Tag Archives: Writing

Thoughts on Arassa at 100,000 words

Those of you following this blog probably know that I am writing a pseudo-historical fantasy novel set in pseudo-Ancient Rome.  (All the pseudos are because I’m far too lazy to write a straight-up historical novel, and even if I weren’t, my brain’s too crazy not to invent things like magic systems that use ink written into flesh.)

But what I wanted to talk about today was the Priest.  You’ve met him, you people currently reading my chapters-in-progress on Goodreads; he’s the guy who showed up rather suddenly seeming as though he should have had more history than he did.  The reason for that is, he does.  He has lots of history, you just don’t know it.  And you should, and I’m sorry, but that’s the thing about reading this writer’s first drafts – you don’t get the whole story, because often I don’t have it all until toward the end.

I’ve known since the beginning that I wanted another viewpoint character besides Arassa.  It was suggested to me that I use Pullo, and I really thought I would….except that Pullo never really popped into my head that way.  He never seemed interested in talking to me, the mere author, he’s too busy saving that frustrating woman he’s in love with.  So I let him be, and was content with writing only from Arassa’s POV.

But about a month ago, I discovered there was someone new inside my imagination, who did want to talk to me.  His name’s Warre, and he’s a Priest of Minos, and Arassa’s sworn enemy.  He’s a little peeved with how I’ve been representing his homeland, and wants to set the record straight.  What’s more, he knows what happened in Minos when Pullo went there to reclaim the royal treasury, and he knows what’s really going on with the gods and Arassa’s new powers…he even knows what’s been happening with Sulili while she was in the Minosan camp.  He’s perfect as a viewpoint character, because he knows the exact opposite of what Arassa knows, and he believes exactly the opposite things.

But, unfortunately, we’re already in the homestretch of the first draft, and I don’t feel I can stop the story dead while I go back and rewrite all the previous chapters and insert his POV.  My readers (who are still waiting for that kiss), might send a few brutal little gods after me.

First drafts are strange that way, when you write completely out of the right side of your brain, like I do.  No outlines, only a few grand ideas for what’s coming a few scenes ahead of where I’m currently writing, and few more scribbled notes of cool dialogue, character names, and description.  If I’m really, really lucky, I know the ending before I begin, or at least have a feeling for it.  For Arassa, I had nothing but the beginning, and that scene where Pullo kneels to Arassa and cuts his hands on his sword as a sign of fealty.  I had nothing else. I didn’t know about the Arcane, the magic system, the secondary characters like Micah or Aenius, or what would happen at the end.  Luckily, everything’s been pulling together pretty well, and luckier still (since I’m writing chapter-by-chapter and posting each one as I finish), I haven’t written myself into any plot dead ends or serious technical difficulties.  It’s been great fun, if constantly a bit nerve-wracking, and the feedback and comments from my readers (besides being helpful in content) has really helped keep my nose to the grindstone.  I feel an obligation to those readers now, and I feel really bad if I can’t get a new chapter posted at least once a week.

The worse thing about writing chapter by chapter and inventing as I go, is that the story isn’t as cohesive as it should be.  Since I often only find out important plot points as I write them down, I can’t fore-shadow as well as I should, and I leave dangling sub-plots longer than I should because I don’t know all the answers yet myself.  The perfect example being Sulili’s sudden return from the Minosan camp.  She went, she returned, and there wasn’t much said about it, because everything that happened, happened between her and the priest.  Arassa doesn’t know, so the readers (at this point) don’t get to know either. If it’s any consolation, I don’t really know what happened yet myself.  The priest and I are going to have to sit down with a cup of tea and have that long talk, one of these days!

The good news, overall, is that I can feel the ending to Arassa’s story quite close now.  I’ve written over 100,000 words – longer than I thought this one was going to be.  Silly me.  I thought this one was going to be a short book, maybe even a novella.

If you’re reading this and don’t know who the heck “Arassa” is, and would like to, feel free to check out my novel in progress on goodreads.


