I might as well start the ball rolling. I’m not certain of the release date at the moment, but like Pixie Noir, I will release the first quarter of the book here, on my blog, a bit at a time. Sundays are a good day for me to do snippets, as I’m usually working, or, in the case of today, going to Kentucky to help Dorothy-Mom figure out a new computer. Not sure how I’ve become family tech support, but that’s a blog post of it’s own. So this is the very raw – first draft, even! – beginning of Trickster Noir. Feel free to comment if you see any errata. Or just to tell me what you think.
I was dying, to begin with. Not in the long-drawn out way that everyone is, dying by days. No, I was going quickly. And my biggest regret was that I had never slept with Bella. Not in the way you are thinking, although I’d dreamed about that often enough. No, simply in the warmth of her arms with the peace of the night wrapped around us. I wondered if I would be aware in the afterlife, to regret this eternally.
I also regretted the burden I was about to drop on Devon’s slim shoulders. He was a good lad, but still a lad, and nowhere near ready to be Duke. Maybe I ought to have just died quietly in her arms, rather than letting my dreams out of the box at this late date. I didn’t want the Dukedom, I wanted her.
People came in and out of the room, but I don’t remember who was there. Bella kept crying but not letting anyone see her. She thought I was out of it, and mostly I was, sometimes I was just too tired to look awake. It had been some time since I’d proposed, I wasn’t sure how long. I wasn’t staying awake long enough to know if it had been days, hours, or only minutes since I last opened my eyes.
My magic was gone. She’d stripped the elfshot, and with it had gone the magic. I tried for Sight, and got only the gray sparkles that happen if you squeeze your eyes shut for too long. So when Mark came and sat by my bed at some point, I was unable to confirm if he had magic, or I’d been mistaken back in Alaska.
“You didn’t go home?” I asked, startling him. He had been nodding off and obviously not expecting the dead man to talk to him.
“Er,” he rubbed his eyes and yawned. “Alger offered to teach me how to use magic. Seems I have some.”
“So why are you sitting here?” I was genuinely curious. I’d barely met him, him sitting watch over me was hardly his debt to pay.
“Bella needed to sleep. Alger’s sitting with her to make sure she does. Ellie’s worn to the bone, and you mother was summoned to Court.” His explanation was punctuated by a venture to the small table where a coffee urn stood. The smell wafting from his cup when he came back made my stomach growl, which startled both of us. I didn’t remember the last time I’d eaten. I had vague memories involving a spoon, and something either warm or cool.
“Would you like some? Or can you have it?” He looked uncertainly down at me. Flat on my back, I couldn’t drink it.
“Hell if I know.” I admitted. I tried to sit up, the blankets an unendurable obstacle to that idea. He gently slipped an arm under my shoulders and I decided to let him. Once I was sitting, we found, I could stay up, wavering like a leaf in the wind. He grabbed cushions off the little couch and got me propped.
“Don’t mention it.”
I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to hold the cup, but that I could manage. I sipped slowly. It tasted wonderful with lots of cream and a little sugar.
“Ichor of the gods.” I quipped with my old joke. He grinned suddenly, a flash of white teeth in dark brown beard.
“Longest I’ve seen you awake in a while.” Mark was right, I realized. I didn’t feel like I was going to fade out and fall over, either.
“I needed coffee.” I reached up a hand to my own chin, letting the cup nestle in the coverlet folds to keep it secure. I was almost as bearded as he was. “By the Hunt! How long has it been?”
“Bella’s the only one you will let near you, mostly. She was worried about trying to shave you with Alger’s razor – I think cutthroat was the word she used – so it’s been about six weeks. And man, it ain’t becoming.”
“I don’t have face foliage like you do, no matter how long it’s been,” I shot back at him. My beard was straggly, so I was used to keeping my face smooth. I fingered the hair again. “You know where that razor went?”
A look crossed his face. “You kill yourself with that blade, Bella will kill me.”
I snorted and leaned back against the pillow. “I have safety razors. Alger obviously didn’t look in the cupboard.”
I told him where he’d find them, and as he walked across the room, closed my eyes to rest the eyelids. They were heavy after so long not being awake, it turned out. I woke up again to daylight, and no Mark. But… I managed to touch my chin. I was lying flat again, but my arms were above the coverlet so I could move. I was smooth shaven. Good man.
“You’re awake.” And that was mother’s voice, sounding rather pleased. I turned my head.
