*This is the new free novel I’m posting here a chapter at a time. This is pre-first-draft, as it comes out. It is a sequel to Witchfinder which will soon be taken down (once edited) and put for sale on Amazon (And at this point I’m hoping that will happen by the beginning of July at the latest). Meanwhile, if you donate $6 or more, I’ll get you a copy of Rogue Magic, once finished and edited, in your favored ebook format. Of course, if you’re already subscribing to the blog at a level at which you get whichever books come out that year, you don’t need to worry. *
NOTICE: For those unsure about copyright law and because there was a particularly weird case this week, just because I’m making the pre-first draft of my novel available to blog readers, it doesn’t mean that this isn’t copyrighted to me. Rogue Magic as all the contents of this blog is © Sarah A. Hoyt 2013. Do not copy, alter, distribute or resell without permission. Exceptions made for ATTRIBUTED quotes as critique or linking to this blog. Credit for the cover image is © Ateliersommerland | Dreamstime.com
In The Halls Of The Fish King
Miss Helen Blythe, Sister of The Earl of Savage:
I beg the gentle readers of this tale to believe I’m not a ninny. I was not the sort of little girl who demanded her brother bring her kitten back to life – oh, I admit, once, but I was very young and Jonathan explained to me the idea of necromancy and I didn’t do it again – I didn’t cry when I got hit on the face by a ball, I didn’t complain to nanny when Jonathan’s friends played horrid practical jokes on me, and I never cried to mamma that I was left standing in the chaperon corner, without dancing, ball after ball.
Life and its unfairness were early apparent to me in that mamma preferred my insipid sisters to Jonathan, who might be a rogue but is certainly interesting. And by the age of five, I’d come to realize that unfairness cannot be stopped or cured.
So it was a shock to hear the words emerge from my lips, in the wowwwowww tones of Betty’s cry, “But I don’t wish to marry youoooooo.”
It is gratifying to me to report this must not be the image I present normally, because the fish man looked shocked. His eyes widened as he stared at me, and then he glanced sideways at other fishmen who stood on the steps of his throne and were probably his counselors. You know the type of look. It’s exactly the same look gentlemen will give you when you start crying at a ball because someone stepped on your flounces and tore them. Not that I’ve ever done it. Well, perhaps my very first ball, but only because the gentleman – would you believe an officer of the Private Guard? – tried to convince me it had been my fault that had somehow got my flounces under his big clumsy foot. After mamma had given me a lecture about how one didn’t argue with gentlemen, certainly not in public, and how this would give me a reputation as an archwife, I’d decided that was another of the manifestations of unfairness and kept my mouth shut, even when gentlemen would say blatantly false things, or talk about my inferior female mind. Instead, I’d amused myself by thinking of replies to give them, but had never uttered.
Of course, mamma says it’s because of that that I spend so much time in the chaperones’ corner, even when there are more gentlemen than ladies at a ball. She thinks it’s because I refuse to utter and glare at gentlemen as though they were “the lowest thing in creation.” I don’t think so. I think most of those gentlemen are used to being glared at because they are the lowest thing in creation. I believe I stay in the chaperones’ corner because I’m not beautiful, and I’m not even plain in the common style. My face is too narrow and long. My chin is too pointy. My hair looks rather like overgrown black brambles, and my eyes are dark and with no brilliancy.
Which is why it would be better for everyone if I became a pirate, but certainly not if I became the wife of a fish man. For one, mamma would never approve.
The fish-king looked scared like any mortal man would at my wowowowow exclamation, but then laughed, as though the looks on his henchmen’s faces had reassured him. “And yet, madam, you will undoubtedly marry me. Your enthusiasm is not needed, only that you do it. And when I marry you, you shall have the consolation of a great position and domain over all my subjects.”
And then, before I could realize what he was about to do — not that I could have done much about it, with his guards behind me – he came down the steps. His movement struck me paralyzed with horror, because though he looked like a man and he wore a gentleman’s clothes, he didn’t move like any man I’d ever met. There must be extra joints in his legs, if legs they were, or perhaps they were merely articulated like the tail of a fish, because when he walked his legs swayed and rippled, in an entirely wrong way.
I felt my gorge rise, but could not move, and next thing I knew he was holding me in his arms. His arms were very cold, and he smelled overpoweringly of fish. And then he kissed me, and his kiss tasted of day-old sardines. Fortunately I must have repulsed him as much as he repulsed me, because he let go almost immediately and looked around at his court, and forced a huge smile – this up close, you could tell it was forced – and said, “Welcome my bride, denizens of the deep. With this marriage we shall keep the intruder at bay and the doom from befalling us for yet another generation. With this marriage we shall be saved.”
The din was unbelievable, and their voices were as weirdly wrong as his walk. Once, when I was very little, I’d tried to talk into a glass of milk. Their voices which were fine individually, when in a chorus sounded just like that.