Doors and Dreams

I’m annoyed at my sleeping self right now.  I dreamed last night that I was tearing down a brick wall and found a fabulous old door that had been covered over and hidden for perhaps hundreds of years.  It looked something like this:


One of those really old wood and metal ones.  It was covered in torn cobwebs, and I knew that there quite possibly something eerie or wicked behind it.  Why else would you barricade a door with iron and then bury it behind a wall of bricks?

And while I was dreaming this, I knew I was dreaming it, yet the Othermind still chose to walk away and not open it.  Come on, Othermind!  Here was a chance for free adventure, of the sort not frequently found in our waking life, and you walk us away from it?

Please.  We might have been scared, had a zombie or monster jumped out at us in the dark, but we would have lived.  And now we’re having to live with our infernal curiousity about what might have lain behind it.  How is that better?

My Othermind does this sort of wimping out on me far too often when we’re asleep.

But on the more contented side of things, there’s definitely the nucleus of a story there….

Cool things of Sundry Description

Okay…cool things…what have I got?

Well, thanks to my friend Bonnie (who I hope is feeling better!), I have this mindboggling youtube timewaster.  Yup, that’s my favorite sort of internet thingee!



Go there.  You’ll love it.

I’m currently obsessed with genealogy, but even before I became obsessed with Ancestry.com, I wanted to know more about my Great-Grandmother Merritt.  I’ve always felt a sort of affinity with her, even though she died before I was born.  I’ve collected several family heirlooms that were hers.  But I was never able to find out more about the Merritt family’s origins – the only thing I had was the name of her father, and I could find out nothing about him.  It was deeply frustrating.

But then I was cruising ebay, and I found this guy:


He offers 2 hours of professional genealogy research for a starting bid of $3.  You can’t beat that!  So I won my auction, and put him to work.  So far, he’s worked one hour, and traced the Merritts back five generations!  Very, very cool.  I may have to purchase some time later at his normal wage of $12 an hour and have him solve another problem that’s been bugging me.

In my own genealogy research, I’ve found I’m direct-blood related to King John I of England (he of Robin Hood infamy), King Duncan I of Scotland (he who was murdered by MacBeth), and Charlemagne.  I’ve also got a family line of Stuarts, and it turns out I’m some sort of cousin to Robert the Bruce (his daughter married my ancestor’s brother….)

What else is cool?  Oh yes.  I’m past the 100,000 word mark in Arassa!  Now I can only hope I reach the The End soon.  I don’t want to write another massive book after the last one I wrote (which was so huge I broke it up into two novels, and they were still on the longish side!)  This is the stage where I’m using lots and lots of pure determination and stubbornness.  Arassa is still fun to write, but it’s so tempting to put it aside and work on something new and different.  The Othermind isn’t helping, either, because lately I’ve been positively bombarded with images and ideas for the next book.  They sneak up on me, these ideas.  It’s a good sign that I’m reaching the end of Arassa, though.

This costumer’s blog is awesome (and cool).


She’s one of the people I want to grow up to be.  I’m so bloody envious of her hand-sewn eyelets on her new corset-in-the-making, that I am probably going to attempt some on my new corset.  And look!  I’ve got the boning for that corset!


It’s basically 5mm lengths of wooden sticks.  Technically, they’re used for basket-making, but if you want to make a really, really authentic corset…well, they didn’t have plastic boning in the 1700s, did they?

I’ll leave you with this image of two indian runner ducks…


….because let’s face it.

Ducks are basically the coolest things on the planet.

