, and when her fingers met the glass it gave beneath her touch in a way that cold, hard glass should not.

She thought she heard the distant sound of bells upon the air, and a note or two of a melody sung in high, strange voices.

And then she was no longer in the twilit cellar, and her half-formed wishes of a quarter of an hour before were abruptly given her. For she stood somewhere else — somewhere new, but familiar. She would have said she had not moved at all; that the sensation of falling, the momentary disorientation she had experienced, had all occurred inside her own mind, and signified nothing. The cellar-room in which she now stood was identical, in all its particulars, to the one that she had left.

Except that the light was wrong.  A moment ago, she had stood shrouded in the deepening shadows of twilight, the cellar almost full dark around her. This cellar-chamber was bright with the soft daylight that streamed through its single, high-positioned window, so golden a glow that she would have placed the time at high noon.

The mirror was gone.

A few brisk steps carrying her to the door, she saw that the passageway was the same one down which she had walked only a few minutes before, or it looked the same. Only now it was neat and clean and well-swept, and flooded with light.

Quickly, she half-ran along that passage and up the stairs, and thence through a maze of passages and halls and chambers which she knew as well as she knew her own home; only this Landricourt was not ruined at all. Tapestries hung against pristine walls; carved wooden panels were well-kept and polished; everywhere there were drapes and rugs and furniture, and though it struck her, on the very edge of her flustered awareness, that they were of a style she had never before seen, and could never have dreamed, they were distinctly whole. The only mark of familiarity about the place was the occasional gap in the ceiling, through which an array of invasive rose-vines had determinedly crept. But these blooms were not silver or even white; they were pink and crimson and violet, a range of hues not seen at Landricourt in living memory.

She was not alone, either, for she passed men and women clad in raiment equally outlandish. They moved as quickly as she herself, only with purpose rather than fear, and paid scant attention to her hurried flight through the halls. Their garb was simple, their movements brisk, efficient; were these guests, residents or servants? She could not tell, and none paused to address her, nor gave her opportunity to ask. They did not seem even to see her.

When she arrived at last at the long gallery, she found it filled with people full strange to look upon, their garb the finest she had ever seen. Though it was broad daylight, somehow, in this place that was other, they were drinking a rich wine, and there was much laughter and merriment among them. These were the voices she had heard singing, perhaps.

For some time they did not notice her, and she began to wonder whether, in addition to her involuntary translocation, she was also turned invisible. But when at last one of them glanced her way — a gentleman of some age, she judged from his silvery-white hair, his coat the colour of plums in red wine — she found herself fixed with a stare neither welcoming nor otherwise.

‘Ah,’ he said at last, and she could discern nothing from his colourless tone.

Where was she? This was not her Landricourt. She was come, somehow, to a vision of the past — the past it must be, by some means beyond her comprehension. But who were the folk who dwelled here, and who gazed upon her with at least as much curiosity as she beheld them? For the faces of all in the gallery were turned towards her now, and she felt obliged to make a trembling curtsey, mindful, among such magnificence, of the stained and much-mended state of her cotton petticoats.

She wished in her secret heart that she had never wished at all, for she was alone in this Landricourt of strangers, and how was she ever to return home?

‘Your name,’ said the gentleman in the plum coat. He was not peremptory, but nor was he kind, and to her regret her discomfort caused her to stammer as she answered: ‘I am c-called Oriane, Seigneur. Oriane Travere.’

His pale eyes narrowed as she spoke, his gaze sharpened upon her. Did she imagine an increase in alertness, an air of suppressed excitement about him? He looked at her closely; her face, her hair, her clothes, all came under his scrutiny. At last he said: ‘And where have you come from, Oriane Travere?’

‘Landricourt,’ she whispered. She did not know how to explain, did not expect to be believed; how could she tell these strange, grand folk that she had come from some other Landricourt, a ruined one, which even now was sunk in the twilight of the Gloaming?

But she did not need to, for at her words his face cleared, and again he said: ‘Ahh.’

 

PART ONE: Margot

 

The day was warm for hard work, and Margot De Courcey hitched her green cotton skirts a little higher, tucking folds of the fabric into the waistband until the hems rose above her knees. She spared a blush for propriety’s sake, but only a fleeting one, for who was to see her, save those employed in a similar labour? And every one of the winemakers of Landricourt wore their skirts the same way, today.

The summer was well on its way towards the fall of the leaves, and the air was thick and close. Margot had made her way as far as the dining-room, where the empty windows allowed only occasional wisps of a sluggish breeze to touch her damp skin. The roses had come in through the ceiling in this part of the rambling old house, and by now the thicket of thorns and bright, burnished leaves had claimed two of the walls and half of a third. All summer long they had been abundant with fat, heavy blossoms, their translucent petals hovering somewhere between silver and white; pale like the moon, folded around a clear glimmering heart like the wrappings of some promised gift. Such roses only grew at Landricourt. Some of them flourished still, but many had bowed their majestic heads and spilled their petals all across the dining-room floor. Only the hearts remained, and these plumped and fattened as the days passed, forming round, polished hips fragrant with a tantalising scent all their own.

These Margot was engaged in gathering, her hands clad in thick leather gloves against the prickling thorns. It was a shame to wrest them from their stems, she always thought; they glittered faintly, as though a mote of starlight slumbered somewhere within, and she felt like a thief stealing nature’s finest jewels. But they were succulent and fragrant, and the wine made from these fruits of autumn was beyond compare.

‘They are a gift,’ Maewen Brionnet had once said, and she had been a winemaker at Landricourt for years beyond counting. ‘Shall we leave them to rot, ungathered? Tsh! Such would be a crime.’

It sometimes fell to Margot to cut the roses from their stems before they had chance to wither, for it was also tradition that the petals should be pressed and distilled into rosewater, and this added to the brew. Where these traditions had come from, no one knew; nor who had been the first to harvest the strange, moon-pale roses of Landricourt and craft them into wine. It was only known that this was done, year upon year, and under Maewen’s direction the process had continued uninterrupted since before Margot’s birth.

It must be growing late, Margot felt, and even as she formed the thought the song began: a low, wordless humming, Adelaide’s rich voice leading the others. The Quincy family had always led the song, and Adelaide was a true daughter of theirs. For a few moments Margot merely listened, for Adelaide’s voice was like warm, rich chocolate mixed with honey — if her glorious notes could be likened to anything earthly at all. When Margot’s ears had drunk their fill of the melody, she lifted her own, less spectacular voice in her accustomed harmony. There were never words to the eventide song, but all knew the melody — even if its source was as lost to time as the tradition of wine-making at Landricourt.

The chimes came, melding with the music so perfectly that Margot struggled to make them out at all. One chime, two, three — grand, ringing sounds which echoed across the whole of Vale Argantel, emanating from the very skies.

A fourth resonant chime announced the arrival of four o’ clock, and, as was the way of things, the Gloaming swept across the valley. The sun dimmed and faded, lingering only as a faint, muted presence upon the far horizon. Shadows crept out of the corners and danced across the dining-room, and what light remained turned as silvery as the stars.

The sun took most of the day’s fierce heat away with it, and Margot wilted with relief. She clambered down from her perch atop an aged wooden step-ladder near the grand double-doors, holding her skirts carefully to keep her harvest of rosehips from spilling to the floor. Maewen had given her a basket the week before, a lovely woven thing more than capacious enough to hold many a rosehip. But Margot found it cumbersome, and preferred to continue using a fold of her skirt, turned up at the hem to form a cloth bag.

