Latest Publication: Tales of the Quest!

The fourth Roesia novella Tales of the Quest is now available in print! Tales is a compilation of previously published and new stories bound together by an overarching discussion of THE QUEST:

How do quests work? What types of tasks can prince (and princesses) expect? Are quests successful? Do the participants always find true love? Why are they and the questees so fascinating? 

The blurb:
Ah, the Quest! The sight of noble knights setting forth on heroic tasks to win the hand of the fair princess stirs any heart. Here are the medieval heroes who once donned clanking suits of armor to fence, joust, and battle fire-breathing dragons for honor and acclaim.

That is, until the tasks got too messy, too inconvenient, too strange. And the armor way too heavy. To be sure, talent and determination still count. But the Quest just as often becomes a tool of trade and diplomacy, with fortunes and royal reputations weighing in the balance.

Immerse yourself in chronicles of desperate princes, strong-willed princesses, and romantic beasts. This fourth installment in the Roesia series pulls together new and previously published stories of questing daring-do updated for the modern age.

Amidst all the politics and game playing, can true love still triumph? Therein lies quite the tale.
A few characters from previous Roesia novellas make an appearance.

As always, mucho mucho thanks to Eugene for editing Tales and making suggestions--particularly about the "in-between bits"--that substantially improved it. Every recent novella is my favorite; in this case, I also had a ton of fun.

Full List of Published Short Stories

Katherine Woodbury's Published Short Stories

"Solvency" (Space & Time, #123): A sci-fi romance; in a futuristic economy with medieval overtones, Macworth faces the unsettling possibility that he may have to torture his wife. The alternative: undergo risky negotiations with an untrustworthy scientist.

"Cold Passion" (Tales of the Unanticipated, #31): A sci-fi satire; in a futuristic high school, students are rewarded grades for expressing excessive emotion. The tale's narrator, a young woman of dispassionate temperament, hunts for sanctuary from her emotion-demanding culture.

"Mislabeled" (Tales of the Talisman, #7.3):  A sequel to "Masquerade" (see below); princes on a quest struggle between friendship and loyalty as well as love (not to mention getting to the top of a glass mountain!)

"Grave Bride" (Cicada of the Cricket Magazine Group): When a Norse grave-bride doesn't die, she has to fight to save herself and her possibly not-dead husband from conniving marauders.

"First Estate" (Monsters & Mormons): the story of Ruth from the Old Testament, only on another planet.

"Requited" (Andromeda Spaceways): The phrase "can't live without him" is literal for a symbiotic--or parasitic--alien species where one member of a sexual partnership can only speak to the other member. Naturally, when this species encounters Earthlings, this type of relationship creates controversy (as well as envy).

"Her Society" (Leading Edge #57): In a society where individual victims decide how criminals will be punished, a young woman has to decide what to do with a violent offender living in her home.

"Verbal Knowledge" (Tales of the Unanticipated #29): in a futuristic society, Roger can shape people's actions based on verbal suggestions. He becomes embroiled in a corporate conspiracy and ends up shaping himself to feel love for one of his victims."

"Top of the Mountains" (Tales of the Talisman, September 2008): a priest and his female cleric settle on a colony where the priest instigates a rebellion against the human planetary council that controls religious dealings with aliens.

"Devil's Pet" (Andromeda Spaceways #35): in this Dilbert-meets-Milton tale, a young woman descends into workplace Hell to rescue her dead boss.

"Scattered" (Irreantum, Spring 2007): Elijah and his enemy, Jezebel, meet up in modern Portland, Maine where they alternately clash and pursue each other over the issue of rising taxes and God's intentions.

"Brutal Rituals" (Space & Time #100): ancient and modern cultures collide in this tale about a ritual rape. A new emperor, returning home after many years abroad, must perform the ritual--distasteful to his modernized sensibilities--or alienate his subjects.

"Untainted" (Talebones #33): a student at a spy school challenges her teacher. To protect himself, he convinces her to give up her corrupt memories and become "innocent."

"Escaping Rouen" (Gateway Science Fiction, Spring 2005): in this alternate universe, Joan of Arc meets Henry V after she has been captured by the English; King Henry must decide whether Joan should be executed. Gateway Science Fiction is defunct. "Escaping Rouen" can be read on my Fiction page.

"Impersonal" (Andromeda Spaceways #24): a secretary is forced to adopt multiple personalities when her company splits. She uses these personalities to undermine her bosses.

"Lodging" (Talebones #31): a princess marries a ruthless king to satisfy her brothers, but the ghost possessing her wants to take revenge on the king.

"Masquerade" (Leading Edge #47): princes competing in a quest agree to undergo a psychological ordeal. The ordeal is complicated by a saboteur and a princess disguised as a prince.

"Seriously" (Irreantum #5.4): a re-telling of "Gawain and the Green Knight"; in this version, the Green Knight's human foster daughter helps Gawain who is neither as pure nor as dishonorable as he is portrayed in the original poem.

"Nameless" (Far Sector.com, Spring/Summer 2004): a horror story about a creature that lives in a mail chute and haunts a receptionist over a letter she wishes she didn't write. Farsector.com is now defunct. "Nameless" can still be read at Fictionwise.

"Thin, Scarlet Line" (Irreantum #5.1): the story of Rahab and the spies from the Old Testament with the addition of a mystical Man of Chance. The Man of Chance helps Sala, a spy, find Rahab in Jericho after it is destroyed.

"Battle Tactics" (Cicada, January/February 2003): a "behind the scenes" look at the Trojan War. Odysseus, ever scheming, helps save Helen's new husband even as Troy falls by deceit. Characters from the Iliad and Aeneid appear.

"Thorns" (Dark Regions #16): Sleeping Beauty with a twist. The witch accompanies the prince to the castle where they find Sleeping Beauty murdered. Dark Regions is defunct. "Thorns" can be read under its original title---"Kicking Against the Pricks"--on my Fiction page.

"Janitor's Closet" (Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine #47): a modern fairytale in a college setting. A godmother head secretary, a princess disguised as a vacuum cleaner, and a bad fairy imprisoned in a fax machine combine to create a "Happily Ever After." The magazine stopped publishing at MZB's death. I do not know if any back issues are still available.