Frustration, Cheer, and Poor George Boleyn

The thing that drives me quite mad about writing, is when I’m deeply into describing something, and the words are coming out so smoothly that I’m quite impressing myself, and then…I stub my toe up against a word that I can’t quite remember.  I know that it’s the perfect word, and what it means, and that it begins with an ‘e’ and there’s one or possibly more ‘m’s and ‘n’s in it, but I can’t think of the word itself.  And my laptop’s spell-check is no help, because I can’t get it spelled close enough for it to suggest helpful things.  The laptop is baffled.  I’m baffled.  And I’m thrown out of my lovely perfect nest of words, because everytime I try to skip that word and go on (knowing it will come to me later – probably late at night, when I’m in bed and the lights are out), my mind keeps jigging back to that missing word.  It’s hard being creative when the largest part of the othermind is mumbling “…eum…emi…enu…emu…”  and trying to come up with the perfect synonym, so that when I look that word up in my thesaurus, it will spit out the word I actually want.  Every word I try that doesn’t succeed, only makes me more annoyed, but I’m too stubborn to just rewrite the passage using one of these synonyms I’ve thought of.  Curse it, that ‘e’ word is perfect – I can’t settle for something mundane like ‘fleeting’.

I finally give up attempting to write altogether, and watch an episode of “The Tudors”.  Poor George Boleyn gets his head chopped off, and it’s very sad.  His father’s still in prison, and I’m hoping he survives, because he’s such a wicked, scheming plotter, and I love him.  I can’t remember, historically, if he lives, and that’s bothering me.

And that’s when it hits me.  Ephemeral.  That’s the word I wanted.  Suddenly I’m a whole lot cheerier about poor George.

And while I’m cheery, let me share a song with you I just discovered, by a singer I’ve never heard of:


Lenka’s “Don’t Let Me Fall”

Underneath the moon
underneath the stars
here’s a little heart for you
Up above the world
Up above it all
Here’s a hand to hold on to

But if i should break
if i should fall away
What am i to do
I need someone to take
A little of the weight
Or i’ll fall through…

You’re just the one that i’ve been waiting for
I’ll give you all that i have to give a more
But don’t let me fall…

Take a little time
Walk a little line
get the balance right on
Give a little love
Gimme just enough
So that i can hang on tight

We will be alright
I’ll be by your side
I won’t let you down
But i gotta know
no matter how things go
That you will be around..

…You’ll be the one that i’ll love for ever more
I’ll be here holding you high above it all
But don’t let me fall.

A Little Writing, a Little Costuming

It’s a funny thing, sometimes, when you meet a character for the first time in a story you’re writing.

I just finished posting a new chapter of my book-in-progress on Goodreads, and it was a fun chapter to write.  Not only did Pullo and Arassa get to fight (I know, I know, everyone’s waiting for that first kiss – it’s coming!), but I also got to meet my Chracian Queen.  She’s been briefly mentioned a few times, in other chapters, but this is the first time she appeared in the ink.

And she’s so completely different than who I thought she was.  I wasn’t even sure, the first few times I mentioned her in the story, that she was even going to be more than simply a character for other characters to talk about, and I envisioned her as this quiet little woman, one who doesn’t care if other people speak her story for her.  I even gave her (as a first-draft name) the name of a different woman, in a different book of mine – the name of someone who actually is a quiet little woman.

So imagine my delight in being surprised.  My main character, Arassa, might not be pleased to meet Cele, but I am.

And because that wasn’t much of post (I have Christmas gifts to wrap), I’m including these pictures.  They have zero to do with Arassa, but they’re so exceedingly cool.

For anyone who likes 18th century costuming, that is.


Look at the embroidery on that.  So gorgeous!


A close-up of the embroidery:


For even more pics, see the “Inspiration!” page on my costuming website:


The Music of Writing Books

I have officially reached 200 plays of the theme song from HBO’s Rome. The count for the rest of the songs gradually lessens as it reaches the bottom of the playlist, because while I always play song number one (the theme song), I don’t always make it to the last. If 200 plays of one song seems excessive, let me explain.

Every book I write has its own soundtrack, a particular CD that I play over and over while I work on that particular book. My first completed novel was about a serial killer and I listened to Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits. “Free Fallin'” especially was my killer’s song. I’d pick up my pen, hit play, and by the time that song was into the first chorus, I’d be sucked so deep into my writing that I wasn’t even consciously hearing the music. Years later, hearing that song pulls me right back. I have no idea how many plays of that CD I listened to (this was before I had an Ipod keeping count for me), but it had to be an impressive number.