She regretted this a moment later, when a sudden hollering at the door caused her to start so severely that she dropped her skirt altogether. Her rosehips bounced and rolled away all over the floor, and Margot was left to curse both her own clumsiness and that of the visitor as she chased after them. She loved the evensong; it soothed and transported her, perhaps rather too much.

‘I suppose you have brought something, Master Talleyrand?’ she said tartly, for the noisy young man who had upset her harvest was Florian from the emporium in town. In the doorway he stood with his hands in his pockets, a flush staining his brown cheeks. He had got flour onto the tan cotton of his waistcoat somehow, and wisps of grass stuck out of the sage-green thicket of his hair.

Raucous he might sometimes be, but he was not boorish, for he flushed with dismay at the results of his too-eager greeting and hastened to help Margot collect them all up. ‘Sorry,’ he mumbled, and by the time all the pale rosehips were gathered and placed in Maewen’s wicker basket, he was as red and perspiring as she.

Margot straightened her aching back with a wince, feeling far older than she ought at her relatively youthful age. Working all day in the heat had its deleterious effects; that must be her excuse. ‘Well, what is it?’ she prompted, when Florian seemed disposed only to stand there and observe her discomfort in silence.

‘Actually, Seigneur Chanteraine requests your presence.’ Recovering his composure, Florian said this with a bow, as though he were inviting her to attend a dance rather than to attend upon his employer at a moment’s notice.

‘I shall come at once,’ she replied with a small sigh, for she had hoped to go directly to one of the streams behind Landricourt and wash away the day’s aches and grime. But a leisurely walk home through the cool of the Gloaming would be pleasant enough. ‘Why is it that I am wanted there?’ she enquired. The request had perhaps come from Sylvaine, Seigneur Chanteraine’s daughter and her occasional friend.

‘He asks that you bring a bottle of the new season’s rosewater.’

‘I?’ This was curious. ‘Why does he not direct such a request to Oriane? She is his usual aide at Landricourt, is she not?’

‘He did in fact ask for her at first, but I am told there is no sign of her today. I could only find Madame Brionnet, who sent me in search of you instead.’ He added, with his swift grin, ‘I found her at the top of the south-west turret, all used up for the day. I didn’t know that snoring was a component in the evensong.’

Margot felt a moment’s chagrin, for while she had been breaking her back in the dining-room, Maewen had been resting at her ease in a breezy tower-top! But the feeling melted away soon enough, for Madame Brionnet rarely allowed her age to slow her down. Instead, she laughed. ‘Only if it is suitably melodic snoring, in keeping with the harmony.’

‘It was, of course,’ said Florian, undoubtedly with more gallantry than truth.

‘Help me carry this basket,’ she pleaded, for though she was strong she was weary, and Florian made a fine picture of boundless energy. He fell to the task willingly enough, and accompanied her through the rambling old mansion as she went in search of the rosewater. They left the basket in the main hall, with the rest of the day’s harvest; a fine medley of containers was already deposited there, all brimming with rosehips.

Madame Brionnet stood over them as superintendent, and fixed Florian with a gimlet eye as he passed.

‘I have said nothing, ma’am,’ he assured her, mendaciously and in a loud whisper.

‘I am sure there is nothing of which to speak,’ said she stiffly. To Margot she added: ‘Take two bottles of the water, my dear, and quickly. Seigneur Chanteraine may be pleased to have a little to spare.’

Maewen’s eagerness to oblige the Chanteraines did not surprise Margot, for it was an attitude shared by many in Argantel. She hastened to obey the directive, glad to have Florian to assist her, for the great clay bottles were large and bulky and she did not feel equal to carting more than one of them across the valley.

As they left Landricourt in the deep twilight, the roses woke up around them, stretching their sparse petals under the soft, blue light. Their hearts swelled and shone, drinking up the effulgence, and Margot knew that when she returned in the morning there would be many more to collect. It was raining a little, though the sky was clear, and the distant strains of long-lost melodies drifted upon the wind.

***

 

My new serial: Modern Magick

My new serial: Modern Magick

As anyone who’s at all familiar with my output so far will know, I like to try new things. And the latest new thing is pretty new all round, because not only is it my first contemporary fantasy story, it’s also serialised, with its own site and everything. It is called: Modern Magick!

What it’s about

In 2017, little remains of magick save scattered, beleaguered pockets of magickal community and scholarship – and a vast, but rapidly decaying, heritage. How can any of it survive the pace of modern life?

As an agent of the Society for Magickal Heritage, Cordelia “Ves” Vesper has an important job: to track down and rescue endangered magickal creatures, artefacts, books and spells wherever they are to be found. It’s a duty that takes her the length and breadth of Britain, and frequently gets her into trouble. But somebody’s got to keep magick alive in the modern world, and Ves is more than equal to the job.

In this first adventure, Ves meets her new partner, the Waymaster Jay. Their mission? Find the source of a magickal disease that’s decimating Britain’s troll enclaves – and fix it. Simple in theory, tricky in practice, for the only place that might hold the information they need is the ancient and inconveniently lost enclave of Farringale…

Where to get it

It goes out at a chapter a week at www.modernmagick.net, where you can read it for free if you want to. There are already several chapters up to peruse. It can also be found on Wattpad and Radish.

Or, just read it in ebook like normal. The first episode (The Road to Farringale) is now out in ebook in all the usual places, and others will follow in due course.

The Epic Elves Bundle

It’s been a while since my last StoryBundle, so I’m happy to tell you I am participating in the Epic Elves bundle this month! Chosen by Anthea Sharp, these eight books feature elves in every flavour. My own take on Elfkind, of course, are the Ayliri/Aylfen from the Tales of Aylfenhame, and you can get Miss Ellerby and the Ferryman as part of this bundle.

In Anthea’s words:

Welcome to the Epic Elves StoryBundle, eight books featuring magic, adventure, and – of course – elves! You’ll find stories here inspired by Tolkien, D&D, fairy tales, MMO gaming, and even Jane Austen. Escape the ordinary in this rich array of fantasy worlds filled with epic quests, fearsome warriors, and the best the genre has to offer – tales that help illuminate the heroes within us all.

This collection includes four USA Today bestselling authors and several award-winners, and features not one, but two exclusives available only in this StoryBundle: Annie Bellet’s Gryphonpike omnibus, and Phaedra Weldon’s brand new novel, Past is Prologue.

In this bundle of rousing stories, Joseph Lewis and Annie Bellet bring us classic tales of questing adventurers, while Jennifer Blackstream and Anthea Sharp spin fairytale-inspired stories. Phaedra Weldon introduces a warrior with a heroic destiny, and Megg Jensen delivers an epic fantasy world where good and evil clash. The shadows of the mystical forest of Dimmingwood are brought to life by C. Greenwood, and Charlotte English takes us to a Regency England full of class distinctions, proper behavior… and faerie folk.

