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Wednesday, November 29, 2023
The next day, folks from the area farms started arriving when they noticed the billowing smoke from the funeral pyres. A dozen dead renegades and nine dead guardsmen would have attracted attention in other ways if we hadn’t burned the bodies. The caravanserai director explained the situation an equal number of times before he finally posted a sign at the gates.
Which only triggered more questions from the locals. Apparently, a good many of them were illiterate.
Which prompted me to ask Shi Hua, Po, and their family about the education situation over our morning meal of porridge and boiled eggs.
“The Temple of Knowledge has been trying to continue educating the children, but many of the peasants protest against it,” Shi Hua said.
“Why?” I laid my spoon in my empty bowl and started cracking the shell of my first boiled egg now that it was cool enough to touch.
“They don’t see the purpose of it.” Po shrugged. “There wasn’t a known demon attack during my mother’s entire reign. Reading, writing, and sums were only important against demons.”
Shang snorted. “It didn’t help that the School of Sorcery wanted an ignorant peasantry to help them gain power.”
“An ignorant peasantry?” I asked as I peeled off the last of the shell of my egg.
“It’s part of the various philosophical schools attempts to discredit the Temples,” Yin Li explained. “The farmers complain there’s too much work to be done. The wise men of the philosophical school commiserate and ask why are your children not helping in the fields or with the herds? Because they are at the Temple of Knowledge half the day, the farmers complain. The wise men clasp their bosoms and say reading isn’t necessary to pull weeds and learning the continents and seas means nothing when one never leaves their province. Or even their village.”
Yin Li’s exaggerated manner of portraying both the farmers and the sorcerers of the various philosophy schools was hilarious. But the actual contents of her speech concerned me. It sounded like one of the renegades’ whisper campaigns. Refusing to listen to clergy placed a major wedge in the civilians’ trust. And with Jing losing clergy at a similar rate as we were in Issura, this tactic would sorely affect the next generations of humans.
The tactic might even help the demons to win the war.
While most people considered Knowledge to be the weakest Temple, they were the bedrock of our civilization. They complied and disseminated all information. The brothers and sisters analyzed every report from the other Temples and bureaucrats. They saw trends in harvest and weather long before anyone else did. And their predictions were often correct.
It wasn’t a matter of precognitive talent or pretending the heavens could foretell the future. Knowledge paid attention to the cycles around us. The rhythm of the earth. The song of the universe.
And it made me wonder if Yin Li and Shi Hua had been held back from being tested for their talents by their own village elders. Granted, Luc’s father Itzel hadn’t presented him to a Temple until he was eight winters, but as merchants, the family was often on the road between nations. However, Itzal did so as soon as he saw Luc entertaining his sisters with animals he fashioned from light. Shi Hua had told me she hadn’t left her village until she was seven, but only because her aunt Yin Li had pushed her sister over Shi Hua’s distance speaking talents.
“But surely the recent demon attack on Chengzhou would convince them—” Luc started.
“One would think.” Shang’s emotions felt…haunted was the best word out of all the languages I knew. “But not even the wardens and soldiers with us could conceive we were under a demon attack until it was too late.”
Yin Li laid her hand on his shoulder, lending her strength to him. “You need to tell the emperor what you told me, my love. He needs to know what he faces.”
The porridge and eggs curdled in my stomach as the Conflict priest related how Reverend Chen and his army encountered our foes in a desert valley. Realizing his people was outnumbered, Chen signaled a retreat, only to be caught in a pincer attack from the rear. However, the Reverend Father didn’t panic. He ordered a charge in a desperate attempt to break through the demon lines. Shang estimated that twenty percent of the expedition fought free of the enemy, but most of them had been wounded, and they lost all but one healer.
For the next two weeks, the demons chased the remnant of the Jing forces. People and horses died because there was no rest, no food, and no water. They couldn’t even stop long enough to burn the dead. Then, they had the demon-animated corpses chasing them as well as the demons themselves.
When they encountered a defensible stand of rocks, Reverend Father Chen ordered Shang to take the few able-bodied priests and wardens east to seek assistance. An animated corpse had stabbed the Reverend Father in the gut. He knew it was a matter of time before he and the other injured survivors would die. Shang left the last canister of flash powder with Chen. The survivors heard something two days later, but they couldn’t be sure if it was an explosion or thunder.
Eventually, Shang and the last dozen survivors encountered Darys’s army. The Skoloti had been warned of the demon army by their Reverend Mother of Balance, who was one of their seers. The talent to see the future was incredibly rare, even amongst those of my order.