"Golden Hands" (Space & Time #91): a dark version of the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale. A conqueror needs money to complete his campaign. When he finds a woman who can change straw to gold, he demands her help and is then confronted by her goblin abuser.

"The Birthright" (Space & Time #89): a modern fairytale set on a Maine island. An ancient curse by mermaids haunts a family. While the father dreads the curse and the mother denies it, the son wishes to covenant with the mermaids.

Katherine's published novellas can be found at Peaks Island Press.

Madeline's Lover

This is one of the few stories I have ever written in present tense. I'm not a huge fan of present tense in fiction, but I figured I should keep it the way I wrote it (hey, I was in college; atypical narrative techniques were cool!).

*       *       *

Madeline leans over the table, running her fingers along the stem of her wineglass.

An elderly witch stands on the dais at the far end of the hall.

She coughs and queries: "The baby?"

The king holds up the little prince. The old witch's voice over-rides the coos and chuckles of the guests.

"I give him loyalty," she says.

The guests clap. Madeline sighs, releases her glass stem and claps once.

The young man on her left also claps, leaning over to whisper, "Bit tedious, isn't it?"

He is a lieutenant.

Another witch rises from the audience. She is younger than the first, draped in silver cloth.

The witch on Madeline's right--Leona--says, "Lorine always likes to make an appearance. You'd think she was still in the theatre."

"I wouldn't know. I've never seen her on the stage."

"No, you're still young, aren't you? Barely a century."

The lieutenant chokes into his drink.

"You're a witch?" he says to Madeline.

She ignores him. Leona chuckles. The lieutenant flushes.

"What are you going to give the prince?" Leona says to Madeline. "Courage is popular if you haven't decided yet."

"I haven't."

"I'm opting for vivacity, myself. That is--" Leona looks sly "--if Yenna doesn't take it first."

On the dais, Lorine announces: "I give him strength."

Madeline spills her drink, reaches for a napkin.

"I'll get that," says the lieutenant.

"No," Madeline says, "I'd rather you didn't."

"Please."

He takes the napkin, carefully wipes the table. Madeline leans back, closes her eyes.

"Here I go," Leona says.

She leaves the table.

"Are you feeling well?" the lieutenant says to Madeline.

No. Madeline opens her eyes. The lieutenant smiles gently.

Why not? she thinks. Who cares if he dies next week, lying in a field, buried under bones? Why should I let that stop me?

Leona returns, sparkling: "Go on, my dear."

Madeline beckons to the lieutenant. He rises eagerly, taking her hand. He escorts her down the hall between the tables to the dais. Madeline climbs the steps alone, stands before the king and the little boy who bounces on his nanny's lap: a loyal, strong, vivacious little prince.

"I give Prince Mark nothing," she says.

The guests are shocked. The other witches murmur, their eyes disapproving.

The lieutenant still waits at the foot of the stairs. He watches Madeline, puzzled.

Madeline wants to explain, to say, It hardly matters what I give. The prince will die. All our men are born for death, for the black pit of war.

She looks at the prince.

Bright eyes, she thinks. He has eager eyes.

"No," she says. "I curse the prince that if he ever touches a sword, a spear or any weapon, he will die instantly without ever having fought or led, without honor."

The king shouts. The nanny sobs. Madeline leaves the dais, joins the lieutenant. He takes her hands.

"Yes?" he says.

A witch rises from a nearby table.

"Madeline," she calls, "come sit with us."

Madeline refuses. The witches are her sisters, mothers, daughters, but they don't understand her. They think she should be detached, indifferent.

"You want to come with me now?" she says to the lieutenant. "Have an affair? Get married?"

He glows.

Idiot, she thinks. Kind, lovely idiot.

They leave. The king still roars.

###

The lieutenant dies, guiding a battalion through a sweeping mass of enemy infantry. Madeline mourns, briefly.

Only Leona comes to say she is sorry.

"A nice, young boy," Leona says.

"I'm ages older that he was, Leona. In twenty years, I'll still be ages older and still look ages younger. And he dies and the next one dies and the next one."

Leona says, "The other witches don't like your relationships with men."

"What relationships?"

"They are afraid for you. Because you think it is important to have a lover." Leona is uncomfortable. "You are a witch. Other women worry about such things. Not witches."

"My lovers die, Leona, like slugs in salt-water." Madeline thumps the sides of her chair.

"So, you cursed the prince to show them, is that it?"

"I saved the prince, Leona. He won't have to be another general, another soldier, another commander like his dear papa. Won't have to die. All that waste," Madeline cries.

###

Prince Mark breaks his fist on another boy's face. He rushes after his father, reaching for his father's sword.

"No."

His father, the king, holds the sword out of reach.

"I want to help my papa."

Mark bursts into tears. Around him, soldiers keep their faces blank.

Mark flings himself forward, clutches the horse's leg. Straps jangle; mud splashes over Mark's face. The king flinches.

"He can't die," the king apologizes to his generals.

"I want to be a great commander," Mark bellows. "I will," but the king shakes his head and rides away.

###

Mark hoists a flag on the castle's tower. Far beneath him, the ground shimmers with troops. He watches them march through the castle gates. He sits on the stone ledge, leans into air, that fragile nothing. He swings his legs up and around, stands. There are a thousand men beneath him, rumbling the ground with their feet. He could fall. He doesn't care. He isn't afraid.

He has a charmed life, people say. He considers that, balanced on one foot, one leg crossed over the other. Perhaps, he does. Any man who can't fight has a charmed life. He tilts his head, arms spread to catch the wind, almost about ready to be blown over.

He leaves the tower. In the great hall, the king is briefing his generals.

Mark calls to him: "Father."

The king silences immediately, stiff and watchful. Mark sways slightly from foot to foot.

"General Hodin," Mark says, "how are things on the front?"

General Hodin doesn't answer, only pulls at his gloves, his hands shaking.

"Hodin, I order you to answer me."

"That is classified information," Hodin says.

Good answer, thinks Mark, give him that. Why should I know? I'm less important than a soldier; army baggage carries more weight.

"Son," says the king.