Whatever the particular flavor, every author delivers a story full of memorable characters, heroic deeds, and richly-drawn fantasy lands. In addition to elves, you’ll get orcs, magicians, and even a dragon or two into the bargain. So gird on your armor and sharpen your sword, conjure your fireballs at the ready, and prepare to step into the fantastic worlds of Epic Elves. – Anthea Sharp

The initial titles in the Epic Elves Bundle (minimum $4 to purchase) are:

  • Chaos Awakens by Megg Jensen
  • Bloodlines by Joseph Robert Lewis
  • The Gryphonpike Chronicles – The Complete Series by Annie Bellet
  • Elfhame by Anthea Sharp

If you pay more than the bonus price of just $12, you get all four of the regular titles, plus four more!

  • The Archer by Jennifer Blackstream
  • Miss Ellerby and the Ferryman by Charlotte E. English
  • Legends of Dimmingwood Series by C. Greenwood
  • Past is Prologue by Phaedra Weldon

***

It’s available for a couple more weeks only, and then it runs away forever. There’s about $32 dollars worth of books in this pack, so it’s nice deal. If that sounds awesome to you, then…

Faerie Fruit is on sale! Read the first chapter

Faerie Fruit is on sale! Read the first chapter

So I’m working on another wonder tale right now – “wonder tale” being another name for a fairy tale, and one that I like very much. This one is currently called “Gloaming” (titles sometimes subject to change…), and it is as full of colourful things and quirks and oddities as my first foray into wonder tales, which was “Faerie Fruit.” This came out at Christmas and is now having its first 0.99 sale, and as such it seems a good time to post a chapter from it. (Chapters from Gloaming coming up in due course!).

If you want to grab this one, the sale continues for another week or so; find all the usual links here.

 

Faerie Fruit
By
Charlotte E. English


PART ONE

Or

The Disappearance of Berrie-on-the-Wyn (half of it).


Chapter One



Towards the end of a long, hot summer, when the scents of fading flowers hung heavy upon the air, Mistress Clarimond Honeysett plighted her troth to Tobias Dwerryhouse.

The betrothal was a sedate affair, for neither was in the first flush of youth. Tobias was the publican of The Moss and Mist, the oldest inn of north Berrie-on-the-Wyn. He had whiled away his youth travelling far beyond the borders of the town, though when pressed, he would never say where he had been. ‘Far enough away, and farther still,’ replied he in his deep, calm voice, with a wink of one dark green eye, and never a word more would he speak upon the subject.

Mistress Honeysett was the widow of old Mortimer Honeysett, of Hereweald farm. Clarimond had been his second wife, and upon her husband’s death the farm passed into the hands of Edmund Honeysett, her stepson. Left in possession of Thistledown House, her own comfortable dwelling in the southern half of the town, Clarimond had lived in quiet comfort these three years past.
Upon the subject of their approaching nuptials, the citizens of Berrie were as divided as the town itself. There were those who held that Mistress Honeysett had lost her senses, for what business had she leaving the respectable comforts of widowhood for a second alliance? And to go north over the Wynspan, too! For that matter, Dwerryhouse ought rather to focus upon the business of innkeeping, being now past his fortieth year. Had he wanted to wed, he ought to have done so sooner.

Others observed that Tobias was a genial man, and well deserving of a wife. Clarimond, some distance into her thirties and of a disposition to match, was just the woman to suit him. And perhaps she would not go north over the Wynspan. Perhaps Dwerryhouse would come south over the river to her.

It did not suit the town to consider that the betrothal might be a desire of the heart, for two such souls, at a respectably sedate time of life, could have no business falling in love. Being both in comfortable circumstances, however, there was much sense in uniting their separate holdings. This must be reason enough.

 

Not that there was so very great a distance between them, reflected Clarimond. Standing at her parlour window one bright morning, she received a clear view over her flourishing gardens, bejewelled and fragrant with the last flurry of summer blossoms. Where her garden ended, the river began, and on the other side of that rippling span of clear water she could just see the chimney pots of the Moss-and-Mist peeping over the tops of its attendant birch trees. In the autumn, the mists for which the inn was named would come rolling off the river in great wreathing clouds, and hide the far bank from her sight. But here at the end of summer, she could still stand at her window, or wander through her gardens, and watch for Tobias from afar.

There was but one bridge over the River Wyn: the Wynspan, near on a mile away, westwards along the shore. But Tobias possessed a neat little boat with a curving prow, a craft he manned alone with admirable ease. Few dared traverse the clear waters of the Wyn, for it was tricky and prone to mischief. But nothing daunted Tobias. Every day of that long, hot summer he had rowed over the Wyn to Thistledown House and taken tea in Clarimond’s good parlour. Every morning she had stood and waited and watched for him.

Even now, a pot of moonflower tea brewed at the table behind her, a plate of her best rosewater and honey scones waiting beside. Mordaunt had laid claim to one of her elegant wing-back chairs and lay curled in sumptuous comfort, his thick white fur sleek and fresh from a vigorous grooming. His low, thrumming purr softly broke the silence of the parlour, soothing Clarimond as she stood, waiting and hoping for Tobias yet seeing no sign of his approach.

She was troubled today, for her mother lay upstairs in the back bedroom, sweating her way through a swift and brutal summer fever. Little could be done for her, for she would eat nothing, and had to be coaxed to drink anything but water. Clarimond sat with her all the day through, bathing Clover’s perspiring face in cooling waters and wishing futilely for a respite from the heat of the season. Her only absence was taken when Tobias was expected; then kind Maggie Muggwort, her maid, sat with Mrs. Waregrove abovestairs and told her stories, while Clarimond sat with Tobias below, taking heart from his presence even as she took tea from a fine porcelain cup.

The apothecary had been sent for, two days gone, and had little to offer. ‘Keep her cool, if you can,’ said he, and so Clover had been moved to Clarimond’s own bedroom at the back of the house, where the sun shone less fiercely through the day and the winds whispered soothingly through the windows at night.

‘Is there nothing more we may do?’ said Clarimond in dismay, for she had hoped for a cure.

‘Give her water,’ he replied. ‘Mix a little honey into the glass, for ‘tis the only sustenance she may presently take.’ With which words he had doffed his hat and gone on his way, leaving Clarimond with naught to do but beseech her drowsing bees for a share of their bounty.

There was, she thought, only so much waiting and watching a person could reasonably bear.

In spite of his unpromisingly minimal advice, she had thoughts of entreating Mr. Amberdrake to attend upon her mother once again, for her condition was undoubtedly growing worse. She was now too weak to rise at all, and had ceased every attempt to speak. Every day she grew thinner, her cheekbones standing sharp in her wasted face and her eyes glazed with fever.

Clarimond was frightened, for her mother had ever been frail. Could she, in her advancing age, survive a fever which had carried off many a younger and stronger soul?
If she could but see Tobias, even for a few scant minutes! He was a calm lake to her troubled waters, and nothing unsettled him. He brought peace into her quiet parlour, a peace she gratefully took into her own heart, and paid for with tea and pastries and smiles. But the morning marched on, and he did not come.

Footsteps disturbed her wistful reverie, pounding upon the back stairs in a clatter of foreboding urgency. Mordaunt woke with a start and a disgruntled yowl, settling only when Clarimond laid a soothing hand upon his head as she passed his chair. She reached the parlour door just as Maggie Muggwort appeared, pink-cheeked in the heat, her dark hair escaping from beneath the cap she wore to neaten it.

‘It’s Mrs. Waregrove, ma’am!’ said Maggie breathlessly, and paused to gasp for air.

Clarimond’s heart contracted. ‘Yes? What is it?’

‘She be talking.’ Maggie pointed upstairs, helpfully confirming that the lady in question had not abruptly bestirred herself from her sickbed and gone a-wander.

