UPDATE: A SLIGHTLY EDITED AND PRETTIED UP COMPILATION OF ALL CHAPTERS UP TO A WEEK OLD IS HERE
*I’m going to start posting a novel here, a chapter a week. This is being posted as I write it, so it’s in pre-earc (for those from Baen) or in close-to (but not quite) -first draft state. Once it’s finished it will undergo editing and then it will be published in some form. I’m going to put this up with its own category so you can find it. And yes,there is a donate button on the side of the blog, to your right– those who donate $6 WILL get this, revised, when it comes out. I’m also going to have another cover for this soonish. Until then, bear with me. Yes, those of you who are in Baen Diner have seen two chapters of this before. The difference is, this time I finish it “in public” which is a bit of a window to you on how things work out. Oh, yeah, this is a fantasy set in the same universe as the Magical British Empire, but not in the same world (at least to begin with.) And it uses a Scarlet Pimpernel archetype, which I ALWAYS wanted to do.*
UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers. Yes, this is a serialized novel. No, it’s not quite final and depending on the day you will find a few typos. If you wish to come back, I’ll post a chapter every day on Friday (except this week when I thought Thursday was Friday. I was in Writer Time or something. Two things before I get out of your way and let you read 1)Yes, the cover is horrible. It’s a place holder while I find or draw a better one. 2)donations aren’t necessary, I’ll continue the story whether or not the writer’s bowl is full, but they are (needless to say) appreciated, since baby needs med school books. (And shoes. Size 16 shoes!) Oh, a third thing (Nobody expects the writer inquisition) the novel is sort of what would happen if Heyer fell into Diana Wynne Jones at meteoric impact force.
Sarah A. Hoyt
Flash And Fire
Seraphim knew it had all gone wrong as soon as he emerged from the mage-portal.
He hadn’t been sure where the alarm had sent him, but he knew it had indicated several children in distress. And that meant there had to be a world on the other end.
There was no world. Only the grey, empty nothingness that mages called Betweener.
For a moment, in a panic, he wondered if he’d done something wrong, if perhaps his casting and his spelling had gone wrong, if he’d lost himself through his own stupidity.
His heart beating painfully in his chest, his throat dry, he tried to go over in his mind the coordinates the alarm had shown, the coordinates of his spells and his foreseeing and casting of parameters.
Three children. In danger of death. And it was supposed to be 185 by 240 by… No, he’d done that.
His lungs were going to burst. The Betweener looked like a foggy morning, the fog so dense and white you saw nothing behind it. But it didn’t contain much that you could breathe. Stay there many minutes and you died.
As his brain grew cloudy, he tried to reach for his coordinates again and cast his spell. 185 by 240, by…
There was nothing there he could grasp at to open the gate forward. But the gate back was not completely closed. He’d go home and regroup.
He reached back and tried to open the mostly closed portal that had brought him here. Magic was never two-way, and going back was harder than coming here.
He had to use his whole will-power, his whole concentration, and his head was starting to pound with a headache that told him he didn’t have enough oxygen.
By the powers he thought. This was a trap. It was always a trap. Those coordinates were never reachable.
And then the portal behind sprang open.
At that moment, as though called by that magic, a dagger appeared out of the blind fog. Seraphim spun. It should have hit his heart, but instead, it buried itself in his shoulder. As he struggled to keep the portal open and dispel the dagger, it cut a vicious path down his body.
He shoved through the portal, then commanded the dagger to drop.
Standing in his dressing room, his grace Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater, realized that his suit was not only torn, so was his body. Blood was seeping through the superfine cloth, dripping from his hand onto the floor.
And he was late for his own engagement party.
If anyone were looking closely at the gentleman as he approached the double doors of the ballroom, they would have noticed he held himself somewhat stiffly. Not as though he were injured or embarrassed, but more as though he were excessively careful of all his movements.
The two uniformed footmen exchanged a look before opening the doors. His grace, the look said, had clearly been out drinking. Which explained his being so late to the ball.
Neither of them would have dared say it was just like His Grace, and – if it came to that – a lot like His Grace’s deceased father, but it was plain that they both thought it.
As his Grace, Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater paused in the doorway, in the full glare of the brilliant magelights positioned all around the walls, all eyes turned his way.
This was not because of the exquisite tailoring of his green evening attire, that showed off his muscular body to great advantage, or his commanding height and stately bearing. That he was possibly the handsomest man in the room, with his thick, raven black hair, aquiline features, and dazzling emerald eyes, was a part of it, as well as the fact that he was His Grace, Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater, one of the oldest and most prestigious magical houses in the kingdom, not to say in the world.
