Monday, October 20, 2014

When Real Life Gets in the Way

I hear a lot of writers bemoaning their lack of writing time. The ones I feel sympathy for are the ones dealing with some serious life issues. Chronic diseases such as fibromyalgia or MS which limit writers' mobility and energy. Providing care for special needs children or parents nearing the end of their lives. Or maybe they're working two or three jobs in order to put food on the table.

I haven't published anything under my name since last November. It doesn't mean I haven't been writing. Time is grabbed here and there. Standing in line at the post office. Waiting for my take-out order. The last few minutes before bedtime.

Why? Life's been crazy trying to get our house on the market. Then trying to get moved into our new apartment. A lot of things went wrong. A lot of things didn't. But through it all, I kept plugging away. And I honestly can't complain. DH and I made some hard decisions of what would be best for the family.

Sure, it's been slow on the publishing front. But things are looking up. I met with a graphic artist over breakfast this morning about the new logo for Angry Sheep Publishing. I've got a tentative agreement with a formatter for updating the Bloodlines novels and issuing print versions. I've narrowed down my prospective list of artists whose work I like for the new covers.

Now, I have to finish reviewing Zombie Wedding and Blood Sacrifice for typos because I found a couple in Blood Magick, and I need to finish the last four books of the series. Then it's on to the Justice series, and a couple of special projects that I'll tell you more about soon.

You should have a lot of new things to read from me in 2015.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Home Office

I thought it would only take me three days to finish cleaning out my office. Boy, was I wrong!

There were still a dozen boxes from our last three moves sitting in the corner. Both DH and I had forgotten what was in them, but I didn't want to drag them back to Ohio (AGAIN). So I went through them. From Friday the 5th through Tuesday the 9th, I went through them.

I really don't want to end up on an episode of Hoarders, so I threw out quite a bit, but I still had four packed boxes that needed to go to the garage and another five that were half packed. On Wednesday, I had to take a break and deal with yard work.

So of course yesterday morning, I got the text that someone wanted to see the house.

PANIC!!

I ran through the house and tossed boxes into closets, hid dirty dishes in the broken dishwasher, and took the fastest shower in my life because I was too exhausted to take one the night before. But here's how my home office looks with everything hidden in the closet.






This room started as GK's nursery. Since I had such a difficult pregnancy, I hired a lovely woman named Mona to paint the room for me. She took my Egyptian theme and ran with it. Instead of mint green walls, she plastered and painted them to resemble antique plaster. Then she carefully hand-painted the figures.and hieroglyphs along the ceiling. Frankly, these pictures don't do the paintings justice.

The south wall depicts Horus and Thoth, the east Isis, and the west Hathor. There are statues of Anubis and Bast on my desk and one of Thoth (the patron of writers) on my bookcase.

I'm really going to miss this room!

(P.S. If you're reading this on my website's home page, my apologies for the block text and missing pictures. My webmistress and I are still trying to track down the problem with the new RSS feed. Click on 'BLOG' to your left to go the main blog page.)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Why I Haven't Been Writing Lately

The sign is finally up.

Yesterday was insane, and my muscles ache in a good way. I had to get the house cleaned and boxes hidden because the realtor was coming by to take pictures.

I've barely been writing for the last thirteen months since I've been trying to get this damn house on the market. However, as Tiffany says in Blood Magick, Murphy is the one true god. So many things went wrong that my friend Ro calls the last thirteen months a "comedy of catastrophes."

Even yesterday, I got the yard spruced and the driveway and patio cleaned off in preparation for the photo shoot. Only to have a thunderstorm whip through and deposit more leaves and debris on the drive. *sigh*

Oh, and the dishwasher decided to spring a leak on Wednesday. I'm going to head over to Home Depot and beg for credit. If that doesn't work, we'll have to wait until DH gets paid on the 15th.

But my new stove is very pretty and bakes a mean lasagna!