Clarimond lifted her skirts and ran, abandoning her dignity. She clattered up the same staircase which Maggie had come helter-skeltering down, her heart alight with hope.

But the woman she found upon entering the back bedroom looked sicker than ever, her skin pallid and sweating and her parched lips cracking with fever. Her hair, corn-yellow like her daughter’s, lay lank upon the pillow, and her thin breast rose and fell with shallow, too-quick breaths. She fixed protruding eyes upon her daughter and said in a weak voice, ‘When I am gone, Clarimond, you are to have all my possessions. It is important— that you—’ Here she was obliged to leave off, for her voice failed and she fell to panting.

Clarimond took the chair by her mother’s bedside and tried to take her hand as well, but Clover made no move to permit it. ‘Mother, pray do not talk so,’ she chided, trying to smile. ‘You are not to leave us yet, I make no doubt.’

‘My hour approaches,’ panted Clover Waregrove, shaking her head with feverish determination. ‘I feel it. Do not be sad, child, for you shall benefit by my passing. Only you must not waste it! So many years of work — your father’s inheritance — it is all to be yours and you must promise me.’

‘Calm, mother,’ said Clarimond softly. ‘By what means could I possibly squander it?’

‘I know your foolish heart.’ Clover’s stare turned exasperated, even baleful, as she eyed her attendant daughter. ‘You will give half of it away, with narry a thought!’
‘There are many in need, mother—’ Clarimond tried, but was interrupted.

‘They may make their own way to prosperity, as your grandfathers did! And you may do better than the landlord of a public house, besides. Wedded to a rich farmer, as you were! A landowner! And then to so throw yourself away!’

Clarimond said nothing, for the subject had been exhausted before, and nothing could reconcile Mrs. Waregrove to a Tobias Dwerryhouse.

Her mother did not appear to require a response, for she lay quietly panting for some minutes, her laboured breaths rasping loudly in the still air. ‘My dying wish,’ she said at last, and Clarimond’s heart contracted, for she knew what must come next. My dying wish is for you to give up Dwerryhouse.

But no. ‘An apple,’ said Mrs. Waregrove, and Clarimond blinked in surprise.

‘An apple, mother?’ she faltered.

‘Just one,’ whispered Clover. ‘One sweet, fresh apple, dripping with juice…’

Clarimond could almost wish that her guess had been correct, for at least that lay within the bounds of feasibility, if not desirability. ‘Mother, there are no apples hereabouts,’ she said quietly. ‘Nor anywhere nearby. There have not been for generations.’

Clover’s eyes narrowed. ‘I am dying,’ she snapped. ‘I do not have to be reasonable. An apple, Clarimond! Get one for me, and I will…’ she drifted off into rasping breaths once more, and it took her full a minute to recover air enough to finish her sentence. ‘I will give my blessing to your marriage with the publican.’

‘You need not offer such an inducement, mother,’ said Clarimond, feeling the first touches of irritation. ‘You may be sure I would seek to grant any wish of yours were it within my power, without requiring a reward. But apples! It cannot be done.’

Clover’s eyes shone with a feverish zeal which could only alarm her daughter. ‘It need not be fresh, then!’ she amended. ‘Bring me an apple, be it withered and dried! Preserved in sugar! Infused in brandy! I do not much care, only let me taste it once — just once before I die.’ She lapsed into dreamy silence, a faint smile touching her cracked lips as she fell to imagining the probable delights of the long-lost fruit. ‘I dream of them,’ she whispered.

And Clarimond was left in consternation, for not a syllable more would her mother speak. Soon afterwards she fell into a restless slumber, half-formed words tumbling incoherently from her lips. Clarimond half hoped that she had been raving when she spoke of apples, a mere delusion brought on by her sickness. But it was a faint hope, for Clover had seemed full lucid enough.
She was glad indeed to hear Tobias’s low, deep voice speak from the parlour below not five minutes later. She did not wait for Maggie to return to her station upstairs but departed at once, passing her maid on the stairs below. ‘She has talked a fair deal but now she sleeps,’ she said in a rush, her heart soaring with delight at Tobias’s near approach. ‘Do not wake her, Maggie, I beg you! And do not mind the nonsense she whispers in her dreams!’

Then she was gone into the parlour where Tobias stood, his hat set aside and his strong arms folded as he surveyed the abandoned tea spread out upon the table. ‘Here I find all the delights of the morning awaiting me, save only the best of them,’ he said, and made Clarimond a little bow. ‘Madam, no quantity of rosewater scones may make amends for your absence, as delightful as they are!’

‘But look, I have laid out extra, in hopes you would not notice.’ She gestured at the plate with a winning smile, and spread her skirts in an answering curtsey. ‘I did most faithfully await your arrival, my good sir, but I was claimed by my mother.’

Tobias’s merriment faded at once, and he kissed her hand with gratifying sympathy. ‘How does she fare?’

‘Poorly,’ said Clarimond, her joy fading too as her mind returned to her mother’s plight. ‘I fear she will not last the night, Tobias.’

Tobias took both of her hands, and squeezed them tenderly. ‘I will bring Mr. Amberdrake. He will know what to do.’

‘He has little advice to offer, I fear, but of course he must be consulted. Thank you.’ But as Tobias turned to go, she prevented him with a murmured, ‘Stay a moment.’

Tobias turned back.

‘I fear I will sound half mad to you, to pose such a question.’ Clarimond looked into his steady, loving face and hesitated.

‘I cannot know,’ replied he, ‘until you ask it.’

She sighed, softly, and spoke again. ‘In all your travels, have you ever come upon an… an apple?’

Tobias blinked and his eyebrows rose. Clarimond thought that a touch of wariness entered his expression, though why should it be so? ‘An unexpected question,’ he said. ‘Why should you ask it, my own?’

‘It is my mother’s fancy,’ said Clarimond with half a smile. ‘She dreams of them, she says, and claims it as her dying wish.’

‘An apple?’

Clarimond inclined her head. ‘In any form such a thing may be found.’ She did not share with him the rest of her mother’s request, nor the promise that came with it.

Tobias thought. ‘Once, have I encountered such a fruit,’ he said. ‘But under no circumstances that can be of use to you. ‘Twas far off, and if she suffers as you say, no urgency could bring it back in time.’

Clarimond’s hopes rose at his first words, and sank away to nothing at the rest. She tried for a smile, but her face would not form the expression. ‘Ah, well,’ she said softly. ‘If you know of no nearer source, I must abandon the hope.’

‘She is not to be satisfied with honey, or nectar? Here there are flowers and bees aplenty, more than enough to please.’

‘It will have to be enough,’ said Clarimond, though she knew it could not be so.

‘I will fetch Amberdrake,’ said Tobias again, and departed. Clarimond was left to regret the cooling pot of moonflower tea untouched upon the table, and the loss of peace and harmony it signified. Quietly she returned to her mother, there to resume waiting and watching until the apothecary should come.



 

Malachi Amberdrake was young for an apothecary, but his knowledge was sound. He confirmed Clarimond’s fears as gently as possible, and had naught to advise but to promote her comfort by all available means, until her end should come. He pressed Clarimond’s hand in sympathy as he departed, and she easily read his regret at being unable to assist her further.