For the first book of my YA duo, I listened to the soundtrack from one of the Harry Potter films…leading to a curious split in my brain. Now when I hear that music, I don’t know which world to be sucked into – Hogwarts or the Tower, and it ends up being an odd mixture of both.

The second book of the YA duo, I was obsessed with Blackmore’s Night, specifically their album called “Ghost of a Rose”. Great stuff, now irrevocably tied to masks and a man called Dark, not renaissance faires as it is meant to be.

Having the same music playing over and over while I write is not nearly so maddening as it might seem, since the only time I really “hear” it is when I’m going under into the story or surfacing back out of it. And it serves an important purpose, because when I turn that particular music on, the creative part of my mind (the Othermind) is alerted that it’s now time to come out and play. Whether it bloody well wants to or not. And months after I’ve written the first draft and it’s time to begin revising the story, playing that same music again helps me get back into the story, back into the mood and feeling of the characters with much greater ease.

Plus, if I’ve heard the CD 200 times, who really wants to pay close attention to it? If I put on new music, I might be more interested in listening to the lyrics and tapping my foot to the beat rather than getting down to the writing. I might, I say, but of course I mean I would. The Othermind loves to be distracted by anything new, which is, I think, why so many writers tend to always use the same paper, the same pen, the same desk, the same little funny collection of frogs lined up on top of their monitor. Okay, so the frogs might be just me.

But 200 plays of Rome! I think that’s kind of cool, even though I have to admit that when I closed Word this evening, it was actually only 198. I clicked play 2 more times, just to make it a nice even number, thus maximizing the coolness.

84,000 Words!

This makes me insanely pleased and relieved, because now, whatever happens, “Arassa” (my book-in-progress) is a book. I could write The End tonight, and it would possess a minimum number of words, which I’ve been told is around 75,000.

When I first begin writing words on a blank page, I usually know only the beginning scene, a couple of events in the middle, and if I’m extraordinarily lucky, I know the ending. So there’s always a bit of nervousness until I pass that magic number, since I’m never entirely sure what I have. Is it an absurdly long short story? Is it a novella? Is it…dare I believe…is it a novel? I’m still awed by my ability to find all those words – even after writing four and half books.

For Arassa, I’m still writing blind. I know one major climatic point that will be happening soon, and I have a list of Things That Need To Happen, but I don’t yet know the ending itself. My way of writing feels like walking through a labyrinth beneath a mountain. There are many, many passages I could walk through, and many, many doors I could open. But someone has been there before me, and they’ve wound a spool of the most slender silk thread through all the passages and doors where the true story goes. Imagine that: alone in the darkness, surrounded by stone and echoes, and my only true guide is the barely-felt, hardly-believed in thread of silk between my fingers. I’m always afraid it will break, and leave me stranded and the story forever lost. First drafts are nerve-wracking.

As I walk forward, sometimes the thread slips from between my fingers without me noticing, and when I turn a corner I find myself facing a solid wall. Then I must creep backward, throwing away the wrong words not matter how much I love them, until I reach out and find the thread back within my touch. I have to trust the string; I have to trust that it took me under the mountain, and that it will lead out of again. I have to trust the string when I find myself writing scenes I don’t yet understand, and meeting characters I didn’t plan for. These are the best and most frightening times.

It feels supernatural, like the Story came before I created it, like it existed before it stumbled out of my hands. It feels like the characters have been flitting about, whispering into people’s heads, trying to make themselves heard. Most people shut them out. They’re too busy trying to make sense of their own lives, too busy thinking about Desperate Housewives, or what they’re going to do on the weekend. They’re too busy paying bills, pulling grey hairs, or worrying about the new sound their car is making. They’re thinking about their boss, or the fact that the cat might be gagging on the oriental rug (he was looking ill right before they left for work). They drown out all the voices but their own, and they never realize how lonely they are.