And that tile? Yep, I did it all by myself! In the back hall, utility room and half bath, too!

In the half bath, I tried my hand at sponge painting. The picture doesn't do it justice. The base coat is the same Precious Peach that covers the kitchen walls. Then Shamrock Green and Doric White were sponged over it.

P.S. There's a brand new American Standard toilet in there as well.

I can't take all the credit for the hardwood in the family room. Genius Kid did the majority of the work. I measured and DH cut, but GK busted butt on laying down the wood.

The fireplace normally doesn't have my plants on it. It has gas logs, and does a nice job of heating up the family room on those rare cold days in Houston.

(Poor empty bookshelf though! Harry Potter has been packed!)

We have a living room/dining room combo area with cathedral ceilings. I had to hire someone to paint this room and the master bath. I don't do heights. LOL

The carpet's fairly new (we bought it in 2008). Like the rainbow afghan I crocheted? I had to cover the couch and loveseat. I bought them new in 1989, but they were showing the love from the multitude of dogs and kids that have used them.

The hardwood flows from the family room, next to the staircase, and to the entryway.

At the head of the stairs is a loft that overlooks the LR/DR.

Originally, the loft was originally my office when I was in law school and first started practicing, so of course, DH decided he HAD to have it when he switched to working from home.

He also decided his desk needed to be bigger, too.

And he absconded with and ruined my good leather office chair in the process.

(No, I don't hold grudges. *wink*)

GK's room started out as the guest bedroom, but he outgrew his toddler bed before he was four so we moved him in here.

I originally had painted the room Twilight Blue (long before I got pregnant) with Viking Blue trim and doors because I loved the colors. Cool, soothing colors.

Our realtor Norberto suggested (rather strongly) that it needed to be repainted to something neutral, aka Doric White.

Have I said how much I've come to despise Doric White?

Okay, maybe not so much. It looks better than the crappy blue-flowered wall paper the builders originally put in GK's bathroom. And look at that beautiful tile!

I refused to compromise on the master bedroom (my bedroom!). No, Doric White here!

The walls are Inspired Lilac with Bright White trim. Matching vertical blinds replaced the godawful Laura Ashley curtain.

Lovely French doors guard the entrance. The reason our waterbed looks funky is we drained it in anticipation of the carpet being stretched and cleaned. It wasn't worth the water bill to refill it since we probably won't be here much longer.

The painter fought with me over the master bathroom. Can you believe he wanted to paint it *gasp* Doric White?

But I won (since I paid for the paint), and the walls and trim match the master bedroom. Unfortunately, you don't get a good view of the lovely tile.

Plus, there's a garden tub, which is excellent for those insane days when you just need to relax with a glass of wine and a good book.

What's not display are my collection of essential oils and candles. (And no, those won't be sold with the house.)

The only room that wasn't photographed was my office (originally the nursery). I still have a a dozen half-packed boxes sitting it there. Today's project is to finish cleaning out that room. I'll post pics of it on Monday.

Next week, fingers-crossed, I may actually be writing again! Yay!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Question of Balance - Chapter 8

I know it's been a while since I posted anything. I haven't gotten much writing done so far this year. Murphy's Law has been in full effect. Keep your fingers crossed for me that the drama will end soon!

* * *

I threw up an arm to block the blow. Fire sliced my skin as the steel pierced my glove. Far better then the main artery in my neck. If I stayed on the ground though, I was definitely dead.

My boot shot toward his crotch. He shifted to block the blow, and the momentum allowed me to shove him while I rolled the other way.

Directly into the path of the oncoming horses.

I curled into a tight ball, arms over my head to protect me from the multitude of sharp hooves. My head rang from the vibrations and pain of my injuries.

As suddenly as they appeared the multitude of riders and steeds were gone. I leapt to my feet, right hand already drawing the sword at my back.

I whirled around to find wardens pouring from both the temples of Light and Balance. Little Bear must have standing at the doors, watching for my return. My attacker, though, was gone.