Mrs. Waregrove lay as silent as the dead while he remained, but soon after his departure she stirred and began to mutter. Of fruits and orchards she spoke, in long, rambling sentences only half coherent; of apples above all, baked and fried and made into jam; apples eaten fresh from the tree, crisp and sweet; apples dried and stored for the winter, chewy and tart; apple sauce and sweets and delicate cakes and pastries! Her dreams ran on, inexhaustible.

‘I do not know where she can possibly have acquired such ideas,’ said Clarimond, gazing down at her mother with perplexed concern. ‘It is generations since the orchards bore any fruit. She can never have tried such delights herself.’

Tobias stood at the back of the room, listening to Clover’s ramblings with arms folded and a frown creasing his brow. His eyes flicked once to Clarimond as she spoke and then back to Mrs. Waregrove, his frown deepening. ‘Perhaps that is true,’ he said. ‘Or perhaps not.’

‘Tobias?’ said Clarimond, turning her perplexed gaze upon him. ‘What can you mean?’

Tobias did not answer. He approached his betrothed instead, took both of her hands in his own and kissed them. ‘I must leave you for today.’ He smiled upon her with his usual good cheer, and released her hands. ‘Until the morrow, my fair Clarimond.’

Then he was gone. Clarimond watched his departure, her heart growing heavier with each receding footfall. When the house was silent again, she returned to her mother’s side and took up her station once more, Tobias’s parting words preventing her from focusing on the book she had brought to amuse herself.

Mordaunt took his turn at the bedside, tucking himself into Clarimond’s lap in spite of the heat. He was to be her only company all the long afternoon and evening, for Maggie was too busy to again attend her mistress, and no one else came to Thistledown House. The golden summer light turned to silver eventide and then to darkness, and Clarimond waited still.

Clover Waregrove tossed and sweated and rambled the long hours through, her fevered mind full of nothing but apples.

 

That night, she was not the only resident of Thistledown to dream of fruit. Clarimond, dozing fitfully by the bedside, drifted at last into uneasy slumber. Her repose brought with it sharp, lucid dreams, rich in colour and sensations and aromas. She walked through vast orchards of young, healthy trees, the branches of each laden with a heavy harvest of fruit. Pears and peaches she saw; plums and damsons and greengages; cherries and apricots and above all, apples. The grass beneath her feet was littered with them, fresh and ripe, vibrant with jewelled colours. Clarimond gathered armfuls of fruit and ate and ate, juices running over her chin and staining her dress and hands. She ate on, heedless, growing dizzy with the sweetness until she could no longer stand.

She collapsed into the grass and lay prone beneath a bright apple tree, the light of a setting sun dappling her face as branches swayed in the winds above.

A dulcet fluting of a pipe drifted upon the breeze, each note sounding with sweet, piercing clarity. Clarimond listened, spellbound by the melody, her mind blank with surprise. So soft was the music, so half-heard, she could barely distinguish it from the rustling of the leaves. But the melody teased at her senses, taunting her; distant yet near, half-heard yet haunting…
Clarimond woke to find the room turned cool and dark. Her mind clung to her dreamsong, remembering the soft ripple of notes with wistful longing; only with a struggle could she recall her scattered thoughts to the room in which she sat. A dream, strange and rare; that was all.

She sat, numb and sleepy, and the pale moonlight shone through the window upon the silent, still figure of her mother laid upon the bed.

Clarimond stood with trembling haste, wincing as cramped limbs protested, and bent over her mother’s inert figure with pounding heart. To her relief, the faint sounds of Clover’s breathing immediately reached her ears; she was not yet gone. She slept, peacefully enough, and Clarimond’s heart eased.

Her belly tightened with hunger, and she remembered that she had tasted nothing since breakfast. She ventured downstairs. In the pantry she discovered some of the morning’s rosewater scones still uneaten and gratefully devoured one, half-remembered moments from her curious dream drifting through her mind as she licked honey from her lips. What a sad vision it had been, for the once-thriving orchards of Berrie Wynweald were ancient and withered now, and none had borne fruit in living memory.

A day’s involuntary fasting entitled her to a second scone, she decided, and ate another. The house was warm, still, from the heat of the day, and the layers of her dress felt heavy and burdensome about her. Her head ached from her long vigil. Craving a breath of cool night air, she opened the back door and peeked out into the pretty shrubbery beyond. The moon shone full, illuminating the garden; under its pale, silvery light Clarimond saw the high birch trees swaying in the winds, just as the orchard had done in her dream.

The night breeze cooled her heated skin and she stepped gratefully into the gentle wind, taking the pins from her long hair until it tumbled loose about her face. A shaft of moonlight illuminated her favourite path through the lavender bushes, turning their deep violet colour wan and ethereal. She wandered through the fragrant shrubs, breathing deeply, feeling calmer and cooler with every step.

The gardens of Thistledown House were mostly composed of flowers. Once, though, there had been an orchard of fruit trees. A cluster of wizened ancients survived still, gathered in a knot by the bank of the river, their hoary branches twisted and brittle. Clarimond gazed sadly upon them, struck by the difference between these faded trees and the flourishing, fruiting arbour of her dream.

Berrie Wynweald had once been famed for its orchards, and for the excellence of its produce. No one knew why the trees had ceased to bear fruit. It was only known that they had, a hundred years ago or more. The trees could not be coaxed into renewal, no matter by what arts they were induced, and the once abundant fruits of Berrie Wynweald faded into legend.

Clarimond thought again of her mother’s dying wish, and felt regret at her inability to grant it. ‘If only there was one,’ she said softly. ‘Just a single apple! It is all she asks. So small a thing, and yet so great a wish.’

She had wandered long enough. She ought, now, to return, and ensure that Clover slept peacefully still. Clarimond turned her back upon the dying orchard, but a glint of colour caught her eye, halting her steps. A glint of gold, vivid even in the moonlight. She turned back, wondering, her curious gaze searching the branches for its source.

Half-hidden among the leaves of a withered old tree, there hung a soft, full globe of golden-skinned fruit, dappled with green and full ripe. It hung within easy reach, fair and tempting and quite impossible. Clarimond stared, and wondered when it had come about that she had slipped back into a dream.

Her garden, though, looked as it ever had. The orchard of her imaginings had not returned; there existed but one, miraculous fruit, an apple, pure and perfect. Clarimond reached for it in wonder, and the moment her fingers touched it the apple dropped into her hand.

She carried it to her nose and inhaled its sweet, fresh scent, scarcely able to believe her luck. For the trees to bear fruit again, after so long a drought! Even were it but one, it was all that she required.

‘Thank you,’ she whispered to the tree, and hastened inside with her treasure.

Ah, to taste it! Never had a morsel of such a fruit crossed her lips, and curious was she to know its flavour. The apple was a large one; her mother could not object, surely, were she to eat a piece herself?

But no. Mother would certainly object, and she was dying. With some regret, Clarimond carried the apple upstairs intact, and woke Clover gently to receive her wish.

‘I hardly know how it has come about, mother,’ said she, ‘but I have found an apple for you. The trees of the garden have given it, to please you.’

Clover Waregrove gazed upon the apple with bright, eager eyes and reached greedily for the fruit. ‘Ahhh!’ she said with deep satisfaction. ‘You have done well, Clarimond. Now give it to me.’
Clarimond accepted both the unusual praise and the order with her customary resignation, and placed the apple into her mother’s hands. Clover carried it instantly to her lips and took a great bite, her eyes closing in bliss. It seemed a shame, Clarimond thought, to despoil such a perfectly beautiful thing, but Clover had no such reservations. She devoured the apple, bite after eager bite, until nothing was left. Then she licked the juice from her fingers, her eyes dreamy.