But now and then, the character whispers into the ear of a writer, and she manages to whisper louder than all the other whisperings of all the other whispering characters. She tells her story, and the writer takes dictation. A writer prays for the days when it feels like dictation, when the writing’s so good and so perfect as that. When it’s so much fun.

It’s not always like that, of course, sometimes the whispers get too faint, and the writer has to strain to hear; each word is a labor. Sometimes the writer doesn’t trust the character to know her own story, and starts muddling around with it, and ruins something pure.

But sometimes, all the writer has to do is be the pen.

The Duck-Footed Mirror

In a previous blog entry, I mentioned a children’s novel I’m writing (working title: Maxy). This is the novel that never gets done, though it haunts me. I think I maybe know too much about it, and for this writer, at least, that is a Bad Thing. You see, I don’t outline before I begin writing a new book, but I do collect tons of little scraps of paper with notes on them. And sometimes, I write a few complete scenes that happen chapters away from the beginning, because I can see them so clearly at the moment – and if I don’t write them, I may lose them. It’s happened before, when I’ve gotten smug with my skills. Always write the good bits down…even when the voices come to you at three in the morning when you’ve just gone to bed and you have to get up again at seven thirty. The voices of inspiration are evil geniuses, and not to be trusted.

But anyway. For Maxy, I’ve been gifted by those geniuses with so many cool scenes and plot points that it’s become uncomfortably close to being an actual outline. I feel like there’s not much left to discover in the writing. That takes the fun of surprising myself away, and turns the act of writing into something stepping on the skirt of drudgery. Which is simply intolerable, since I adore this story. There are miniature mermaids who swim with goldfish in a bowl, there are living houses, an origami-folding aunt, evil men with briefcases (whose one scene I’ve written gives me the good chills), and most wonderful of all, a duck-footed mirror.


I saw the duck-footed mirror years ago in a small LaConnor art shop and fell in love, but not quite passionately enough to pay $65. For a year after I first saw it, I remembered it, and I mooned over it. That’s a sure sign that it needs to belong to me. So I finally went back and bought it. It has an oval mirror that you can swivel up and down to adjust the angle, and the silver duck legs are marvelously detailed. It has a lot of personality, for a mirror. I never see anyone touching it, but the position of the mirror changes from day to day. Sometimes it’s quite intrigued to be reflecting the ceiling, other times it’s overcome by a fit of morbidity and stands staring down at its silver webbed toes.

I knew it fit into Maxy’s story, and so the duck-footed mirror patters around after Mr. Wicknick in The Shop. It reflects things he should pay attention to, and these things are not necessarily things inside the store.

Okay, after I finish the first draft of Arassa, and after I finish the third revision of Mask of Destiny, Maxy is next. Perhaps the perpetual limbo of its story is why the real duck-footed mirror has been so frequently depressed of late.

Either that, or I need to tighten the screws on its back.

Revision progress: “Mask of Destiny”

I finally finished reading through the entire 130 thousand words of it, marking errors and making revision notes with my pink pen (yes pink).  At least the second half is pretty clean, but I need to do some major rewrites in the first half.  I originally thought this two-book YA trilogy was going to be one book, but the first draft kept getting longer and longer and longer…until finally I gave in to its desires instead of mine, and split it in half.  I am not one of those sensible, sane people who can write an outline and stick to it.  My version of an outline is a folder full of napkins and little torn squares of papers with scrawled notes, bits of story, and characters’ names.  So while my beloved First Reader was reading “Mask of Destiny”, I was working on the first draft of the second half, book number two: “Mask of Fate”.

Needless to say, my original perception of where the story was going to end up changed somewhere in the middle of book two, a major character changed, and now there are any number of annoying little and not-so-little details I wrote in “Destiny” that now have to be re-written to jive with what happens in “Fate”.  It’s a bloody good thing I find revisions fun and relaxing (it’s first drafts that scare me spitless!)  So I’m actually looking forward to beginning the process.