“Anthea!” Luc’s familiar scent washed over me. He beat the wardens to me by a couple of paces.

He caught himself. “Are you all right, Lady Justice?” He reached for the blood on my face, but I shoved his hand away.

“No. Don’t.” A vicious smile twisted my lips. “We spilt each other’s blood.”

Luc’s answer was just as feral. “We have him.”

* * *
Or so we thought. But like everything else in this damnable day, the gods seemed to be laughing at our efforts including the two we were personally sworn to.

We left our team of wardens to watch the possible exits at a decrepit inn near the docks. The tracking spell failed as we reached the door it indicated. Inside was my attacker’s still warm body, bloody nose and all, in a tiny, third-story room. The scent of bitter almonds told us what type of poison he used. A quick search gave no clue of his identity, which in itself spoke of his origins.

Luc raked his hands through his hair. “There hasn’t been an attempt in Issura by the Assassins Guild since—”

“The reign of the Twin Queens before the last demon war.” I blew out an exasperated breath. “The question becomes why me?”

“Because you would administer Gretchen’s estate?”

“That makes no sense. We have no reason to believe my attempted assassination is connected with Sister Gretchen’s death.”

Luc snorted, his disgust evident. “I don’t believe in coincidences.”

I sheathed my sword. “Whichever priest of Light witnessed the opening would know her last wishes also.”

“Which is why I assigned a warden to watch Kam.”

I stared at Luc. “Let’s assume for a moment you are correct, and there’s connection. Who knew the contents of Gretchen’s declaration? She deliberately filed it with the Temple of Death so Gerd wouldn’t know.”

Luc shrugged. “Everyone at Death?”

“If one of their members is involved, why not switch scrolls? For that matter, why not lose it?”

Luc grunted. “Too many safeguards. The entire temple would have to be involved in the conspiracy.” He crouched next to the body and lifted its hand. “What did Master Devin say about a man with small hands?”

I knelt and held my gloved hand against the corpse’s. “I suppose it’s possible, but no assassin is going to waste precious escape time to mutilate their target.”

“Unless whoever hired him gave him specific instructions.”

I climbed to my feet. “Now we’ve officially jumped into wild hare territory.”

Luc rose as well. “I haven’t had a chance to research a separation and tracking spell for the scrapings Master Devin provided you. Do you want me to do that while you have a talk with Lady Alessa?”

I shook my head. “No, I want her truthspelled during this little interview, and longer we wait, the more likely something else will go wrong in this investigation. The tracking spell can wait.” I stared at the rapidly cooling body. “If this is Gretchen’s killer, your spell won’t work anyway, and we’re no closer to understanding why.”

As we exited the room, we found Magistrate DiCook and a handful of peacekeepers pounding up the staircase of the inn.

“What the names of the Twelve is going on here?” When I didn’t answer, his attention switched to Luc. “One of you had better answer me!”

“A member of the Assassins Guild tried to murder me,” I said.

“On the steps of the Lord of Light’s home,” Luc added.

“When?” the magistrate demanded.

“Less than a candlemark ago.” I pushed past him, and he grabbed my left arm. I couldn’t stop the hiss of pain. When I refused to waste time waiting for a healer, Little Bear and Tyra had threatened to hold me down while one of the brothers bandaged the ugly cut from the assassin’s knife.

“Why wasn’t I notified?” DiCook’s lip curled into his familiar sneer.

I yanked my arm out of his grasp. “Because we were trying to catch him before he escaped.”

“You let him get away?”

I wasn’t sure if DiCook was more pleased that the assassin escaped or that I failed. If I gambled, I would have bet on the latter. “You could say that.” I gestured toward the wide open door. “If you can get more out of his belongings than I, let me know.”

I continued painfully down the stairs, Luc right behind me. My hip would stiffen from the bruising if I rested now, not that I could afford the time.

