Mostly today my work in progress was finding all my royalty statements and filling in my spreadsheet in order to be ready to do my self-assessment tax form tomorrow. Which was useful and even interesting work, but not the sort of thing that lends itself to an entertaining quote.
However, I did also do ten pages of editing on The Glass Floor, and solved the knotty problem of why there was only one magic charm available, and why – in that case – it wasn’t immediately given to the sultan. Poor old Zayd has found himself now officially without magic talent of any kind, but hey, he’s still the archmage. That has to count for something, right?
I’m coming into the final straits as far as the edits go, which means that the hardest bit is still in front of me. I wrote the final battles at double speed and as a result they don’t necessarily make much sense. Also the whole business with Frank’s father being coincidentally present is too coincidental, and will have to come out in favour of some stuff with magic mirrors and newspapers.
I was pleased to find that it passed the Bechdel test, though:
Off the side of the right hand aisle a series of carved oak partitions had been set up, marking chapels dedicated to individual saints and martyrs. They ducked into the smallest, where an all but extinguished candle gave out a dim storm light in its amethyst lantern, and a silver-mounted icon of Saint Parascheva watched them out of solemn painted eyes.
Ecaterina cast the veil back over her face. Mirela knelt beside her, and in the process of lowering herself she turned from girl to old lady, wrapped in black shawls, concealed beneath a heavy headscarf and a shape that proclaimed her of no interest to anybody. “I envy your gift,” Ecaterina said softly. “To pass unseen. I had to choose between peacock and gargoyle, and never truly wanted either.”
“Always the same on the inside, though, isn’t it? Who you are.”
Mirela exchanged a glance with the flat saint. The stuttering light made her eyes seem to stir. If Ecaterina looked at her long enough, it was as though her face bulged out of the frame, became rounded and real. She was listening, though she didn’t speak.
“About the monsters,” Mirela whispered. “My lord is taking them away. I thought you’d like to know that. We have wagons and everything arriving. I hear the idea is to jam them in, tight as in slave ships, in the bottom of the carts and cover them up with supplies. Then when the army gets down to the coast, they’ll sneak aboard ship and we’ll take them with us. So you’ll be all right, back here. They’ll all have gone to war, like the boyars.”
Ecaterina was ashamed of herself, because the first thing she thought was that the gypsy was lying. But lies ought to at least be more plausible than the truth, or how could they ever be believed? “How? How could he control them enough to do that? How could he get them to cooperate?”
Nightmares flickered into her thoughts like the death-throes of the candle. She saw again the look that had passed between Vacarescu and the strigoi in the white silk – the old man who had taken Stefan from his family, and walked beside him as a surrogate father.
A priest looked in through the pierced work carving of the wall. “Well,” Mirela clucked in mingled disapproval and amusement, just like an old lady sharing scandalous gossip. He shook his head, tolerantly, light running like quicksilver over his pectoral cross – the only part of his outfit that wasn’t black. All the colour had been sucked from Bukorest, it seemed. How appropriate.
“He brought the strigoii with him from Valcea. The white one and the lady. They listen to him, maybe a little. Though God knows for how long, now there’s only one of him and hundreds of them.”
Ecaterina took far too long to understand this news. Her father admired the man, had told her of his awkward reception to the prince’s court. The reason he’d given for not being seen in town before. ‘I have been containing a plague.’
The White Death had come to Bukorest, but days after he arrived in it.
Her teeth were chattering. She had to raise both hands and dig in her thumbs beneath the jaw to keep them silent, though the shudder worked through her wrists and arms and into her shoulders. The emotion she felt was still almost too big to put a name to, too big to be contained within herself – she felt it like a wall of fire around her ten paces deep. The altar was inside it, and the green-faced saint, and the sense of something teetering, teetering, about to fall.
Her father liked him. Had welcomed him without reservation, brought him into their house. She had liked him. He was the only one left who still treated her as he had before her glamour slipped – the only one who saw her as she was and was not repelled.
And why should he be repelled by anything human if his household was made up of monsters?
How smoothly he had lied when she asked about the old man, led her to believe he was an unpleasant surprise he found waiting for him when he moved in. She should have known the timing was far too coincidental for that. She should have known when he hacked her brother’s head off in front of her that he had no human sensibility in him.
But for him, Stefan would still be alive. The strigoi, oh yes, she could hope and plan for it to be destroyed, but it could not help its nature. It had little choice but to be what it was. But Vacarescu had chosen to expose her family to its notice – to expose all Bukorest to its curse.
Had Stefan done something to him, to be so targetted? No! Absurd. Stefan was the kindest child who ever lived. It was worse than that. Vacarescu had killed him and not even meant to. Simply did not care enough to make it stop.
The sphere of fire had reached its largest point – almost out to the street. Now it slowed, turned and rushed back together into a fireball centered in her gut. Every part of her felt incandescent like the sun with rage, powerful, unstoppable. I will kill him for this. I will have vengeance. For my brother and for every other mourner in the city today, I will have justice.
Which, when you have three heroes and two heroines turns out to be harder than you’d think.
Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.