A review in the hand is worth …

What does an author need as much as whiskey, solitude, and a spouse with a steady income?

Reviews

In today’s market, books live and die based on the eyeballs that chance across them online, and the more reviews a book has — good, bad, or indifferent — the more eyeballs will bounce that way. Eyeballs translate to sales, and sales translate to more whiskey, which translates to more books.  It’s a win-win situation for reader and author alike.

If you’ve read and liked a book, do the author a favour and leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads.  Even if you don’t have time for a written review, a simple star rating is a huge help.  You’re also doing fellow readers a favour by letting them know where to find their next great read.

The Favour

So here’s the favour I’m asking.  If you’re one of the many people who have been reading Allaigna’s Song as its been serialized in Pulp Literature I would be extraordinarily grateful if you could leave a review on Goodreads.  It can be a 1-star, 5-star, or anything in between.  (Be honest!  You won’t hurt my feelings.  Honestly!)

The book launches July 10th, and having early reviews will really help it get up and running fast.

And while you’re there, take a minute or two to review some books by other authors.  We all thank you for it!

 

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A Breed for Every Need

This post was originally published on Academie Duello’s blog in April 2013, and is part of a series detailing the requirements for the Green Spur, or first rank of the Mounted Combat program.

Horsemanship Level 2: Identification

Horses come in many shapes and sizes; display strange colours, such as chestnut, bay, buckskin and skewbald; have exotic body parts, such as pastern, stifle, dock and chestnut (no relation to the colour); and have other interesting markings such as black points, ermine spots, snips and stockings.

This is not just trivial knowledge used to impress your horsey girlfriend.  Being able to verbally identify a horse is important for clear communication, and vital if reporting a lost or stolen horse.  Colour, markings, and breeds are the simplest forms of identification.  You can pick a horse out in the field by these qualities without having to check the undercarriage for sex, or the underside of the lip for a tattoo.  A knowledge of horse breeds and types lets you know in advance what type of work a horse may be suitable for.

In Horsemanship Level 1 we asked you to identify colours, the near and off side, and  twenty simple points of the horse.  For Level 2 you will need to be able to:

2. Name and describe breeds, points, colours and markings of horses

This week we will look at Breeds and Types, and finish off the topic next week with points, colours and markings.

Breeds & Types

You don’t need to know all the breeds of horses in the world, but you should be able to identify several breeds of each type of horse.  Below are a few examples of each.  Look them up in a good breed book or online and familiarize yourself with their general characteristics and uses.

Cold-blooded

These are the draught breeds, used for pulling wagons and farm work.  Their ancestors were often used as warhorses, though most have been bred to be heavier and are now larger and less suited to riding than their forebears. Examples: Percheron, Clydesdale, Friesian, Belgian etc.

The Godolphin Arabian was one of the three foundation sires of the Thoroughbred

Hot-blooded

Traditionally there are only two hot-blooded breeds, the Arabian, and its descendant, the Thoroughbred.  Both are fine-boned, athletic and often considered fiery.  Arabians are renowned for longevity and endurance, and Thoroughbred racehorses are the fastest horses in the world.  These breeds have been used extensively to improve other breeds.  Other breeds which are sometimes considered hot-blooded are the Akhal-Teke, Marwari, Kathiawari and similar older breeds of hot-climate horses.

Warm-blooded

All other horses except draughts, Arabians and Thoroughbreds, are considered warm-blooded.  This should not be confused with registered Warmbloods, such as the Hanoverian, Dutch Warmblood, Canadian Warmblood etc, which are controlled types with regulated studbooks.  It was once thought a warm-blooded horse was descended from a draught and hot-blooded cross, but this has not been proven true genetically.  Examples: Quarter Horse, Morgan, Appaloosa, Warmblood breeds, etc.

Ponies

A Shetland mare and foal

The term ‘pony’ is a height classification as well as a type.  Any horse under 14.2 hands high (a hand is 4 inches), or 145cm is considered a pony. This means a small Arabian or Quarter Horse might be classed as a pony.  However, there are specific pony breeds as well.  Examples: Welsh, Shetland, Newfoundland, Pony of the Americas etc.