The exclamations from the peacekeepers and DiCook’s curse when they discovered the body beat us to the first floor.

“You really need to stop antagonizing the man, Anthea.”

I smiled up at him. “When the Lord of Light’s domain freezes over.”

* * *
Duke Marco’s face froze, the air of disappointment and despair obvious when Luc and I showed up at his gate and asked to speak with his sister. Lady Katarina graciously allowed us to use her reception room, but the fire couldn’t warm me as it did yesterday.

Lady Alessa held her composure until her brother and sister-in-law left the room. Hot shame tinted her cheeks. “You know.”

“Know what?” I said.

She sank into a chair. “Don’t play with me, Justice. Please, don’t. You have no idea how h-hard…” Pale blue tears ran down her cheeks.

Luc cursed under his breath. I knew at once he hadn’t asked the right questions during his originally interview of her. He hadn’t conceived of the two women having a secret affair.

“You could have pulled one of us aside yesterday,” I said gently. “We would have listened.”

She stared at the painfully bright grate. “I couldn’t. Things have been so difficult for my brother. There’s been so much scandal. He tried, he really did, to find me an appropriate match. I thought if he did, I could suppress my desires…”

“Alessa, I need Luc to truthspell you.”

She nodded though her attention never wavered from the fire.

The moment the pale nimbus of magic surround her, I said, “Tell me about the counterspell Gretchen taught you.”

Her head jerked, and she stared at me, eyes wide as she realized her mistake. She reached for her neck, and I seized her arms. It wasn’t much of a physical struggle despite my injuries.

But around us, objects shivered. I knew damn well it wasn’t Luc or me losing control of our power.

Luc removed the chain hidden beneath the collar of her dress. Dangling from the links was a carved ruby heart. A thin line of energy surrounded the jewel. A talisman.

Alessa’s face crumpled and her sobs came loud and fierce. Her terrible grief overrode the agony of the truthspell. For once, I was the one patiently stroking the distraught witness’s hair while Luc paced behind her chair.

Underneath the noblewoman’s emotion, I could feel the stones of the keep moan in sympathetic agony.

When she weeping faded to hiccups, I released her. “Don’t make me ask you again, Alessa. Otherwise, the truthspell will force you to answer me, and it will be painful.”

She nodded. “Gretchen gave me the heart a year ago. When we first started…” Her blood pulsed as she acknowledged their affair. “She laid the spell and taught me the words and gestures to activate and deactivate the magic.”

Alessa’s pulse slowed, her voice turned numb, as she stared at me. “She didn’t mean any harm. She was protecting me as best she could when…when Mother would have one of her hired sorcerers truthspell us.”

My own blood ran cold. I didn’t want to know the answer to the next question, but duty forced me to ask anyway. “Us? You mean you, Marco and Isabella?”

Behind Alessa, Luc froze. “That’s how your mother found out Marco was courting Katarina, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Her head bowed once more. “Ironically, Mother sending our baby sister to the capital protected her from the worst of her predations. Isabella loves the university, and now she can focus on her studies without Mother breathing down her neck about seducing some lordling.”

Time to get the questioning back on track. “Alessa, did you kill Sister Gretchen of the Temple of Love?”

“No.” Anger threaded through her single word. There was a hint of power behind it.

“Do you know who killed Sister Gretchen?”

“No.” The fire flared, and I couldn’t stop my wince at the brilliant heat. Thankfully, Alessa couldn’t see my reaction with my hood in place.

“Do you know who put Sister Gretchen’s body into the barrel she was found in?”

“No.”

“When was the last time you saw her alive?”

“Five mornings ago. I had snuck out of the manor and met her at a hunting cabin on our lands about an hour's ride north. We spent the night together.” Once again, her pulse jumped at revealing such intimate secrets. “We parted two candlemarks before dawn in order to return to our beds without arousing suspicion.”

