An Heir to Thorns and Steel is a serialized fantasy novel updating once a week for free on Tuesdays, and again on Thursdays and Saturdays if tips reach $15 and $20, respectively. Single reviews of existing stories posted to Amazon count for $5 toward the tip total.
Blood Ladders, Book 1
“So… that leaves you and Ivy as the farthest along,” Radburn said, attempting as always to repair the conversational wound. “Anything new on that front?” When I opened my mouth, Radburn interrupted. “Not you, Morgan. I’ve had enough of musty history from Bandy.”
“Ah, but it’s where musty history intersects with radical folklore!” I exclaimed, pushing my spectacles up my nose. “Weren’t you just complaining that you were missing all the debauchery?”
“There’s debauching to be done in folk stories?”
“Endless debauching,” I said, grinning. “If you have horse ears, or are willing to roll in the clover with someone who does.”
“Horse ears!” Guy said. “I thought it was goat tails.”
“No, no,” I said. “Long, pointed ears, ovate, like a horse. There are no tails in the literature.”
“I don’t know what possessed you,” Chester said with a laugh. “It’s a crazy topic.”
“Ah, but it’s interesting,” I said. “To see what people believe and contrast it against what truly happened. If history is the fabric, then folklore is embroidery.”
“Enough with that,” Radburn said. “Tell me more about how I can get a horse-eared lass of my very own.”
“Don’t you have enough normal-eared lasses without adding mythical ones to your harem?” Ivy asked.
“Truly a question that could only have been asked by a woman,” Radburn said sagely. “Everyone knows you can never ever have too many lasses.”
“Speak for yourself,” Chester said. “One lass is already too many for me.”
“Obviously we have to find a horse-eared girl for you,” Guy said. “Maybe if Minda catches you with her, you’ll be free of her.”
“But you will probably be spirited away into some magic realm, there to serve some queen who weeps blood and thorns until all your friends have grown old while you remain eternally young,” Ivy said. “That’s usually how such things work.”
“Serving a queen during my eternal youth sounds good to me,” Radburn said with a laugh. “Depending on how you define servitude….”
“No doubt as one of a harem of mortal men,” Ivy said smugly. “Faerie queens are rapacious that way.”
“Sign me on, then,” Guy said, slapping Radburn’s back. “I’ll do my manly duty to help a friend.”
Ivy sighed. “You are irrepressible.”
“You’re just not trying hard enough,” Radburn said with a wink.
I grinned. My friends, quick-witted and brilliant, easy with words and thoughts and humor. Sharp-edged in the light, from Guy’s blond tail to Radburn’s messy red thatch, the sun crawling across their vests…
…crawling and sparking…
Oh God, not here, please, not here. I’d already had my episode today. Not here, not in front of my friends.
“So is that how it works, Morgan? Eternal servitude, manly harems, tears of blood and thorns? I could do with everything but the blood and thorns. How about wine and roses? Wine and roses I could handle—”
I saw their silhouettes, traced with halos of light. I could hear their voices, muffled by layers of folded noise, a noise they couldn’t hear. They were receding even as I reached for them, desperate not to fall. For years the rule had held: at my worst I might vomit daily and have seizures several times a week, but once I was done for the day, I was done. I never had more than one incident a day. Never.
My chocolate cup broke. Hot drops defined my skin: a thigh under the table, my hip at the chair, my exposed wrist burnt, my fingers curled into talons.
From very far away I saw the shape of her face, heard her voice like a memory: “Morgan?”
And then the convulsions took me and I fell.
My shoulder preceded me into consciousness, jabbing a lance of pain through my chest with the regularity of a metronome. Following the furrows it cut along my ribs I found my waist—cold, very cold—and then my hip, uncomfortably ground against the floor. It took somewhat longer to reason that my clothes were damp, and to guess that the puddle beneath my waist was cold chocolate. I had to guess because I couldn’t see: that thin silver gleam nearby had to be my upended glasses.
For a moment, I heard a voice in my head, desperate and distant: Help me, help me. My voice, almost, but made rich by age, like a wine, crying forward in desolation and despair. I hovered between the future and the moment, between my mute helplessness and the tainted magic of that cry.