Mark says, "No one ever said I would die from information. I think I'm in a position to know the details of your battles, don't you?"

"The enemy broke through our front line, sir," Major Curtis says. "We have a better cavalry, but they have more men."

"Thank you, Major Curtis," says the king. "You are dismissed."

Major Curtis bows to Mark.

"You are all dismissed," says the king.

They vanish through doorways. Mark raises his eyebrows.

"Father?"

"Major Curtis will be discharged," says the king. "Or demoted."

"For me? Now you're discharging good military officers for my sake?"

"I don't want them to talk to you. I have told them again and again not to talk to you about the war. Why must I constantly repeat myself?"

The king pounds the floor with his feet.

"I should know what's going on. I'm twenty years old. You treat me like a child. I ought to be their commander."

"It's not my fault."

"No, you're just the keeper, just the tender of the cage."

"Take it up with Madeline. Don't take it up with me. It's not my fault."

###

Madeline visits. Mark and the king receive her in the sitting room. Mark ignores her. The king stoops over her hand.

He says, "Hello, Madeline."

"Hello."

"I've noticed the witches are packing," the king says.

Mark crosses to the window, hunching his shoulders. Madeline watches him.

"Yes."

"I hoped they would show more confidence in the army."

"Witches aren't miracle workers, you know that. We have to protect our traditions."

Still she watches Mark. He meets her gaze.

"How are you?" Madeline says. "You look well."

The king whispers in her ear, "He's not happy. I could involve him in the councils, but I'm so afraid. I don't want to take any chances. If you would remove the curse entirely--"

"She won't," Mark says. "She likes playing with men."

The contempt in his voice sketches a line between his eyes.

"I gave you more options, that is all," Madeline tells him.

"There are no options. You created a nothing, Madeline. Unable to help my people, my father--I make no impact, you understand? Turn your head, and I vanish."

He leaves. Upstairs he breaks things, smashes glasses and candlesticks and lovely gifts against the heavy stone walls of the castle. Downstairs, Madeline winces.

###

The prince visits Madeline at night; haunting her, he calls it. He lies beside her, one hand on her stomach.

"You are beautiful. I forgot that."

"You never noticed before."

"Oh, well," he shrugs. "Got to do something with my time."

"You've got lots of time," she says.

When he is silent, she insists, "The generals tell you what is going on?"

"General Gale and Colonel Curtis keep me informed. I give them advice. The commander invisible."

"Isn't that enough?"

He is restless, pushing back the covers.

"I'm smarter than most of them," he says.

He rises swiftly, kicks the nightstand, sits, head in hands on the edge of the bed.

Madeline says, "You men and your wars."

He studies her. She cannot see his eyes, it is too dark. She throws up her arms.

"They're not as important as you think. All your time and energy--your lives--spent for what? What are your wars worth?"

"Better my wars than your lovers."

"The wars killed my lovers."

"Everything kills lovers. You didn't plan to freeze-dry them, did you, Madeline?" He snorts, lies back. She is almost asleep when softly, he questions her, "How long did you have to wait for me, Madeline?"

She chokes back a cry, doesn't answer. Finally, he sleeps, his hands tucked between his knees.

###

"We're not doing well," says General Gale.

His face is covered with blood and sweat. He runs a hand through his hair.

"We're losing?" Mark says.

"I suppose you might say that."

Mark studies the maps Colonel Curtis brings him.

"I've taken in four groups of men in three months," the general says. "Lost every single man every single time."

"That's too much," Mark says. "You shouldn't lose that many."

"It's nothing I do. They have more men. They have more artillery. We're fighting with nothing. We're scrapping the bottom of the barrel. I'm telling you. Farm boys."

Mark listens.

"The only ones left at the end of this are going to be you and the witches," the general says. "And you, at least, won't last long."

###

"So, we just wait," Madeline says.

"Yes."

"That's stupid. We should leave."

"Where?" Mark faces Madeline, arms flung wide. "Where?"

"Anywhere."

And now, she thinks, now.

He shrugs. She watches him pace.

"Leona and the other witches are leaving," she says finally. "If we go with them, we'll be safe. No one can touch the witches."

"I don't want to go with the witches."

"I'm a witch."

"Then I don't want to go with you."

She bites her lip to keep words from tumbling out. Her eyes follow the tilt of his chin, the line of his back, the sudden jerk of his head as he glances towards her.

"How about you, Madeline? Want to die with me?"

"I don't want to die," she says.

He laughs.

"You can't even see what you have," she says.

"A final stand--sword in hand even as I fall. Your conditions, Madeline, your curse. My definition." 

He whistles between his teeth, leaning on the window-sill, waiting.

###

She can't argue with him, stops trying.

"Leona," she begs. "What do I do?"

She thinks, Life is dripping from my hands, life shatters in my hands.

Leona is older, now, sadder.

She says, "It's all Jenny's fault for giving him determination."

Madeline laughs a little.

"I want him alive, Leona."

"Bring him away with us."

"He won't come."

"Bring him anyway."

###

Three days before the enemy reaches the castle, the witches leave, passing through the soldiers unhindered. Between them, they carry a covered stretcher. Madeline walks beside it, a hand brushing the cloth. Beneath it, the prince rolls with each step the women take. He breaths softly, his hand curved, his fingers slipping along his cheek. Madeline dreams of the time ahead.

The smoke piles upward into the air behind them.

In his dreams, Mark hears his father screaming.

In his dreams, Mark dies.

25th Published Short Story!

The latest issue of Space & Time, #123, includes my 25th published short story "Solvency."

In a futuristic economy with medieval overtones, Macworth must torture a corporate spy, also his wife. In a desperate attempt to avoid this duty, he enters into risky negotiations with an untrustworthy scientist.

This story is connected to a previous story, "Verbal Knowledge" published in Tales of the Unanticipated #29.

A full list of my published short stories can be found below.

Published novellas can be found at Peaks Island Press.

Joan of Arc Tale: Escaping Rouen

This story was originally published on a Christian fantasy/sci-fi website called Gateway Science Fiction. It was published about two years ago. Unfortunately, about one year ago [2006], Gateway shut down; I've decided to republish the story here.