I glanced at Luc, his frown matching my own. Alessa’s testimony narrowed the window for Gretchen’s murder.

Turning my attention back to the noblewoman, I asked, “Why didn’t your parents have you tested for magical talent?”

Her gaze met mine again. “They did. The priest of Light who supervised said I was a passive.”

A passive talent could activate a spell created by an active talent, but they couldn’t cast one on their own. Therefore, they weren’t required to register with the temples.

Luc finally stopped pacing. He crossed to the chair on the other side of Alessa and sat. “I know you are still dealing with your lover’s death, m’lady, but I would like you to come see me, in say, two weeks from today for retesting.” So I wasn’t the only one who sensed her flashes of power.

I could feel her mounting panic. “You are not in trouble, Alessa. Either you were too young to fully manifest your talent yet, or the brother was incompetent.”

“Excuse me?” Luc exclaimed in mock outrage.

Our teasing lightened Alessa’s mood, and she made a burbling half giggle-half hiccup sound.

Luc held up the necklace. “I am going to take this for now. We need to figure out how to deal with this counter spell in order to discover Gretchen’s murderer. I’ll return it when you come to see me in two weeks.”

“You’ll remove the spell from the jewel, won’t you?” she whispered.

“We have to,” I said. “Technically, it’s illegal.” I held up my hands when the chair I sat on trembled. “I’m not charging you. You received it in good faith from another priestess.” I cleared my throat. “I do need to ask you a few more questions.”

She sagged in her own seat and nodded.

“Did anyone know that you and Gretchen were having an affair?”

“Not that I know of. As I said, we were very careful because of my mother.”

“Did you receive any notes or messages that insinuated a person knew about your affair?”

“No.”

“Any oblique reference about you personally involved in a sapphic affair?”

“Not to me.” She paused for a moment, but she wasn’t fighting the spell. “Some lords have made derogatory comments about me to Marco, but as far as I know it was for the purpose of insult, not because they truly believed I prefer the bed of a woman.”

“Do you know who Gretchen named as her heir in her declaration of last wishes?”

“Yes.”

“Who?”

“Me. She told me our last night together. That she wanted to make sure I had resources if something happen to her, and my family discovered our relationship.” Alessa’s smile was small and sad. “She kept trying to talk me into running away with her. Cant, or the Mecas, or even the Sea Peoples’ islands. I just couldn’t leave Marco and especially Isabella without any explanation.”

“Did she ever indicate there was another reason she wanted to escape from Orrin?”

“I’d like to believe it was only our love, but I know there were problems between her and Sister Gerd and Sister Dragonfly.”

“What kind of problems?”

Alessa took a deep breath and released it. “Gerd was always accusing her of trying to usurp her authority. Dragonfly was simply jealous when Gretchen stopped sleeping with her.”

I exchange looks with Luc. Now we were getting somewhere, but neither of us said anything.

Instead, I took her hands in mine. “Your pain is mine.”

Her face scrunched again at the ritual words of sympathy for the death of a loved one, but she forced back her tears. “Thank you,” she whispered.

At my signal, Luc murmured the words to release his truthspell.

I squeezed Alessa’s hands. “Gretchen was also Katarina’s friend. She would share your grief.”

“A-are you going to tell them? Marco and Katarina?”

“No,” I said softly. “Sharing that knowledge is not my right, but I think you are underestimating your family. About Gretchen’s declaration…” I sucked in a deep breath. “Brother Kam and I have opened and confirmed it—”

I held up one hand at her little gasp. “I don’t want to cause you any embarrassment, but I have the duty to insure Gretchen’s wishes are followed. Sister Gerd believes that no declaration exists. I’m going to have to make the public post soon to prevent her from illegally seizing your property.”

“I-I don’t know if I want it,” Alessa murmured.

I clasped her hands again. “You have the right of refusal, of course, but right now, your grief is overriding your common sense. I would suggest confiding to your brother. Get his counsel before you make any decision.”

