I can’t put up a tree this year, and it’s gnawing at me. There is no point in putting it up, because we are probably moving in less than two weeks. Hoping the contractor will get on with the floors, because we would like to move in before Christmas.
Every contractor I’ve ever hired, with exception of two, has to be prodded. I have gotten to the point when, after reminding them 3 times to do something, I automatically switch to raging bitch mode, and then miraculously they start doing things to placate me. I resent this, because I don’t enjoy being a raging bitch.
I have a mysterious piece of art in progress for you.
What is this, you ask? Nobody knows. Ooo, mystery! We are having to wait while it’s done, and it’s kind of difficult, so now you can be waiting with us. I spread annoyance to the world.
You know what else I’m waiting on? Finishing this novel. We’re about 15-18K from the end, and it’s full steam ahead, and I want it to be done already. We know how it all ends, and Gordon and I just need to vomit it on the screen. I am super stressed out, because Kate is super stressed out. People sometimes ask if the emotions from the characters bleed over. They do. To be able to write emotions convincingly, you have to experience them. So like Kate, I’m super irritated by everything. Kate, at least has an excuse.
I knew the magic was up, because my aunt exploded into our bedroom and roared, “The child is missing!”
I sat bolt upright on the bed. Curran groaned. I realized I was still naked from last night and pulled a blanket over my chest.
“Knocking,” I told her. “Privacy.”
She glared at us. “This is no time to have sex! Your son is missing! I can’t feel him.”
Kill me, somebody. “He isn’t missing. He’s across his street with his other grandmother. You can’t feel him, because I strengthened the ward on George’s house to mask his presence.”
She squinted at me. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. I went there yesterday to check on him around one in the morning. I saw him sleeping. Grendel is with him. There is enough werebears in that house to hold off an army.”
Erra considered it. “Very well. Also Redacted and some blond woman are in the car in your driveway, talking. You should probably do something about it.”
She turned and swept down the hallway, right past the remnants of the door she’d broken.
I turned over and bumped my head on Curran’s chest a few times. “Why me?”
I have no excuse. Snarling at the total strangers in the grocery store and internet “because I’m trying to finish my book” isn’t exactly going to win me any friends. So I am going to hide at home today, mourn the lack of Christmas tree, and try to write until I fall over.
Not having a Christmas tree sucks.
Grace Draven through Facebook: Hey, AMID THE WINTER SNOW anthology is up for preorder and I have a story in it. If I bribed you with two bottles of wine and a sacrificial chicken, would you be willing to mention the anthology in a blog post?
Me: Give me a snippet and I’ll do it.
Grace: Thank you. Do you still want the sacrificial chicken?
Me, calling: This has no sex or violence in it.
Grace, attempting to avoid a semi: I’ll send a different one.
Jeffe Kennedy through facebook: Hey, Grace said you wanted sex or violence.
Jeffe: This has tongue bits.
Me: Oh good.
Excerpt from Grace Draven
In The Darkest Night
Radimar started out as defender in the duel but turned the tide, becoming the aggressor as Alreed slowed, and his shield arm tired. Frustration replaced cool-headed calculation, and he began leaving openings in his defenses that Radimar exploited with zeal, landing blows that didn’t cut but bruised, beat, and wearied his opponent.
When Radimar smashed his boot heel into Alreed’s inner thigh, the champion’s bellow carried above the audience’s cheers. He staggered to one knee, shield and sword raised in full defense as Radimar battered him with both swords.
They had traveled from the arena’s center to its muddier edge. Intent on delivering a relentless beating to his adversary, Radimar didn’t notice until it was too late. One step landed him outside the straw and onto the slippery mud. He stumbled, and Alreed saw his chance.
With a triumphant shout he lunged forward, head-butting Radimar hard enough in the stomach to knock the wind out of him. Both men crashed to the groud, Alreed on top of Radimar. The champion abandoned his shield to rip at Radimar’s helmet and expose his head for a skull cracking. Radimar heaved to one side just in time to avoid the full impact of a blow as Alreed drove his sword pommel toward Radimar’s face. The pommel clipped the edge of his helm and caught the curve of his cheek just below his eye. For a moment, Radimar’s vision went black on that side, and the inside of his skull vibrated.
He had managed to keep a grip on his own swords when he fell and used their ends to slam them into into Alreed’s sides. A satisfying pop sounded, and Alreed groaned. It wasn’t enough to dislodge him. The swords were too long to maneuver in the close space between them. Radimar released one and used the heel of his gauntleted hand to smash it into the underside of his opponent’s chin.
This time Alreed screamed and hurtled backwards, but not before showering Radimar in a spray of blood, teeth and what he suspected were bits of Alreed’s tongue.