Light or Riding Horse

Any hot-blooded or warm-blooded horse.

Baroque

What appears to be a Friesian Horse, 1568.

These are the breeds most directly developed as and descended from warhorses.  They tend to have an uphill build, made for power rather than speed, a cresty neck and flowing mane, and were often used as carriage horses and light draught horses as well.  They are visually impressive and often used in movies as well as haute école.  Examples: Lippizaner, Andalusian (Pur Raza Espagnol), Friesian, Canadian Horse, Knabstrupper, etc.

As you can see there is a fair bit of cross-over within types, just as there is variance within the breeds themselves.  At our barn Jolie, Jack and Flavie are all Canadian horses, but Jolie and Jack are more Baroque in their build and carriage, while Flavie is more of a light draught or riding horse.

next week: points, colours and markings

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Meet Brenda Carre’s ‘Gret’ in Pulp Literature 15

I’m delighted that Allaigna’s Song will be sharing centre stage with Pulp Literature Issue 15 at the Summer Launch on July 10th.  Not just because of S Ross Browne’s stunning cover painting The Huntress.  (Though I confess I might be jealous if Melissa Duncan hadn’t painted an equally stunning portrait of Allaigna).  No, it’s because the feature author for Issue 15 is Brenda Carre and I love her titular character Gret almost as much as Allaigna.

With ‘Gret’, Brenda Carre gives us the unique voice of a talented young vagabond who will risks her soul against magical forces to save a world that’s been anything but kind to her.  Here’s a sample …

My mam always told me there’s three ways to prosper best and all begin with L.

Location’s one. No prospering’s ever done by thief or witch if the job begins in the wrong place or time.  Lissome tongue was next.  No matter how much wisdom a gal had to her, good learning didn’t go far if she couldn’t talk her way out of a bad deal.  And last was Lightning touch. That meant the effortless sliding of nimble fingers in-and-out of pockets without being cotched.

With pithy observations like “Pirates’ll rut with a post if there ain’t no goats aboard, and the goats breathe easy if there’s girls,” and “Could’a put my heart in a sling and used it for shot,” Gret is one tough character you can’t help but love.

And I’m doubly sure you’ll love Brenda Carre when you meet her and hear her read.

Join us!

The Summer Launch of Allaigna and PL 15 is on Monday July 10th from 6 – 9pm.  The evening will begin with dinner and socializing before moving on to readings, signings, more socializing and more beer!  Be sure to RSVP and we’ll both look forward to seeing you on July 10th at Steamworks!

Eventbrite - Pulp Literature Summer Launch

Pre-order your books below to save a copy, and we’ll buy you a beer …

Pulp Literature Summer Launch

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Horsemanship Level 2: what’s old is new

This post was originally published on Academie Duello’s blog in April 2013, and is part of a series detailing the requirements for the Green Spur, or first rank of the Mounted Combat program.

Our Horsemanship curriculum, like the Canadian Pony Club system it stems from, is designed to deepen and expand students’ knowledge in the key areas of horsemanship with each progressive level.  What starts as simple identification of colours, breeds and markings in levels one and two, becomes measuring and identification in level three, and conformation, teeth and aging in levels four and up.  We ask you to build upon your base of knowledge as you progress, which is why we often check that your foundation is strong.  Therefore the first item in the Level 2 Horsemanship checklist is:

1. All the level one requirements

“What!” you say, “I have to test level one all over again?”

Not quite.  If you did your level one and have been active in the program we will use the mark from your level one test.

If you are challenging level two, which many people with prior horse experience do, we will simply test levels one and two at the same time.  Many of the items on the list are similar, but we expect a higher degree of confidence and competence at this level.  For example, at both levels you will groom and tack up your horse, but at level two you need to be able to do this without any assistance from the examiner.

In either case, it is of benefit to review the level one material before heading out to your level two assessment.