The timing is appropriate. A short story of mine "Scattered" will be coming out soon in Irreantum magazine [2008]. Both "Scattered" and "Escaping Rouen" share a similar theme/plot: two characters with absolutist viewpoints must reach some sort of understanding/compromise. The issue at stake is belief and integrity versus the (very necessary) ability to change and be flexible: are those two approaches compatible?

Enjoy!
***************************************************************

When Henry V did not die of dysentery in 1422, he spent the next nine years holding France in one piece. Like an uncompleted garment, it unraveled first at one seam, then at another: Normandy followed by Touraine followed by Maine.

Should he have died--as in many other worlds he did, leaving a 9-month old successor--the unraveling would have begun immediately; but Henry had managed shrewdly, with constant exertion, to wind up the escaping threads.

He arrived in Rouen in the summer of 1431 to deal with yet another of his subjects’ rebellions.

The prison stank, even by Paris standards, and Henry made a mental note to have it cleaned. Wars do not excuse dereliction in duty. He strode across a pile of rubble, keeping his sigh of annoyance to himself. Better to expend it in the proper way to the proper individual. The soldier in front of him was no more responsible for the lack of maintenance than he was responsible for the king’s victories.

Or the king’s failures, Henry reminded himself. If only the Burgundians would choose a position, either Henry or Charles, and stick to it.

He followed the soldier up shallow stone steps. The stench slackened slightly. Henry made a note to drain the bog on which the prison rested, and then the door before him swung open, the soldier said, "The Maid," with only a quiver of uneasiness ("A witch," some said) and stepped back.

A slight figure in men’s clothing rose from the opposite wall. A white oval face lifted to examine the king of England and France. A small, tucked mouth above a small chin; heavy lidded eyes: he had not realized she was so young, and he was amused, in his glittering, short-lived way, that Cauchon had not mentioned the Maid’s age.

He motioned to the soldier to close the door and seated himself on an overturned crate. Broken barrels and dank hay lay about the room. He noted the irons on the wall. A narrow window further down the cell let in a stream of sunlight; it illuminated the girl’s scarred wrists and broken nails.

"You have helped rebels conspire against their king," he said. "At Orleans, at Beaugency there have been uprisings behind your banner."

"They are not rebels before God."

Her voice was husky, yet higher than he had expected; the men’s clothes were misleading, a disturbing incongruity:

He said, "They are rebels before their anointed king."

"Only God can recognize a king."

"God has recognized me."

She leaned against the rock wall and studied him. He knew what she saw: the long, straight nose, the long chin with its solid jaw, the eyes as light as hers, the dark hair cropped close. He affected neither his father’s mustache or his father’s pointed beard; his was a face that could attract without unnecessary barbering. He did not engender love or affection, but he did inspire what was more important: loyalty and trust.

She said, "God has recognized Charles, son of our late king. He will be crowned."

He wondered--not amused this time for these statements were treasonous--if Charles appreciated the girl’s support--Charles scampering from city to city throughout Touraine as if ceaseless flight would keep him from Henry’s grasp.

The Maid said, her voice rising, "I know Charles is to be king. God told me."

"God himself?"

She flushed but, "Yes," she said. "Though St. Michael and St. Catherine and St. Margaret who escaped the belly of the dragon. They speak to me."

He frowned. There was nothing insane here, nothing so mild (but bitter) as his father’s remorse over Richard’s death.

She said, "The Saints want France for Charles. God has blessed the fleur-de-lis. Our royal house will be victorious."

He did not say, Against such odds? Who knew better than Henry that God blesses how and whom He will. All those bloody French knights on the field at Agincourt; the English army blessed by God and hence victorious: Henry had never doubted it.

He said, "Charles does not have the pope’s blessing."

A flicker from some layer deep within her eyes. He waited.

"I cannot lie to God," she said. "And who is to say what Pope Eugenius will do."

He stood. She flinched and his mind--ever objective, ever watchful--noted the careful way she held her torso, the arms folded across her waist, the forced nonchalance when she met his gaze. He paced away from her to the window. Behind him, he heard her sigh, an expulsion of relief. Outside the tower, the orange sun was settling below the hills around Rouen.

Henry said, "Pope Martin never supported Charles."

He waited for her protest. He had heard it, cautiously worded, from bureaucrats, those who thought Pope Martin V had been the pawn of Henry and the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund, but Henry had never doubted his motives there: end the Great Schism, restore order to the Church. God’s Church is not to be handled as the kingdoms of the earth, and Martin had been an effective pontiff. Let Eugenius prove himself as capable. Henry had no doubts.

Let this girl doubt, let her prove heresy with her own words.

She didn’t. She shook her head, the tangled mass of hair sliding against the packed stones. She drew down her brows.

She said, "I cannot deny what I know, what I've seen."

He leaned against the stone sill, studying her. If the thin wrists could be trusted, her men’s clothes hid half-starved ribs. The Ecclesiastics had uttered wrathful words on the subject of the Maid's clothes. "A girl posing as a man. Can there be doubts of her blasphemy?" but Henry considered it a minor point. They could hardly expect the Maid to lead armies in women’s dress.

She pressed her hands to her face, her body dipping into shadows.

She murmured, "May I take communion? They haven’t let me."

"Yes," he said, another point of debate between him and the Ecclesiastics. If she were to be retrieved from her madness, or her heresy, what better means than the sacrament of Communion, what better confessor than a priest handling our Lord’s flesh and blood?

"Thank you," she said and lowered herself against the wall.

He headed to the door. There was no more he could learn. He would ride to Beauvois in the morning with three hundred men and from there to Paris to collect the rest of his army, and from there to Chinon where Charles was rumored to be hiding.

"You’ll stand trial," he said over his shoulder.

She lurched past him. He shouted, and the guard plunged into the room as the Maid, Jeanne, squeezed over the window sill and dropped. He heard her body strike the water and ran, not to the window like the guard but down the steps and across the stinking corridor to the outside wall. He marched into the dimming light, shouting for assistance.

Her body floated in the moat. A soldier pulled her ashore. Startled faces gleamed in the orange sunset. Henry checked his wrath and waited, jaw set. There would be no escapes or suicides--whatever this girl imagined she was doing--no evasion from justice under his rule.