Radimar sprang to his feet, snatched up his sword and retreated back to the straw as he waited for Alreed to rise. The side of his face throbbed hard enough to make his entire head pound and he wiped away blood not his own so he could see properly. Had the champion’s blow struck him full on, he would have killed Radimar.
Alreed rose on a stagger, blood coursing from his mouth and down his chin in a crimson stream. He grinned at Radimar, revealing broken teeth and spaces where no teeth remained. His breathing gurgled, and he spat gobbets of blood into the straw. Animalistic growls vibrated from his throat as he retrieved his sword and shield. The man who said he’d take Jahna like a dog was transforming into one himself, made rabid by pain and fury.
Sensing that this duel, begun as an exercise of frivolous entertainment, had turned both personal and deadly, the crowd screamed for more. For Radimar, their screeching was nothing more than a whisper. There was only Alreed and his defeat.
It didn’t take long after that. The swordmaster of Ilinfan proved to all who witnessed the fight that those who trained with the Brotherhood of Ilinfan knew and understood the art of the sword like no other.
Alreed’s attacks had lost all finesse, becoming nothing more than the charges of a maddened bull. Radimar dodged them effortlessly, using his own swords either to deliver more of the shallow cuts or the pommel of the blades to land bruising strikes. When the disappointed king finally declared him the winner, Radimar had Alreed on his knees, facing the king, one of Radimar’s blades pressed to the champion’s throat in the sign of victory.
People roared his name and soon a hail of flowers, ribbons, scarves, gloves and hats rained down in the arena, pelting Radimar as he saluted the king and walked away from the now prone and bloodied Alreed. The sound of his name shouted in chant filled the night air, but the triumph he felt sprang not from the crowd’s adulation but the internal satisfaction of wreaking vengeance on the man who had insulted a woman so undeserving of the offense.
Once more he paused before Lord Uhlfrida whose jubilant expression assured Radimar he’d just made his employer a wealthier man than he had been earlier in the day. Jahna’s own features held a mixture of joy and fear. For him. She clasped her hands together and offered him a low bow, one mimicked by her father. Radimar bowed in return and tapped his shoulder where the brooch rested unharmed under his hauberk.
He exited the field, now littered with favors of every type and met a grinning Sodrin who looked ready to jump out of his skin from sheer elation. “That was incredible! I’ve never seen the like in any Exhibition!” He inhaled a long breath to calm himself. “And you defended my sister’s honor,” he said in a much more even voice. “You were right, Sir Radimar. You didn’t kill him, but you sure made him wish you had.”
Excerpt From Jeffe’s Kennedy, because she got roped into this and she isn’t even getting a chicken out of this deal.
The Snows of Windroven.
“I never intended to cause you pain, Ami,” I told the top of her head as she worked to clean the cuts. Brutally insufficient words to describe the depth of what I’d never intended. Beginning with laying a finger on her royal, unblemished skin. Even with her tending me out of simple sympathy, in broad view of the travelers on the main highway, the least brush of her fingers on my skin brought up the insatiable lust for her, hard and hot.
She looked up at me and creaked out a smile through still damp eyes. “I know that. And you’ve made me so happy.” She took a deep breath. “I always understood, though, that this was temporary.”
“We both understood that, from the first night by the lake.”
Her smile went tremulous. “When I seduced you, despite your better judgement.”
I laughed, though it never comes out right. It always sounds more like a groan scraping out of my scarred throat. “Everything with you has been against my better judgement, Ami. And I’ve never been able to help myself. You burn so bright.”
“Like staring into the sun,” she said, an oddly sorrowful crease at the corners of her eyes. Her innate magic made her beautiful even in tears and other extremes of emotion—and my passionate queen ranged through many extremes—so rarely did she look as she did now, smudged with unhappiness, dented by my careless handling of her. “Do you remember when you said that to me? You said you were afraid you’d come away burned and blinded.”
“I remember,” I allowed. I did so much better with silence. I should never have broken my vow. If I hadn’t, we wouldn’t have come to this pass.
“You said that if you stared into the sun too long, you’d be immolated, and the only freedom for you would be to stay far, far away.”
Never mistake that a mind sharp as a sword lies behind that pretty face. She likely remembered every word I’d ever said to her, both the wise and the incautious.
You get violence with tongue bits, I get chicken and wine, so we are all set.
Many thanks to all the generous Nigerian readers who donated their time and expertise to make sure I wasn’t just making up crazy nonsense.
The flight from Houston to Austin’s executive airport was short, less than half an hour in the air. It would take more time to get from the airport to the Adé-Afẹ́fẹ́’s compound in Costa Bella. Most days I’d rather just drive, but I needed to be back in time for Nevada’s big date with Garen Shaffer. I don’t know why she had to meet him. I could tell her how’d it would go, what his pitch would be.