And he really must not like the feel of me, because as soon as they shut up a little, he looked around and said, with an almost frantic effect, “Take my bride and her attendant to the royal chamber and attire her for the ceremony.”
I had a strong feeling no ceremony engaged in down here would be binding on me, though Mama was quite likely to make me abide by it, because it would get me off her hands, mind. On the other hand, if they used magic, they could bind me to this man… well… man shaped heel, and make it impossible for me to escape. That meant I must escape as soon as possible.
I couldn’t do it from this room. Too many people. People shaped sardines, at any rate. I wondered about the bridal chamber. Perhaps there would be fewer.
As though in answer to my prayers, three fish-ladies detached themselves from the crowd. I noted that they were pretty, or at least would be considered pretty in my world, if they didn’t move in as weird a way as their king.
They undulated towards me, on whatever passed for their legs, and they bowed to me and to Betsy, for whom the novel experience was shocking enough to keep her thankfully mute. I think they introduced themselves to me, but I paid no attention at all, though I retained the vague knowledge that they all claimed to be princesses. Whether that meant they were the sisters of the fish-king I didn’t know.
Mama had once gone on a tirade about how one could never be sure of foreign princes and princesses, because what Russians called a prince might mean a member of the royal family, or, for all we knew, might mean a really good lawyer. She was exaggerating and perhaps exercised by the recent intrusion into our king’s court by an endless stream of personages claiming to be high Russian nobility.
But if one couldn’t be sure with a human court, how much less could one be sure with a fishy one.
For all I knew they all thought they were princesses compared to land people. But I followed them, and they showed a very proper deference, turning back to bow at me, only I wish they wouldn’t, because, really, they did not move right and it made me feel queasy.
They took me into a vast, vast room, as large as the throne room, made of an upturned ship and filled with what must be salvage. At least I don’t think they could – anywhere in this watery world – find enough wood for that highly wrought vanity, that massive four poster bed. And this left aside the row upon row of dresses hanging all along a wall.
The dresses had been embellished sea style with pearl rows and bits of shell, but they were undoubtedly material from my world. At least they didn’t look water stained, so I thought likely they’d been taken from sealed trunks in ship’s storage area, and not from the bodies of dead drowning victims, a thought that caused me to shiver.
Upon a chair was the most ornate dress I’d ever seen, and from its cut not less than fifty years old. Yards and yards of silk lace, and row upon row of pearls and rubies. I wondered what ship could have sunk unnoticed with such a cargo, and then I thought that since this watery world wasn’t really in our world, that meant that it could have sunk anywhere. Then I wondered if it had been caused to sink so I would have a dress, and I felt as though there were ice inside my stomach.
Betsy was crying quietly. The silly goose had got her soaking handkerchief from her sleeve and was attempting to dry her eyes with it.
And my attendants were repeating for the third time, that I should undress, so that they could help me into the dress. Well, then. It was now or never.
I’d best, and quickly, get rid of them, so that I could get out of here. I didn’t know if they had enough magic to stop a transport spell, but they might manage it, or else they might come with me, which would be just as bad.
When leaving home I’d used a purchased spell because I’d thought that would make me harder to track. Well, so much for that. This time, I’d do this in my own way and with my own powers. As for where to go – home to recoup and find out how to go anywhere else, would have to do for now. Mama would be shocked at my hair, and likely watch me like a hawk for a while, but she’d soon forget because Jonathan would do something to scare or shock her. And then I could try again. Given my recently acquired aversion to fish maybe pirate queen wasn’t the best profession for me. Maybe I should become a mountain bandit.
I put on my most haughty airs – it helps to imitate mama – and said, “I will not undress in the presence of strangers. Leave us. My attendant will help me.”
To my surprise it worked. They bowed and left. But I was sure they’d be watching at the door, and when Betsy started warbling, “Oh, miss,” I put my finger to my lips to keep her quiet, then put my arm around her waist, and started to build the transport spell. It felt like I was working against a great, wet weight, like trying to jump from under a soaked wool blanket, but I was always good at contriving ways to do magical things, mostly because I could never do them the normal way. Possibly because of papa’s elven heritage.
Just before I put the last bit of spell in place and thought of home with all my might, I saw a long, long coil of pearls on the vanity. GOOD rosy pearls, which should allow me to endow my sisters and have enough to live independently my whole life. Maybe I’d not need to be a mountain bandit after all. I reached over, took them, clutched them to me, and, holding Betsy, put the last key in place and thought home.
In the next moment I was falling onto a man. The impact of my fall caused him to fall backwards. Betsy landed beside me, on her behind, with a splash.
The man landed with a splash too. We were in bracken water to our ankles, and if this were home, someone was going to get told off for flooding the basements of the house.
“Who are you?” I asked the man.
But he didn’t answer me. He was looking behind me, his eyes wide, and he said one word, “Hell.”