Tuesday Snippet – Hero of Corsindor – Chapter 2

Hero of Corsindor 2018-2Queen Mallory’s small private balcony was molded to the side of the looming gray castle. This castle was built for defense with inner and outer courtyards, parapets, and high walls.

During the late war bowmen had loosed arrows from the parapets, while men on the walls and men on the ground defended this very castle. It’s history was bloody at best.

The light flickered and disappeared into the shadow of its walls. Queen Mallory gazed down into the courtyard as she had done many times in the last twenty years. In her hand she clutched her current needlework of a phoenix burning in ashes just before rebirth.

Her long dark vibrant hair was hidden by a wimple. Her virtue was all she had now. She was a stranger in a strange land and a hostage to fortune. She had been wed to this king and she had failed at her one duty. She had not born a son.

Maria. That name made her want to stab her needle into the phoenix and rip the cloth. That little commoner mistress of the king’s had ruined so much. She had had a child and then she had died. The king had looked at the queen with disgust on good days. After Maria’s death, he wouldn’t even touch her.

So there was no child. If for a moment she had known that she wouldn’t have a child, she would have taken that newborn son of Maria’s…

The needle slipped from the fabric and punctured the queen’s finger. She set the needlework now. A maid hurried over and wrapped her finger in a white cloth. Then she backed away. The queen’s temper was legendary. The maid kept her eyes away from the queen and stood near the door.

The queen had listened to the insinuating hisses of her courtier, Rhali as he bowed to her. The mistress would gain power at the birth of a son, he had said as he leaned toward her. To her regret she had listened to him. He was so handsome and lean and had made her heart beat faster.

She hadn’t known that he was a snake. It was Rhali that had given her the tea that she had brewed for the pregnant mistress. In the end the mother died at her hand. The baby died soon after.

Instead of mourning and then turning to her for comfort, the king had spent the last twenty years insisting that his son was alive. He spent every last bit of his influence and power looking for that child. While he was obsessed, she had taken over the reigns of the government.

She knew how low the coffers were getting. She wiped her hands down her gown. It hadbeen more than a year since she had even had a new dress.

The king spent his days and nights tucked into a laboratory that he had built in the ballroom. She hadn’t seen the king or his magician, a lowly sneaky crow, in days. The magician was brewing a new potion that would help the king find his son.

Neither the needlework in her hand nor the scene of the mountains from the window captured her attention. She wanted to rub her temples to relieve the headache, threatening to become full-blown.

An under-servant cleared his throat. Just the distraction she needed from her thoughts.

“Your Highness,” he said. He bowed deeply.

She waited for him to face her. When she saw the carefully blank face of the servant, she knew something was very wrong.

“His Highness is calling for you.” The servant stepped back respectfully.

She picked up her skirts, ran through the door, and almost ran to the laboratory. She shook the door handle, trying to open one of the locked doors. The under-servant who had ran behind her, pushed in front and put his full strength to pulling the door open.

“It was open earlier,” he muttered.

She could hear the king calling. With another heave, the door finally opened. She stood at the threshold for a moment to survey in the room.

In the center of the room was a pentacle drawn in white chalk. The king stood in the center o f it. She could see drool dribbling down the corner of his mouth. His eyes had that lost dim look of a mentally deficient child.

As she walked closer to him she could hear the words he was mumbling. “I’ve found him. I’ve found him. I’ve found him,” the king repeated.

“Where?” she asked. But he didn’t hear her and continued repeating his message.

She brushed the chalk with her skirts and the king collapsed into her arms. The under-servant was there to take the full weight of the king or she would have collapsed.

“Guards. Guards.” She yelled. The guards took the king from her and the under-servant and carried him to his chambers. They wouldn’t drag his royal ass. A little bitterness colored her thoughts.

She had been more worried about the king than the supposed wizard. About fifty feet away from the pentacle, she found the wizard’s cold body. She checked this pulse. There was none. A wind rattled through the ballroom and it chilled her.

The papers around the wizard’s body blew through the air and landed into the fireplace at the other end of the ballroom. She tried to jump and catch them. The papers would tell her what these two idiots were playing with, but she didn’t have a chance.

The ballroom became so cold that she started to shiver. The under-servant grabbed her by the arm and dragged her out into the hallway. She looked up at the runes on the doorway. She hadn’t noticed them before. Now they were glowing red and they seemed to look at her.