“Oh, Nevada, you’re so pretty, and I’m so handsome, and rich, did I mention I was rich, sure you’re not yet, but I have enough for both of us. Let’s breed and make powerful, pretty progeny. Come with me Nevada, marry me and live a safe, comfortable and perfectly boring life.”
What he wouldn’t promise, what he couldn’t lie about, especially to her, was love. No, what Garen was really offering was business arrangement. More merger than marriage. One, that, as much as I hated to admit it, made sense. Nevada was Truthseeker Prime, stronger than Garen or anyone in his family. What he offered was the protection and the financial security that came with being a part of an established, respected house. What he was offering was worth millions, what he asked for in return was priceless. The most powerful Truthseeker of her generation, the legendary long-lost child of house Tremain. Or more specifically, her DNA. The potential children that their union would produce.
That wouldn’t be how he’d couch it, of course. He’d use terms like partnership, family and potential. Maybe he’d even mean it, but Shaffer and I both knew what he wanted, most of all, what his family’s wealth and reputation couldn’t buy was a guarantee of Prime offspring. Their talent was a rare one, and unless the House Shafer wanted to start marrying distant cousins, Garen had to find an equally powerful family or face the very real possibility of the house’s power waning with each new generation.
Of course, I didn’t tell her any of this. Why would I? She knew how I felt about it, but the decision had to be hers. What I wanted, maybe what she wanted, didn’t matter. In the end, the woman I love, who I thought loved me, would do what was best for her family and the future House Baylor. And I couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
No, best to focus on what I came here for. On the ride over from the airport to the Adé-Afẹ́fẹ́ mansion, I thought of how to best approach the weather clan. Well respected, with a reputation for neutrality and fair dealing, House Adé-Afẹ́fẹ́ rarely, if ever, involved themselves in Prime politics. They’d come to Travis county decades ago during the worse drought in living memory. Lake Travis fell below five hundred feet, lower than ever in recorded history. Crops withered, fires raged, Spicewood burned. Finally, the Austin city council sent out a cry for help to anyone, be it scientist or sorcerer, who could break the drought. Week by week the lake grew smaller, and the reward grew larger and still unclaimed. Temperatures and tempers flared. Finally, when it seemed that it would never rain again, the Adé-Afẹ́fẹ́. Crowned by the Wind, in their native Yorùbá tongue, appeared and with them came the storm clouds. Before the squall, some laughed, some jeered, but as the tempest raged, adults danced like small children in the rain. The Weather mages were hailed as saviors and rewarded with ten acres on the lake they had rescued. As the area had prospered, so had the Adé-Afẹ́fẹ́. Down a private drive and behind a massive gate stood the nearly fourteen thousand square foot pure white limestone mansion the Clan called ” Ilé Mọ̀lẹ́bí.”
As I came up the steps, the heavy ornate door swung open. Táyọ̀ Adé-Afẹ́fẹ́ stepped out and pulled me into a bear hug. Which was a far cry from the first time I met the youngest son of House Adé-Afẹ́fẹ́. When I’d walked into the first class of my sixth grade, he’d emptied a trashcan over my head.
Táyọ̀ grinned. “Connor. Mom said you’d be coming by to talk to dad. The great war hero and tragic recluse graces our humble abode. It must be serious if you’ve broken your self-imposed exile.”
“Still king of the middle school putdowns, Táyọ̀?”
“Hardly, it’s Dr. Afefe to you, Private Rogan.”
“It’s Major, and since when do they give out Ph.D.s for standup comedy?”
“Climate Sciences, actually, and we were all proud of your service, Connor. Ah, I have missed you too. How are things in Houston?”
“Not great,” I told him,” I was hoping to talk to your dad into letting me borrow Ọmọ́tọ́lá for a while.”
“’Tọ́lá?” He looked surprised, “What do you want with my beautiful cousin? Because if you put her in danger, I will break every bone in your body. And I am not joking this time. It will middle school all over again. You’ll have to go back to the Ondo jungle to hide from me.”
Before I could reply, a deep voice boomed through the house. ” Arákùnrin, if you are quite finished with your foolishness, bring our guest to the study.”
Táyọ̀ manufactured a look of mock horror and pretended to cringe. “Yes, father.” He turned to me and stage-whispered, “Time to go.”
I followed my friend through the foyer and into a hallway on our left to a set of double glass doors. Táyọ̀ stopped before the doors, knocked twice, and waited.
A moment later the same sonorous voice commanded, “Enter.”
Táyọ̀ opened the door turned to me, mouthed “Good luck,” and ushered me inside. Once I’d entered, he closed the door behind me and stood outside.