The soldier turned Jeanne over. Water spilled from her mouth to the ground. She coughed, her body writhing. Her hands clutched at the soil.

"Put her in the second floor cell," Henry said.

That cell, dark and damp, had only thin, straight slits for air. Jeanne slept the night in her sodden clothes. Henry, striding into the cell the following morning, found her shivering tight under a scanty covering of hay.

"Why did you jump?"

"I don’t want to stand trial," she said on chattering teeth.

"Obviously. But if your claims are true, why fear the Ecclesiastics?"

"Could I explain to them any better than I’ve explained to you? I can’t force them to experience what I have experienced, to make them see and understand with mere words."

He didn’t sit. There was hardly space in the cell for them both. He propped a shoulder against the wall, hands behind his back.

He said, "Couldn't the saints help you?" but gently. Saints were exacting; they demanded much for the glory of God even to the consumption of flesh and bone.

She leaned her head on her curved arms. He thought she wept until she turned her cheek, and her dry eyes stared beyond him.

"They won’t be used," she said, "for my personal safety. They trust me."

"Even until death--?" For she would be burned if Cauchon's Ecclesiastics found her guilty. Henry had directed the setting of such fires. He'd watched hungry flames eat hair and skin, heard screams ascend like incense from an Old Testament sacrifice.

He saw Jeanne flinch, a shudder that went deeper than the shivers. Her lips trembled, and she turned her head to the wall. Irreproachable self-control.

He edged forward, and she tensed, wary eyes slewing towards him. She had not had his childhood, spent surviving political manipulations (let the Yorkists gnaw fruitlessly at their ambitions; he would not be kept from his father's throne). Violence surprised her; she braced herself for blows, for unwelcome hands. She did not know how to maneuver in tight quarters.

He crouched at her knees.

"Consider," he said. "Consider, how necessary to have but one voice that speaks for God. When popes multiply, nothing can come but confusion, impiety, falsehood; men taught untruths; men taught lies for the sake of political gain or greed; the Church’s doctrines polluted and turned away to gross and imaginary needs. Corruption would flow through the church on the devil’s breath. God would become the slave of every political rebellion, every knight’s lust, every king’s half-hearted demand. It is so easy to call on His name for our own desires, to satisfy what we want for ourselves."

She did not respond.

He said softly, "They are not Saints who speak to you but devils."

"No," she said, on her knees now, her back straight, her eyes level with his; panic was there but confidence as well and in her taut shoulders. "Explain Orleans if they are devils. You never have taken that, and it was myself—with," she corrected—"with the aid of God that kept it from you last year. Explain Beaugency and Patay that we took back--"

"Only to lose again."

"But we took them. Explain that, of me, a poor girl from nowhere special; how could I accomplish that without God’s help?"

He didn’t know. He'd had a poor idea of French resistance until the Maid began her opposition.

"Explain," she said, "why the Saints chose such as I if not to show God's hand in this cause. I am His tool."

Henry rested on his heels.

"Tell me," he said, "Do they instruct you to follow your own direction? To trust your private interpretations of holy doctrine? To hear God's voice only through the Bible?"

Was she familiar with the Lollards and their dangerous preachings? A 'Yes' to his questions would confirm her heresy, warranting her death, and he suppressed an impulse to block her mouth.

She frowned. "The Saints would not preached against themselves," she pointed out, bewildered, and Henry’s amusement flickered; Cauchon would not find her an easy witness.

"I won't deny them again," she said fiercely because she had when Cauchon first threatened her with fire; Cauchon had high and unrealistic hopes of another recantation. Henry doubted he would get it.

We all flinch from fire the first time. But who does not prefer burning to the bitter chill? Without her Saints, Jeanne would freeze.

They may even deliver her, he thought as he strolled out into the yard, take her life before the flames reach her bones. He didn't begrudge that mercy. He did not need Jeanne's suffering, only her suppression. She belonged now to the law.

He forestalled the ride to Chinon. Charles, messengers said, had moved again. Henry strode about the yard, checking the baggage, speaking to the supply masters.

Bishop Cauchon waited in the king’s apartment: a grizzled man with sharp eyes and a rueful smile.

"The Maid," he said as Henry stripped off his gloves and took up his dinner. "She will be given over to my charge?"

"When I leave," Henry said. "You will follow inquisitorial procedure."

"Of course. We’ll find her guilty, don’t worry." Cauchon flashed a smile. "Even should she recant, she’ll not keep herself untainted for long."

Henry’s food waited.

He said, "Oh?"

"No. Those boy’s clothes for one. She cannot resist them. And she’s fond of her voices. They give her special significance. She was meant to be nothing but a drudge and an uneducated one. She’s not been satisfied leading armies. She won’t be satisfied with a trial. Vulgarity needs an audience. Don’t worry," Cauchon said, strolling to the door, "the clerics are all pro-English."

A soft breeze punctuated his exit. Henry stared at the crucifix on the opposite wall.

These are the men who surround me now, who surrounded my father. This is why I left England--for God and for glory, away from the constant machinations of court.

Politics drove Charles VII mad.


A vision crossed Henry's eyes: Jeanne amid snapping flames, a quiet and wary crowd in Rouen’s Marketplace, a cry, "Jesus!" from Jeanne, her face pale despite the heat.

She'll freeze from Cauchon's apathy before she ever reaches the pyre.

A messenger approached Henry as he left the apartment. "Charles is in Louches."

"Understood," Henry said and to his sergeant, "We’ll leave before sunset."

Jeanne slept, her knees drawn to her chest. She woke on Henry’s entrance. He dragged her upright.

He said, "Cauchon will find you guilty, do you understand? You must be honest with yourself. Do you truly believe men are wrong to trust me?"

I must be under God’s protection. There is a hierarchy to all things. To resist it is like resisting the realities of death. There are things that are so and things that are not. We must each watch and listen, discern as falsehood the bulging rumor, the crafted anecdote of improbable occurrences. Men believe so easily what they want to believe and hear what is easy to hear. Truth is a blunt sword. It throbs rather than stings.

"The devil is wicked," she said, "and clever in deceit. Such demons ride hard upon all men."

