Witch’s Daughter, Free Novel in Installments

*There is some overlap at the beginning as I’d put in a bit of the next chapter.  Sorry it’s short. More next week. I’ll also do a tab for it, so you can catch up.- SAH*

withc's daughter

Witch’s Daughter – Second installment  (first is here.)

The Kindness of Strangers


Miss Albinia Blackley didn’t scream.  Or at least she tried, but as she turned over, her hair falling out and her cap being lost in the street below, it seemed to her that the air robbed both her ability to breathe and her ability to make a sound.  From above she heard her mother scream, but not what her mother said.  From below other screams joined, together with some sort of strange musical instrument that sounded like a crazed goose.

She caught glimpses of the street below, the glint of something like metal but in many colors.  She tried to use her magic to slow the fall, but of course it didn’t work, when she couldn’t even think clearly.

And then from somewhere she heard a male voice.  It said a jumble of words. Or at least the words sounded like a jumble in her, though of course, right then anything would.

Her fall arrested.  Not suddenly, but first slowing down, like a leaf falling gently from a tree onto the welcoming ground.

Only she didn’t fall on the ground.  Or get a chance to straighten up.  Instead, she fell face first onto something hard and wooden.  As she recovered breath, she realized that the something she’d fallen on was moving, gliding rapidly through the air.  Or perhaps not gliding, because…  She blinked as she picked herself up to sitting on the floor of a small rowboat and looked at the boy who was rowing it.  He was tall and dark, and scowling, and plying the oars with a will.  And they were charging through the air, weaving and twisting, while mama screamed above, ever more distantly, and below the screams had changed from a horrified to a strangely excited tone.

“What?” Albinia heard herself squeak.  “How?  Who—”

“Not now,” the boy said, between panting breaths.  “We must get out of here, before the location affects the spell.”

Like that, they seemed to push through… something, and there was the brief cold of what Albinia had learned to call In Betweener.  She’d never experienced it, of course, not being allowed to perform spells that dangerous – or really to escape Mama’s orbit that easily – but she’d read about it in her instruction books.  It was supposed to be the time you slipped between one world and the next, and you were nowhere.  There were horrible  warnings against getting stuck in the In Betweener, unable to breathe, forever.  Albinia had always wondered how anyone knew you could get stuck there, or if you died or if you just stayed suspended forever. Since there was no time in the Betweener, could you die there?

When she’d tried to ask such questions of Mama, mama had told her that young ladies of refinement didn’t ask stupid questions. But she’d never explained to Albinia why the questions were stupid, or, indeed, what refinement had to do with it.

Now going through, for however brief a moment she was, she realized what had originated the talk of dying in the In Betweener.  Even if no one could know if it had ever happened. Only that someone hadn’t arrived to the place where they’d meant to go. The seconds – minutes?—in Betweener felt like she’d been dragged head-first through hell. No. Not hell, hell would have something, even if the something was pretty unpleasant. This was just…nothing. Humans shouldn’t live in nothing.

She’d had no more than time to think this – or perhaps think was too clear a word. She’d in fact only had a moment to feel it, like one groping in the dark for an unfamiliar shape – than they were out, into cool clear air, with bright son and a smattering of snow flakes dancing in it.

And the boat was falling.

The young man whose boat it was – unless, of course, he’d stolen it – rowed more frantically, and the fall slowed down and changed into a glide.

“We’re in London,” Albinia said, delightedly, recognizing things only seen in woodcuts, the Thames and the Bridge, the tower of London, as they turned and glided in the air above the city.

The boy only gave her a dirty look. But maybe he couldn’t speak.  He was read in the face and rowing fast enough that if they were on water they’d be achieving quite a speed.  Maybe. Because he was rowing faster with a hand than the other, and seemed to be controlling it, to make them fall slowly in circles.

They weren’t the only traffic in the air. There were magic carpets, as she expected, some of them pretty scruffy and small, probably pieces of bigger gliders cut and sold at a knock-off price.  Those seemed to be barely above the trees, and piloted by scruffy boys carrying packages.  She’d never thought of that but she supposed it made sense, to deliver purchases to ladies – and gentlemen – not willing to carry them.