No. The real reason his entrance gained the attention of all in the room was because this party was being held in his honour, and he was unfashionably late. His mother had almost given up all hope of his appearance, as had his betrothed, Lady Honoria Blythe.
The betrothal had as yet to be formalized but everyone present expected the announcement to be made sometime approaching midnight. Whispers that he planned to cry off had already traversed the room.
After a pause that was so silent it was almost as if the orchestra had stopped playing – which it certainly hadn’t — the conversation and dancing resumed.
Darkwater walked into the room, still moving with exaggerated care, reached for a glass from a tray held high by a passing footman, and tossed the champagne back in one swift move.
From across the room, his mother saw it and flinched. The Dowager Duchess of Darkwater was a petite woman. Her mother had been French, and Lady Barbara showed it in her small oval face, her dark eyes, her clearly marked, arched eyebrows, and in a certain air which showed a quick temper, quickly tamped down.
She approached her errant son, maintaining every appearance of outward calm, even if her gaze couldn’t help but reproach his lateness and his state.
“Really Seraphim!” she said as soon as she could be sure of not being heard by other people. “After I have gone to such trouble putting on this ball for you, the least you could do is arrive in a timely manner. Dearest Honoria has withstood it all without a crack in her perfect demeanour, but I have been ready to faint from anxiety.”
Darkwater glanced across the room to where Lady Honoria stood, the picture of poise and elegance. She smiled at him, a calm smile that showed no emotion at all, neither anger nor relief, neither disdain nor caring. He sent her a stilted bow and a smile that gave as little away as her own. “She is to be commended for her good sense,” he replied. “And you, Mama, are to be commended for not fainting. That would have set the tabbies’ tongues wagging.”
His mother clutched his arm and he winced and reeled a little, as though the force of her small hand clasping his sleeve were enough to unsettle his carefully guarded poise. “Seraphim – tell me you are happy with this match. If you are not, you should not go through with it. There is time to back out now, without injuring Honoria or the Darkwater pride.”
“Back out?” he asked as he stepped away from her. “Why should I want to do that?”
“Because you are not in love with her. I have always wanted a love match for you, not to see you give yourself up to increase the family fortune. Our magic is still strong, and with your brother’s new inventions, our fortunes will rally.”
“Father expected otherwise,” said Darkwater curtly. “An alliance between Ainsling’s Arcana and Blythe Blessings was the old Duke’s greatest dream.” He reached for a sparkling crystal glass from another passing tray. “Love is a fairy story, at any rate.”
“So instead you drink yourself blind?” asked his mother. “You are making a good job of hiding it, but I can see you are unsteady on your feet.”
“Hardly, Mother. Please do not fret.” Almost reeling, he managed to visibly exert utmost control upon his rebellious body, bowed politely to his mother, and turned to cross the room. “If you will excuse me, I believe Honoria is entitled to at least one dance with me.”
Seeing him bow to Honoria and offer his hand to be enveloped in her cool, gloved little one, his mother could but clench her two hands together. What she had endured from her husband – his careless disregard for her and her position – only she knew. She had exerted her discretion, her pride, the very last shreds of the love that had once drawn her into an unadvisable marriage, to keep her husband’s missteps secret.
His debts at the gaming tables, she’d covered without a word, his frequent inebriation, she’d hid by talking of his “complaint”, his mistresses he’d paid off, his byblows, she’d taken care to set in the way of good positions, his children she’d borne without complaint.
And all that time, her one consolation had been that neither Seraphim, nor his ten-year younger brother, Michael, nor even her single surviving daughter, Caroline, Michael’s twin, showed the slightest tendency to imitate their father. Michael was perhaps the steadiest of them all – his mind given very early over to the perfecting of magic and the creation of magical engines to improve daily life.
But Seraphim, though a rather more spirited boy, forever climbing trees and riding out on horses that were too impetuous for any other rider, had shown early enough a tendency to assume responsibility for the family, and to respect the worth and importance of his title and position.
Only in the last ten years, it had all fallen apart. Rumors of his wild gaming and wenching, his uphazard living, his pride in his riding and shooting prowess – a prowess no one else could see a shred of – had reached even the ears of his mother.
No one had asked her to settle his debts. Yet. No one had laughed openly about his mistaken pride in his physical abilities. Yet. No light skirt or edge born baby had sought her protection. Yet.
But in that ballroom, watching her son hold himself too stiffly and carefully, Lady Barbara Ainsling, Dowager Duchess of Darkwater felt much like syssiphus, who, having pushed the rock up the slope sees it rolling back again.
Seraphim, his early character not withstanding, was turning into a copy of his father.
For the next chapter look here