He shook her. "Upon me? Do devils speak to me, is that what you believe?"

She hesitated. He felt her doubt, palpable and urgent.

"Perhaps," she said, and he lowered his head to hear her voice, "devils convinced you to come to France."

Cauchon would burn her for that. Except that it was not heresy, only the blunt edge of politics that she had not knowledge enough to duck.

Cauchon would be angry if Henry removed Jeanne: not for the loss of her death but for the loss of the trial and all its attendant glories. But Henry would not have come to France if he cared for the egos of such men, if he fretted over what they said behind his back.

"Come," he said.

She stumbled before him into the yard. A guard gripped her arms as Henry mounted, then pushed her up before him.

"Henry," Cauchon strode from the living quarters. "Majesty, where are you taking the Maid?"

"Archbishop Chichele is in Harfleur. He will be her new guardian."

Cauchon, the diplomat, did not argue, but, "I fear you have been swayed against your reason. The Maid has witching powers."

Jeanne's hands tightened on Henry's hands that enfolded her waist. Henry studied Cauchon, the cocked eyebrow, the wry mouth. He was a man who understood what words could do but not a man equipped to understand the guileless intent.

He said, "You think Chichele will be unable to handle her?"

Cauchon struggled over that, and Henry laughed. Years of survival in his father's court, he knew how to maneuver.

When I die, it will be from disease or in war. These machinations are but the petty acrobatics of the self-obsessed.

Cauchon tried again. "This is the proper place for her to stand trial."

Again that vision, an aching spasm against the mind: Jeanne burning while Rouen watched.

"I want her closer to English soil," Henry said and heard his error.

So did Cauchon. "Is this not England? Wherever your majesty rules?"

The waiting soldiers gazed and listened. Henry smiled. He was not Cauchon; Henry's pleasure was in gain, not in the maintenance of dry equilibrium.

"Everywhere is England," he said. "Everywhere is France. What God gives me, I will take."

He thudded out of the yard, followed by his troops. Cauchon became a small, staid figure under shadow. Jeanne leaned against him.

"Will I stand trial?" she said.

"Yes," he said because the king’s justice is not to be ignored or shrugged off.

But it will rightly done.

"There are," he said, "other Ecclesiastics," and some that even understood the call of God.

They left Rouen before the sun set, passing through the Marketplace and over the Seine River, and neither the Maid or the king were sorry to leave it behind.

Lord Simon: ?

Simon stood in the rubble of his uncle’s house--his house for several years now, but he still thought of it on occasion as his uncle’s. The bastard was dead. The house was Simon’s inheritance, which he had apparently now lost.

“I suppose I could rebuild,” he said.

The woman beside him laughed—he turned to study the sleek blond head. She tilted up her face and smiled at him.

“You’re free,” he said. “You’re yourself again, Hannah.”

“It only took twenty years,” she chided.

He winced, remembering experiments at the Academy, his trip to Ennance. He had nearly abandoned Hannah, remaining in sybarite luxury rather than returning to her side. Yet he had returned, her madness had calmed; they had become lovers, of a fashion. Now—

“Are you well?” he said, facing her fully. “You look as young as you ever did.”

“I was twenty-three when I went into the wall. I feel—like I’ve lived twenty years since then and yet—”

She shrugged and reached out delicate fingers to smooth the lapels of his dressing gown.

“I might have dreamt those years. I did terrible things: destroying your uncle, haunting you—” she shuddered, and Simon closed his arms about her, feeling her warmth and weight, not just her shape beneath blankets.

He said, “I’m sorry.”

She smelled like fire and something else—a sweet and strong aroma rose from her skin and hair. He brushed her forehead with one hand, and the same smell rose from his skin.

She turned her head against his chest. He felt her sigh down to his bones. He liked physical Hannah.

She said, “We have company.”

A crowd had gathered at the edge of the house’s debris. Simon saw several men pulling a fire cart. A bucket brigade was putting out the last of smoldering piles. A few men stood around a bundle of charred clothes.

In front of Simon, two couples—two men and two women, one dark-haired, one red-haired—stood on the outside stone stoop. The closest man stepped across the threshold. He neared Simon and Hannah, hands in pockets, gray eyes flickering from one to the other.

“Lord Simon. You are Lord Simon?”

“Yes. This is Hannah Tokington. I—I bespelled her—”

Hannah said cheerfully, “I’m obviously no longer infected.”

Perhaps not. But she smelled like magic and thrummed with power. She was no longer trapped. She had been changed.

The gray-eyed man—he was near thirty with a compact build and steady countenance—nodded and said, “Miss Tokington, I’m Mr. Stowe, head of the police.”

Behind Mr. Stowe, the dark-haired woman stepped carefully over ashy timbers. Simon tensed as he felt the potion wafting from her. Its base was similar to the one he’d used to transform Lady Wansaby. He watched the woman tuck her hand through Mr. Stowe’s arm. He seemed to smile although his face didn’t alter.

“Aubrey,” he said softly.

At Simon’s shoulder, Hannah said, “There are no police in Kingston.”

Mr. Stowe gave her his attention. “I’m afraid, Miss Tokington, that a number of years have passed—”

“Fifteen or twenty. Yes, I know.”

The other couple was nearing now—a tall dark-haired man and nearly as tall red-haired woman dressed in men’s clothes. They looked from Simon to Hannah, eyes wide, unnerved.

Mr. Stowe said, “I’m afraid it has been far longer.”

Simon snapped his head round.

“You haven’t left Kingston in years, Lord Simon. You haven’t left your house in months.”

The dark-haired man seemed to cavil at that, then shrugged.

“I’m Richard St. Clair,” he said, “You rarely left your house, Lord Simon. Two days ago, I agreed to give it an historical designation—” he peered around him. “Sort of pointless now,” he muttered.

“I don’t think the government will mind,” the red-haired woman murmured, and Richard St. Clair grinned.

The woman named Aubrey said, “The year is 1864, Lord Simon. You are--were--seventy years old.”

Hannah gasped. Simon’s arm tightened about her waist. He looked at the faces of the two couples, looked beyond them to the watching crowd. People stared. No one sneered or gave each other knowing glances (look at that gullible man, so easy to fool).