Through this strange state of disassociation I traveled, until the shape of my mind could hold thoughts, something other than that lonely voice. I had had a seizure in the chocolate parlor, in front of witnesses.
I closed my eyes. Ah, God.
“—rgan, Morgan… Morgan?”
“I can hear you,” I said, my voice rough. The full weight of understanding bid fair to suffocate me. Ivy’s face, Ivy’s concerned eyes. This close I could count the freckles scattered across the bridge of her nose and see the motes of green in her light brown irises, even without my spectacles.
“Has it passed?” she asked. “Can you lift your head?”
“Not yet,” I said. Shouting, that was what made her difficult to hear. “Who–”
“Guy and Chester talking to the proprietor,” she said. “Surely it was something in the chocolate . . . ”
“God,” I said around my thick tongue and narrow throat. “It wasn’t poisoned.”
“What else could it be?” she asked. “I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. Some accident . . . ”
They thought I’d drunk something foul. I wanted to disabuse them of the notion, not out of any desire to unburden my soul of my secret, but simply because it was incorrect. But I was too weak to protest and so I didn’t. My second episode in a day, on a spring afternoon when both nausea and seizures should be decreasing in frequency. I could only hope it was some terrible fluke.
“We sent for a doctor,” Ivy began.
Worse and worse. There weren’t so many doctors in Evertrue that I hadn’t met them all. “I don’t need a doctor,” I said. “I just need to find a bed and lie on it.”
“But . . . ”
“No,” I said, and forced my arm to move until I could roll forward onto it and lever myself unsteadily upright. “I’ll be fine. Truly.”
“God!” Radburn said, swooping on me. “What are you doing trying to get up? We thought you were going to die, mate!”
“I am patently not dead, or even dying,” I said. “It was just an episode.”
“An episode?” Radburn’s eyes widened. “We thought that chocolate was going to bring your stomach up through your mouth.”
I made a face at him. “If you’re going to indulge in hyperbole at least put some effort into it. That was appalling.”
“He can’t be that bad off,” Guy said behind me. “He’s needling you.”
“The proprietor said it wasn’t his fault of course,” Chester said, grabbing me under an arm. Radburn got the other. I hated needing their help. “He said he poured all our servings from the same batch, but what else could he say?”
“Scared of a duel,” Guy opined lazily.
“That’s against the law now,” Ivy said, scowling at him.
“Besides, who’d be afraid of a handful of students?” Radburn asked, which was a far more reasonable observation. We liked our chocolate and books far more than we liked swords and cannon, though Radburn had a passing interest in the unpredictability of the latter invention. With the exception of Chester, who was never parted from his family weapon, none of us were even schooled in the sword.
“Here,” Ivy said. Chester and Radburn halted as she carefully set my glasses on my nose and smoothed the wires behind my ears. My hair hissed beneath her slim fingers. I could see her again. I wished I couldn’t. I wished the sight of me writhing on the floor had never darkened her eyes. “Are you sure about not waiting for the doctor?” she asked, brows crimping in worry.
“I just need rest,” I said, and added for the benefit of the men, “I feel like I’ve been out all night.”
“And without the drinking,” Radburn said, shaking his head.
“Or the debauching,” Guy agreed. “Cruel world!”
I laughed around the weakness in my limbs, around the trembling in my body’s core. I let them help me out to the street and into a carriage. Waved off their concerns.
“Tomorrow,” I said. “At Languages.”
“Poetry in the morning,” Radburn said. “Who the hell feels poetic before lunch?”
“Later, chap,” Chester said, closing the carriage door and sending me off. They were treating me like I’d over-indulged, not like an invalid. I wanted to weep for relief.
Little longer today, but we were too close to the scene break so I finished it up. Also, this has come up several times, so I’ll note: this is a new book, a book one, in a new setting—to everyone! So no, there’s nothing you should pre-read in order to catch up with everyone else.
We are already $5 toward Thursday’s episode! Another $10, or another two reviews on Amazon, will get us our next post. :)
Mirrored from MCAH Online.