An Heir to Thorns and Steel is a serialized fantasy novel updating once a week for free on Tuesdays, and again on Thursdays and Saturdays if tips reach $15 and $20, respectively. Single reviews of existing stories posted to Amazon count for $5 toward the tip total.
Blood Ladders, Book 1
Their demeanor finally gave me enough grip on myself to find my feelings through the numb haze. “I did mean that,” I said. “Stirley gave it to me.”
“James Stirley?” Chester stared at me, hand resting on the hilt of his sword.
“Sit,” Radburn said abruptly with a briskness of manner that caused us all to stare at him and obey. “What the hell is passing with you, Morgan? Did Stirley give you poppy for that poison spell in the chocolate house?”
“No,” I said, “He gave me poppy for seizures.”
“Seizures!” they said in unison.
An admission that would have mortified me two days ago now seemed obvious, impossible to conceal. “Seizures,” I agreed. “Since I was born, I’ve had them.” There were cups on the table; I reached for one and misjudged the distance. My fingers closed on empty air. I grasped until I found the walls of the cup and brought it close enough to smell, but didn’t drink… wondering if I would miss my mouth as well. What a waste of good chocolate.
“We can’t let him be seen like this,” Chester said.
“He’s already been seen like this,” Radburn pointed out.
“I mean with Ivy,” Chester said, irritated. He stood. “Get him to his flat. I’ll tell her we’ve canceled, that there’s been some kind of emergency. Then I’ll join you.”
“Lot of trouble just to keep this quiet,” Guy observed. “And for a girl, to boot.”
“It’s not just about her,” Chester said. “We don’t need it bruited about school that one of us is… well. He might get a suspension. And God! He should be in bed before something happens to him. If we don’t take care of him, who will?”
“God’s truth,” Radburn said. “We look out for one another. We have enough problems. Or have you forgotten Chester dragging your sorry hindside home a few times from places disreputable, Guy?”
“Fine,” Guy said. “Let’s go.”
I realized then they were discussing me when Guy shoved a shoulder into an armpit and looped the arm over his shoulder; Radburn took the other side.
“I’m not that poorly off,” I said, though my legs seemed curiously indisposed toward movement.
“You’re a right mess,” Radburn said. “Come on, Guy.”
They turned me toward the door and stopped abruptly.
“Chester! This isn’t your night to be busy!”
“Oh God,” Radburn whispered.
Dwarfed by the door, Minda stared at us with great pique. She was a slip of a thing, willowy and petite and all those other things women of good breeding were supposed to be… it was just that she had terminally stupid eyes. Vapid, like a cow’s, without even the good-natured placidity of that beast. I wondered, drifting, how I’d never noticed how utterly offensive she was.
“You are in our way, miss,” I said.
“Shut it, Morgan,” Guy hissed.
“I see that,” Minda said, and leaned forward to peer at my face. “What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“I wish I knew,” I said. “Seeing the truth so plainly is rather a bother.”
“They were just leaving,” Chester said firmly. “I had forgotten an urgent errand I have yet to run.”
“You can’t go,” Minda said. “I just got here.”
“I’m afraid I must, my sweet,” Chester said. “Please, understand.”
“She doesn’t actually want to spend time with you,” I said. “She just wants to make sure you don’t spend time with anyone else.”
Everyone gaped at me. Feeling pleased with myself, I continued, “I note you have left your chaperone behind, miss. How outré.”
“What are you implying?” Minda asked, advancing on me.
“Locke!” Chester exclaimed.
“I implied nothing,” I said. “Merely proffered an observation.”
“Chester! Do something about him!”
“I am,” Chester said. “Fellows, if you’ll remove him? I’ll be along.”
“But I just—”
“Spare him your histrionics,” I said. “They don’t move him. They only inspire his pity.”
The silence that followed struck me as strange, as if I had said something surprising.
Minda stepped closer to me, glaring. And then she canted her head. “There is something wrong with you. Are you… ”
“He’s had a seizure, miss,” Guy said. “If you’ll forgive us, he needs a doctor.”