“But the public post will cause even more scandal.”

“Considering the gold equivalent of Gretchen’s holdings, it will garner more noble suitors than you know what to do with,” Luc said, dryly.

“Not to mention, Marco has already broken with tradition. There’s no reason you cannot follow in his footsteps,” I added.

Alessa nodded. “I will take your wisdom into consideration, Justice, Brother.”

“If you remember anything else, come straight to us,” I said. “No pages or other messengers if you want to avoid the gossip.”

She nodded, but tears had started trickling down her cheeks again. Luc deactivated his wards, and we left the reception room.

Marco stood in the hallway, by his expression obviously expecting the worst.

I stopped before him. “Your sister isn’t involved in the murder.”

He sagged against the stone wall. “Thank the Twelve.”

I laid right hand on his shoulder and squeezed in support. After all the struggle and tension with Alessa, the slice on my left was throbbing.

As I continued past him, he called, “Lady Justice—”

“I can’t say anything more, Your Grace.” Before I spilled all of his sister’s secrets, I turned and marched down the hallway.

Luc and I were nearly to the entryway when a figure stepped from behind a statue. “She didn’t do it.”

I remembered the voice from yesterday. “You are Bartholomew, correct?”

“Yes, m’lady.” He bobbed his head. “Lady Alessa, she didn’t kill that priestess.”

Behind me, Luc’s irritation rippled through my psyche. “Yesterday, you told me you didn’t know who killed Sister Gretchen.”

“Ah don’t!” Between Bartholomew and Luc’s emotional turmoil, I felt as if my eyes would erupt from my head.

“Do you have an additional statement you wish to make, Bartholomew?” I said, trying to inject some calm into the situation.

“Ah just told ya. Lady Alessa didn’t kill that priestess.”

I wanted to believe he was a loyal DiMara retainer, but maybe he was too loyal. “And how do you know this?” I asked.

If the heat of his face hadn’t given him away, the shuffling of his feet did. “Ah-ah just know, that’s all.”

“If you still want a place in this household, you’d better answer the justice’s question.” Lady Katarina’s cold steel voice came from behind Luc and me.

Unfortunately, the moment we glanced at her was the same moment Bartholomew decided to run.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Thank You

With all the hoopla going on as King Kong and Godzilla continue their battle, the incredible Jason Gurley reminded me of who was really important in this world.

The Readers.

Yep, it’s definitely about the readers. They’re the ones that find and love you (or not) and recommend you to their friends (or not). Agents, editors, consultants, publishers, they all are outraged by their loss of power. They blame Amazon, Bezos, indie writers, but it’s the readers that ultimately make or break this industry.

So to all of the readers who've taken a chance on my books...

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.


Monday, April 28, 2014

A Question of Balance - Chapter 7

Sorry it's taken so long to post a new chapter. There's been a lot of things going on at home. Therefore, I won't be posting as often over the next month, possibly two. Hope everyone is having a terrific spring!

***

“Father, help us,” Kam swore.

I tapped my fingers against the table. “Now why would Sister Gretchen designate Lady Alessa?”

Kam stared at me. “Really, Anthea? Do I have to spell it out for you? She uses the phrase ‘my beloved soulmate’ in the naming.”

I frowned. “But the sisters of the Temple of Love don’t marry.”

His exasperated sigh revealed his annoyance with me. “That doesn’t mean they don’t fall in love.”

I leaned back in my seat. “I’m sorry. I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around the quiet, efficient Alessa with a priestess of Love.”

“Sometimes, true love doesn’t recognize arbitrary boundaries.” The sadness in Kam’s voice reminded me of his own forbidden affair. And Duke Marco had almost died because his mother couldn’t deal with the fact he was in love with a veterinary apprentice.

“I wonder if this is why Lady Alessa’s not married yet. The nobility gets rather prissy about such things when heirs and tradition are involved.”