He said, “But I’m forty years old.”

“You look about that,” Mr. St. Clair said. “Or younger.”

“How did I lose thirty years?”

The other man shrugged.

“Maybe the house stored up your years. When it burned—when your potions burned—”

Simon shook his head. Nothing in the books explained this. Nothing in the world—

Aubrey said, “You wanted a fresh start. You wanted Miss Tokington to be happy.”

Simon looked down at Hannah. He loosened his grip until she stood free, unfettered.

He said, “I never saved you. I took your life.”

“I’m here, Simon. I’m out of the walls.”

“But you lost your past—friends you knew, family you had—”

“So did you.”

“I never had much to lose in that area.”

Her smile was friendly, sad. “Age is age. This—” she turned, arms raising against the crisp spring breeze. “I forgot the grand simplicity of being in the world.”

Simon turned with her, following her gaze. His house stood on the south side of Palisades. Houses further down the hill had been razed—time has passed—and he could see Resurgence River and the fields to the south.

Hannah stepped forward and they all watched her cross the threshold to the street. She glanced back, smile glinting, her gaze mischievous, and she was still young and still free.

She focused on Mr. Stowe, cheeks dimpling.

She said with sweet reasonableness,“Surely, there’s no crime here.”

“You were imprisoned—”

“Not a wise decision for Simon to try to save me. It was nonetheless well-intentioned.”

Mr. Stowe didn’t frown, but his face blanked, eyes dropping. The woman at his side, Aubrey, rolled her eyes. Leaning closer, she whispered in his ear. He shook his head, then sighed.

“I’m guessing Kev started the fire,” he said. “As for Miss Tokington, I’m not sure how we would prosecute a crime committed when laws about magic didn’t exist. You should know, Miss Tokington, Lord Simon has a problematic record—”

“But nothing provable,” Hannah said. “After all these years. So many witnesses gone.”

Simon kept his face blank as Mr. Stowe's scrutiny shifted from Hannah to him. He had apparently sacrificed his life to keep Hannah company. How chivalrous. He wasn’t noble enough to hand himself over to an authority he’d forgotten existed.

“Politically hazardous,” Hannah added. “The king—”

“There is no king,” Mr. Stowe said mildily.

“Oh,” Hannah said, echoing Simon’s surprise.

Both he and Hannah glanced at St. Clair and the red-hair woman, who nodded confirmation. Time has definitely passed.

Hannah rallied, “But he’s still a Lord. Does your government encourage you to hound noble citizens?”

Behind Mr. Stowe, St. Clair grinned, mirroring Simon’s internal amusement. Hannah was always rather ruthless.

Aubrey murmured, “He’s kept himself a virtual prisoner for years, Charles.”

“Yes,” Hannah said. “I don’t want him locked up anymore.”

Mr. Stowe’s face altered, swept by a new emotion: compassion? pity?

“I understand. Lord Simon—I advise you to stay away from potion-making.”

“I will,” Simon said.

He didn’t mention that potions were running through his veins as surely as they ran through Hannah’s. He didn’t know yet what that meant, didn’t know what powers and abilities they had gained. Hannah was free. Little else mattered.

The two couples strode away. Their voices carried back to Simon, querying, joking—they evidently knew each other—while he watched Hannah watch the wide world. Endowed by grace, she could explore a thousand cities, a hundred countries. He didn’t expect her to remain. He had never expected that.

She was looking at him, calling his name. “Simon” carried from her lips along the spring breeze.

He neared the threshold.

“You no longer need to defend me, Hannah,” he said. “I’m no longer a burden for you to carry.”

“Is that how you saw our captivity? Simon—there’s nothing to be gained from regrets or might-have-beens.”

Sensible, realistic Hannah. Simon let his smile from earlier creep onto his face.

Hannah said, “Not even who or what either of us might have been. Today is our life.”

“We have time.”

She laughed. “You don’t have to stay, Simon. You can come with me.” She held out one hand, palm up, fingers spread. “Won’t you?”

Sometimes, we get more chances than we deserve.

Her hand was warm as he took it. They stood in the thoroughfare, heads pivoting as they gazed one way, then the other.

Hannah said, “Where—?”

Simon already knew the answer:

“Wherever you go,” he said. “Wherever you choose.”

“Let’s run,” she whispered. “To the edge of the world.”

* * *

Blinded by the morning sun, bystanders could never say if Lord Simon and his angelic companion disappeared over the side of the hill, heading east, or rose on wings into the cloudless sky. Wherever they went, however they got there, they returned, said the stories. They visited Roesia citizens with gifts and counsel.

The woman gave counsel. The man, said the stories, unwound jewels from her hair until she laughed. When children begged, he made birds out of sunlight and sent them flying amongst the trees. A sight to see, bragged the storytellers, and not a magic that anyone had imagined possible.

Lord Simon: Winter 1864: Age Seventy, Part 3

“Should I get a physician? Lord Simon?”

A murmur of unease.

“Don’t worry, Max. I’m not planning to inventory your stock today.”

Another murmur.

“Or his. Lord Simon?”

Simon opened his eyes. The policeman, Miss St. Clair’s policeman, leaned over him, one hand on the chair arm. Gray eyes contemplated Simon steadily.

Mr. Stowe said, “You sent for me.”

“Kev was here.”

Max made a pained sound, and Simon waved placating fingers.

“We don’t care for him,” he told the supernally calm policeman.

“I don’t care for him either. We shouldn’t have let him escape the hospital. He seemed incapacitated.”

“By Miss St. Clair.”

“She doesn’t care for Kev either,” Mr. Stowe said, a wry twist to his mouth.

He backed up and lowered himself to the edge of the nearest chair. Simon shifted in his armchair, straightening his back. Max lurked near the door, eyeing the policeman with more startled apprehension than he had ever eyed Simon. The world has changed. In another few years, Simon would no longer be able to bully politicians and tradesmen. I have used up all my time.

He wouldn’t mind a few more days, months, years. Not the same days or months or years. Rather—time out there, beyond the house, further than he could see from the bedroom window (when uncurtained). If I had the strength. If I knew Hannah was protected.