“The Skoloti fed us before transporting us to their closest Temple of Child.” Shang scrubbed his face with his hands. “Their army encountered scattered groups of demons and eliminated them. They never found any more Jing survivors.”
Grief filled all of Po’s party. I never knew the Reverend Father, but Shi Hua had told me of her encounters with him. However, he must have been very imposing to a fourteen-year-old Light novice. To me, it sounded as if a devoted priest had chosen the only path he could after losing thousands of people.
Fat yellow tears rolled down Shi Hua and Yin Li’s faces. Po rolled the beads of his moustache so fiercely, I fear he’d twist the blue hairs out by their roots.
“Your Majesty?” I murmured.
Po’s head jerked up. We had so rarely addressed each other by titles for the two months we were at sea. “Yes?”
“You need to speak with every village elder and Temple clergy on the way Chengzhou.” I stared at him. “You need to tell them what happened to you in Tandor. The renegades. The skinwalkers. The demons. All of it.”
“You truly believe tales of my torture and our starvation will entertain my people?” he mocked, but I recognized the flicker of fear in visage. I was sure my own countenance held it from time to time.
“He can’t,” Shang protested. “Doing so will make him look weak.”
“He survived the demon siege of Tandor,” Luc said. “He helped us save our citizens. Without him, Issura would have fallen last year.”
“Twelve help us, was that only a year ago?” Po released the beads on his moustache. “It would be an excellent task for Reverend Father Biming.” He smiled. “And an excellent use of his particular talents.”
“He might deem such a task as an insult, my husband,” Shi Hua said softly.
“Which is why I’ll address him personally about the matter.” Po raised her right hand to his lips. “If you’ll excuse me, my empress and my guests.” He rose and strode from the room the caravanserai director had assigned Po for meeting the local leaders.
Shang eyed me from across the table. “You hold a great deal of our emperor’s esteem.”
“I also noticed you didn’t mention reporting to Reverend Father Chen’s replacement in Chengzhou,” I replied.
“Ah, the vaunted logic of Balance.” He nodded. “We did, along with an emissary of the Skoloti. However, no one in Jing besides Reverend Father Fu, his head of household, and his chief warden are aware of our survival.” He shrugged. “Until now.”
“If it needs to remain a secret, speak with the empress’s head of security Mataqai,” Luc suggested.
“Do not worry, High Brother.” She Hua grinned. “I already have. As far as anyone else is concerned, High Brother Shang, Sister Darys, and their party are part of the Empress’s Guard.”
Wednesday, November 22, 2023
I watched as Sister Yin Li of Love threw herself into the arms of her lost paramour, who we all thought had died with Reverend Father Chen’s doomed expedition. Their young son Yin Shang followed suit. The reunited family laughed and cried and hugged.
High Brother Shang of Conflict was quite a handsome man. I could understand why Yin Li was physically attracted to him. But the wave of emotion emanating from the pair was something far deeper. I leaned close to Luc and whispered, “So that’s Shang?”
I could feel my love turn to look at me. Could you tone down the level of lust for another man you’re sending my way?
That isn’t amusing.
I don’t think so either. At least, you’ve now confirmed you were never physically attracted to Quan.
“That’s what it took!” I glared at Luc.
Behind him, the Skoloti Sister of Thief Darys looked at us in confusion. Luc’s warden Yar smirked. I had a feeling my own warden Jonata wore the same smirk behind me. Sister Yin Li of Love and High Brother Shang of Conflict were too busy kissing to pay any attention to the rest of us.
The merchants, who had stopped here for the night on their way from the coast to the capital as we did, drifted through the courtyard of the caravanserai and took inventory of their wares and stock that survived the battle. Shop keepers who resupplied travelers did the same. If it weren’t for the forethought of Darys, Shang, and the rest of their rescue squad, everyone at this rest stop would be dead.
Crown Prince Bao Quan Po, heir to the Jing Empire’s Dragon Throne, walked over and stood at my left side, but his attention was also on Yin Li and Shang. “She never kissed me like that.”
“You were a worshipper, not her true love,” I snapped.
“But still, with the size of my donations, I expect more,” Po complained.
“I should be the only one receiving your donations, my husband.” Bao Shi Hua, the soon to be empress consort of Jing, stalked through the mayhem, her bow still in her hand. She glared at her spouse as if she considered using her weapon on him.
A sly grin filled Po’s face. “You never kiss me like that either.”
The tiny woman reached up, grabbed the edges of his robe, and yanked him down for a thorough kiss. When she released him, she also smirked. A glance at his silk pants said why. “What were you saying?”