Adépérò Adé-Afẹ́fẹ́ stood against the far wall of the room, in front of a massive marble fireplace. Above it sat a coat of arms: a black shield between two white chargers with a red eagle on top. The floor, the walls and built in book shelves, even the ceiling seemed to be of the same mahogany. Overstuffed leather chairs and a matching couch sat atop an exquisite Persian rug. An honest to God old fashioned English study. Maybe after we discussed my situation, we could have brandy and cigars while debating the current state of the British empire.
“House Rogan honors us with this visit,” he intoned formally, “How may we help you, Connor?”
Adépérò looked almost exactly same as he had the first time I’d met him when my father brought me here on family business, nearly twenty years ago: tall, lean, bald and clean shaven with dark skin stretched tight over high prominent cheekbones. The same thoughtful, penetrating gaze and unlike his son, stoic. I knew he was fifty-eight, but he could have passed for a fit man in his mid-forties. When he shook my hand, the grip was firm and the muscles on his arm rolled under the simple white, loose fitting shirt. According to Táyọ̀, his father was a lifelong practitioner of both Dambe and Lutte, traditional West African boxing and wrestling. I wondered for a moment if I could take him. Yeah, sure I could. Maybe, but beating up an old man in his home probably wasn’t the best way to get a favor from him. Best to charm him.
“Mr. Adé-Afẹ́fẹ́, you look well.”
“Thank you, Connor, as do you. Now, again, what can we do for House Rogan?”
Straight to business then.
“I came to ask a favor. Alexander Strum is planning to unleash a storm upon Houston and I’d like your family’s help to prevent it. Specifically, Omotola Ogidan. Of course, I would pay for her services and guarantee her safe return.”
Adépérò frowned. “Why would Strum do this? What could he hope to gain?”
“It’s a private matter between our houses.”
“Yes, we know the history of your houses well, Connor. We know how your fathers fought. The destruction, the loss of life on both sides. And here the two of you are, years later and you’ve learned nothing. What do they accomplish, these private little wars of yours? Why do you think my house would help you?”
“Because if you don’t, he’s going to conjure up a tornado so large that the death toll in Houston and the surrounding areas will be catastrophic. He thinks I have something I don’t, and he’s threating to level the city and blame me for it.”
“Apologies, Connor, but that makes no sense, I cannot believe that any house, even House Sturm, would destroy a city out of revenge. The council would hunt him down like a dog. He would be a fugitive, all hands turned against him. Besides, what you’re describing takes a tremendous amount of time and power. We don’t create, Connor, we coax, we direct or divert. The atmosphere isn’t an isolated environment. When one summons rain in one spot, somewhere there will be a drought in another. When his father attacked yours, he used an existing storm cell. He gave it a nudge and then guided the resulting tornado. There are no conditions conducive to tornado creation at the moment, which means that Sturm would have to manufacture it out of thin air, literally, risking consequences no one can predict. We, who adjust the weather, do not do this. It is unthinkable. Do you have any proof of this?”
“None,” I admitted. “He has threatened to do it and my gut tells me he will.”
I was losing this battle. “Could it be done? Could you do it?”
Anger flashed in his eyes. “I could. But I would never. We came here, strangers in this strange land, with nothing, but our power and our pride. We were welcomed, and we have thrived,” he waved a hand to indicate the fine home, “because we help people. We do not misuse or abuse our gift. We do business with the other houses, as we did with your father, but we do not, ever, engage in house politics or intrigue. For this we are left alone. This fight between you and Sturm is, as you’ve said, a private matter. If we do this for you, intercede directly on your behalf, we would no longer be viewed as neutral, we would be seen, and rightly so, as your ally, and your enemies would be ours. This I will not do.”
“I see. Thank you for your time.”
“Young man, you did not allow me to finish. Because I knew your father, and because my son speaks highly of you, we will give serious consideration to what you have said. We will make inquires and if it is necessary, we will send someone to investigate your claims. If we find what you say to be true, we will send someone to help. Not because we feel obligated to intercede on your behalf, but because what you’re describing is an abomination. If one of our kind chooses to play god, we will do everything we can to keep the city and its people from harm. Now, will you be joining us for dinner, Connor?”
I guess that was it then. It wasn’t as much as I’d hoped for, but it was better than nothing.
“Thank you but no, I’m afraid I have a very important engagement tonight back in Houston and I can’t be late.”
“Did you drive or fly?”
“Take a car,” he suggested.
“Because a hailstorm is gathering between Austin and Houston, and it will take you too long to go around it.”
I glanced outside the window, at the day suffused with sunshine.
Adépérò smiled. “I neglected to mention earlier, the reason my wife wasn’t here today is that she is at an open-air Student Art Festival in Zilker Park today. Our oldest granddaughter is presenting. It would be a shame to have it ruined.”