‘Perfect,’ she breathed, and her eyes closed. She slept.

Clarimond bent over the still figure and pressed a single, brief kiss to her cheek. ‘Rest well, mother,’ she whispered. Returning to her chair by the bedside, she composed herself to wait out the night.

 

She awoke to an empty bed.

‘M-mother?’ she whispered, aghast. The bed was not only empty but neatly made, with freshly laundered sheets and blankets. Maggie had already been in, of course, and set the room to rights. But no, how could that be? How had her mother been moved, without the assistance of Clarimond herself? And why?

‘Maggie!’ she called, rising from her seat. She felt rumpled and befuddled, and hastened to straighten her gown and shawl as she hurried down the stairs. ‘Maggie, where is my—’ She stopped, for Clover Waregrove herself was coming up the stairs, quick of step and bright of eye and overflowing with energy.

‘Oh, Clarimond!’ said she, with a smile full of sunlight. ‘What tender care you took of me in my illness! I am overcome with gratitude. What a dutiful daughter you have always been. I declare, I have never made enough of you before. I will make amends for it now. You have always admired my silver eardrops, have you not, and my amethysts? They are yours! I make them over to you with the greatest good will. Oh! And you shall have my pocket watch besides, which was your father’s, and the best of my porcelain.’ These extraordinary pronouncements made, she bestowed a tender salutation upon her speechless daughter and sailed on up the stairs, disappearing in a flurry of clattering footsteps.

Clarimond could only stare after her, lost for words. Here was extraordinary behaviour indeed! Not once had her mother given her a gift, and now several all together! It was unaccountable.
Moreover, not a trace of her dangerous illness remained in her face, her manner or her bearing. Her cheeks were plump with good health, her eyes bright, her figure upright and hale. She looked as though she had never known a day’s sickness in her life.

Clarimond followed her mother upstairs and watched in amazement as she bustled about, filling the back bedroom with pots and vases of flowers. Not the varieties that grew in her own garden, Clarimond noted with bemusement. ‘Now,’ said Clover, ‘I know that you gave up your own room for me but you must have it back at once!’

‘Where did you find the flowers?’ Clarimond said faintly.

‘I have but just returned from Market, where I bought them from old Ambrose Dale. How fine they are! Do you not think? I knew they would please you.’

They were very fine, and no doubt expensive, too. There were roses, butter-yellow and lavender; amber-golden poppies; sweetpeas blushing pink and white; clusters of scented honeysuckle; even a spray of crimson lilies from Farmer Dale’s coveted greenhouse.

‘They are beautiful,’ Clarimond said. ‘Mother… are you feeling quite well?’

‘Why, I have never felt better! Do I not look the very picture of health?’ Clover beamed upon her daughter and bustled out again, leaving Clarimond to reflect with wonder upon her swift recovery.

Maggie Muggwort was at work in the kitchen when at last Clarimond arrived downstairs. ‘You were prompt indeed with my mother’s room,’ Clarimond remembered to say. ‘And to contrive to tidy without waking me! It was most considerate of you.’

‘Yer welcome, madam,’ said Maggie, and bit her lip.

‘Does something trouble you?’

‘It is Mrs. Waregrove. She gave me…’ Maggie appeared unequal to completing the sentence, and merely gestured behind herself. Stacked upon a chair at the back of the kitchen was a great pile of dresses, lying in a heap of colourful fabrics.

‘Why, mother’s gowns!’ Clarimond recognised some few of the discarded garments, and could only gaze upon them in dismay. ‘How came she to do so?’

Maggie gave a helpless shrug. ‘She said as how I work so hard, I deserve a few nice things.’

A few? Clarimond counted at least six good dresses heaped upon the chair, and was obliged to sit down for a moment. What had come over Clover, for her to display such sudden and uncharacteristic largesse?

‘Do you think I ought to give ‘em back?’ said Maggie doubtfully.

‘No, I think not,’ said Clarimond. ‘They were freely given, and she is right: you certainly deserve them.’

But though she spoke composedly, her mind was awhirl with confusion. For all her finer qualities, Mrs. Waregrove had ever been miserly. What could possibly have come over her?
And how was it that, in a single night, she had risen from an acknowledged deathbed and come to exhibit a vitality she had not displayed in years?

 

Mrs. Waregrove’s generosity was not limited to the residents of Thistledown House. She departed soon afterwards to wander through the town, and bestowed some part of her personal possessions upon each person that she passed in the street. To Lavender Blackwood, she gave her best shawl; Nathaniel Roseberry received her second-best pocket watch, that had been her grandfather’s; Betony Summerfield walked away in proud possession of a good silver necklace; and Verity Wilkin was given a fine quill pen with an engraved nib.

She was later heard to have taken all of her savings and distributed every penny to the town’s poor. Not a word of refusal would she hear from anyone, nor did she stop until every pretty or valuable thing she owned had been bestowed elsewhere.

Clarimond could not account for it, and neither could the town. It was said at last that Clover Waregrove’s change of heart was due to her near demise, for a glimpse of death was known to take folk funny that way sometimes.

In the general puzzlement and wonder over her mother’s odd behaviour, Clarimond herself forgot about the apple.

 

The House at Divoro: First Chapter

The House at Divoro: First Chapter

Hi readers.

By popular request, I’ll be posting the first chapter (or two) of each new book up here to peruse prior to its publication. The next one coming up is book seven of the Malykant Mysteries, entitled The House at Divoro, and therefore do find following Chapter One for your entertainment.

(Note: the book is out on the 12th of May, and it is up for pre-order in all the usual places; if you’d like to grab your copy please click here!).

 

 

 

 

The House at Divoro

The Malykant Mysteries, Book 7

by

Charlotte E. English

 

 

Starring

 

Konrad Savast

as

a gentleman of Ekamet

a confirmed bachelor

the Malykant

and

Diederik Nylund, a humble baker

Irinanda Falenia

as

an apothecary

a servant of The Shandrigal

a Reader of minds

and

Greta Pajari, an aristocrat

Tasha

as

an Assevan street orphan

a ward of the police

a fearsome lamaeni

and

Synnove, a divine avatar

Alexander Nuritov

as

a police inspector

a smoker of pipes

another bachelor (unconfirmed)

and

Vidar Pajari, brother of Greta

Eetapi and Ootapi

as

deadly ghost snakes

a pair of devoted siblings

master spies

and

bloodthirsty, troublesome wretches (no particular role)

as well as

sundry other persons, either of note or not

 

 

Chapter One

Three days after the end of the Solstice holiday (days which had, most blissfully, been spent tucked up in bed with a new book), Konrad stood in the hallway of Bakar House, adding the final accoutrements to his outdoor outfit in preparation for encountering the blistering cold of a mid-winter’s morning. He had not left the house in days, which was good because it meant that no one in Assevan had been murdered since Solstice. It was bad because he felt as fresh as an aged pair of socks, and approximately as lively. A brisk walk out into the Bones would serve him well; it was high time he paid a visit to his beloved (if neglected) hut-on-stilts.