He slowly shook his head. “Not according to the gossip mongers. The issue is her parents’ treason.”

I rubbed my temples. A nasty ache was developing behind my eyes. “Unfortunately, this puts an entirely different twist to Sister Gretchen’s body being found in the DiMara wine cellar.”

“Surely, you don’t believe—”

I held up my hand to stop him. “Right now, any conjectures are just that without evidence.”

The Goddess must have been looking out for me. Three separate discussions melded into one.

I leaned forward again. “Both you and Bertrice mentioned that you thought Gerd had a way to circumvent a truthspell. Yesterday, Luc said when he questioned Lady Alessa, she seemed to be fighting his spell. What if the Loves have managed to develop a counter-spell?”

“You’re mad,” Kam spluttered.

“No.” I held up an index finger. “Think about it. The order has always been privy to a great number of secrets thanks to pillow talk. What’s stopping some unscrupulous group from abducting a priestess and truthspelling her?”

Kam rubbed his chin as he considered my theory. “To protect their sisterhood, they wouldn’t inform any of the other temples. And definitely not share the information with any of the registered talents.”

“But what if one priestess shared that information with her lover—”

“Who happened to be an unregistered talent,” Kam finished. He frowned and tapped the parchment. “Not that the properties Gretchen has left Alessa are insignificant, but that DiMara holdings outstrip those named in the declaration.”

I laughed, a mirthless one. The circumstantial evidence mounted against a woman I truly liked. “Are you going senile, too? You were at the sentencing at the DiMaras’ trial last summer. All their properties went to Marco and Katarina.”

Kam’s sigh was weary. “Leaving his sisters with nothing but their brother’s obligation for their bride price should they marry.” He shook his head again. “Even if she were responsible, I can’t see Lady Alessa being foolish enough to hide the body on the family estate.”

I folded my arms over my chest. “Neither do I. And the barrel containing Gretchen’s corpse was definitely on the wagon from Pana Valley. Members of the household staff and my own rewinding of the timeline confirmed that fact.”

Kam frowned. “Do you want me to accompany you to question her again?”

“Would you mind terribly if I ask for two priests this time? One to truthspell Alessa while I question her, another to watch for the counterspell?”

The old priest laughed. “You’ll need to ask the new chief priest for that particular favor. I doubt he’ll say no to you.” He winked.

I shook my head. “You’re incorrigible.”

He inclined his head toward the declaration. “What about this?”

“Place it your safekeeping niche for now. Would you please ask Luc read it after his other business for me?”
“I’ll pass on both of your requests, my dear.”

I retrieved my heavy cloak, stalked through the main doors and down the steps. My clerk Donella would have today’s docket paperwork ready for me to proof and sign. And maybe I’d have a little time to research a possible counter to a truthspell.

The street teemed with traffic today since the rain had stopped for that last few hours. I checked for oncoming wagons and carriages before my foot descended from the last marble step onto the cobblestone. A horse and rider raced around the corner between Light and Thief. I jumped back, a stream of invectives on my tongue. Someone snagged my arm as more steeds poured out of the cross street.

I turned to my late rescuer. My polite thanks died at the telltale indigo in his hand. Sidestepping the knife aimed for my gut, I head-butted the man’s nose. Sticky warmth splashed my cheeks.

Instead of a shriek, he pivoted and swept my legs from under me. My hip landed on the corner of the marble step, and pain shot across my gut. His kick to my ribs forced any remaining air out of my lungs.

“Stupid bitch,” he hissed. “You should have been as blind as your sisters,” he hissed as drove the knife toward my throat.

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Question of Balance - Chapter 6

I’d had enough revelations for one day. In my duties, I seen some of the worst depravities humans were capable of, and some of the greatest kindnesses. Nothing in my experience matched the truths I’d learned regarding my mother or the efforts to save my life. Part of me already knew the next set within the declaration wouldn’t be any more comforting.