The Bridegroom Arrives in Sarn

Below is an excerpt from a fantasy work-in-progress.  Hope you enjoy!

The city of Sarn is built of red stone, tier on tier of high balcony and tower.  By night the stone is black, but it holds the heat of blood until morning, having soaked up sunlight with the jealous avidity of an old man licking up a virgin’s tears.  Sarn at night is a place of tombs, of revels.

But all of this is only what is written in books, by men who have not been there.  There are no tales told of Sarn, only rumors.

Lining the wharf were iron cages, gilded over with thin, flaking peels of gold.  And in the cages were strange, elongated people, people with silver-smooth skin and perfect features, people with long silken tangles of hair that seemed to shimmer and dance over their shoulders and down their naked bodies.

I stared; everyone in my caravan stared.  The heat of Sarn’s red stone burned up through the thin leather ship soles of my boots and a fine red dust wafted up through the swirl of our cloaks and into my face.  The dust burned like pepper on my tongue and in my throat.

“Where is the welcome?” my captain asked, staring in open dismay at the confusion before us.  “My lord, perhaps it were better we should return to our ship.”

“No!”  Narus, my youngest retainer tore his gaze off the iron cages and held out his hands to the city, where we could clearly see the tall sharp spires of the Bloody Hall.  “Should we hide on our ship like frightened children?  My lord, if they will not come to us, let us go to them – let us storm their city like true conquerors!”

In truth, I did not want to return to the ship myself.  My throat was afire with the dust of Sarn.

“We will go,” I said, “by that road,” and I pointed down the market street, where the iron cages stood.

“My lord,” the captain protested, but I pushed past him, Narus so close behind me that he trod on my cloak.  My other retainers followed, leaving the captain scrambling to assemble a proper guard.

It was more than a slave market; Sarn was a city whose breasts gave suck to the sea while her buttocks perched on the desert cliffs.  Everything could and did come to her, either by caravan or ship; and there were things in that market that I had never even heard described in my land.   Small glass balls held light captive, cloth rippled with strange colors, exotic spices and queer twittering birds with frail claws and trailing feathers that drooped in the red dust.  Jewelry of gold and rare stones, mahogany chests spilling out brilliant silks and gold thread, velvet-furred cats, and cats with no fur at all, books bound in thin leather and each letter painted by a monk’s hand, monkeys, and silvery black and gold fish.

But the slaves were the heart of Sarn’s market.  Not just the beautiful ones, those caged as the centerpiece, but also the slaves in the cages of bent and ugly iron in the side alleys of the market, the slaves who were twisted and ugly as their cages, inhuman in horrible ways that made me shudder.  They had horns or hairless fleshy tails, or faces mashed inward like pugs, or boars’ tusks, or masses of black curled hair covering their bodies.  Their eyes glinted yellow and slitted like cats’, sly in their ugly brutish faces.

One of the Sarnese merchants spied us lingering beside his iron cages and sauntered out of his striped tent, taking in our wealth with a casual glance at our boots and weapons.

“I have a pretty fae who likes to dance,” he said, “she moves like a wave, all curve and passion.”  He insinuated his body between us, turning us back toward the gilded cages and his more expensive wares.

“She is all pleasure, for a patron of the arts.”  He ran his finger lightly down a gilded cage, watching for my reaction.  The fae inside was round-fleshed and pearly-skinned, with masses of golden hair that wound around her ankles and spilled out of her cage and into the red dust.  Her hands lay palm-up and limp beside her thighs, as passionate as dead fish.

“Or perhaps…”  The merchant gave me an evaluating stare and then turned us toward the cages filled with beautiful men. “Perhaps my Prince would prefer one of these?  They are the best of their kind, easily taught in all skills, from acrobatics, to serving, to…whatever pleases my lord.”

I told myself to be impassive, and must have succeeded because the merchant smiled instead of seeking shelter behind his cages.

