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Blood Ladders, Book 1
The chocolate parlor was the only business establishment in this part of Evertrue, nestled in the basement of a house in the shadow of Leigh where it could draw students, scholars and the would-be cognoscenti of the city. I slipped from the carriage, using Radburn’s distraction while paying the driver to do so with more care than any normal person would have. Together we descended the stairs at street level to the little wooden door and pressed on into the cozy half-light of the parlor. What few glimmers of sunlight allowed ingress slid in through narrow, horizontal windows at ground level, and they added a sultry bronze cast to the dark wooden bar and the scattered tables and chairs.
Chester and Ivy had already arrived; we joined them at our table in the corner. My plan had been to prod Chester later, based on Radburn’s comment, but seeing him I said without planning, “Good God, man, what trampled you in the street?”
Slumped over his cup, Chester said, “Minda.”
“Ah,” I said and sat across from him. A waitress brought me a cup of my own and I swirled the thick liquid in it as the steam brought me the drink’s rich, bittersweet aroma. “What this time?”
“There’s this fad for girls our age,” Chester said as Ivy watched him sympathetically. He was the picture of aristocratic misery in his embroidered vest and coat, sheathed sword a slash of an angle against the chair leg. “You know, society girls, to take… well, noble titles, for amusement.”
“And you had a fight with her about it,” I said.
“Not just her,” he said, glum. “Her parents as well.”
“Right big row,” Radburn said, sipping from his own cup.
“He was there,” Chester said. He sighed. “I can’t believe I have to marry her. She’s…she’s just vapid. Completely useless in the head. I’m sure our children will be absolute marvels of physical beauty, and she’ll certainly dress them like miniature models of society, but I don’t like her.”
“It’s barbaric, having to marry someone your parents chose for you,” Ivy said. “What good was fighting our way out of the monarchy if you still end up with all the trappings of a privileged society?”
“My parents would murder me if I even hinted I wanted to back out,” Chester said. “Murder me. The Randales own half the shipping infrastructure between here and Virtue.”
“You can always put a bag over her head,” Guy said from behind us.
“It’s not her face that’s the problem,” Chester said.
Guy shrugged as he pulled a chair to the table. “A gag, then.”
“Just treat it like one of Bandy’s lectures,” Radburn said. “Listen with one ear. Pick out only the important things.”
“I don’t know why you fight with her at all,” I said. “Every time she says something outré you attempt to educate her and that just ends in misery. Let her friends call her Duchess Minda in their receiving rooms if it pleases her. It won’t make her a real duchess.”
“It’s the principle of the thing, Locke,” Chester said. He was the only one of us who retained the upper class habit of using surnames among peers; I didn’t think he perceived the irony. “She doesn’t understand. She thinks the monarchy was a great romance.”
“It was… for her ilk,” Ivy said. “Just not for anyone else.”
“Not so sure about that, if it involved being forced to marry the likes of Minda to satisfy the parents,” Radburn said.
“It’s not just her,” Chester continued, running a hand through the gloss of his ale-brown hair. “It’s that our entire set finds it romantic to play at being nobles. They don’t seem to see that it was a heinous thing. It’s almost as if they’re constitutionally incapable of empathizing with anyone who isn’t alive and laughing with them over tea. The figures of history, even near history, might as well be characters in a play. Ruinous taxes? Tra-la-la, what an intriguing plot contrivance. Serfs confined forever to farms they don’t own? Oh my, what a pity. They don’t understand. And if they don’t understand… what’s to stop them from trying to set it back up?”
“The president?” Guy said dryly.
“You know it’s not that simple,” Chester said.
“That is unnerving,” Radburn said. “We all know who drives change in society.”
“Dissatisfied youth,” Chester said. “Like us.”
I shook my head. “They’re not dissatisfied,” I said. “They’re bored. Bored people drink chocolate in parlors and commission works of art and have debauched orgies. They don’t commit revolution.”
“I hope you’re right,” Chester said.
“Where do I find the debauched orgies?” Radburn asked. “Did I miss this? I’m bored!”
“Apparently we’re not bored enough,” Guy said. “I vote for more boredom in our lives.”
“I need more boredom than we have,” Ivy said. “Or I’ll never get my dissertation written.”
“Please,” Radburn said, rolling his eyes heavenward. “You? You’re probably half-done by now. You and Morgan will have it over with a year before it’s due and the rest of us will—”
“—be paying for your over-interest in the opposite sex and parlors more rarefied than chocolate ones,” Ivy said dryly.
Chester rubbed his eyes. “I think I need to change topics.”
I stared at him. “Why? We have a nice exchange going.”
“I know,” he says. “But I just don’t have the time for it.”
“The time? Or is Minda giving you trouble about it?” Guy asked.
I expected that to land as no more than a witty barb, something Chester would deflect with a casual retort. But instead, he said, “Actually, my family isn’t very sanguine about it.”
“They didn’t know?” Radburn asked, eyes wide.
“Well, why would they bother? Have any of your parents asked you about your dissertation topics?” Chester said. He looked up at me ruefully. “You’re not too angry with me, chap?”
“No,” I said. “It’s an unpleasant surprise, but it won’t make a vast difference in what I’m doing. Having you provide odd bits from your translation efforts helped me find new rabbits to follow into strange holes, but I can research folklore and demon tales without it.”
“Good,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “Father found it… inappropriate… for me to be working on the scraps of barbarian languages. As if they’ll somehow rub off on me and I’ll go mad babbling about magic and sordid sexual rites.”
“But you love the work,” Ivy said.
Chester shrugged uncomfortably. “I’ll find something else to love. There are enough languages to study without choosing the most enigmatic.”
Except that we all knew that the most enigmatic was the most alluring. We longed to plumb the deep mysteries and uncover territory never mapped by human thought. It had brought us together, the five of us… we recognized the thirst in one another. Many dilettantes attended the university for the prestige or for lack of any other pressing ambition, or in search of some passion that had yet to kindle in their lives. But each here at our table, from Chester with his highborn ways to Ivy with her studied determination to succeed as one of the few women at Leigh, loved the learning.
I should mention at this point that there’s graphic depiction of illness in this book, and some violence. Anyway! As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, you can write reviews in lieu of tipping me. Posted to Amazon, they are worth $5; copied to Goodreads and B&N, another dollar each. Just link me the review when you’re done. Also, at the end of the first week of posting, I’ll set up some subscription buttons.
We’re off! I am excite!
Mirrored from MCAH Online.