“How long?” I croaked. She fluttered a bit, finally coming up with a glass of water and a straw. I sipped gratefully.
“Since?” She was trying to deflect, not a good sign.
I sighed. “Since I talked to Mark?”
She relaxed. “That was yesterday. Or last night, rather.”
“She’ll be up shortly, she’s having lunch with Ellie in the kitchen. I took over for an hour, firm. Poor girl needs to rest, too.”
“She does. And doesn’t need to be tied to my wrecked old hulk.”
She blinked in surprise. I suppose I sounded morose. I growled a little under my breath. I just wanted to die in peace, was that too much to ask?
“Are you hungry?” she asked.
“Do I get to sit up if I am?”
She sighed. “Let me go get Mark.”
She was almost out the door before I could respond, calling after her, “He’s not my valet!” I finished in my head, having run out of breath, I don’t have a valet, I don’t need a valet, I’m not some old doddering fool or a Court dandy.
I lay there, panting slightly from that exertion. I could hear murmurs in the hall, but not what was being said. I wondered if Alger would give me grace. This was impossible. I would not be a burden for what remained of my worthless life. I rolled over, feeling like even that was a monumental accomplishment, and a wave of weakness washed over me. I wasn’t going to be able to stand up, much less make it to the bathroom. I didn’t want to think about those provisions for the weeks previous.
The coverlet was the next obstacle. I’d never realized before just how heavy the damn thing was. No-one was walking through the door just yet. In that moment of aloneness I realized just how oppressive it had been to never be alone, even if I had been unconscious. I wanted my armory. The legs over the edge of the bed was a bad idea, in retrospect. They were heavy as lead, and about as easy to move.
Actually, once they had momentum, they worked just fine. As anchors. I slid out of the bed and landed on the floor with a jarring thud.
That worked. Time to start crawling, probably better than trying to walk just now. The nightshirt was tangled around my legs and not helping. I honestly wasn’t sure if I was looking for a weapon to kill myself with, or just get to the bathroom. Footsteps sounded, coming through the door.
I looked up at Bella. She crouched down next to me. “Where are you going?” She had a funny look on her face.
“Bathroom,” I gasped out. She nodded. Mark appeared on my other side, and together they got me to my feet. I refuse to admit that I whimpered when I took that first step.
“Bella!” My mother, sounding both scandalized and afraid.
“Lucia, he needs to move. If he stays in bed he’s going to die. Or waste away to nothing. If he’s out of bed, he’s ready to walk.”
Mother Titania, I loved this woman. Dying was worth having the right to call her mine. They got me in the bathroom, and I promised I would rap on the door when done. That business over with, I didn’t want to go back to bed. Mark half-carried me to the little couch, while mother and Bella had a low-voiced but very tense discussion over my husk. I was beginning to feel like laughing when Ellie appeared with a tray of sandwiches, and my stomach made a rude noise again. She looked pleased to see me sitting up, at least. For once I didn’t mind all the people in my room. As long as I was awake and alive to see them.
Food was both delicious, and exhausting. People were less and less welcome as I tired again. But I had been up for a whole hour, easily the most since… Well, I don’t want to think about that.
“Bella…” I was now surrounded by what seemed like most of my family. I wasn’t sure she could hear me over the talking, and I didn’t have the strength to project. She stood up.
“Everyone out. Yes, he’s better. But mostly he needs rest.”
She’d read my mind. I leaned back, watching as she efficiently herded them out, gentle and inexorable.
“I’m not ready to get back in the bed.” I told her after the last of them had the door closed behind them.
“Ok. When you fall asleep I’ll go get Mark, though.”
“I have questions,” I started. She came to sit next to me, easy in her soft blue dress. I wondered about her jeans, and then realized that they wouldn’t be available Underhill. Bringing my wandering mind back to my point, “No one is using magic around me. On purpose, or?”
She nodded. “When the smallest spell is activated in your room, you… twitch. It was decided,” which most likely meant she had put her foot down, hard, “that we would not use it around you. I wanted to take you home, honestly, but they wouldn’t allow it, and I wasn’t sure what to tell a doctor was wrong with you.”
Massive internal bleeding, broken bones, and complications from a mind rape. I felt my face flinch. She put a hand on my cheek. “I was sure I was going to lose you.”
“You still might. Bella, I…” I swallowed hard. “I don’t think I’m going to make it. I’ve been ill before, with the elfshot. This is, different. I can’t even access the Sight. There’s nothing.”