“Oh,” she said, her eyes narrowing. “I would have thought—but I suppose not.” She pushed past us into the room. Guy and Radburn hauled me into the corridor and started down the stairs.
“God on the Shoulders of Heaven!” Radburn hissed. “What the hell, Morgan! What the hell!”
“What?” I asked, dizzy. “It was all the truth.”
“You can’t just go telling the truth to everyone! Especially not Minda! Or do you want to make Chester’s life miserable?”
“Chester’s life is already miserable,” I observed.
Guy sighed. “He’s going to be one of them, I see.”
“One of what?” Radburn asked, exasperated. My feet stumbled on the stairs and almost took them with me; on the recovery, Guy answered.
“The poppy oracles. You go on poppy, you either make no sense at all… or too much sense.”
“And how do you know that?”
Guy’s pause struck me as unusual, even as addled as I was. “Later,” he said.
“Fine,” Radburn muttered. And then, “Thank God you’re not a pugilist, Morgan. I don’t think I could carry someone Guy’s size.”
They shoved me into yet another carriage and wedged me between them to keep me upright; I thought I could easily tire of staring at the rumps of horses, but I lost a great deal of the ride and couldn’t recall where I’d put it when the two of them wrestled me up the stairs and helped me unlock my flat.
“Couch is closer.”
Being dropped awkwardly onto the cushions knocked all the air from my chest.
“Sorry, mate,” Radburn said, tugging me into what he supposed was a more comfortable position. I couldn’t tell, since the edges of my body had become a matter of opinion and I wasn’t feeling up to strong opinions. “Want something to drink?”
“Don’t give him anything,” Guy said. “He’ll just up it later. Where’s the stash, Morgan?”
“The what?” I asked, blinking past tears. The light in my flat was too bright… or maybe it was the colors? They made my eyes water. Radburn had crouched, blocking my view—ah, he was re-building the fire.
“The stash. Where—ah, here it is.”
“It’s in the open?” Radburn asked.
“Plain as rain,” Guy said. “Huh. It is in one of the doctor’s satchels.”
“Said so,” I said, closing my eyes. I heard the cork squeaking.
“Good God, Morgan, how much of this did you take?”
“As much as he said. Spoon. Came with a spoon.”
“You’re supposed to dilute it in water. Two parts water, one part syrup. And that’s black poppy. This is yellow poppy.”
“When did you become such an expert?” Radburn asked, irritated.
“My uncle was an alchemist.”
“I thought your uncle was a dissolute ne’er-do-well,” Radburn said. “Who took all your aunt’s money and spent it and vanished.”
“Same uncle,” Guy said. “Poppy addiction.”
“I’m not an addict,” I said. “I’m sick.”
“You don’t know the meaning of sick until you’ve done this stuff enough,” Guy said.
A curl of flame rose in my mind’s eye, blowing back the fog. I rediscovered anger. “No, Guy. You don’t know the meaning of sick and you never have.”
“Oh I don’t, do I? Think I didn’t spend enough days on my knees, cleaning up after my uncle?” Guy’s shadow fell over the couch, darkening my side. “Think I didn’t hold him through his convulsions? Drag him back when he went poppy-mad and desperate for more? Think I didn’t watch him almost die in his sleep? His breathing would just… ease… to a halt. And then start up, oh so much later. I know sick, Locke. Damned if I don’t know sick.”
“You think that’s sick?” I asked and laughed. “Oh, no. You don’t know anything. You in your sleek animal body, running your tournaments, playing at archery, riding your horses. All of you, damn you to hell. So… bloody… healthy. You’ve seen sick. You’ve patted sick on the back. But you don’t know sick. I know sick. Come live in my body.”
“You wouldn’t be so damned sick if you weren’t taking this!” Guy said, snarling.
“This is the first time I’ve taken it!” I yelled.
Finally, silence. The crackling of the fire, maybe, but otherwise silence.
The first time I started this book, it was actually at one of those tournaments Morgan mentions here. It was… a rather unfortunate incident.
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