Level One Horsemanship Review

1. Identify colour, near and off side, and twenty simple parts of the horse

2. Enter, approach and safely halter horse in stall or paddock

3. Lead horse out of stall or paddock, lead at the walk

4. Tie a quick release knot

5. Groom horse using basic grooming tools (dandy brush, curry comb, hoof pick)

6. Identify simple parts of saddle & bridle

7. Tack up (may be assisted)

8. Untack & clean bit

9. Basic feeding: succulents, grain, roughage & water

10. Stabling:  needs & habits of the horse

11. Demonstrate safety and common sense when working around horses

Next week: Points and markings

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Allaigna’s Song launches July 10th!

I hope my local peeps will be able to join me at Steamworks brew pub on the evening of Monday July 10th.  Not only will we be celebrating the launch of Pulp Literature Issue 15 (15!! How did that happen already?), I will at last be releasing Allaigna’s Song: Overture into the world in full-length novel format.Pulp Literature Double Launch: Pulp Literature Issue 15 & Allaigna's Song: Overture

It’s been a long but happy journey getting here, and now that she’s at the printer it’s like pregnancy month 8 all over again.  However, the nice thing about giving birth to a book rather than a baby is you don’t need to worry about what’s in your breastmilk, and I will be able to celebrate in style.  I plan to have more than one drink — after the readings are over of course — perhaps even three.  It would be great to see you all there and clink glasses with you!

Pulp Literature Double Launch
Allaigna’s Song: Overturen and PL Issue 15
Monday 10 July, 6pm – 9pm
Steamworks Brewing Co,
350 Water St, Vancouver
Free! but please RSVP

There are some deals to be had:  pre-order your copies of either Allaigna’s Song or PL Issue 15 on the Eventbrite site and we’ll buy you a beer (or drink of your choice) to help celebrate.

Eventbrite - Pulp Literature Summer Launch

If you can’t make it to the launch, there are consolation offers from Pulp Literature Pressin the form of $2, $5, and $10 off pre-orders between now and July 10th.  You can check those out on the Pulp Lit Book Launch page.

Whether in person or by mail, I can’t wait for you to hold my new baby!

 

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The Blue Spur Curriculum

This post was originally published on Academie Duello’s blog in April 2013, and is part of a series detailing the requirements for the Green Spur, or first rank of the Mounted Combat program.

Having completed our blog tour through the Green Spur, it’s time to move on to Blue.

Blue Spur candidates are able horse-keepers with basic equine first aid knowledge, and are riding at a level that includes cantering, small jumps, and a secure and confident seat.  Swordplay from the falsemount and horse are part of regular training, and spear is added to the repertoire of weapons.  Accuracy and control are tested in mounted games, and Blue Spur candidates will have the opportunity to display these skills in public tournaments.

The Blue Spur Requirements include:

  • Horsemanship levels 2 & 3
  • Riding levels 2 & 3
  • Swordplay from the Ground
  • Swordplay from the Falsemount
  • Spear Fundamentals
  • Mounted Games
  • Reading of Xenophon

How long will it take to get my Blue Spur?

As with all ranks, this varies from student to student, and depends on how often you ride and train.  For a student attending on the Integrated Program, which includes two Cavaliere Classes and one Mounted Combat workshop per month it would take about a year to cover all the curriculum material, which breaks down like this:

  • Horsemanship level 2: two months (4 classes)
  • Horsemanship level 3: four months (8 classes)
  • Riding Level 2: six months (12 classes)
  • Riding Level 3: six months (12 classes)
  • Mounted Combat checklist: approximately 8 workshops

Achieving Riding level 3 is probably the most difficult part of the requirements if you haven’t been riding a long time prior to starting the program.  There is no substitute for time in the saddle, and a rider working towards her Blue Spur should expect to take advantage of as many Open Barns, Games Practices, and additional riding opportunities as possible.  Part leasing a horse, or taking additional riding lessons is also highly recommended.

Over the next few months I’ll cover the Blue Spur requirements in greater detail.  You’ll be able to find these articles under the tags “Blue Spur”, “Horsemanship” and “Riding”.

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Allaigna’s Cartography: mapping the Ilmar

Map of Narnia by Pauline Baynes. I still have this poster.