“Not a blessed thing, my wife.” He released a deep breath. “Should we rent a cell for Yin Li and Shang so we may have some privacy?”
“I’ll take care of it.” I made a shooing motion. “Please go back to your room before you feel the need for another public display of affection.”
The royal couple held hands as they retreated to the spiral stone staircase leading to the second story. It was good to see them showing some affection. While Shi Hua was only interested in women and Po was interested in anything that moved, I was glad they were trying to make their political marriage work.
“Should we interrupt?” I asked Luc.
“Quan and Shi Hua or Shang and Yin Li?”
I eyed my own paramour. “If you interrupt the prince, he will ask you to join them.”
“Unfortunate, but true.” Luc shot me a wicked grin. “Maybe if we both join them?”
I held up my hand. “You are on your own for this one, High Brother. I’m going to take a soma tear and try to get some sleep.” I turned to head up the same stairs the prince and his wife had just climbed.
“Wait, Chief Justice,” Sister Darys called out. “Aren’t you going to question me and my party? We could be renegades for all you know.”
I pivoted to face her. “Sister, I already know you aren’t a skinwalker. If you’re a demon, you would have ripped out both my throat and the Lady Shi Hua’s a few moments ago when we were standing next to each other. And if you’re a renegade, all I ask is that you let me have a good night’s sleep and a cup of Jing black tea in the morning before you poison me. Again.”
I turned and walked toward the staircase once again. Frankly, Reverend Father Jin and Reverend Father Biming were responsible for truthspelling the newcomers in order to protect their soon-to-be crowned emperor since I was technically a foreign ambassador. And Balance help me, I was mightily tired of doing their job.
“Excuse me!” Shi Hua’s shout from the third-floor balcony actually broke Yin Li and Shang’s embrace.
I looked up to find the empress-to-be leaning over the balcony railing. Everyone in the courtyard quieted.
“Can someone please remove the dead assassin in our bed? The crown prince and I are trying to conceive an heir!”
Wednesday, November 15, 2023
Also, I'm double-checking for typos in Magick and Murder after finding a few I missed in Fae and Felonies while proofing the paperback. Also, there's the annual Christmas short to write. I need to have everything done before DH and I set out on our first real vacation since GK was born. (The treks to Ohio to visit family do not count as vacations because they definitely weren't relaxing. Neither were the staycations to fix house stuff.)
After we return from our trip, I've got two eye surgeries scheduled in December to fix the cataracts I have thanks to the tamoxifen. Like I told my oncologist, if there's a weird side effect to a drug, I'll have it. Merry Christmas to me.
But that also means, my writing may be limited until my body processes the new bionic lenses, as my buddy Jo would say, and we figure out if I need glasses or just reading glasses or *fingers crossed* I don't need anything at all. By January, I should be able to drive al night again.
Can I now? Technically yes, but I don't feel comfortable doing it.
This is just one of many things a person deals with on the way the big 6-0. Yet, I still want Barbies for my birthday, and I plan on hitting my favorite comic book shop when I'm in Houston. I feel very paradoxical at the moment.
However, I will be taking Baby Blue with me on vacation. DH no longer flies so the drive to our destination will allow me to only write. While technically a laptop, Baby Blue isn't much more than a glorified tablet with a keyboard. She only has WORD and EXCEL loaded, and the wi-fi remains turned off unless there's a dire emergency that my phone can't handle. And there isn't much a smart phone can't handle these days. However, I only have my personal e-mail on the phone.
If all goes to plan, I should have a few giant updates on stats at the beginning of December. Then, things will be quiet until the beginning of January.
P.S. The entire Justice series is currently on sale at all retailers (or it should be) until December 10th. Pestilence in Pumpkin Spice (Soccer Moms of the Apocalypse #1) is $0.99 until Deember 31st!
Monday, November 6, 2023
All e-novels are marked down to $2.99 and all electronic short stories, even the collection Justice: The Beginning, are $0.99.
Share this with friends you think might be interested in the adventures of Justice Anthea and Brother Luc!
Friday, November 3, 2023
Wednesday, November 1, 2023
It's not often I do public appearances because of my health, but I love supporting our local library! Stop by and say "Hi!"
Also, today is the first day of National Novel Writing Month, AKA NaNoWriMo or just NaNo. There are no rules to NaNo. If anyone tells you there are, they're full of it.
The objective is to getting writers to sit down and concentrate on their craft for the month. I like to use is to jumpstart a new novel.
So, if you're a reader or a writer, there's lots of stuff going on this week. On the plus side, the weather should be a tad warmer with no snow!
See you at the library on Friday!