She felt some regret for what she had to do next. She sent the under-servant to get more guards. Then when he was gone.

When she was a girl, her mother had taught her the shape of runes for protection. She now regretted that she had never been interested in her mother’s craft. She tried to remember the shape of those runes.

White smoke started to seep through the door. She had to do something because the smell of brimstone began to intensify. She wanted to cough.

What hope did she have? She could give in again or she could protect what little belonged to her. She put her hand up, ignoring her head that was screaming at her that she had no power, and traced the runes for protection above the runes on the door.

As she traced, she saw the runes on the door glow green. She kept tracing and the runes on the door turned a fir green. A blast of sound reached her ears and she was thrown against the other wall.

The under-servant with the guards ran toward her. She took a deep breath or tried to.

The under-servant helped her up. She closed her eyes, took another breath, and sighed.
“Guard this door,” she told the two guards.

The under-servant walked her back to her own chambers. She wiped her hands down her dress. The pins in her hair had fallen out and she looked a mess. She straightened her back and walked into the chambers.

This group of women who attended her were a mess of spies from her enemies. The fact that she was disheveled wouldn’t go past any of these eyes. Still her ladies-in-waiting helped her into a new dress. They braided and pinned up her hair. Not one of them showed surprise.

“Send for the Castellan,” the queen ordered.

She didn’t have to wait long. Sir Robert Astru walked in without knocking. He glanced around the room, noting the tapestried, ladies-in-waiting, and her. He smiled, showing bright white teeth. He was a handsome man with dark hair and eyes who according to the gossips liked his paramours young.

“What are you doing here?”

“You asked for the Castellan. I am here.” One of the ladies-in-waiting put a hand over her mouth and giggled. Sir Robert bowed to the giggling girl. Queen Mallory eyes hardened just a little. She wouldn’t forget this slight.

“I asked for the Castellan.” The queen kept her voice even.

He looked at her with a slight sneer. “The one you seek is gone. I have taken his duties.”

So that was why some of her orders had been ignored and why some of the court would titter when she walked by. The ladies-in-waiting watched her avidly to see what she would say or demand of Sir Robert.

Instead she said, “Guards are posted at the ballroom. The king is in his old rooms and he needs a doctor.” She raised her eyebrows in anticipation of his disagreement.

“I will send my doctor to him.”

“As my queen wishes,” said Sir Robert. For a moment the queen could see why her court was fascinated with this man. He glowed with health and was a handsome beast. She kept her face blank, hoping he hadn’t caught her thought.

“Is there anything I’ve missed?” she asked him. For a moment he said nothing as if she had surprised him.

“I’ve will put the king next to your rooms,” he said. “Better to guard you and him if there is a need.”

If she hadn’t known when she first got here that Corsindorians liked intrigue, she would have figured it out after living here. Sir Robert Astru was a cousin of the king so he had been breathing intrigue from his birth. He was rubbing the scar on his right index finger, a scar given by a rival.

His normal mask slipped and his eyes looked thoughtful, “How dangerous is the ballroom?”

Queen Mallory bit her lip. What she said here would be all over the castle as soon as she finished. She sighed. They wouldn’t be able to keep this secret.

“It’s very dangerous,” she said slowly. “I traced a protection rune and it barely kept it contained. We need to watch the doors closely to make sure it doesn’t break the ward on the door.”

She didn’t want to reveal the next part, but he probably already knew. “Whatever it was, it was whispering in the king’s ear. He thinks he has found the prince.” Her throat closed up and she cleared it.

She felt relief when Sir Robert agreed with her. The court had become more and more unruly as the king slipped into madness. Sir Robert would be a good ally.

“I will leave the guards at both the king’s door and his ballroom.”

She wanted to sink into the floor with relief. Instead she tightened her knees and stood proud.

“You do know that it could overpower the guards.”

“I thought of that,” she said. “My doctor will give then an amulet that will give them enough protection to warn us before the door bursts. When the door goes red, the ward is breached.”

Sir Robert frowned, made an abrupt about face and marched out the door. It would be done.

The queen sighed and gracefully sunk into a padded chair. She casually glanced around. Rose was missing, the giggling girl who flirted with Sir Robert. At least she now knew who the snake was in her garden.