I love maps of all kinds.  Old maps and new ones.  Perspective, topographical, nautical, astronomical, representational, decorative, and functional.  My dog-eared London A-Z, the iconic tube map, and the amazingly detailed 17th century perspective drawings of the city all form part of what is ‘London’ in my mind.

But the earliest maps I fell in love with were maps of other worlds.  When I was growing up, the geographies of Narnia, Middle Earth, and Pern were more familiar to me than that of my home planet, thanks to the maps I flipped back to endlessly, and those that hung as posters on my bedroom wall.

So when Mel Anastasiou agreed to take Scott Fitzgerald Gray‘s wonderful map of the Ilmar and interpret it in classic fantasy-map style I was excited.  Now that I’ve seen it, I’m beyond thrilled!  Here’s a little piece of Allaigna’s homeland.  I can’t wait to show you the whole thing when Allaigna’s Song: Overture is released in July …

I hope you’ll be able to join me on July 10th for the dual launch of Allaigna’s Song and Pulp Literature Issue 15.  RSVP here!

Allaigna's Song: Overture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Striking From the Saddle

This post was originally published on Academie Duello’s blog in April 2013, and is part of a series detailing the requirements for the Green Spur, or first rank of the Mounted Combat program.

The final item on the Green Spur checklist is:

Describe the mechanics required to keep your seat when striking from horseback.

Cadre NoirAnd here we come back to that Independant Seat once more.  It keeps cropping up because it is probably the most important component not just of mounted combat, but of all your riding endeavours.  Riders at the famous haute école riding schools such as the Spanish Riding School and the Cadre Noir spend two years on the longe-line developing their seat before they are allowed to touch the reins.

With a balanced seat you can do almost anything, from airs above the ground such as the courbette performed by the Cadre Noir on the right, to stabbing targets over jumps like the  tent-pegger below.

tent pegging 1920s

The secret to keeping your seat when delivering sword blows is the distribution of weight in your saddle.  When we ride, we don’t sit in the saddle — we merely rest our seat bones there.  Only 40% of your weight should be in your saddle’s seat (or less, when in light seat, and none at all in two point positon).  The remainder is divided evenly between the balls of your feet.  An even better seat would have 10% of your weight in each seat-bone, and 10% in each of your inner thighs, spread evenly throughout the saddle.

With your hips directly above your heels, and your knees above your toes, and your ankles flexed so the heels are down, your lower body is now in perfect mechanical balance.  From here you can use your shoulders and arms freely, delivering cuts in all directions, without disturbing your seat.

This image of a melee from the battle of Crécy illustrates leg position beautifully:  with all the chaos around them, and the fact one combatant is about to stabbed in the back of the head, the riders never lose their leg position or base of support.

Crecy

However, many illustrations also show riders with their legs pushed forward in long stirrups, with their seats braced against the high cantle, as in this picture of England’s Henry VI.

Henry VI

According to Duarte, this appeared to be a matter of personal preference and regional custom.  The braced seat, while useful when jousting or charging with a lance, provides much less balance and flexibility for delivering sword blows. The fact this position appears more often in highly stylized illustrations also makes me wonder artistic preference tended to exaggerate it.

I have found when teaching beginners that some people have a naturally balanced seat, while for others it takes much more work.  The good news, however, is that with enough practice, everybody can develop an independant seat.  If you don’t have the opportunity to spend time in the saddle every day, don’t despair: there are ways you can improve your seat with nary a horse in sight.

  • Stand with your feet a horse-width apart on the bottom stair or a doorsill, with just the toes balls of your feet resting on the step.  Bend your knees and find your balance.  This is exactly the position your legs need to be in when riding.  Practice it ever chance you get.
  • Sit backwards on chairs, with your heels beneath your hips.  If you have yoga blocks or phone books, put them under your toes so you can lower your heels.
  • ‘Ride’ a large exercise ball or a barrel. Practice lengthening your inner thigh along the surface of the barrel and feel your weight distributed evenly from seat-bone to knee.
  • Visualize.  The brain is an amazing organ that can train your muscles without moving them.  Even lying in bed and thinking about the feel of your body in the saddle will help your adopt a better position next time you get on a horse.