“If you don’t wish to be my witness, I’ll wait until Luc is finished with supervising trade negotiations.” I poked at the chicken pie a few times before I shoved it aside.

Kam grunted as he laboriously climbed to his feet once again. “No. You’re right. I swore my oaths, and this is too messy to leave to a junior priest. One of them would surely bollox the matter. Come.”

I snatched the scroll and shoved it back into my pocket. We might as well deal with this pile of manure and get it over with. He extended his arm to me, and I took it.

Under my hand, he trembled, and pale green sweat beaded on his forehead. “Kam, if you’re not feeling well, I can wait.”

“No.” He patted my hand again as we shuffled down the hall to the main portion of the temple. “Just an old man’s anxiety that the sins of his past have caught up with him.”

“I would hardly call saving an innocent babe a sin.” I chuckled. “Though it’s difficult to imagine me as a babe, much less innocent.”

“How do you feel about executions?”

I missed a step at his abrupt change of topic. If I hadn’t been holding his arm, I would have fallen flat on my face. “Where does that question come from?”

We resumed our slow shuffling pace. I didn’t think Kam was going to answer me when he said, “You remind me of Thalia. It was the one part of her duties she hated.”

“I’ve read the stories and heard the songs. What was she really like?”

His smile was lost in the past. “Beautiful, brilliant. I know how bad my jokes are, but she’d always laugh at them. Or me. I was never sure which. Anyone who fought her thought she was sighted. She always knew what strike an opponent would use before he was in motion. I think she had a touch of precognition, though she would have denied it with her dying breath.”

Grief shrouded him. “It’s been twenty years, but I still miss her every day.”

I wanted to comfort him. I didn’t know how. This wasn’t like Marco and Katarina. I couldn’t fix the past.

We entered the sanctuary. A handful worshippers knelt before the altar. At the opposite end, a few farmers and the retinues of two traders either milled and murmured to each other or sat on the pews, looking bored out of their minds. Three wardens paced through the sanctuary as a precaution.

I didn’t envy Luc. Mediating trade negotiations would be tedious enough to make me want to slit my own throat.

Kam and I claimed one of the small consultation rooms that lined the walls between the altar and the main doors.

With a flick of his forefinger and a murmured word, he lit the wall sconce. The glow would shine through the thin alabaster to show the room was in use. He swiped the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve before he circled the tiny room, laying his warding. I sat at the small table to stay out of his way. The familiar tingle of magic in a tightly enclosed space prickled along my skin.

He took the seat next to me, and with a flare of his power, he lit that lamp as well. Since the priestly glows didn’t emit heat as a traditional oil lamp or a torch did, I didn’t need to squint against the painful brightness.

Kam held out his hand. “Ready?”

I blew out a harsh breath as I took his clammy palm. “No, but let us proceed anyway. Lady of Balance, show us the will of the one who has passed through the veil.”

The feeling of someone peering over my shoulder always accompanied my invocation of my goddess. Never was the impression stronger than it was right now. With a jolt, I realized this was the first time I’d done the opening of the declaration with someone other than Luc. Was that the difference?

“May the Lord of Light confirm the truth of the one who has passed Death’s door,” Kam answered.

Yellowish-white energy spiraled around the edges of the parchment until they joined at the seal. The wax cracked and parted.

Any priest or priestess from the any temple could bind a declaration of last wishes. According to Luc, the color symbolic of the temple colored the edges of the scroll. Only when Balance and Light opened it together was the declaration considered valid.

I asked him once what the edging looked once the seal was released. He whispered that it was black twined around gold.

Like us in bed.

I shook my head to clear the distracting memory.

We unrolled the scroll, the ink record in front of Kam, the raised dots and lines impressed into the parchment in front of me. I ran my fingertips over the special code my order used. My heart skipped a beat, and I touched the name of Gretchen’s heir again. I hadn’t misinterpreted.

Lady Alessa DiMara.