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Saturday Review – Fractured Loyalties

fractured loyaltiesI wanted to do more reviews of Pam Uphoff’s books because I really enjoy “The Wine of the Gods” series and her “Directorate Series.” I haven’t even tried to count them all.

I had been following Ra’d from the time he was introduced as a character in the first book. He had  interesting beginnings. He and others were “bubbled” in a dimensional bubble during a war. They were un-bubbled several centuries later. It was a shock for them and the society when they tried to integrate.

If you want to read about it, you’ll have to go to the earlier books in the series.

Why I like this book in particular is that Ra’d is now in the intelligence services and he has to juggle his spy duties with his lover. She happens to be from another world and there is an uneasy truce between worlds. Even worse, she is the offspring of the God of Spies.

So Ra’d is between two loyalties.

Every book I’ve read from Pam Uphoff has had a different twist in it. Her characters are well-formed and interesting.

I will read this one again.

 

Playing Hooky – Incredibles 2

The_Incredibles_2So yesterday, I played hooky with a friend of mine who lives in my apartment complex. We had found out through other seniors that the Regal Theater had a senior Wednesday.

Now that I am on a fixed income, I am more interested in “senior discounts.” The thing is there are not set “senior age” for most of these discounts. Sometimes it is 55 and sometimes it is 62. So I called Fiesta Casino that housed the Regal theater near my home and asked.

To my surprised “50” was the age for the senior discount. Since I am few years north of fifty, I was all set.

So yesterday, we braved the musty smell and tinkling noise of the casino floor. The light was dimmed to a twilight setting, which is normal in those environments. Men and women in their twilight years were smoking and pulling the slot handles. We kept looking up at the signs and going the wrong way. We circled around and around. I swear that the casinos are built in a different dimension. No matter how blocky the casinos look on the outside, in the inside everything looks about the same.

I was glad that I found the Regal theater. We had to walk right through the entire casino to find it. I will admit that I was disoriented by that time.

At the theater, I expected to wait for the tickets. I mean, the tickets were four dollars a piece. I haven’t spent that amount in years. I think there were only ten people who came to this showing.

If it was just the casino… I wouldn’t come here again. The place assaulted all of my five senses. However, the movie— I was really glad I came.

Possible Plotpoints:

In Incredibles 2, super-heroes are illegal. The family get arrested when they try to save the city from a villain who was bombing and undermining the city. So this is the set up for the real story.

Even though the mother’s job is to show that super-heroes are more helpful and less destructive, my favorite plot twist was when she left the Mr. Incredible home to raise the three children– one of whom is a demon multi-talented child.

I seriously laughed through the entire movie. Dah-ling

 

Tuesday Snippet – Hero of Corsindor – Chapter 1b

As the sun touched the peak of the gray mountain, the last rays hit the large tent that had been erected as a banquet hall in the center of the nomad city. The last of the light turned the tent from orange to gold and then to a pale yellow.

As the last light disappeared into the dark night, the pale gray tent glowed yellow from the lamps lit inside. It was a gathering that only happened once a decade. The Ahrah gathered together to eat, drink, laugh, and sing. They would trade stock and this was where the younger men could meet potential brides.

Shira slid into the noise and stepped through the opening. Young women and children were serving lamb seasoned with hot red peppers, garlic, and onions. The heat in one bite would burn the mouth and warm the belly. Each family brought their own signature dish to the feast so the tables groaned with carrots, potatoes, peas, beans, and corn.

Shira had help set up the tables for the feast. One of the Counselor’s advisers had come up with a table that could be easily assembled and disassembled. Usually in a family setting, Shira and Oor would sit on blankets and eat cross-legged. It was strange to see tables. Instead of blankets, the families set on chairs. It was a novel ideal.

Oor had told her once that their neighbors didn’t sit on the ground. That they used tables and chairs all the time. Who would have the time to assemble or disassemble the things before moving on? It just didn’t make sense.

She wouldn’t pass up the chance to sit on the things even if they looked too rickety to hold an adult’s weight. Shira ambled around the tables, going to the big table at the other end of the opening. She greeted friends and non-friends alike, keeping a simple smile on her face.

Oor was fond of saying that she was not old enough to have enemies. So instead of showing her disdain, she nodded politely to the more powerful council members.