This concludes the series of posts that walk you through the Green Spur.  To review the material you can search under the tags Horsemanship 1, Riding 1, and Green Spur.

next: The Blue Spur Curriculum

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Cover Reveal!

I know, I know, I’ve neglected this blog for months.  What can I say? I’ve been busy!  But this is pretty exciting … the beautiful cover for Allaigna’s Song: Overture painted by Melissa Mary Duncan with layout and font design by Kris Sayer.  I could not be more thrilled!

Allaigna cover preview

Pulp Literature Press will be launching the novel at Steamworks Brew Pub on July 10th.  I hope you’ll join me there to lift a glass and celebrate!

 

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Brothers, Sisters, and Lullabies

With the Something Novel campaign in full swing, I thought maybe now would be a good time to share the first chapter of Allaigna’s Song: Overture for those who haven’t had a glimpse yet …

Allaigna’s Song: Overture
JM Landels

Verse 1
Brothers, Sisters, and Lullabies

portrait-cropped

If you walk down the grand staircase of Castle Osthegn, you will see a family portrait.  It is placed across the landing from the wide steps so that your eye is drawn helplessly into the picture as you descend.  Such is the skill of the Leisanmira painter that you are almost convinced the little girl on the right will jump out of the frame and take off pell-mell into the courtyard.  And you can tell that is what she wanted to be doing when the image was painted.

The little girl was me.

There are other, more formal, paintings of my family members, individual and grouped, spread throughout the fortress.  But the one at the bottom of the stairs is the only one that tells me a story.  In this painting I am shown in my favourite red tunic of soft flannel – the one my nurse turned into handkerchiefs when I grew too large for it – and loose-fitting trousers, rolled to the calf above grubby bare feet.  My mother’s arm is around me, her fingers creasing the cloth beneath my arm.  It is a half-hearted grip, as if holding me still takes more effort than she can afford.  Her eyes are tired and her skin pale.  Wisps of curly blonde hair escape a hastily pinned coif, and the bodice of her dress is askew, barely containing blue-veined and swollen breasts.

The head of the family, Lord Osthegn, Allenis Andreg, Duke of Teillai and Warden of the Clearwater Plains, stands behind and to her right.  A possessive arm rests on her shoulders; the other is proudly akimbo.  He beams with joy, and this is the only portrait that paints him so.  In truth, it is the happiest my three-year-old self ever saw him.  The subject of his joy rests in Mother’s right arm, its bawling ruddy face showing a remarkable resemblance to the Duke already.  I don’t know why the artist didn’t choose to portray the baby content at the breast or with an idiosyncratic smile as most painters would, but I’m glad he didn’t.  This is how I remember my brother Allenry when he arrived to interrupt my life, and I appreciate the painting’s candour.

I recall that day, or one of those days.  After sitting for the painter, I ran outside into the bustling lower court, where chickens scratched in the warm sun of late spring, men-at-arms practised sword drills, and my nurse Angeley tended the herb garden.  I didn’t want to talk to her right then, so I slipped between the tight-packed limbs of the hedge maze, following my own small, secret trails to the centre.  I sat down in the yellowish gravel and buried my feet in sun-warmed chippings.  I had a tight, lumpy feeling in my chest and warmth behind my eyes, but I didn’t want to cry.  I was not going to cry over him.

There were footsteps on the gravel, trying not to be heard.

“Go away!”  I threw a handful of pebbles at the place I knew she’d appear.  “Leave me alone!”

My nurse bent down and examined the stones that had tumbled on the mossy verge of the path.  She turned her head to look at me, her face crinkling into laugh lines.

“It’s the Huntress, Allaigna.”  She held out a sun-browned hand to me.  “Come and look.”

Curiosity overcame my resistance, as she knew it would, and I crawled over to see.  Her fingers picked out the constellation of stones.

“Here is her head, and shoulder.  This grey-blue one is the tip of her sword and here,” she delineated an arc of pebbles, “is her bow.”