Hat and gloves donned, collar buttoned up over his throat, serpent-headed stick duly retrieved, Konrad made for the front door. Hand outstretched, he grasped the doorknob and yanked open the door, taking a deep breath in preparation to receive a lungful of searingly cold, exquisitely fresh air.

Nanda stood on the other side of the door.

‘Nan!’ said Konrad, jumping so violently he almost dropped his stick. ‘How nice to—’

‘Ah, excellent!’ Nanda beamed delightedly. ‘How prompt! I’m so pleased.’

‘Prompt?’ Konrad echoed in bewilderment. Nanda was not only wrapped up against the cold; she was swaddled in enough layers to encounter a winter twice as bitter. She was not well, that he knew, and he was pleased to see that she was taking care of herself. But since she had most likely taken a cab to his door, was it strictly necessary to pad herself out to quite such an advanced degree?

What’s more, she was unusually well equipped for a social visit, for a pair of aged but neat travelling cases sat on either side of her booted feet, apparently just set down.

‘Has Alexander arrived yet? And Tasha?’ Nanda peeked past him into the house, her pale brow furrowing. ‘Have you left your luggage inside? Do have Gorev bring it out. The carriage will be here any moment.’

‘Tasha?’ Konrad looked behind himself, as if expecting to see Tasha and the Inspector standing behind him after all — or perhaps the luggage Nanda spoke of, obligingly materialising all by itself. Nothing. ‘I haven’t seen th—’ He began, but stopped, because here came the Inspector strolling up behind Nanda, his ward Tasha bustling along in his wake. Both were as warmly dressed as Nanda and as well prepared to travel, bearing bags and cases well swollen with supplies.

The obvious conclusion to all of these assorted hints filtered, at last, through to Konrad’s sluggish brain. ‘Are we going somewhere?’

Nanda merely looked at him, struck speechless, her face registering a mixture of exasperation and mild disgust with which Konrad was sadly familiar. ‘Are we… you mean to tell me you did not receive my communication?’

‘Was it sent by pigeon?’ Konrad enquired. ‘Your messenger is sadly incompetent, for I have received nothing.’

With a look of acute annoyance, Nanda withdrew a dainty pocket-watch from somewhere and consulted it. ‘Then you have seven minutes to pack. Do hurry up!’

‘Where are we going?’

‘It’s all in my note.’

‘Which I have not received.’

‘That can hardly be considered my fault, can it?’

‘Where,’ Konrad said with exaggerated patience, ‘are we going?’

‘A house party. In Divoro! Charming town, but quite fifty miles north at least, and it is perishingly cold so do wrap up well. And bring everything. Suitable evening attire as well, Konrad. There will be dinners.’

Konrad began to feel that he might not have left his bed after all. He had only dreamed that he had. ‘A house party,’ he repeated. ‘In Divoro.’ He looked at Nuritov and Tasha, both of whom he liked and respected but neither of whom could be described as typical guests at a house party. Nor could Nanda, in all fairness. ‘Just what kind of a party is this?’

‘No time for questions! I will explain in the carriage, if I must. Konrad, if you do not pack your things at once I will pack them for you.’

Konrad cast an appealing look at Inspector Nuritov, whose eyes conveyed do not ask me I have no idea, and an equally plaintive look at Tasha, who shrugged.

Konrad!’ bellowed Nanda. ‘Go!’

Konrad bowed to inevitability, and went.

 

‘It is hosted by Eino Holt,’ said Nanda happily, once all four were ensconced in the promised carriage and rattling their way out of the north gate of Ekamet. ‘An old friend of my mother’s. Charming man, you will love him. And Kati Vinter will be there — a thousand years old if she’s a day, but livelier than the four of us put together, I swear. Marko Bekk! And if we are lucky, Lilli Lahti! I have not seen her in years! I could not pass up the invitation. We are to be there for two, perhaps three days.’

None of this speech cast any light whatsoever upon Nanda’s reasons for hauling Konrad along to Eino Holt’s house party. Perhaps she simply wished for his company, which would be gratifying, but why had she insisted upon Alexander Nuritov’s presence besides? And Tasha’s? Was it merely her customary kindness of heart? They made an odd company of fellows for days of idleness at the house of an eccentric gentleman (he must be eccentric, Konrad knew; those who held house parties in isolated mansions always were, and the more eclectic the guests, the  madder the host).

Konrad could not ask such an insensitive question aloud, of course, and Nanda chose to ignore his pointed questioning looks with smiling serenity. At length he abandoned the endeavour, resolved to squeeze her for information at his earliest opportunity, and devoted himself to dozing through the journey.

Only once along the way did he venture to question her, and on a different topic. He tried to sound casual as he said: ‘Travelling long distances is so tiring, isn’t it?’

Nanda’s response was only a mildly suspicious stare.

‘And staying away from home, so very—’

‘Konrad.’

‘Yes?’

‘You are working your way around to casting aspersions upon my fitness to travel. Aren’t you?’

‘Well, I—’

‘Am I perchance displaying an Interesting Pallor?’

‘No more interesting than usua—’

‘Does a sheen of perspiration glisten upon my fevered brow?’

‘No no, you look perfectly—’

‘I tottered into the carriage, perhaps, too weak and frail to move far unassisted.’

Konrad sighed. ‘Point taken.’

Nanda directed her gaze out of the window. ‘When I appear infirm or in distress, then you may assist me, and with my gratitude. Until then, please do not fuss.’

Konrad made no response, uncertain what to say. He had only recently learned of Nanda’s illness, and still had no real idea as to what it consisted of. She did appear hale to him, but how long would that remain true?

He worried for her, but he could not express it without receiving a faceful of irritable discontent. Knowing Nanda as he did, he suspected that she resented his solicitude because she was worried for herself, too. But she would never admit it.

If all he could do was stay nearby in case she needed him, well… he could do that. If that meant suffering himself to be hauled over fifty miles or more of frozen, uneven roads to some distant town and spending days hobnobbing with strangers, so be it.

But when at last they turned in at the gate of a great house and rattled up the carriage-way, and he twisted his travel-stiff neck to look up at the place in which he would be spending the next few days of his life, he began, distantly, to reconsider.

For it was the strangest house he had ever seen, without contest. More of a castle than a house in size, it was situated atop the slope of a considerable hill, and the structure loomed over the road like some mythical beast temporarily paused. It was a mess of turrets and towers with spiralling domes and tall spires, built all out of reddish stone and painted in at least six other colours. It was the architectural dream of a madman, and Konrad felt a stirring of faint foreboding somewhere within.

But that was silly. Just because the house was strange, did not mean that anything unusual was likely to occur within. Nanda knew the owner, and at least a few of the party’s projected guests. He was merely being paranoid.

 

(Again, to pre-order the book click here. Or, if this is your first foray into the Malykant Mysteries and you’d like to start at the beginning, you can find the first book, The Rostikov Legacy, in all the usual stores. Click here instead!).

Latest Titles: Draykons, Malykants and More

Latest Titles: Draykons, Malykants and More

Hi world,

I thought it might be about time to announce my latest releases here… there have been a few, these past two or three months. Isn’t that awesome?

From November… Llandry (Draykon #4)

Llandry tackles another murderish case, and this time the victims are the draykoni. She keeps a journal about the whole thing, because why wouldn’t you? This is her diary.