Unfortunately she would have to walk by Malkiah’s mother, Cianne. His mother kept her face covered in a transparent white veil, which moved back and forth with her breath.

“Sit with me,” she said. Shira could not afford to upset Cianne. She was one of the most powerful members of the Council. Also she was a traditionalist, hence the white veil.

Her stated position was that the Ahrah needed more men in powerful positions. She had been politely angry when the Ahrah had selected a woman as the Councilor.

Before the veil had fallen obscuring the Ahrah from their neighbors, many of the best warriors died in the border wars. Corsindor wanted their land.

The border veil changed all that. Corsindor had forgotten them. Still there was a shortage of men. The birthrate of boys was low and many of them died before they reached puberty.

Women stepped into the void to lead the people.

Shira bowed her head politely to Cianne and sat down on one of the rickety chairs across from her. She waited for Cianne’s pronouncements.

She had heard it all before. Cianne thought she was blessed above all other women because she had a boy, Malkiah and that her boy was now a man. It would only be advantageous if Shira would pledge herself to a strong man. Cianne would point to her son with her chin.

Shira knew were this would lead so she tried to head Cianne to other topics. Shira’s direction must have been clumsy because Cianne’s eyes gleamed. Her mouth pursed as if she had bitten into something sour.

Then Cianne shifted her body to the other council members at the table. She waved her hand sideways at Shira like an afterthought. “This is Shira,” she said.

Shira stood and made a formal bow to the elders, who were looking at her as if she were a rat caught stealing grain from the stable.

An old man with a long white beard sprinkled with crumbs sneered at her. “She has taught you well,” he said. The white haired lady with blue highlights bobbed her head as if the old man was a wise. She put some more meat onto his plate. He stopped and took a bite.

When he looked up at Shira, she knew he was going to say something cutting.

“She’s not one of us,” he said. Shira waited for the scriptures that was supposed to cut her down to size. “Woman is a bright jewel. Speak not. Her beauty radiates.”

She could tell he was quoting from the book because of the sonorous ring to his voice. Shira wanted to turn away and head to the table where her friends were. The meat wafted to her nose and her stomach growled. Instead she nodded politely as if he had made a hit.

Then she said, “Man is the ox of the family. He feeds and protects his family.” Shira knew she had made a hit when he jerked just a little.

Before he could roar at her, Cianne intervened. “Canroh was wise,” she said.
It was the gleam in Cianne’s eyes that warned Shira. She held herself still and waited for the blow.

“You had an audience with the Councilor.”

Shira nodded her head, yes. She stared into Cianne’s eyes, which reminded her of a snake. After a moment Shira said, “The Councilor is wise.”

The silence lasted until Shira bowed again and backed away. She could feel their eyes boring into the back of her head as she turned away.

She blew out a breath of air as she saw Oor at the table. There was a crooked smile on his face as he moved pulled a chair next to him. “Sit,” he said.

“So, the elders cornered you.”

There was nothing to say. Shira filled her plate and listened to Oor and one of his students argue about the merits of stick versus sword. She settled into the warm companionship and ate.

Who knew when there would be this much to eat again?

The Mirror

Pick yourself up and dust yourself off– I like that

According To Hoyt

monkey-3512996

As we get older it becomes harder to look at ourselves in the mirror.  And no, it’s not just the obvious signs of aging but that we have to face — not even choices but — things that happened in our lives that left a mark on that person looking back on us.

Those of us who grew up near a large and relatively stationary family (look, dad’s family lost half its kids or more to other countries each generation (I represent) but there were enough that stayed there) and had enough generations to know the “family look.”

When you’re young you can deceive yourself that you don’t belong to this large, clumsy, lumbering tribe (represent again!) but as you age, you start seeing other people in your mirror.  For years now, I’ve been looking at my paternal grandmother, which is funny since, objectively my features are more like mom’s. …

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Another year

Writing Perchance to Dream today Today is my late-husband’s birthday. He would have been 71.

So today I am going to a Thai restaurant a few miles from my house. It was his favorite type of food.

Then I will remember the jokes and the good times. Maybe I will take a drive out into the country– for a few hours. It used to be our favorite activity.

There are two times of the year that I feel closer to him– his birthday and his death date.

RIP Otto Tune.