Maybe the priest from Ennance spoke the truth and death would bring more time: Simon would wander far across the ocean to the Undying Lands.

He told Mr. Stowe, “Kev blames me for his condition.”

“Is that unreasonable?”

Yes. No.

“He should have left your lady alone.”

“Yes.”

“I should never have countenanced him,” Simon admitted. “He is . . . a thing possessed by greed, not for money like his nephew. Dmitri was a barely human thing: scrounging, conning. Like Jacobs. Kev is more human and therefore rather more dangerous. He wants—recognition. A little brain, a little ability, he wants more than he deserves or earns or comprehends.”

Don’t we all? Hannah said, irony in her tone.

Simon’s shoulders slumped as they lost their stiff tension. No matter how much he wanted her saved, he didn’t want her gone.

“Applause,” Mr. Stowe said sapiently.

Miss St. Clair hadn’t chosen a dullard at least. Simon nodded. Kev had all the pomp and posturing of Sir James yet none of the social mechanisms to satisfy the accompanying neediness.

“He will come back.”

“The police don’t have the manpower to stay on the place,” Mr. Stowe said. “We will divert patrols to this area. We want to catch Kev too.”

He stood, his brown coat falling into place about him and studied Simon, brows slightly creased.

“Do you need a physician?”

“No.” Even if Simon could afford the bill—money had been running low for years now; otherwise, Simon would hire Manderley Brothers as well as utilize the police—no physician could alter the reality of Simon’s condition. “No, thank you.”

Mr. Stowe man nodded and glanced towards Max with that glimmer of amusement that barely altered his face.

“Be good, Max,” he said and headed for the door.

Simon called after him: “I didn’t kill her.”

Mr. Stowe turned slowly, brows raised. He waited, a concentration of calm collectiveness.

“The girl—the woman from years past. I didn’t kill her. I tried to save her. Things went wrong.”

“Potions are questionable solutions to life’s problems,” Mr. Stowe said gently. “When they work, their consequences are . . . out of proportion.”

Yes. Simon could never undo Hannah’s dispossession because no carefully crafted potion could match the result. Only the unimaginable could free her—perhaps Simon’s death, perhaps even the house’s destruction. Perhaps something yet uncalculated: a prince on a horse, a kiss for a sleeping beauty.

* * *

Mr. Stowe left. Max left, promising to return later. Simon waited for the front door to close, its reverberation felt throughout the house. He heaved himself up, made his way onto the landing. One foot. Another. All the way to the back of the house and the steep stairs to the solarium. He grasped the rail and pulled himself up a step at a time—one foot, then two feet together like a child. He reached the top and pushed open the door.

Herbal scents greeted him, a palpable wallop to the face. It was sunny out and gleaming light stroked the glass jars. Reflections danced across the walls and floor. Colors swam before Simon’s eyes.

When he was younger, he could have heaved the table and shelves to their sides, scattering the contents. He couldn’t manage that now, so he lifted the jars and beakers one by one and sent them crashing to the floor. He came across the pestle and used it smash more. He piled the herbs into the cauldron and threw in a lit match—they sent out a cloyingly sweet smoke at first, then a grayish acrid one. Simon poured water on top and the sodden mass sank to the bottom of the glass bowl.

He turned to his notes next, ripping sheets, smearing ink. He poured the mass on to the books and papers, ground them all to gray pulp. He felt Hannah beside him, the first time in decades she had entered the solarium. She didn’t protest as he tramped about the room, destroying the remnants of his life’s work. Every potion tainted, including the priest’s water. Every herb burnt, crushed, or filled with shards of glass.

“Kev mustn’t get access,” Simon said. “It’s over.”

* * *

Howls woke Simon at midnight. He lay in bed, Hannah’s form against his side and listened to Kev screaming wrath and damnation. So. Kev made it to the solarium, finally, after all these years.

Welcome to real life, Kev. We never get what we want—even when we what good and noble things. You have certainly never wanted them.

Hannah’s form dissolved, rushing from the bed into the walls. Simon heard the panels creak. He sat up slowly.

“The potions aren’t salvageable,” he said though no one heard.

He felt for the floor with cold feet and stood. One more confrontation. He wouldn’t kill Kev. Miss St. Clair had declined to finish him off. Who was Simon to gainsay her decision? Maybe Kev would kill him. Either way, an exorcism was at hand.

“He has a torch.” Hannah was back, speaking aloud this time; some of her energy had returned. “He means to burn you. Burn us. The house.”

“No!”

Simon didn’t know he could move still so fast. He was out on the landing, striding towards the upper stairs. He was trembling by the time he reached them. He wouldn’t make it to the solarium, but Kev was barreling down the steps, torch skimming the walls, face distorted in a cry of pure frenzy and a lifetime of unrequited lust.

Simon had time to wonder, If I hadn’t gotten Hannah, a worthy cause on which to focus my experiments, would I have become like this? before he screamed at Kev, wrath to match wrath:

“I tolerated you. Helped you. I was not obligated to do either.”

“You should have shared your potions with me. Not the Academy.”

“No one benefited. Get out.”

“I was supposed to be great. Feared. I would have made discoveries.”

“You built on what I created.”

“I would have figured it all out—if I’d had money, prestige, backing. You should have given me the girl. I would have split her open. I would have made potions viable.”

“Pipe dreams. Wishful thinking.”

“Your fault. I should have been you. I should have had all this.”

Kev thrust the torch at Simon’s face. Hannah swept forward. She couldn’t quench the flame, but she pushed and it exploded backwards, enveloping Kev. He screamed and plunged forward, knocking against the landing banister. The house was old; the banister crumbled--Kev plummeted to the hall below. The floor and walls were pure kindling. Struck by Kev’s blazing body, they ignited, throwing up sparks.

Hannah surrounded Simon even as he pleaded for her to save herself.

She replied, Where would I go? She was cool mist in the inferno and then something more solid: arms about his waist; head tucked against his shoulder. I’m sorry I can’t lift you. I don’t have the strength this time.

He didn’t care. He encircled the shape against his side, held on as he breathed in the heady smoke pouring from the solarium. The landing creaked, ready to collapse. It would go soon, it or—

The roof.