There were only a couple of floating carriages, both with crests on their doors, and both, fortunately, well above them, so that there was no fear of being hit by them.  She’d heard of those, or rather, read of those, in romantic novels of the kind mama most strenuously disapproved of. They were expensive, both to build and to bespell, which meant that only the wealthiest who could command the best magicians had them.  A lot of them connected to the royal family.

The only other air traffic, but too far away for her to see clearly, was what appeared to be a sort of airborne building.  It would be one of those carpet – liners, the vast magic carpet supporting a first class hotel. Such plied the routes between Europe and other continents, and Albinia had often dreamed of going on a round-the-world tour on one of them.

She was looking longingly towards it, and thinking it was unfair she’d never been on one of those, when her papa had invented them, as they careened downwards at speed, towards a sort of little wilderness in the middle of busy London streets.

She screamed and held to the side of the boat.  The boy was almost not rowing. Was he mad? He didn’t even look at her when she screamed, his eyes fixed downward.

They fell past the small rug messengers, past the trees. Albinia kept trying to keep her eyes open, while they closed in sheer terror, and she forced them open again.

She must have closed them momentarily, because the first she knew about the small lake was when they splashed with force into the water. Water splashed on her face. Ducks screamed. She opened her eyes to see a flurry of feathers and ducks.

The boy was bent forward, his hands clasping his arms, his breath coming in ragged gasps.

She was dripping water, trying to wipe at her face, her hat sodden and soaked on her head, when the boy recovered enough breath to look up and fulminate her with as hateful and dark a glare as he’d given her before, “I—” he said.  “I think you must be the most cowardly boy in the whole world. Why did you scream like that?”

Answers flitted through Albinia’s head, including that she had screamed because she’d been scared, that she didn’t think she was cowardly at all, and finally that she wasn’t a boy.

But the truth is that there was a reason she’d put on Geoffrey’s suit. It wouldn’t do for a young woman, much less what Mama called – heaven only knew why – a “gently reared female” to be traipsying around by herself and under her own recognizance.  Men – if Albinia understood correctly from the novels she’d consumed – were forever wanting to do something called “stealing the virtue” of women.  She had absolutely no idea what that meant. No book she consulted explained it – just like not really explaining if you could die in the Betweener —  but she assumed that it meant they could take your magic or steal your magic, because after all when a magical object stopped working it was said to have lost “its virtue.”

But that had never been very clear, because a lot of the protagonists in the novels didn’t have any magical power.

All the same, and just in case, she made sure there were protective spells over her, so he couldn’t steal any of her magic – however that was done – and decided to not tell him she was a girl.  Instead she said, her voice scathing and her diction precise, “Well, and you’re quite the rudest boy I’ve ever met.”

To her surprise, he laughed aloud at that, the anger disappearing. “I suppose you can’t help it,” he said. “You’re just a scrub, aren’t you. How old are you, twelve?”

She started to protest then grunted something that could be taken either way.

“And what’s your name?” he asked. “I presume you’re Master Blackley…”

How did this rude boy know her name.  “I’m Al,” she said. “Call me Al.”

He opened his mouth. Closed it. “I’m Michael,” he said.

He took up the oars again, and started rowing more gently towards the edge of the park.  You’d think there would be people gathering and pointing at them by now, even if it was a cold day.  Albinia wondered why there weren’t, and if the boy realized this was wrong.  Then she realized he hadn’t given her a last name and looked at him curiously.  Right. Well, then she wouldn’t ask. You could tell from his clothes and the way he talked he was a gentleman. But why wouldn’t he give her his name?

“Where are we going?” she asked instead.

He looked embarrassed. “I thought you might want to get dried and changed before I explain.”

Clear as mud, wasn’t he?

She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of getting upset though. “Very well,” she said. Could it be any worse than being caught by Mama?

It wasn’t till they’d stowed the boat, and he’d done something that obscured it as it had become invisible, then led her across a busy street and galloped up the steps of an elegant townhouse, that she wondered if he was kidnapping her for nefarious purposes, like those things she had read about.  Again she made sure the shield was fastened over her magic.  She wondered if he had enough magic to feel her spell work, as he looked over at her out of the corner of his eyes, the green flashing in a way that made her think he was amused.