With a child’s literal obstinacy I replied, “She doesn’t have any feet.”

“Too true, Allaigna.  Where do you think they are?”

I shrugged.  “Over there?”  I pointed to where I’d gathered the fistful of rocks.

Angeley nodded, her eyes clouding over as they did when she was deep in thought.  I followed her gaze, wondering what she could see past the impenetrable green of the hedge.

“Mmm.  I think you’re right dear.  Now tell me:  what’s the matter?”

The storm came back over me and I hunched into myself.  Angeley waited, her hand resting on my back.  Even today, I can sometimes feel that warmth between my shoulder blades when I need resolve.

“I hate him,” I mumbled into my knees.

“Allenry.”  It wasn’t a question.

The lumpy feeling returned, and despite my best efforts, my eyes started watering.

“He ruined it!”

The tears began in earnest and Angeley lifted me into her arms, humming softly.

“I know, I know,” she murmured, “he’s taken over your Mama … for the time being.  That’s what babies do, you know.  Mama and Allenry need each other now.  But you have me.”

I wasn’t mollified. “But you’ll be his nurse, too!”

She shook her head.  “No, darling.  I came to this house to help birth and raise you.  Your Mama and Papa will have to find someone else to help with Allenry and their other children.”

Now I was appalled. “Other children?”

She laughed.  “There will be more siblings for you Allaigna.  You may get that little sister after all.  You might even grow to like Allenry.”

I frowned, emphatic.  “Uh – uh.”

She kissed me on the head, silencing the protest.  “Never say never, dear one. Whatever you may think of him, he’s of your blood, and you will need each other one day.”

allaigna-2

Angeley was right.  I did like Allenry on and off, as siblings do, and we even became allies when our sister Lauriana usurped Mama’s body and attention once more.  Not to say there wasn’t fierce competition between us.  He grew quickly and it was clear he would have the bull-like physique of our father.  By the time I was ten, and he six, he had the height and more than breadth of me, though I outstripped him for a while once more in adolescence.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

During Allenry’s infanthood I grew farther away from my mother and closer to my nurse.  She was of the Leisanmira race, and she gave me much of her knowledge of plants and animals, healing, and midwifery.  But what I loved most was her singing.  All my early life I could hear Angeley singing.  No matter what she was doing – gardening, sewing, reading – there was a tune percolating from her throat.  It was Angeley who sang my siblings and me to bed every night.  Her lullabies were devastating in their effect, and it seemed at first I was never able to hear the end of one before my eyes fell shut and locked me in sleep.

Eventually though, whether it was because I was older or simply more stubborn than my brother and sisters, I learned to keep myself awake to the end of the song.  This allowed me to leave my bed once the lanterns were extinguished, and perch on the window seat, reading by moonlight.  It also let me to learn her songs to the end.

On a morning not long after my seventh birthday, I gained my first inkling of what those songs could do.  I was in the grange loft, playing with a litter of kittens whose half-wild mother I had wooed for many weeks.  I held a black bundle of fur in my arms and hummed a lullaby as it purred and nestled in.  From behind me, I heard clumsy fumbling on the loft ladder.

It was Allenry.  I could tell by his noisy breath and careless movements.  He wasn’t allowed into the hayloft, being too young to climb safely, but that didn’t stop him.

Irritated, I wished him away, and kept my back turned.  I did not want him here to interrupt my time with the kitten.  With ever-louder huffing and thumping, he pulled his tiny body up through the hole in the loft floor.  I sang louder, ignoring him, drowning out his presence.  Gradually his stuffy-nosed breathing slowed and deepened.  I could hear him yawn.  I reached the final chorus of my song and at last turned a glaring eye on him.  He stood, eyes closed, stubby toddler body swaying with sleep.

I watched in fascinated horror as he collapsed backward and fell down the trap door.

The next few moments were a frantic blur, and I have no idea whether I climbed or jumped down after him.  He lay wailing, his face no more than a wrinkled red apple with a giant hole in its middle.  I clapped a hand over his mouth, terrified someone would hear, and wrestled with the decisions every child makes at the scene of a sibling accident:  whether to stay and console, to run for help, or to hide and pretend not to have seen what happened.