 

From December… Faerie Fruit

A new, random, fun and smiley thing from me. What happens to the town of Berrie-on-the-Wyn when its barren orchards suddenly start fruiting again? Especially since these particular apples are very peculiar indeed…

 

From January… Two New Malykant Mysteries

Konrad and Nanda are finally back in these two new tales, The Corpse Thieves and The Spirit of Solstice! More to come.

 

In other news!

My books are now available in the Google Play store, check out my shiny catalogue here.

I’ve also put up a series reading order page on the site, in case anybody’s starting to get confused. I now have enough books out that this is becoming necessary, how cool is that?

Lately I’m giving away a free book or two to newsletter subscribers, so take a peek here if you want to get in on that.

Coming up next…

Draykon #5 (Evastany) is due out sometime next month, PLUS, as noted above, another Malykant Mystery or two is in the works. And other things…

On Good Female Characters (Or: Women Are People Too)

On Good Female Characters (Or: Women Are People Too)

A bit more about my lovely bundle. I chose a specific theme for it, and I had reasons, but I’ve never fully explained what those reasons were. So, here goes.

I’ve called it The Leading Ladies Fantasy Bundle because it sounds cool, but I could have called it the Women Are People Too Fantasy Bundle with as much justice.

I know this sounds blindingly obvious. Of course women are people too, what is this? But it’s not. Sometimes, we are given appalling ladies to read about because they aren’t treated like people at all. They’re dress-up dolls.

But even short of this extreme example, women as characters can often be disappointing, and that’s precisely because they tend to be separated out into a separate box that’s called Women As Characters. It’s to do with the perceived difficulty of writing Good Female Characters, especially if you’re a man.

On a cultural level, for a long time now, we’ve had a tendency to think that People = Male by default. And sometimes you  might want to put a Female People in there too, and that’s marvellous, but she ends up being not so much a People as A FEMALE because female people are fundamentally different than (male)people on all sorts of levels. People talk about How Women Think, and What Women Want, and The Female Perspective, as if women collectively own ONE way of thinking, ONE perspective, that’s so totally separate from the default that it’s incredibly hard to understand. If you own breasts, you get a passport into this secret, alien world, and if you don’t, you have to engage in wild mental gyrations of all kinds in order to try to Get Into The Female Mindset. Even if you do own breasts and you’ve therefore got your passport, it’s easy to get caught up in this prevailing attitude, to waste time trying to write A Believable Female Character instead of just writing a character.

This is nuts. I’m sorry, but it is. It’s just as nuts as trying to Understand How Men Think. There are some things that affect women more than men and some things that affect men more than women, but all of these things are still shared issues. The only things about women that men will genuinely have a hard time getting their head around are things that relate directly to female anatomy, and that’s true vice versa as well.

Not many things about being people relate directly to one’s particular set of genitals.

So, then. To me, what makes for a great female character is that she hasn’t been treated as A Female Character (Great or Otherwise). She doesn’t have a giant label reading WOMAN stuck to her forehead, with a halo around her breasts and a delicate pink rose growing between her thighs, wafting Soft Perfume. She’s a person, who happens to be female.

That’s my take on characters in general. Write people. Some of them will probably  have breasts, and some of them will probably have penises.

That’s… that’s really it.

So this bundle. I spent a lot of time this year reading a lot of indie books, and I was delighted to encounter a lot of great stories which have no trouble with the whole Women Are People thing. This bundle is composed of my top favourites, and they’re fantastic because they’re peopled with all kinds of the peoples. These characters are tough and strong and weak and feeble, they’re smart and foolish, wise and mad. They’re broken, or they seem like nothing could ever break them. They’re possessed of a magnificent wit, they’re fond of bad jokes, or they have no sense of humour at all. They’ve had good times and bad times, learned from some of them and spectacularly failed to learn from others. They are heroes and villains and all the shades of grey in between. They like to drink, or they like to knit, or they like to dance.

Some of them have breasts and some of them don’t, which puts that biological distinction down at the bottom of my personal List of Important Stuff where it belongs. In some ways it’s sad that I have to get this point across by highlighting the ladies, when what I actually mean is simply: these books do people good, whichever genitalia they own.

I could talk about this all day but I won’t, because you and I both have stuff to do. So that’s enough. If you want to read my Bundle of Awesome, it’s still available until the 15th, so for about nine more days. Pay what you want, read a whole lot of fabulous. Get it here.

all-covers-large

My Leading Ladies Fantasy Bundle

My Leading Ladies Fantasy Bundle

all-covers-largeI’m doing the bundle thing again. It’s been a while since the last one – a whole year – but I’m back with a fantasy bundle this time. It’s called Leading Ladies because it’s all about the fantastic and awesome potential of great female characters (which isn’t to say these books are light on magnificent gents – they really aren’t).

You know the drill – five books for whatever you want to pay, plus five more if you pay at least $15. These books have all been personally selected by me; they’re stories I’ve loved, written by some of my top favourite indie authors, and I’m excited to promote them. There’s also one of my own books in there, Seven Dreams.

This book pack is available from today until the 15th of December, and then it’s gone forever. You can grab it for yourself, or gift it to a friend – and if you like, some of your money goes to charity. Isn’t that cool? I love bundles.

Click here to check it out, and happy reading!

Draykon 4 is out! Llandry Awaits

Draykon 4 is out! Llandry Awaits

Hi world!

I’ve decided to celebrate Halloween/Bonfire Night by releasing a new book, full of, um, scary and llandry_rgb_2500x1667thrilling things! Murder and mayhem! Shady villains! Sinister black dragons! Explosions!

…Aaaaand colourful worlds and whimsy and cute animals and friendship and love and Sigwide. Okay, it’s a new Draykon Series book so its not so season appropriate. I’ll figure out this holiday-theming thing eventually.

This new adventure is a little bit of a change of pace from the rest of the series: Llandry tells the story in her own words, which makes it my very first first-person story. If you’ve ever wondered what really goes on in Llan’s head, you’re about to find out. Good luck.

Blurbism:

Draykoni do not die. Not truly. Not forever.
So we thought. We have been proved wrong.

A killer walks the Off-Worlds, someone with the means and the will to extinguish even the oldest of draykon souls. But why would anybody do such a thing, and how?

I am Llandry Sanfaer: Draykon shapeshifter, ambassador, colony leader. My people are dying beyond hope of revival, and it falls to me to stop it. But the killer leaves nothing behind. No hints, no clues. Just a lifeless skeleton in a dead world.

What’s more, the corrupted energy of Orlind has broken its confines. It’s spreading. With my people and my worlds under threat, I’ll need all my wits, all my strength, and all my friends to set things right.

It is released today, so if you would like to partake of this adventure you may acquire a copy immediately from the following stores:
AmazonKoboBarnes & NobleSmashwordsiBooks

What am I Doing Next?

Well I’m writing two things right now, those being Evastany, Book Five of the Draykon Series, in which Eva regales us about sinister Lokant plots in her own, mildly sarcastic words. I’m also writing Malykant Mysteries 5. Both these titles ought to be going out early next year, watch this space.

As soon as those are finished I’ll be hastening straight on to write book four in the Tales of Aylfenhame, which I’m hugely looking forward to because after all it is my happy land. On a vaguely related topic, I’ll have one more new book for you in the next few weeks, a secret whimsy project called Faerie Fruit which may be of interest to those who loved wandering through Aylfenhame.

So that’s it for news for a few weeks. Thanks for joining me, and happy reading!