He knocked at the door to the townhouse, and stood back, waiting, his body posture denoting impatience.  She wanted more than anything to ask him who they were calling on.  But she didn’t fully realize how much trouble she was in, until the house was opened by liveried footman, whose face seemed permanently arranged in an expression of something like disdain. Which changed almost immediately.  The man’s eyes widened, his mouth dropped open, and he said, “Lord Michael!”

She was well brought up. Well, in some things. One of the things Mother had made sure she consumed was the manuals of peerage and etiquette. All of them.

If this young man was being addressed with Lord and his first name that meant only one thing: not only was he of a noble family, but one of the noblest.

After all, only the sons of dukes granted that courtesy title.

Michael forged ahead, a look over his shoulder calling her, “Come!”

And they were into the house, the footman barely jumping out of the way.

“Is Seraphim in?” Michael asked.

And then she realized: the name was unusual enough, she had to be at the home of the prince Consort. There was no other possibility.





56 thoughts on “Witch’s Daughter, Free Novel in Installments

  1. cool clear air, with bright son and

    bright sun and

    He was read in the face

    He was red in the face

    Hey, things like that just jump out at me.

  2. More please. 😀

    (Yes, I know that there won’t be more today.) 😉

    1. Very nice.

      Also vote for more. Please.

      (Know it won’t be today. Or even next week. But eventually …)

  3. I attributr those small, spellchecker proof typos like “read” to be manifestations of English not being your native tongue. As I constantly repeated to my students in Colombia, “Inglês é o diabo.” Except I said that in Spanish. 🙂

      1. Yep. It has buggerall to do with being ESL. It has to do in this case with having a massive headache, normally with my fingers being stupid.
        I mean, the image of me sitting here, laboriously mentally translating from Portuguese is adorable, but I would never finish a blog post, let alone a book.

        1. But if someone is crowing about finding a typo– “ha ha! Sure, she’s got a couple dozen published books and a swarm of short stories, but I she talked about reeds in the pool!”– and your defender goes “eh, well, English isn’t her first language,” it rather makes them look even sillier.

          1. Foxfier, have you ever taught ESL learners? I saw mistakes like this constantly when I asked Colombian kids to write a history essay on a test. I know full well that anecdotes are not data,but that was my experience. I suppose I should look into this, and see what the academic types say about homonym errors, but frankly. it’d take time I’d rather spend on writing. I’ll just believe my lying eyes.
            Sarah, I never for a second visualized you as mentally translating from Portuguese. I suspect you are more fluent in English than many natives are. My Spanish is light-years (maybe parsecs?) behind your English, and even *I* don’t mentally translate from English to Spanish on those rare occasions I attempt to write Spanish. You mentioned sinus problems or something as the reason. Almost certainly that is why you missed a minor spello I noticed but ignored as too trivial to even mention. Evidently I made the mistake of offering an explanation? Rest easy, it won’t happen again. Has it occurred to you that being in less than optimal condition caused the glitch, but the TYPE of error was one more common with folks that are not native speakers?

            “Once you’ve gained some experience as an ESL teacher, you start seeing writing mistakes that pop up again and again, mistakes which are typical in ESL students in particular, and which are connected to the fact that English is their second and not maternal language.”

            That’s from:
            The #1 error mentioned? You guessed it – homonym mistakes.
            Took about 2 minutes to locate. My magnum opus is jealous of the time. 🙂

            1. Mark, for the love of G-d.
              YES I made mistakes like that as a learner. I did Whether and weather all the time, partly because I learned them backwards.
              That was sitting there, sweating, trying to remember the right word.
              This is typing as fast as I can. And if I’d read it back, I’D SPOT THEM. As would you.
              Thank you Suburbanshee for saying typing is from the sound section of the brain. SO MUCH explained. I refer to it as taking dictation from my brain, and my fingers are STUPID.
              Mark — my kids make the same typos, as does everyone I’ve ever been in a writing group with. The difference is you think I have them because I’m not sure OF THE MEANING. It’s not. It’s the fingers typing. Oh, and before you ask, no my kids don’t speak Portuguese. One of them butchers French. Kind of. On a good day with a following wind.
              I taught ESL. I’m telling you they’re not the same error.
              Unless everyone who types capitol for capital or their for there is also ESL. Would explain much, but I don’t think so.