The decision was made as Allenry’s nurse came running in, our two-year-old sister slung across her hip.

“What have ye done?  Wicked girl!” She  dumped Lauriana on the barn floor and she rushed to Allenry.

Instead of answering, I ran.

Angeley found me, hours later, hidden beneath the cloth drapery that covered the table harpsichord.  My tears had dried some time ago, and I was debating whether it was safe to sneak to the kitchens for some food.  Angeley’s head poked beneath the woven cloth.

“Are you ready to be found yet?”

I wiped my face with a dusty sleeve, no doubt making both even dirtier. “It wasn’t my fault.”

Her eyes were piercing, but not unsympathetic. “Come out from there and tell me about it.”

We sat side by side on the harpsichord bench, my short legs swinging in time to my nervous heartbeats.  I explained how Allenry had climbed into the forbidden loft – glossing over how long I’d known he was there – and tumbled backwards down the hole.  The explanation seemed plausible, and was truthful as far as it went.

Angeley, as always, sensed the unsaid.  “Why do you think he fell?”

I shrugged.

“Was he clumsy?”

I looked up, hopeful at the convenient excuse, but Angeley continued.

“Did something bump him?”

I frowned, knowing that explanation, aside from being untrue, could lead me into more trouble.

“No,” I finally pushed the words out.  “He … fell asleep.”

Angeley looked thoughtful.  “And what were you doing.”

“Holding a kitten”

“And…?”

“Singing?”

“Singing what?”

I hesitated, then blushed, the extent of my guilt sinking in.  “A lullaby.”

allaigna-4

“Again.”  Angeley’s usually soft voice was sharpened with weariness.

“Do, fa, so, fa, do… do, fa, so, fa, do fa so fa do do do dodo –” I broke off giggling.

“Enough!  You have a marvellously instinctive voice Allaigna, but you lack discipline!

I winced and reached for my cup of water.

Angeley continued, sighing.  “It’s not enough to sing from memory and play with your voice.  You must know each note:  its resonance, its flavour, its relationship to other notes –”

I interrupted with another giggle. “Which one’s the annoying brother?”

As soon as the words were out, I wished them back.  The vague tint of blame I felt sure had settled on me after Allenry’s fall had not yet faded.  Fortunately, of the adults in my life, Angeley was the least likely to chastise me.  Her eyes narrowed and she continued as if the interruption hadn’t happened.

“How can you expect to harness a sound’s power if you release it willy-nilly into the aether without thought or guidance?”

I stayed quiet this time.

She sighed.  “I push you so hard, my dear, because you have such potential.”

I saw the opportunity for a change of topic. “What do you mean?  Why do I have any more … potential,” I disliked this new word, and the uncomfortable feeling of obligation that came with it, “than Allenry, or Lauriana?”

“Not more, dear.  Different.  Why does the oak grow taller than the ash?  Why does the courser run faster than the carthorse, and why does the carthorse pull a heavier load?  It’s what makes you you.”

Even at the age of seven, I knew there was more difference between a draught horse and a racehorse than between Allenry and me, but I left that point lying.

“Father can’t sing.  And Mama hardly ever does.  So it’s not in my blood.”

“There’s more to a person’s blood than shows in either parent, Allaigna.  And besides, your mother has the same potential.  She’s simply never developed it.”

“Why?”

“Lost opportunity.” Angeley paused, distracted for a moment.  “Now, again.” She rapped the harpsichord, beating out the rhythm. “One, four, five, four, one … one, four, five, four, one….”

I began to repeat the pattern when, abruptly, she stopped me.

“Enough,” she said, closing the harpsichord.  “Your sisters will be born soon.”

She bustled out of the room in a flurry of colourful skirts before I could ask her how she knew, and what in the world she meant by the extra s in “sisters”.

 

The full novel is due to be released in May 2017, pending successful funding of the Something Novel Kickstarter campaign.  You can pre-purchase it here, along with Mel Anastasiou’s Stella Ryman and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries, or just throw a buck in the hat to help the cause.

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