“Where do these people come from?” I asked.  “Do you breed them as you do your camels?”  There were so many rumors told of Sarn’s slaves, these fae who do not thrive outside of Sarn, who spindle and die if they are transported beyond Sarn’s port.

“They are all wild-capture; they cannot be bred.”  The merchant idly smoothed down the curls of one of the fae men.  “Let me make you a gift for your welcome, Prince – whichever of these you favor most is yours.”

My captain’s fingers closed on my arm although I did not need his warning.  I knew not to accept bribes from these people, these sly Sarnese.  But it did not matter; I did not want one of these strange fae, who watched with the dissipated coolness of cats despite their cages.

“I have servants of my own.”

The merchant shrugged and bowed over his hands as he stepped backward into the blowing shade of his pavilion, the stripes undulating with heat mirage.

“Great heavens,” my captain murmured, releasing my arm.  I don’t know whether he was reacting to the fae, or simply the heat.

A horn blew, echoed in cacophony by a dozen more, and my captain’s hand went to his sword.  He looked down the market street and his hand fell away in fresh astonishment.

Sarn had come to greet us at last.

A menagerie of strange animals rumbled toward us: camels and lithe desert horses with scarlet tack and pompoms tied to their reins, tiny wild-caught deer crowned by massive gilded antlers and ridden by winged fae, goats, zebras, giraffes, and little dun-colored cats that weaved with military precision through the differently jointed legs.  Towering over the other beasts was an elephant, ridden by a man who was neither fae nor Sarnese.

He looked like one of my own people, well-tanned and leanly muscled, with a just-barely tamed tangle of dirty blond hair.  He was even dressed more in the style of my people than of the Sarnese: simple well-cut breeches and shirt, tied with a sash and a belt for his sword, although my people didn’t wear such a clash of colors as he did, blues and reds and oranges and purples.

He threw out his arms as he approached and slid off the back of the elephant, the elephant coiling her trunk around his waist to ease his drop to the ground, and walked to us with a slightly effeminate swagger.  It seemed deliberately false to me, and I didn’t protest when my captain drew his dagger and stepped between us.

“Who are you and what do you want with my prince?”  It was hardly the most politic greeting, but I could hardly blame my captain for his assumptions.

The elephant rider stopped short, cocking his head.  “Why, do assassins always come riding an elephant and blatting horns in your land?  Shouldn’t you assume I’m here to welcome and greet your prince and react accordingly?”  He tutted and turned his attention to me, bowing with an elaborate courtesy that seemed as false as his swagger.  I wondered if he were mocking me.

“I am called Gilly, and I am sent to bring you to the Court of the Seven Daughters.  Will you be welcomed freely, or must I fight your man for the honor of escorting you?”

My captain put up his dagger, glowering.  “We’re not riding those blooming elephants.  Not any of the other things either.  We’ll walk, if Sarn’s hospitality can’t spring for a carriage.”

Gilly didn’t turn so much as a eyelash toward him, keeping all his spotless attention sorely for me.  It felt odd, as though I should be looking for an enemy sneaking up behind me.  “If my prince will come with me?  Your men may return to their ship, or to their own country, whichever they prefer.”

“We’ll come with the prince,” my captain said.  His fingers were twitching in the folds of his breeches, wishing he hadn’t put away his dagger, but clearly feeling he would lose face if he drew it again.  “We don’t leave the prince’s side, and we don’t go home until he does.”

“I think you’ll find,” Gilly said, still entirely focused on me, “that your contract clearly states that you only are welcomed into Sarn’s court – as the Bridegroom – for the Sarnese court does not welcome outsiders.  The contract also states that should the Sarnese fail to guard your safety, their kingdom will fall to yours.  There can be no higher surety than this.”

“You’re not Sarnese,” I said.  I knew what the contract said, although I had naturally assumed that ‘you’ meant me and my retainers.  That the Sarnese would demand I separate from my servants, I had not considered.  I wondered if my father had known when he had signed it.

Gilly shrugged.  “Your men cannot make the sacrifices that I have made in order to belong.”