              1. This is becoming true tempest in a teapot. We both state both ESL learners and natives make mistakes. Stop the presses! Who knew? Now we’re yammering about WHY people make mistakes. I believe you when you say you were just exhausted, etc. While that’s true in your case, that in no way confutes my (general (admittedly anecdotal) observation that it is a mistake commonly found in ESL learners.
                Do natives like your kids sometimes make the same mistake? Certainly. That one, and many others. As I said, “Ingles es El Diablo.” What’s that got to do with it?

                1. How does it feel, lugging those goalposts around while pretending you weren’t a rude, arrogant twit on somebody else’s blog?

                  You were rude. Own it and apologize. Without any of this weaselly “well, ackschually, we both were less than perfect” crap. You are out of line.

            2. And yes, this pisses me off beyond all bound, because it’s been used by completely insane jackholes as “proof” that I’m not acculturated.
              THEY’RE FUCKING TYPOS.
              The difference between me and your students: They’re thinking in Spanish and translating.
              I have for fifteen years now spoken Portuguese by thinking in English and translating.
              It’s why I don’t/can’t write in Portuguese. It takes FOREVER. Even emails to family members, if they speak English, are in English. I can READ theirs, I can’t really write.
              Understand that my husband doesn’t speak Portuguese, nor do my kids. For 35 years now, and on purpose (because I wanted to write fiction in English, which requires internalizing not just the language but the “rhythms”) the most I’ve used English is the weekly call to mom. When I don’t actually need to speak much. (More now because she loses things.) And maybe two weeks every three years, when I visit. even then I take Dan and the kids, and speak at least as much English.
              There is ONE typo I make in these chapters (in all of them) that you can LEGITIMATELY ascribe to ESL, though also to hearing issues.
              I confuse leave and live ROUTINELY which is not a type that any native English Speaker ever makes. EVER.
              Why? Because if the difference between those two sounds isn’t trained before three you don’t HEAR IT.
              I’ve trained by method to pronounce it differently (otherwise beach sounds like something else….) but my ear has to WORK to catch it.
              This is why I thanked suburbanshee. I couldn’t understand why I confused those two words when typing fast.
              Now I know. it’s because my memory of sounds doesn’t store that difference, so when I dictate to the fingers, it’s whatever they decide to type.
              Mystery solved.
              So, that one, yeah, because I’m ESL, but NOT because I confuse the meanings. The others? They’re TYPOS Mark. They’re just typos.

            3. I’ve taught people who only speak English, and the #1 spelling errors are STILL homonyms.

              As Sarah and Mary have both told you– it’s a human brain thing, not a multiple language thing.

            4. Oh goody, another arrogant jackwagon decides to lecture people he doesn’t know that everything is because of his hobbyhorse, and doubles and triples down when disputed.

              Typos happen, fucknut. To everybody. Especially to people typing at speed for the lengths of time necessary to put out several thousand words a day. People who are lysdexic have it even worse. Sarah’s been living in the US and speaking and thinking and writing in English since the 1980s.

              Unless you are a cognitive neuroscientist who has examined her in person, I suggest you take the following course of action:

              Back off of your belligerent demands that everybody agree that your hobbyhorse is always the only explanation for everything; and
              Apologize for your arrogant presumption in claiming to understand how the brain of someone you have never met in person operates. Apologize profusely.

              You’re being a world-class asshole. Knock it off.

            5. I make the exact same mistake all the time. I was born in the United States and have lived here my entire life.

              I’m sorry, but Sarah making a particular mistake from time to time is completely irrelevant to, well, anything. Making a thing of it does nothing except let everyone know who is too much of a pompous windbag to take seriously.

