And… I’m still not done writing this. I did get work done on it while I was at LTUE, but I have had dual exams since my return. Going to work on it this weekend, and talked to my editor about sending it to him at the end of the month. So I need to push it. I have it in my head, but getting it on paper! I am still planning on an end-of-March publication date. I may set up for pre-orders when I have the rough draft in hand, let me know if you’re interested in that. I will be working on the cover after I send the ms to the editors. So the fuzzy purple dragon will have to do for now. I do have some of the cover elements, I suppose I could show those…
Alger huffed, fluttering his mustache. “That fool. If he won’t give you an answer, take him to the nearest doorway and dump him Above.”
“I need Conrad alive and talking, not decaying in a heap. He may be impetuous, but he’s not, that I know of, linked with Low Court.”
Mark had come back to us, no doubt drawn by Alger’s staff pounding. I nodded at him, letting him know silently that he could stay and listen. Nothing I had to say was a secret.
“Low Court is behind this.” Alger muttered.
“Normally I’d blow that off, you say Low Court is behind everything. But this time I think you’re right.”
“We’ve been asking about Low Court on our travels,” Mark asked. Both Alger and I looked at him, and he shrugged. “What? I know I wasn’t supposed to know, but after a while there was a pattern, and I’m not deaf or stupid.”
He glared at the old man, and I stifled a chuckle. Alger really had been treating him like a kid, but then again, the old man had never been discreet, either.
“So what have you learned?” I asked Alger. Mark might not have gathered the significance of everything he’d overheard or deduced.
“With the death of the Low King…” He began.
Mentally, I filled in the picture they wouldn’t know about, the shotgun jerking at my hands as I fired from the hip, the look of surprise on the Low King’s face as the shot took him in the belly, opening a huge red blossom of flesh and blood. I’d known I’d only get one shot, and I’d known I’d die right after it… why I hadn’t, I still didn’t know. Alger, oblivious to my wool-gathering, kept going, his voice falling into a familiar pedantic rhythm.
“There was a power vacuum in the Court. None who could have challenged him had been allowed to live, or have any power themselves. It took many months before another emerged from the shadows who the Court bowed to. They accepted her for two reasons. One, they needed a leader, craven as they are, they were like weasels in a henhouse, unable to stop killing even when they were sated.”
I hadn’t known this. During my long illness, I’d lost touch with many of my informants. I wondered what had become of them, and shook my head. I needed to get back in the game. If I’d been more aware of this level of chaos, I might have been able to prevent Margot’s death. Alger was still talking.
“Second, and probably most important, they accepted her because of her connections. Like it or not,” I knew he was directing that at me, “fairies are considered by many to be the true ruling Elite of Underhill.”
I really didn’t give a damn. Pixies had intermingled with fairy blood until it was more a label than an actual difference any longer, if there had ever been a difference. High Court might be mostly fairy, but that was a reflection of where it had come from, not where it was going.
“The newly crowned Queen is connected to fairy, and to High Court. In fact, she claimed from her coronation throne that she is entitled to rule all of Underhill. By blood and…” He paused, and I knew what was coming with a cold chill that sank to my bones. “By marriage.”
“Dionaea is no longer my wife, and House Mulvaney long ago renounced any pretensions to the throne of High Court.” I could feel the rage, wrapping around me like an old familiar lover.
Alger shook his head slowly. “You and I know that. But to a woman who is taking the reins of power, and who you know has had no other thoughts since she grew to womanhood, truth has no significance.”
“Whoa… you were married to the Blood Queen?” Mark broke in.
“What are they calling her?” I wasn’t sure I’d heard that correctly, and I know it came out more harshly than I intended.
“Hey!” He threw up a hand and stepped back. “It’s not me, it’s what every underling who mentioned her said. I didn’t even know her real name until just now.”
Alger, his voice brittle, “They are calling her that because rumor has it she bathes in her enemies’ blood.”
I felt my nose wrinkle in revulsion. “Not unless she’s changed rather a lot, she couldn’t even stand to be in the room with raw meat before.”
I ran both my hands through my hair, feeling the headache that had been building since Alger’s arrival.
“Is she behind Margot’s killing?” I asked him.
“I don’t know. I heard much, but nothing related to Margot… or to Lucia.”
Mother’s voice came from behind me, “It is unlikely.” I spun around to see her standing in the doorway of the armory.
“Mother! I thought you were at Elleria.”
“I was. I had a message from Alger to meet him here, to plan.”
I shot a look at Alger, who was back to being stone faced.
“Learoyd,” I winced at her use of my full name, and she glided into the room, closing the door behind her with a slight gesture. “Mark, dear boy, would you rather not stay?”
She was looking full at him, and I watched him brace as though standing in a stiff wind. “I’d rather stay and hear. Knowing what’s coming makes it less likely to leave me open to unpleasant surprises.”
She nodded with an approving expression.
“Mother, I think we should have Bella in on this.”
“I agree. Also, held somewhere with more comfortable… indeed, any, chairs. As well as tea and refreshments.” There was an audible sniff in there somewhere as she looked around. To the best of my knowledge, my mother had never before been in the Armory, and she looked as out of place as a china doll on a battlefield.
I closed my eyes and counted to ten. Few people could affect me the way she could. I love my mother, but she is very domineering. In some ways, she had been the cause of my life being a living hell for longer than I cared to remember, and there was a reason I had not consulted with her before reclaiming House Mulvaney, or proposing to Bella.
I opened my eyes. They were all still there, staring at me. I’d rather face an oncoming goblin horde than my family.
“Shall we adjourn to the kitchen?” I suggested. It was, in this house, the only room with enough chairs for everyone I could imagine joining in this meeting.