        2. Hey, at least your typos are small and infrequent and perfectly understandable. Checking what I wrote last night, “oign g” instead of “going”…

          My poor, poor beta readers have gotten the last couple drafts wiht spell-check broken; I finally wiped and reinstalled LibreOffice so it’d work again. So far, while they’ve laughed at my typos, they haven’t accused me of ESL. You’d think they would, but instead they’re all, “Yep, you’re lysdexic, but write more.”

          Well, that, and laughing at “disenfarcted” instead of disinfected.

          1. I occasionally find myself writing “fround”, and it takes some effort to figure out the word really is “frowned”.

              1. I could kind of see that one as intentional, unlike “weary” for “wary,” which is disconcertingly common and always trips me up as a reader while I readjust whether the point is feeling uneasy or sick of this ****.

                    1. Oh. i doubt it. I caught a few other malappropisms. Lovely writer, but this woman obviously heard some things wrong and they stuck with her like that.
                      Like older son’s calling napkins “Mopkins” when he was little.

                    2. Ah, darn. I kind of liked “trialsome.”

                      I had a few of those myself. The ones that mixed up real but different words tended to be the funniest, but accidentally using an in-family deliberately silly pronunciation to a very confused waitress was up there for embarrassing.

                    3. The worst mispronunciation I can’t get rid of isn’t the “Oh, you read this word before you heard it” words – it’s how to pronounce antibiotics. Because I keep trying to pronounce antibioticos, instead of la palabra inglesa… I mean, the American version.

                      Fortunately, the pronunciation is close enough people just think I’m touched in the head.

              1. I haven’t, but the many, amny ways in which I’ve misspelled… swauk? sqauck? skauk… sqwauck? squawk! That’s it! That one’s not easy, phonetically.

            1. I know!
              And then there’s my exhausted spoken grammar. I don’t know why Alma thinks my grammar gets Slavic when I say “Is late, yes? We going bed now.”

    1. Actually, phonetic misspellings are a sign that you are thinking in English and so a mark of progress. I remember a Spaniard in an online discussion talking of the first time he wrote “there” for “their” and being proud of it.

      1. They undoubtedly are. Your example postulates an English speaker for whom English is not a primary tongue. Nice to hear you agree with me. 🙂
        I was pointing out to anyone who felt compelled to mention those minor spellos that Sarah is writing in an acquired language, and one that is a diabolically crazy one, and difficult to acquire past childhood. Much of that diabolical nature is due to its wacky history as a Germanic language filtered through Latin, Greek, French, and more adopted loanwords than can be counted, leading to a bizarre blizzard of inconsistencies in spelling and pronunciation that confuzzle even native speakers.

            1. There was a Frenchman once who said he would rather get six months’ hard labor than have to recite six lines of it.

              1. *shudder* I have barely worked through my immediate dislike of the totally-not-elves in Final Fantasy 14 based on their names being in French.

                Not that I knew they were French right off the bat, just I noticed the spelling looked at phonics and then decided to take a shotgun to half the letters and roll a 6 six for sounds instead.

                Nice to know that even folks who can manage that get confused with The Chaos.

        1. SERIOUSLY no. Mary is not agreeing with you. And that’s NOT why I typo. I did typo in Portuguese too (which btw, takes effort) when tired.
          IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH BEING ESL. It has to do with writing through a massive headache and — for the blog — usually in a hurry.
          These are first-first draft, unproofed.

    2. Sigh. No. Typos are manifestations of being typos. You do them in your native language, too. or at least I do.
      I attribute them to my fingers being idiots and my brain being five lines ahead.
      OR in this case my brain having a massive headache.
      Look, for ALL functional purposes English IS my native language. I AM NOT thinking in Portuguese and translating. do you know how long that would take?
      Also I beg to differ. English is an EASY language. Of the seven I learned, it’s the easiest.
      the only one I’d consider infernal is German.

      1. May I offer a different data point? A few years ago I started teaching myself shorthand. Shorthand is phonetic, and for a few months I was making homonym errors typing that I was never prone to before. They have passed, and no, I’m not even up to 40 wpm. Nor have I ever spoken a language not English.

  4. Short, but with significant advance to the PoV protagonist. Nice. Looking forward to next installment.

Comments are closed.